The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton T.D., will today (Wednesday 3rd of October) sign a historic Commencement Order bringing a number of sections of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act, 2018 into operation.
This Order will deliver a number of broad ranging reforms, which will make it easier for a child to access their local school and fulfils a number of a key actions in the Minister’s Action Plan for Education, which aims to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe by 2026.
Three of the four provisions will have immediate effect from today. They will end the use of religion as a criteria in school admissions in almost all cases, end admission fees, and provide the Minister with the power to require schools to co-operate in relation to admission.
The order being signed today will also provide the Minister with a power from Monday 3rd December to compel a school to open a special class following a number of steps. The Minister will sign the order to amend the Equal Status Act 2000 to remove the existing provision permitting schools to use religion as a selection criteria in school admissions in almost all cases.
Minister Bruton stated, “the order which I am signing today will ensure greater fairness in school admissions. While recognising the right of all schools to have their distinctive ethos, the removal of religion as a criteria for admission to school seeks to be fair to all parents including non-religious families that will now find that in virtually all publicly funded primary schools they will be treated the same as all other families in school admissions.”
The Minister will also bring into operation the section which provides the Minister with a power, after a process of consultation with the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), the Board of Management and the Patron of a school, to compel a school to make additional provision for the education of children with special educational needs. This power will come into effect on Monday 3rd December 2018. The Minister has asked the NCSE to engage with the education partners and finalise the procedures in advance of this date. This new power will build on the work which has been done in recent years to facilitate schools to open special classes. The government have more than doubled the number of special classes from 548 (2011) to over 1,300, including increasing the number of ASD units from 330 (2011) to 1,048 today.
Speaking about this provision, Minister Bruton said, “this government is committed to supporting children with special educational needs to fulfil their full potential. We invest nearly one fifth of the education budget in special needs supports, €1.8billion, up 43% since 2011. Today’s provision will further enable us to ensure that there are state of the art facilities for children with special educational needs across the country.”
The Minister will commence the provision to prevent schools, other than in a number of limited circumstances, from charging fees for admission or the continued enrolment of students in schools.
The Minister will also commence Section 66, of the Act. This section provides the Minister with the power to direct schools to co-operate with other schools in relation to their admission processes and enables schools to share information in order to facilitate the efficient admission of students.
The Minister finished by saying, “now is the opportune time before commencement of the remaining sections of the act, for all schools to start preparing their admission policies in line with the spirit of the admissions act. It is my intention to commence the remaining sections of the Act in time for admission to the 2020/2021 school year. This will allow the necessary time for regulations and procedures to be drafted following consultation with the Education Partners. Consultation with the Partners will commence shortly.
“This hugely important law will make it easier for parents in the future to more easily access local schools and to enrol their children in a school that meets their needs. The Act will create greater confidence for parents that the admission criteria laid down by schools and the procedures used by them are visible, legitimate, reasonable and fair.”
Note to Editors
Sections of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 commenced on 3rd October 2018
Section 11 – Amendment of the Equal Status Act 2000
This section provides for the amendment of the Equal Status Act 2000 to remove, in the case of recognised denominational primary schools, the existing provision that permits such schools to use religion as a selection criterion in school admissions.
Under this provision, there will be a protection to ensure that a child of a minority faith, can still access a school of their faith. The provision provides that a recognised denominational primary school does not discriminate where it admits as a priority a student from a minority religion who is seeking admission to a school that provides religious instruction or religious education consistent with the minority religious beliefs of the student concerned or a religion similar to that of the student concerned.
These changes will only impact oversubscribed primary schools (approx. 20%), which are predominantly located in large urban areas. Schools that are not oversubscribed must continue to accept all applicants, regardless of religion.
As a result of these changes, children of minority religions will be able access schools of their own religious ethos. Catholic families will continue to be able to enrol their children in Catholic schools as such schools already make up 90% of all schools and non-denominational families will now find that for well over 95% of primary schools they will be treated the same as all other families in primary school admissions.
Section 8 – Special Classes
This section provides the Minister with a power to compel a school to make additional provision in respect of children with special educational needs i.e. open a special class or classes, where the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has identified a need for such provision within an area.
This measure will ensure that where there is a gap in provision for the education of children with special needs, as identified by the NCSE, and no school is willing to make such provision available, the gap can be addressed effectively by the issuing of a direction by the Minister to the school.
Under the amendment, exercise of this power will be preceded by a number of steps to allow for engagement between the Minister, the NCSE, the Board of Management and Patron of a school.
Section 9 – (new section 64) School Fees
This provision in the Act sets out an explicit prohibition on the charging of fees or seeking payment or contributions for admission to or for continued enrolment in a school. Exceptions are included in relation to fee charging secondary schools, the boarding element in Boarding Schools and admission to post leaving or further education courses run by post-primary schools.
No charge may be made for instruction in any subject of the school curriculum or for recreation or other activities where all pupils are expected to take part. Financial contributions may be sought from parents only on the basis that a child’s place in a school is not dependent on making a contribution.
The Minister is very conscious of the burden which can be placed on parents by the costs associated with school attendance. In this regard the Minister issued a circular to schools last year requiring a keen cost approach to the selection of items which could impose costs and requiring consultation with parents on the elements that can create costs.
The Minister has previously stated that he believes that schools need to be accountable to parents and that greater levels of communication, engagement and transparency in how schools serve their communities is required. Under the prospective Parent and Student Charter legislation, and the statutory guidelines that will be published under that legislation, it is the Minister’s intention to require schools to provide parents with information on how any voluntary contributions are used.
Section 9 (new section 66) Co-operation of Boards
This section, which is also being commenced today, provides the Minister with the power to require schools to co-operate in relation to admission.
Commencement of the remaining sections of the Act
Consultation is required by the Act with the Education Partners for the purposes of drawing up regulations and procedures before the remaining sections can be commenced.
Work will commence shortly with the Education Partners on the drafting of necessary regulations. Minister Bruton is committed to commencing the remaining sections of the Act in time for admission to the 2020/2021 school year.
The Education (Admission to Schools) Act, 2018 is available on the Oireachtas website.
Source: Department of Education, www.education.ie