Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019: Committee Stage

 

10:30 am

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)

What we are trying to do is broaden the scope of the legislation. If we are specific about policies at this stage of the legislation's passage, its scope will be narrowed. Nevertheless, that is not say the important points the Senator raised should not be highlighted within the guidelines. She mentioned the education partners, which will have a specific role and remit in getting their voice across. The two issues are important and I acknowledge they have been in the public domain for a while. The Senator referred to schools using reduced timetables as a practice but they should not be used as a behavioural mechanism. It is not acceptable that schools use reduced timetables to deal with behavioural issues.

As for what we are doing, the Senator highlighted some of the steps we have taken. Having consulted Tusla and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, my Department has drafted guidelines on the use of reduced timetables in schools. My Department has recently invited submissions from the education partners on those draft guidelines and the matter is ongoing. The closing date for making submissions was 25 October 2019 and my Department is considering the submissions received. The purpose of the guidelines will be to provide clarity to school authorities, parents and guardians on the use of reduced timetables and reduced days in schools to ensure their use is limited to those circumstances where it is necessary, and that where such use occurs, schools must follow best practice, with the interests of the student to the fore. My Department's position on the matter remains, as previously stated, that each and every child has a right to an education and all students enrolled in a school should attend for the full school day unless exempt for doing so in exceptional circumstances.

On the second issue the Deputy raised, in respect of seclusion and restraint, an expert working group established by my Department is developing new guidelines for schools on the prevention and management of behaviours that challenge, including the use of physical intervention, where such behaviour is considered likely to present serious risk of harm to the student concerned and-or others within the school environment.An expert group established by my Department is currently developing new guidelines for schools on the prevention and management of challenging behaviours, including the use of physical intervention where such behaviour is considered likely to present serious risk of harm to the student concerned or others within the school environment. The working group's work on drafting the guidelines is at an advanced stage. It is anticipated that the draft guidelines will be ready for consultation with the education partners later this month. The guidelines will assist schools in responding in circumstances in which students pose an immediate threat of harm to themselves or others. They will be underpinned by the principle that such interventions are never used for the purposes of discipline, should be applied proportionately and should not last longer than necessary. It is expected that the guidelines will underline the importance of recording such incidents and how they are managed.

The amendments proposed by the Senator involve really important issues. She has contributed to the debate on such issues at many public forums. I thank her for her contribution in this regard. I have availed of this opportunity to update the House on where we are at with these working groups. I reiterate that the legislative structure we are trying to put in place involves a broad mechanism. If we start reaching into different policy areas, the scope of this legislation will be broadened. I am not saying that these two important issues will not be at the heart of the guidelines when the consultation begins after this legislation goes through. Although it would be in keeping with the overall approach and aims of the legislation to single out particular policies in the manner proposed by these amendments, I do not want to narrow the scope of this legislation. I appreciate the importance of these two points. I have had an opportunity to update the House. Unfortunately, for the reasons I have outlined I will not be accepting the two amendments.

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