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Refusal to enrol a pregnant girl in school

In early 2011 a complaint was submitted to the Ombudsman for Children’s Office by a mother and her daughter. The complaint related to the refusal by School A to enrol the young person for the school years 2009/1010 and 2010/2011. The mother contended that the refusal to enrol her daughter was based initially on the fact that she was pregnant and subsequently based on the grounds that she was a single young mother. She provided copies of correspondence from the school. The Office carried out a preliminary examination of the complaint and sought information from the school in relation to the issues raised by the complainants and requested clarification as to whether the rationale provided for refusing to enrol the young person is based on the policy of the school.

In response the school advised that they had no recollection of the young person having contacted them on two occasions. It was advised that following the school meeting her, an enquiry revealed that she had recently given birth. The school advised that: ‘it was always our policy not to entertain pregnant girls’. The school raised questions regarding the young person’s decision to change schools and questioned “Was there a male dimension to this’. The letter from the school management concludes ‘My duty is to protect the honourable majority of my pupils.’ Further correspondence received from the school advised that ‘this is not a school for single mothers.

We also contacted the Department of Education and Skills, seeking information regarding; the complaints process in the school and how the Department advises schools who may not have a complaints process in place or Board of Management; and the level of guidance provided by the Department to this school in regard to policy formation, management and complaints handling. A response was provided by the Department.

Having carried out a preliminary examination, a decision was made to proceed to investigation of the actions of the school under Section 10 (1) (a) (ii) of the 2002 Act, which provides that the Ombudsman for Children can carry out an investigation of her own volition, where it appears, having regard to all the circumstances, that an investigation is warranted. The decision to utilise this section of the Act was taken on the grounds that the action took place when the girl was under 18 and that the actions of the school may have implications for other young people under 18 years wishing to enrol there. In addition, the examination had highlighted a number of issues not identified in the complaint that the Office determined warranted investigation. The investigation was initiated in July 2011 and the reasons for proceeding are set out in the investigation report.