Tuesday 12 December 2017

Enrolling in schools: 'First come, first served' got my girl in but it's unfair to kids

Victoria White
Victoria White

Her name was down when she was three days old. And our quick thinking paid dividends this week when my baby cycled off to the local secondary school.

I have a smug smile on my face that the local mammies would love to wipe off. They know the only reason we got the 'golden ticket' to the school is because we're older parents who bought a house in Dublin 6 before prices took off.

Unlike most young couples, who have no idea where work will take them, we knew where we'd be living in 12 years' time.

We understood the system. Newcomers to this benighted island aren't even at the races.

'First come, first served' has served my little madam well but that doesn't blind me to the fact that it is about as unfair a system as you could possibly devise. It works for middle-aged, middle-class Irish people - just like most things in this country.


It works against the poor, the young, the emigrant and the newcomer.

The Department of Education has finally woken up to this fact and requires new Educate Together (ET) schools to prioritise kids from the local area.

But Educate Together wants to stick with first-come, first-served and this has led to tensions between the Department and some new ET schools, including ET Firhouse.

Why do Educate Together want to stick with such an unfair system?

First-come-first served has made many ET national schools the preserve of white, middle-class Irish children.

If you want an ethnic mix in my area, you have to go to the nearby Catholic school, which reserves a third of places for non-Catholics and prioritises kids from the locality.

But it shouldn't be up to them to decide on their enrolment policy. The State funds the schools so the State should decide who goes to them.

Living in the local area isn't perfect as a way of deciding who gets to go to the local school.

One of the national schools near us goes house to house checking parish enrolments and frequently finds them inhabited by old ladies loosely connected to the child in question.

In London, enrolment from the local area has led to house price inflation in certain areas and made ghettoes of others.

But that effect could be countered by a legislative clampdown on league tables for schools.

Prioritising kids because they live locally would ease the traffic and get more kids walking or cycling to school.

But new State enrolment rules about living locally should be for every school, not just new Educate Together ones.

The law should be amended to stop religious schools prioritising kids of their own religion.

How bad this gets was underlined for me this week by an American friend living in Wicklow, who was refused entry to the local Gaelscoil because she had no Irish.

She started going to the Protestant church to get her child into a Protestant school on her door-step, but her 'commitment' was questioned because she hadn't been attending the women's prayer group.

It's a story which makes me embarrassed to be Irish.


Most of our schools are great and the churches have played a big part in making them that way.

But the colonial hangover - which made us fear State schools in case they'd turn us into British colonial cogs - is in the past.

We're a forward-looking, multi-ethnic society, proud of our history and willing to let the newcomer Irish help write the future.

We know how to make State schools. The first State primary schools were set up in 2008 by the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee.

Kids from the local area get priority. Children of all religions and none are welcomed and they cater for teaching of their different faiths during the school day.

I think it's time for the Government to follow this model and make all State-funded schools State schools.

That way kids might get priority in enrolment policies, not parents, not churches and not auctioneers.

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