Education in Ireland, by Dominic Murray, Alan Smith and Ursula Birthistle
[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
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OUTLINE OF THE EDUCATION BILL, 1997
Education Bill, 1997 represents the greatest reform of the education system in over 130 years. This reform has been achieved through ongoing consultation and dialogue with all the partners in the education system.
The Bill benefits all the education partners. For the first time ever, the structure and administration of the education system will be placed on a clear statutory basis. From the enactment of the Bill, all the education partners will know their respective roles, rights, and responsibilities, and those of the other parties.
The Bill provides all the partners in education; teachers, students, parents and school owners, with a clear statutory role in the running and management of all first and second level schools.
The Bill provides for the active promotion of the Irish language; the rights and facilitation of the education needs of students with special needs, and a statutory obligation to provide a diversity of school types including Gaelscoileanna, multi-denominational schools, and denominational schools in a region.
The Bill establishes 10 education regions, each of which will be administered by an education board which will co-ordinate education services in its region. The composition of the education board reflects the Bill's central theme of partnership, through an equal number of teachers, school owners, elected parents, elected representatives, Ministerial nominees, and the wider community. All the partners will have a role in the planning and reporting processes of the education boards.
The Bill ensures that all the education boards will play a key role in the promotion of the Irish language, and undertake an active and dynamic role in the encouragement of the learning of the Irish language in their region. In achieving this, each education board will have a committee to advise on the teaching of the Irish language, and the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht will nominate up to half the membership of the committee.
Each education board with a Gaeltacht area in its region must have a nominee of Udaras na Gaeltachta as a member.
A purpose of the education board is to facilitate co-operation rather than competition between the 3,600 primary and post-primary schools, and 246 schools which operate under the VEC sector. This is particularly important in an era when populations are falling and there is a need for enhanced co-operation between schools to ensure the best use of resources and to provide maximum curriculum choices for pupils.
Each board will publish and make available to the public the national criteria used in the funding of schools and supports.
The Bill clearly states that the first charge on the funds of the board is school funding, as set down by national criteria for school funding.
Side by side with this, the legislation provides that the management of each school will also include parents, teachers and school owners, and they will have an equal right under law to contribute to the governance of their schools. The legislation puts a legal obligation on all schools to establish a board of management.
Schools will be obliged to publish and make clear their admissions and entry policies, parents and students over 16 years of age may finally appeal to the education board against decisions of schools, which materially affect their children's or their own education. The legislation provides for a system of "checks and balances" and a filter mechanism.
The legislation specifically mentions the education needs of students with special needs. Both schools and education boards will now be required by law to ensure the education needs of students with special needs are provided for.
The legislation provides for school planning; a central feature in the planning and quality delivery of education in schools. All the partners, including teachers and students must be consulted on the preparation of the school plan. The partners will have a direct involvement in the preparation and reporting of the education boards education plan.
The Department's Inspectorate will be placed on a statutory footing, with a clear statement of its functions and the necessary powers to carry them out. This will, for the first time, establish their role in supporting schools and teachers in planning and evaluation. There will also be for the first time a statutory system of appeals against evaluations. Teachers and boards of management will now have the right to call for a review of an Inspector's evaluation.
Under the provisions relating to the appointment of teachers, the legislation allows for staff unions and associations to be given a central role working in partnership with the Minister and school owners for any change in the appointment procedures. Any change must be reached through agreement and dialogue between the partners.
The Bill gives parents a statutory entitlement to representation on boards of management and to establish parents' associations in schools. In addition, each school must ensure that parents have access to records relating to their child's education progress.
This legislation gives a statutory underpinning to a new partnership in education; a partnership which reflects the inalienable rights of parents under the Constitution. For the first time ever each partner will have a statutory role in the education system. All those concerned will know, with certainty, their respective roles, functions and rights and those of the other partners.
The legislation provides for the amendment of the 1878 Act to allow religion to become an examination subject.
As a consequence of the legislation, the education system will be more accountable in the future. The Department of Education will move from a culture of administering the system by circular and non-statutory instruments to a statutory system with regulations laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
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