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)

The amendment provides that the national charter guidelines would have to include model charters for schools which boards would have to follow in preparing their individual charters. The national charter guidelines will ensure clarity and consistency of approach across schools, but it is not the Bill's intention that every school's charter will be exactly the same. Schools, by their nature, are different one from the other. They vary a great deal in size and circumstances, from one-teacher schools at primary level to large post-primary schools which cater for 1,700-plus students. They have different pupil and parent cohorts, policies, activities and so on. That is why the approach taken in the Bill allows for the guidelines to contain different provisions for different categories of schools or different categories of children. For example, the requirements in respect of consultation with children may differ between primary and post-primary or special schools and schools with special classes. The guidelines might provide a range of consultation options, from which a school could select the options best suited to its needs and particular circumstances. The approach taken in the Bill, as drafted, allows the Minister flexibility in developing model charters should this become desirable.

For the reasons I have outlined, I do not consider the provision should be mandatory as schools are not homogenous entities in a single one-size-fits-all model; otherwise, the limited selection of model charters would potentially be too restrictive. I can confirm that, as part of the consultation with the education partners, I will examine whether the guidelines should include templates. Without putting words into Senator Boyhan's mouth, something I would not dare do, having a template might be a possible way forward - for example, having one template for an ETB school, one for a community comprehensive school, one for a primary school and one for a secondary school - to meet schools' charter requirements. It is also intended that the guidelines which must be developed following consultation with the education stakeholders will provide a clear and workable roadmap schools can follow and be sufficiently comprehensive and flexible for individual schools to put in place their own charters at school level. Therefore, while not accepting the amendment, I am looking at developing templates as part of the consultation process. No doubt there will be an opportunity for the education stakeholders to do this and look at a number of potential templates. We are actively considering where we should go on this issue, but we will be at a more advanced stage on Report Stage to talk further about it.

I thank Senator Craughwell for tabling the amendment. While I am not in a position to accept the specific wording, we are singing from the same hymn sheet in terms of where we want to go.

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