I move: "That the Bill do now pass."
Committee on Finance. - School Attendance Bill, 1942—Fifth Stage.
One of the outstanding things that are wrong with this House is that problems are not discussed in it. In so far as there is a serious problem here and there, Ministers on the one hand endeavour to evade discussion of it, and we can get no help in discussion at all from the members of the Dáil who sit behind the Minister—when they do sit behind him. No one would imagine by this Bill that it proposes to make it an offence for a person living in Donegal to send a child under 14 years to school in Derry, or for some one in Cavan to send a child under 14 years to school in Tyrone, without informing the police.
After the passing of this Bill, if parents in Donegal send a child under 14 years of age to school in Derry, and do not tell the local police, as representing the authority under the School Attendance Act, they commit a crime, and are liable, if charged, to be fined £5. If it is necessary to make that a crime in this country, and legislation specifically directed to making it a crime is introduced into this House, this House ought to be told that that is now being made a crime, and ought to be told why. As well as that, the Minister takes certain powers in relation to people who get their education other than through a national school, a suitable school or a recognised school. He takes certain powers to look into the kind of education they get, and if necessary to examine a child who gets his education in a way other than by attending a national school, a suitable school or a recognised school. He allows certain what he calls "reasonable excuses". One is sickness, another is the absence of an accessible school, which is defined, and another is "an unavoidable cause". Anything that there is in the line of a loophole is under Section 3 (2) (b), that is,
"...that the child is receiving suitable education within the meaning of this Act in a manner other than by attending a national school, a suitable school, or a recognised school."
But Section 4 (1) of the Bill circumscribes that, by saying:
"A child shall not be deemed for the purposes of this Act to be receiving suitable education in a manner other than by attending a national school, a suitable school, or a recognised school unless such education and the manner in which such child is receiving it have been certified under this section by the Minister to be suitable."
Now, the one loophole is that the child is receiving suitable education; "suitable education" is qualified by the statement that "such education and the manner in which such child is receiving it have been certified under this section by the Minister to be suitable," and the Minister tells this House that he has no means of certifying as "suitable" education that anybody receives outside this country. We ought to be told in the first case what are the reasons for making it a crime for persons to send their children across the Border to school without telling the police, and we should have some explanation from the Minister as to what is intended here by saying that nothing shall be recognised as alternative suitable education unless the Minister is able to certify that the education and the manner in which it is being received are satisfactory to him, if at the same time he says that he has no means of certifying that education given outside this country is suitable. If he wants to say that he is going to have his inspectors examine, when they come back, children who go outside this country to school, and may declare as a result of that examination that that education is unsatisfactory, and that therefore the parents are committing an offence under the Act, then we ought to be told here what exactly the Minister means, and what type of examination is going to be carried out. It is not stated in this Act what the particular standard or minimum of education is meant to be, but during the discussion here the Minister pointed out one of the reasons which drove him to legislation of this particular kind. As reported at column 2111 of the Official Debates of 18th November, 1942, he said:
"One particular case, at any rate, has arisen and has been the subject of legal proceedings, and a decision has been given upon it which suggests to me that the present provisions are defective. It may be a matter of opinion whether this situation should be remedied or not. In my opinion, it ought to be remedied. The decision in this particular case was to the effect that a child may be receiving suitable elementary education according to the provisions of the School Attendance Act, 1926, notwithstanding that the subjects in the ordinary curriculum, we will say, of the national schools are not being taught in such a school. According to the present programme, the primary school subjects are: Irish, English (optional for Standard I), mathematics, history, geography, needlework for girls, and music. Therefore, I conceive it to be the policy of the Ministry, in determining whether a particular school which applies for a certificate of suitability is suitable or not, to consider the manner in which it endeavours to provide a curriculum of this nature."
But when the Minister was asked by Professor O'Sullivan, as reported at column 2096 of the Official Debates of 18th November:—
"Will it not be an offence if a parent does not send his child to a suitable school in this State?",
the Minister replied:—
"In the event of such a parent being prosecuted, it will surely be a matter for the court to determine."
How can the court determine what is a suitable standard of education, or what are the necessary subjects in which a certain standard has to be arrived at, except it is put into the Act? The court is simply going to be asked to decide, with its prejudices of one kind or another, whether a person is getting a suitable education or not. You have a situation there that is most extraordinary.
The Minister disclaims that he mentioned Irish as being an operative thing in his mind in moving in the direction in which he is moving; but I think, from what he has said, that it is perfectly obvious that something in connection with Irish as a school subject is moving him. What standard in Irish is going to be required? If a case is brought before the courts relating to a person who is sending a child outside and that child is not getting instruction in Irish, and is therefore not being suitably educated, what will the nature of the offence be? Is there any standard which we can apply?
If Irish is an impelling matter in the presentation of this legislation, I should like to ask the Minister if he will consider the position of Irish in some Dublin schools. I raised this question of attendance before. I do not think that we can pass increasingly stringent legislation with regard to school attendance without adverting to it again. I will take only one school. In March, 1941, there were 19 classes in it, and in the eight classes dealing with infants in the first standard, there was an average on the roll of 55, and an average attendance of 48. On the 21st May, 1942, something over a year afterwards, there were 18 classes in the school, and in eight of the earlier classes the average on the roll was 56, and the average in attendance was 52. What drew my attention to this school was that there was one infant class, with 111 children on the roll, in charge of one teacher. The Minister explained that that was a temporary situation, and that things would improve after about three months or so.
What was the position on the 24th September of this year? Again there were 18 classes, and in the eight first classes there were 66 on the roll—an average of 66. The attendance was 52 in the morning and 53 in the afternoon. A month later, on the 29th October, again there were 18 classes in the whole school. The average on the roll was 63 in the eight first classes, and the attendance was 59 in the morning and 59 in the afternoon. So far as attendance went in the eight classes, it had gone up from 48 in March, 1941, to 52 in May, 1942, to 52 in September, 1942, and 59 in October, 1942.
If Irish is the driving motive in this what kind of work is being done for Irish in these schools, and why should more stringent regulations or more stringent laws be passed to force parents to send their children into schools of that particular kind? It is only discussion that will enable us to understand our problems; it is only discussion that will bring us to the proper way of tackling them. There has been no presentation of this matter that would indicate in any way what the problem is or that it is being tackled in the right way or that it will be tackled in a successful way. The matter was raised on a very definite point of principle by Deputy O'Sullivan, and he left the House simply because he got no answer to the questions he raised.
The other point is that in this Bill the Minister is very definitely creating another situation which, to my mind, is serious. The translation of the Minister's speech says that action against defaulting parents at present is necessarily slow, owing to the requirement that a warning notice of one week must be served on a parent before legal proceedings may be taken following a first offence. The Bill proposes to speed up action by abolishing the warning notice and by removing the requirement that for committal of a child to an industrial school the conviction of the parent, for a second or subsequent offence against the Act, is necessary.
In the first place, this is the first time in which a Bill of this kind makes the punishment, for a first offence, committal to an industrial school. In the second place, as definitely stated by the Minister, a child may now be committed for a first offence to an industrial school and he will be committed, the Minister indicates, according to traditional practice, for a long period. That means that if a child of 11 is committed to an industrial school, he will be committed for five years; if a child of 12 is committed, the period will be four years, and so on. The Minister has intimated that he sees no way of providing special institutions for these children, or providing a limited period by law for the detention of the child.
No information has been given us by the Minister as to the extent to which it has been necessary in the past to commit children to industrial schools for circumstances that are brought to light by reason of the child's non-attendance. I have ascertained that during the past five years, in the Dublin school attendance area, 351 children have been committed to industrial schools. I must say that is a very big figure. All the cases have arisen out of circumstances disclosed through non-attendance at school. To what extent there are criminal cases mixed up there, I do not know. Here you have a situation in which, although a person could not be committed to an industrial school for the first offence, you have a large number committed there. It seems to me that if the policy that existed in the courts during the past seven or eight years is going to continue, with the guards thrown-off, as is implied by dropping the provision with regard to it being a second offence, that figure is going to be raised pretty high. When a case is presented to the court, who makes it? Is it the school attendance committee, the school attendance officer or the probation officer?
The school attendance officer.
If it is the school attendance officer, as Deputy Hickey says, is he directed by any other authority as to what he shall ask for by way of punishment? Does he advise that a particular case is one for detention in an industrial school? Does he do that off his own bat, or is there any higher authority which advises him? If the Minister persists during the discussion in the Seanad on retaining this provision with regard to industrial schools for first offences, he will have to be very clear, and we should all like to be very clear, as to how these cases will be presented to the courts.
The Minister indicated in his remarks during this discussion that one of the matters that make it difficult for parents to send their children to school is their financial circumstances, and he rather implied that it was better to take a child from a home in which the financial circumstances of the parents were such that the child could not be properly looked after and sent to school, and send it to an industrial school. In considering how these cases will be presented and dealt with in future, I ask the Minister to give consideration to the point that Deputy Hickey made, that it costs something like 12/6 or 15/- a week to keep a child in an industrial school, made up of 7/6 by the State and an additional sum by the local authority.
With the lengthy period for which children are likely to be kept in industrial schools, and the ease with which they are likely to be put in now, it is important, when we have the rights of the parent with regard to a child's education and the right of the State, that we keep in our minds that the right of the parent comes first, and that there may be cases where intervention on the part of the public relief authorities to make the financial position of the parent easier might enable that parent to keep a child at home and have it properly looked after, and obviate the necessity of sending the child to an industrial school.
While I think a certain amount of improvement will be effected by the Bill, particularly as the result of a discussion here, in the school attendance machinery for the future, the two matters I speak of are two very serious blemishes on our law, and I think they should not have been presented to the House in the way in which they have been presented, without very considerably more explanation by the Minister, explanation of a kind which would have enabled the House to discuss more intelligently what he has in his mind, because we are left in the position that we can discuss nothing but the outrageous aspect of these proposals.
I make bold to say that were it not for the financial position of parents and the bad social conditions under which children live, we would have a very small school attendance problem. Legislation of this kind is good in its way, but it does not get to the root of the matter, and while the Minister may say that the matters to which I am about to refer are no concern of his, I say that he cannot separate himself from other Departments of State. I look on the education of the children as the most important function of the Government of any State. I was speaking to a member of the Gárda in Cork within the past fortnight and discussing certain crimes. He told me that 50 per cent. of the things they have to deal with came from a certain locality. As I do not want to hurt the feelings of people who may see the Official Reports, I do not propose to mention the locality by name, but it is not one of the old areas of the city. I asked him if what was responsible for that position had ever dawned on him and he replied: "I do not know; but 50 per cent. of the cases we deal with come from that locality." I said: "Is it not due to the fact that it is there the poverty-stricken masses of the city live?" He said he knew that was so, and then he told me some of the things he sees, and has seen, in the homes of these people.
Bringing in legislation of a more drastic kind to compel children to attend school is not safeguarding the children or the rights of the parents. During the past three weeks or so, I saw a number of people prosecuted at the District Court in Cork for non-attendance of their children at school, and in order to find out whether some of the things I spoke on here and elsewhere were based on fact, I inquired into the conditions of some of these parents, and personally I cannot but say that they are marvellous to be as good as they are. In considering these matters, I ask myself what would be the position if I were living under similar conditions. I have children of my own, and if I were in receipt of 33/- per week to pay rent and feed and clothe five, six or seven children, I should like to know what would be their anxiety to go to school. What would be the encouragement to the mother of such a home to force these hungry, ill-clad and ill-nourished little bodies to school; whereas if you give a child sufficient food and happy surroundings, you will find that he is anxious to go to school rather than to stay away.
It is very little use bringing in legislation of this kind which does not get down to the economic position and the social conditions of the people for whom it is intended. You cannot make good citizens by legislation of this kind. You have to deal with it in another way, that is, by giving decent social conditions and the means by which they can send their children to school in comfort and in some kind of cheer. It is no surprise to me to learn that we have 350 children committed to industrial schools. Will we have better citizens in the future as a result? Are the children of to-day, or of the future, going to be good citizens while that state of affairs exists? You cannot make good citizens of children by compelling them to attend school.
I must refer the Minister again to the report of the Cork school attendance officer. I have already given one or two extracts from it, and I think it appalling that such men are asked to force children to school and to summon their parents, with the result that these unfortunate people have to go before the court two or three times and then their children are sent to industrial schools. These people are receiving the big amount of a maximum of 2/6 per week to feed and clothe a child from one year to 14 years for seven days a week. How can it be done? The alternative is to send the child to an industrial school, and the State and the local authorities will pay anything up to 15/- a week to keep the child in that industrial school. Surely that is not legislation of a proper kind. I submit that it would be well if the Minister went to the Executive Council and suggested that something should be done to increase the maintenance allowance for children whose parents have not been given the right to earn a living to support them.
This is a good Bill. It was needed. Looking at it from the point of view of school attendance I feel that it is a contribution in that respect. While I do not want to pursue the economic line Deputy Hickey took, he cannot deny that within the past decade the conditions under which children work in schools have been very considerably improved.
The conditions under which they work?
The conditions under which they do their work in schools have been very considerably improved, particularly in Dublin, and also in Cork where unsuitable premises have been replaced by decent schools. The effect can be seen already in the mental and physical development of the children, as well as in the way they can assimilate education. In the last ten years the change, in my experience, has been marvellous.
And the health of the children as well?
Yes. The meal that they get at midday has had something to do with that. I should like to see a matter to which I referred when the Bill was introduced dealt with. In Dublin the schools' medical service is doing good work. It could do much better work, if this was an opportune time to dovetail the medical service with better attendance at school. In Dublin, or in any city, children are much better off, mentally and physically, when they are attending a good school.
That is agreed.
There is a certain difficulty at the present time about the certificates that parents of children hand to principal teachers. Some of these documents are prescriptions for medicine. Once some parents get them they very often use them as an excuse for a child's absence for days or weeks. I am sure the medical profession do not want to be troubled with them, and that these people are a source of annoyance to them. I wonder if it would be possible, before the Bill becomes law, to introduce something in the way of a certain amount of compulsion by making it necessary to get a certificate of some type from the schools' medical service, and in that way lead to an extension of useful social legislation? As an example of the type of document that the teacher is confronted with, the following came from a reputable doctor:—
"This is to certify that X-Y is attending this dispensary and will be unable to attend school until I see fit. This I cannot at present forecast, not being a prophet."
I am sure that a doctor would not have written that were it not that he felt he was jockeyed into doing so by the present state of things. As a good deal of money is being spent on the schools' medical service, I do not see why the best possible use should not be made of it, and why it should not develop along the lines of social development in connection with the schools. I appreciate the Minister's difficulty and that this may not be the best time to deal with the question.
I do not know whether I can do anything about the point raised by Deputy Mullen. The question of medical certificates bristles with difficulties. As I pointed out during the discussions on the Bill, it would be a hardship on parents to have to pay for medical certificates, particularly where the children were ill only for a short period. The Deputy's observation would lead one to believe that sometimes the medical certificates are not as valuable testimony as they might be of the fact that children were really ill and unable to attend school. Undoubtedly the matter will have to be taken notice of, but I do not see any way of dealing with it at present. As regards children attending schools in the Six-County area, I pointed out already that these schools are outside my jurisdiction. That has been the position under the Education Act of 1926, and no considerable difficulty has arisen. The position now will be, if this measure becomes law, that any doubt that may have existed as to the power of the Minister, that children residing within this State should in fact receive what he considers to be the minimum requirements in education, will be resolved. The Minister has power to satisfy himself that any child is receiving the minimum education which it is the duty of the State to see is provided.
Deputy Hickey referred to the matter of social conditions. I have a great deal of sympathy with what he said. I wish that a great deal more could be done for our children, but a fair amount has been done. I am very glad that Deputy Mullen has called attention to the fact that, at any rate, a great many people have been given houses in which their families, if other circumstances are favourable, can be brought up in reasonable conditions of hygiene and decency. That is certainly an advance. I am quite certain, no matter what the economic circumstances of the parents may be in those areas where the new housing schemes have been erected, that the growing generation will benefit, that they will not go back to the old conditions, as some of the parents are inclined; that they will realise the advantages of living in better homes, and that in due course that spirit will permeate the whole of the population.
The schools' meals scheme is there also, and, while it may not be perfect, it is doing a certain amount of good. As the Deputy has pointed out, even the midday meal in itself has benefited the children's health enormously. Teachers tell me that they see a vast improvement in the health of the children since the midday interval was instituted and children have been permitted to take part in the family meal at the midday interval. There is also the question of medical records and medical inspection services. We have records of the condition of the children. We know we shall be able to judge as to whether or not the position has improved from year to year. I think the medical reports indicate that there is a steady improvement. No doubt, a great many children are suffering from diseases of one kind or another. Sometimes there is, unfortunately, an amount of uncleanliness which could be avoided, I think—speaking as one who has no direct responsibility in the matter of medical services—if more attention were paid to this matter by parents. Very often these undesirable conditions of uncleanliness arise just from neglect or carelessness.
The Deputy should bear in mind that this Bill does not propose to treat all parents of children who may be absent from school as recalcitrant persons, but it proposes that the law should be speeded up to deal with those parents who are neglecting their duty. We have to draw a distinction between parents who are doing their best to look after their children and those who are not. We know, and Deputy Hickey knows, that some of the best servants of the State and some of its most distinguished sons have come from very humble homes. Their parents were interested in them; they made sacrifices in order to enable their children to be educated and one sees the results every day. One sees these boys and girls taking a very high place in examinations and acquitting themselves, not alone with credit to their parents, but with credit to the places from which they come. But we have the other type of parent whom, unfortunately, no amount of lecturing, no amount of advice, will induce to do what is necessary and beneficial in the interest of their children. I have no sympathy with those parents, and, if the position is that they will not take the necessary steps to provide their children with the minimum education that the Constitution prescribes as necessary, I think that everything that is possible should be done under the law to bring them to justice and to see that their children are not going to suffer in this very important matter, that they are not going to lose something which they cannot regain afterwards, as a result of the dereliction of their parents.
It is remarkable how parents will react to good social conditions if they are given them.
There are some parents who, even if they were given £5 a week, would seem to be unable to care their children properly. There are children on the other hand whose fathers are in receipt of a very small sum weekly and they are a credit to their parents and to everybody else. These parents are not the first to whine or complain that their conditions are not as good as we should like them to be. A certain number of children have been committed to industrial schools and I think they all belong to that first class to which I have referred. In fact, it might be argued from the figures before me, if we are to take committal to industrial schools in any numbers as an indication whether or not the School Attendance Act is being enforced, that there must be a serious doubt whether the Act is really being enforced throughout the State in the way it should be. In the area of the Dublin Corporation I find that in the period from 1st June, 1941, to 31st May, 1942, 64 boys and five girls, out of a total of 106 boys and 11 girls, were committed to industrial schools for failure to attend school. In 14 counties, no children whatever were committed, and in only six counties were there girls sent to industrial schools. That indicates that it is in Dublin apparently the problem of children having to be sent to industrial schools, because of non-attendance, arises.
It suggests an inquiry as to why it should arise in Dublin.
I am not at all satisfied that the fact that no children have been committed in other areas is an indication that everything is perfect and that we are getting the best results from the School Attendance Act.
You do not know the district justices.
The attendance throughout the country as a whole for the year ending 30th June, 1941, was 83.6, which would indicate that 16.4 per cent. on the average have been absent from school, amounting, I think, to some 60,000 children per day. I have reason to believe, having regard to the fact that the attendance is somewhat higher in the urban and city areas— 86.8, for example, in Dublin City— that there are rural areas where there has been a serious falling off in attendance. It may be that people will attempt to justify that by reason of the emergency conditions, by the fact that children whose parents are working on the land have been called on to give additional assistance, and have, therefore, been taken away from school. I think that only a serious crisis could really justify taking children away from normal attendance at school. I notice in some of the country newspapers that even the district justices have had to comment on the very large numbers of cases that have been brought before them. May I say, with all respect, that I hope that the district justices will take more effective steps than merely lamenting the fact that this disease, if it is a disease, exists, that they will take steps to end it, because it certainly can be ended, I think, without imposing severe penalties, punishment or even inconvenience, upon parents who honestly wish to do the best they can for their children.
With regard to the Dublin City area, the position is, as Deputies are aware, that before children are brought before the court their parents are generally brought before the school attendance committee. In a case in which a parent is prosecuted, we may assume that the parent has been visited, not once but several times, by the school attendance officer, in an endeavour to get the child to attend school. Then, if the case is a bad one, the parent is generally brought before the school attendance committee, and this might happen on several occasions. The school attendance committees are composed of kindhearted people, in my opinion, and they do not want to take penal action if it can be avoided. The same can be said about the district justices. The justices in Dublin do not wish to send children to industrial schools if there is any other way, but they have to see that their plain duty to the community and to the children is fulfilled.
If it is quite clear that the children are not being properly looked after and properly educated, some steps must be taken to deal with the situation. Every chance is given to parents who are brought before the courts, before a committal order is made by the district justice in Dublin. If we find that children are committed where the cases have been before the court only once or twice, we may assume—and I have full particulars here which corroborate the statement— that there are special circumstances involved in the cases, such as the children being out of control, utter neglect by the parents, the child definitely refusing in court—even to the district justice—to go to school, or perhaps a charge is made by the Gárdaí against the child for some offence necessitating action by the court. Therefore it is not merely non-attendance at school that is in question where children are committed to industrial schools for their benefit, but it includes incorrigibility, being out of control, parental neglect, and so on.
In some cases the parents ask that the children be committed; and although a number of cases come under my notice where petitions are made for the release of children, it is noticeable that there are very many cases where the parents do not take even that step. We cannot assume that those parents are not interested in their children's welfare: we must assume that they feel that the children are better off and better cared for, and that they have a better chance in the industrial school of being prepared for life, than they would have if left under their own supervision. I have a case here, for example, of a boy aged 11 years, who was three times before the court before he was committed in July, 1941. In August, 1941, I ordered his release. He did not attend school, and during the period after I ordered his release in August, 1941, and before October, 1942, when he was recommitted, he was before the court no less than six times. It cannot be said that, in that case, the justice did not seek every possible avenue before recommitting the boy, even though the fact that he had been committed already would seem to give a certain good ground for recommitting him.
I have a long list of cases here of boys who were out of control or incorrigible. We all know that the fathers, in a good many cases, are out of the country and that, therefore, there is much lack of parental control. I am afraid that was always the case, but, under present circumstances, parental control seems to be less in evidence. There are those types of cases where no control is being exercised, where nobody is in a position to exercise it, and the district justice, while anxious not to send the child away if there were any alternative which he considered practical and useful, adjourns the case for a short time, or may make inquiries through the probation officers, or through the police, or he may issue a warning from the Bench. In the long run, there always will be a certain number of cases where no advice is likely to be of benefit and no guidance will be accepted. The authorities concerned must see that the education of such children is provided for, and there is no way of doing that except by committal.
It is true that the justices generally commit the boys and girls until they reach the age of 16 years, but they have discretion in that matter under the 1908 Act, Section 65, paragraph (b). The justice may commit a child for a shorter period—"for such time as to the court may seem proper for the teaching and training of the child, but not in any case extending beyond the time when the child will, in the opinion of the court, attain the age of 16 years." There is no anxiety whatever on the part of justices to fill up these institutions. Quite the contrary: every justice realises, as we all realise, that it would be much better if these children could be brought up at home. It is not merely a financial question: even if some parents were granted a greatly increased bounty from the State, there would still be, unfortunately, these recalcitrant cases, and there is no use in pretending that it is merely a question of finance. Some parents do not seem to have the fibre, character or willingness to do what other parents consider to be their first and elemental duty to their children. Therefore, unfortunately and regrettably, their children must be taken away from them until they have been given the necessary education.
I have been asked why it is not possible to see that the children are taken away for a shorter period than two or three years or until they are 16 years of age. Some of these children have been playing truant for considerable periods, some of them are completely out of control, some of them have, in court, defied all authority, and I do not envy the managers of schools who have to deal with them. If the schools were to take them for a short period, they would, inevitably, be up again before the courts and you would have the same problem.
There is no question, because I have just given particulars of a case—I do not know whether the Deputy was listening to me or not—in which I released a child, probably on the representations of the Deputy or somebody like him, and the child was up in court again on no fewer than six occasions.
Is that the only child the Minister released?
That is a single instance.
A single, but important, instance.
It should not spoil the whole movement.
The thing has happened and it shows that the representations the Minister receives are not always what they should be, that those who make them have not regard to all the circumstances, or to the primary aim, which is the ultimate welfare and benefit of the child, not whether the parents should get Johnny home again but whether it is in Johnny's interest to be sent back to a home where he will not be properly looked after. These children have a very low standard of education in relation to their years and, in committing them for a fairly long period, the district justice wishes to make certain that they will reach a certain minimum standard of education. If he adopted any other course, the children would, in many cases, not receive any other education. It takes them a considerable time to fit into the life of the school and accustom themselves to the routine and discipline. It has often been argued by the school authorities that if some boys are taken away, for reasons that are not good and sufficient, after spending only a few months in the school, it seems very unfair to other boys who have to remain there for a period of years. It is found, generally, that committal up to the age of 16 years is necessary to enable these boys and girls whose education has been neglected and who, very often, have a deplorably low level of attainment, to acquire the ordinary national school education.
It is very hard to differentiate between types of cases. We have that large class of children against whom no crime or offence is alleged, whose parents are destitute and who have to go to industrial schools. In these cases it is purely a question of poverty. These children have to remain in the school unless their parents' condition improves to such an extent that they can support the children, in which case I have no alternative, nor would I seek one, but to release them to their parents' care. Normally, these children have to remain for a considerable period, and it would be an extraordinary differentiation if truants and children completely beyond control should receive special treatment over and above these children. As I have said already, the Minister has power, when representations are made to him and where he is satisfied that the child's interest will not suffer but that it will be, on the whole, for his benefit to be taken from an industrial school, to discharge the child. The total number of cases does not seem to indicate that there is any great disposition on the part of justices to commit children if there is any way out. I have given information—I could read out the cases in detail but I do not wish unduly to delay the House—to show that, of the 69 cases committed during the last yearly period, a large number—I think I could say the whole—were committed, not solely on the ground of non-attendance at school, but because there were other factors which the justices had to take into account.
I have already informed Deputy Mulcahy that the question of the large classes is receiving attention. Where it is quite clear that the attendance on rolls has permanently increased, then there is ground for increasing the staff, according to the ordinary staffing regulations. But there is the question of whether, in fact, the increase is permanent. What I have been told—I visited some of the schools myself— corroborates what I have already stated in the House—that the infants, instead of coming in at the beginning of the school year, come in over the months up to the autumn period. Then, immediately the weather gets bad, the tendency is to keep them at home. At the same time, there is a constant drop in the enrolment of the pupils in the senior standards. From the Christmas period onwards, the senior pupils who have reached the age of 14 are leaving school. Two cases were referred to by the Deputy. In what was, I think, one of these cases, extra teachers had been provided at the time he was asking me Parliamentary Questions about the matter. Inquiries are going ahead in connection with the whole matter. When we speak of infants' classes, we must realise that no formal teaching takes place in these classes, nor is such possible. The most that can be done is to keep the youngsters amused and occupied over what, to them, must be a very tedious day. Undoubtedly, it requires a strong and active teacher to keep them fully occupied. If it is possible to improve the position as regards staffing, it will be done. The matter is being investigated.
What about heating? Have you done anything in that way to make the schools more attractive?
That is not in the Bill.
The Deputy has a very easy way of throwing questions at Ministers. He puts this question as if it were in my power to provide the necessary fuel.
On the Fifth Stage of a Bill, nothing can be discussed except what is contained in the measure.
I am making inquiries into the matter mentioned by the Deputy. The most I can do is to make representations to my colleague, the Minister for Supplies, to see if the allocation of fuel to schools can be increased. With the other calls upon the Minister for fuel for industrial purposes and for transport, I do not know that he will be able, despite any case I may make, to arrange the fuel-provision I should like for national schools.
Let us hope he will.