A number of steps are being taken to strengthen the regulation of the English language education sector in Ireland. The recently enacted Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Act 2019 contains provisions that will enable the introduction of the International Education Mark (IEM) alongside the establishment of a new national fund for the Protection for Enrolled Learners (PEL).
The IEM is a core component of the Government's policy for the English language sector. Only those providers who meet the robust quality assurance procedures of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) will be allowed to carry the Mark and to recruit international students. Through the Code of Practice for the IEM, education providers will also be required to establish policies and procedures that address specific areas surrounding the employment of their education and teaching staff. This will include key matters such as the recruitment, training and the cessation of employment of staff.
This new legislation will also empower QQI to establish a Learner Protection Fund. The fund will be used to ‘teach out’ a programme in the event that a provider fails to provide it. Should this not be possible, the fund will be used to reimburse students for the most recent fees that have been paid.
In addition, this legislation also provides QQI with additional statutory powers to examine the bona fides and to perform corporate fitness checks of providers. This will allow QQI to assess the track record of providers in terms of their compliance with employment law, their financial robustness and the fit and proper person status of key personnel such as owners, directors and senior management.
The employment terms and conditions of teachers in the English language education sector was an issue that was debated extensively as this legislation passed through the Oireachtas. In addition to the measures outlined above, a mediator was appointed to engage with the English language education sector in January of this year. The mediator’s remit was to work with employer and employee representative bodies to explore whether there was scope for a set of appropriate employment standards which could be agreed for the sector. The mediator’s report, published in July 2019, recommended that an application be made to the Labour Court to establish a Joint Labour Committee (JLC), in accordance with industrial relations legislation, to address all aspects of the working conditions and pay of employees in English language schools with a view to the issuing of an Employment Regulation Order (ERO) for the sector.
Based on this report, Mr Pat Breen T.D., Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, referred the matter to the Labour Court for its consideration. Following the completion of its deliberations and in accordance with industrial relations legislation, the Labour Court provided its recommendation to Minister Breen in respect of the establishment of a JLC for this sector. Minister Breen has accepted this recommendation and has signed an establishment order for a JLC for this sector that came into effect on 2 December 2019.