Sunday 23 July 2017

Charter will 'make it easier for parents to deal with school issues'

Children's Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon. Photo: Jason Clarke Photography
Children's Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon. Photo: Jason Clarke Photography
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Parents will find it easier to deal with schools around complaints or any other problems when the proposed Parent and Student Charter is in place, according to the Children's Ombudsman, Dr Niall Muldoon.

He told the Oireachtas Education Committee the initiative, which is intended to bring about a cultural change in school relationships, will see a move away from schools reacting to and dealing with grievances after they occur.

"Instead, schools will have to proactively engage with students and parents to establish their views, to positively invite feedback, and to be open to their concerns and negative comments," he said.

The committee was conducting pre-legislative scrutiny of two bills, one to give legal underpinning to the proposed new charter and another seeking the appointment of an Education Ombudsman.

Dr Muldoon said the charter legislation would strengthen the work his office could do with schools.

He said the proposed legislation addressed the issue of principals and boards of management who did not respond to the encouragements and recommendations of his office, and would require boards to consider any suggestions, guidance or recommendations issued by his office.

It will also provide the Education Minister with a power of direction in relation to encouragements/recommendations of the Children's Ombudsman, although Dr Muldoon said that was likely to be used sparingly.

Dr Muldoon said it was important to emphasise the importance of consulting with children and young people when developing the charter legislation, and they should also have their views taken into account when developing individual school charters.

In 2015, 45pc of the complaints received by the Children's Ombudsman were about education and of those, three quarters related to individual schools.

Dr Muldoon is firmly against the proposal to establish a separate Education Ombudsman, which, he said, would "result in legal costs for schools and families" which many could not afford.

"This would change the whole dynamic of the complaint handling and would undoubtedly lead to longer delays. I feel strongly that it would demotivate parents and carers from bringing complaints," Dr Muldoon said.

Irish Independent

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