Parents who suggested withholding part of their children’s school fees due to days missed during teachers’ strikes have been threatened with legal action by the Education Department.
In a letter, Mark Rogers, Director General for Children, Young People, Education and Skills (CYPES), told parents and carers that the government will not be offering “financial compensation” for the impact of teachers' recent industrial action on them, whether for additional childcare costs, loss of earnings or holidays, or with regards to rebates in respect of school fees at fee-paying schools.
His comments came in response to numerous letters and emails addressed to CYPES and the Education Minister, Senator Tracey Vallois, to advise them they intended to withhold the equivalent of 10 days of school fees from their next payment as a result of May strike action.
Pictured: Teachers' strikes led to a number of schools being closed last month.
Explaining their rationale, they said that they have a contract with the Government of Jersey, which provides education for their children. Parents say the government has failed “to deliver that provision and uphold their contract” therefore leading to breach of contract which entitles them to “re-claim a portion of the fees paid.”
Mr Rogers’ letter - which you can read in full here and below - states that the number of days on which a fee-paying school is open “varies from term to term and may be affected by a number of factors”, including industrial action, adverse weather conditions and inset days.
It goes on to say that any deduction made to fee income could lead to a deficit for the schools, “which may need to be recovered by additional increases to termly fees.”
Mr Rogers also warned parents that any deduction to the school fees will continue to show as “unpaid fees” on the relevant account. This may result, he said, in action being taken by Treasury and Exchequer to recover the debt, as well as a referral to the school, “in the same manner as an overdue account due to non-payment.”
Pictured: Mark Rogers, Director General of Children, Young People, Education and Skills (CYPES).
The content of the letter was brought to light on Tuesday afternoon when the Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, was questioned by the Corporate Services Panel.
Constable Richard Vibert asked the Chief Minister if he thought he should be looking at the issue. “Do you think morally we should look at that because we haven’t paid the teachers during the dispute and we’re telling the parents that they have to pay for days when there was no education for their children?,” he asked.
The Chief Minister declined to comment “whilst we still have a union [NASUWT has rejected the latest pay offer and discussions have been ongoing since then, ed.] that still hasn’t formally made a declaration.”
Despite being pushed to answer, the Chief Minister repeatedly declined to do so: “I’m just reluctant to express a political view at this stage which I’m very happy to give once the matter is closed. I have a very particular view on that matter.
“From a legal point of view, the advice is very clear that we’re not obliged and that the answer that’s being given is actually being done from the accounting officer’s perspective and they’re bound by the law.”
Pictured: The Chief Minister declined to comment at this stage, preferring to wait until NASUWT has made their declaration.
Senator Kristina Moore, the chairman of the panel, pushed the Chief Minister further, saying that this was a “side issue” to the actual arguments with the union. “This is about your performance as [States Employment Board] so far in this matter and not about your ongoing negotiation. This is about how you deal with the parents and the families who’ve been affected,” she added.
Still, Senator Le Fondré refused to reply, saying: “If I express a political view on this matter, what I do not want to do in any shape or form is prejudice the final outcomes of what I’m hoping will be positive news that we get in the next couple of days and that’s my answer."
Constable Vibert continued, saying he would have been upset by receiving the letter. “In effect, we are threatening action against parents for something I think, you know, morally, we should be looking at,” he said. "In effect, it is saying: 'If you don’t pay up, we will take action.'"
In return, the Chief Minister described the letter as “a statement that the legal position is that there is a debt that’s due for the fees and that is the legal position.”
Pictured: Richard Vibert said the letter was threatening to parents.
The Government’s Chief Executive, Charlie Parker, then stepped in to explain “there are certain obligations to an accountant officer that they have to, by law, discharge and there will be questions raised to accounting officers for a number of factors including this issue.”
He then went on to say that a parent who is behind on their school fees would be faced with “similar notifications of the possible implications of that.” “Therefore we have an obligation - and it may not be a particularly nice role that you discharge - to ensure that you protect the public purse and deliver the legal requirement as an officer,” he said.
“I’m not going to comment on the specific case, but that is a requirement as an accounting officer, which, if you don’t deliver, you could yourself be subject to legal challenges.”
The Chief Minister said he would get a copy of the letter and look into the issue. Deputy Jess Perchard also suggested he comments on “the ethics of parents involving themselves in what is essentially an employer/employee situation.”
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