For the past number of weeks, the Educate Together national office, alongside parents, principals and school communities have raised serious concerns with Education Minister Richard Bruton TD and his Department on the enrolment cap that has been imposed on Tramore ETNS, New Ross ETNS, Trim ETNS, Tuam ETNS and Castlebar ETNS.
All five Educate Together schools have been told to limit their enrolment of Junior Infant students this September to just 13 pupils, requiring them to turn away children and families who wish to avail of an equality-based education. All five schools have gone from strength to strength over the years, demonstrating demand from families far greater than 13 pupils per year.
Minister’s response disappointing and inadequate
Educate Together believes that the Minister’s reactions to date have been both disappointing and inadequate. On being questioned recently in the Dáil, Minister Bruton stated: “We are not in a financial position to build additional schools just because people do not want the schools that are already in place.” (reference 1). Responding to this, Educate Together CEO Paul Rowe stated:
“Families in Tramore, New Ross, Trim, Tuam and Castlebar are not asking for additional schools. They are asking the schools which the Government opened less than three years ago to be allowed to grow in line with demand and for suitable accommodation to be made available to allow that to happen. Educate Together agreed to open these schools on the basis of their long-term viability as full-stream developing schools.”
This week, the Minister stated that the Department’s policy had been not to provide for the growth of a very popular school that was growing rapidly, if there were empty places in neighbouring schools that were not so popular: “The restriction has been based simply on the money available.. We do not have the ability to build schools when there are empty places elsewhere.’’
Educate Together has repeatedly pointed out that these five schools opened under a Government ‘divestment’ programme that’s sole purpose was to create more diversity and inclusiveness in the school system, in towns around Ireland where there were previously no options outside of religious-run schools.
The Minister's comment is also at odds with the Minister's own Programme for Government which champions the concept of parental choice in Irish education: “We need a dynamic and innovative education system that reflects the diversity of Twenty First Century Ireland. We will strengthen parental choice and diversity in our school system, reflecting the need in modern Ireland for new forms of multi-denominational and non-denominational education..” (3)
Educate Together is now asking the Minister for the principle of 'parental choice' in education be honoured by the Government once again.
What happens next?
The Minister has indicated publicly that his Department is reviewing the case for all five schools to be allowed to expand. Educate Together has been informed that this review could take between three and six weeks. But school communities in Castlebar, New Ross, Tramore, Trim and Tuam need to know now whether or not their schools can accept a full cohort of Junior Infants this year.
It is unacceptable that the Department conducts a review on wether or not Educate Together schools should be allowed to expand, whilst other schools in the same towns not subject to enrolment caps are offering places to families with Junior Infants this week.
Parents are speaking out
Parents in Tramore, New Ross, Trim, Tuam and Castlebar have spoken out about how they fear their children will be split into different schools, about how they will be forced to enrol their children in schools that promote a religion they don’t adhere to.
These concerns have been put to the Minister, to the Department, to Government colleagues and to the Taoiseach. They have been raised by public representatives from across the political spectrum on the floor of the Dáil and in the Seanad chamber.
The situation has been described as ‘ludicrous’, as ‘total discrimination’ and as ‘incredibly disappointing’ in the papers, on the television and on the radio (4). Families have spoken out on social media using the hashtag #LetOurSchoolsGrow and thousands of concerned citizens have signed and shared online petitions to have the decision reversed.
Educate Together is today again urging Minister Bruton to reverse his Department's decision to cap the enrolment of Tramore ETNS, New Ross ETNS, Trim ETNS, Tuam ETNS and Castlebar ETNS.