More than 900 students expelled from schools over last six years, figures show

Some 28 students have been expelled from primary schools since September 2020
More than 900 students expelled from schools over last six years, figures show

Vivienne Clarke

More than 900 students have been expelled from Irish schools over the last six years.

New figures released in a Dáil question show almost 360 of those have come in the last three years. Some 28 students have been expelled from primary schools since September 2020.

The chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, Tanya Ward, called for more education welfare officers to be appointed by Tusla to carry out preventative work in schools and reduce the number of expulsions.

She told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne that there were not enough education welfare officers available to meet the needs of young people.

Ms Ward said education welfare officers from Tusla could work with schools and families to come up with preventative measures so that students would not be expelled.

"A lot of the parents in these situations find it very difficult when it happens," she said. "Often the relationship is broken down with the principal and the board of management, and they themselves are struggling to get another school to take the child on. And often that's the end of a road."

Ms Ward said her concern was there were not enough education welfare officers who should be working with schools once it became clear that a student was having difficulties.

“What concerns us about school expulsion is the impact it has on the child when it does happen. It causes an enormous stigma for the child in their school community... And generally they will not reach their full potential once an event like this has happened. So for us, it's really important to get behind those statistics to find out why did those situations arise and could they have been prevented.

"We know for some children what happened at the school, it's kind of about the end of the road. The school has done everything they can and the child needs an alternative education. So they might need more one-on-one. They might need a lot of wraparound supports.

"But in some cases, we know some schools are saying, look, we just didn't have enough support to hold on to this child or you might have situations where perhaps there are too many expulsions happening in the same school. So I think there's a real need to get behind the statistics to see actually what has contributed to these figures."

On Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show, the head of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, Paul Crone, said expulsion was always a last resort and the figures represented a small percentage of the school population of 390,000.

Mr Crone said when a school decides they have no other choice but to expel a student, they invite parents, the principal and the Board of Management to a meeting. The result is a one-month wait and the school must inform Tusla.

"The Tusla education welfare officer will convene a meeting between the school and the parents. After a month, if they can't come to a resolution, the expulsion is confirmed.

"The parent may decide to appeal under Section 29 of the Education Act to the Department of Education, and the Department of Education will put together the three-person independent appeal committee. They will review the decision that the board arrived at to see if the sanction is proportionate, fair and reasonable."

Mr Crone said schools begin to consider expulsion when a student engages in gross misbehaviour, such as selling drugs on school property, very serious assault against a student or teacher or serious vandalism or theft.

"It's also very rare that a student would be expelled the first time that they do something. Everything is contextual – I know of one situation where [school arson] did happen, and there were other issues, and it was behaviours acting out. Through collaboration between the family, the school, and external support agencies, the student wasn't expelled and was rehabilitated back into the school.

"There's a person at the centre of this and we need to remember that and understand that students are growing and developing and changing. I would reject that school’s willy-nilly, expel students – they have to go through a lot of procedures, so the rights of the students are very well protected there."

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