My Department is aware of the difficulties facing the English language school referred to by the Deputy. The school in question is a member of MEI (Marketing English in Ireland), an association of English language schools. One of the obligations of MEI membership is that schools have protection for enrolled learner policies in place. I understand that MEI are putting in place the necessary arrangements to ensure that affected students will be able to complete the course for which they have enrolled, or a similar course, at another MEI member school.
The majority of English language schools in Ireland are privately run. The relationship between teachers and private providers of education is based on a private contract, and issues relating to working conditions including payment are a matter between the two parties and do not come under the remit of my Department.
There is an extensive range of legislation in Ireland which protects the employment rights of workers in relation to equality, employment contracts, payment of wages and related matters. It is the responsibility of the employer in the first instance to ensure that their employees receive their employment rights. Where an employee considers that their rights have been breached, the individual can bring a claim under the appropriate legislation to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). In addition, the WRC is responsible for monitoring a range of employment rights through its Inspection Service.
My Department is also taking steps to strengthen the regulation of the English language sector. The Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018 is currently before the Seanad. This new Bill will establish the International Education Mark (IEM) and a Protection for Enrolled Learners (PEL) Fund.
The IEM is a core component of the Government's policy for the English language sector and will provide a full quality framework for the provision of education to international learners in the future. Only those providers who meet the robust quality assurance procedures of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) will be allowed to carry the Mark.
Once fully implemented, providers must gain authorisation from QQI to use the IEM in order to be eligible to recruit international students. The IEM is a tool to further enhance and sustain the quality of our education system. It also provides learners, or potential learners, with the necessary confidence that providers with the IEM have been quality assured by QQI.
The Bill also contains provisions to provide QQI with additional statutory powers to assess a provider’s corporate fitness and financial sustainability. The intention is to ensure that a provider is fully equipped in the round to provide a programme of education and training. This will apply to English language providers seeking to access the IEM.
Upon enactment, the Bill will also empower QQI to establish a fund for the protection of enrolled learners (PEL). This fund will be resourced by an annual charge from those providers covered by it. The fund will be used to ‘teach out’ a programme in the event that a provider fails to provide a programme. Should this not be possible, the fund will be used to reimburse students for the most recent fees that have been paid.