The Department of Education “will do all that is necessary to ensure” secondary school places are available to children leaving primary school, Minister for Education Norma Foley has said.
It follows reports that parents in Co Kildare say the situation is at crisis point with children on waiting lists for local schools or facing the prospect of lengthy commutes.
Ms Foley said that she does not underestimate the stress and challenges faced by parents and families looking to secure places, adding “it’s a very big system we operate”.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Colm Ó Mongáin, she said the department was engaging with schools, specifically in Kildare, which have committed to make additional space available for additional classes that were required for next year and she was “very confident” it would be able to do that.
“Within Kildare, we can point to availability of school places in first year… at the end of the day, parents do have parental choice.
“They can decide where they want their child to attend school or where they might not want their child to attend school. But I can with certainty say that there is availability of places in the Kildare area.”
She said that a number of issues needed to be addressed, including where parents make a number of applications to different schools when students are looking for a school place.
The minister said it was a “very good move” that schools in the same area would have their entrance exams on the same day so that it “filters out the system”.
She said the department is currently working with schools where there has been and continues to be a “multiplicity of applications” and that it is “engaging directly with those schools” to “get the clear number that is required next year”.
The department can “provide additional resources in terms of staffing” to take an additional class where schools could have capacity within their existing building”, said Ms Foley.
She said that if a school does not have building capacity, the department can put in place “modular build” to increase capacity for the following year.
Fine Gael councillor in Co Kildare and chair of the board of management of a number of schools in the area, Brendan Weld said that the situation has improved but “there’s still a number of schools with quite big waiting lists”.
He said that parents were angry and it was putting pressure on school principals.
Mr Weld told RTÉ’s News at One that there should be a clearer picture in the coming days.
“We are being told the department were in contact with all schools last Friday to tell them to send in their numbers. So we will know a lot more by this weekend.
“I am hopeful that most people will get a school place this September, because I do find that the Department of Education are a lot more proactive than they were this time last year.
‘We felt so along on this journey’
Caroline Ryan Carpenter’s 13-year-old daughter Caoimhe was one of those who had been affected by the ongoing shortage of second level places in Co Kildare.
“We applied for a place for Caoimhe for September 2023, back in October 2022. We were placed on a waiting list to begin with,” she said. “We just assumed because her feeder school was directly across from her primary school that you would receive a place automatically, but that didn’t happen.”
“About May the principal rang us and said it was highly unlikely that Caoimhe would get a place in the local secondary school. We were absolutely shocked.”
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She told the same programme that homeschooling was not an option and that she “felt as a parent that I had left her down, even though it was nothing I could do”.
Ms Ryan Carpenter said that the family felt they were left with no choice but to send their daughter to boarding school in Co Tipperary.
“It’s been heartbreaking to see Caoimhe so unhappy,” she said. “We felt so alone on this journey and wouldn’t want any other parents go through it”.