Section 15.2 (d) of the 1998 Education Act puts an obligation on the Board of Management of every school to create and publish an Admissions Policy. In schools receiving public monies, the school cannot refuse a place to any child if the school is not fully enrolled (meaning the multiple of the number of class teachers and the pupil-teacher ratio as dictated by the Department of Education).
However, if a school has more applications for admission than it has available places, it must decide who shall have first right of entry. The criteria defining who gets first preference in places in the school is defined in the Admissions Policy.
Historically, the criteria for entry to a National School should be as follows
- Children of the catchment area (often the geographical-civil parish), and siblings of existing pupils in the school.
- Children from outside the catchment area.
- Where there are too many applicants, priority will be given to older children (“first come, first served” has also been common for this last criterion).
With this admissions policy, all children in the local area had an equal right of entry to their local National School – they may have had to wait an extra year until they receive a place, if there was pressure on places in the local area.
The “Catholics First” admissions policy being promoted by the Catholic Church is generally:
- All schools are obliged under the 1998 Education Act to create and publish an Admissions policy. This is strictly the role of the Board of Management of the school – not the Patron.
- All children should have an equal right of entry to their local National School – under the Constitution, the Stanley Letter, the Equal Status Act etc.
- The only role for the Patron is to agree the manner of publication of every school’s Admissions Policy. The Patron has no role in creating the content of the policy.
- The “parish” in Ireland is a geographic-civil, as well as a religious, entity. “Catchment area” would be a much better term to use when defining right of entry to a National School.
- An admissions policy only comes into action when a school has filled all of its available places – a school cannot refuse a place to any applicant unless the number of applicants exceeds the number of available places.
- There is some evidence of a practice of holding places for children of particular religion (who have not yet applied), while not replying to applcants with a different religious background. This is unacceptable and should not be allowed. Such a delay in offering places is effectively a refusal of a place. Places should be offered or refused to all applicants at the same time.