04 April, 2018 - Minister Bruton announces Parents and Students are to be consulted on use of Smart Phones in Schools

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

Minister will publish circular requiring schools to engage with parents and students immediately

The Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton T.D. today announced that he will publish a circular requiring schools to consult with parents, teachers and students on the use of smart phones and tablet devices in schools. The Minister also announced 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. This will ensure that there is always open, progressive communication between students, parents and schools.

The use of smart phones and tablet devices in schools is a good example of the type of issue which requires collaboration and consultation from parents and students and is ideal for testing this new approach. Pending the enactment of the Charter, a circular will be issued to all schools shortly, asking them to engage immediately with parents, students and teachers to get their views on whether they favour the use of smart phones in schools and if so, in what circumstances they should be used.

The Minister said that such parental and student engagement in this critical area in the coming months would be very valuable in ensuring that it can readily be included in the Charter when the legislation is enacted.

Schools will be requested to consult parents and students on the following:

  • The appropriate use, if any, of tablet devices and smart phones in school
  • If smart phones and tablet devices are to be allowed, in what circumstances e.g. recording videos, taking photos etc. and subject to what restrictions are they to be used
  • 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
  • Measures to ensure a shared approach on the appropriate use of digital technologies in the home and during students free time and possible awareness raising initiatives

Following the consultation, schools should update their policies, for example, Acceptable Usage Policy, policies on Bring your own Device/Technology.

Schools may include using Webwise, a programme of support and advice which is funded by the Department of Education and Skills, and provides information to parents, teachers and students on a range of issues including sexting, online blackmail, popular apps and social networks, making friends online and sharing personal information. Webwise supports students to access and use the internet in a safe and ethical way.

Improving the information and complaint procedures for parents and students relating to schools is a key commitment in the Action Plan for Education, which aims to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe by 2026.

Speaking ahead of the TUI conference today, Minister Bruton said:

“My ambition is to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe by 2026.

“I recognise that the expectations of our citizens is changing and I believe that our education system must respond to that change by ensuring open, progressive lines of communication between our students, parents and schools. That is why I am prioritising the enactment of the Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill.

“The use of smart phones and tablet devices by our young people is an area that has increasingly caused concern. New technologies are fundamentally transforming the world we live in. These changes offer fantastic opportunities for our young people but also pose potential risks, which we as a government must respond to.  

“My Department supports schools in responding to these challenges in a number of ways through the provison of advice, training and other supports on the development of policies including acceptable usage policies. Today’s announcement, that schools will consult with parents on the use of smart phones in their schools will ensure that parents,students and schools have a shared understanding of the smart phone use policy their school has in place.”

The announcement is part of a suite of measures being introduced by Minister Bruton, including the School Admissions Bill which will reform information and procedures around the process of school enrolment, and the commencement of Fitness to Teach, which has now allowed complaints to be made about a registered teacher to the Teaching Council for the first time.

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 and
  • 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.