If you are a member of a Board of Management of a school in Ireland or if you are a school Principal, or on a vocational education committee, you have a particularly difficult job.
Because you are expected to be familiar with a huge range of complex areas of law including
- employment law
- data protection
- equality and disability law
- disciplinary procedures for teachers and Principals
- stress and workplace bullying
- admissions and enrolment policies
- section 29 of the Education Act appeals
- family law issues which impact schools
- personal injuries claims
- bullying of pupils and the growing threat of cyber bullying
- freedom of information requests
- governance of the Board of Management
- parent associations
- suspension and expulsion of students
- health and safety obligations on school authorities
- contracts with 3rd parties, apart altogether from contracts of employment for Principals, teachers, secretaries, caretakers, cleaners, and other ancillary staff
- TUPE (transfer of undertakings regulations)
- and more.
Employment Law in Schools
One of the most common, and potentially most problematic, areas for schools is the whole question of employment contracts for teachers and ancillary staff.
Employment law and drafting contracts is an area of law that requires professional legal advice because the consequences of getting a contract wrong can be disastrous for the Board of Management and leave them exposed to expensive claims.
Yet, the irony is that a hard working, newly appointed Principal may find him/herself grappling with the task of giving the appropriate, correctly drafted contracts to teachers and ancillary staff. With the best will in the world, this is potentially very problematic.
In many instances the Principal of the school has legacy issues to deal with and may discover that ancillary staff have been working away in the school for many years without a written contract and the newly appointed Principal has to attempt to regularize the situation.
School Principals have a difficult enough job to do without expecting them to become employment law experts over a long weekend. (See fixed term contracts for teachers also)
Data protection is another area that is well provided for by legislation and the Data Protection Commissioner’s office. Schools regularly receive requests, formal and informal, for information and records from parents, and others.
Knowing what can and cannot be released and the time frame to respond is crucially important.
Health and Safety in Schools
Health and safety legislation is comprehensive and complex. schools, like all employers, have quite onerous obligations placed on them to provide a safe place of work and this includes dealing with bullying and stress in the workplace.
Disciplinary Procedures for Teachers
Boards of Management and Principals are often faced with the invidious task of disciplining teachers and/or Principals and are often met with a response from INTO or IMPACT trades unions.
Family Law Disputes
Because of the breakdown in so many marriages and relationships schools are regularly faced with questions surrounding access to school reports and other information from fathers in circumstances where the mother is telling the school not to give the information or reports to the dad.
Sometimes one parent (usually the mother) will tell the school that there is a “barring order” against the other parent (usually but not always the father) and instruct the school not to let him pick up the child after school and not to let him know about the progress of the child. School principals and boards of management or VEC committees are faced with difficult decisions to make, and, regrettably, have little or no training for the task.
This calls into question the areas of guardianship, access, custody, maintenance, parent’s rights to information, and the schools obligation to respond to such requests.
These are tricky questions to answer for any school Principal or Board of Management without legal training to answer and the danger is if you get it wrong you may well be at the receiving end of a claim for discrimination at the Equality Tribunal or worse.
Education Related Legislation
There is a wide range of legislation which impacts on schools in Ireland. Some of the most important acts include
- Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act, 2012
- The National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 (not yet commenced)
- Education (Amendment) Act, 2012
- Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2007
- Teaching Council (Amendment) Act, 2006
- Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, 2004
- Teaching Council Act, 2001
- Vocational Education (Amendment) Act, 2001
- Education (Welfare) Act, 2000
- Qualifications (Education and Training) Act, 1999
- Education Act, 1998
- all the employment related legislation
- all the equality legislation
- all data protection legislation
- codes of practice in relation to disciplinary procedures, health and safety, harassment, bullying, etc.
- the Constitution
- the Equal Status Acts
- and more.
All of the above legislation can be found online at the Irish Statute Book.
You may also find the Department of Education and Skills website useful.
But in most cases, vocational education committees, boards of management, school principals, and school authorities would be well advised to seek the advice of a professional such as a solicitor or other appropriate professional, depending on the issue facing the school.
Because the consequences of getting decisions wrong can be far reaching and expensive when employees or parents exercise their rights at such bodies such as the Rights Commissioner service, the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the Data Protection Commissioner, the Health and Safety authority, the Equality Tribunal, section 29 appeals at the Department of Education and Skills, etc.
For more information about education law in Ireland, visit http://EducationLawIreland.com.