I’m sitting in a large auditorium with my husband. We, along with the hundreds of other parents present, are thinking of applying for a place for our son in the school which houses this impressive theatre. We listen to various speakers describe the amazing facilities on offer; the state-of-the-art science and computer labs, the 25 metre pool, extensive sports grounds, the opportunities to take part in plays, musicals, debating, choir or orchestra. Not to mention the foreign trips, the charitable and cultural programmes, the rigorous academic standards. A sixth year pupil can’t speak highly enough of the school and the incredible experience he has had there.
At the end of the evening, we feel like losing contestants on ‘Bullseye’, the cult darts-themed quiz show hosted by Jim Bowen. Just before the show’s closing credits there was a slightly cruel twist; crestfallen punters were forced to watch as the curtains opened to reveal the ‘Star Prize’. At this moment Jim would deliver his catchphrase ‘Look what you could have won’ in his trademark jovial, yet regretful, tone.
We’ve had a glimpse behind the curtain, but we know there’s little chance we’ll win the star prize. Look what we could have won – if only dad had attended the school.
This particular school is fee-paying and massively oversubscribed. Its admission policy states that places are offered first to those in ‘priority groups’ which include brothers of past or current pupils, sons, grandsons or nephews of past pupils, sons of staff members and close relatives of members of the religious order which runs the school.
This year, over two thirds of the places in the school were offered to those in priority groups before anyone else was considered. Our son, with no brothers and a non-Irish dad, only ever stood an outside chance of being offered a place. Sure enough, we recently received a ‘thanks for your interest’ letter.
We also applied to two non fee-paying local schools but we have had no success there either. Their admission policies also favour sons and/or brothers of past pupils. Our boy is near the bottom of the waiting list in one of these schools. Things were looking more hopeful in the other, where he is higher on the list. But alas, they received more than the usual number of applications from siblings this year, and have told us they will only be offering ‘one or two’ places to those on the waiting list.
Last week the Equality Tribunal ruled that a Clonmel school’s admission policy, which gives priority to sons or brothers of past pupils, is discriminatory. Details are here: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2010/1210/1224285195609.html
This ruling may force schools to review their admission policies, though I have a feeling it will be strongly resisted. In the meantime, we have made late applications to three more schools and are keeping everything crossed.