AN Ennis woman is facing the dilemma of entering the summer months without a secondary school place for one of her sons for the second time in the space of two years.
Ben Smith, is one of up to 40 sixth class pupils in Ennis and surroundings with no secondary school place for the coming September.
The situation comes just two years shy after Ben’s older brother Sam (14) was forced to attend secondary school in Tulla after he failed to obtain a post primary school place in the county town.
According to Ben’s frustrated mother, Edel, she does not want a repeat of an “extremely difficult” and “stressful” period for herself and her husband, both whom work shift work in Shannon Airport.
Sam avails of a lift, but with the car currently full and due to the lack of public transport, Ms Smith said sending Ben to Tulla is not ‘feasible’.
“I said surely now my second son will get a place – I thought it might make life a little bit easier for us but no place, the second time happening,” she said.
“The schools need to change the system – people are holding on to a place until the last minute.
“I am not a bit hopeful. I am upset and Ben is upset and stressed. A couple of weeks ago schools were doing entrance exams and he was totally left out. It was a very upsetting day for him.
“I don’t know what to do now. I am pleading and I am going into the schools but it doesn’t look hopeful. It is a big step in life going to secondary school and he is not involved in the whole thing which is awful for him,” added Ms Smith.
Ben’s situation comes in the aftermath of concerns raised that the lack of a centralised system for allocating second-level places has left the door open for the possibility for parents to accept multiple school places, holding up places until the late summer.
At a recent meeting of Clare County Council, Mayor of Ennis, Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) described that situation as “very disturbing and distressing” as she made calls for the Department of Education to outline their plans for the ever-increasing population of the county town.
“The teachers and pupils are very concerned,” she said. “The system in Ennis has had 12 years to get ready for this bulge”.
According to Barefield-based councillor, Ann Norton (IND), the issues isn’t just due to capacity and stated her belief that children and parents are “holding on to places that other children could avail of”.
For now, all the the Gaelscoil Mhichil Ciosog Inis sixth class student can do is wait and see if a place frees up in one of the four Ennis-based secondary schools that accepts male students.
Meanwhile, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (FG) has said that he is “aware of the ongoing situation in Ennis which sees up to 40 children without a secondary school place for the coming September.
Mr Varadkar was speaking in response to Clare-based TD, Dr Michael Harty (IND) who requested an update in Dáil Éireann on the actions being taken to resolve the shortage of available secondary school places in Ennis.
“Education is the key to giving every child an equal chance in life,” said Dr Harty.
“Unfortunately that is not being acted upon in Ennis, where next September there will be insufficient places in secondary schools to accommodate those leaving primary schools.
“It is anticipated that this will be the case for years to come.
“Twelve primary school principals have written to the Minster [for Education] outlining their concerns in this regards. It particularly affects those from the Traveller community, those from disadvantaged areas and those with special educational needs.
“The issue is compounded by the fact that there is no centralised application system.
“Some pupils are allocated several places in schools and others are left without a place until the school year starts,” he added.
In response, An Taoiseach said he is “aware that there is a shortage of school places in the Ennis area”, and that he will ask the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh (FG) to provide Dr Harty with an update on the actions being taken to resolve such shortages.
“I had the privilege of opening the refurbished Scoil Chriost Ri in Ennis,” said Mr Varadkar.
“I will ask the Minister for Education and Skills to provide the Deputy with an update on the actions being taken to resolve that.”