Board of Management of St Molaga's National School v Secretary General of the Department of Education &; Science and Others

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeDenham J.
Judgment Date23 November 2010
Neutral Citation[2010] IESC 57
Docket Number[S.C.
CourtSupreme Court
Date23 November 2010
Board of Management of St. Mologa's National School v Secretary General of the Department of Education & Ors
[2010] IESC 57
Between/
Board of Management of St. Molaga's National School
Applicant/Respondent

and

The Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science, and Kevin Meehan, Máire Ní Mhairtín and Paddy Hogan
Respondents/Appellants

and

A. and B.
Notice Parties

[2010] IESC 57

Murray C.J.

Denham J.

Hardiman J.

Fennelly J.

Finnegan J.

[Appeal No: 234/2009]

THE SUPREME COURT

Abstract:

Practice and procedure - Statutory interpretation - Preliminary issue - Powers of the appeals committee - Education Act, 1998 - Whether s. 29 of the Education Act, 1998 could be interpreted to allow the appeals committee to conduct a full re-hearing on appeal from a decision of the board of management.

Facts This appeal by the respondents raised a preliminary issue regarding the statutory interpretation of s. 29 of the Education Act, 1998. The appeal arose from judicial review proceedings brought by the applicant regarding the decision of the respondents comprising the appeals committee. The notice parties herein were the parents of two children whose application for enrolment in St. Molaga's National School was refused. The notice parties appealed the decision of the applicant to the appeals committee and the appeal was allowed. The applicant successfully judicial reviewed that decision and the respondents herein appealed the High Court's decision in that regard. It was submitted on behalf of the respondents that the learned High Court Judge erred in law and in fact in holding that the appeals committee acted ultra vires the powers conferred on it by s. 29 of the Act of 1998 and also erred in holding that the substantive power conferred by s. 29 did not extend to the re-hearing of an appeal or the power to substitute the committee's own decision for that of the decision of the board of management. It was further submitted that the learned High Court Judge erred in law and in fact in holding that the appeals committee was confined to a right to review the lawfulness of the board of management's decision and erred in law in applying an "informed interpretation rule" to the interpretation of s. 29 of the Act of 1998.

Held by Supreme Court; Denham J. (Murray C.J., Hardiman, Fennelly, Finnegan JJ) in allowing the appeal on the preliminary issue: That the words of s. 29 were clear, with a plain meaning and ought to be construed as such. Applying a literal interpretation to the section, the appeals committed had jurisdiction to conduct a full hearing on an appeal under s. 29 of the Act. The committee was not limited to a review of the decision of the board of management. Consequently, the High Court erred in its interpretation of s. 29 of the Act.

Reporter: L.O'S.

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S29

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S9

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S14

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S15

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S29(1)

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S29(2)

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S29(4)

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S29(4)(C)

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S29(5)

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S29(6)

EDUCATION ACT 1998 S29(7)

1

Judgment delivered the 23rd day of November, 2010 by Denham J.

2

Denham J. [nem diss]

3

1. This appeal raises a net point of statutory interpretation. It is a preliminary issue.

4

2. The board of management of St. Molaga's National School, the applicant/respondent, referred to in this judgment as "the board of management", brought judicial review proceedings in the High Court. The Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science is the first named respondent/appellant and is referred to as "the Secretary General". Kevin Meehan, Máire Ní Mhairtín and Paddy Hogan, the second to fourth named respondents/appellants, were members of the appeals committee, and are referred to as "the appeals committee". The respondents/appellants are referred to collectively as "the appellants". A. and B., the notice parties, are the parents who sought to enrol their children in St. Molaga's National School, and are referred to as "the parents".

5

3. In summary, the facts of this case are that in about February, 2008 the parents applied for places in St. Molaga's National School for their two children who were 10 and 9 years of age at that time. The parents had recently moved to Balbriggan. In response to the application the parents were told verbally that the school was full and that no more pupils were being accepted. The refusal was confirmed in writing on the 6 th February, 2008. In that written confirmation it was stated that the school was full.

6

4. St. Molaga's National School is a senior primary school with 3 rd to 6 th classes only. It has a longstanding relationship with St. Peter and St. Paul's School which caters for children to 2 nd class only. The published enrolment policy of St. Molaga's National School is to give priority to pupils entering 3 rd class having completed 2 nd class in St. Peter and St. Paul's School, then to siblings of children already in the school, then to catholic children of the parish, then to catholic children outside the parish, then to non-catholic children of the parish, and finally to non-catholic children from outside the parish. There is no formal "transfer" policy to cater for children seeking to enter the school other than new entrants in 3 rd class. In practice it appears that the school has decided to accept all entrants from 2 nd class in St. Peter and St Paul's School, and appears to have decided to take no other entrants.

7

5. The board of management refused to enrol the two daughters of the parents. The reason they gave was that the school was full. The parents appealed those decisions to the appeals committee. The appeals committee allowed the appeal. The board of management brought judicial review proceedings of the decisions of the appeals committee. The High Court (Irvine J.) on the 17 th February, 2009 allowed the appeal and made orders of certiorari of the decision of the appeals committee. The appeals committee has appealed to this Court against the judgment and order of the High Court quashing the decisions of the appeals committee.

Preliminary Issue
8

6. The Court determined that it would consider a preliminary issue, being the interpretation of s.29 of the Education Act, 1998, hereinafter referred to as "the Act of 1998". This may also be described as interpreting the jurisdiction of the appeals committee when hearing an appeal pursuant to s.29 of the Act of 1998.

The High Court
9

7. The learned High Court Judge accepted the board of management's submission that a s.29 appeal is limited in its scope. The learned High Court Judge summarised her conclusion as follows:-

"The board of management of St. Molaga's had been trying for a period of nine years prior to 2007 to continue expanding its school in the face of a lack of resources and in particular, permanent physical accommodation. It had doubled its number of students in the ten years prior to 2007 and with regret in March 2007, its board of management decided that the school was full to capacity and that it could no longer justify trying to expand its school by the use of further prefabricated buildings having regard to the standard of education it hoped to provide, the welfare of students and teachers alike and the suitability of the accommodation within the school for the proper provision of education.

Having regard to the school's special relationship with St. Peter and Paul's Junior School, with whom it had been associated for well in excess of 100 years and which was in effect its feeder school, it decided to implement a policy whereby it would take in only students from St. Peter and Paul's for a period of four years in the hope that it might thereby be in a position to provide for its pupils an acceptable standard of education in an environment which provided adequately for the welfare of pupils and teachers alike.

The board's decision was made in March, 2007 and was notified to the Department in writing. Further, in keeping with the said decision, the school implemented its altered policy with effect from September, 2007 as a result of which by February, 2008, being the time at which the notice parties applied to have their children enrolled in the school, St. Molaga's had rejected applications for enrolment from approximately 41 students. At that time, every class in the school had in excess of 27 pupils including special needs children and the school had not been in a position to keep its average size to that which the Department in Circular 0020/2007 had asked the school to "ensure" that it would not exceed. As of the date of its refusal to enrol C and D, the school exceeded the guidance from the Department by 25 students. Further, St. Molaga's had 9 students in excess of the number that would have justified the appointment of a 17th teacher but as it had no spare classroom it was futile to seek to make such an appointment. Accordingly, the school was operating on a lesser number of teachers than was thought acceptable. It had also had the experience in previous years of trying to deliver education to a larger number of students and had found that the school was physically unable to safely or satisfactorily accommodate such numbers. With such numbers the Board had concluded that it could not comply with its obligations to deliver a standard of education appropriate to the needs of its students and was concerned that by trying to continue to educate such numbers that it was jeopardising the physical and mental welfare of both students and teachers alike. Against such a backdrop the school refused the enrolment of some 41 children who had applied for a place in St. Molaga's for the year 2007/2008 prior to...

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