Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
262. Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills the steps she will take to ensure appropriate anti-bullying policies in secondary schools, together with a uniform approach towards practice and procedure on the matter of complaints of bullying; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22180/10]
Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan): There is no requirement for local school authorities to report incidents or allegations of bullying to my Department, nor do I believe that this should be the case. Under the Education Act 1998, legally, all schools are managed, on behalf of the school Patron or Trustees, by school Boards of Management which employ the teachers at the school. Whereas as I, as Minister for Education and Skills provide funding and policy direction for schools, neither I, as Minister, or my Department have the power to instruct schools to follow a particular course or direction with regards to individual complaint cases, other than in relation to appeals taken against refusal to enrol, suspension, or expulsion, under Section 29 of the Education Act.
Agreement has been reached between teacher unions and school management bodies about the procedures which should apply when investigating and replying to complaints in schools. Where parents raise a concern with schools, I support an approach whereby schools keep parents informed throughout the decision making process; and inform parents of both its decision as well as the reason for its decision. Accordingly, responsibility for tackling bullying falls to the level of the individual school, as it is at local level that an effective anti-bullying climate must be established and at that level that actions should be taken to address allegations of bullying.
I am, however, anxious to support schools in tackling bullying and it is for that reason that a number of supports have been put in place in recent years to assist schools in dealing with this important issue. The Board of Management of each school is required to prepare a code of behaviour in accordance with Section 23 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. To assist schools in formulating such a code, the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) has developed guidelines for schools on Codes of Behaviour. My Department further requires each school to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour, within the framework of an overall school code of behaviour and discipline. Such a code, developed through consultation with the whole school community and properly implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools.
The education of students in both primary and post-primary schools in relation to anti-bullying behaviour is part of the SPHE curriculum. SPHE is now a compulsory subject both at primary level and in the junior cycle of post-primary schools. My Department has also issued guidelines as an aid to schools in devising measures to prevent and deal with instances of bullying behaviour and to increase awareness among school management authorities of their responsibilities in this regard. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of school management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of their school.
My Department has additionally published policy templates for post-primary schools in five key areas, including anti-bullying on its website of as part of our ongoing efforts in this regard. The template documents are not prescriptive, but rather highlight possible approaches and potential material for inclusion in school policies. The anti-bullying policy template is based primarily on the key document Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour. However, it does take account of more recent legislative and regulatory changes, and reference is also made to issues of contemporary concern such as the need to tackle text bullying, cyber-bullying and homophobic bullying.
My Department does receive a number of complaints and queries from parents regarding matters such as bullying, involving schools. In dealing with complaints the Department’s role is to provide advice to parents and students on the operation of schools’ complaints procedures and to clarify for parents and pupils how grievances and complaints against schools can be progressed. In providing such advice, the Department brings to the attention of parents that should they wish to make an allegation of child abuse, or report a matter relating to child safety or the protection of children that they may report this matter to the Department of Education and Skills which will then deal with the allegation in accordance with its role and child protection procedures.
The Department of Education and Skills takes issues of a child protection nature extremely seriously. The role of the Department of Education and Skills in relation to allegations of child abuse is firstly to offer guidance and support to schools in implementing child protection policy, and secondly, to ensure that it brings any child abuse allegations that it receives to the attention of both the school concerned and the health Service Executive (HSE), or Garda Síochána, in accordance with Office Notice SG0 01/07: Child Protection Guidelines for Persons Employed by the Department of Education. Parents may also report allegations of child abuse directly to the HSE or Garda.
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