What does The Education (Student & Parent Bill) 2019 seek to achieve and will it prove transformative in the operation of schools?
A previously published Bill in 2016 has now been replaced by the Education (Student & Parent Bill) 2019.
When enacted it will enable the Minister for Education and Skills to give directions to boards of management on how to better inform students and parents as to what is happening in schools.
What does the charter demand?
Procedures for consulting with students and parents
Information on school plans, activities and policies, other than the admission policy
Procedures for informing parents and students about the operation of the school
Information on the structures and systems for the management of the school
Information regarding voluntary contributions and expenditure of these monies by the school
School closures and timetables
Procedures for relating to grievances by students and parents
Anonymised data regarding the number of grievances concerning students and parents dealt with by the school
How will these provisions affect existing practice?
Section 28 of the Education act 1998 which deals with grievance procedures will be repealed. This is necessary as it was never commenced. Both the Management bodies and the Unions operate and continue to operate agreed grievance procedures in the interim to fill the vacuum.
These operate in the event of a parent or pupil over 18 years making a complaint against a teacher.
In a recent High Court case, Dillion v Board of Management of the Catholic University School, a teacher allegedly used inappropriate behaviour and language towards a pupil. The grievance procedure was invoked by the pupil and the Board of Management upheld the complaint.
However, this procedure was dovetailed with another procedure relating to the disciplining of the teacher under section 24 of the Education Act. The Court held that the Board were entitled to hold as a finding of fact that the alleged behaviour occurred. The Board exceeded its powers by issuing a final warning letter to the teacher rather than charging the teacher with an offence under the separate disciplinary procedure.
Schools will be required to give information on a wide area of activities leading to much greater transparency in the way they operate. Parents and pupils alike will enjoy an enhanced stakeholder role.
There will be consequences for schools who do not embrace the charter.
Interaction from the Minister
The Minister may give directions to a board of management in the event of the fact that the board has failed or is failing in its obligation to properly prepare and publish a charter in accordance with the published guidelines.
The Minister may give reasons for this opinion to the patron, board, and the remedial action to be taken by the board. This will be published on the DES website.
When the Minister is satisfied that the direction is compiled with by the board, the instance of the compliance will be notified to the board, patron and published on the DES website.
The charter proposes to make schools more accountable. The current grievance procedures operated by the Management Bodies and Unions stand to be repealed by the Minister. The need for this was noted by Judge Murphy in the recent High Court judgement of Dillion v Board of Management of Catholic University School.
Information on aspects of the school’s operation will be more readily accessible with sanctions for schools that fail to comply.
Whilst the Bill will be subject to extensive consultations and possible amendments, schools need to be mindful of the proposals when communicating with parents and students.
For more information on the preparation and publication of a charter, contact a member of our Education team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.