Jim Daly, a Cork South-West TD, said boards of management were the last bastion of society onto which a light needs to be shone, in relation to the small number of cases where things go wrong and parents receive unfavourable decisions.
His comments to the Oireachtas education committee were rejected by the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA), which said the vast majority of complaints were dealt with satisfactorily by boards of management.
Mr Daly said he had exhausted all avenues trying to find out where a parent could go with a complaint, having checked with the Ombudsman’s office, the secretary general of the Department of Education and school patrons.
“Obviously you can go anywhere with it, but everyone passes you around and passes you around and passes you around, so the board ultimately... is entitled to do as it [pleases]. If it demands that a child comes to school standing on its head, in reality there’s very little place for you to go with that sort of complaint afterwards.”
He said he had raised a case with former minister Ruairí Quinn of a supplier owed €100,000 by a school, and had followed another case where parents had issues with a board.
“God help us all and the parents involved if you try to take on the board of management, because they are effectively a law unto themselves. They are totally, wholly and completely answerable to themselves and themselves only.”
Department of Education official Tom Deegan said it received 25 to 35 complaints a week from parents about schools, mostly about bullying, but some about schools and their management.
“As for investigating the complaints, the department has no role in investigating the action of a board of management. The department is neither empowered nor entitled to investigate a board of management, or direct a board of management to do anything in response to that.”
He said all it can do is advise parents that boards manage a school on behalf of the patron and if they do not get satisfaction at board or patron level, they or other complainants can go to the Ombudsman for Children.
Another official, Hubert Loftus, told TDs and senators that plans for a parents’ charter to set out the rights and expectations of parents would be given statutory footing in a bill which Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan will bring to Government within weeks.
Mr Daly said boards have been toothless in responding to the view of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation policy not to allow teachers into schools on JobBridge schemes. He said this proves his point that their effective role is to rubberstamp and provide cover for the decisions of principals. INTO official Anne McElduff rejected this, saying boards listen to what happens on the ground from principals and teacher representatives, but each board member makes up their own mind on all issues.