A General Scheme of an Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill 2016 was published by Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton on 5 December 2016. We outline some of the key implications for schools.

Under section 28 of the Education Act 1998 and as part of the Action Plan for Education 2016-2019, the Minister for Education set out procedures to enable students over 18 and their parents to:

  • appeal against decisions of a teacher or other member of staff of a school
  • deal with grievances of students and parents, and
  • take appropriate remedial action as a consequence of an appeal or in response to a grievance

No procedures have previously been prescribed under this section.

The new legislation sets out a statutory basis for a Parent and Student Charter (the “Charter”). Once enacted, schools will be required to prepare a Charter based on the statutory principles set out in section 28 and any guidelines issued by the Minister.

Key aspects of the Charter

The Charter aims to put the student at the centre of school life, while recognising parents as primary educators and provides for the following:

  • Consulting students and parents regularly in relation to the policies and plans of the school
  • School costs and working together to avoid costs acting as a barrier to participation
  • Providing students and parents with information
  • Inviting feedback from parents and students
  • Providing information about school management and school policies, including admission, extra-curricular activities and school performance, and
  • Acknowledge gaps and efficiencies or areas for improvement

Benefits for students and parents

The Charter promotes a proactive approach to dealing with issues or concerns of students or their parents, promoting informal resolution without the need to rely on formal grievance and complaint processes. The Charter will require schools to have grievance and complaint procedures in place which include mediation and remediation. Schools will be required to account for the outcome of any complaints made, including setting out the reasons for the outcome and the basis on which the outcome is determined by the school.

Responsibilities for boards of management

Boards of management will be required to prepare, publish and operate a Charter that follows the guidelines set by the Minister. The Minister will take action where he considers that a board has failed to prepare, publish or operate a Charter in accordance with the guidelines, in whole or in part.

In these cases, the Minister is empowered to give a direction in writing to the board requiring it to comply with the guidelines. Prior to giving a direction, the Minister is required to:

  • state the terms of the proposed direction to the board of management
  • to give the reasons for issuing a direction, and
  • to provide the board of management an opportunity to make representations in relation to the proposed direction

Where a direction issues, a board of management is required to comply with the terms of that direction.

Importantly for schools, the Minister may publish information on any directions issued under section 28 and this information may include the name of the school and the nature of the direction given.

Ombudsman for Children

The proposed legislation will also amend the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 so that its remit will extend to investigating the new functions required of a school under section 28 or any guidelines published by the Minister. Where the Ombudsman for Children makes recommendations to a board in relation to the actions of a school, the board will be required to consider any suggestions, guidance or recommendations.

Where the Ombudsman for Children advises the Minister of any suggestions, guidance or recommendations which have been made by it to a board of management, the Minister can give a direction in writing to the board in relation to the matters conveyed to him or her by the Ombudsman for Children.

In these instances, the Minister can draft a proposed direction and give his reasons and provide the board of management with an opportunity to make representations to him or her in relation to the proposed directions. Having considered any representations made to the Minister, if any, the Minister can then proceed to give a direction to the board of management. A board of management is required to comply with any direction given under that section.

Conclusion

If enacted, schools will be required to engage with parents and students on a more in-depth level in many areas. In view of the explanatory document that issued in relation to the development of a parent and student charter for schools, it can be expected that the guidelines will be very detailed and comprehensive. Click here to download the accompanying explanatory document.