The story so far
Following the commencement of the Admissions to School Act 2018, principals found themselves as the first point of contact for offering or refusing applications. In turn, parents could appeal a refusal to the Board of Management (BoM). If unsuccessful with the BoM appeal, there is a second opportunity for the disappointed parent to take a section 29 appeal. The section 29 appeal which is facilitated by the Department of Education (DE) is paper based and avoids the need for a face-to-face hearing, as was the case previously.
The above appears to have been well received by parents and schools alike. The pressure point has revolved around the creation of special classes in some schools. There is increasing evidence to suggest that post the 2018 enactment, a very large number of special classes have been opened, particularly in the primary school sector.
The creation of the classes was driven mainly by local demand, often within the school. The DE is empowered under the Act to designate schools to open special classes in the event the school is reluctant to do so. The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and Tusla can now also designate schools to accept certain students with complex needs.
Challenging behaviour and teaching staff
Schools that are accommodating students in special classes, often with complex needs, can find the experience to be very rewarding. However, the process can be equally challenging.
Often times the school culture changes, in that whole-school staff ‘buy in’ is required. Some school staff are wary of the unknown and sometimes feel ill-equipped to accommodate this change. Challenging behaviour can often be a characteristic of some students with complex needs. Schools are best placed to deal with these behaviours when they ensure challenging scenarios are fully rehearsed and prepared for, and practical protocols are established. It is essential for staff and management to be fully apprised and aware of what is legally expected of them in carrying out their roles in this context. Clear communication of these protocols are especially important in the absence of national guidelines.
In the event of a physical intervention being warranted, staff need to know what are the conditions that merit such an intervention, and who is best placed to put the intervention in place. A behaviour of concern policy as an appendix to the code of behaviour, which has been approved by the BoM, can give reassurance and confidence to staff. All students are subject to the Code of Behaviour. However, there must be accommodations for students with complex needs.
Currently, it is fair to say that the Admissions Act has not been fully road-tested yet. There are pressure points as highlighted. Some schools feel that the special education staff are being increasingly diverted to deal with behavioural issues. There is much frustration with the unavailability of vital supports for particularly vulnerable students. There are significant dividends in some areas and challenges in others. Schools have demonstrated remarkable resilience to cope with change, even when the demands are exacting.
For more information concerning the clear demarcation of roles and legal responsibilities of staff in the context of accommodating students with complex needs, contact a member of our Education Law team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.