12. The Education Welfare Act 2000
This Act aims to provide a comprehensive, national system which will ensure that all children of school going age attend school and if they fail to do so, that they will receive a certain minimum education otherwise. The Act, when in force, (July 2002 at the latest) will support the rights of the child to welfare and education. The main issues addressed in the Act are school attendance, truancy, State supervision of home education, and a prescribed minimum education. This legislation recognises the inadequacy of prescriptive legislation alone in countering modern social ills and places a special emphasis on child welfare. The Act, which may be phased in by the Minister, must be fully in force by 5th July 2002 and it provides for the entitlement of every child in the State to a minimum education and for this purpose it provides for:
the registration of children receiving education in places other than in recognised schools;
the compulsory attendance of certain children at recognised schools
the establishment of the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB);
the co-ordination of the NEWB and of certain other persons in re. school attendance related matters;
the identification of the causes of non attendance
the adoption of measure to prevent non attendance
the repeal of the School Attendance Acts, 1926-1967;
to permit the supply of data relating to a person’s educational history to certain persons;
to amend the Protection of Young Persons(Employment) Act, 1996 and
to provide for other related matters.
Effectively, the mandatory school going age will be 6-16 years for the generality of the children. The term “child” means a person resident in the State who has reached the age of 6 years and who –
has not reached the age of 16 years, or
has not completed 3 years of post-primary education.
Thus, if a person has not complied with (b) then the upper age limit may be 17 or up to their 18th birthday in certain circumstances. One needs to ask if “completed” here means just physical attendance for this period or some sort of certification at the end of it or whether a mix of part-time employment combined with attendance will constitute having “completed 3 years of post-primary schooling” for the purposes of this section? As with the Education Act 1998 the focus of our attention here will be on the provisions of the Act which deal with the “out of school ” situation.
12.1 The National Educational Welfare Board
The main institutional change is the establishment of a State board – the National Education Welfare Board – to supervise and implement the Act. Its chief function will be to ensure that each child in the State receives a “certain minimum education” either in a recognised school or otherwise and it will be assisted in bringing this about by its Educational Welfare Officers who will liase with the Inspectorate, the Health Boards, the parents, the schools and Centres for Education and other appropriate persons. Summary proceedings for an offence under the Act will be brought and prosecuted by the NEWB and the service of related documents must comply with section 6.
(1) A notice or other document under this Act shall be addressed to the person concerned by name, and may be served on or given to the person in one of the following ways:
by delivering it to the person,
by leaving it at the address at which the person ordinarily resides or, in a case in which an address for service has been furnished, at that address, or
by sending it by post in a prepaid registered letter to the address at which the person ordinarily resides or, in a case in which an address for service has been furnished, to that address.
(2) For the purposes of this section, a company within the meaning of the Companies Acts, 1963 to 1999, shall be deemed to be ordinarily resident at its registered office, and every other body corporate and every unincorporated body shall be deemed to be ordinarily resident at its principal office or place of business.
We can look more closely at the other functions of the Board under section 10 (full text of this section is in the Appendix). The general intention is set out as follows:
10. – (1) The general functions of the Board shall ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education, and to assist in the formulation and implementation of policies and objectives of the Government
A range of general intentions are then set out (see Appendix), for example that
(2) The Board shall have all such powers as it considers necessary for the performance of its functions under this Act.
Of particular significance to YOUTHREACH Centres is the following:
The Board may, with the consent of the parent of the child concerned, arrange for a child to be assessed as to his or her intellectual, emotional and physical development (hereafter in this section referred to as “an assessment”) by such person as may be determined by the Board with the concurrence of the parent.
Where a parent refuses to give his or her consent under sub-section (4), the Board may apply to the Circuit Court for an order that an assessment of the child may be carried out.
The Circuit Court may, if satisfied at the hearing of an application under subsection (5) that the child’s behaviour, his or her lack of educational progress or the regularity with which he or she is absent from school without reasonable excuse is such that in all the circumstances the carrying out of an assessment is warranted, order that an assessment of the child be carried out at such time, in such manner, at such place by such person may be specified in the order.
That said, if we look at the terms (interpretation) under Part 2 of the Act and at the laying of regulations in s.3, there is no mention of Centres of Education here.
Under s11 (4), the board of management, principal and teachers and other staff members of a recognised school are required to give reasonable assistance to the Education Welfare Officers in the performance of their functions. If we look at the functions of the Board in s.10, we note that it has the function to ensure that “each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a minimum education…” The phrase “or otherwise…” brings the Youthreach centres within the scope of s.10 but as we can see this section applies largely to “recognised schools”.
Relevant authorities under the Act such as VECs, health boards, the Gardai etc. are required to have a Liaison Officer for the purposes of the Act in order to liase effectively with other agencies which will hopefully bring a greater measure of cohesion into school attendance related matters.
The Act imposes statutory duties on schools to have a more pro-active approach to truancy and it provides a mechanism for co-ordination of the activities of various State funded bodies as regards school attendance matters. Schools will be required to establish and maintain a school register for all students attending the school; to draft “school attendance strategies” and Codes of Behaviour. Expulsion of students must conform to s23 of the Act.
Where children are educated outside the recognised school system, the Minister may prescribe minimum standards of education and on-going assessment of their progress is envisaged. All such children are to be registered following a process of assessment of the capacity to provide a minimum education in consultation with the “parent”(s 14). The Board’s decision to refuse registration or its decision to remove a child’s name from the register may be appealed to the Minister. The Board may, with the consent of the “parent” concerned, arrange for an assessment of the child under s. 10 (6) (intellectual, emotional and physical education only). Where a “parent” refuses such consent, the Board may apply to the judge of the Circuit Court (for the Circuit in which the child resides) for an order that an assessment of the child be carried out. The Circuit Court, if satisfied at the hearing of an application that such an assessment is warranted, may order that it be made and specify the time, the manner, the place of its making and the person who will make the assessment. [s.10(6)].
The Board may appoint Educational Welfare Officers to assist in the implementation of the Act and they will have warrants of his/her appointment which they must produce for inspection, if requested, when exercising powers under the Act. These officers may have their powers extended by the Board under 11(3). So as to promote liaison with relevant authorities (e.g. the VECs), the Board shall appoint Liaison Officers and this officer will liase with the Liaison Officers appointed by the relevant authorities (VECs, Health Boards, NCCA etc). – see s. 12 (2) and 12 (6).
Part III of the Act provides that the Board shall establish and maintain a Register of all children in receipt of education in a place other than a recognised school (“the register”) and this is dealt with in great detail in s.14. However, this section does not apply to –
a child who is being educated outside the State
a child who is participating in a programme of education, training, instruction or work experience prescribed by the Minister.
I take it that section (b) applies to Youthreach programmes.
12.3 Register of young persons in employment
On the coming into force of s29, the Board will ensure that a register young persons in employment is established and maintained and any young person may apply to be registered. As soon as practicable after receiving this application and following consultation with the child or young person, his or her parents and other appropriate persons concerned, the Board shall prepare a Plan to assist that child or young person to avail of educational and training opportunities and for the purposes of ensuring the completion of the Plan give all assistance it considers necessary. [s.29 (5)]
Following on this, the Board issues a Certificate of Registration to the child/young person which may later be withdrawn if the child/young person fails to cooperate. Prior to withdrawal of the Cert. the child/young person is notified and given an opportunity to make representation on the matter to the Board. (Natural Justice). Under 29(9) an employer shall not employ a young person on any work unless the young person holds a valid Cert. And the employer shall make and retain a copy of such Cert. The relevant sections are as follows:
(10) An employer shall as soon as practicable but in any case not later than one month after the young person concerned has commenced employment with the employer so inform the Board by notice in writing, and the employer shall retain a copy of such notice.
(11)An employer shall, upon a request being made to him or her in that behalf by an educational welfare officer, produce to the educational welfare officer a copy of a certificate or a notice under subsection (10) relating to such young person as may be specified by the educational welfare officer.
(14) An employer who contravenes subsection (9) or (10) or who fails or refuses to comply with a request under subsection (11), shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £4,500 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months.
(15) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (14) shall, on each day on which the contravention to which that offence relates is continued by him or her after having been convicted of that offence, be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month, or to both.
Again Youthreach programmes, among others, are excluded under s. 16 but it is important, nonetheless, to be aware of this significant section and its provisions. Under s.30 the Education Welfare Officer has large powers to enforce the law against offending employers and those who obstruct or impede him/her will be guilty of an offence [s30 (6)] – there are large fines and imprisonment under s 30 (7).
Copyright © Glendenning 2001
Education Welfare Act 2000
10. – (1) The general functions of the Board shall ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education, and to assist in the formulation and implementation of policies and objectives of the Government for the time being concerning the education of children and, for those purposes, but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing-
to promote and foster in society, and in particular in families, an appreciation of the benefits to be derived from education, in particular as respects the physical, intellectual, emotional, social, cultural and moral development of children, and of the social and economic advantages that flow therefrom,
to promote and foster, in recognised schools, an environment that encourages children to attend school and participate fully in the life of the school,
to conduct and commission research into the reasons for non-attendance on the part of students and into strategies and programmes designed to prevent it,
to disseminate to recognised schools the findings of research conducted or commissioned pursuant to paragraph (c), and to advise such schools on matters relating to prevention of non-attendance, and the good conduct of students generally,
to assist recognised schools in so far as is practicable to meet their obligations under this Act,
to advise and assist children and the parents of children who exhibit problems relation to attendance at, or behaviour in, school,
to support, monitor, and assess the effectiveness of, strategies and programmes aimed at preventing non-attendance in recognised schools,
to cooperate with such persons as the Board considers appropriate, and to coordinate the activities of the Board with the activities of those persons in so far as they relate to preventing non-attendance in recognised schools,
to carry out reviews of training and guidance given to teachers relating to matters of school attendance and the conduct of students, and to advise the Minister in relation thereto,
to advise the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment as respects those aspects of the school curriculum that , in the opinion of the Board, are likely to have an effect on attendance levels at, or the extent of student participation in, school, and
to advise the Minister on any matter to which this Act relates.
(2) The Board shall have all such powers as it considers necessary for the performance of its functions under this Act.
(3) The Board shall, in giving advice or making recommendations to the Minister under this section, have regard to the cost of measures that would have to be taken if the Minister were to take such advice or implement such recommendations.
(4) The Board may, with the consent of the parent of the child concerned, arrange for a child to be assessed as to his or her intellectual, emotional and physical development (hereafter in this section referred to as “an assessment”) by such person as may be determined by the Board with the concurrence of the parent.
(5) Where a parent refuses to give his or her consent under sub-section (4), the Board may apply to the Circuit Court for an order that an assessment of the child may be carried out.
(6) The Circuit Court may, if satisfied at the hearing of an application under subsection (5) that the child’s behaviour, his or her lack of educational progress or the regularity with which he or she is absent from school without reasonable excuse is such that in all the circumstances the carrying out of an assessment is warranted, order that an assessment of the child be carried out at such time, in such manner, at such place by such person may be specified in the order.
(7) An application under subsection (5) to the Circuit Court by the Board shall be made to a judge of the Circuit Court for the circuit in which the child concerned resides.
(8) The Board may, in the performance of its functions, consult with such persons as it considers appropriate.