independent

Saturday 16 February 2019

Primary schools 'singing from same hymn sheet on enrolment'

Wexford town's eight primary schools have learned from the lessons of the past and come together to make the enrolment process more efficient for both schools and parents. Anna Hayes reports

Áine Uí Ghionnáin, principal, Gaelscoil Charman
Áine Uí Ghionnáin, principal, Gaelscoil Charman
Liam Turner, principal, St. John of God School, The Faythe
Mags Jordan, principal, Scoil Mhuire, Coolcotts

The principals of Wexford town's primary schools have moved to streamline their enrolment process by introducing a common enrolment protocol which comes into effect this year.

Principals in the Gaelscoil Charman, Scoil Mhuire Coolcotts, Kennedy Park NS, the Mercy School on St John's Road, the CBS Primary School, St John of God School in the Faythe, Educate Together NS, and St Iberius NS, have agreed the new process which, they believe, will make for a more efficient service for pupils and schools alike.

Gaelscoil principal Áine Uí Ghionnáin explained that the schools had met in November and received the backing of the respective school boards of management.

She explained that, in future, those applying for school places would have a certain date to have all applications in by, and would subsequently receive offers for all schools in the same week, thus instilling some linearity to the procedure.

'What was happening was people were applying for all the schools but they really wanted one particular place. They might get an offer for one school in January, another in February, March, and so on. So they might accept a number of places only to subsequently reject them when their preferred school came through.'

Under the new process, parents will still apply individually to the schools of their choice but all applications will have to be in by the final Friday in February each year. It is expected that all schools will make their offers at around Easter time.

'What this will do is give the pupil and their parents all of their school offers together in the one week so they can accept and reject as chosen.'

Ms Uí Ghionnáin said this was a process that had been considered before but one that had been simplified by the fact that all town schools are now fully co-educational.

'It's an easier process now because parents can send all their kids to one school if they want to, there's no splitting of girls and boys which was a factor before.'

The move will also be a big help to schools as it will allow them to have a better idea of incoming numbers each year, something which is particularly important when it comes to capitation grants or if they are on the threshold of being granted another teacher.

'If we are applying for an additional teacher, we do that over the summer months so we have to have an idea of how many pupils we will have before then.'

Unlike the town's secondary school system however, there are no pressing concerns about the availability of school places for primary school goers. Ms Uí Ghionnáin believes that the vast majority of pupils get the places they want.

Historically, she pointed out that some people might not have applied for certain schools as they might have thought it had a waiting list but the reality was that there was duplication of names on lists.

'The process should be complete by Easter and schools will then be able to initiate their early start programmes where kids are brought in to meet staff and the other kids; it's like an easing-in period for new pupils.'

Principal at St John of God's The Faythe Liam Turner said the process would basically give the schools the ability to plan for the coming year right down to the basics of how many chairs and tables they needed in a room.

'It gives us perspective as well where you might look at a list and see 120 kids coming in when, in reality, it's only 20. '

He explained that when the three town schools, the Faythe, the Mercy and the CBS went fully co-educational they were required by the Department of Education to adopt a common enrolment policy between them.

'We said it made sense but then the date was set for the first Friday in November which was difficult because it was sandwiched between September, which is a crazy time, and Christmas, which is the same. All the schools in the town sat down and decided that February was a better deadline.'

He added that a similar process had been put in place in some areas for secondary school places but he was not aware of other areas that had employed it for primary schools.

Mags Jordan, principal at Scoil Mhuire, Coolcotts stressed that the enrolment policy applied to mainstream education, pointing out that the Rainbow Autism Unit in the school operated under a different policy.

She was in agreement with Mr Turner that the February date was a far better deadline for families.

'November was just too early for parents to make decisions about the following year. The later deadline gives them the chance to take everything into consideration.'

She said that some pupils took advantage of the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme while others, depending on when their birthday fell, may have held off on enrolling until the following year.

'It gives parents the chance to touch base with the schools and we try to assist families as much as we can in making their decision.'

The new policy is in place on a trial basis but, she said, all of the town principals were singing from the same hymn sheet on the issue.

'Enrolment lists will always be a moving feast but this will help to clarify for the most part. We feel it is a good move for schools and families alike.'

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