Equal governance rights for school board members
THE new legislation lays down that all schools must have management boards containing parent, teacher and owner representatives, who will have an equal right under law to contribute to the governance of their schools.
It says that the Minister Should make "all reasonable efforts" to reach agreement on the composition of school boards, but if such agreement is not reached she can impose a board, subject to the approval of the Oireachtas.
She also has the power to freeze grants and staffing levels in schools which do not set up approved boards, which must have a proper - if unspecified - gender balance.
Although there have been suggestions that this power might be unconstitutional, Ms Breathnach insisted yesterday that she was confident in her legal advice. Since the Bill has been passed by the Cabinet, this was taken as a reference to advice from the Attorney General.
There is no mention in the Bill of the word "ethos", with its religious overtones. Instead it says a school board must "support the characteristic spirit of the school as determined by the cultural, educational, moral, religious or social values and traditions which inform and underpin the objectives of the school".
The use of the word "or" here can be interpreted as leaving the way open for non-denominational and even non-religious, schools in the future.
Teachers will continue to be appointed according to current procedures. The Bill has dropped a clause in an earlier draft which appeared to confirm the primary school practice of teachers' employment having to be ratified by a school's owner.
Schools will be obliged to publish and make clear their admissions and entry policies, and parents and students over 16 will have the right to appeal against school decisions which "materially" - i.e., seriously - affect a pupil's education. If they have such a complaint, they must go first to the school management board and, if they fail there, they can turn to the education board's appeal procedure.
The functions and powers of school inspectors - a considerable number of whom will henceforth be answerable to the new education boards - will be placed on a statutory footing.
The Bill lays down that they will evaluate the management of schools, the quality of education and the quality of teaching and that for the first time there will also be a statutory system of appeals against such evaluations.