That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend Part X (Admission to Schools) of the Education Act 1998 insofar as it relates to taking into account a student's connection to a school by virtue of a family member having previously attended the school when deciding on an application for admission to that school, and to provide for connected matters.
It feels strange to speak on an education Bill, considering what we just heard from An Taoiseach, but we will return to that in due course. The Bill will remove a clause in the Education (Admission to Schools) Act, which was introduced by the previous Government, that has an element of elitism in it. Many elements of that Act are progressive and were supported by the Labour Party, not least the parts relating to the baptism barrier or to the powers granted to the Minister for Education and Skills to open special educational units within schools to facilitate children with special educational needs.
Within the Act, however, as a deliberate result, I understand, of lobbying by a particular sector within education, there is provision for any school to allow 25% of its intake to be reserved for the children or grandchildren of past pupils. One can only imagine the type of school that would lobby for that type of provision to be placed into legislation. It was passed with the support of Fianna Fáil in the previous Oireachtas. I tabled an amendment to the Bill at the time but it was voted down. The Bill before us will remove that elitist element of that Act. What if somebody's father or grandfather did not go to second level, or his or her mother or grandmother, or what if somebody is not from the area and, therefore, did not attend a second level school nearby? What happens if a person is not from this country? This is a deliberate attempt to keep the royal bloodline of succession through particular elitist second level schools and it was done at the behest of those elitist second level schools.
Government was lobbied and it bent the knee. The Government has allowed in legislation for 25% of a student intake to be reserved, not just for the children of past pupils, but for the grandchildren of past pupils as well. It is wrong and odious and it flies in the face of any sort of progressive protestations Government would have in the education space and it allows for schools to pick and choose who they would rather have in the door, depending on whether the children or grandchildren of past pupils are the ones who present themselves.
This Labour Party Bill seeks to eliminate that provision within the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 and to ensure that when students or families present themselves to a second level school or to any school in this country, they can do so on the same basis. It should not matter, therefore, who one's father, grandfather, mother or grandmother was because in a republic we are supposed to cherish all of the children of the nation equally and we fundamentally understand that education is the great liberator. We cannot have a situation of liberating children and having republican legislation when a quarter of an intake of any particular school can be reserved, if the school so wishes, for the children and grandchildren of past pupils.
We will be seeking support from across this House for our Bill. We got support from progressive voices for our Bill when it was presented in the last Oireachtas and we expect to get similar support this time. We hope we can work collaboratively and progressively with the Government and that it will acknowledge that this was an error within the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, that it has been proven to be elitist and that it should be amended and removed.