News archive 2012

Council for Education of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference presentation to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education

Council for Education of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference presentation to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education

The preamble of the Education Act (1998) makes clear that the whole school system is conducted in a spirit of partnership.  However we have concerns that the Education Amendment Bill 2012 may inadvertently undermine important dimensions of this partnership approach.  It is on this key issue that we present to deputies and senators today.

The Patron of a school
Section 8 of the 1998 Education Act defines the patron of a school. In the Education (Amendment) Bill 2012 there is reference to “bodies representative of patrons” {see sections 6.24.(5)(a) and  6.24.(11)}. No such bodies currently exist and no definition of such is provided. It is then unclear what is intended by this term.  We submit that the Bill should continue to speak of “patrons” rather than “bodies representative of patrons”.

The need for agreement between the partners with regard to redeployment
A very significant change in the Education (Amendment) Bill 2012l vis-à-vis the 1998 Education Act is found in section 6.24.(5)(a). The proposed text states:
a teacher or other member of staff of a recognised school who is, or who is to be, remunerated out of monies provided by the Oireachtas may be redeployed to another recognised school in accordance with redeployment procedures determined from time to time by the Minister with the concurrence of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform following consultation with bodies representative of patrons, recognised school management organisations and with recognised trade unions and staff associations representing teachers or other  staff as appropriate.

This section places the redeployment scheme on a statutory basis and does not demand that there be agreement with patrons on redeployment arrangements. This is unsatisfactory given that a partnership approach has worked well for many years and this is acknowledged by the Department. Why then should a successful system be changed? We as Catholic patrons have concerns about the redeployment scheme and feel that on-going agreement is necessary for the scheme to properly fulfil its goals while maintaining a balance between all the interested parties. Our concerns include the following:

1.    The implications for the entire panel structure of the changes in redeployment demanded by the Department. The panel system evolved as an agreement between patrons and the INTO and with the agreement of the Department of Education and Skills. Given current fiscal constraints the Department are insisting on changes to redeployment arrangements. This raises issues about the overall structure of the panel system. While the system protects teachers’ rights it is arguable that insufficient attention is being paid to the rights of pupils and parents and particularly the Board of Management. In a time of fiscal rectitude these rights must be kept in balance.
2.    The implications for the Board of Management as employer. There are important issues relating to open recruitment and the imposition of a particular employee on a school.
3.    A teacher applying to be placed on a panel of a different type of patronage can only be accepted by agreement of the patron. Such a teacher when accepted onto a diocesan panel will be required to respect the characteristic spirit / ethos of the school and adhere to what is required of any teacher in a Catholic school and specifically in relation to the requirements of the Board of Management in relation to its obligation to uphold the characteristic spirit / ethos of the school.
4.    The patron and the Board of Management are legally responsible to uphold the characteristic spirit / ethos of the school. There are legitimate concerns that large-scale redeployment of teachers could undermine the characteristic spirit / ethos of a school. In this context the Deed of Variation is a crucially important legal instrument with regard to the characteristic spirit / ethos of a school.

The need for agreement between the partners with regard to appointment, suspension and dismissal of teachers and other staff
Under the 1998 Education Act these procedures had to be agreed with the Minister and the education partners. However, the Bill stipulates that the procedures can be established following consultation rather than agreement. Section 6.24.(11) of the Education (Amendment) Bill 2012 states:

The board of a recognised school may, in accordance with procedures determined from time to time by the Minister following consultation with bodies representative of patrons, recognised  school management organisations and with recognised trade unions and staff associations representing teachers or other staff as appropriate, appoint, suspend or dismiss any or all of the Principal, teachers and other staff of a school, who are remunerated or who are to be remunerated out of monies provided by the Oireachtas.
Whereas section 24 (3) of the Act states:

A board shall appoint teachers and other staff, who are to be paid from monies provided by the Oireachtas, and may suspend or dismiss such teachers and staff, in accordance with procedures agreed from time to time between the Minister, the patron, recognised school management organisations and any recognised trade union and staff association representing teachers or other staff as appropriate.
We submit that the Bill should be amended so as to reflect the requirement for agreement between the education partners as found in this section of the Act.

Conclusion
We draw these issues to the attention of The Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education because of our concern that the Education (Amendment) Bill 2012 as proposed might inadvertently undermine the checks and balances that underpin our education system. The education partners have a long and fruitful tradition of working together to solve problems as they arise. We wish for this to continue. Our considered view is that the provisions of the Bill rebalance the relationships of the education partners too strongly in favour of the Minister and the Department.  This has important consequences for patrons, boards of management and the parents and children whom they serve.
We thank you most sincerely for listening to us today and we welcome any questions that you may have.

ENDS

This presentation was made by Bishop Brendan Kelly, Chair of the Council for Education of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Ms Anne McDonagh, Director for Education of the Archdiocese of Dublin.  Also in attendance were Monsignor James Cassin, Executive Secretary to the Council for Education of the Irish Bishops’ Conference; Ms Margaret Gorman, Assistant General Secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association and Father Michael Drumm, Chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership; Mr Noel Merrick, President, Joint Managerial Body/Association of Management Catholic Secondary Schools and Mr Ferdia Kelly, General Secretary, Joint Managerial Body/Association of Management Catholic Secondary Schools.

Further information:
Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444

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