Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Deputy Boyd Barrett was in possession when the debate adjourned. There are ten minutes remaining in that slot. The rest of the time may be taken By Deputy Bríd Smith.

I do not think she is going to be here.

Deputy Boyd Barrett is quite prepared and well capable to fill the space. He may proceed.

I will briefly recapitulate on a few points from yesterday and add a few points on behalf of Deputy Smith, who could not make it along. A parents and children's schools charter is not a bad idea in principle. It is a very good idea in principle to have proper grievance procedures and transparency about the expenditure of school funds and voluntary contributions, even though, frankly, they should not exist. I will come to that point in a second. It is a good idea for people to have information and real engagement with parents in their school communities about that charter. These are all reasonable things in and of themselves.

The problem, however, is that, to my mind, much of the focus of this Bill gives the Minister the right essentially to instruct school boards and schools to do certain things. The focus seems to be all internal rather than putting a charter of rights in place for education, children and pupils in education, and their parents which puts real obligations on the Government, Department or Minister to deliver a quality education.

Many of the things this Bill seeks to do are, in fact, already mechanisms to deal with issues, such as the Teaching Council, boards of management, parent-teacher associations and so on. As I said yesterday, I would like to see a charter that essentially guarantees high-quality education and the resources necessary to deliver it for all children. That is not what this Bill is about. The fear is, therefore, that it ends up being a league table with schools competing with each other like the kind of neoliberal model we have seen in the UK. That is a concern, notwithstanding the fact the things the Bill is trying to achieve are not in themselves problematic. It could lead to that logic, however.

The charter I would like to see is one that says pupils have a right to be in a proper size class and not oversized classrooms, and a right to proper school buildings, amenities and services, special needs assistants, SNAs, when they need one, free school meals and school books and free public transport. A staff member should have the right to ongoing professional development to deal with things like difficult emotional behaviours, special needs issues and so forth. That is the sort of charter we must have.

As I and quite a few others mentioned yesterday, people should have the right not to have to fundraise to provide basic services, equipment or whatever in classrooms. A demand that really emerged very clearly from the pandemic is the right not to do stressful, archaic exams such as the leaving certificate, which put immense stress on pupils and teachers. These exams are anachronistic at a time when we should be trying to make sure everybody has a right to move on to higher and further education rather than having a gatekeeping exercise, which is essentially what the leaving certificate is. It is a one-size-fits-all exercise that does not really deal holistically with the individual abilities and differences that exist between people in education.

Those are the sorts of things we should have in a charter rather than focusing too much on the internal regime of schools. I want to get on to this particular issue because I made most of those points yesterday. This is one of the really scandalous things, although I do not know the picture all over the country. A basic ability for a school community to deliver a quality education for our children and to involve parents and so on is to have the basic building - a quality building - or to have a building at all.

It is amazing we have this system where we recognise there is a need for a school in a particular area based on census or demographic information. We have a system then for the local community to decide what type of school they will have in their area, whether it will be a Gaelscoil, an Educate Together school or another type of patronage for a particular school. We do not, however, plan to provide the location and deliver the building for that school once it is established. There are many examples of this in my area and it seems to be replicated elsewhere. It certainly seems to be the case with a number of examples Deputy Smith asked me to mention in Dublin South-Central. This may reflect the picture across the country and I suspect it does. I have heard many other Deputies speak about similar issues in their areas and refer to the number of schools that use prefabs and temporary buildings and so on or that lack recreation and sports halls, canteens, proper sports facilities, playing fields and things they need.

We need a charter that guarantees those things to all schools, schoolchildren and the parents who are fighting for the best-quality education for their children.

I will mention a few examples. St Mary's Boys National School is in my area. There is a recognised need for an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, unit in that area. A parish hall right next door to the school has been identified as suitable and the parish which owns it is willing to sell the hall to the school. The application has gone in to the Department and there has still been no decision received from the Department. There is a recognised need here and a physical building available yet an answer cannot be got from the Department about the use of this parish hall by the school for children with special needs and for other uses. Dún Laoghaire Educate Together has finally been recognised as a school after a big fight, a hard campaign and much pressure on local politicians. Eventually it was given a permanent location for the school but it is going to take another couple of years. That is a long fight followed by another couple of years before we actually get the school. Gaelscoil Laighean is in a temporary site and must fight and fight to find out which temporary site it is going to be in this year. It had to fight and fight to get a permanent site which it finally got, although interestingly it is going to come at the expense of Traveller accommodation and social housing, which is a conflict that should not happen. Obviously it meets the school's needs but nobody there has any idea when they will actually get the physical school. Sallynoggin Educate Together has now been given a temporary location. Up until a couple of weeks ago it did not even have that. Now it has been given a temporary location outside its catchment area. It is not in Sallynoggin but in Dún Laoghaire, in a building where there is no play area for the students. No permanent location for that school has been identified at all. The Red Door School is a special school that has been in temporary accommodation for more than a decade. Gaelscoil Phádraig in Ballybrack has been waiting for a permanent location for I do not know how many years now, I think it is about 12 or 13. Those are just a sample of the lack of planning and of provision for basic things like a physical location, a building or the special needs provision necessary to give the quality education we need.

Deputy Bríd Smith has asked me to mention some cases from her area. In Ballyfermot there has been amalgamation of St. John’s College, Dominican College and Caritas College. A new location has been got at the St. John’s College campus but the 1,000 male and female students there will have no gym and no canteen in an area where there is considerable disadvantage, obesity and so on. The national school at Goldenbridge in Inchicore is in a very dilapidated building in one of the poorest areas in Dublin. It is a fantastic school, where teachers and the principal are concerned, but there is serious neglect of the infrastructure that should be provided for the school. In Dublin 10 and Dublin 12 there is also desperate demand for a gaelscoil in what is a very densely populated area of the country. The community is crying out for it but for some mysterious reason the Department will not grant the area a gaelscoil.

Charters inside a school are all very well but unless we deliver the resources, buildings, facilities and the supports charters mean very little.

I thank the Minister of State for bringing this Bill forward. I welcome it and offer my support for it. It is a welcome development that will undoubtedly create a better relationship between students, parents and school officials and will, all in all, create a much better environment in schools all around the State. Giving stakeholders a say is always the best approach in any scenario and so this legislation represents progress for all in the education sector.

I wish to revisit an issue I have raised in the House a number of times, namely, the need to provide a second-level Educate Together school for Waterford city and county. There are currently two primary-level Educate Together schools in the county. One is in Tramore and the other in Carrickphierish in Waterford. Once students have completed their primary education in those schools there is no follow-on for them into second-level education. This is unacceptable in this day and age and must be addressed by Government. To ask parents to seek out a different model of education for their children's secondary years makes zero sense and undoubtedly upsets the children's educational rhythm. There is an organised group of parents seeking the building of an Educate Together school in Carrickphierish and I again express support for their call. The Minister previously responded to me via parliamentary question in February that previous demographic exercises have not identified a requirement for a new school in Waterford city or county. However, the requirement for additional school places is kept under ongoing review and work on an updated exercise to assess needs for the coming year is at an advanced stage. My understanding is that since then it may be recognised that there is a need for an additional secondary school in Waterford, if not two between the city and the county. Carrickphierish is now earmarked for a significant increase in residential development in the next few short years. It is also an area bordering the industrial area of Waterford where global pharmaceutical companies, amongst other enterprises, employ thousands of workers. I extend an invitation to the Minister to come and visit Waterford over the summer recess period or at least to engage in a virtual meeting with the parents' group seeking the establishment of a second-level Educate Together school to see if it is something that can be delivered. As I said, there are hundreds of parents sending their children to a primary-level Educate Together school in Waterford and logic would dictate a second-level option should be made available to them. The Government should support that call and work with that group to ensure this happens. We live in a pluralist society and it is an option for more and more parents and they are taking it. The only way we can ensure that transition is available to them is to ensure that secondary school is supported and built at some stage in the future.

There are some points I must make about the Bill but I will be supporting it as it is time we had this on a statutory footing.

Currently schools do engage with students and parents and one will find most schools already have a charter. An example from the website of a County Wexford second-level school states:

Working together as a school community, the Board of Management, parents, staff and students aim to provide an environment that will allow each student to develop intellectually, physically, morally, socially and spiritually so that she will be able to fulfil her role in society.

Obviously this is a second-level girls' school. There are also parents' associations which do great work and naturally they have a vested interest.

The Bill proposes to set out a framework as to how schools engage with students and parents and it will be put on a statutory footing, which is appropriate for the times we are in. Essentially, what is in the Bill is being done but not in a structured way, so it is appropriate to regularise that. In short, the Bill sets out what is and is not to go into a charter. It will bring consistency and uniformity among schools as to what parents and students are entitled to know, how to pursue a grievance and to allow parents to have their say in how their children are educated and to have all that be put on a statutory footing, which is only fitting. The Bill also updates the 1998 Act with various amendments. It includes the Ombudsman for Children as a stakeholder which is also appropriate. Importantly, section 27C gives the Minister power to issue directions to the board of management if the new charter requirements are not implemented and to give a board a time limit within which to comply. Thus the Bill is, in effect, a compliance measure.

However, there is an issue many of my constituents have raised with me, namely, they are requesting a review of the board of management structure.

They are asking that this happens sooner rather than later. I have a number of constituents; some of whom are current board members and others of whom have resigned from the board. Some are clergy and many are parents and professionals. These are ultimately the go-to people seen as board of management material, as it were. The one thing they have in common is they no longer wish to serve on the board of management and those still serving have expressed great difficulty in recruiting members. There is also a feeling that the extent of legislation and regulation today is beyond that of a volunteer structure.

A review in this regard is timely and it may take the form of a consultation process to begin with. It has also been suggested that the cluster model used to deal with secretarial skills and shared teacher substitutes might be expanded to a human resources footing on a similar basis. In fairness, human resources today is a science in itself, and post Covid it is anticipated that this scenario will become much worse.

I would appreciate it if the Department might engage with me on this. Given the day that is in it, unfortunately, newspaper reports have emerged over the past month indicating that students will be at an immense disadvantage, leading to disappointment, because points may rise for preferred courses. As the Minister, Deputy Foley, is a schoolteacher, she has great insight as to how the system works. There is disappointment every year but I expect the Department will formulate a solution, if at all possible, and I ask that whatever needs to be done should be done to reassure students. I ask that on a human level with mental health in mind.

I can attest to the fact that all is not lost if a person does not get into the course he or she wishes to attend at third level but I am almost 50 years old and know how to deal with this. It can be very difficult, especially when we consider the strain that Covid-19 has caused for students. It has really been hard to bear for many of them. I have no doubt it is in the mind of the Minister and departmental officials. I ask her to take care of that in the best way possible.

At this stage I invite any Minister or Minister of State from the Department to County Wexford. Not unlike other colleagues, I can name a number of schools in the county that do not have physical gym buildings, which students should certainly have if they are doing physical activity. One such school is CBS Secondary School, New Ross, but there is also the Holy Faith school, Our Lady Of Lourdes Secondary School, Rosbercon, and Ramsgrange Community School, which expects to submit planning permission for an extension. I hope that school will be successful in getting that permission.

There is another matter that must be raised. When we get our children back to school in September, we should not have to look at pods and similar types of separation. The anxiety levels of primary school children have been raised and this will cause serious damage in their development, both socially and mentally in future. I am serious in saying that the Department must consider this potential damage and, I hope, conclude that it will not be appropriate in September to have such separation. I hope we will have a good handle on Covid-19 by September, particularly in that age category, so we can look at ways other than separation and social isolation for small children at primary school level.

I was to speak on this with my colleague, Deputy Michael Collins, but he is as láthair today and sends his apologies. We badly need reforms right across the education sector from na naíonraí or playschools to third and fourth level. As far as I am concerned, education goes from the cradle to the grave. The Minister of State is very understanding and is always top of her brief. She might come from the same stable as I do in dealing with such matters.

There is a wide range of education available. We mentioned today in speaking about a Bill with the Minister of State's Government colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, the question of public private partnerships. This also applies to schools as well. I have been on the boards of management of vocational education committees and national schools but it all ended when I came to Dáil Éireann in 2007. There have been changes and there is a diverse range of needs to be dealt with and embraced. The job of principals and boards of management remains very important. It is why I said public private partnerships are good.

There is a school in Carrick-on-Suir and the principal, Mr. Kevin Langton, is excellent. The numbers at his school have doubled in the two and half years since it opened. It is a second level VEC school and it is a public private partnership. Beside Mr. Langton's office is the manager's office and the manager has nothing to do with students, tuition or learning. He or she has the job of maintaining the school from the front gate right to the back gate, upstairs, downstairs, inside or wherever else. It does not matter if the problem is a tap, a slate or something happening with the grass. It is a fabulous system. It may be BAM Ireland - I could be wrong - that is the consortium that has it leased. It provided and built it, along with a sister building in Tramore, down the road. It is a magnificent building and addition to the town of Carrick-on-Suir. It serves south Kilkenny, south Tipperary and that part of County Waterford down as far as Portlaw and beyond. There is a special needs unit for people with different learning issues.

I could not believe the sheer size of that state-of-the-art building but this would be useless without an excellent teaching staff under the principal, Mr. Langton. His wonderful staff is expanding all the time. There will be great reports coming from there. The chairman of the board of management is Councillor Kieran Bourke and there is a voluntary board. It is very important to have all those factors working together. Ní neart go chur le chéile. They must all pull and work together. It can be onerous to ask people, such as lay people or local authority or VEC members, to do that job. When I was on the board of Coláiste Dún Iascaigh, Cahir, the Sisters of Mercy had amalgamated the VEC school and the convent, along with St. Joseph's, a school I attended myself. Two pioneers from County Cork, the late Mr. Tom McGrath and Mr. Vincent Russell, cycled on their bikes to the town of Cahir to set up a school with little or no support from the Government. It was a very poor building but some great people came from it. There were great teachers, including a maths and science teacher who is still alive and an-chara liom anois. We can contrast what they operated with - on a shoestring - with what we have now. My brother was a teacher in the VEC sector and it has been well-funded for the past 25 years.

The school in Carrick-on-Suir I referred to was 30 years in the making. The late Councillor Denis Bourke and Councillor Jimmy Hogan, among many others, fought for decades to get it over the line. It is a pity the two other schools did not amalgamate but they chose to stay on their own, namely, the "Greenschool" and the convent. That was their entitlement. In many cases such schools did amalgamate. The schools amalgamated in Cahir and in Lismore out the road over the mountains. They have been working hard together and they are building an extension.

There are two issues with regard to getting people. It will be hard in schools that do not have a system like that. It is the crème de la crème of schools' operations because the principal, who does an awful lot of work to look after the teachers and pupils and to deal with the representations from the board of management and the parents' council - he or she looks after the well-being of na daltaí above all - does not have to worry about a light bulb or a leaking roof. However, many school principals have no support whatsoever and must look after everything. They will tell us that they are not qualified for much of that work, especially at national school level. They never set out to be architects, engineers or health and safety officers or to deal with the many issues that go with those roles. I mention three roles, but they also have to be the doctor, the nurse, the specialist and the counsellor. They have to try to bring the teaching staff with them while being responsible for all the children and their parents or guardians. It is an onerous job and it needs to be respected. We should have time for walking principals. While they do not have much time on their hands, to be honest, they should be given time to deal with the never-ending reams of paperwork. Their role has become more bureaucratic with more schemes, rules and regulations. I cannot imagine how they have managed with Covid. I have not set foot inside any school since the Covid pandemic began. I cannot understand how they have managed with that, but they have. They got the exams completed this year. I wish all na daltaí the very best for their results, no matter what model or blend of results they have chosen. I wish them well in the future.

It needs to be recognised that there is no continuity for school secretaries even though they may have been in place for many years. In many cases the secretary is as good as the principal because he or she represents the front line for many of us as parents. Secretaries deal with students and everybody else. We should consider the caretakers too. Mr. Paddy Lonergan, the caretaker in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh, is a wonderful man. A caretaker might be a jack of all trades and master of none, but it is an exceptional and dedicated job. One can imagine being the caretaker on one's own in a school with 830 pupils. It is a huge job. When they want to put on a pantomime or a sports day in the hall, the place is transformed with some help from the students and others. The caretakers must be cognisant of all of the guidelines, rules and regulations around health and safety. It all needs huge evaluation. I have great respect for an tAire Oideachais, an Teachta Foley. The Minister has an understanding of na múinteoirí freisin, and she has a willingness to engage. Like the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, she is happy to talk about issues and deal with them without the high-powered, highfalutin stuff.

I wish the Minister and the Minister of State well. They make a very good team. There are huge issues to deal with, without even going near the issues in the Educate Together sector and other issues in this area. I am not saying these are not normal issues, but it will always be a task to deal with the normal, straightforward and simple issues that always exist. We have had a plethora of changes to the syllabus in the area of sex education, which is vital and important. I have heard alarm bells about some of the things that have been introduced in the syllabus. I do not mind saying it here. This is the place to say it. I believe the whole push for new issues to be introduced has been too quick. There has been no proper training or resources for school management, teachers, back-up staff or families. Some parents and guardians are not happy about what is happening, and they should be listened to. Bullying is a huge issue in this regard. If they raise their concerns, they are often demonised as backwards or too conservative. They are entitled to raise their children, once they are safely minded and reared. Children in preschool and national school, in particular, should be allowed to develop themselves without being told that they might be something else or being investigated, or told they might be happier if they were something else.

The Minister of State has a great deal on his plate. The slow pace of delivery of new projects is alarming. Roadmaster in Johnstown, which is not far from the Minister of State's own county, is a great facility - I have often used their demountables to house people during a build - but the money that is spent on prefabs and temporary buildings is shocking and mind-boggling. Why can we not grasp it and deal with it? It has mushroomed in the past 30 years. What is paid in rent for these buildings would build schools all over the place, if we could just cut out the rent and put the money into bricks and mortar, public private partnership projects or whatever. I was taught in a prefab and I often went into prefabs when I was speaking to classes and so on. I also attended meetings in prefabs. While some are better than others, generally a prefab is not a suitable building for learning and tuition in which people can disseminate information.

While there are lots of things to be done, if the Minister and the Minister of State could do anything, the full extent of the prefab issue needs to be investigated and understood. Hospitals and many other places are also getting these quick builds. They will not be standing in 20 years. We are solving a short-term problem, but these will not last structurally. I am involved in construction and I know they will not last. The Minister of State also knows they will not last. It is also so hard to heat them, and yet we talk about energy savings. That area is totally left without any proper oversight. We should deal with this. It is like the housing crisis: we should have dealt with this. They were a necessary evil when we did not have the money and a school could get a prefab. Now, however, and even in the boom, we cannot manufacture them fast enough to get them into places. They are not the safest from the perspective of fire safety, which I have not mentioned.

Lifelong learning, from the cradle to the grave, is wonderful. I salute the adult learning schemes of the education and training board in Tipperary and elsewhere. I salute the people who work there, including Mary Roche and Mary Mullaney, and the many people I have worked with, and the way they have engaged with people. This includes getting theory tests. Many fairly senior adults do not have literacy skills because they went through their own education, limited as it was, without anyone ever picking up that they did not have the learning skills, including writing skills, they needed. Many of them are geniuses who can their own businesses and are self-employed. They have that difficulty, however. More funding should be put into further and continuing education to try to ensure more of them are helped. I salute the tutors in this area. I know how difficult it is. There is another múinteoir in Cathair Dún Iascaigh, Niamh Ní Chillín from Baile Átha Cliath, who does a lot of voluntary work with our newcomers, as I call them. We have many of them in Cahir, probably more than one third of the community, and they are being helped to learn the English language.

I would also like to mention Kathleen Ní Loingsigh of the wonderful naíonra i gCathair Dún Iascaigh. I was stunned when I arrived in the square one day and she was putting on a play. I think there were 15 different nationalities there. Some 20 years ago there was only the one nationality, and ten years ago there were maybe only three or four. She said to me that they can learn Irish easier than they can learn English. If a person can learn the Irish language, he or she can learn any language. My own area of Caisleán Nua was a breac-Ghaeltacht up until 1957. My own late seanmháthair did not have any English. Deputies might say that my English is not the best either, but that is fine. It is what I have, but she did not have English. We have a wonderful naíonra in Caisleán Nua, which I was proud to be involved in setting up along with Helen Duggan some years ago. It is flourishing and oversubscribed. It is wonderful. There are 20 jobs in it, and it is in a small village. Cars come from all areas in the morning, over long distances, to come to this flourishing development. It is now in the process of buying an adjoining house to expand. Along with the preschool service, there is an after-school service to mind the children. My own grandchildren, Orlaith, Cara Rose and Aodhán, are ag foghlaim sa naíonra sin. The care they get from Joanne, Mary Dowling and the whole team is second to none. It is a wonderful facility to be in any small village.

There is a wide circumference of all the different aspects of education. When I was in school, and when the Minister of State was in school, national school and secondary school, some of the family might get to university, but now one can embrace the whole remit of services, including the teaching staff and the voluntary boards. I mentioned the nuns earlier. The parish priests, lets us be fair to them, are also stretched as are their boards of management. I would defend them anywhere. People in this House have attacked the parish priests and the nuns. It is fashionable now to attack them. There were a few bad apples, as there are in every society, but I want to defend the sisters. They educated us when we had no schools. Before Tom Mac Craith and Vincent Russell cycled from Cork, the nuns did the educating.

They did it voluntarily. There are such expensive wage bills for schools and hospitals because the sisters are no longer there. I learned so much from them. They were exemplary in their knowledge of teaching and people's experience, dealing with people sensitively and humanely and doing voluntary work on boards and interview panels. We can never forget our history. We must of course look forward, but we can look back to where we came from.

There are many criticisms of the education sector. What has happened in the third level sector over the past year due to Covid is shameful. I have direct experience of this with my youngest daughter, Caelainn. Students had so little life. They had to study online. Money was taken from them. We are lucky and are able to afford to pay, but other people have struggled. On Friday evening, they were told that from Saturday they would not be allowed on campus.

The system of fairness in terms of the student and parent charter is important. A charter for students and education providers is needed. I do not ever demonise landlords. There are some bad ones. People provide infrastructure and take a risk. There must be a student and landlord charter. We recently introduced legislation to cap the charges for deposits. A lot of money is involved. There is pressure on families and students. There must be a charter that respects students. They have enough pressures on them without worrying about rent and everything else. We need such a charter.

The charter for pupils and parents is important but the biggest charter of all for parents and children is teach abhaile, the home. That is where the biggest charter is. That is where contracts are signed and children are born and reared. There are dysfunctional families and difficulties and issues, but that is an area we have to stimulate and nurture. Not everything is a big issue. There are charters for this, that and the other and there is often little common sense. Níos minic, we do not have common sense. Education is a huge area, as I said, from the cradle to the grave. I wish the Minister of State well and support her efforts with this Bill. I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me to speak.

As there are no Government or other speakers, I invite the Minister of State to reply.

I thank the Acting Chairman. I thank Members for the interest they have shown in this Bill and their contributions yesterday and today. This is an important Bill. Its core aim is to improve communication and engagement within the whole school community. It is important that students, parents and school staff are part of a school environment and culture that are inclusive, connected and transparent in how they listen to the views of all and communicate information and decisions on many important matters relating to how the school operates.

The Bill endeavours to provide a cohesive approach to enhance how schools can engage with the school community. The existing legislative provisions that attempt to set out what the school community can expect from schools are limited and those that do exist are not supported by an overarching framework which could guide practice and increase the extent to which schools are responsive to the needs and expectations of the school community.

The approach the Government is taking in this Bill is to put in place a set of legislative measures that will establish that framework and help to support and foster a culture change in schools in terms of engagement across the whole school community. As has already been outlined, the Government intends to bring forward a number of amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage. A key amendment will be to change the Title of the Bill to the Education (School Community Charter) Bill. This amendment reflects the spirit of inclusivity with which the Government is bringing this Bill forward.

A school's charter is, of course, for the whole school community, including students, parents and school staff. Many schools already engage very well with the school community. For the schools, the Bill will help to underpin and build on this work. It will also help schools that have not been as strong in this area by providing a clear framework to guide them in establishing and implementing good practice. It will facilitate and support that shift in how those schools engage with the community by inviting feedback, comments and observation from students, parents and school staff and by developing a listening culture in the school.

We need to move away from concentrating on reacting to problems in schools after they have given rise to grievances to an approach which improves the day-to-day experience that students, parents and staff can and should expect from schools. The national charter guidelines will be key to the successful implementation of this Bill's aims and objectives and in that regard the consultation process with the education stakeholders will be particularly important. The comprehensive consultation process on the development of the guidelines should help to ensure that all schools will have charters that are clear, workable and practical for the whole school community.

These guidelines will also put in place new standardised complaints procedures that will have to be followed by all schools. The guidelines will set out the details of the new complaints procedures and these will focus on dealing with complaints from students and parents efficiently, effectively and, as far as possible, informally. Under the provisions of the Bill, the guidelines may require schools to provide information to students and parents on the number and types of complaints received and information on their particular outcomes.

As the complaints procedures will be developed in consultation with all education stakeholders, including parent and student representatives, this should help to ensure that the national complaints procedures are straightforward, fair and easily understandable by all, including parents and students. It is vitally important that all public bodies which deliver services to children, in particular schools, listen to student voices and actively invite and respond to comments and feedback from children and young people. We have seen the power, clarity and maturity of the student voice in the past year and the benefit that listening to these voices can bring as we navigate through these challenging times.

To conclude, I am very pleased that the Bill and its aims have been broadly supported in this House and I acknowledge the detailed consideration by Members of the Bill. I am confident that the provisions in the Bill will be discussed in more detail again on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.