Home educators to fight registration process

Education Welfare Board enrolled children in school without permission, couple say

Eddie O'Neill and Monica O'Connor with their children Oisín O'Neill (19), Emmett O'Connor (17), Oran O'Neill (12), Elva O'Neill (9) and Eamonn O'Connor (5). Photograph: Mary Browne

A Co Carlow couple who are being pursued by the National Education Welfare Board have said they will fight for their right to continue home educating their children without registering them with the board.

Monica O’Connor and Eddie O’Neill from Tullow said the board enrolled two of their children for local primary schools without their permission in November 2012 and when the children did not attend, summonsed the parents to appear in court under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 for failing to send them to school.

The couple, who have six children aged six to 26 years, have home-educated them all since birth. Two of the older children are currently in college and one works abroad.

Under the Constitution parents have a right to home educate their children and the State is obliged to ensure children receive minimum education.


The board was established in 2002 under the 2000 Act, which requires parents who wished to home educate to register their children with the board. The education provided is then assessed to ensure it is adequate.

Constitutional right
Ms O'Connor said some home educators agreed to register, but she and her husband, along with other families, believed the assessment process was diluting their constitutional right and they refused. They did send a declaration in 2007 to the board promising to provide an education for their children. They heard nothing until 2009 when they were told the declaration was not valid.

“I am clear that a constitutional right is not something you should have to apply for and be assessed for in order to avail of it,” she said.

She said the family has been harassed by the board because of their stance and threatened with imprisonment.

The couple, who are also foster parents, did agree to register a foster child whom a psychologist believed would benefit from home schooling, Ms O’Connor said, because they didn’t have a constitutional right to home-school her. The board deemed the education they were providing for the 15-year-old was up to standard in January 2012.

But it still pursued the couple in relation to their two youngest children, Oran and Elva. In early March 2013, the couple attended Carlow District Court on foot of four summonses. The judge told them he could not deal with a constitutional matter, Ms O’Connor said. The case was adjourned and the couple have heard nothing from the board since.

In a statement to The Iris h Times , a spokeswoman for the board said parents are obliged to ensure their children attend a recognised school or register with the board, and if they fail to comply "are breaking the law and so can be prosecuted".

She also said where a child has no school place, the board seeks the agreement of an appropriate school that they will process an application by the parents of the children involved.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist