I propose to take Questions Nos. 65 and 66 together.
Section 29 of the Education Act, 1998 provides for an appeal by a parent or guardian or student who has reached the age of 18 years to the Secretary General of my Department, or in the case of an Educational Training Board (ETB) school to the ETB in the first instance, where a Board of Management of a school, or a person acting on behalf of the Board, refuses to enrol a student in a school, expels a student or suspends a student for 20 or more days in any school year.
The most recently available statistics on Section 29 appeals are from the calendar year 2018. In 2018, my Department received a total of 432 Section 29 appeals. Of these, 256 went to a full oral hearing before an independent Section 29 Appeals Committee. Of the appeals heard by an independent Section 29 Appeals Committee, 113 (44%) were upheld. My Department does not provide information on section 29 appeals in relation to individual schools.
The Deputy will be aware that the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 is providing for a new Section 29 to be put in place to replace the existing Section 29 of the Education Act, 1998. Section 7 of the Education (Admissions to School) Act 2018, when commenced, will provide for a number of significant changes to the appeals process under section 29 of the Education Act. The main aim of these changes being put in place is to make the process fit for purpose and less cumbersome for parents and schools. Many of the changes relate to operational matters and seek to align the legislation with actual practice and procedures as they have developed over the years and increase the efficiency of the processes. However, there are also a number of changes which relate to policy matters. These include the following matters:
- setting in statute that the cumulative number of days on suspension that has to elapse before an appeal can be lodged at 20 days;
- removing the additional layer of appeal currently provided in section 29 which requires that appeals in relation to ETB schools must be heard in the first instance by the ETB;
- clarifying that an appeal against a decision to suspend, expel or refuse to admit where the decision to refuse admission is not due to oversubscription, is an appeal ‘de novo’, which encompasses a full re-hearing of the matter by an appeals committee, based on the evidence and materials properly available to the committee;
- providing that an appeal against a decision to refuse to admit where the decision to refuse admission is due to oversubscription is an appeal on the record, where the evidence and materials which are properly relied on by the appeals committee will be the same as those which were before the school;
- providing that procedures for appeals shall be determined by the Minister, including the timeframes for appeals;
- providing for an appeals committee to issue a preliminary decision, following an oral hearing ( i.e. in the case of appeals against a decision to suspend, expel or refuse to admit where the decision to refuse admission is not due to oversubscription). The applicant and board can provide observations on the preliminary decision and following consideration of any observations received, an appeals committee will make a final decision to confirm or amend the preliminary decision;
- providing that in the case of a decision to refuse admission which is due to a school being oversubscribed, an applicant must request a board of management to review the decision before an appeal can proceed and where an error or failure has been identified the Board must correct that error or failure. However, in the case of a decision to refuse admission which is not due to a school being oversubscribed, the applicant may request, but is not required to request, a review by the Board prior to proceeding to an oral hearing. This provides a fast track for appeals against a decision to refuse enrolment where a school has places available but for some reason is refusing to offer a place contrary to one of the most fundamental provisions of the Admissions Bill;
- introducing a compellability that where an appeal is allowed the school must admit the student, readmit the student or adjust the ranking of the student on the waiting list as applicable;
The new section 29 provisions are designed to operate within the broader admissions framework being put in place under the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018. In that regard, I have outlined that it is my intention to commence the relevant provisions of the Act, including those relating to the new section 29, so that they will apply to applications for admission in respect of the 2021/22 school year.