Education Bill may see pupils sitting on school boards

Minister proposes charters to make schools child-centred and accountable to parents

Consultation with younger students will be achieved  through engagement with the student council or other “age appropriate” means of hearing the voice of the child.  Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Consultation with younger students will be achieved through engagement with the student council or other “age appropriate” means of hearing the voice of the child. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

Secondary students could be included on school boards of management under new measures aimed at giving pupils and their parents greater involvement in schools.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton will on Monday publish the draft of a Bill to introduce a legally enforceable “parent and student charter” for each primary and secondary school in the country.

Charters will be specific to each school, but based on key guidelines established under the Bill. They will seek to strengthen the way parents and students are consulted over the running of schools and to provide more transparent ways of handling complaints.

Parents could be consulted through the use of online polls, for example. Proposals for the full or partial involvement of students in boards of management at second level are also being considered.

Consultation with younger students will be achieved either through engagement with the student council or other “age appropriate” means of hearing the voice of the child.

The actions required of schools under the charters will include the following:

* Consulting students and parents regularly in relation to school costs and working to avoid costs acting as a barrier

* Publishing information on how any “voluntary contributions” are used

* Providing a “fair and accessible” mechanism for resolving complaints, including through mediation

* Publishing the number of complaints made, the reasons for the outcome in each case and how the outcome was reached by the school

* Providing better information about school policies, including on admission, and information on extracurricular activities and school performance

* Acknowledging deficiencies or room for improvement.

Ombudsman roles

The role of the Ombudsman for Children will be expanded under the Bill and schools will be required to consider any suggestions, guidance or recommendations made by the Ombudsman.

Mr Bruton said the new Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill would set out principles to guide how schools, students and parents engaged with each other, and would place the student at the centre of school life.

“The charter is an important step aimed at improving the engagement between students, parents and schools,” he said.

“The charter sets out a partnership approach. It will ensure that the interaction between students, parents and schools is always done in an open and progressive way.”

Mr Bruton thanked Fine Gael TD and former teacher Jim Daly for his work on the development of an Education Ombudsman, which is being incorporated into the new Bill.

Under the legislation, the Ombudsman for Children will also have greater powers to investigate complaints made against schools even when they are still under consideration.

In addition, the Minister may direct schools to comply with guidance or recommendations made by the Ombudsman.

Mr Daly said: “These efforts are all about bringing a small minority of schools who are underperforming and not engaging with parents as they should up to standard with the vast majority of schools in our country, who carry out exemplary work for the good of our future generations.

“I look forward to debating the Bill with all stakeholders as it passes through the Houses of the Oireachtas.”