At the outset, I want to refer to the provision for these moneys in relation to the OECD survey. The Minister for Education introduced the Estimate for the Department of Education completely in Irish and referred to the necessity to set up an advisory body on educational matters. He pointed to the necessity for such a body stating that up to this, in Irish education, the various interests in education had spoken each with their own minds on the matters that concerned themselves solely. He said there was a need to co-ordinate the various aspects of education and, to that end, it was desirable that this type of body be set up.
The Minister went on to say that one of the matters that might be referred to this body was the question of larger schools. The question of post-primary education, equally so, would require attention. His statement also referred to the factors in regard to small schools: there seemed to be a volume of evidence which would indicate that the rate of progress in the small schools was less than that in the larger schools. The Minister made the statement that the pupils in these schools were one to two years behind in educational attainment. At that stage, I asked him about that assertion as I felt the Minister could hardly make it without justification. Of course, at that time, this document, Investment in Education, was not available to us: I am inclined to think it was available to the Department. What the Minister said on that occasion was, I think, based largely on this document which was not available to Deputies at that time but the Department had the advantage of it and of knowing the type of study that had been carried out on it.
When he came back here in July, 1965, the Minister again referred to the smaller schools. He had spoken, in the first instance, on 16th June, 1965, and he referred to the matter again on 27th July, 1965. When the Minister came back here in July, he said he had been giving some further thought to this matter and he had decided what should happen in the matter of the bigger schools versus the smaller schools. I quote the Minister as reported at column 1968 of Volume 217, No. 11, of the Official Report of 21st July, 1965:
I made a reference when introducing the Estimate to the necessity to have another look at the problem of small national schools and since then I have been having another look at the problem. It seems to me quite clear that we have to take a very firm decision on this matter of the small schools.
When introducing the Estimate for his Department on 16th June, 1965, he did not seem to be as definite as he was on 21st July, 1965. He spoke of this dáil chomhairlitheach which he was going to set up and pointed out the advantages that would flow from it. I quote from the Minister's speech as reported at column 969 of the Official Report, Volume 216, No. 7, of Wednesday, 16th June, 1965:
Leasú amháin, abair, den chuid atá i mo cheann is ea an riachtanas, mar mheasaim, atá le scoileanna is mó ná roimhe seo a thógháil as seo amach, má tá an t-aos óg uile le leas iomlán a bhaint as éifeacht ár gcuid múinteoirí.
This is one of the matters which the Minister, as I understand it, would submit to a body which would act in an advisory capacity so far as the Department of Education and the Minister for Education are concerned.
He took some consolation from the fact that some Deputies from this side of the House had at some time expressed an opinion on this matter of the larger schools. As I see it now, it is all based on this document Investment in Education, which document, from start to finish, is concerned with an economic survey by a team engaged on that work. Certain assumpions were made which were founded on the Second Programme for Economic Expansion and other assumptions were made which were population and population trends. As far as I can gather from this document, the whole thinking is based on the premise that good economics dictate that small schools are not justified.
There is here in this document also a view which is not substantiated, or is not capable of being fully substantiated, that the rate of progress in the smaller school is less or that the ability of the pupils is less and that that is due solely to the fact that the school is small. The survey, in so far as it goes, does make reference to the fact that other factors could enter into it. I am sure the Minister would agree that there are many other factors that could enter into it.
These are things that properly ought to have been submitted by the Minister to such a team and the Minister should have followed up what he said here in introducing his Estimate by setting up this type of body to which these matters would be referred. Instead, the Minister was able to come back here inside a few weeks to say that he had had another look at this and had taken a firm decision. If the only conclusion that could be reached by a team that worked for three years on a survey of Irish education and manpower policy in the 1970s was that there ought to be set up in the Department of Education a section which would inquire into these problems and which would require skilled personnel to conduct the type of survey that would be regarded as useful, needful and required in terms of education in 1970, one would have imagined that that is what the Minister would have done. In the meantime what has happened is that we have had the Minister, at the end of this statement, telling us that they have made certain firm decisions on this matter.
One of the things that this survey clearly set out was that in a matter like this the thing to be done was to put it to the test in a pilot area before it was introduced on either a regional or a national basis. Why did not the Minister for Education do such a thing as that? Why not follow up what he felt was useful, the setting up of a body which would give guidance to the Department of Education in this matter? The answer seems to be that the Minister decided that the smaller school, whether one-teacher or two-teacher, at the present time, was not able to fulfil its function in so far as giving the type of education that was desirable.
It has been said here on many occasions that education is a continuing process, that there is no system of education which cannot be continued. Again, as the survey team from time to time during its studies points out, there are other factors entering into the winning of scholarships or the regression or progression of pupils through any system of education. I want to put it on record in regard to the smaller schools that one thing that is being lost sight of in this document is the fact that education is a social service; education is the highest social service that any country can render to its citizens. It is not an economic service and could never be classed as an economic service. It is a social service based on community need. If we ever lose sight of the fact that economics should not decide what is socially desirable we will lose a great deal of the values with which we are associated.
The basis of the argument against the smaller school has been this question of scholarship attainment. I wonder did it ever occur to people who might have a certain uninformed approach to the matter, to consider the basis on which the rural schools of this country have been working in regard to scholarships? The Minister is aware that post-primary education has not been provided in this country and that one of the basic needs, as indicated in this study, was that we should have post-primary facilities if we were going to have the type of manpower available in 1970 which was the aim within the terms of reference of this body. Consider that in conjunction with the position in regard to primary schools and their operation. Take a primary school located in an area where there is not a secondary or vocational school, perhaps, within ten or 15 miles of it. The inducement that was offered for post-primary study for pupils in such a primary school was that a scholarship of £40 would be awarded for day attendance at a secondary or vocational school or £60 if resident at a secondary or vocational school. Does the Minister think that that was the kind of inducement that would represent to the pupils in these schools a golden opportunity? If they accepted scholarships it would mean that they would have to cycle ten or 15 miles to a secondary or vocational school.
The survey says that of a sample of 12 per cent of schools, it was found that in one-third of the schools, there was not this interest in scholarship examinations. The position in regard to scholarship examinations is that they may provide a useful type of test but they certainly do not give a hallmark in so far as the ability of a student or his educational attainment are concerned. We are all well aware that circumstances may prevent even a very clever student from obtaining a scholarship by reason of the system of examinations. There are a variety of reasons that might interfere with the attainment of a scholarship.
It is stated in this document that a certain number of pupils would finish primary education without attaining even the primary certificate. Dealing with the question of the ability of the small school, they cited regression in the smaller school.
I am sure it would strike Deputies and the Minister that there are many causes for regression in the smaller schools. A pupil may become ill and be absent from school for three, four or five months. A pupil who has to come two miles to school may find the weather so inclement that he does not come. When his attendances are calculated at the end of the year it may be found that he has an attendance of less than 100 days instead of the 190 days that he is supposed to have as a minimum. In the interests of such a pupil, is he to be catapulted forward or given the opportunity of finding his feet before proceeding to a higher grade?
These are all questions which should have been submitted. If they had been put before such a body as the Minister had in mind when he introduced his Estimate, a study could have been made of these problems.
There is equally this question of the pupils of the primary schools. We are told that some of them do not obtain their primary certificates and there must be a reason for this. There are always reasons for everything but sometimes they do not seem to make sense, but that does not render them value-less. If the advancement of pupils and the standard they attain were the yardstick by which to measure this problem, and accepting for the moment that the smaller school would not compare favourably with the larger one, there are other facets we might examine in this connection. We might look across at Britain in which there is a system that we might regard as a considerable advance on ours, believing that the opportunities available to primary schoolchildren there are a great deal better than our own and that the larger schools there make for better educated children.
In England, however, no less than here, we have the position that the standard of examinations is not infallible. I refer the Minister to the leading article in last Sunday's Sunday Express in which it is pointed out that examinations are no criteria in regard to what is attained in various parts of the country. There is the extraordinary statement with regard to the GCE examination that, while one board was passing less than 60 per cent of candidates in English literature, another was passing more than 70 per cent. In chemistry, one board passed 80 per cent of the candidates but another board failed 55 per cent. The question is asked: is it seriously suggested that boys and girls in Newcastle are more intelligent than those in Exeter? The unequivocal answer is: Of course not. The differences result simply because the pupils are being judged on different standards and it is suggested that the Ministry of Education should make a thorough study of what is happening.
A similar study is called for here. I was very pleased when the Minister referred to this matter. I was not aware of this document Investment in Education, but the Minister mentioned in his opening statement the setting up here of an advisory body. There are a number of points I might take from this document and quote. I might quote them just as effectively in favour of my arguments as the Minister might quote them against the argument. If the Minister wants to quote them from the economic point of view, I am entitled equally to assert that economics is not the be-all and the end-all in relation to education. This document recognises that. There is a social problem involved. The Minister would be very well advised, even at this stage, to set up such a body, the type of body I thought he envisaged in relation to educational development. Such a body, having the services of the type of officers implied, would be able to give the Minister the kind of guide lines on which to proceed; but again with the proviso that, particularly with regard to innovations, this would be done on a pilot basis and the results tested before anything is introduced on either a regional or a national basis.
If the assumptions that certain things will happen by 1970 are correct—in the past week the threat of a strike across the way in transport caused us some sould searching and such an eventuality could upset our calculations here completely—and assuming that it is correct that the population will increase and the present trend be reversed before 1970, and that there will be this flight from the land, then pupils will need to be schooled for an urban environment rather than a rural one. There are other assumptions one might make. I am sure everybody would be horrified were I to suggest, on the basis of these assumptions, that we ought to forget the Gaeltacht and forget the west and let them vanish. But the Gaeltacht and the west are no greater or no less a social problem than the problem we are now discussing. I am sure, however, that everyone would be horrified if assumptions were taken to such a point; yet they would be just as valid as some of the conclusions being inferred as a result of this document.
This document is a very valuable document inasmuch as it provides data on which we can make an examination of the problems confronting us so far as education is concerned. However, all this data is framed in the background of the problem which will arise by 1970 with regard to manpower. If our plans come to fruition, we will find ourselves with the kind of economy in which the semi-skilled labourer will no longer be available. We should then provide the type of post-primary education to make such labour available. We all recognise the value of post-primary education. For my part, post-primary education cannot be provided a moment too soon for all our children who would like to avail of it. I do not think it is a valid conclusion, however, to say that, in order to provide this post-primary education and the kind of economy which will give us this type of education, we must deal with the primary sector first before we deal with the post-primary.
I thought the Minister would proceed along the line of increasing post-primary facilities. I thought the comprehensive schools, and the Minister's predecessor must have been aware of the trend when he adverted to these schools, were to be designed to serve a particular need. We now discover that this may be double-edged. During the week on television we had the question of a new school in Cavan which will be drawing its pupils from a radius of ten or 15 miles. That radius will result in turning three-teacher schools into two-teacher schools and two-teacher schools into one-teacher schools in that area because the pupils will be taken into this new school at 12 years of age. Nobody objects to this if it is for the advancement of the pupils but I do not think we can draw fallibly or infallibly from the data which is here, or infer the things which might or would seem to be inferred from it, without having regard to the other factors which could militate against the smaller school.
To speak, for instance, of children not completing their education at the age of 12 years—again anybody who is a rural Deputy will know that nobody will send out a four-year-old to walk two miles to school, and certainly not if the day is wet. You will get them to go out at that age in towns and villages. But you have children in the primary schools going at the age of six. Mind you, when this House of the Oireachtas passed the School Attendance Act of 1926— which has never been amended or never thought to have been worthy of amendment—it laid down the school attendance age for children at six to 14 years. That has been a yardstick by which people have judged their obligation in this matter, particularly in the more remote rural areas. One of the factors in regard to this Act, of which I would like to remind Deputies and which now will need to be changed, is that no child under the age of ten years need attend school in inclement weather if the distance of his home from the school is more than two miles. If he happens to be three miles or over from the primary school, he need not go on any day, in so far as the School Attendance Act is concerned.
I mention these things as some of the factors which are concerned in this problem of the smaller schools, the rural schools; and the rural schools amount to approximately three-quarters of the schools of the country. There are something over 3,000 schools in this country—between the one and two-teacher schools—and the extraordinary thing about it is that 90 per cent of the one and two-teacher schools are located in rural areas. Therefore, it is quite a shock to think that the Minister had formally decided without inquiring, that the days of the one and two-teacher schools were coming to an end. Again, of course, economics entered into it. The survey team, in dealing with this matter, pointed out that so many schools would fall to be either remodelled or replaced. There is a fond hope in the countryside—and it is one the Minister is obliged to say something about— that where the smaller school would be wiped out of existence—the one and two-teacher schools—the teachers concerned would be available, with their pupils, in a central school. If I can read this document properly and if I am drawing the conclusions which this team seem to draw from it, they would seem to suggest that if you were able to do away with these schools within a measurable period—which they measure at ten to 16 years—you would make a supply of teachers available from these schools which could be drafted elsewhere to reduce the larger classes to the optimum of 40 pupils which was recommended by the Commission on Education.
Of course, the Department of Education has its regulations in regard to the staffing of schools and there is no question that these regulations will be changed. So, the position is you can certainly—if this were followed to a logical conclusion — make these teachers available for service elsewhere. Again, using the economic argument, that would be a justifiable thing to do. But I want to remind the Minister—and this cannot be over-emphasised—we are dealing with a social problem; we are dealing with a community problem, when we speak about education. This House, each year, has voted a subsidy to make available a social service, an amenity, for the people by making it available to CIE, a body which is subsidised to the tune of £2 million a year, to ensure that the community in the far-flung portions of the country will not be left without the services which are available to those in the more populous regions. There are many other types of social services provided by funds of this House to enable the community to have this type of equality on the basis of its being a community need. Surely it is just as valid to say we can put up a similar type of subsidy for education in so far as rural areas are concerned?
A case can be made for closing the one-teacher schools, but I think there can be no blanket case for closing these schools. I think the Minister mentioned that the majority of one-teacher schools are connected with the religious minority in this country. Of course, if we except them from the type of treatment which is to fall to the other ones, then education, in so far as the minority is concerned, would be safeguarded because the vast majority of the small schools are the schools of the religious minority in the country. As such, I think they are entitled to educational facilities of the type they require. Indeed, all during this study we come across the same phraseology —that the small school is uneconomic; the closure of the small school can be based on economics. The whole basis for this policy is economics but there are no conclusions reached, at least there are sets of conclusions arrived at, but no recommendations have been made except one to the Minister that he would set up within his Department a body which would study development in so far as education is concerned.
Questions have also been asked in regard to one of the things concerned in education and that is the schools side by side. This is something which has existed in this country—boys' and girls' schools have existed side by side in separate rooms. Again, I believe this is a matter on which a blanket decision could not be taken. This is a question that should have been referred to such a body as was recommended in this study.
The projections made in this document very clearly point to savings that could be made, savings from the point of view of teachers' salaries, and from the point of view of the capital involved in the provision of smaller schools. I do not know if the Minister has made any estimate of the extra cost involved in providing extra facilities elsewhere, and in this connection what estimate has he made in regard to transport costs? Up to the present, primary education, or national education, was free in this country. Under the old education boards long ago, and under the Commissioners of National Education, provision was made whereby fees could be charged to pupils, but that day has passed, and education has been freely available to every child who wanted to avail of it. Does the Minister intend that if the small schools are closed, education will still be free to the pupils, or are the pupils to contribute something?
Again, these are matters which I believe should have been put to such a body as the one I have referred to, a body that would have been able to call, not only on the officials of the Department of Education but on the various educational interests concerned, and on the parents who have the first right to be consulted in any changes in regard to education. They are the people who have the primary right in this matter, and no one can take from them their primary right of deciding what is best for them in their circumstances.
I feel that the Minister has moved too far, too fast. In regard to one-teacher schools, I said that a case might be made for the abolition of a particular one-teacher school, but equally I believe a case might be made for keeping a particular one-teacher school open in another part of the country. Nothing should be done in regard to closing one-teacher schools without the local inquiry that is necessary to get a firm decision on a social service and a community need.
I want to make it clear in regard to two-teacher schools as they have existed, that this question should have been put to such a body as was envisaged when the Minister spoke on 16th June, and no two-teacher school should be closed without a local public inquiry. No Minister for Education and no Department of Education should attempt to close a two-teacher school without having a local public inquiry conducted, at which the parents can be advised on the arguments, social versus economic. That is a fundamental principle so far as the people are concerned in regard to this question of two-teacher schools. The Minister would have been fairer to himself, fairer to the Department, and fairer to the interest of the pupils, if this matter had been submitted along with the other matters which fell for review in this document.
One cannot go through this document without reaching the conclusion that the terms in which university education are studied in it seem to suggest that our university entrants are entering with low standards, and they infer that there is a waste of the professorial and tutorial staff in dealing with people of a pass standard rather than the type of pupil who might be available to them if education were directed in such a fashion that those people who are now availing of university education—in the main, at their own expense, although university education is subsidised like other systems of education—were screened, and that some of them became, to use the phraseology used in this book, part of a small labour force, or the type of semi-skilled labour force that will be needed in the 1970s.
I want to make it clear from this side of the House, therefore, that a case might be made for the closing of a one-teacher school, but no closing should take place without an inquiry being carried out. There should be no closing of a two-teacher school without a local inquiry at which the parents could be advised on the question of the economic versus the social effects that the closing of schools might have. It is very important that there should be this type of investigation rather than a blanket policy and a blanket decision to do these things without an investigation to justify them.
I had hoped that in the period since the Minister made his statement here last June, he would have set up such a body, and that he would have referred this matter which seemed to be first and foremost in his mind at that time to them for their advice. Of course the Minister had the advantage of having this document which Deputies did not have at that time. The thinking in this document is completely economic. I do not blame the team for that. I commend them for the work they did on it. It is solid and well-founded so far as economics are concerned. It draws economic conclusions, but it did not go into any other considerations except economic considerations. It does admit that there are factors other than economic factors, but it was not concerned with them.
They stated again and again in the document that they were concerned with the economic end of this increase. Therefore, all their thinking has been in terms of economics and not of education. They have been concerned with the economics of education but not with education. They are two distinct things. I believe the Minister is being less than fair to himself when he turns around at this stage and decides that economics is to be the guiding line. I could understand the Minister for Finance deciding that economics in education was a line he would like to pursue.