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Catholic schools say they are powerless in bid to end ‘sibling-first’ admissions

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Catholic primary schools say they are powerless to resist orders issued by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin to drop admission rules that give priority to places for siblings of existing pupils.

The Archdiocese of Dublin – the patron body for about 400 schools in Dublin, Wicklow and parts of Kildare, Carlow, Laois and Wexford – has asked all primary schools to update admissions policies over the coming weeks.

Schools who operate “sibling-first” enrolment policies say they have been instructed by the archdiocese to grant parity to all children in the local catchment area, rather than giving preference to siblings of pupils.

In a letter to parents, the board of management of Our Lady’s Grove Primary School in Dublin 14 said it had wanted to continue to offer priority admission, but the archdiocese would not approve this.

The letter states that the board of management consulted other schools in the locality who were “ experiencing a similar difficulty in relation to the changes to admissions policy insisted upon by the patron.

“However, it is now clear that the patron insists that Our Lady’s Grove and, indeed, other schools in the Archdiocese, adopt a standard admission policy, which does not permit a school to prioritise siblings of current students only in its first category.”

The board of management of Our Lady’s Grove Primary School in Dublin 14 said it had tried unsucessfully to maintain its policy of giving priority admission to siblings of children enrolled in the school. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
The board of management of Our Lady’s Grove Primary School in Dublin 14 said it had tried unsuccessfully to maintain its policy of giving priority admission to siblings of children enrolled in the school. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

The letter adds: “As the patron is insisting on this point, the board of management must by law, and in accordance with the Education Act, accept the patron’s decision on this point as it cannot by law adopt an admission policy which has not been approved by the patron.”

Saying it was “ extremely disappointed”, Our Lady’s Grove said it is “fully aware of the implications and effect the new admission policy may have on some of our families and staff members in future years”.

The revised admissions policy for schools in the archdiocese are due to come into effect this month. They will apply to children seeking school places for the 2021/22 school year.

Denying that a change is being made to rule, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Dublin said the policy is considered to be “the fairest” and would only affect over-subscribed schools.

Dublin-based Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, called on the Archdiocese to provide data on the proportion of places occupied in each class by such enrolments before pressing ahead with any changes.

“Juggling work and dropping children to school is difficult as it currently is for many parents, in particular for single parents.,” she said.

“Arranging drop-offs and collections at different times in different schools would make the planning and practicalities of their week even more difficult for parents.

“Now more than ever, with the rapidly evolving working landscape, we should be trying to work together and consider the whole family unit when making decisions about enrolment policies.”

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