21 May, 2018 - Minister Bruton publishes circular directing schools to consult with Parents and Students on use of smart phones and tablet devices

Circular 0038/2018 issuing to all schools today requiring them to engage with parents and students 

Use of smart phones in schools will be included as item requiring consultation in Parent and Student Charter 

The Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton T.D. today (Monday the 21st of May) published a circular requiring all schools to consult parents, teachers and students on the use of smart phones and tablet devices in schools. The Minister also reiterated his commitment that the use of smart phones in schools will be included as an item requiring consultation under the Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill 2016. 

The Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill 2016, which Minister Bruton secured approval from government to draft earlier this year, is a new law which will require every school to consult with parents and students on key issues and publish and operate a Parent and Student Charter in line with national statutory guidelines. 

The use of smart phones and tablet devices in schools is a good example of the type of issue which requires consultation with parents and students and will be included as an item requiring consultation in the Charter. 

The circular issuing today asks schools to engage as soon as possible with parents, students and teachers on if and how smart phones and other tablet devices should be used in schools, pending the enactment of the Charter. 

Schools are required to consult parents and students on the following:

  • The appropriate use, if any, of tablet devices and smart phones in school.
  • The issues governing the use of smart phones and tablet devices with regard to, for example, recording videos, taking photos.
  • The nature and scope of restrictions that might be applied by the school e.g. age grounds.
  • If smart phones should be allowed outside of class time i.e. during breaks, on school grounds, after school.
  • Schools should use the opportunity of the consultation process to raise awareness and promote a shared approach regarding the appropriate use of digital technologies in the school and home.

In carrying out the consultation, schools are encouraged to avail of the existing supports available to them, such as Webwise. Webwise, which is funded by the Department of Education and Skills, promotes the autonomous, effective, and safer use of the internet by young people through a sustained information and awareness strategy targeting parents, teachers, and children themselves with consistent and relevant messages. 

The Department recognises that most schools will already have policies in this area, including an Acceptable Usage Policy, and policies on Bring your own Device/Technology. These policies may have to be updated following on from the consultation process. 

Publishing the circular, Minister Bruton said: 

“I recognise that the use of smart phones and tablet devices by our young people is an area that has raised concerns. New technologies are fundamentally transforming the world we live in. While these changes offer fantastic opportunities for our young people they are also associated with potential risks, which we as a Government are responding to. 

“As part of the Action Plan for Education, our plan for making Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe by 2026, we are bringing in a new law which will require every school to consult with parents and students on key issues and publish and operate a Parent and Student Charter in line with national statutory guidelines. 

“The use of smart phones and tablet devices in schools is ideal for testing this new approach and we are issuing this circular today to start that engagement. I’d like to highlight a recent example for how consultation between parents, teachers and students on this issue worked very well - St Brendan's National School in Blennerville and commend them for leading the way with their example. 

“New technologies can open up a world of opportunity for our young people but we must harness their potential and ensure that parents, students and schools have a shared understanding of their use our education system.” 

Notes to Editors 

Other issues which schools will be required to consult with parents on according to the Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill 2016 will include:

  • Consult students and parents regularly in relation to school costs and work to avoid costs acting as a barrier.
  • Publish a School financial statement which would include information on how any voluntary contributions are used.
  • Invite feedback from students and parents.
  • Provide a fair and accessible mechanism for resolving complaints, including through mediation. The use of formal grievance and complaint processes should be a last response, except in the most serious of cases.
  • Publish the number of complaints made, the reasons for the outcome in each case, and how the outcome was reached by the school.
  • Provide better information about School Management, School Policies including on admission and information on extracurricular activities and school performance.
  • Acknowledge gaps, deficiencies or room for improvement. 

Key provisions of the Bill: 

The General Scheme of the Bill includes provisions that:

  • Define the principles that will guide how schools will engage with students and parents
  • Require schools to have a Parent and Student Charter.
  • Set out in law the principles on which the Parent and Student Charter will be based.
  • Allow the Minister to publish guidelines by which the Parent and Student Charter shall be prepared, published and operated in accordance with.
  • Provide a power to enable the Minister to direct School Boards to comply with the guidelines.
  • Allow the Minister publish information on the directions issued.
  • Allow the Minister revoke a direction given to a School Board.
  • Require schools to consider suggestions, guidance or recommendations made by the Ombudsman for Children.
  • Allow the Ombudsman for Children to advise the Minister of any suggestions, guidance or recommendations made to a board and to provide a power to enable the Minister to direct that board in relation to the matters conveyed to the Minister by the Ombudsman for Children.
  • Amend Section 9 of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 to expand the role of the Ombudsman for Children to investigate a school in connection with any functions required of a school under the new Section 28 of the Education Act, 1998.
  • Delete subsection 9 (2) of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 which requires the Ombudsman for Children to investigate an action by a school only where the procedures      under Section 28 have been resorted to and exhausted in relation to the action.
  • Amend Section 9 of the Education Act 1998 to include among the functions of a school a requirement that a school must promote the involvement of parents and students in the education provided to students.
  • Amend Section 27 of the Education Act 1998 to change the requirement on a student council from one of promoting the interest of the school to the promoting of the interests of the students of the school having regard to the characteristic spirit and polices of the school and the principles set out in Section 28. 

The heads of the Education (Parents and Students Charter) Bill were approved by government in February 2018 and are available here: https://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/media/committees/educationandskills/legislation/GS-Education-Parent-and-Student-Charter-Bill-2016.pdf 

A general briefing document entitled 'Students, Parents and Schools - Developing a Parent and Student Charter for Schools' is also available and will provide further information on the proposed legislative changes.