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.”