Future of ‘parent rule’ still unclear
It’s a Department of Education practice that came in with Ruairi Quinn several years ago: save a hotly anticipated new report or study for publication on the day the teachers’ annual conferences get under way.
It’s mildly irritating for journalists but by now we’ve come to expect it, and of course we understand the rationale behind it; to deflect attention from what the teachers are saying; to dominate the news agenda.
This year the department chose the new Admissions to Schools bill.
It was approved by Cabinet almost a week ago, but zealously kept from public notice until today.
The big talking point around this bill until now has been on the issue of the so-called ‘parent rule’.
It’s a provision found in the enrolment policies of many of the country’s most popular schools, including many fee-charging schools.
The measure states that, in cases of over-subscription, priority will be given to applicants who have a parent who attended the school.
It was anticipated by both opponents and supporters of this measure that this new legislation would address the issue, but it doesn’t.
In 2011 the department published a discussion paper on admission policies.
That document recommended banning the practice, which makes it harder for people like immigrants, Travellers, or anyone who has moved to a different town, to enrol their children.
But after a period of consultation, then minister for education Ruairi Quinn published draft regulations which allowed it, at least for up to 25% of places in a school.
In an interview with RTÉ News at the time he said: “I’ve listened to the response of a lot of people, and for some people, people I know personally, people who went to my old school, Blackrock College, this is very important for them.”
The bill published today says nothing about this issue.
The Department of Education says draft regulations will address the matter, but they will only be drawn up once the bill has been passed.
That is likely to be a very long way off.
It’s highly likely that this bill will not be passed before the next general election.
Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan told teachers this morning that she had yet to see any evidence to support allowing the practice for up to 25% of places.
She said she had some sympathy for the viewpoint of the Oireachtas education committee, which favours outlawing the practice altogether.
But she went on to say that an allowance of “perhaps 10%” could be set.
She didn’t say how or why she had arrived at this figure.
The ‘parent rule’ is opposed by immigrant groups, Traveller groups, and by others including the Teachers’ Union of Ireland.
They argue that it gives some children a hereditary right to a school place; that it discriminates against others, and that this adds to social and other inequalities and divisions between schools.
But the right to favour the children of past pupils in this way is a right that is very close to the hearts of many schools.
Schools have argued in submissions to the Department of Education that it maintains family connections; upholding “family values and pride in the school”.
The fee-charging schools sector in particular is vehemently opposed to any move to outlaw the practice.
The past pupil unions of Blackrock College and Belvedere College have urged its members to write to the Minister for Education expressing their opposition.
They call it unjust State interference, and “a stealth tactic to destroy private institutions”.
Groups like the Irish Traveller Movement had expressed hope that the publication of this legislation would support their stance and help bring this debate to a conclusion. But that hasn’t happened.
It seems the Government has postponed indefinitely any decision on this controversial issue.
In the meantime, the debate will continue, as will the practice of schools giving preference to the sons or daughters of their past pupils.