Boy refused school place for almost two years
Children’s Ombudsman says it is responsibility of Department of Education to ensure schools in a catchment area can cater for all pupils
Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan: Child adversely affected by failure of Department of Education to provide a school place. Photograph: Eric Luke
The actions of the Department of Education in the case of a child in State care who could not get a school place for almost two years adversely affected the child, according to the Ombudsman for Children.
In a 27-page report published yesterday, ombudsman Emily Logan also raises concerns about the limited recourse available to parents or guardians when all schools in a catchment area refuse a child a place.
“It is the responsibility of the department to ensure the schools in a catchment area can cater for all pupils seeking a school placement,” the report states.
A lack of co-ordination between the HSE – as the child’s guardian – and the department may have unnecessarily delayed the boy getting a school place. The report is also critical of the department’s refusal to sanction adequate home tuition for the child and questions whether the department demonstrates sufficient appreciation of the vulnerabilities and needs of children in State care.
The report arises from an investigation into the case of a 13-year-old unaccompanied minor in the Leinster region who had been excluded from school in May 2008 due to behavioural issues. The boy, then aged 11, had been separated from his mother and siblings, had experienced a violent family death and had had inadequate care from his father.
He was in the care of the HSE and did not return to school until March 2010. No school place could be secured despite applications having been made to more than 26 schools.
An Education Welfare Officer (EWO) applied to four schools in November 2009 but none offered the boy a place. The officer also applied to a youth initiative and the early school leavers’ programme without success. In December 2009, the department sanctioned nine hours’ home tuition a week as an interim measure and refused to increase this when the boy’s absence from school continued for more than one term.
In December 2009, the HSE filed a section 29 appeal against one school’s refusal. The school’s decision was upheld. Any parent or guardian may appeal against a school’s refusal to enrol a child under section 29 of the education Act.
In January and February 2010, the boy’s social worker applied to 26 schools for a place. Eleven replied in writing, none offering a place. Eventually, in March, a place was secured in a school that had refused to enrol him. This was “due to the perseverance of the EWO”, according to the National Education and Welfare Board.
Responding to the ombudsman’s report, the department said: “We agree with the OCO [Ombudsman for Children’s Office] that the difficulties encountered in relation to this child were unacceptable. The key difficulty was the refusal of a large number of schools to enrol the child and the NEWB, who is responsible for finding a school place under current legislation, was effectively powerless to bring about a solution in a timely manner.
“It is because of cases such as this one that the Minister, in the draft legislation currently under consideration by the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection, is providing a power for the NEWB and the NCSE to designate a school place, and that schools must comply with that designation.”