Parents campaign over ‘chronic shortage’ of school places

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March 1, 2016 by johnston00

 classroom
Parents whose children are stuck on waiting lists for their local secondary schools fear they will be left without school places in September.

The problem is most acute in Wexford town, where all five secondary schools are oversubscribed.

Other parts of the country where parents report lengthy pre-enrolment waiting lists include areas of high population growth such as Newbridge, Co Kildare, and suburbs of Dublin and Galway.

Campaigners say a combination of admission rules that prioritise the children of past pupils and a shortage of places is causing stress and anxiety for parents and young people.

High birth rates in recent years mean some 60,000 additional school places are needed simply to keep pace with the baby boom.

However, the Department of Education says multiple applications from parents to schools may be inflating pre-enrolment lists in areas such as Wexford.

It says it uses geographical information systems to identify where the pressure for school places will arise and to ensure these needs are met.

Last November, Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan announced the establishment of four new primary schools and nine post-primary schools to open in 2017 and 2018, based on this data, along with the expansion of dozens of other schools.

Evidence

In the case of Wexford, the spokeswoman said the data did did not provide evidence that a new school was required.

However, Fianna Fáil Cllr Malcolm Byrne said immediate action was needed to either expand existing schools or build up to two new secondary schools.

“All of our second-level schools in the county are currently under pressure, and demographics point to the situation only worsening in coming years. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that these children will require school places, and we need to plan for that now.”

Research commissioned by Wexford County Council indicates there is an immediate shortage of about 500 places.

Local solicitor Lisa McDonald, who has set up a campaign group for local parents, says many of these children will end up travelling to other towns such as New Ross and Enniscorthy.

“There is a genuine shortage of places, and the parental rules aren’t helping. It’s causing real distress to children and parents,” said Ms McDonald, who supports a reform of admissions criteria.

In Kildare, Fine Gael’s Cllr Fiona McLoughlin-Healy has estimated there is a shortage of 160 school places in Newbridge.

She says all the local secondary schools are over-subscribed, while schools in Kildare town and Rathangan are also under pressure.

The “chronic shortage” has been ignored.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education said it used a combination of data from the Central Statistics Office and other State agencies to determine where school accommodation was needed.

A number of extensions to secondary schools in the Kildare area would provide increased capacity over the coming years. In the case of Wexford, the spokeswoman said population growth and school demand was being kept under review.

Admissions

“If additional school accommodation is required to cater for the students, this will be provided,” she said.

School patron Educate Together has proposed that a State body independent of school patronage must be given the power to manage school admissions.

“The problem is no one knows the true level of demand for change,” a spokesman said.

“The system is not configured to find this out, and cannot organise itself to suit the changing needs of the population.

“As a result we have a situation where enormous pressure is placed on parents to do whatever it takes to ensure their children access a school.”

Carl O’Brien

Irish Times

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