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Scramble for secondary school places in Ennis “very negative and damaging” to mental health

THE challenges faced by students and their parents when it comes to securing secondary school places in Ennis is “very negative and damaging” to their mental health. That’s according to Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley, one of a cross-party group of Clare Oireachtas members who have come together to try and find a solution to the ongoing issue. He has urged that a common application system be put in place for allocating secondary schools.
Party colleague Cathal Crowe TD also advocates the common application system, and is calling for additional school accommodation to be provided by the Department of Education and the appointment of additional teachers.
The allocation of school places has become an annual cause for concern in Ennis. Last week it was confirmed that St Flannan’s College would be adding some additional places in response to “unprecedented demand” on second level schools in the county capital.
Deputy Dooley held a Zoom meeting on Tuesday evening with parents and teachers who voiced their concerns about how youngsters are affected. He explained to us that the Oireachtas group are exploring ways of improving enrolments for children in Ennis.
“I recognise that is a huge strain on the mental health of young students and parents. It is very demoralising for two children to be sitting side-by-side in the class, and one child gets two, three or four offers and the other gets none. They can start to reflect inwards, wondering what is wrong with them? It really is very negative and damaging to their mental health and we have to do something about that.”
He believes that a centralised applications system across the secondary schools in Ennis would be beneficial. “A similar situation to this evolved in Limerick a number of years ago and it was addressed with a centralised system and I think we should look at that. It will take the co-operation of the secondary schools and their patron bodies and we are going to try to engage to see if we can get some kind of movement.”
He is hopeful that a solution can be found. However, he added, “I don’t underestimate the difficulties involved and the individual issues that each of the secondary schools have. But, at the end of the day, it is about children and it is about their education and it is about their mental health and well-being through that education process.
“Where an issue like this has arisen, that has become exaggerated over a number of years because of the growing population, then it is necessary to do things, if possible, a little bit better. It is not about blaming anyone, this is a situation that has evolved over time and the pressures are now much greater. I think we owe it to our children to try to find a better way to resolve the enrolment process that doesn’t put undue and unnecessary mental stress on children.”
Meanwhile Deputy Crowe outlined that on Monday morning, he and Councillor Joe Killeen, former INTO president, met with a group of primary school principals from Ennis and its surrounding communities to discuss the challenges faced by their pupils.
A second meeting was held with parents who “articulated the huge frustration and hurt” their children are experiencing in not successfully enrolling in their school of choice.
“After both meetings concluding, I emailed all Oireachtas members in Clare asking them to meet the following day via Zoom to discuss. We had that meeting and those in attendance have agreed to work collectively to see if we can engage with the various stakeholders.”
He continued, “I think there are two major issues here – the first is that of lack of capacity. There simply aren’t enough places in schools to accommodate all children applying to them and this can only be addressed with additional accommodation being provided by the Department of Education and also additional teachers being appointed to teach in those schools.
“There is a much deeper problem though and that relates to the system of applying to secondary schools in Clare. I am aware of a number of students who have been accepted into four secondary schools whereas others have yet to be accepted to any. The Round One offers don’t all come out at the same time and nor do the Round Two offers so there will ultimately be a need to have some uniformity in the system.”
He has suggested that the common application system be looked at, saying it had a 98% success rate of enrolling children in Limerick in 2019.
“It’s not perfect, it still has a number of flaws but as a synchronised system with full transparency I think it’s better than the system we currently have in Clare, where the application is made to each school individually.
“I believe that if we had centralised, synchronised and coordinated enrolment system for the secondary schools in Ennis, we wouldn’t have the perennial problem of one school being oversubscribed and others being under-subscribed.
“Over the next number of weeks, I will continue to work with the stakeholders and also engage with Oireachtas members in the county. I think there’s commonality of purpose in resolving this and we may be able to work on a solution for next year but for some, the hurt and pain of 2021 has already happened and we need to see are there ways to also address the immediate problem we have over the coming weeks.”
Last week St Flannan’s College confirmed it had received 476 applications for 216 places in the first year class, an increase of 76 applications on last year.
“Due to unprecedented demand for first year places in St Flannan’s and in second level schools in Ennis, the Patron and board of management of St Flannan’s College has revisited our intake for this year.
Following a careful review of our teacher allocation and our accommodation provision we are in a position to offer a further 24 places in the first-year class, bringing the total number to 240. These extra places will be allocated in line with our admissions policy which can be viewed on our school website www.stflannanscollege.ie,” a statement from the school stated.

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