Ask Brian: My child’s teacher is performing poorly. How do I complain?

Legislation for grievance procedures was never enacted – but new law should help

There are no more powerful institutions in Ireland than the school management bodies and our teachers’ union. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

There are no more powerful institutions in Ireland than the school management bodies and our teachers’ union. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

My child’s fourth-class teacher seems to be going through a tough time, which is adversely affecting both the quality of her teaching and her attendance at work. I’ve complained to the principal, who says a complaint must first be raised verbally with the teacher. Surely it’s not the role of parents to confront teachers?

The Education Act 1998 sets out the entitlement of the Minister for Education to formulate grievance procedures for situations such as you describe in both primary and second-level schools.

Twenty years later, no minister has yet enacted this section of the Education Act.

The National Parents Council (primary) made a submission to then minister for education Ruairí Quinn in 2012 requesting a strengthening of the role of parents in the Education Act.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has also recommended that Ireland should ensure the Education Act is amended to guarantee the right of the child to be heard in individual cases.

The Coalition’s programme for government commits to introducing a stronger complaints procedure and charter for parents.

On December 5th, 2016, the then minister, Richard Bruton, published the general scheme of an Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill.

‘Listening culture’

A key element of the proposal is that every recognised school will be required by law to set out, among other things, how it respects and values the role of parents through consultation, accountability and developing a “listening culture”.

They will also be required to provide details on gaps, deficiencies and room for improvement, obviating as far as possible the need for grievance and complaint processes.

In particular, schools must outline processes for grievance and complaint resolution.

The draft Bill went to the Oireachtas committee on education for pre-legislative scrutiny, which held three public sessions with a range of education stakeholders.

In January of this year, the Minister secured Government approval for the drafting of the Bill. It is my understanding that following final consultations with the Attorney General’s office, the Minister intends to shortly seek Government approval for the publishing of the Bill.

This legislation is exactly what you and other parents who have complaints need.

Institution’s interests

Unfortunately, as we have seen through various tribunals over recent decades how institutions – such as the Catholic Church, the Garda Síochána, financial institutions – have proven when challenged to put the interests of the institution above that of the public.

There are no more powerful institutions in Ireland than the school management bodies and our teachers’ unions.

This is why section 28 of the Education Act has never been activated. Let’s hope the Parents and Students Charter Bill has more success.

Email queries to askbrian@irishtimes.com