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)

I thank Senator Craughwell for tabling the amendment.Amendment No. 11 provides for the deletion of the provision in the Bill that provides for the Minister to publish a direction issued under this Bill to a school board, together with the name of the school concerned. Amendment No. 12 is a consequential amendment that removes the obligation on the Minister to publish a notice where he or she is satisfied that a direction given to a board has been complied with.

As amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are connected, I note the new section 27D proposed in the Bill provides the Minister with the discretionary power to give a board of management a direction where he or she is of the opinion that the board has failed or is failing in whole or in part to comply with its obligation to prepare, publish and implement a charter. While it is not intended that this provision will be frequently used, it is an important provision in the context of ensuring compliance with the Bill's requirements. It is based on applying a staged and measured approach. The first step involves the Minister considering and being satisfied that, having regard to the failure concerned and in all the circumstances of the case, all of the relevant steps to address the non-compliance have been exhausted or it is necessary or appropriate to give a direction to the school or both. This ensures that directions will not even be considered without significant efforts being made to engage with the school to resolve the issue. Also, before the Minister issues any direction, the board and the patron are given a formal opportunity to make representations to the Minister, during which time they can also avail of the opportunity to take steps to rectify the issue identified.

For the benefit of the House, I will outline the steps involved once the Minister has formed the opinion that in all the circumstances of the case a direction is, in fact, necessary or appropriate. Before issuing a direction the Minister must give the board and school patron notice of his or her intention to give a direction, setting out the reasons and the proposed remedial action. The notice must offer the board and the patron, or both, an opportunity to make representations on the proposed direction and provide the board and patron at least 14 days to do so. The board and the patron, therefore, have an opportunity to rectify the matter before a direction issues or to make representations on the proposed direction. The Minister must, in deciding whether to give a direction, consider any representations. Only where all of these steps have been followed and the Minister remains of the view that a direction is required will the Minister issue a direction.

As can be seen, a direction will only issue in cases where a school continues to refuse to comply despite significant efforts being made to resolve the issue or where it is necessary and appropriate to do so or both. The Bill provides that in these cases, the direction will be published by the Minister. I believe that the approach taken is measured, proportionate and appropriate. It is not about naming and shaming schools. It will apply where there is serious and persistent non-compliance. It is therefore about ensuring compliance by schools with the Bill's obligations and about ensuring transparency for all in relation to this compliance. For the reasons outlined, this is a key provision in the Bill and it must be retained. Therefore, I cannot accept these two amendments.

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