Enrolment week for the Catholic primary schools in Mullingar for this September’s intake of pupils is taking place at the end of this month – earlier than is usually the case.
The main reason is due to the fact that the Department of Education and Science wants early notice of what the individual schools’ intakes are, so it can allocate resource and special needs teachers at the levels required.
Ahead of the enrolment week – January 27 to January 31 – Caroline Mhic Róibín, principal of Gaelscoil an Mhuilinn, and Fr Michael Kilmartin, explained that the schools have come up with a streamlined system, designed to ensure that all pupils will get places, ideally in the schools of their parents’ choice.
But the schools, and the parish, are anxious to spell out what is involved from the religious instruction point of view, in terms of preparing children over the course of their primary school years for the three big sacraments they receive along the way – First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation.
The Catholic school principals get together regularly to discuss issues of interest, and in explaining how the application process works, Caroline Mhic Róibín, is speaking on behalf of all eight in Mullingar - her own Gaelscoil an Mhuilinn, St Mary’s Primary, Presentation Junior, Presentation Senior, St Colman’s, St Colmcille’s of Gainstown, Curraghmore, and St Kenny NS in Ballinea.
“It’s nearly like the CAO system,” says Caroline of the process, stating that as a first step, during enrolment week, parents can collect forms from the schools of their choice, and they need to return the forms to the schools that week.
“They can only collect forms in the school that week, and only return them that week,” says Caroline.
“They are entitled to apply to as many schools as they want, and there’s no problem with that,” stresses Fr Kilmartin.
The next stage is that the boards of management will process the applications, using whatever their particular policies on admission are, and after that, all schools will issue their place offers on the same day.
There will be a “waiting list” then for second round place offers – so that if all pupils don’t take up the places offered to them, the school will then offer the free places to the next names on the list.
“Parents then have a few days so they can decide if they want to take the place they are offered or not,” Caroline continues. They then notify the schools, and after the schools assess how many pupils have opted to take up the offers they have, second round place offers are made.
“Everybody will be accommodated,” Caroline promises.
The big “however” is – however – that parents who don’t enrol their children during that specific week will be in bother.
“You can’t come in later: there’s no point in coming in March or May and looking for a place,” says Caroline.
The Catholic schools do give preference to Catholic children. “Then, if there are still places at that stage, they are offered to children of other faiths,” says Caroline.
What has to be understood, both point out, is that the Catholic faith permeates the school culture: there is 25 minutes of religion every day; prayer permeates the school day, and there is development of Christian vision.
Strangely, some Catholic parents don’t understand that in non-denominational schools, there isn’t instruction in Catholicism during school hours: it’s only in the Catholic schools that faith development takes place during school time so that children are prepared when the time comes for them to make their First Confession, Communion and Confirmation.
The parish does, however, offer out-of-school instruction for Catholic children in other schools, and for children who are being home-schooled, so they can prepare for the sacraments.
“Every year, we have people who are disappointed, who don’t understand why their children can’t just make their Communion, but they haven’t received instruction,” says Caroline.
“If you are sending your child to a school that is not Catholic, and you want your child educated in Catholicism out of school hours, we run a programme at Bethany House, called the Christ the King group,” explains Fr Michael. “They must enrol for that in August, and the classes start in the middle of September.”
There is a small fee to cover the costs of electricity, heating and so on, and the classes are held once weekly. The instruction is given by two retired teachers.
“But it is just a minimum provision,” Fr Michael adds, explaining that it’s not possible in that timeframe to provide the sort of instruction that comes naturally through the school day in a Catholic school.
“Other faiths have to provide out-of-school provision for their children too: it’s just that it’s something that Catholic parents are not yet used to,” points out Caroline.
Both the parish and the schools regard the school system as being “secondary educators” in Catholic teaching: the primary educators are the family, and so, the Do This In Memory programme, in preparation for First Communion, greatly involves parents, and while instruction goes on within the school, the Do This In Memory Masses are held on Sundays rather than school hours.
Another reason for this practice is so that non-Catholic children in Catholic schools don’t feel excluded when it comes to the time of receipt of the sacraments.
That said, parents who send their children to Catholic schools do need to be aware that the children will be present while the Catholic message is being passed on, although, obviously, they don’t go to Confession, receive First Communion or make their Confirmation.
• Enrolment week is from January 27 to January 31 at Mullingar’s eight Catholic primary schools.
Gaelscoil an Choillín
Registration for Gaelscoil an Choillín also takes place in the week from January 27 to January 31. Says deputy principal Áine Nic Dháibhéid, parents of prospective pupils can either collect a form from the school or download it from the website, and during enrolment week, they will have the chance to tour the school and meet the teachers.
Children from all over Westmeath attend the school, but normally, they are able to accommodate allcomers, says Áine.
She adds that in June, there is a special day for the new pupils to come in, and to meet their future classmates, and see what they have to look forward to.