The Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guideline for Schools (NEWB, 2008) was published as part of the then NEWB’s overall strategy to support school attendance and participation. They were designed to provide support for schools in their work with students and their families to ensure that schools can maintain the best possible educational environment. The Guidelines were prepared with the help of an Expert Group, and wide-ranging inputs from management bodies, teacher unions, parent organisations, students, the Department of Education & Science (DES) and its agencies and services, non-governmental organisations, State agencies and many other contributors. The existing guidelines state that “Exclusion of a student for part of the school day, as a sanction, or asking parents to keep a child from school, as a sanction, is a suspension. Any exclusion imposed by a school is a suspension, and should follow the guidelines relating to a suspension”. The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 requires that when a student is suspended from a recognised school for a period of not less than 6 days the school must inform an Educational Welfare Officer. Tusla Educational Welfare Services (EWS) participated in the recent Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills examination of the matter of the use of reduced timetables in schools. My Department and the EWS are working closely with the Department of Education and Skills who have a lead role on this issue. It is important, however, to note that there are instances where, if agreed by all parties (the parents, child and the school) the use of a “reduced timetable” may, in certain exceptional circumstances, be deemed an appropriate short-term response to support a student’s continuation in education. In such instances it would be important that a record is maintained detailing such an agreed arrangement.
The issue of reduced timetables was the subject of a recent meeting of our National Advisory Council for Children and Young People wherein the range of issues, whereby these are used as sanctions, but in some cases supports, was considered. The National Advisory Council will continue to consider this issue and I intend to ensure that the perspectives of these experts would inform enhanced guidance which will be developed collaboratively by my Department, the Department of Education and Skills and Tusla Educational Welfare Services.