What does the enacted Admissions Bill mean for Catholic primary schools?

The Admissions Bill (2018) was paused last year by the Minister for Education stating workload for schools the reason for not fully enacting the Bill, which supposedly ended the so-called Baptism Barrier in primary schools. While still a very fraught and flawed Bill, which still allows schools to discriminate on the basis of gender and religion (in non-Catholic faith schools) changes do have to occur within 3 months of the Bill being enacted. As well as affecting denominational schools, it also affects schools like Educate Together who can no longer offer places solely on a First-Come, First-Served model. The purpose of this article is to go through the changes that a Catholic school will need to go through because this accounts for about 90% of schools. For information about other patrons, I might do another article in the future.

An Admission Statement

Every school now must make an explicit statement in its enrollment policy that it will not discriminate against an applicant for admission on any grounds except in the case of single sex schools where it can still discriminate against people of a different gender. I won’t get into the ins and outs of how these kinds of schools cater for children that identify as any other gender than male or female as that’s for another day, but while we still have single sex schools, we still have a situation where a school can discriminate on that basis. What has changed though is that they can no longer discriminate on the basis of religion and this must be explicitly stated.

The Admissions Policy

As well as a statement, schools will now have to redraft their enrollment policy. I think they now have to call it an Admissions Policy though I could be wrong. There are a few things they have to do before publishing it though.

Firstly, they have to consult with the school community. They don’t seem to specify who they are but we can take it, it means parents, pupils, Board members and staff, though not necessarily in that order.

Schools must accept children where they have places, except on the basis of gender, so if a girls’ school doesn’t fill its places and a boy applies, the school can turn him away.

Schools can set their criteria of how they prioritise enrollments if they are over-subscribed. This is a rather limited list which include:

  • Catchment Area (X pupils living nearest to the school are prioritised)
  • Date of Birth (e.g. X eldest pupils are prioritised)
  • Siblings Rule (If you’ve a brother or sister, you’re in)
  • Up to 25% of places can be held for children and grandchildren of past pupils! (A more controversial one in my opinion)
  • A Lottery System (a window is set to apply for a place and after this time, places are offered through a lottery system)
  • Gaelscoileanna will be allowed to give priority to students who have a reasonable age appropriate level of oral fluency in the Irish language. To me, this is a disgraceful addition to the Admissions’ Bill and it is likely we will see it being used to further discriminate against minorities.

This list above can be in any order. Schools cannot prioritise on a number of other bases. For example, a controversial one is that children of staff cannot be prioritised.

Another very important aspect is that there is a ban on waiting lists. This means that schools cannot open up their admissions for longer than 11 months before the child is due to start school. For example, before this law, I was able to enrol my son into his school as soon as he was born. In fact, I did it once he turned 2 days old. Under the new laws, for September 2021, schools will only be allowed to open their enrollment in October 2020 for places. It makes sense for schools to close their date for admissions if they are over-subscribed so whatever system s being used to exclude potential enrollments has a cut-off date.

Annual Admission Notice

Schools will now have to publish an “Admission Notice” each year. The notice must be published on the school’s website (if they have one!) at least one week prior to the school commencing its annual admission process. It has to provide the school’s admission policy and application form for admission, or at least it has to provide information on how to get it. This has to include:

  • The date when the school starts and stops accepting applications the school year ahead. Note that there has to be a minimum of 3 weeks between both these dates.
  • The date the applicant will be told of the decision as to whether their application has been accepted or not. This must be within 3 weeks of the end date stated above.
  • The date that the applicant has to confirm whether they are accepting the place or not and that the offer will be withdrawn if the place isn’t accepted within the time frame.
  • The school must state how many places it is offering each year.

Rules that should already have been in place

  • Religion can’t be used as a criteria for admission in all Catholic schools but it can be used in other faith schools.
  • Schools cannot charge fees for an application for admission to a school. While there are some exceptions at second level, no exceptions can be made at primary level. Therefore book deposits and so on must cease.
  • Schools can now talk to each other and co-operate with each other around enrollments. In fact the minister for education can force them to! It means schools can share enrollment lists and share information about multiple applications. This is a useful addition for schools.
  • The Minister for Education has the power to force a school to open a special class or classes.

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