Saturday 22 October 2016

Row erupts over policy at Educate Together schools

Jan O'Sullivan
Jan O'Sullivan

EDUCATE Together schools are at loggerheads with the Department of Education over enrolment policies in new schools.

The schools maintain a policy of offering places to students on a first-come, first serve basis.

However, under Department of Education rules, schools that have opened since June 2011 must “meet the demographic needs presenting within a particular school feeder area”.

This means that such schools must prioritise local children within their catchment area.

Any school that opened before June 2011 can continue to prioritise and enrol children based on other criteria, such as religion.


Educate Together has told Minister Jan O’Sullivan’s Department of Education that this may mean that children of no religion living in an area without an Educate Together school could feel discriminated against.

This is because they believe that they would be unable to access an Educate Together school elsewhere under the Department’s legislation.

In today’s Irish Times, it is reported that in an email earlier this year, Firhouse ET National School principal Collette Dunne told the Department of Education and the New Schools Programme Manager with Educate Together Amy Mulvihill, that she was concerned about non-Catholic children’s access to schooling.

Firhouse ETNS opened in 2013 and needs to meet the demographic needs presenting within a particular its feeder area.

“Anne [Flynn] from forward planning has just phoned to say I can offer places to children on the waiting list whose addresses are within the catchment area but not to those outside the said area,” Ms Dunne said.

“I understand the [Department’s] position that there should be places in the children’s local areas, but very often these families are pushed continuously to the bottom of enrolment lists because their children are not Catholic.”

One week later, on March 6, Ms Mulvihill informed the Department that Educate Together had serious concerns about a directive issued to Firhouse ETNS regarding enrolment.

The following week, Ms Mulvihill again wrote to the Department saying that she was unable to reach them.

“As this issue is pressing ... we will now refer the matter back to the school’s board ... and make the decision on their school’s admission policy,” she said.

The Department later replied saying that the Educate Together policy was unacceptable.

“That approach would not be acceptable in line with the criteria under which the school was established,” they said.

The school’s Principal Ms Dunne told the Herald this morning that the school has not changed its policy.

“Our policy is first come first serve. We don’t look at any

of the nine grounds that could discriminate in any way,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said that Educate Together schools cannot run a different policy to other schools.

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