TD ‘blown away’ at lack of accountability by school boards

Jim Daly says school boards of management defend principals over parents

The Department of Education. The assistant secretary general at the department said Mr Bruton’s legislation would boost the Ombudsman for Children’s capacity to investigate issues

The Department of Education. The assistant secretary general at the department said Mr Bruton’s legislation would boost the Ombudsman for Children’s capacity to investigate issues

 

A Fine Gael Deputy and former principal said he was “blown away” at how school boards of management were defending teachers at the centre of complaints over the best interests of pupils.

Jim Daly TD told an Oireachtas committee he has received “heart-breaking” letters from frustrated parents who have been unable to get answers or accountability over issues such as bullying of their children.

He said boards of management invariably sided with principals on contentious issues and the voices of children were ignored.

Mr Daly was speaking at a meeting of the Oireachtas committee on education on Tuesday evening, which was examining two pieces of legislation which aim to strengthen the rights of parents in relation to schools.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton’s Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill seeks to introduce legally-enforceable charters which will set out how parents and children should be consulted over running of schools.

In addition, Mr Daly’s Private Members’ Bill seeks to create an ombudsman for education with a dedicated role in promoting and protecting the educational welfare of young people.

Legal cases

Martin Hanevy, assistant secretary general of the Department of Education, said Mr Bruton’s legislation would boost the Ombudsman for Children’s capacity to investigate issues, while the Minister would have the power to direct schools to comply with guidance or recommendations made by the ombudsman.

He said the parent and student charter was aimed at promoting a “cultural change” within schools by focusing on prevention rather than dealing with issues through adversarial complaints processes.

The Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, also said a separate ombudsman for education with legally-binding powers would result in legal costs for schools and families, many of whom may not be able to afford such costs.

“This would change the whole dynamic of the complaint-handling, and would undoubtedly lead to longer delays,” he said. “I feel strongly that it could demotivate parents and carers from bringing complaints.”

Complaints

Special Needs Parents Association

Lorraine Dempsey, the association’s chair, said the odds were stacked against parents when they make complaints to boards of management on behalf of their children.

“Protectionism and risk-aversion have strangled decision-making in boards of management where the outcomes are not always in the best interest of the child. Instead, they are influenced by insurance and indemnities, fear and ignorance, misinformation and lack of internal transparency and fear of legal action by parties concerned.”

Mr Daly said he had started out with a draft legislation three years ago aimed at boosting the powers of the Ombudsman for Children to help make schools more accountable to parents. However, the scale of the problem had subsequently convinced him that a separate ombudsman for education was the best way to address this.

He said it was ironic that many of the departments and State bodies which opposed his earlier legislation now supported boosting the Ombudsman for Children’s powers.