Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019: Committee Stage
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 10, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:"(c) by the deletion of the following in subsection (5):“and such rules may provide for the election of members and the dissolution of a student council.”,and
(d) by the insertion of the following after “affairs” in subsection (6):“including providing for the election of members and the dissolution of a student council.”.”.
Amendment No. 15 relates to the role of student councils, as set out in section 27 of the Education Act 1998. I welcome the proposed changes in section 7 of the Bill that student councils will now have set out in statute their role in promoting the interests of the students of a school rather than the interests of the school, as is currently set out in the 1998 Act.
I also welcome under the proposed new section 27B that the Minister may provide for the charter guidelines to be drafted in consultation between the student council and the board of management of a school. This is a welcome provision that will allow for the engagement of the elected representatives of students with the board of management to develop a charter with the interests of students at its heart. However, for the student council to be an empowered and equal education stakeholder partner in the drafting of the charter, it needs to be able to set its own arrangements for the election of its members and its dissolution. Under the current provisions of section 27, the board of management is able to set arrangements for elections and dissolutions and so feasibly could dissolve a student council at a moment's notice. It could even feasibly arise that the board of management could engage with a student council to draft a charter under section 27B and a board of management that did not like the input of the council into the process could dissolve the council as a result. The reference to "where one has been established" in section 27B(1)(a)(v) would seem to give further latitude to pursue that as a drastic course of action. The question is how a student council can substantively contribute to the development of a student charter when it is only in existence if the board of management allows it to be so.A council derives its mandate from election by students and not the whim of management. It is to rectify this issue that I tabled amendment No. 15, which would remove the setting of rules for the election of student council members and the dissolution of a council from the remit of a board of management and place responsibility within the remit of the council itself. A democratically-elected body should be able to set the rules for its elections and how it will be dissolved. The Irish Second-Level Students Union criticised the general scheme of the Bill during pre-legislative scrutiny on these exact grounds, based on the view that the Bill was changing only the aims of the student council and not addressing the important matters of dissolution and elections. We need to empower young people to get involved in their local school communities through local student democracy and give them a real voice in decision-making at school level. My amendment would give a student council genuine democratic autonomy and legitimacy. I hope the Minister will accept it.