Education Bill will disappoint Fine Gael, schools and parents

07 July 2016

Three things are clear from today’s announcement by Education Minister Richard Bruton on his new Education (Admission to Schools) Bill.

First, the Bill walks away from the commitment in Fine Gael’s election manifesto to “transform the School Admissions Bill agreed by the current Government, but not yet passed by the Oireachtas, into a new School Admissions and Excellence Bill”. This will disappoint the ideologues in Fine Gael who were pushing for an English academy-style system of discretionary top-up funding for selected schools.

And it seems the Bill will ignore another of their manifesto commitments, to use this Bill to give new freedoms to schools on staff deployment, performance management, curriculum design and other matters.

Judged against the promises made for it by Fine Gael, the Bill is already a damp squib.

Second, although he claims that his Bill will explicitly ban discrimination in school admissions, it is quite clear that it does nothing of the sort and that Richard Bruton has ducked the issue of ‘baptism of convenience’. From his Dáil statements and his blocking of my own Bill on religious discrimination in schools, we know that this is an issue Richard Bruton will do his best to avoid.

Third, judged against the Bill being developed by his predecessor Jan O’Sullivan, the new measure is a retrograde step. By removing all control over reserving places for the children of old boys and old girls, this Government is merely cementing a system of educational separation, for the benefit of some fee-paying schools. Richard Bruton’s decision will help perpetuate inherited socio-economic advantage in our country.

All in all this is a Bill that will largely go unnoticed, because it simply serves to shore up the status quo. It is now clear that Fine Gael blocked Jan O’Sullivan’s Bill for months, until they had a chance to water it down to suit themselves. The result is deeply conservative and deeply disappointing.

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