Key challenges for Irish schools revealed in Mason Hayes & Curran survey

Key challenges for Irish schools revealed in Mason Hayes & Curran survey

Catherine Kelly

Six out of ten school leaders say the complexities of legal compliance around data protection and privacy is their biggest challenge, a survey by Mason Hayes & Curran has found.

The firm, which hosts Ireland’s largest dedicated education law team, polled more than 400 educators at its recent webinar titled Essential Education Law for the School Leader. The event provided legal insights and practical strategies to support the continuous improvement and effectiveness of Irish school operations.

Catherine Kelly, education partner at Mason Hayes & Curran, said: “Schools can collect significant amounts of personal data about students, parents and staff, and that data must be fairly and lawfully processed under the GDPR. We advise schools to ensure a robust and up-to-date data protection policy is in place, outlining the data they collect, its purpose, how long it will be stored and who it will be shared with.

She added: “Growing awareness of data privacy rights has also led to more data access requests in schools, with parents or employees seeking information held about them or a student. Generally, these requests are triggered by issues such as parental complaints or staff disputes, and they require a response within 30 days. Creating a defined process for managing and recording data searches is essential. Advance preparation is the key to saving time and money down the line.”

The Mason Hayes & Curran survey revealed that almost four out of ten school leaders (38 per cent) are not confident in their school’s handling of parental complaints.

Liam Riordan, education partner at Mason Hayes & Curran, commented: “Managing complaints related to the competency of a teacher can be particularly challenging for schools, whether that relates to delivering the curriculum or managing a class. As the person responsible for the day-to-day management of the school, it falls to the principal to initiate the professional competency procedure. We recommend that principals take advice before commencing this process, because it can turn litigious very quickly.”

Half of the survey’s respondents (50 per cent) identified managing behaviours of concern as the biggest legal challenge facing schools.

David Ruddy, barrister and training consultant for Mason Hayes & Curran, added: “We are increasingly hearing from schools that managing challenging student behaviour is one of the most difficult issues they face. The Admissions to School Act has intensified this challenge, with schools being required by law to accept all applicants they have places for. This includes students with special educational needs who may exhibit challenging or disruptive behaviour. Having a behaviour of concern policy, approved by the Board of Management, is vital. It provides schools with greater confidence and clarity and significantly enhances the safety of both students and staff.”

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