Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016: From the Seanad

The Dáil went into Committee to consider amendments from the Seanad.

Seanad amendments Nos. 1, 4 to 8, inclusive, and 11 are related and may be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 1:
Section 7: In page 5, to delete lines 19 to 25 and substitute the following:
" 'Act of 2018' means the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018;
'annual admission notice' has the same meaning as it has in Part X (inserted by section 9 of the Act of 2018);
'applicant' has the meaning assigned to it by subsection (1);
'board' includes a committee established under section 44(1) or 44(7) of the Education and Training Boards Act 2013;
'oversubscribed' has the same meaning as it has in Part X (inserted by section 9 of the Act of 2018);
'school' has the same meaning as it has in Part X (inserted by section 9 of the Act of 2018);
'school year' has the same meaning as it has in Part X (inserted by section 9 of the Act of 2018);
'special class' has the same meaning as it has in Part X (inserted by section 9 of the Act of 2018);
'special educational needs' has the same meaning as it has in the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004;".
Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendments Nos. 2, 3, 9, 10 and 12 to 14, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 2:
Section 7: In page 8, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:
“(k) the manner in which, and period during which, a review under section 29F(5) shall be undertaken;”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 3:
Section 7: In page 8, line 5, to delete "(k) such" and substitute "(l) such".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 4:
Section 7: In page 8, line 5, to delete "matter" and substitute "matters".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 5:
Section 7: In page 8, line 31, to delete "therefore" and substitute "therefor".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 6:
Section 7: In page 9, lines 8 to 11, to delete all words from and including "error" in line 8 down to and including line 11 and substitute the following:
"error—
(a) where the failure or error related to the admission of a student to a school or special class, by admitting the student to the school or special class concerned, or
(b) where the failure or error related to a student's ranking on the waiting list, by adjusting the ranking of the student on the waiting list.".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 7:
Section 7: In page 10, line 31, to delete "in the case of an appeal brought by a parent or a student,".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 8:
Section 7: In page 12, lines 10 and 11, to delete all words from and including "by" in line 10 down to and including line 11 and substitute "when the decision to refuse admission was made.".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 9:
Section 7: In page 13, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:
"(5) An applicant may, after receiving a copy of a decision under subsection (4), request the Minister to review the decision.
(6) Where the Minister receives a request under subsection (5) he or she shall, as soon as practicable and subject to subsection (7), appoint a member of an appeals panel established under section 29A to review the decision.
(7) A person appointed under subsection (6) shall not have been a member of the appeals committee that made the decision in relation to the request concerned.
(8) A person appointed under subsection (6) shall review the decision in accordance with procedures under section 29B and, following the review shall make a recommendation to the Minister—
(a) that the decision of the appeals committee is upheld, or
(b) that the decision of the appeals committee is set aside.
(9) Where the Minister receives a recommendation under subsection (8)(b), he or she shall set aside the decision and direct the appeals committee to proceed to hear or determine, or continue to hear and determine, the appeal concerned.".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 10:
Section 7: In page 13, line 30, to delete "(5) Subject" and substitute "(10) Subject".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 11:
Section 7: In page 13, line 35, to delete "Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018)" and substitute "Act of 2018)".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 12:
Section 7: In page 13, line 38, to delete "(6) Where" and substitute "(11) Where".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 13:
Section 7: In page 13, line 39, to delete "subsection (5)" and substitute "subsection (10)".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 14:
Section 7: In page 14, line 1, to delete "(7) An appeals" and substitute "(12) An appeals".
Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendments Nos. 15 to 28, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 15:
Section 8: In page 15, line 6, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

I acknowledge the amendments which have improved the version that the Minister put forward, on foot of our request that these provisions be inserted in the Bill to ensure that special classes can be formed in schools where there is an identified need. Senator Kelleher, together with my colleague, Senator Gallagher and others made significant amendments to change it slightly and improve it. I am delighted to have worked with Senator Kelleher and Graham Manning, a teacher in Cork who brought this matter to the attention of all political parties, to ensure this is in the Bill. This is a key priority for us and we are glad to see it in the Bill. We hope it will be matched with the resources to ensure that children are educated as they need to be in particular cases. A special class will not be suitable for everybody. Some people may need a special school; some may need education in a mainstream classroom. Some people, in certain areas, and particularly at second level, will need special classes. I appeal in particular to the voluntary secondary sector to come to the table in greater numbers than it has done to open special classes where there is an identified need in the relevant area. It cannot all be left to one particular sector. Children have a right to be educated in their local school, and in a particular ethos, insofar as they can, despite their special needs.

I acknowledge the contribution of Deputy Byrne and Senator Kelleher. The changes are small but significant in that they speed up the process through which a school could be required to open a special class and make it clearer that the Minister will act on recommendations that come forward. They also provide for a review not later than three years after this goes into operation so that we will be able to see whether it is working satisfactorily.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 16:
Section 8: In page 15, line 15, to delete "28 days" and substitute "14 days".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 17:
Section 8: In page 15, line 28, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 18:
Section 8: In page 16, line 7, to delete "21 days" and substitute "14 days".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 19:
Section 8: In page 16, line 19, to delete "21 days" and substitute "14 days".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 20:
Section 8: In page 16, line 26, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 21:
Section 8: In page 16, line 34, to delete "21 days" and substitute "14 days".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 22:
Section 8: In page 17, line 1, to delete “21 days” and substitute “14 days”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 23:
Section 8: In page 17, line 8, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 24:
Section 8: In page 17, line 19, to delete "21 days" and substitute "14 days".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 25:
Section 8: In page 17, line 28, to delete "21 days" and substitute "14 days".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 26:
Section 8: In page 17, line 34, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 27:
Section 8: In page 18, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:
"(21)The Minister shall—
(a) not later than 3 years after section 8 of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 comes into operation, commence a review of the operation of this section, and
(b) not later than 12 months after the expiration of the said 3 years, make a report to each House of the Oireachtas of his or her findings and conclusions resulting from that review.".
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 28:
Section 8: In page 18, line 18, to delete "(21) In this" and substitute "(22) In this".
Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendments Nos. 29 and 32 are related and can be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 29:
Section 9: In page 23, to delete lines 39 and 40 and substitute the following:
"(iii) other than in relation to a course known as a post leaving certificate course or a further education and training course and subject to subsections (8) and (9), a student's academic ability, skills or aptitude;".
Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendments Nos. 30, 31 and 33 to 35, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 30:
Section 9: In page 24, line 7, to delete "subsection (9)" and substitute "subsection (10)".

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le gach páirtí sa Teach agus leis na heagraíochtaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta, go háirithe Conradh na Gaeilge agus Cearta Oideachais, a rinne sár-obair le chéile chun próiseas iontrála nua do lucht na Gaeilge, na Gaelscoileanna agus na Gaelcholáistí a chur le chéile. Measaim go bhfuil gach duine sásta leis an bpróiseas seo. Bhí go leor daoine buartha go raibh céimniú síos ar siúl maidir leis an nGaeilge agus na Gaelscoileanna. Cheap siad go mbeadh deacrachtaí le teaghlaigh le Gaeilge acu freastal ar Ghaelscoileanna áirithe. Measaim go bhfuil jab maith déanta. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Ó Cuív, a bhí i mbun idirbheartaíochta ar son Fianna Fáil, agus leis an Aire. Níor aontaigh an Freasúra anseo sa Dáil leis an treo ina raibh an tAire ag dul, ach nuair a d'iarramar air gan dul ar aghaidh leis an gcur chuige a bhí i gceist aige maidir leis an gceist seo, d'fhreagair sé go dearfach agus d'oibrigh sé lena oifigigh chun leasú suntasach a chur chun cinn sa Seanad. Tá muidne sásta leis an leasú sin. Measaim go bhfuil an pobal go léir sásta. Is slí an-mhaith é sin chun an jab reachtaíochta a dhéanamh sa Dáil agus sa Seanad. Nuair a oibríonn gach duine le chéile - na hoifigigh a bhfuil saineolas acu ar nithe reachtúla san áireamh - is féidir linn an míniú agus an bhrí atá á lorg againn sa Dáil a scríobh isteach sa reachtaíocht. Tá sé sin tábhachtach. Measaim go bhfuil jab ceart agus cruinn déanta maidir leis na leasuithe seo. Tá muidne sásta. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire agus leis na Teachtaí ó gach páirtí a d'oibrigh le chéile ar an bpróiseas seo.

Cé nach raibh mé bainteach sna díospóireachtaí ar an reachtaíocht seo laistigh sa Dáil, sna coistí nó in aon áit eile, bhí idirbheartaíocht idir mé féin agus roinnt de na heagrais atá luaite ag an Teachta Byrne. Measaim go bhfuil an ceart aige go bhfuil dul chun cinn déanta. Measaim nach raibh sé riamh i gceist go mbeadh bac i gceist. Cheap pobal na Gaeilge go raibh seans ann go mbeadh bac i gceist maidir le coinníollacha iontrála sna Gaelscoileanna dá leanfaimid ar aghaidh leis an mbunfhoclaíocht a bhí ann. Tháinig muid ar fad le chéile chun iarracht a dhéanamh teacht ar fhoclaíocht a chinnteodh go mbeadh an reachtaíocht seo chun leasa na teanga agus go dtiocfadh borradh ar an nGaelscolaíocht. Measaim gur athrú maith é sa deireadh thiar thall. Tá súil agam go bhfuil athrú meoin le feiceáil laistigh den Roinn. Léiríonn an leasú seo gur féidir leis na heagrais agus na polaiteoirí ar fad suí síos agus teacht ar fhoclaíocht a shásaíonn gach éinne má bhíonn deis againn. Sa deireadh thiar thall, measaim go ndéanfaidh an fhoclaíocht seo an beart. Tá gá le hathrú bunúsach ar mheon na Roinne ó thaobh éileamh a chothú, seachas éileamh a shásamh. Ní dhéanann an Roinn an t-éileamh maidir le Gaelscoileanna a shásamh, san iomlán. Má tá an chéad réabhlóid eile atá ag teastáil ó thaobh an Ghaelscolaíocht le titim amach, ba cheart go mbeadh sé mar dhualgas ar an Stát - agus go háirithe ar an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna - an t-éileamh sin a chothú.

Ba cheart don Roinn dul amach agus déanamh cinnte de go bhfuil seans ag tuismitheoirí éileamh a lorg. Faoi láthair, fanann an Roinn chun an t-éileamh atá ag teacht ó lasmuigh a mheas, rud a bhí deacair le tamall de bhlianta anuas. Tá sórt athrú a teacht anois. Molaim an mhéid atá déanta ag daoine sa chás seo. Tá súil agam go n-éireoidh leis an meon atá taobh thiar den leasú seo amach anseo.

I thank Deputies on all sides for the work that has gone into this Bill. When we brought it forward on Report Stage, we had a series of amendments that were well intentioned, but there was a need to take more time to consider what would meet the issues we had sought to pursue. That opportunity was taken in the Seanad and we are now back with an amendment that I think has a broad basis of support. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure a Gaelscoil or a Gaelcholáiste can give priority to a pupil who has a level of fluency that is consistent with him or her using Irish in his or her normal non-educational context. That level of fluency, of which the pupil or the parent would have to provide evidence, sets a high bar. It is not intended that a person would be able go to a naíonraí for a year or to the Gaeltacht and be deemed to have priority access to a Gaelscoil. This will apply to someone who is genuinely using Irish as part of his or her normal life. The belief on all sides was that such a pupil should have priority access to a Gaelscoil in order that his or her level of Irish would not regress. That is what we have done. We had to take care to ensure it would be legally robust because some of the phraseology used earlier as the thinking was evolving did fall foul of some requirements of the Constitution. We have amended it in such a way that we are satisfied it is robust and technically sound.

Senator Robbie Gallagher had sought an assurance which I gave to him that when we were setting out the procedures for section 29 appeals, we would set out additional guidelines for how the provision should be interpreted. We intend it to be a high bar. The Senator and others, including Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, to whom I spoke outside the Chamber, wanted that assurance. We can give it through the procedures for section 29 appeals and the intention of the Oireachtas will be clearly conveyed.

I should mention that Seanad amendment No. 31 requires a small amendment to be agreed verbally. A new paragraph (h) was inserted. Because of that I have to name the next paragraph h(a). Amendment No. 31 made in the Seanad on Report Stage inserted a new paragraph (h) in section 62(7) of the Education Act which was inserted by section 9 of the Bill. That results in two paragraphs labelled as (h) in this section of the Act of 1998. Accordingly, I am requesting the Clerk of the Dáil to renumber the second paragraph (h) as paragraph h(a). This correction will have no effect on the wording or meaning of the text or provision, but it is necessary in order to avoid a numbering anomaly in the Bill. Amendment No. 31 provides that a Gaelcholáiste can give prior access to students of a Gaelscoil. This is already provided for in the case of feeder schools, but Senators wanted it to be written into the legislation and it was passed in the Upper House.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 31:
Section 9: In page 24, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:
“(h) provide that the admission policy of a second level school that provides education through the medium of Irish may provide for the inclusion of students that have attended a primary school that provides education through the medium of Irish,”.

This is the amendment about which the Minister just spoke.

It was discussed with amendment No. 30.

May I make the renumbering amendment?

It is only a clerical correction.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 32:
Section 9: In page 26, to delete lines 21 to 28 and substitute the following:
“(8) Notwithstanding subsection (7)(e)(iii) in relation to—
(a) a school approved by the Minister to provide an education exclusively for students with a specified category or categories of special educational needs, or
(b) a special class,
a student’s academic ability, skills or aptitude may be considered or taken into account insofar only as is necessary in order to ascertain whether or not the student has the category of special educational needs concerned.”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 33:
Section 9: In page 26, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:
“(9) (a) Notwithstanding subsection (7)(e)(iii), and subject to this subsection, an Irish language school may prioritise the admission of a student where the school is satisfied that the student has attained a level of fluency in the Irish language and that the said fluency would be likely to regress were the student not admitted to an Irish language school.
(b) An applicant may, when making an application for admission to an Irish language school, include a statement confirming that the student in respect of whom the application concerned relates has attained a level of fluency in the Irish language and that the said fluency would be likely to regress were the student not admitted to an Irish language school.
(c) When making an application in accordance with paragraph (b), the applicant shall provide such evidence as he or she considers appropriate in relation to the level of fluency in the Irish language of the student in respect of whom the application relates, which may include confirmation that the student concerned is available to attend an interview or meeting to demonstrate his or her level of fluency in the Irish language.
(d) In satisfying itself that a student has attained a level of fluency in the Irish language and that the said fluency would be likely to regress were the student not admitted to an Irish language school, a school shall take into account only the evidence that the applicant has provided in accordance with paragraph (c).
(e) An Irish language school may not rank in order of preference, for the purposes of admission to the school concerned, a student who has satisfied the school in accordance with paragraph (a) relative to other students who have satisfied the school in accordance with that paragraph, by virtue of the students’ relative fluency in the Irish language.
(f) Nothing in paragraph (e) shall preclude an Irish language school from applying the selection criteria set out in the school’s admission policy to students who have satisfied the school in accordance with paragraph (a), where the number of such students is greater than the number of places available.
(g) Nothing in this subsection shall be construed as permitting an Irish language school to require a student attend an interview or other meeting to assess his or her level of fluency in the Irish language.
(h) In this subsection—
‘Irish language school’ means a school that provides education through the medium of Irish;
‘level of fluency in the Irish language’, in relation to a student, means a level of fluency indicative of what would be expected of a student who uses the Irish language as a normal means of communication in a non-educational environment, taking into account the age and any special educational needs of the student concerned.”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 34:
Section 9: In page 26, line 29, to delete “(9) Subsection (7)(e)(vi)” and substitute “(10) Subsection (7)(e)(vi)”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 35:
Section 9: In page 26, line 38, to delete “(10)(a) Notwithstanding” and substitute “(11)(a) Nothwithstanding”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendments Nos. 36 to 39, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 36:
Section 9: In page 27, to delete lines 9 and 10 and substitute the following:
“(12) In this section—
‘code of behaviour’ has the same meaning as it has in the Education (Welfare) Act 2000;
‘pre-school service’ has the same meaning as it has in section 58A (inserted by section 92 of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013) of the Child Care Act 1991.”.

These four amendments were all agreed to on Committee Stage in the Seanad. They are technical and proofing amendments to section 9 of the Bill.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 37:
Section 9: In page 28, line 5, after “sought,” to insert “include”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 38:
Section 9: In page 31, to delete lines 7 to 9.
Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 39:
Section 9: In page 37, line 26, after “an” to insert “annual”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 40 and 41 are related and may be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 40:
Section 11: In page 43, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
“(5) The Minister for Education and Skills shall—
(a) not later than 5 years after section 11 of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 comes into operation, commence a review of the operation of this section, and
(b) not later than 12 months after the expiration of the said 5 years, make a report to each House of the Oireachtas of his or her findings and conclusions resulting from that review.”.

These amendments were made in the Seanad where a request was made that, not later than five years after the section comes into operation, the Minister commence a review and make a report on the findings of the review to each House of the Oireachtas within 12 months of the expiration of that period. It was to be a review of the way we were implementing the removal of religion as a criterion in selection but leaving it open for minority religions in certain circumstances. Senator Lynn Ruane was anxious that the provision be reviewed after a period and I was happy to accede to her request.

Seanad amendment agreed to.
Seanad amendment No. 41:
Section 11: In page 43, line 20, to delete “(5) In this” and substitute “(6) In this”.
Seanad amendment agreed to.

I thank Deputies and Senators on all sides for their co-operation on the Bill. It has taken a long time to get it through, but the time taken has been well used in that we will succeed in getting to introduce new provisions that Deputies on all sides want to see. One deals with religion in the context of admissions policy. We now have a provision that has broad support. We have also introduced a provision such that not only can the NCSE ensure a child with special needs will be accommodated in a school but also that schools will open special needs units where needed. That was something many Deputies believed was a invaluable part of the Bill.

We have also succeeded in dealing with access to Gaelscoileanna. More widely, the Bill gives more certainty and provides for transparency and fairness in the way we administer admissions. It will make a significant contribution to the modernisation of the way we run schools. Everyone recognises that Ireland is changing rapidly and the system has to respond. Many of these issues will be revisited in the future. It is recognised on all sides that the situation is evolving, but this is an important contribution. Many people have put a lot of time and effort into the amendments and developing the Bill. I thank them and my own staff for the work that has gone into it.

I also pay tribute to all those involved in the passage of this legislation. In fact, my only complaint, to which the Minister did allude, is that it has taken so long to get it through. It has been knocking around for years. It is one year since the leader of my party offered it as one of five Bills that could be progressed quickly. I think we have got two of them through. Both were in the area of education, the Technological Universities Act and this Bill. I do not think either the Dáil or the Seanad can be faulted for the fact that it has taken a long time to get the Bill through. I do not know the reason it has taken so long. In fairness to the Minister, he has achieved consensus on the Bill and taken ideas from the Opposition such as the provision dealing with special classes.

He has also taken on board ideas on the Gaelscoileanna. A genuinely collaborative effort has been adopted to pass the best possible legislation.

I welcome all the Bill's provisions. I have spoken to people involved in Catholic schools, and it is clearly the case that those schools have no fear of this Bill. In fact, quite a few schools had moved away from a baptism barrier in recent years. The barrier was operating, but quite a few schools operating it had made it clear that a different approach was desired. Those schools will not now be able to operate a barrier, which is good news in some of the areas affected.

While it is great to pass legislation, the unrelenting focus must be on resources for our schools. Wee have to ensure they have the time, wherewithal and money to put some of the Bill's provision into practice. It involves drawing up a policy in each school, which is not expensive but which adds to the administrative hassle in schools. We must be conscious of that; I am always slow to legislate because of that consideration. The target of 400 new multi-denominational schools set by the Minister must be massively ramped up. It is one thing to remove the baptism barrier, but it must be remembered that people are entitled to education in an ethos other than Catholicism. One way of doing that is by honouring that commitment, which has been happening very slowly so far. It has to happen.

I again pay tribute to Mr. Graham Manning, who brought the issue of special classes to the fore. We were all aware of it, but he brought it to our attention, and an opportunity to bring in a legislative provision to deal with the issue was spotted in this Bill. Mr. Manning is an ordinary citizen who brought his concerns to his local representatives in Cork, who then forwarded them to the education spokespersons of the various parties in Dáil Éireann. He has managed to get the law changed. We took the issue up as a priority and told the Minister that we would not facilitate the Bill without it, even though there was reluctance at some levels within his Department to include this measure. In fairness to the Minister, he accepted it and worked collaboratively with us on that.

We do not want any delay on the commencement of the sections, which has become a feature of legislation in the past year or so. We will insist on that, and I do not believe the Minister will have any difficulty with that approach. We have worked well on this. It is a signal moment in Irish education, and represents a big change. Indeed, it will probably signal further change in terms of the ethos of schools in Ireland. There are other debates to be had, but I want the main focus to be on resources and on making sure that our schools are able to educate our students without being tied up in knots, rules and regulations.

Seanad amendments reported.