Tusla board member leaves early, claiming expertise was rejected

Áine Hyland says education issues were ignored and her views were never sought

Retired education professor Áine Hyland said “substantive issues relating to education were almost never brought to the attention” of the Tusla board.   Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

Retired education professor Áine Hyland said “substantive issues relating to education were almost never brought to the attention” of the Tusla board. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

 

A Tusla board member resigned one year into her three-year term, complaining that her views and expertise had been rejected, leaving it “impossible for me to make any meaningful contribution”.

Áine Hyland, professor emeritus of education at University College Cork (UCC), was appointed to the board in January 2017, but in a resignation letter sent to Minster for Children Katherine Zappone one year later, she said “substantive issues relating to education were almost never brought to the attention of the board”.

Prof Hyland estimated that “only about 3 per cent of the time of board meetings was spent on education-related issues” and that “my views were never sought on education-related issues”. A former civil servant in the Department of Education, she was involved in the establishment of the first multi-denominational school in the state, and subsequently worked as chair of Educate Together. She has served on multiple state commissions on education policy.

In her resignation letter, obtained under freedom of information, she told Ms Zappone she had provided a “detailed critique of a significant education proposal made by the executive [OF TUSLA]”, but her views were rejected by both the board and the executive.

The programme referenced is understood to be the Schools Completion Programme, which assists students at risk of not finishing formal education with staying in school. The programme was subject to extensive budget cuts during the recession, leaving the children in crisis who use it without support if more cutbacks were pushed through, according to a 2015 report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The programme was established in 2002 and expanded over time to offer supports to vulnerable children, including in-school, after-school, holiday and out-of-school supports. Since it was established, primary attendance rates and retention to Leaving Certificate levels have improved. Administration of the programme transferred from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to Tusla in 2014. Since then, unions have criticised funding cutbacks.

Prof Hyland also told the Minister that her request for a sub-committee of the board to examine education matters was “vetoed by the board”. “As it has proved impossible for me to make any meaningful contribution to Tusla during the past year, I have concluded that I no longer have a role on the board,” Prof Hyland told the Minister.

There was a meeting between Prof Hyland and Ms Zappone concerning the SCP reform proposals in November 2017, following which she wrote to board members saying key documents relating to the review had not been seen by the board.

In a letter to the Minister in the days after Prof Hyland’s resignation, Tusla chair Norah Gibbons disputed the content of the academic’s letter to Ms Zappone. She said board members “are afforded the opportunity to fully contribute to board deliberations, and to provide constructive challenge, whilst guarding against excessive influence on board decision making by one or more individual board members”.

The letter also reveals the board “expressed concern” Ms Zappone had met with Prof Hyland “without the chair or board being notified in advance and queried in what capacity Ms Hyland had attended”.

Ms Gibbons argued the SCP reform was informed by work done on the programme by an expert panel. She said that the board frequently discussed matters relating to education.