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Parents are being told that enrolling their children in private preschools may hurt their chances at securing places in local primary schools. This news comes as a survey shows that parents are withdrawing their children from private preschools in a bid to ensure their children are accepted into their local primary  school.

Parents were told by staff at preshools based in primary schools that sending their children there would secure their place at the local primary school, reports by preschool owners claim.  Children who were sent to private preshools, they were told, would not be assured of places when they are old enough for junior infants.

“It’s not allowing for parental choice” said Mina Walsh of St. Nicholas’ Montessori Society, an organisation based in Dun Laoghaire that certifies Montessori schools, which collated some of the reports.

“If they want to send their child to a Naonrai or Montessori they can’t because they have to take into account the wider issue of their child getting into primary schools.”

Preschools associated with primary schools range from those run by the same school board to those which are privately-owned and rent space on the school’s ground.

A survey, conducted by Early Childhood Ireland, showed that in areas where a primary school had a preschool service, more than half of private preschools had had children withdrawn from private facilities and placed in the primary school preschool to ensure admission to the school.

The survey of childcare professionals found that 26 per cent had a child withdrawn from the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme in order to ensure primary school admission. Some 58 per cent of respondents did not have a primary school with a preschool service in their area.

“We need to improve communications with schools and preschools to facilitate successful transfers for children” said Irene Gunning, chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland, which is an organisation of parents and childhood professionals.

“There should be a greater recognition of the work preschools do at the moment in this area. There are successful strategies to support the transition from preschool to primary schools.”

There are no guidelines forbidding the practise of giving children attending an associated preschool priority admission into a primary school. Many, in fact, outline this in their enrolment policies.

Rita O’Reilly of Parentline claimed that it could actually provide stability for children. “A preschool in the same building makes the transition to primary school easier for the child. They are used to the place and can keep their friends. The big disadvantage is that it takes away choice,” she said.

Childcare provider groups say the policy puts community and private providers at a “serious disadvantage” and “creates further financial strain for parents”.

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn has responded by saying that he will bring the draft heads of a bill to government which will ensure that the way in which schools decide on applications is structured, fair and transparent.

The Education (Admission to School) bill 2013 was intended to “strike the right balance between school autonomy and fairness in our education system” Quinn said.

First published in the Sunday Business Post
August 25th, 2013

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