Dáil Éireann - Volume 542 - 24 October, 2001

Written Answers. - School Suspensions.

281. Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 152 of 9 October 2001, he will outline the number of cases in 2000-01 to date where the assistance of the Department was sought where children are suspended indefinitely or expelled from primary and second level schools respectively; the number of these cases which have been resolved; the total number of such cases from the above years and from previous years, respectively, still unresolved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25650/01]

[1733] Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): My Department gives assistance to parents where children are suspended indefinitely or expelled from schools. In cases when its assistance is sought, my Department endeavours, through a process of consultation with the schools and through the inspectorate, to secure a suitable school placement.

As suspension and expulsion from school are matters for each school authority, my Department has no centralised information on the numbers of pupils who may have been suspended indefinitely or expelled from primary and second level schools. Consequently the information requested by the Deputy is not available.

The Education Act, 1998 provides that each school board of management must publish the policy of the school concerning admission to and participation in the school, including the policy of the school relating to the suspension or expulsion of students.

Each board of management is responsible for formulating, in consultation with parents, a fair and efficient code of behaviour. This code should ensure that the individuality of each child is accommodated, while acknowledging the right of each child to education in a relatively disruption free environment. This code should include provision for dealing with serious breaches of discipline and continuously disruptive pupils.

My Department has issued guidelines to boards of management to assist them in discharging their obligations in the area of school discipline. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of the school. These guidelines lay considerable stress on the use of expulsion only as a last resort.

Under the rules of national schools, no pupil can be struck off the rolls for breaches of discipline without the prior consent of the patron and unless alternative arrangements are made for the enrolment of the pupil at another suitable school.

The Education Act has also made provision for new appeal procedures, which provide for appeal to the Secretary General of my Department, in order to address grievances at school level, including suspension for more that 20 school days in any school year, or expulsion. These procedures will bring a greater transparency to decisions by schools in relation to long-term suspensions or expulsion and also promote fair procedures at school level. In particular, the right to appeal to a national appeals committee in relation to such decisions by schools will bring a better balance to the rights and obligations of all concerned.

I have also brought forward a comprehensive range of legislative measures in the Education [1734] (Welfare) Act to address, generally, issues related to school attendance and discipline in schools. The legislation provides for the establishment of a National Educational Welfare Board with responsibility for monitoring school attendance on a countrywide basis. The board will employ educational welfare officers, who will be deployed locally to assist all recognised primary and second level schools.

The Education (Welfare) Act provides that where a student is either suspended for a period longer than six days or misses more than a cumulative total of 15 days in a school year or displays what the school principal considers to be irregular attendance patterns, the principal shall inform the local educational welfare officer.

The Act also requires schools to report to their educational welfare officer before expelling any student. In such instances, the role of the educational welfare officer will be to bring together the relevant parties to try to identify a mutually agreeable solution to provide for the education of the student concerned.

282. Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork who has been suspended from secondary school since October 2000 and has not been able to avail of a formal education since; the action his Department has taken or intends to take to ensure that he can avail of a full education; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25651/01]

Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): Enrolment in second level schools is the responsibility of the managerial authority of individual schools and my Department does not interfere in decisions made by schools in such matters. My Department's main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking second level places in an area. This may result, however, in some pupils not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice.

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) is available to all post primary schools recognised by my Department. NEPS can advise on the management of any difficulties that pupils might experience and which may present problems in a school setting. Where appropriate, it can also advise on any educational supports which might be required to ensure that a pupil's time in school is as productive and positive as possible. A psychologist from the NEPS has been involved in the case referred to by the Deputy. My Department has sanctioned seven hours per week home tuition in this case.

In order to progress this case further, my Department has issued a questionnaire to the child's parents, which will help identify his edu[1735] cational needs and provide my Department with their written permission to contact schools on behalf of the child.