The Supreme Court today found against John Stokes a Traveller who was refused admission to his local secondary school Christian Brothers’ High School in 2010 having failed to satisfy the “parent rule” and was unsuccessful in a later lottery of the remaining places. The landmark enrolment case (Mary Stokes V Christian Brother’s High School, Clonmel) taken on his behalf by his mother and represented by the Irish Traveller Movement Law Centre related to indirect discrimination (under the Equal Status Act 2000-2008) in the school admissions policy that gave priority of entry to the sons of past pupils.
The Supreme Court disagreed with the judgement of the High Court (October 2011) which found that John’s disadvantage “did not amount to particular disadvantage as it could have affected other children.” The Supreme Court however also found that “it was not satisfied that there as sufficient evidence and materials to enable a proper assessment to be carried out as to whether there was, in fact, particular disadvantage”
Attending at the hearing Brigid Quilligan Director of the Irish Traveller Movement said “We are dismayed by the judgement but not defeated. Mary and John Stokes were undeterred in pursuing this case which provided a test platform for the reform of schools enrolment policies, which could improve equality of entry for Travellers and for non – Irish national students who were unfairly disadvantaged by the rule. However we did not expect that navigating the very legislation which seeks to protect Travellers and others as an effective remedy to discrimination through a court process, would similarly make those remedies untenable. The evidence presented to the Courts arose from available data on numbers of Travellers in the school system. A deficiency in comprehensive national Traveller data has been long time argued for by National Travellers organisations, and it is only this year the Department of Education and Skills has introduced an ethnic identifier in which to measure Travellers in education.”
She continued “However the indisputable fact remains (the Report of the Travelling People Review Body 1983) in the decade that John’s father attended school found there were only 3,500 Traveller children representing only half of all Traveller children of school going age attending school, and “very few remained over 12 years”. So therefore John Stokes and many other Traveller children on a national basis are statistically disadvantaged by the parent rule. This case has positively highlighted barriers faced by Travellers in accessing education and we are heartened by the findings of the Oireachtas Education Committee who have argued “that a school should not be permitted to give priority to a student on the grounds that he or she is the son or daughter of a former student or a staff member of the school”, which informs draft legislation coming before the Dáil in early summer 2015”
Today there are over 8,000 Travellers in mainstream education but only 3% continued past age 18 compared with 41% nationally and 17% of Travellers have no formal education compared to 1.4% of the majority population. This soft barrier of the “parent rule” potentially affects many Traveller students who already face a myriad of hurdles in accessing and remaining in education.
There is a significant gap between the participation, attainment and outcomes of Traveller learners compared to their settled counterparts. Cuts to Traveller education resources in 2011, which were imposed when the percentage of Travellers who completed secondary education had doubled in that year from 2002 the highest levels to that date in the system, are thought to be now impacting on retention of Travellers in school.