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Catholic primary schools in Dublin to end ‘sibling-first’ enrolment policies

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Catholic primary schools in the greater Dublin area are to end the practice of giving priority enrolment to siblings of pupils currently attending school.

The Archdiocese of Dublin – the patron body for almost 90 per cent of schools in Dublin, Wicklow and parts of Kildare, Carlow, Laois and Wexford – has asked all primary schools to update their admissions policies over the coming weeks.

Schools who operate “sibling-first” enrolment policies say they have been instructed by the archdiocese to amend their policies to give parity to all children in the local catchment area alongside children of siblings.

The revised policies are due to be signed off by the archdiocese this month, and will come into effect for children enrolling in the 2021/22 school year. Schools are due to commence enrolments next month.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese confirmed that its school enrolment policies do not permit over-subscribed schools to prioritise siblings of current pupils only. She said this did not represent a change in the policy of the archdiocese, and these policies had been in place for many years.

However, several schools confirmed to The Irish Times that they have operated sibling-first enrolment policies for years with no objection until now.

The move has sparked controversy among school boards of management, parents’ representatives and principals, although many say they have been reluctant to speak out publicly.

The principal of one Catholic school said: “There will be uproar among parents when this comes out. It means that families risk being split up. It undermines the sense of school community.”

A parents’ representative on one school board said: “The idea is that this will be more inclusive but it will have the opposite effect, and hugely inconvenience families and result in parents sending children to multiple different schools.”

Another principal said many schools in their area had sought to resist the changes being insisted upon by the archdiocese without success.

“Our board of management must by law, and in accordance with the Education Act, accept the patron’s decision on this point. It cannot by law adopt an admission policy which has not been approved by the patron.”

Legislation

Other patron bodies – such as Educate Together – are not ending their sibling-first admission policies, while the Department of Education has said sibling-first policies are permitted under school admissions legislation.

A letter to one Catholic school, signed by Monsignor Dan O’Connor, episcopal vicar for education in the Archdiocese of Dublin, states that the polices will only apply in oversubscribed schools.

The letter states that under school admissions legislation which came into effect last February, all schools are required to have a uniform and transparent admissions policy.

It said the revised policy being adopted in Catholic schools would ensure siblings would have access to a school alongside children living in the local parish “as it is their local school”, and was a “fair, transparent and reasonable” policy.

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