Níl agam-sa ach an leagan Gaeilge seo.
Tá mé cinnte go mba mhaith leis an Dáil a chloisteáil go bhfuil sé de mhana ard agam soláthar níos leithne a dhéanamh don pháiste diphríbhléide. Chomh maith le dlús a chur le polasaí chun teacht i gcabhair ar pháistí atá ciothramach agus éislinneach is mian liom limistéir thosaíochta oideachais a rianú d'fhonn féachaint chuige go ndéanfar freastal ar a riachtanais chomh mór is a bheidh in ár gcumas. Ó tharla gur síor-phróiseas é an t-oideachas, agus go bhfuil an-tábhacht ag baint le hoideachas an duine fhásta beidh cuspóir breise ann saoráidí a sholáthar don té atá ar thóir an oideachais sin.
Chun mo chuspóirí a chur chun críche tá dhá rud riachtanach: athchruthú ar chúrsaí riaracháin agus bainistíochta chun dí-lárú breithe a sholáthar agus socruithe a dhéanamh chun fíor-chomhairle a ghlacadh leis na dreamanna go léir atá páirteach san oideachas. Déanfaidh mé cur síos níos iomláine ar na nithe sin de réir mar a bheidh mé ag plé leis na Vótaí éagsúla.
Sul a gcuirfidh mé críoch leis an réamhrá seo ba mhaith liom a mheabhrú don Dáil gur eochair do fhorbairt eacnamaíochta an t-oideachas. Teastaíonn oibrithe léannta, cliste, soghluaiste uainn dár ngéilleagar borrach. Is é ár bhpríomhfhoinse ná eagna chinn agus scil ár muintire. I gcomhthéacs an Chomhmhargaidh, is riachtanach dúinn na buanna sin a chothú is a chur chun tosaigh. Ar siocair go bhfuil ár maoin shaolta níos teirce ná mar atá ag tíortha Eorpacha eile ba cheart go mbeadh muid ag caitheamh níos mó dár gcuid rachmais ar oideachas chun fás a chur faoi ár gcúrsaí eacnamaíochta.
Ins na cúrsaí seo go léir tuigim go bhfuil dualgas orm féachaint chuige go mbainfidh mé an toradh is fearr amach as an airgead a chuirtear ar fáil dom. Is é sin, go díreach, an rud atá mé ag iarraidh a dhéanamh faoin scéim nua bhúiste atá ag obair in mo Roinn. Le mionanailís, agus teicníochtaí eile, tá mé ag cinntiú go gcaithfear an t-airgead a bhíonn ar fáil sa dóigh is éifeachtaí agus is tairbhí. Sula dtabharfaidh mé an mioneolas i dtaobh gach Vóta don Dáil ba mhaith liom a lua go bhfuil cúram na seirbhísí seo a leanas curtha ar mo Rúnaí Parlaiminte, an tUas. J. Bruton agam—
Cúrsaí Ógra agus Spóirt,
Oideachas do dhaltaí faoi mhíbhuntáiste,
Seirbhísi Iompair Scoile,
An Leabharlann agus an Musaem Náisiúnta.
Anois déanfaidh mé cur síos ar gach ceann de na Vótaí in a bhfuilim freagrach.
This Vote for the Office of the Minister for Education embraces (a) the administrative costs of the Department of Education, (b) the services in relation to art and culture in the Museum, National Library and National College of Art and Design, (c) miscellaneous educational services.
The amount being sought under this Vote is £10,742,000, a net increase of £1,455,250 on the sum voted last year.
The principal items responsible for this increase are:
(1) Student grants for Higher Education which show an increase of £469,500.
(2) The provision of transport services which has increased by £298,000.
(3) Physical Education — an increase of £70,500.
(4) National Council for Education Awards — an increase of £69,200.
(5) Youth and Sport Organisations — an extra £40,000 is being provided this year.
(6) Administrative costs of the Department which have risen by £430,000.
The subhead for higher education grants to students provides for recoupment to be made to local authorities in respect of their expenditure on student grants in the financial year 1972-73. In the academic year 1972-73 there were 4,954 students holding higher education grants, representing an increase of 620 grant-aided students over the previous year. Each grant is made up of a fee element not exceeding £156 and a maintenance element of up to £250 for a student whose home is not in or adjacent to a university town, or £100 for a student whose home is in or adjacent to a university town. The number of grant aided students in our universities continues to grow and now represents some 25 per cent of full-time students.
The number of pupils availing themselves of free transport continue to grow. It is anticipated that by the end of the current financial year a total of 143,000 students (62,500 primary and 80,500 post-primary) will have free transport compared with 132,000 last year. On the financial side, while the increase of £298,000 this year is the smallest since the scheme for free transport was introduced, I am not satisfied with the trend of costs. The cost this year per pupil is 8 per cent higher than last year and is due to continuing wage and price increases. I am endeavouring by means of better occupancy, increased integration of services to primary and post-primary schools and other economies to minimise the increases in cost. I am having the entire accounting basis for school transport reviewed in consultation with the Department of Finance and Transport and Power, and I hope that as a result I will be able to effect savings in the cost of the administration of the scheme.
The House will be glad to learn that, for the first time this year, a provision has been made for pupils who are resident in schools for the blind, the deaf and the mentally handicapped to make regular visits to their homes. The fare subsidy paid to CIE in order to keep down the fares of school-going children who are using transport services and who are not eligible for free travel is now costing £354,000.
The absence of an authoritative body which would be empowered to grant a range of national awards in the form of certificates, diplomas and degrees has hitherto been a serious impediment to the upgrading and extension of technological education. Pending the passing of legislation for the establishment of a National Council for Educational awards, an ad hoc council has been set up to serve for a period of three years or until such earlier date as the statutory council has been established, with general functions to cover the promotion, co-ordination and development of technical, commercial, professional, and scientific education in the third-level non-university sector. Until such time as this legislation is passed, the incorporation of the council as a limited company without share capital under the Companies' Acts is being undertaken. The provision of £95,000 is to enable the ad hoc council to exercise the functions which have been imposed on it.
An additional £40,000 is being sought for the extension of aid to youth and sport organisations. The scheme is intended to help in the development of sport and youth activities throughout the country. The grants are made to the national governing bodies for coaching and training courses, the provision of equipment and the provision of youth leadership courses. In all 56 sports and 16 youth organisations are being assisted this year.
The salaries, wages and allowances of the administrative and professional staff of the Department are estimated to cost £2,400,000. The increase of £430,000 arises from the application of phase 2 of the 13th round and phase 1 of the 14th round of salary and wage increases, as well as the granting of grade increases to some categories of staff. The costs of the administrative services of the Department represents 1.9 per cent of the total provision for the seven Votes, which would indicate that these costs are being kept to an absolute minimum.
I am conscious of the need for an adequate inspectorate at both first and second level. While there are a number of vacancies within the present authorised strength I feel that it may not be adequate to enable a satisfactory evaluation of our educational system to be undertaken. I am having the needs in this regard of our inspectorate examined at present with a view, if necessary, to increasing their numbers.
With regard to the Gúm, I am satisfied that there is an urgent need for its expansion, if we are to make adequate progress in the production of text books in Irish. Included in the provision for salaries and wages is a sum required to create 25 additional posts mainly on the professional side.
There is one area within the ambit of Vote 27 to which I would now like to refer—it is the National Museum and National Library. For too long we have failed to make adequate provision for these institutions. There are problems of accommodation to be tackled but the financial provision for these do not come under this Vote. On the other hand, I have received a report from the staff of the National Museum suggesting ways and means of bringing the unique material of the museum before a wider audience and of making more use for educational purposes of the material available in the institution. The enterprise and initiative displayed in this report is most stimulating and I am giving its recommendations my fullest consideration.
In regard to Vote 28—Primary Education—the amount being sought for primary education, including superannuation of national teachers, is £44,504,000, a net increase of £5,702,000 over the provision for 1972-73. A glance at the different subheads will show that this increase is almost entirely attributable to additional remuneration of serving national teachers—almost £4½ million—and an increase in superannuation awards— over £1 million.
I would refer briefly to the one or two other items which show proportionately large increases as against last year. The provision in respect of grants towards the cost of heating, cleaning and painting of schools, at £689,600, shows an increase of £99,600 or approximately 17 per cent. This will allow of an increase in the rate of grant payable in respect of the periodic painting of school buildings and a consequent reduction of the amount which might otherwise have to be provided from local sources for this work. The total amount to be provided for free books for children of disadvantaged families is increased by £30,800 or 44 per cent.
There are some topics related to planning and development in the realm of primary education to which I now wish to refer. There has been much talk in recent years about the democratisation of the educational system and much lip-service has been paid to the paramount rights of parents in the education of their children. Yet, at the level of primary education practically nothing was done to afford to parents the opportunity and the right to be associated in some way with the management and conduct of the schools which their children attend.
In June of this year, at the annual conference of the Association of Managers of Catholic Primary Schools, the secretary of my Department, at my request, put forward certain proposals for the involvement of the parents of the children attending each national school in the management of the school, through representatives elected by the parents themselves. It might have been expected that anything that would purport to interfere with the mode of school management which has survived practically without change since the national schools system was introduced close on a century and a half ago would have been strongly resisted if not, indeed, rejected out of hand. Perhaps it was through fear of such a reaction that the effort was not made long since to establish this obviously desirable connection between the school and the parents of children enrolled in the school. Events have shown that if, in fact, those apprehensions existed they were without serious foundation. The immediate reaction to the proposals when they were aired was favourable. Since then, I have had an opportunity of testing the views of managers of Protestant national schools and they are generally favourable to the proposals. Such public comment as has been made on the matter too, has been approving and a climate is developing or, perhaps, has already developed, in which there is every prospect that a suitable and acceptable adjustment can be made in the system of primary school management which will significantly advance the democratisation of education and will assist both parents and teachers in the fulfilment of their complementary tasks in the education of the children.
One does not wish to be understood as implying that recognition of parents rights means accepting that the ordinary parent has expertise or special knowledge in the science of education. I would stress that the roles of the parent and the teacher are complementary and that it is the teacher who must be recognised as the professional expert.
I shall be speaking presently of a scheme for the regionalisation of our educational system at the primary and post-primary levels. In this connection I should say now that neither in relation to the suggested development in primary school management of which I have just spoken nor in the formulation of a general scheme for regionalisation will there be any attempt to make any of the interests accept proposals which they find repugnant, or to impose settlements that are unacceptable. The consultations which have been initiated and which to date have been conducted in a spirit of goodwill and mutual understanding and respect will continue until arrangements emerge which are suitable and acceptable to all parties. Educational reform in our country must not be based on bureaucratic edicts. It must be a truly democratic process.
Among the larger inadequacies of our primary education system over the years—and I am conscious that many would regard inadequacies as much too mild a word—is the inordinately high pupil-teacher ratio. Over-large classes have been too common a feature in our schools—particularly, though not solely, in the city areas and in new housing districts. Very often it is in precisely such areas that the best possible schools are required, to compensate for the disadvantaged social conditions in which the children are being reared: bad living conditions and squalid surroundings on the one hand; an amorphous non-cohesive population in the earliest stages of community formation on the other. No teacher, however well-qualified and dedicated, can give of his best when burdened with an impossibly large class and overcrowded classroom conditions.
Within a short time of my assuming office I announced a significant reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio to take effect from the commencement of the current school year; that is from the 1st July, 1973. While this adjustment of the pupil-teacher ratio may fairly be described as significant, one cannot claim that it ensures a satisfactory situation, in so far as class sizes are concerned, for all pupils in national schools, or a satisfactory teaching situation for each teacher. However, it will certainly improve the position disclosed by a survey undertaken by the Dublin city and county branches of the INTO, the results of which were communicated to me in mid-May of this year. The survey covered 333 schools in Dublin city and county, with a gross enrolment of almost 128,000 pupils in 3,087 classes. This gives— if my mathematics are correct—an overall average of 41 pupils per class. There were, however, 1,021 classes with more than 45 pupils—that is, 33 per cent of the total; and 109 of those classes had more than 50 pupils per class. The circular announcing the revised pupil-teacher ratio provided that, as from the commencement of the 1973-74 school year the enrolment in any one class must not exceed 45 pupils.
It is not, of course, satisfactory that we should be envisaging classes of 45 pupils in our national schools, but we shall continue our efforts to improve the situation progressively so that this obstacle to the full realisation of the objectives of education at the primary level may be cleared from the path of teachers and pupils.
In regard to educational priority areas, special education, which provides for the special needs of those who are physically, psychologically or mentally handicapped, or who are socially disadvantaged, is developing and expanding on lines which are producing good results, and in accordance with an organisation which has drawn envious admiration from persons in other countries who are engaged in this field, either as educationists or in some other professional capacity. To say this is not to express a complacency about our present state of advancement in special education. Deputies can be assured that, far from there being any attitude of complacency, there is a continuing appraisal of the principles and methodology applied in the various activities of special education and there is constant consultation between my Department and those engaged in the work of the special schools and classes. These include, of course, the teachers, but also medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, educationists, social workers and parents. All share the common objective of seeking so to improve and develop the special educational services as to meet in the best possible way the requirements of those who have recourse to those services. Some of the activities of this appraisal and research may not appear very spectacular, but they can result in great benefit to individuals and groups of individuals. As an example of the type of exercise to which I am referring I would instance the institution this year of a pilot scheme for older pupils in one of the schools for the mentally handicapped, in which they will be given an introductory training for sheltered workshop employment.
When I spoke a short time ago about the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools I made reference to disadvantageous social conditions existing in certain types of area, conditions which are reflected in the school, creating serious problems for both pupils and teachers. A survey has already been instituted by my Department with a view to establishing where these social disadvantages exist to such degree that special provision should be made to moderate the effect they have on the education of the children. For such areas—which would be regarded as "educational priority areas"—special steps would need to be taken if the ideal of equality of opportunity in education is to be attained. The problem is not just one of education—in the sense of schooling—only. Its solution would not be merely the appointment in the schools affected of teachers in excess of what would be sanctioned ordinarily in schools of similar size.
Among the factors that make up the problem are: lack of appreciation on the part of parents and of the adult community generally of the value of education, and a consequent absence of motivation among the young; physical environment that is drab, squalid and depressing; poor traditions of citizenship and personal behaviour, and so on. My intention is that a selected number of such areas should be the subject of study schemes in which sociologists and social workers, the appropriate health authority, psychologists, educationists and, perhaps, persons having other types of specialisations, would try to create conditions which would at the same time mitigate the social disadvantages of the local community and offer greater educational prospects to the children. I could visualise that among the steps that would be necessary might be the setting of a special curriculum for such schools—indeed, possibly a specially designed curriculum for each such school. However, I do not wish to anticipate what type of solution may be proposed, but there is little doubt that something out of the ordinary must be done to help this type of area.
At subhead C.8 of Vote 28 there is provision for the sum of £63,500 for a Special Educational Project. This refers to an experiment which was commenced four years ago in connection with the schools in Rutland Street, in central Dublin. The term of the experiment is for five years, and it is financed jointly form State funds and by grants from the Van Leer Foundation whose headquarters are in Holland. It might be described as a socio-educational project and it involves pre-school education and training, additional teaching staff in the national schools proper, social workers engaged both in connection with the schools and in visiting the homes of the children, nursing, medical and secretarial services, a school meals scheme and other features. The experience and knowledge gained from this project will, of course, be applied to the study of the requirements of educational priority areas.
For quite a long time now the inadequacy of a two-year course of training for primary teachers has been acknowledged by all, and the contention of the Irish National Teachers' Association and others that the teachers' training course should be crowned with a university degree has been considered reasonable. That there would be difficulties in bringing about these changes no one doubted, but it seemed to me that sufficiently long time had passed in contemplating those difficulties and that the time had come for positive action.
In addressing the annual congress of the INTO therefore, at Easter of this year, I announced that the course of training for primary teachers would be extended to one of three years as from next year, 1974. One of the consequences of extending the course by a year is that for one year—the second year following the extension of the course; that is, on the basis of my announcement, 1976—there would be no new teachers entering the service other than those who had already been graduates when entering on training, and those who, having been trained on recognised courses in the United Kingdom, had passed the supplementary tests which made them eligible for recognition as national teachers under my Department.
I am happy to say that the number of students accepted for training this year is the highest on record. The number of non-graduate entrants was 1,005, as against 887 last year, which was itself a record to that date. The number of graduates this year was 104, more than double the number —44— entering last year, if we can expect graduates to apply for training in future years in numbers similar to that for this year, and if persons trained outside this country on recognised courses continue to qualify for recognition here in fairly good numbers, it will help considerably to modify the effects of the "blank" year of 1976; because I have no doubt that An Foras Oiliúna, to which I shall refer again later on, will recommend that the present practice, whereby graduates are not required to follow the full course of training, be continued.
At any rate, this difficulty of a reduced supply of teachers in one particular year, and other problems which exist or may arise, must not deflect us from doing the right thing in regard to the training of teachers.
The policy of the amalgamation of small schools which has been operated by my Department since 1966, and which was mainly based on the valuable OECD report "Investment in Education"— which, of course, refers specifically to Ireland — is basically a sound one both from the educational point of view and in its economic aspects. The principles it contains were approved by my own party and by the Labour Party when in Opposition, and now as Minister for Education I endorse that approval. To approve the principles of this policy, however, and to justify the manner in which it has been applied are far from being the same thing. There have been too many instances in which the approach to the amalgamation of particular schools has been characterised by a lack of sensitivity and a disregard for considerations which had special relevance, and one might fairly say that there was a ruthlessness about the closing of some schools.
The case of the school in Dún Chaoin is one of which much has been heard both inside and outside this House. Surely this is an instance in which the cultural and social aspects of the situation should have been recognised as being worthy of special consideration, and the school kept in being. But no; insensitivity prevailed, and Scoil Dhún Chaoin fell victim to an attitude that was almost Cromwellian in its relentlessness. The pleadings of this intensely Gaelic community on the westermost tip of Europe went unheeded and the protests from all parts of Ireland of people who recognised that the closing of the school would be a serious blow to the preservation and propagation of all that is best in our cultural heritage were set at nought.
I was, indeed, very pleased that it fell to my lot, almost as my first act as Minister, to reverse the decision of my predecessor and to re-open Scoil Dhún Chaoin. I have been badgered by Deputies on the opposite side of the House who, in their desire to justify the misguided and unfortunate action of my predecessor, seem to wish the destruction of this precious Gaelic community. I will not be bullied into desisting from my efforts to revitalise Dún Chaoin. We cannot afford to squander so precious a part of our living cultural heritage merely to justify an administrative decision which may have been taken in quite good faith but was mistaken and unwise. It should not be too much to expect that those who profess an interest in the preservation and propagation of our language and culture should try to help in the effort to strengthen Dún Chaoin rather than obstruct that effort.
The general policy in relation to small schools remains unchanged. It is in the manner of its application that it is hoped that a more ready understanding of the educational disadvantages of the small school will be fostered. I feel it only right that I should now make it clear, in order to avoid later misunderstandings, that in ordinary circumstances no further one-teacher or two-teacher schools will be built, either in replacement of existing schools or as new schools. Neither will State grants be made for extensive reconstruction or improvement of such small schools. In using the funds which the Dáil will make available for school buildings and equipment from year to year we must aim at securing the best educational advantages for the individual community concerned in each school building project and for the country as a whole. We must avoid, to the greatest extent possible, deliberate expenditure on projects which would only preserve existing disadvantages or even create further disadvantages from the educational point of view. There will, of course, be consultation, and the views and opinions of those who may be opposed to the proposed closing of a small school will receive the fullest consideration. There may be occasions when I shall be forced to take a decision which will not be generally popular, but no decision will be taken arbitrarily, without the fullest weighing of all the factors involved.
Although the financial provision for primary school building appears, not in the Education group of Estimates, but in the Estimate for the Office of Public Works, it is appropriate that reference should be made to it here.
The first thing to be said is that the sum contained in this year's Estimates for the provision of new national school buildings and the improvement and extension of existing schools is the highest amount which the Dáil has ever been asked to sanction for this purpose. It stands at £5 million. The demands in relation to school building are very heavy, and in weighing the merits of one claim against another my Department must have some general order of priorities. First among the priorities must be those cases of new housing estates in which there is as yet no provision for primary education or where existing provision falls far short of requirements. Another priority group—small by comparison but of very great importance—are new special schools for the handicapped. There are instances of individual schools, of course, outside those categories where circumstances warrant their being given a priority rating but, in the nature of things, some projects will not proceed as rapidly as others. I hope to be able to eliminate some of the delays which might be caused by administrative procedures.
Officers of my Department and of the Office of Public Works are continuously engaged in study and research with a view to ensuring that in design, in structure, in materials and in cost the young children in our primary schools will reap the best possible dividends from the country's investment in education.
As Deputies are aware, the Report of the Higher Education Authority on Teacher Education published in 1970 recommended the setting up of a body to be called An Foras Oideachais with functions in the area of first and second-level teacher training, both initial and continued, and teacher registration. The authority also recommended that, as a first step towards the establishment of An Foras Oideachais, a small planning committee should be set up to make the necessary arrangements for the constitution of An Foras and to arrange for the appointment of a chief executive officer.
Having considered these recommendations of the Higher Education Authority, I find myself in broad, general agreement with their idea of an institution which would foster, encourage and promote the educational and professional interests of teachers at first and second levels and advise me and other competent authorities on these matters. I am not taken with the title suggested for such an institution as I consider "An Foras Oideachais" to be at once too vague and too all-embracing a description of a body with the general function prescribed for it. It would, I think, be more fitting to call it "An Foras Oiliúna" or to use some other appropriate nomenclature. I have recently set up an ad hoc planning committee to advise me as to the structure and functions of the body to be established. The chairman of this committee is Risteard Ó Foghlú, Uas., assistant secretary in my Department and the other members are:
C. Ó Broin, Uas.,
Bishopstown Boys' N.S., Cork.
Dr. D. F. Cregan,
St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra, and Professor of Education, UCD.
An tSr. Loreto Ní Chonchubhair,
President, Mary Immaculate College of Education, Limerick.
An tOllamh E. Ó hÉideáin, Professor of Education, UCG.
Mr. Kevin Meehan, Vice-Principal,
St. Brendan's Secondary School,
B. Ó Miodhacháin, Uas., Principal Officer in my Department.
Dr. J. V. Rice, Professor of Education, TCD.
Reverend Canon J. Ross, Principal, Church of Ireland Training College, Rathmines.
Mr. Séamus Rossiter, Principal, Clogher Road Vocational School, Dublin.
Mr. Desmond Swan, Lecturer in Logic and Psychology, UCD.
B. Ó Briain, Uas., Higher Executive Officer in my Department, will act as Secretary to the committee.
I should like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the committee for so generously agreeing to devote their time and talents to the task in question. Their experience and expertise extend over the spectrum of teacher education at first and second level and I am very pleased to be in a position to draw on their accumulated wisdom to advise me in this matter.
The first meeting of the planning committee will take place shortly. The establishment of a body to enhance and promote the educational and professional interests of teachers is a matter of some moment and I know that Deputies will join with me in wishing the planning committee every success in their deliberations. When I have received the committee's recommendations I will consider the further steps to be taken in this matter.
The provision under the Vote for Reformatory and Industrial Schools amounts to £793,000, a decrease of £233,000 on the amount provided in 1972-73. This decrease is largely accounted for by a reduction of £240,000 in the capital allocation. This in turn is due to the fact that the 1972-73 Estimates provided for two major construction projects which have now been completed and to which I refer below.
The total number of young people in these schools is 1,620, a decrease of 72 in the figure for the previous year —the designation of these institutions as reformatory and industrial schools was replaced last year for departmental and general purposes, by the terms "special school" and "residential home", respectively, as recommended in the Kennedy Report. Pending the revision of legislation, of course, the older terminology remains for legal purposes.
During the year further progress has been made in relation to the implementation of the recommendations in the Kennedy Report:
—a special school for boys referred by the courts was opened at Finglas in 1972 and has accommodation for 60 pupils. This has now been added to by the opening last August of the new remand and assessment unit there;
—the senior special school for young offenders at Oberstown, County Dublin, is just completed and will be operative within a matter of weeks;
—plans are being drawn up for the modernisation of the special school at Clonmel; —the first of the group home units at residential homes was opened in Moate last week by my Parliamentary Secretary; further units are under construction or at the planning stage in Drogheda, Cappoquin and Killarney and proposals for further such group units are being examined;
—grants are being made available to a number of residential homes to assist them in works of modernisation and adaptation which they have undertaken;
—a 10 per cent increase in capitation grants is being sanctioned with effect from 1st April, 1973;
—grants are being made available to residential homes to help defray expenses incurred on sending staff members to the residential child care course in Kilkenny;
—a grant is being provided to meet the costs of a special in-service course organised for senior personnel in the institutions.
In regard to post primary education I propose to take Votes 29 and 30 together as I do not consider that either can be dealt with adequately in isolation. Although the secondary and vocational systems are disparate in origin, the thrust of expansion at post-primary level has had the effect of underlining the need for unity in the system of second-level education. The post-primary schools had been endeavouring, with inadequate resources, to cope with the increasing demands on their services. The religious orders, in particular, at great personal sacrifice, put themselves in the vanguard of progress at a time when the State had not come fully to grips with the problem. However, in 1967, the State undertook to provide post-primary education to leaving certificate standard for all children. Once the State assumed this burden, the over-all rationalisation of post-primary facilities became imperative.
Because of this rationalisation it was found necessary, in order to avoid confusion which would arise out of the two different forms of second-level education that had been existing in our country over many years, to use a description that would cover both these forms. Hence, for convenience rather than for any other reason, we have been speaking of post-primary schools and post-primary education. These expressions are, in fact, imprecise, because every educational activity beyond the first level is post-primary, whereas in other countries the type of education to which we wish to refer in using the expression post-primary is called secondary education, and the schools in which it is given are called secondary schools.
We have reached the stage, I think, when we should no longer speak of post-primary education and post-primary schools when we have second-level education in mind, at least as intending to convey a precise definition. I have decided, therefore, that for the future all schools which provide second-level education exclusively will be described as secondary schools.
It is inevitable that proposals for rationalisation should engender resistance. Not only are the two systems disparate in origins and traditions, they are varied in the content and organisation of their teaching forces. Such circumstances render cohesion painful: even co-operation can be difficult. Many points are at issue: the size of schools, their courses, organisation and management, difficulties of staffing and responsibility—the list is not exhaustive. As to whether the present structures are flexible and resilient enough to adapt, my own view is that they are, given the goodwill of all the parties concerned and provided that attitudes are not mistaken for principles. There must be a climate of confidence between the State and the schools. I, as Minister for Education, have no ulterior motives in proposals I put forward for the solution of problems that must be faced and overcome if we are to fashion, as we must, an educational system that will carry us handsomely into the 21st century.
In connection with the provision of the fullest possible comprehensive facilities in secondary schools, it must be emphasised that adequate provision is possible only in schools of a size sufficient to provide staffing for a reasonably wide range of options in addition to a basic range of academic and practical subjects. In small schools it is clear that such a spread of curricular provision is not possible. This is especially true at senior cycle level for two reasons: one, because overall numbers at senior cycle level are considerably smaller than at the junior level and two, because a greater number of optional subjects must be made available in the senior cycle at both ordinary and higher levels.
Consideration must be given, of course, to local wishes and traditions in this matter. If there is a definite likelihood of growth in a particular area, this, too, must influence decisions. I am prepared to be reasonable on this matter but I must make it clear that economic constraints—and these are universal, not just an Irish phenomenon —require that the facilities provided relate to the size of the school enrolment. I would ask that parents should consider carefully the implications for their children of the factors I mention.
I will now address myself to some particular matters in the Votes which I feel deserve comment.
The amount being sought for these two Votes is £35,788,000 under Vote 29 and £19,774,000 under Vote 30—a total of £55,562,000 which is an increase of £10,458,000 over the previous year. Most of the extra expenditure is occasioned by the payment of the relevant salary increases awarded to teachers and by increases in the capital expenditure on new schools, including comprehensive and community schools and the new Regional College in Cork.
In relation to the regional technical colleges, seven—those at Waterford, Carlow, Dundalk, Sligo, Athlone, Letterkenny and Galway—have been completed and are in operation. The building of the Cork college is in progress and is expected to be completed by July, 1974. Building has commenced on a technical college in Limerick: it is expected that this college will be completed by September, 1974.
The running costs of the regional technical colleges for 1973-74 are estimated at £1,369,000, an increase of £509,000 on last year's figure. This reflects the expansion in numbers of colleges and pupils and the considerable progress we are making towards the realisation of our aim of making good the difficiencies at technician and higher technician levels.
I have arranged for the provision of a sum of £120,000 in this year's estimate to provide extra finance for the vocational education committees' schemes to provide scholarships to the regional colleges and to colleges of technology. The vocational committees have been awarding about 300 such scholarships per annum in recent years; the augmented scheme now in operation will not only increase the number of scholarships available to 1,200 but will bring the value of each scholarship into line with the higher education grants scheme. This will enable vocational committees to widen the scope of these scholarship schemes to include all leaving certificate subjects and so offer freedom of choice to all suitable secondary pupils to pursue third-level courses of a technological nature.
Two new comprehensive schools, Tarbert, County Kerry and Boherbue, County Cork, were opened in September, 1973. This brings the total number of schools to 14 and completes my Department's comprehensive school programme. The main purpose of these schools, and one which they are serving well, is to demonstrate the feasibility of combining practical and academic subjects in one broad curriculum, thus offering each pupil an education structured to his needs, abilities and interests.
Nine new community schools were also opened in September. These were in Mayfield, Cork city, Millstreet, County Cork, Galvone in Limerick, Clifden, County Galway, Moyne, County Longford and in County Donegal, The Rosses, Gweedore, Cloughaneely and Carndonagh. With the exception of Mayfield and Galvone, which cater for new city areas, all these schools were set up through the amalgamation of existing secondary schools. I use "secondary" in the new sense of vocational and secondary schools. The creation of the larger school units in the centres concerned has made it possible to offer a broad curriculum for the pupils. The development is also a further step towards correcting the academic/technical imbalance by bringing both practical and academic subjects together in one educational centre.
There are now 12 community schools in operation and negotiations are in progress for the establishment of further such schools in a number of other centres.
One feature of the community school deserves to be stressed. Apart from the comprehensive nature of the curriculum and the facilities offered there is the direct involvement of the adult community in which the school is situated, both in the management of the school and in the utilisation of the school facilities.
I have not made any provision in this year's estimates for the proposed examinations board. The position in regard to this proposal is as follows:
(a) A working party, comprising university and Department representatives, prepared a draft outline of the constitution and functions of the proposed board.
(b) This draft was issued to school and teacher associations on 10th July, 1973, and they were asked to submit their views to the Department by 1st October, 1973.
(c) These views have now been received, and a meeting to consider the matter further is being arranged for early November between representatives of the universities, school and teacher associations, and the Department.
I come now to apprenticeship training. In relation to the provision made in the Vote for Vocational Education I wish to say that the recent publication by An Comhairle Oiliuna—"Apprenticeship—A New Approach" will receive particular attention in my Department.
In general, I welcome the publication of this document. It is fitting that when all branches of education are being brought under examination and public scrutiny, apprenticeship education should be no exception. Certainly the need for continuous review and constant improvement in this sector, is accentuated by its importance to industry and to the economy. We must not, however, let this importance influence us to the extent of seeming to plan the education of the apprentice to serve the short-term needs of industry at the expense of the longerterm needs of society and of the apprentice himself. The view my Department will be presenting is that apprenticeship is a continuation of education; that apprenticeship education, in addition to providing the best possible training in the current skills of the craft, must provide also a good grounding in the fundamentals of science and technology associated with the craft, must continue through the formal—as well as the informal—processes of education to serve the social and personal development of the apprentice, and must provide in association with apprenticeship studies, at least the possibility of advancement to higher levels of education and training. We shall be advocating broadly based initial training to take due account of mobility and of the foundation necessary for future retraining.
It is an educational cliche, nowadays, that our schools must aim at individualising instruction, that is, they must provide that education best suited to the needs of the individual so that he, or she, can achieve his full potential. Individualising instruction in itself, however, will achieve little unless the individual can learn to know and understand himself. Self knowledge is not acquired without effort and still less without assistance and it is for this reason that my Department have taken as a priority the provision of guidance and counselling services for all secondary school pupils.
We, in this country, came late to appreciate the need for pupil guidance, perhaps because our schools were so small and work opportunities so scarce that there appeared little need for formal structures. Perhaps, because we are late in the field, we can avoid some of the mistakes others were forced into by pressure of circumstances. Certainly, the service being developed by our schools at present bids fair, when it is extended to all schools, to be one of the best in Europe. I say this not to boast, but to set a standard we must strive to achieve.
At present, there are guidance teachers in approximately 200 of our secondary schools serving nearly one-third of our pupils. This year alone we have released, on full pay, some 80 teachers to attend year-long in-service training courses in pupil guidance, and it is my hope to increase this training rate still further in future years in order to achieve the goal of a nationwide service within the shortest possible time. Every year's delay in achieving this end will result in thousands of young people leaving school with little or no sure knowledge of their adult futures.
In their schools, guidance teachers spend most of their time on pupil guidance work with individuals and groups of pupils, and to ensure that they are free to do this, in schools with more than 250 pupils, the post of guidance teacher is a post outside the normal quota of teaching posts for the school. This is a measure of the importance I attach to pupil guidance: only the principal and the vice-principal in a school may also be counted outside the quota. With regard to remedial education, where I am satisfied that there is a need for remedial education in a school, I am prepared to increase the quota of teachers.
The provision of guidance teachers alone, without facilities for their work on back-up services and support would achieve little. A guidance suite of offices, seminar room and other facilities is now part of the required schedule of accommodation for all new schools and for major developments of existing schools. Within the next few weeks I hope to be in a position to announce the provision of a scheme of aid for schools with guidance teachers to help them meet the cost of the psychological tests which are an important tool of the guidance teacher.
Within the Department there are now 18 psychologists whose primary responsibility is the assistance and support of guidance teachers in schools, and the development of the guidance service in general. It is my intention to increase the number in the psychological service until all schools, primary and secondary, will have the benefit of their skills.
Since I have just spoken of pupil guidance it seems appropriate to refer here to a facet of our educational scene which has grown distressingly stronger in recent years. I refer, of course, to the examination pressures on our students and on our schools.
Some years ago the catch-penny phrase "technological morons" was a common dismissal of specialists who, in the pursuit of greater and greater efficiency, seemed to be pushing human values and the "quality of life" to one side. The phrase came most readily to the lips of persons concerned with the more purely academic side of education, persons in whom the medieval conviction that it took nine craftsmen to constitute the whole man was still a living reality. They had a point.
There is a sense, however, and, alas, it is of growing import, in which we are now in danger of producing "academic morons". In a seemingly insatiable thirst for examination results many people are making a mockery of the very word "academic". The human values are being sacrificed as never before in the interest of grades and marks.
Let me say firmly that it is not the Department of Education who are producing this pressure. In fact, the Departmental pressure for "grades" instead of "marks" at the certificate examinations was in the contrary direction. What is now developing is a desire to return to marks in the attempt to produce finer and finer distinctions so as to facilitate choice between one candidate and another in a severely competitive society. This is surely a negation of educational values and dare I suggest that parents may be the prime culprits here.
May I appeal strongly to all concerned—parents, teachers, employers, institutions of higher education—to become more aware of where these pressures are leading us and resolve to resist them in the interest of producing from our schools whole persons ready to take part in life and not just objects of conservation for other processes. The road away from over-emphasis on examinations is not an easy one but let us at least realise that the road we are on is the wrong one.
The amount for the Vote for Educational Research is unchanged from the previous year. During the year a variety of projects were supported some on a continuing basis and a number of others were initiated. Among the projects was one operated in co-operation with TCD, Dublin, and initiated at the request of the Intermediate Certificate Review Committee. This project is intended to operate over a three-year period and to test the feasibility of developing alternative forms of evaluation which could be used instead of existing forms of examination at this stage. An Assistant Professor of Educational Research has been appointed by TCD and he will be supported by additional project staff.
Another project was initiated in Kilkenny under the guidance of the Research Centre in St. Patrick's, Drumcondra. This project consists of a home-based intervention programme for disadvantaged children. It is intended to run for two years. It involves a special training programme for local teachers, who then visit the homes of disadvantaged children and work with the parents of these children so that the teachers are able to get a better idea of the types of problems which create difficulties for the children and at the same time the teachers can guide the parents in helping the children towards learning. Preliminary reports indicate that the project is well received locally and appears to have a beneficial effect.
Another project initiated was a project on the development of alternative forms of musical education. This project is being developed in conjunction with Mount Temple Comprehensive School. This project will last three years.
A project has been supported in University College, Galway, on the request of a local parent group to determine the demand for secondary education through Irish in the Galway area for girls. This project is intended to last one year.
There is a project based on Shannon Comprehensive School to articulate, implement and evaluate an alternative form of curriculum in the junior cycle. This project centres around a new approach to the curriculum, at this stage in the pupil's development. It starts from the environment of the pupil and using this as a basis it attempts to achieve an integrated structure of studies which gradually leads to a wider view of our cultural heritage. However, by considerable attention to observation of the individual pupil and related guidance and counselling, it ensures that the interests and aspirations of the pupils remain central to the development of the curriculum. This project was initiated the previous year and was supported last year on an expanded basis. A number of other schools in the area, both secondary and vocational, are participating in the project.
The Department also support the project run by the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee in conjunction with the Department of education of Trinity College, Dublin, concerned with the development of an integrated humanities curriculum and its dissemination and evaluation in selected schools in the Dublin area.
Continuing support was also given to a major project operated by St. Patrick's Research Centre, Drumcondra, to evaluate the effect of the introduction of testing in Irish schools. This project is supported also by extensive grants from American foundations.
A number of reports were received during the year relating to projects supported in previous years, particularly reports on science education in secondary schools and on the attitudes and destinations of students in the Dublin area at leaving certificate level and the development of the mathematical ability of deprived children using linguistic operators.
It had become clear by 1969 that if a more rational approach to the school building programme were not adopted we would be faced with crisis after crisis in trying to cope within available resources. Measures to offset spiralling building costs had to be found but most of all building projects had to be assessed in the light of the overall proposals for a centre as well as the capacity of the centre to cater adequately for all children, whatever their intellectual capacity. The studies carried out indicated that large schools, that is, larger than had been customary in Ireland, were necessary if we were to cherish all our children equally in making options available to them in accordance with their capacities and needs. The development of schools— what might be termed multi-option schools—which might cater for such needs in Ireland, runs parallel with similar developments which are taking place the world over. It brought with it the need to re-examine the provision being made for secondary schools in every area of the country resulting in the compilation of a school network map showing every secondary school centre with its catchment area. It brought with it the need to re-examine the educational input into the planning of secondary schools so that the multi-option needs of schools might be provided for. This is being done on the basis of an educational worksheet on which each school authority, aided by officers of my Department, develops its own educational and organisational philosophy for its schools.
A heavy investment of capital resources is required and capital resources will always be scarce. You will be aware of current problems being encountered by our nearest neighbour in its school building programme and many other countries have similar problems. We must, I repeat must, rationalise our secondary school provision if we are to meet our needs within available resources. The expertise being developed in my Department, an expertise incidentally which is already being availed of by a number of other countries, will enable the best possible use to be made of resources but school authorities must be prepared to look at the overall position and not just their individual situation if real progress is to be made.
On the subject of adult education I propose for the present to be brief. The whole question of requirements and the provision of facilities in this very important sector of our education system has been under examination for some time by a special committee. This committee have already furnished an interim report and I understand that their final report will be presented to me before the end of the current year. I will be undertaking a thorough study of the committee's findings and proposals with a view to making recommendations to the Government on the future pattern of adult education provision. I feel, therefore, that to go more deeply into the question of this important aspect of education at this stage would be to risk prejudicing important issues. This is a risk I prefer not to run.
I turn now to the Vote for Higher Education. Before proceeding to deal with it, I wish to invite the attention of the House to certain important changes which have been made in the format of the Vote for 1973-74 as compared with previous years. These have become necessary in consequence of the provisions of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971. The Act came into operation on 15th May, 1972, and the current financial year is accordingly the first year in respect of which it has been practicable to give effect to the provisions of the Act under which the Higher Education Authority replaces my Department as the immediate source of funds voted by the Oireachtas for institutions of higher education which come within the Authority's ambit.
Another development of which I would like the House to take note is that in addition to the universities and university colleges, including St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, which are, ipso facto,“institutions of higher education” within the meaning of the Higher Education Authority Act, regulations have been made by the Minister for Education, after consultation with the authority, under which the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the College of Pharmacy have been designated as “institutions of higher education” for the purposes of the Act. These two colleges are, therefore, no longer assigned individual subheads in Part II of the Vote. Their grants are included in the global amount of general (non-capital) grants provided for in subhead A.2 of Part II of the Vote, and the specific sum proposed to be provided for each of them, which will be disbursed directly by the authority, is shown in the breakdown of subhead A.2 which appears in Part III of the Vote.
The total amount of the Vote for the current financial year is £14,407,000. This represents a net increase of £1,329,750 on the original Estimate for the financial year 1972-73 as augumented by a Supplementary Estimate and by the transfer from the Vote for the Office of the Minister of the provision for the general expenses of the Higher Education Authority.
The increase is generally accounted for by the additional subventions required by most of the institutions covered by the Vote to meet rising demands on their recurrent income caused by authorised pay improvements in accordance with the terms of the national agreement and by the upward trend of costs generally. No institution is receiving an increase in its recurrent grant which can be regarded as disproportionate to its size and to the range of its activities.
The university institutions, as is to be expected, absorb by far the greatest part of the provision for recurrent grants in the Vote—£10,051,600 of the total of £10,897,500, or just over 90 per cent. This represents an increase of £1,286,500, or nearly 15 per cent on the corresponding provision for 1972-73.
The 1973-74 total of the capital grants for the university institutions, exclusive of the provision of £400,000 for capital equipment grants, shows, when compared with 1972-73, a decrease from £2,655,000 to £2,080,000. The decrease is largely due to the fact that previously authorised building developments have been finished or are nearing completion and that further projects are in the course of planning. The position in the case of each institution concerned may be summarised as follows:—
At UCD stage 1 of the new library, which has been planned as a phased project, has been completed as has the administration building but portion of the expenditure on these has to be met in this financial year. Provision is made for further development of the new campus area and for planning expenses in respect of the next major building project. Provision must also be made for the transfer of the physiology department from the College of Science to Earlsfort Terrace where it will be located in proximity to other departments of the college's Faculty of Medicine.
At UCC a long-term plan for the future development of the campus has now been approved in principle. Provision is made for the acquisition of neighbouring properties required for the extension of the campus area in accordance with the approved development plan and for planning expenses in respect of the first major building project in the implementation of that plan which may comprise the first stage of a new library and of new accommodation for Humanities.
At UCG work on the new library and on three science departments is almost completed but part of the expenditure on these has to be provided for in the current year. Provision is also made for further property acquisition in accordance with the college development plan already approved. Planning of the next stage of building—for Arts, Celtic Studies, Commerce and Law— should commence in the near future.
The new restaurant building at TCD is now completed but here again provision has to be made for portion of the cost in the current year. Provision is also made for planning expenses in respect of a new arts building, construction of which, it is hoped, will commence early next year. In addition funds are being provided for the continuance of the major scheme of adaptations and renovations of existing buildings in the college.
At Maynooth it is expected that construction of a new arts library building will commence next year. Provision for planning expenses is included in the grant for the current year.
I should like to say a brief word about the National Institute for Higher Education at Limerick. Long years of local enthusiasm and activity were at least partly rewarded when the institute was formally opened in 1972. The people of Limerick may not have been greatly gratified when they first learned that they were to be given an institution of a kind which appeared to be somewhat less in standing than that which they had sought for so long, but I should imagine that their misgivings have largely been allayed by the manner in which the project has developed and is continuing to expand. The institute has seen the end of the first year of its degree and diploma courses attended by 116 students and has embarked on the second year during which its student numbers are expected to rise to 240. I have recently been presented by the planning board of the institute —whose energy, dedication and sense of commitment I would like to take this opportunity of commending publicly—with a very ambitious development plan to which I have undertaken to give the most careful and detailed study.
The 1973-74 provision for the National Institute for Higher Education is £200,000 in respect of current expenditure—an increase of £90,000 on 1972-73—and £500,000 in respect of building and site works—an increase of £210,000 on 1972-73.
The National College of Physical Education which will prepare all our future physical education teachers, male and female, is providing a graduate course of study over four years based on physical education, education, curriculum studies and a second area of study in which all students will have a highly acceptable qualification.
Much thought has gone into the preparation of this course and the special study of curriculum is a vital and novel element in its structure. Educationists in my Department are most enthusiastic about the fresh and innovative approach which is evident in all the courses of study. They are confident that the special needs of a developing educational system are being catered for in an enterprising and worthwhile way and I have no doubt but that the NCPE degree course will commend itself to the National Council for Educational Awards to whom it is currently being submitted.
As I mentioned last week, I intend to expand the college into an institute for the preparation of teachers of many subjects, including electronics, metal-work and woodwork. Education and the study of curriculum are basic elements in all worthwhile courses of teacher preparation and it is eminently sensible to centralise facilities so that teachers of many subjects fraternising on a common campus with their colleagues of other disciplines, may work in the best possible environment. In such a situation they will best learn to appreciate the point and the importance of what their colleagues in other teaching areas are doing.
Just over 200 students in 1st, 2nd and 3rd Year are studying in the NCPE at the moment. This figure will rise to 400 within two years or so. For the first time in the history of the State, young men and women are together studying physical education as a teaching profession in custom-built facilities. The college shares a superb 124 acre site on the banks of the Shannon with the NIHE and negotiations are proceeding for the acquisition of extra land nearby so that the recreational needs of both institutions can be catered for and buildings provided for training in the other subjects I have already mentioned.
The NCPE building and outdoor facilities are of a quality of which the nation can be proud. The facilities being provided include an eight-lane athletic track, a floodlit all-weather surface, a 33? metre swimming pool, a separate diving pit, a full-sized sports hall, a gymnasium, squash courts, handball alleys, playing fields, tennis/baseball courts, human performance laboratories as well as academic and social areas.
Their situation and their architecture are in perfect harmony with their environment. Functionally, students will find that the highest educational and sporting requirements will be met.
The provision of well-qualified, enthusiastic teachers who will, through the PE programme, affect the quality of life of our future generations is, of course, of paramount importance. I have no doubt, however, but that the influence of NCPE will be felt far beyond the shores of this country. For instance, I will be very disappointed if the standard of Irish sport at international level does not improve dramatically before the end of the decade. In saying this, I am allowing for the work in depth which needs to be done through basic school situations over the next seven or eight years.
All students will follow a course in Irish Studies and, as Irish Studies is soon to be introduced into secondary schools, it is highly opportune that teachers qualified in this subject will be emerging in the next few years.
May I say also that I have ensured that all NCPE students will be qualified to teach physical education through Irish should their schools require it.
The college has been fortunate in recruiting a highly qualified staff. A director has recently been appointed for a two-year period and, under his energetic control, the college is now operating effectively.
It is most appropriate at this time, when NCPE is launched, to pay tribute to the former women's colleges, St. Raphael's, Sion Hill, and Ling. They pioneered physical education when—let us be frank—its importance was not generally recognised. When the opportunity arose of having one college to cater for all students, it is to the credit of the authorities of Sion Hill and Ling that they did not stand in its way but graciously and unselfishly agreed to phase out their colleges progressively. Their last students graduated this year and it would be remiss of me if I did not take this opportunity to express to them the gratitude of the Government and the Dáil.
I would very much like to be in a position to report to the House that these significant advances in the field of higher education in one area of the country were paralleled by the positive developments in others, particularly Dublin city. A very searching and extensive examination of the form which a radical reorganisation of the country's system of university and higher education generally might best take has been proceeding almost continuously since 1960, first by the Commission on Higher Education, then by the Government itself, and finally by the Higher Education Authority. That these comprehensive reviews have not so far resulted in a widely acceptable re-structuring of the existing system must naturally be a source of deep disappointment to all concerned, but I would issue a word of caution that the extent of the problems and difficulties inherent in the whole matter should not be underestimated or be ajudged to be of less consequence than they manifestly are.
The imprudence of proceeding to the dismantling of a system which, however real its shortcomings may be, has served the country fairly well for so long, without first being fully satisfied that the system which will replace it will be a marked improvement in all respects, will, I think, be generally acknowledged. It must be remembered that here we are concerned, not with a short-term reform, but with a revamped structure which, it is to be hoped, will serve the country's needs in a changing world situation to the turn of the century and beyond.
All this is not to say that there have not been some noteworthy developments at third level over the past year or so. Since the House was last given a formal review of progress in education, the Higher Education Authority have published two very comprehensive reports—that on university reorganisation which is understandably the one which has provoked the more intense public interest, but of scarcely less importance in its own way, at least from the point of view of how the structure of higher education in the Dublin area will develop in the future, is the report which reviews the proposals made by the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee for the establishment of a Technological/ Higher Commercial College at Ballymun.
I am glad to take this opportunity of paying a sincere tribute to the authority for the valuable contribution which these two reports make towards a resolution of the very complex problems by which the areas with which they deal are characterised.
With these two reports, which clearly isolate the principal areas of difficulty, we have, I think, now reached a point from which positive progress can be made. When the reports were published it was thought desirable to offer interested persons and bodies who might have comments or suggestions to make in relation to the various recommendations contained in the reports the opportunity of doing so in writing. An invitation to this effect was published in the Press in September, 1972. Government Departments who were concerned with particular aspects of the reports were also asked for their observations. The response was encouraging. Apart from Government Departments, submissions were received from 55 different persons and bodies, including the authorities of the University Colleges, other educational and professional bodies, the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee and student associations. Some organisations furnished more than one submission.
Special machinery was then set up in my Department to process all the submissions received in the context of the HEA reports and to consider all the recommendations and views in depth for the purpose of enabling me to formulate proposals covering the whole field of higher education for approval by the Government. These procedures are being accelerated at my instance, and I am now in a position to inform the House of my personal intentions for the months ahead. When the Departmental examination to which I have referred has been completed and the specific proposals which I will make have been considered by and approved by the Government, I hope to see the proposals published in a White Paper which will be the prelude to the introduction of the necessary legislation to give effect to the proposals. It is, of course, difficult to set a time-table for these developments. I would like, therefore, to assure all those who are awaiting a decision that the publication of my proposals will not be delayed longer than is necessary to enable full consideration to be given to all aspects of what is a very complex question.
This, at least, is a plan. Its implementation will, of course, be entirely dependent on the out-turn of events. Difficulties will arise and must be resolved as they do. I have stated publicly on a number of occasions that the whole field of higher education is so fraught with complexities that decisions cannot be taken just for decision-making's sake without a full analysis and appreciation of all the factors involved. This is the policy to which I propose to adhere; it is a policy which is at the very root of my considered approach to the whole matter. Nevertheless, it is my fervent hope that when next I have an opportunity of reporting to the House on the Votes with which my Department are concerned, I will be in a position to record substantial progress on developments in relation to higher education along the lines I have indicated.
The amount being provided for the National Gallery of Ireland, £115,000, shows an increase of £11,000, due mainly to the rise in salaries and administrative expenses. This year the public attendance at the Gallery has begun to rise again after a fall off last year due to the fall in tourist traffic and bids fair to exceed the record 350,000. There are now several exhibitions each year from the reserve of paintings and next year it is intended to have an exhibition of portraits of famous Irish men and women in the last 100 years.
The scheme of public lectures and tours of the gallery was continued in the gallery this year and proved very successful.
As regards regionalisation Deputies will be aware that recently I initiated discussions with the various educational organisations on the subject of regionalisation of the educational structure of the country. I had a meeting with delegates representative of the wide range of interests involved at a meeting in my Department on 3rd of October and a further meeting of a working party took place on October 19th. At this meeting it was decided that a smaller group should be established to examine the draft document for discussion on regionalisation which was already available to report the group's findings on the issues involved and on the options open. Because of the confidential nature of the talks at this stage, I am not in a position to discuss the details of what took place at the meetings but I should wish to give Deputies an outline of my general approach to the concept of regionalisation.
I have already emphasised on different occasions that it is the fundamental policy of the present Government, and my own also, that educational development should proceed on the basis of full discussion of all important issues and with the full co-operation and general agreement of the parties involved. It is, I consider, merely an extension and amplification of this policy to seek to arrange that the decision-making process in relation to the organisation and financing of the schools at different levels should be decentralised as much as possible. In our educational system there is ample opportunity to give effect to such a policy of decentralisation without diminishing my responsibility as Minister to the Irish public for the general direction of Irish education.
The process—indeed the preservation—of society in rational and acceptable form demands the development of local enterprise and the encouragement of initiative in the social as well as in the technical and economic fields. The power of decision is a major stimulus to initiative. Education is an important part of the fabric of society and should be responsive to local needs and aspirations as well as fulfilling its other requirements.
Some power of direction should therefore reside locally so that these local needs can be met. Here, of course, I am merely echoing the demand for local democracy which is all round us, and with which we all agree in general though we might differ as to the extent of such local authority.
The primary system and the two systems of second-level education came into being independently, in response to different pressures. As a result each system is managed, administered and funded in a manner different from the others; moreover, each system is almost completely isolated from the others. Yet, for the central figure in education, the pupil, education should be a continuous and harmonious development and the formal structures which serve this purpose should be so coordinated as to provide orderly and regular progress. There is need for closer alignment between the different sectors as a matter of general policy but local circumstances will determine the detail of such alignment.
For historical reasons administration of education has been centralised at national level. Minor decisions of an executive nature and affecting individual schools are made daily in the Department—decisions which would be best handled at local level. A centralised department does not have the "feel" for local conditions that the closer regional authority would have. It is probably true, too, that the central authority is more alive to the needs and exigencies of the larger centres of population than to those of the small centres. Furthermore, the expansion in school population and the growth and diversity of the educational institutes required in a modern society place a centralised administration in the difficult situation of trying to develop and implement major policy proposals and at the same time service the enormous daily volume of correspondence on matters of a purely executive nature.
I have been very much encouraged by the constructive approach of the representatives of the educational organisations to the draft proposals which I had prepared as a basis for discussion. I do not underestimate the difficulty inherent in bringing about the cohesion and co-ordination of the different strands of our educational structure as it has developed but I feel confident that, with the co-operation and guidance of all those best qualified to participate in the work, a system may be evolved which will be fully in keeping with the needs and aspirations of our people to-day. One of my Department's connections with international affairs is affected through membership of UNESCO, an inter-governmental agency of the United Nations specialising in education, science and culture. We have in Ireland, as in most of the other member states of the organisation, a national commission, composed of persons prominent in educational, scientific and cultural matters in this country, one of whose functions is to tender advice on means of participating in UNESCO's programmes.
In this connection, an important event this year will be the publication by Gill and Macmillan, in co-operation with UNESCO, the Irish National Commission for UNESCO and my Department, of an art book entitled Treasures of Ireland, an illustrated history of early Irish art with text by Dr. A. T. Lucas, director of the National Museum. Evidence of the importance of the work is the fact that Gill and Macmillan are investing £15,000 in its publication, one of the largest investments ever made by an Irish publisher in a single book. I am informed that it is also the first occasion on which an Irish publisher has co-operated with an international body on such an important project and that the Viking Press of New York, one of the leading art book publishers in the United States, have already ordered 5,000 copies.
Finally, I should wish to make a brief reference to the 8th session of the Conference of European Ministers of Education which was held at the invitation of the Swiss Government in Berne from 5th to 7th June, 1973, and to the Seminar held in Dublin from 16th to 22nd September last which was conducted jointly by the French and Irish Governments.
The main theme of the Ministers' conference was the educational needs of the 16-19 age group. In view of the very great interest for us of this topic in the present stage of development of our educational system and the various measures being taken to provide a flexible and wide-ranging curriculum to suit the aptitudes and needs of the pupils of this age group, I was very glad of the opportunity of participating in the conference. I was able to hear at first hand what was being attempted in the countries which are members of the conference and in turn to indicate briefly what we are doing in Ireland and to offer some opinions in relation to the problem in general. I found the discussions useful and informative. I may say also that in connection with these conferences some very valuable documentation is prepared by the relevant international educational organisations which gives a considerable amount of information in relation to developments in the individual countries. I feel that on the basis of any reasonable international comparison our achievements are not inconsiderable and that our general approach is in line with that being adopted generally in countries with advanced systems of education.
It was opportune that a seminar on the same general theme was to be held in Dublin from 16-22 September, 1973, as it enabled an immediate follow-up to the undertaking of recommendations from the ministerial conference. The seminar was organised by the French and Irish Governments under the auspices of the Council of Europe —the first seminar to be organised on such a joint basis. Papers on the following topics were presented by speakers from Ireland, France, United Kingdom and the Netherlands:
(i) Technical education—full time, part-time
(ii) The development of the capacity for self-education
(iii) The needs, motivations and aspirations of young people
(iv) The education of those who have left full-time schooling.
Recommendations from the seminar are being submitted to the committee of General and Technical Education of the Council of Europe in the context of a project being undertaken by the committee in relation to the formulation of a report and recommendations to be placed before Governments in due course.
In conclusion, I desire to say that while it is my wish that we should keep ourselves fully conversant with and informed as to what is happening in other countries and are prepared to play our full part in the promotion of international co-operation in relation to research and the general alignment of educational policies, our firm commitment is to the advancement of our traditional cultural and educational values and that our energies and resources will continue to be directed to that end.