Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019: Committee Stage
Joe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
I thank the Senator for moving this amendment. I am glad to be back in the House working on this important legislation. I assure the House that this Bill does not alter in any way the existing rights of teachers and other employees under current employment, health and safety legislation and other relevant legislation, nor will it interfere with disciplinary processes under section 24 of the Education Act 1998. I appreciate, however, that the Senator is seeking to ensure the guidelines take due account of the perspective of school teaching staff and other staff alongside those of parents and students. In that regard, I assure the Senator that there are a number of provisions in the Bill already that ensure the guidelines and school charters will be balanced.
This approach is founded on shifting away from reacting to problems in schools as and when they arise to an approach that aims to improve the day-to-day experience students and their parents can expect from schools. In doing so, it is envisaged that relationships between schools, students and parents will be strengthened and that the number of grievances in schools should reduce. The Bill includes a specific provision to ensure the appropriate balance is struck. We are seeking a balance and a common-sense approach that can sort out problems before there is further gridlock. For example, it will require the Minister, in drawing up the charter guidelines, to have regard to the need for a school to foster and promote the relationship and a spirit of partnership between a school, students and their parents.
The Bill also provides that the Minister must consult the education partners. Even when this Bill passes through the House, the most fundamental stage will be consultation with the education partners. That includes the teachers' unions. This comprises a fundamental part of the process when developing the guidelines. Within the primary sector, there is a good informal mechanism that acts as a very good conduit, namely, the Primary Education Forum. At secondary school level, the unions, various partnerships and the education partners will have a say. This consultative approach will help to ensure the perspectives of all stakeholders, including school management and staff, will be sought and taken into account in developing the guidelines.
Under this Bill, a comprehensive framework will be put in place for the first time to ensure standardised grievance procedures across all schools. All these measures aim to ensure the charter guidelines and school charters will be workable, balanced and fair to all concerned, including school staff. Taking on board the spirit of the amendment, I reassure Senator Boyhan and the other Members that the role and rights of teachers will be protected. They are already protected in legislation. I will not be in a position to accept the amendment, as proposed.