THE common application system that governs secondary school places in Limerick requires a “complete review”, according to Colaiste Chiarain principal Noel Malone.
Limerick is unique in that 17 secondary schools in the region form part of a common application system to ensure every child makes the transition to secondary level, a system managed by the Limerick Education Centre. This was brought about after scores of boys - mostly from disadvantaged areas of the city - failed to get second level places in the early 2000s.
Now, following on from draft proposals floated by education minister Ruairi Quinn seeking to change school admissions, a debate has sprung up as to how best to implement any possible change in Limerick.
Mr Malone said this week that he wants to see “a complete review of the common application system to such an extent that the schools participating agree a common admissions policy that it is implemented by the Limerick Education Centre”.
“That is the key point and it is extremely important,” he added, noting that the education centre was “scrupulously fair, and above board” and should be allowed to administer an agreed scheme “even on a trial basis”.
The draft Admission to Schools Bill is to go to the Oireachtas education committee for debate and proposes to eliminate waiting lists at primary and second level, booking deposits and limit to 25% of intake the number of children of past pupils that can be taken in any given academic year.
Mr Malone believes that if the current proposals put forward by the minister are adopted, a “valuable and historic opportunity will be lost”.
On the proposed limit of 25% of intake being based on past pupils, Mr Malone says it is “a capitulation to vested interests” and strongly believes that geographical location should determine first priority, after the policy of admitting siblings of existing students.
“Surely it is the right of every parent to send their child to their local school, if they so choose? By completely ignoring this inherent right, the proposed legislation effectively gives free rein to schools to continue what is effectively educational apartheid,” he said.
“There is no justification for giving preference to siblings of former pupils, or indeed children of past pupils. Again, this is discriminatory and unfair.”
He added: “It is clear to me that this is a means to reproduce a social class and cherry pick the best students.”
Several schools failed to respond to requests for comment.
One principal, who did not wish to be named, said “the suspicion is that schools are doing bits and pieces behind closed doors” and still “cherry picking” students.
Donncha Ó Treasaigh, principal in Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh, regretted Mr Malone’s choice of language in the debate and said that all of the schools in the common application system have “detailed admissions policy documents available on their school websites, and all of them cooperate in a most professional and collegial way with the operation of the system to ensure that every child seeking a place in post-primary, in Limerick, is offered a school”.
“Mr. Malone should know better than to use such inflammatory and sensationalist language as expressed in this latest public outburst from him. His very poor choice of the word ‘apartheid’ is beyond reproach,” added Mr Ó Treasaigh.
Minister Quinn’s cabinet colleague Jan O’Sullivan, who was Labour’s education spokesperson for several years, has been critical of “cherry picking” by certain schools in the past.
She stressed that the proposals put forward by the minister were just that and said that the heads of the bill agreed at Cabinet were “now being put out there for discussion”.
“The main motivation is to ensure that every child can get into an appropriate school that is not too far away from home,” she explained.
Limerick’s common application system “works for most people although there are still difficulties where there are not enough places for kids in the immediate area and that can be heart-breaking for children”.
“What we must try to ensure is that this is not because of cherry-picking from other parts of the city and county while others who are on the doorstep of a school can’t get a place.”