The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 sets out the law in relation to discipline in State primary and post-primary schools. Under the Act the board of management of the school is obliged to draw up a code of behaviour for students stating the disciplinary rules and procedures.
Codes are drawn up with input from teachers, parents and the educational welfare officer. (Educational welfare officers work for the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) and they help co-ordinate all policies concerning both attendance and broader educational welfare.)
On 1 January 2014, the National Educational Welfare Board was abolished and its functions transferred to the Child and Family Agency.
A code of behaviour must lay down the:
In May 2008 the NEWB issued its Guidelines for Schools on Developing a Code of Behaviour (pdf) to schools. Information about the Guidelines is available on the NEWB website.
When a child is becoming a student at the school, the principal must give a copy of the code to the parents and may require that the parents agree to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that the child complies with the code.
Department of Education and Skills guidelines recommend that the prevention of bullying should be a fundamental part of a written code of behaviour and discipline in all schools.
Schools have considerable independence in the area of discipline. However, they must use fair procedures. This includes hearing the student's case.
Most schools already have a code of behaviour that sets out how students will punished for breaching it. It is assumed that parents agree to the punishments set out in the code if they are told about the code when their child starts school. As a result, if the punishment is detention, the parents or student cannot claim that the student has been falsely imprisoned.
If there has been serious misbehaviour, the school may decide to suspend a student. This decision is made only after all other disciplinary measures have been tried. The school will notify the parents of the suspension. The parents may appeal this decision to the board of management and as a last resort to the Department of Education and Skills.
Before a student is expelled, the educational welfare officer must be told. The educational welfare officer may then try to find a solution. The student cannot be expelled until 20 days after the educational welfare officer has been notified about the case.
Under the Education Act 1998 the Minister can, after consultations with the education partners, set out procedures whereby a parent can appeal against a decision of a teacher or other staff member to the board of management. These procedures can also be used by parents or students who have complaints (except for expulsions).
Under Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 if a Board of Management expels a student or suspends a student or refuses to enrol a student then the parent may appeal that decision to the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills (DES) and the appeal will be heard by an appeals committee - see 'How to apply' below.
The procedures for the hearing of appeals must ensure that:
If the appeals committee upholds a complaint or believes that a matter arose that needs to be remedied, it must make recommendations to the Secretary General about the action required. The Secretary General must give reasons for the decision of the appeals committee and, if it has made a recommendation, may give directions to the board on how to resolve the issue.
Under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) has the right to appeal in cases where the board of management expels a student or refuses to enrol a student. In cases where the parent appeals the NEWB is able to make submissions to the appeals committee.
The Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2007 (pdf), which is not yet in effect, amends Section 29 of the Education Act. Its provisions will require the appeals committee when they are deciding a case to take account of the educational interests of other students in the school as well as those of the student who is the subject of the appeal. The Act will also entitle the National Council for Special Education to make submissions to an appeals committee.
Under Section 24 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, corporal punishment of students may be a crime. However, Sections 18 and 20 of the Act permit the justifiable use of force in certain circumstances, for example, self defence or defence of others.
School discipline in primary schools is also regulated by the Department's Guidelines towards a Postive Policy for School Behaviour and Discipline which contains a Suggested Code of Behaviour and Discipline for National Schools and Rule 130 (as amended by Circular 7/88) of the Rules for National Schools.
Discipline in second-level schools is also regulated by the Department's Guidelines Towards a Positive Policy for School Behaviour and Discipline. It contains a suggested code of discipline and was circulated to the management of all post-primary schools in 1991.
In 2006 a National Behaviour Support Service (NBSS) was set up to help second-level schools deal with disruptive behaviour. The service works with selected schools that have significant discipline problems. The NBSS operates through 4 regional behaviour support teams. A team of professionals, including psychologists, works intensively with a school over a period of time to help identify the school's problems and improve student behaviour. In some cases the team may recommend setting up a behaviour support classroom in a school.
Information about appeals to the Secretary General under Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 can be found on the Department of Education and Skills (DES) website including Circulars 22/02 (primary schools) and M48/01 (post-primary schools) and the DES document on appeals procedures (pdf). If you are making an appeal you should complete the appeals application form and send it to the Appeals Administration Unit of the Department of Education and Skills - see 'Where to apply' below.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.