Under the Education Act 1998, legally, all schools are managed by the school Board of Management and as my Department has no role in the employment of staff in schools or the day to day management of schools, a complaint about a child’s school and its staff should be made to the school itself.
Accordingly, while my Department provides funding and policy direction for schools, my Department does not have the power to instruct schools to follow a particular course of direction with regard to individual complaint cases or to investigate individual complaints except where the complaint involves a refused enrolment, expulsion or suspension, in accordance with section 29 of the Education Act, 1998. In dealing with parental complaints, my Department's role is to clarify for parents how their grievances and complaints regarding schools can be progressed.
Where a parent has a concern about a child at school they can discuss the matter informally with the class teacher and/or the principal. If the matter cannot be resolved informally, the school should have a formal complaints procedure that can be followed. This procedure should set out what a parent may have to do and how long it should take to deal with a complaint. The role and responsibilities of the principal and board of management should also be set out. The complaint procedures currently operated by most schools are the standard procedures that have been agreed between the teacher unions and school management bodies and a copy should be provided by schools to a parent on request.
The Action Plan on Bullying, which was published in January 2013, sets out my Department's approach to tackling bullying and promoting an anti-bullying culture in schools. As part of the implementation of the Action Plan my Department published new anti-bullying procedures for all primary and post primary schools at the beginning of the 2013/14 school year. The procedures are designed to give direction and guidance to school authorities and school personnel in preventing and tackling school-based bullying behaviour amongst its pupils.
In accordance with the Anti-Bullying Procedures, where a parent is not satisfied that a school has dealt with a bullying case in accordance with the procedures the parents must be referred, as appropriate to the schools complaints procedures.
Where a parent is of the view that a school's board of management has failed to investigate or adequately investigate their complaint, they should bring the matter to the attention of the patron. In the event that, after raising its concerns with the school patron, a parent still considers that the matter has not been resolved, it is open to the parent to raise the matter with the Ombudsman for Children.
The Office of the Ombudsman for Children may also independently investigate complaints relating to the administrative actions of a school recognised by the Department of Education and Skills provided the parent has fully followed the school's complaints procedures. The key criterion for any intervention by the Ombudsman for Children is that the administrative actions of a school has, or may have, adversely affected the child.
The Deputy may be aware that my Department has been working on the drafting of the Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019 in conjunction with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.
Under the Bill, each school will be required to prepare, publish and implement a Student and Parent Charter in accordance with national guidelines to be published by the Minister after consultation with the education partners, including those bodies representing parents.
The key aim of the legislation is to improve how schools engage with students and their parents. Schools will be required to respond to feedback and comments from students and parents where appropriate on matters relating to the school, including as appropriate in relation to their anti-bullying policy.
The legislation also provides for the development of new complaints procedures in schools to ensure that grievances of students or their parents relating to the school are dealt with efficiently, effectively, fairly and consistently across schools.
Subject to Government approval, I intend to publish the Bill in the Autumn.