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Tradition, Travellers and Schools November 19, 2016

Posted by Tomboktu in Choice, Inequality, Travellers.

The ‘baptism barrier’ in Irish schools attracted plenty of media attention this week because the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill was debated in the Dáil. Some, but less, attention was given to the ‘Traveller barrier’. From my quick scan this morning of the published transcripts of the debate, the issue of Travellers and access to schools seems to have been spoken about in a substantive way by only two TDs (some others referred to Travellers in a list of discriminatory grounds that are included in the equality legislation).

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: It is a tradition in this country that children generally attend the same school as their parents. For us to put a barrier in that regard is wrong and it is not fair to either the children, their parents or the schools.

I welcome the Minister’s statement that he is open to discussions on this matter. I note that he stated a maximum limit of 25% of places could be available for the children of past pupils. However, I foresee problems with such an approach. For example, what happens if children of past pupils apply for, let us say 35% of the places available? In such a case we would be back to a situation whereby a number of applicants would be treated unfairly. There is no easy solution to the issue. I do not believe we can solve it by simply stating that 25% of places should be reserved for the children of past pupils. My view is that the children of past pupils should always be given the option to attend the school their parents attended. As I already stated, that is the tradition in Ireland and one I would like to see retained. I am not favour of tinkering with long-held traditions that have worked successfully in the past and continue to work successfully now and will into the future. I welcome and acknowledge the Minister’s statement that he will listen to all views on this matter when the Bill is on Committee Stage.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: I take issue with the Minister retaining the past pupil rule. In effect this is a continuation of the old boys and old girls network. People who end up in university together studying law, medicine and other prestige courses tend to have gone to the same schools. It is simply a continuation of that culture. This rule was used recently to discriminate against a Traveller getting in to a school. The school circumvented the equality legislation by arguing that the child’s father had not attended the school. The Minister must explain why he has not removed this rule. It will be used as a further ground to keep people out. These people are already marginalised and we have had enough marginalisation of the Traveller community in this country. The rule affects immigrants and people who have come to this country in a similar way.

I wonder if Deputy Fitzpatrick and the schools that are lobbying for the retention of ‘tradition’ will be asked when the Committee stage is held if that includes the ‘tradition’ of excluding Travellers from certain schools.


1. dublinstreams - November 19, 2016

there has been plenty of talk of the parental rule


Tomboktu - November 19, 2016

In the Dáil, the parental rule was swamped by argument over religion.


dublinstreams - November 19, 2016

is that a negative description of that you are giving us?

will the 25% cap do anything for childrens who partents didn’t go to that school or is it just enough of a percentage to maintain the privilege?


2. An Cathaoirleach - November 19, 2016

I had over 20 years of experience on Boards of Management at both National & Secondary School level under a variety of different patronage structures. My worst experience was where the Minister was the patron, but that is a separate story.

I have never seen a National school with a past pupil provision in selection, they may exist, but it is a very serious issue in a small number of second level schools.

Problems at National school level in over subscribed schools are almost exclusively created by the priority given to siblings. I have seen a number of examples where schools were oversubscribed just with siblings. This is particularly an issue for mixed schools, particular Gaelscoileanna. (As this is normally selection criteria one, none of the others matter.)

To put it in context around 40% of secondary schools are oversubscribed, with perhaps half that number being massively so. I am not aware of the numbers, but understand the numbers in some urban areas are substantial, at National school level. I spent time on one Board, where just 25% of applicants were successful.

The main reason for a school being over-subscribed is that it is perceived to be superior to other schools in its area. This should raise the question as to why some schools are so perceived, because there is not a shortage of school places.

There is a strong campaign being orchestrated by the fee-paying schools, in particular the Catholic ones not just, to retain the past pupil rule, but to retain it as number one or two in their selection criteria. Some other schools are silently supporting them but letting the rugger buggers, with their contacts, do the hard work.

Most secondary schools operate their entrance policy by giving priority to a) siblings & b) certain feeder schools within their catchment. For any reasonably well managed school (in Dublin anyway), this will see you close to full.

The issue I would suggest no one wants to face, is why are there so many schools, which are not attractive to parents, or their children? Why are there so many schools, which are awful, or perceived as such? Making the effort to move your child(ren) some distance is normally done for a good reason. Excess applications suggest that some schools are regarded as superior to others.

Changing the criteria for enrolment will not change that. Improving the standards/management would.

Apologies for the length of comment.


Tomboktu - November 19, 2016

The issue I would suggest no one wants to face, is why are there so many schools, which are not attractive to parents, or their children? Why are there so many schools, which are awful, or perceived as such?

There is also the question of whether the other schools are in fact better when you assess then educationally, or if the value that is sought by the parents who transport is the (lack of) social mix and the presence of a higher social status. Keeping the Travellers in some schools and out of others would aid that.


An Cathaoirleach - November 20, 2016

You raise a very valid point about educational standards. It is possible to measure whether schools are improving individual children over their time in the school. I would regard this as the key measurement of a school’s performance, but many parents do not. In my time on Boards of Management, at second level, it was discussed continuously, but I can only remember being asked by parents about it a handful of times. Leaving Cert results, 3rd level attendance and success at students getting places on high status courses were regularly queried.

The vast majority of excess applications, arise from parents, ambitious for their children and making the choice to send them not to the local school, but one a few kms down the road. Issues around Travellers are really only a very small part of the issue.

There is a particular problem for children looking for second level education in Irish where the number of places is around just 60% of those leaving Gaelscoileanna.

The ongoing quality of the Board of Management is also key. “Better” schools seem to have far more experienced and qualified Board members. I can think of one school where the core of the Board includes a solicitor with a specialist knowledge of education, the former Secretary of the Combat Poverty Agency & the GAA’s Child Protection Manager. Many BofMs would struggle to have just one person with a serious level of such expertise.


3. CMK - November 19, 2016

Fitzer’s script writers must have worked hard on that one; probably one of the few occasions in his life he has made a coherent statement. It would be interesting to take away his piece of paper and ask him to repeat those arguments! At least he has moved on from the pressing issue of sheep worrying in the Cooley peninsula.


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