As the Deputy will be aware the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 was published in July 2016. The Bill which passed Committee Stage on 28th June 2017 and will shortly proceed to Report Stage, is an important piece of legislation which strives to create a new more parent-friendly, equitable and consistent approach to how school admissions policy operates for the almost 4,000 primary and post-primary schools in this country.
In relation to the role of religion in school admissions, in early 2017, I stated that I believe that it is unfair that preference is given by publicly funded religious schools to children of their own religion who might live some distance away, ahead of children of a different religion or of no religion who live close to the school.
I also stated that I believe that it is unfair that parents, who might otherwise not do so, feel pressure to baptise their children in order to gain admission to the local school and have expressed my intention to reform the school admissions system in relation to the role that religion can play in that process.
I ran a public consultation process from 24th January to 20th March 2017 on this matter and held a public forum last May on the role of Religion in Primary School Admissions. I outlined my intention to make changes in the first instance in respect of the primary school system. It was noted in the consultation paper that any changes need only apply in respect of oversubscribed schools (approximately 20% of schools). In respect of all other schools, the practice is to admit all applicants. This will become law following the enactment of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill – when schools will be required to admit every child who applies.
Officials from my Department are currently engaging with the Office of the Attorney General on the development of legislative proposals on a number of matters, including the matter referred to by the Deputy, which I hope to bring forward to Government for approval shortly.
The Bill will proceed to Report stage once these amendments have been finalised.