To ensure your school and staff are suitably equipped to successfully navigate the various challenges that will undoubtedly present in 2021, it is prudent to identify and set certain goals that help mitigate against any foreseeable disruption.
Resolution 1 – Establish a policy on Social Media for pupils and staff and ensure it is communicated to all stakeholders
Why bother? Social media is ever present in all our lives and that includes our school communities. In all cases it is better to be proactive rather than having to try to react under pressure to issues when they arise (and they will). If your pupils and staff know what is expected of them you are in a better position to manage and justify the school's response to include disciplinary action if required.
Behaviours of concern
Resolution 2 – Establish a robust policy for managing challenging and concerning behaviour, which encompasses physical intervention and certain crises.
Our schools accommodate many students with special educational needs. Some of these students can exhibit challenging behaviours. Codes of Behaviour are not always the answer in the first instance. However the Code of Behaviour can be more easily justifiable in suspension and expulsion cases when it is demonstrated that the school has done everything possible to manage the challenging behaviour. Equally the new Admission legislation has significantly changed previous practices where admission may sometimes have been refused because of health and safety concerns arising from those challenging behaviours. The Department of Education and Skills may this year commence one of the last outstanding pieces of the Admissions legislation allowing the National Council for Special Education and Tusla to designate schools to accept individual students to include students with challenging behaviours.
Section 29 appeals
Resolution 3 – Ensure you are familiar with the particulars of Circular 0069/2020, Review Procedures and related issues.
It is important that school leaders and Boards of Management are alert to the fact that Section 29 Appeals regarding refusal to admit students in the case of oversubscription is exclusively paper based and that facilitation is no longer provided for in any Section 29 Appeal proceedings.
Protecting the school leader
Resolution 4 – Ensure you effectively and appropriately manage underperformance in 2021
Being a leader can be a lonely position at times. In November 2020, separate surveys conducted by the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) and the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) in association with Mason Hayes & Curran LLP, found that 85% and 71% respectively of school leaders did not feel confident in managing underperformance.
One of the reasons for this lack of confidence is that underperforming staff members allege that they are being bullied by the school leader. Appropriately managing underperformance is never bullying. There is a statutory basis for school leaders to manage schools on behalf of Boards of Management.
Your time is precious. Mitigating risk can reduce stress and allow you spend more time leading, teaching and learning. Consider these four examples relating to your own school context and prioritise those that need urgent attention. Having the requisite policies in place will empower you and your Board of Management to deal with challenges in a considered and timely fashion.
We invite you to contact a member of the Education team should you require assistance or specifics in relation to any of the matters outlined above.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.