Article 42.2 of the Constitution confers a constitutional right on parents to provide for the religious, moral, intellectual, social and physical education of children in their own homes or in private schools or in schools established or recognised by the State.
The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 provides a major reformulation of the law in regard to all matters connected with school attendance and children's welfare in education. It provided for the establishment of a National Educational Welfare Board, a core function of which is to ensure that each child ‘‘attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education". Under section 14 of the Education (Welfare) Act, the NEWB is required to maintain a register of children receiving education in places other than a recognised school and this would extend to situations where parents are educating their children at home.
A Working Group of the Inspectorate of my Department has drawn up Guidelines for the Assessment of Education in Places Other Than Recognised Schools. A key aspect of the Education (Welfare) Act is that children receiving education in places other than recognised schools must be registered with the National Educational Welfare Board. Parents who choose to have their child educated in a place other than a recognised school must register with the Board, and the Board in turn must be satisfied that the child is receiving ‘‘a certain minimum education.''
A certain minimum education should:
be suited to the age, ability, aptitude and personality of the child;
be responsive to the child's individual needs, should take cognisance of the areas of learning that are of interest to the child, and should ensure that his/her personal potential is enhanced and not suppressed;
address the immediate and prospective needs of the child, in the context of the cultural, economic and social environment;
provide a reasonably balanced range of learning experiences, so that no one aspect of the child's learning is emphasised to the exclusion of others;
develop the personal and social skills of the child and prepare him/her for the responsibilities of citizenship;
contribute to the moral development of the child;
ensure the development of basic skills (as outlined below) so as to prepare the child to participate in society and everyday life; and
provide opportunities for the child to develop his/her intellectual capacities and understanding.
A parent must apply to the NEWB to have his or her child registered and the application must be made in writing and set out the place where the child is receiving the education and must comply with requirements that may be set out in any Regulations made by the Minister for Education and Science or that may be developed by the NEWB with the Minister's approval at any time.
The act provides that, initially, the National Educational Welfare Board will carry out, in consultation with the parent who made the application, an assessment of:
(a) the education that is being provided, or that it is proposed will be provided, to the child;
(b) the materials used, or that it is proposed will be used, in the provision of such education; and
(c) the time spent, or that is proposed will be spent, in the provision of such education.
The purpose of this assessment is to determine whether the child is receiving, or will receive, a certain minimum education.
Our Constitution recognises the family as the primary educator of the child and defines duties and responsibilities for parents and the State in the education of children. Drawing on these provisions, on legislation, and on case law, the Guidelines for the Assessment of Education in Places Other Than Recognised Schools provide a working definition of ‘‘a certain minimum education'' and guidance on how this may be assessed, given best educational practice and the nature of educational provision in the home and other settings.