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Ombudsman for Children seeks to ‘child-proof’ any amendments

Students must be allowed to share responsibility for positive culture in schools – Logan

Students must play a big part in setting discipline procedures if the culture in schools is to improve, Emily Logan, Ombudsman for Children said today (Tuesday) in response to the publication of the report by the Task Force on Student Behaviour. Emily added that the Ombudsman for Children’s Office will seek to use its statutory mandate to child-proof any changes to the Education Act.

“The Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin TD, indicated at the launch of the report that she will consider amending current legislation to take account of the Task Force recommendations. One of the functions of my Office is child-proofing legislation referred under the Ombudsman for Children Act, 2002. As the independent, statutory organisation that is directly accountable to the Oireachtas, and is charged with representing the voices of children and young people to government, my Office, will, in line with our mandate, seek a referral of any such legislative proposals.

“I welcome any measures to improve the education environment for both students and teachers. However, I am concerned that not enough emphasis was placed in the report on the part young people can play in creating an environment where bad behaviour is not tolerated.

“It is disappointing that so much of the report focuses on disruptive behaviour. It is important to remember that only a small percentage of students are involved in disruptive behaviour. The vast majority of students themselves don’t want bad behaviour in their schools. They respect their teachers and want to have the full benefit of the education system.

“The Task Force refers to the establishment of boards of managements as an opportunity for partnership and for democratisation within the school community. At present, adults usually control the environment in which education is delivered. Young people must be given the opportunity to share the responsibility for making school more positive for everyone.

“When young people are involved in setting standards, as they already are in some schools, they are far more likely to adhere to them and they are less likely to tolerate bad behaviour from their peers. My Office has been approached by a number of Principals who have demonstrated, through their own leadership, the creation of a good culture in their respective schools by treating young people responsibly and by encouraging their contribution to codes of behaviour.

“The impact that teachers can have on students cannot be overstated. My Office has seen evidence of the positive experience that dedicated teachers have on young people. Often students contact the Office through their teachers. Policies should acknowledge the ability of individual teachers to develop the potential of students.

“The Minister for Education has announced measures to be taken to assist schools with significant discipline problems. While recognising that schools may need support in identifying problems, perhaps a more constructive approach might be to consider focusing resources at a much earlier stage in order to prevent problems arising in the first place.

“Children and young people have enormous and varied contributions to make to society. I regularly meet with groups of young people who have plenty of informed and insightful opinions, and who really appreciate having their voices not just listened to but heard. As the primary stakeholder group in schools settings, efforts to make positive changes will only succeed if young people share the responsibility.”