Educate Together is an independent NGO, with 81 primary and 9 second-level schools in Ireland. I would like to thank the Committee and its Chair for inviting us to make a presentation on the Education (Amendment) Bill 2015 and the Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill 2016.
Parent and Student Charter Bill
Educate Together welcomes publication of this Bill. It is heartening to see the that Parent and Student Charter will involve parents and students more decisively in the work of schools. The results can serve to support democracy in action; more confident young people capable of and committed to creating positive change in their school and by extension in society. This objective has been at the heart of the Educate Together ethos since its inception in the 1970’s which recognises the centrality of learners in school, not just as subjects of transmission of information but as active agents in their own education.
Listening to and hearing the voices of children and young people aligns with democratically-run principle of Educate Together’s ethos. Educate Together schools strive to be run democratically by the school community, at the centre of which is the student and their parents/guardians. Many parents have been heavily involved in the development of their Educate Together school and are deeply invested in its success. In many cases, families have campaigned long and hard for the opportunity of a ‘democratically-run’ school and this commitment often continues once the school opens and begins to establish itself in the community.
At second-level, Educate Together students are welcomed on Boards of Management, to participate in shaping the policy of their schools where appropriate. We would like to see a commitment to appropriate student participation on Boards of Management included in this Bill.
The Bill places additional requirements on Boards of Management (e.g. providing mediation), and we would like clarity on how this is to be resourced and supported.
Boards are made up of individuals who undertake their role on a voluntary basis. Some of the issue they face are complex and deeply emotional for all involved. We would like to see the relationship between the Board of Management, Parents and Students being based on restorative practice, with proper resourcing and supports in place to assist Boards of Management in their work, which can take a personal toll on Board members.
The language of the Bill is somewhat vague in some areas, particularly in Paragraph (2), sub-sections (vii) to (xi). For instance, there is mention of ‘operating quality assurance’, without any specifics as to what is being quality assured.
We welcome the expansion of the role of the Ombudsman for Children
Education (Amendment) Bill 2015
We welcome the intent of this Bill (to provide an appeal mechanism for decisions of Boards of Management), but we are not in favour of the proposal to appoint an Ombudsman for Education. We feel that the aims of the Bill would be better served by putting in place a robust Complaints Procedure, with an Appeal Process, that would be agreed by all stakeholders (Parent Bodies, Management Bodies, Trades Unions, Student Councils and the DES). This would be based on a partnership model, and would include a properly resourced appeals process. There are several models already in existence (e.g. Northern Ireland, Victoria)
In closing, we would like to emphasise the voluntary nature of Boards of Management. Boards are made up of volunteers, who give up a considerable amount of their time to run schools at primary and post-primary level, at no cost to the exchequer, other than the provision of training deemed essential for them to carry out their governance role. We feel that any Bill should recognise the voluntary nature of the role, and should emphasise support provision for members of Boards to carry out their work using good practice.