Parents and education
The Irish Constitution states that parents have primary responsibility for educating their child and it guarantees the parents’ right and duty to provide for their children’s education. It also says that the State requires that children receive 'a certain minimum education'. This certain minimum has not yet been defined in legislation or in official policy.
Under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 parents must make sure that their children receive a certain minimum education from the age of 6 to the age of 16. According to the Act there is no absolute legal obligation on children to attend school or on their parents to send them to school. Parents may decide the school to which they wish to send their children but there is no constitutional obligation on a particular school to accept individual children. Parents are also entitled to provide education outside the school system if they wish. This could mean home education or private schools which do not follow a national curriculum.
There is a range of organisations and schemes providing support and information to parents concerning the education of their children. They include the following:
Child and Family Agency
The Child and Family Agency is the Government agency responsible for making sure that children attend school regularly or otherwise get an education. The Agency’s educational welfare officers (EWOs) work with schools, teachers and parents with a view to encouraging regular school attendance and developing strategies to reduce absenteeism and early school leaving. The EWOs also act as advocates or supports to parents, guardians and children experiencing difficulty with school attendance or educational welfare.
On 1 January 2014, the National Educational Welfare Board was abolished and its functions transferred to the Child and Family Agency.
Parents have a legal right to establish a parents’ association and membership must be open to all parents in the school. The primary aim of a parents’ association is to represent the interests of parents of children attending the school and to promote good relationships between parents and the school board of management, the principal and the teachers. The association can make representations to the school on issues of policy and advise the principal and board on any matter affecting the school. It can also adopt a programme of activities that will promote the involvement of parents in the management of the school.
The important role of parents' associations is described in the circulars on parents as partners in education: 24/91 (primary schools) and M27/91 (post-primary schools), which are available on the website of the Department of Education and Skills.
National Parents Councils
The National Parents Council –
Post Primary runs a Leaving Certificate results
helpline every August in association with the Institute of Guidance
The National Parents Council (Primary) has published guidelines on Working Effectively as a Parent Association (pdf), which are available from the Council or can be downloaded from its website - see 'Where to apply' below. Among its activities it gives information to parents about parents' associations and children’s learning. It has a helpline for parents seeking help, information and support for special interest groups.
Boards of management
Most schools have boards of management. Under the Education Act 1998 the board of management in a school has a duty to ensure that the school is run for the benefit of the students and their parents and that an appropriate education is provided for each student at the school. One of the responsibilities of the board of management is to promote contact between the school, the parents and the community and give reasonable help to a parents’ association in its formation and its activities.
This is the organisation that represents multi-denominational Educate Together primary schools and associations throughout Ireland. The schools are recognised by the Department of Education and Skills and work under the same regulations and funding structures as other national schools. Educate Together schools have a distinct ethos which guarantees equality of access to children irrespective of their social, cultural or religious backgrounds. They also have a high level of parental participation in the operation of the school.
Home School Community Liaison Scheme
The Home School Community Liaison Scheme is targeted at children in primary and post-primary schools who are at risk of dropping out of school or of not reaching their potential in the education system because of economic or social disadvantage. In each local area the scheme co-ordinator is a qualified teacher appointed from the staff of the schools in the scheme. The co-ordinators work full-time outside the classroom to build relationships with the children’s parents or guardians. They act as a link between home and school, encouraging parents to become more involved in their children’s education.
Early Start Programme
The Early Start Programme is a one-year preventative intervention scheme. It tackles educational disadvantage by targeting children between the ages of 3 and 4 who are at risk of not reaching their potential within the school system. The programme aims to expose young children to an educational programme which would enhance their overall development and prevent school failure and to offset the effects of social disadvantage. Parental involvement is a key element in the programme and the parents of participating children become actively involved in their children's education. Early Start staff work with Home School Community Liaison co-ordinators to encourage parents to take part in both the everyday management and in the organisation of activities in the Early Start centre.
National Council for Special Education
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is a statutory body with responsibility for improving the delivery of education services to people with special educational needs. One of its primary roles is to provide information to parents in relation to the entitlements of children with special educational needs in primary and second-level schools. The NCSE employs Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) who are responsible for allocating additional teaching and other resources to support the special educational needs of children with disabilities at local level. SENOs are the point of contact for parents/guardians and schools.
National Educational Psychological Service
The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) provides an educational psychology service to primary and post-primary schools. NEPS psychologists specialise in working with teachers, parents and children in identifying educational needs and providing a consultation service for teachers and parents. Children are normally referred to NEPS through the school principal and parents should discuss any concerns regarding learning difficulties with school personnel.
Young parents programmes
The Department of Health produced a report on young
parents in education (pdf) as part of its support of the Teen Parents
Support Programme. This report details the programmes available to support
parents who want to continue their own education or training.
The financial support offered through the social welfare system can play a major role in a young parent’s decision to return to or continue education or training. The Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) is administered by the Department of Social Protection as part of the Back to Education Programme. It allows people to return to full-time or part-time education while continuing to get income support.
Early school-leavers programmes such as the Schools Completion Programme, the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme, Youthreach and Post Leaving Certificate courses are aimed at increasing the number of young people staying in second-level schools or helping people get access to second-chance or alternative education.
Where to apply