School Stories are a series of tales from parents and others involved in the school system, highlighting some of the joys and difficulties encountered while trying to get our children educated.
We moved to County Galway in 2005 when our son was four. We considered a number of national schools within a 3 mile radius of our home, but on meeting the children and staff at Claregalway Educate Together National School (9 miles away), we were immediately convinced it was the right choice for us. Our son spent 8 very happy years in the school, participating in the community of Claregalway and achieving excellent academic results. It was our hope that by the time he finished primary school an Educate Together secondary school would exist so that he could continue in the same way.
For this reason we fully supported the GET2LS (Galway Educate Together 2nd Level Secondary) campaign.
As our son was approaching the end of his primary years, it was evident an Educate Together Secondary School would not be available in Galway and so we began looking at existing secondary school options.
The patron body for our nearest secondary school is CEIST (Catholic Education An Irish Schools’ Trust) and while it welcomes all, its mission statement has a clear emphasis on the Catholic religion. We found this vision too narrow a focus for our son’s ongoing education and he was also very reluctant to move to a school with a Catholic ethos.
When we became aware of the campaign for a secondary school for Claregalway, we gave our full support by adding our names to the petition. When asked to support the bid for VEC to become patron of the new secondary school we agreed, as we felt we could support a multi-denominational patron in preference to a religious patron. VEC became the patron of Coláiste Bhaile Chláir and it opened its doors a year before our son was due to start secondary, so it seemed we would have a solution in place.
However, with approx 168 1st year places, our son did not receive an offer of a place in the first round as he does not have a sibling at the school and does not live inside “the extreme bus transport points as defined by Bus Éireann”. So we experienced an anxious week as we waited to hear that our son would be offered a place in the second round because he had attended primary school in Claregalway, therefore meeting the 3rd criteria of the admissions policy. We are aware that as the demand for places at Coláiste Bhaile Chláir increases, other children who live outside the area currently attending Claregalway Educate Together may not be as lucky as we were.
Our story does not end there. Our next hurdle was to get a place on the school bus, as according to Bus Éireann we are not ‘eligible’ for school transport. Their policy states “Children are eligible for transport where they reside not less than 4.8 kms from and are attending their nearest education centre as determined by the Department/Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language.” We appealed the decision on the grounds of ethos, explaining that the ethos of our nearest school was not suitable. We wrote to local TD’s and the Minister for Education highlighting also that our son should be able to receive transport to attend secondary school in the same community where he received his primary education having regard to ethos also. We were awarded a ‘concessionary’ place on the bus and this means we need to make the same case on an annual basis or be subjected to a lottery system for whatever few remain after those who are considered eligible are granted a seat. This is not ideal and we continue to make representation to award an eligible place on school transport to our son as he is attending the nearest school to him with a suitable ethos.
As Educate Together primary schools grow in popularity and Ireland moves towards a more secular society there is an urgent need for a corresponding diversity in the patronage of secondary schools and for the school transport policy to change accordingly.
Have your own story? Please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. While we cannot guarantee that we will publish every item received, we will publish as many as possible. You don’t have to be a blogger or an experienced writer to participate, just someone who shares our objective of an Educate Together second-level school in Galway.