Education | Ensuring sufficient school places in all schools among fears and anxieties of parents and children
To ask the Minister for Education the extent to which adequate provision has been made to ensure sufficient school places in all schools, pre-school, primary and post-primary without exception; if adequate steps are being taken to assuage the fears of parents and children many of whom are suffering anxiety and hardship on foot of the situation still prevailing in respect of capacity; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
I can assure the Deputy that the provision of school places to meet the needs of children and young people at primary and post primary level, including children and young people with special educational needs is an absolute priority for my Department. The Deputy may be aware that the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) is responsible for early years education outside the formal education system, including pre-school provision through the free Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE).
In order to plan for school place needs, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and utilises a Geographical Information System to anticipate school place demand. Information from a range of sources, including Child Benefit data, school enrolment data and information on residential development activity is used for this purpose. Additionally, Project Ireland 2040 population and housing targets inform my Department’s projections of school place requirements.
While my Department is aware of enrolment pressures and demand for additional school places in some areas, it is important to note that where enrolment pressures arise, it may not be as a result of lack of accommodation but may be driven by the following factors:
– Duplication of applications – pupils have applied for a place to a number of schools in the area
– School of choice – pupils can’t get a place in their preferred school while there are places in other schools in the town/area
– Some towns/areas have single sex schools and while places are available in the school they are not available to all pupils
– External draw – pupils coming from outside the local area
My Department’s main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking school places in the area. In relation to school admissions, it is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of all schools to implement an enrolment policy in accordance with the Education Act, 1998.
Parents have the right to choose which school to apply to and where the school has places available the pupil should be admitted. However, in schools where there are more applicants than places available a selection process may be necessary. This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants. However, this may result in some pupils not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice.
Through close engagement with school patrons and authorities, my Department has established a requirement for additional school places at primary and post primary level in a small number of areas across the country. With the support of my Department, a significant number of additional junior infant and first year places have already been made available in schools in recent weeks. Engagement is ongoing with further schools and patrons with a view to making increased provision where necessary. It is expected that these places will become available imminently.
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