Fine Gael Education & Science Spokesperson Olwyn Enright TD has called for the legislation to amend Section 29 of the 1998 Education Act to be drafted as a top priority so that it can be published as soon as the next Dáil session commences.
“The amendment of Section 29 of the 1998 Education Act is long overdue, and has been repeatedly called for by Fine Gael. Fine Gael tabled a motion in Dáil Éireann on this issue last February, and called for a number of actions to tackle the discipline crisis affecting some schools, including the amendment of Section 29 of the legislation.
“In that debate, Minister Hanafin did all she could to minimise the extent of the problem, and accused Fine Gael of being alarmist. She underplayed the difficulties that clearly exist with regard to Section 29 of the Act, suggesting that the responsibility lies with the schools to have proper policies and procedures in place.
“Policies and procedures are important, but these alone will not fix the current problem. Minister Hanafin has taken quite some time to wake up to that fact. Whilst the problems with Section 29 of the legislation have been clear for a long time, I regret that it has taken years for the matter to come to the Cabinet agenda.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that some schools have been forced to re-enrol seriously disruptive or violent pupils that have been expelled or suspended. In some cases, these pupils have been expelled for bringing knives to school, or threatening or perpetrating violence against teachers or other pupils.
“If we emasculate the way schools deal with disruptive students, then we send to those students a signal that their violent or disruptive behaviour will not be challenged. This undermines the entire education system, and has serious ramifications for the longer-term development of many young people.
“The Irish Vocational Education Association highlighted this problem when commenting that some previously expelled pupils returned to their schools ‘with a swagger, having achieved a victory against the school authorities’. In 2005 alone, the Department of Education and Science overturned eight expulsions and three suspensions at post-primary level.
“Minister Mary Hanafin has done everything in her power to avoid the fact that there is a growing discipline crisis in our schools. If she is, finally, going to take action then that is welcome, and the proposed amendment to the legislation should be drafted as a top priority.”