Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 29 May 1991

Vol. 409 No. 2

Private Members' Business. Vocational Education (Amendment) Bill, 1991: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

The Minister informed the House last night that according to the legal opinion available to her from the Attorney General, the Bill is flawed and inoperable. I thank the Minister for the courtesy she extended to me today in examining and discussing with her that legal opinion. During the day I also sought legal opinion on the Bill. While the discussion I had was quite detailed, it was not as considered as I would have wished, and we will be coming back with a more considered opinion on a number of issues next week. One of the points which came in the discussion last night in terms of providing reserved places for teachers and parents was whether the VECs should be extended from a membership of 14 to 18. The Minister's advise is that there would be problems with this. However, from my discussions today and my examination of the Bill, it seems that a simple amendment to increase the number of members from 14 to 18 would not create any problems.

I am not usually in favour of increasing the membership of committees. Smaller committees, by and large, tend to be more efficient and operate at a level which is more beneficial to the recipients of the service, in this case students in vocational schools and regional colleges. Having considered the matter again during the day I believe the extension of the membership from 14 to 18 would be a good idea, taking all the factors into consideration. As I said last night, there are people who have long served on vocational education committees in trade unions, chambers of commerce, churches and so on who have made considerable contributions to vocational education committees, to the education system generally and to the growth of services.

Two subsections in section 8 of the 1930 Act, subsections (1) and (3), could be amended to delete "14" and insert "18". That would get us past the first hurdle. A number of problems were mentioned last night regarding the method of election for parents, and I discussed this matter with the Minister today. However, having looked at section 8 (4) of the original Act I believe a simple addendum, to that subsection would get us past the second hurdle. The additional people could be taken on by way of election by the VEC. The section refers to a local authority electing persons to be members of a vocational education committee. If the section remains intact and the final election is carried out by the local authority it would be appropriate to include an addendum along the following lines, "but who must be employed within the scheme and two must be parents of students who are pupils within the scheme."

The next matter is the method of election. Several problems would arise in connection with second level schools in the vocational sector, for instance, there are one year courses such as secretarial courses, post-leaving cart courses and so on. Children on such courses in vocational schools may not necessarily have attended the vocational school during their second level education proper. In order that the register of parents who would be electors be as complete as possible it must be entered up on a specific date and the parents and guardians of all the children attending schools within the vocational education committee scheme should go on the register as of that date. Guardians should be included as well as parents. Those who care for children attending courses or schools within the scheme should have a say in who represents them.

Another important question is who will carry out the election, who will be the returning officer. That problem could be resolved by the election to the committee being carried out by the local authority, the local authority being directed by way of circular from the Minister on how to accept nominations for the four extra places, two for teachers and two for parents.

Last night the Minister dealt with the matter of other unions from within the vocational education sector. In the spirit of PESP, and of extended industrial democracy and worker participation, it is only right that all employees within the scheme should have a say in the staff representation. The de facto situation is that teachers in any vocational education scheme would have the vast majority of members who could vote, but it is only proper that all trade unionists within the scheme should have a say in who should represent them.

A point that has been made to me about semi-State bodies is that the going rate is one-third of the board. In justice and equity if there is to be worker participation then those who work within the scheme should have a say. The teachers would have the majority vote and, inevitably, it would be teachers who represent the staff, but others employed in the scheme should have their say.

The position of parents of children at second level is straightforward enough in that virtually all the children are minors. A different position exists in regard to regional colleges within the scheme. Students in those colleges — and the Minister alluded to this point last night — would in the main be 18 years of age or older. At that age people can vote, they can join the Army, die for their country and so on. There is an anomaly in the whole system in that people who are 18 and over are adults in every sense, but in the assessment of income for scholarships at third level institutions — not all students at regional colleges are in receipt of ESF grants which, unlike scholarships, are not means tested — the young adult's entitlement is based on his or her parents' income. The issue is taken further when one considers those students who finish their third level education and are then unlucky enough not to obtain employment. If they apply for unemployment assistance their entitlement is again assessed in terms of their parents' income. By and large, students at third level institutions are over 18, and the argument rests in favour of student representation on the VECs. I understand that university students already have such representation as of right. A small number of students at third level colleges will not be 18 years of age and their parents should vote for the parent representatives on their VEC.

I am approaching the debate in what I hope is a constructive way. The Labour Party will come back to the House next week with a more considered legal opinion and in doing so we will seek to resolve a problem that must be resolved now or within the next few weeks. As I stated last night, if the format is not changed now then the present position will continue for five to seven years. That is completely unacceptable considering undertakings for teacher representation given by the Minister to the TUI on several occasions. In recent times the Minister made very positive sounds about meaningful parental involvement in the schools at management level. There is parental representation on boards of management at various levels in education, but the VECs are the only solid administrative structure for schools in any of the areas. Just as teachers have a very important and unique contribution to make in the business of VECs, the same applies to parents. When there is a will to achieve something it can be done. This may involve further amendments, as I suggested last night.

If the Minister brings in any appropriate amendments or if other amendments arise which will achieve the objective of reserving places for teachers and parents, we will certainly go along with it. As a teacher who benefited a great deal in my career from parent support, I can say that parents are a great resource. At times there might be concern among teachers in relation to interference in their professional business and this is already covered in the legislation for VECs. I have not seen any real effort by parent representatives to interfere at that level. I have always found parent representatives on boards of management to be constructive and enthusiastic. They become involved to assist their own children and in doing so help all children.

From the industrial relations point of view it is important to have teachers there. It is important in the broad concept of social or industrial democracy which is a large part of the PESP philosophy which has found support on all sides of the House. The role played by public representatives on VECs has been constructive and there has not been a tendency to split along party lines on issues. They do not play politics and goodness knows, in the past few years because of cutbacks in education there has been ample opportunity for Opposition politicians to exploit the position politically. I am glad that has not happened and that we have recognised that there is a political arena in which to fight political issues.

In terms of the management of a scheme, such as the vocational education scheme, and the management of schools, schools must keep within their allocation in relation to teachers and so on. It is up to schools to fight their corner when looking for additional provisions. However, I am glad that debates on vocational education committees have not turned into circuses in my area.

The contribution of public representatives is a very important part of the vocational education scheme. We all know of many individuals who have contributed unselfishly to this scheme over many years. I alluded last night to the importance of the interface of industry and commerce with vocational education committees. As we move into the last decade of the century the scope then becomes even greater. Those involved in industry and commerce, whether at management or trade union level, have a good knowledge of the type of education, the type of courses necessary so that people in an area on coming through the system will have the skills and education to take up all positions in companies.

In the past there was a tendency to see vocational schools as schools taking students who were not high achievers. The advent of the community colleges, and the major changes in vocational schools over the past number of years, have highlighted this misinterpretation. The standard achieved throughout the country at vocational level, at second level, is tremendous. People often forget that vocational education committees provide a wide range of courses ranging from adult literacy through to degree level courses.

The Labour Party will come back with a more considered position next week. We are doing this in a constructive way. There is a high level of consensus in the House in relation to teacher participation on VECs and in terms of having reserved places for parents as well. Following legal consultation I am convinced that all things are possible if the will is there. It is very important to tackle this problem. The Minister afforded me the courtesy of showing me her legal advice in relation to this Bill and discussing it. The debate should not be conducted in the terms of breaking down opposition. There should be a constructive input from all of us so that the two important principles of industrial democracy on the one hand and meaningful parent involvement on the other can be achieved and put in place after the local elections when the new VECs are set up.

With the permission of the Chair I would like to share my time with Deputy Browne (Wexford).

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the basic principle of the Bill. There is no difficulty with the notion of allowing representation from parents, teachers and others in education. For too long parents have been excluded from the whole process of education. They were excluded from contributing anything worthwhile to the process and to the general policy area of education. I compliment the Minister on encouraging the involvement of parents in all aspects of education. She should be praised for that.

Over the past four years the Minister has encouraged active participation by parents on parent associations and boards of management. The Minister frequently met various parent associations and has given them verbal encouragement. She also put her money where her mouth is on several occasions and provided finance. Recently she reiterated her commitment to getting parents involved in as many activities associated with education as possible. That will be acknowledged by Members on all sides of the House and it is a move which I welcome.

Another very welcome aspect is the encouragement which teachers have been giving to parents to become involved. I was a teacher and I know that very often and for far too long teachers treated parents with suspicion and did more to discourage them than to encourage them to become involved in the school. The role most teachers saw for parents was simply one of fund-raising for a piece of equipment or organising external activities like mock interviews and so on. That was the extent to which teachers wanted to see parents involved. I am not sure whether all the teaching profession are fully committed to the idea of parent involvement in education but there is a welcome move to see parents involved in more areas than fund-raising or peripheral activities in relation to the school. Teachers are obviously interested in education and they should be involved. I was a little surprised at a speaker saying last night that teachers were not involved to any great extent on VECs. Most of the VECs of which I am aware have teachers represented: without having statutory provision for it most VECS, certainly in 1985 after the last local elections, agreed to have either one or two teachers as members on the VECs.

If teachers are to become more involved and if we are to make statutory provision to have two teachers within the system on vocational education committees, they will have to broaden their horizons. From my experience and from speaking to colleagues on VECs round the country, TUI people who are members of VECs have tended to focus very largely on the narrow, union-type issues. I am sure there are notable exceptions but it has been my experience that teachers have tended to look after a union point of view instead of being concerned with the broader issues of education. If the time comes — and I am sure it will — when provision is made on a statutory basis or on the basis of a circular from the Minister, teachers within the system will become, as of right, members of vocational education committees. I appeal to them to broaden their horizons and not to see their role as one of just defending teacher or union interests but to see it as one of contributing their vast knowledge, skills and experience to the formulation of general educational policies.

Another welcome aspect of the Bill is the concept of encouraging more active interest in education in local areas; we should not confine and narrow this. One of my criticisms of the Bill is that is confines representation to two parents and two teachers. If we intend to increase the membership of VECs and if we intend to increase it by four, as suggested, we should not limit it to two parents and two teachers, but should expand and broaden our horizons and try to involve employers, people in youth organisations in the local community and in non-formal education programmes.

Points have been made in relation to the difficulties associated with this Bill on which I will dwell for a moment. The Bill, will all due respect to the draftsman, is totally inadequate, impractical and inoperable. I could use various other words to describe it but I am trying to be charitable. It is also very vague. Deputy O'Shea referred to parents voting for their representatives on a VEC. Take the area of compiling the register: all that is said here is that parents will have a right to elect two parents, one of each gender, of pupils attending second level schools under the control of the VEC in question. There is nothing in it about compiling the registers, how they will be compiled and when. Deputy O'Shea made a suggestion earlier which would probably be fairly practical but I should like to know who will compile the register at a particular date or time. The VECs and Opposition Members said at various times that they have been put to the pin of their collars because they are under-staffed and none of us disagree with that, although the situation has greatly improved within the last six months and will continue to improve. Do they have time to compile registers of parents and teachers? Who will oversee the compilation of registers? In the case of the election who will act as the returning officers? Where and how will the elections be held? There are many areas where huge problems could arise for everyone involved and which the Bill does not address.

Section 3 (c) provides that in the case of ballots referred to in subsections (a) and (b), each vocational committee shall conduct the said ballots in accordance with regulations made by the Minister. It does not say when the ballots will be held. There does not appear to be any restriction in relation to the time in which the VECs will conduct a ballot. Will it be before or after elections? It will be in accordance with what the VECs think fit, so time does not appear to be a consideration. VECs could delay the ballots for parents and teachers indefinitely, but that issue is not addressed in the Bill.

Another problem which could arise is that the Bill refers to not less than two teachers, one of each gender. Both teachers could end up in the one school.

Is that intended?

That is democracy.

There would be no objection to having two teachers from the one school on the committee.

It would be less than representative if there was a VEC with six or eight schools and both teachers came from the one school.

There are three Deputies in the town of Tralee.

These tete-a-tete, however delightful, are not in accordance with what is required.

We are assisting the Deputy.

No assistance or interruptions, please.

The Deputy has lost his way.

Deputy Dempsey, with his own thoughts. Other Deputies will get their opportunity presently.

(Wexford): They are very valuable.

I thank the Deputy for his assistance as I wanted to have that matter clarified.

The Deputy should not encourage others to be out of order.

If the purpose of the Bill is to give teachers a greater say on vocational education committees it would not be of help nor democratic if both teachers were to come from the one school. That is one of the weaknesses of the Bill.

The Bill attempts to change section 8 (4) of the Vocational Education Act which is very wide ranging and allows vocational education committees to appoint or elect anyone they like to a committee. Following the local elections in 1985 County Meath Vocational Education Committee decided to reserve places for teachers and parents on the committee. In fact, they decided, apart from a vocational teacher, that a primary teacher should be given a place on the committee. The Bill before the House does not advert to teachers other than teachers within the scheme. If Deputy Higgins and his party are anxious to ensure that parents and teachers are represented on vocational education committees then, following the local elections, the parties concerned should try to reach agreement to allow parents, teachers and others "with an interest and experience in education" to become members of vocational education committees. If Second Stage is agreed it is obvious it will not be passed before the local elections. Given that the parties agree with the principle it might be better if the parties concerned at local level sat down together shortly after the local elections and suggested that parents and teachers be nominated by agreement to be members of vocational education committees. That is one practical way of approaching the matter and there would not be a need for a Bill.

Last time out County Meath Vocational Education Committee agreed that a teacher should represent the interests of teachers within the scheme on the committee. Indeed, there is one professor — I think all members are parents — one secondary teacher, one vocational teacher and one national teacher on the committee. I spoke to a number of my colleagues and learned that it is not unusual to have a number of teachers on a committee, even though it may be unusual to have a professor as a member.

The Deputy, in proposing a Bill such as this, is going to narrow his options. The vocational education system is a very good and solid one. It has produced many fine students and provides a high standard of education. It has been able to do this because of the nature of the people serving on the committees which are providing a wide range of activities. However, if we accept the Bill we will confine ourselves too much. If the intention is to add four members to vocational education committees, we should expand the membership of the committee by four and then amend section 8 (4) of the Vocational Education Act to allow the committees to avail of a broader range of experience rather than just parents and teachers.

(Wexford): I welcome the Bill in that it provides us with an opportunity to discuss vocational education. Indeed, any Bill which provides us with an opportunity to discuss education is to be welcomed. However, the Minister pointed out last night, the Bill is seriously flawed and off beam. I am sure the Green Paper and the Bill which will be introduced by the Minister will acknowledge the major role played by the vocational education sector.

I have a great grá for the vocational education system. I was a member of County Wexford Vocational Education Committee between 1979 and 1986 and I was turfed out. I consider the committee to be one of the best I served on and far better than any county council or urban council. The members of that committee are very committed to the education system, in particular vocational education.

The reason I have such a high regard for the vocational education system, and the teachers in particular, is that students do not have to be means tested. They are taken in regardless of class, creed or capability. There are no selection procedures to pick out the best students. Tremendous results have been achieved in both the intermediate and leaving certificate. Indeed, the results achieved in many of the vocational schools in the leaving certificate were far better than those achieved by some of the other schools in the country. This proves beyond doubt that the teachers are of the highest calibre and are playing a tremendous role in the education of our young people.

A number of vocational schools were opened in County Wexford by the previous Coalition Government and some by the present Government. These are of the highest quality. Enniscorthy Vocational College recently presented each house in the Enniscorthy area with a glossy brochure which outlined what the school has to offer and the reasons students leaving primary school should attend that school. It amazed me that such a brochure was available, as I have never seen such a brochure from any school in County Wexford. It was a very good idea and very encouraging for parents to see that a school of such high quality and standard offering many different courses from computers through the academic subjects, had places on offer.

While the Bill before us gives us an opportunity to discuss vocational education, I wonder if it would be before us if Fianna Fáil did not have the majority on the local authorities at present. I remember that Fine Gael held the chair of the Wexford VEC for over 20 years because Fine Gael and the Labour Party had the majority on the county council. There was no sharing of the chair between the parties. It is political hypocrisy to say that in the years from 1979, when Fianna Fáil did not have a majority, and when the Coalition were in Government, 1982-85, there was no movement to bring in this Bill, to have changes made or to put parent or teacher representatives on the VEC.

However, I am glad to say that in 1985 the County Wexford VEC, following a majority decision of Wexford County Council, appointed a representative of the parents associated in the county, Mr. Tom Keogh, a very valued member of County Wexford Vocational Education Committee who is making a very valuable contribution on behalf of the parents. The majority of members on the County Wexford Vocational Education Committee are parents and know what is required of their children and the type of education needed.

I have no hang ups about the present structures of the VEC, because I know that in County Wexford they are doing a good job. Having said that, however, I have no objection to it becoming part of any future legislation that a member of the TUI and a member of the parents' association would become members of VECs and I hope — and this was mentioned in the Minister's speech — she will write to the local authorities asking them to take into account the possibility of having parent and teacher involvement in the vocational education committees following the local elections. I hope that will be taken on board and that we will see a teacher and a parent involved in each committee. As I have said already County Wexford and some other counties have taken the lead and I hope others will follow.

The scope of the Bill before us tonight is a little narrow. There are many different areas of education within the VEC and it begs the question whether the different strands should have a representative on the vocational education committees, for example should there be a member from the parents' association, the TUI and the adult education committee, which also provide very valuable services in each county? I would like to see adult education or second chance education expanded further, and I know that the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, is committed to second chance education for people who did not get the opportunity when they were younger. I would like to see a representative, possibly the chairman of the adult education committee or some member of that committee being an active member of the VEC because they would have a major role to play.

The contribution that industry can make is often overlooked. Vocational education prepares the young people who go on to become apprentice mechanics, carpenters, blocklayers or whatever. We should ask ourselves whether industry should have a representative on vocational education committees. I would like to see better links between the VECs and the workplace and that is why I put forward the suggestion tonight that when vocational education committees are being set up they would consider having industry represented. A person from the real world of industry would be in a position to advise on the best opportunities for apprentices. I have seen a glut of apprentices in one area where there are no job opportunities but where there are numerous opportunities for young people to participate in the workforce, they are not being trained or do not have the necessary skills to become involved. I know we will have a further opportunity to discuss this when the Green Paper becomes available, but I would ask the Minister to consider having a representative from the industrial area participating in vocational education committees.

Generally the vocational education committees provide a very good service. They have played a key role over many years providing an educational system that is top class and is available to all young people regardless of their background. I take this opportunity to compliment the vocational education committees and vocational teachers in particular on providing a great service for students up and down the country. I, like the Minister, am not technically or legally minded. The Minister said that on the legal advice available to her the Bill was flawed and inoperable.

This Bill gives us the opportunity to discuss vocational education and that of itself is very important.

The arguments put forward by the two previous speakers, Deputies Dempsey and Browne, are extraordinarily weak and show an enormous lack of understanding of the 1930 Act and the VEC system. I would summarise their contributions as a brave attempt to defend the indefensible, which is the position taken up by the Minister today.

Before I proceed, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, may I seek your permission to share my time with Deputy Andrew Boylan?

There is a precedent for that and I am sure there will be agreement because of the polite way in which the Deputy made the request. Is that agreed? Agreed.

This proposed amendment to the Vocational Education Act, 1930, is long overdue. We all agree that the Act has served this country well and could be considered one of the most progressive pieces of legislation ever passed. This can be seen in the relatively few times the Act has had to be amended. However, in the light of modern thinking my party propose to amend section 8 of the 1930 Act.

There are 38 vocational education committees throughout the country which manage vocational schools, community colleges, regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. The committees are composed of 14 persons of whom a minimum of five and a maximum of eight must be elected councillors. The balance of the representation is made up of nominees of the local authorities who, inevitably, are representatives of the various political parties.

The original idea in the 1930 Act for allowing the local authorities to nominate members was that people who had expertise in education could be put on the committees. Unfortunately, we must all agree that this idea has been totally lost. The nominated members of the vocational education committees tend to be, in the main, people who have worked for the political party which controls the local authority. Indeed, I might add that all parties are guilty in this area. Membership of a VEC should not be a thank you for services rendered. People should be nominated because they have something definite to contribute. Although this is the intention of the 1930 Act, it is not happening, and that means that the Bill before us tonight must be introduced in order to ensure such participation.

Personally I have a great interest in this Bill because I am one of a few people in this House who is both a member of a vocational education committee and a former teacher in a vocational school. Having spent 15 years as a teacher in a vocational school and seven years as a member of the VEC in South Tipperary, I have seen at first hand the lack of input of parents and teachers. I have also seen the need for this input and I am delighted that this amendment seeks to rectify that situation.

The amendment proposes that each vocational education committee consist of not less than two parents, one of each gender, of pupils attending second level schools under the control of the vocational committee. I find it difficult to see how anyone could oppose this. Surely the parents of the pupils have every moral right to be represented on the body that makes decisions about the school which their sons and daughters attend. Their expertise on what is best for their children is a necessary input into debates at VEC level. This right has already been conceded on boards of primary and voluntary secondary schools. In some of these cases the rule is that at least one of the parents on the board must be a mother. This sometimes gives rise to a situation where there are two mothers on the board and no father. Our amendment seeks to redress this. The amendment insists on the rights of fathers to be represented too. That is why we provide for two parents, one of each gender. While we might accept that traditionally mothers have been the Ministers of education in Irish homes, we would like to insist that fathers too share this role.

The Minister for Education recently spoke about the importance of parents having a say in the running of schools. I totally agree with her. I find it inconceivable then and hard to understand how she has difficulty in supporting this amendment. This Bill is a reasonable call for a change in the present 1930 Act. It is generally agreed now by management theorists that worker participation is beneficial to the running of any organisation. Our State companies already have worker directors. Our amendment merely seeks to extend this concept to the State educational system. If it is a good idea in industry then it is a good idea in education. It is high time for workers in all areas to have more say in the decision-making process.

While teachers may be represented on a few VECs, this is merely due to a local arrangement. Teachers are not, by right, members of the VEC. Our amendment wants parents and teachers to be members as of right. We do not want parents and teachers to be beholden to some political party for their representations.

The schools cannot run efficiently without the wholehearted co-operation of the teachers. This wholehearted co-operation of the teachers has been there in abundance in the past and will be in the future. It is just good management practice that people who work all day, every day in the schools should have a say at decision-making level. The decision-making process is flawed without their contribution. This resource, this expertise, this goodwill of the teachers is available to the VECs, but in the past, it has not been used. This amendment before the House will not just encourage but direct VECs to use the expertise of teachers in making their decisions.

The amendment also directs that the teachers nominated should be one of each gender. Fine Gael are committed to ensuring that women get their rightful representation at various levels of society and this is why we have inserted this clause in the amendment.

The Bill specifies the methods by which the parent members and teacher members of the VECs should be selected. A ballot of all the parents is the fairest method and I do not think anyone will seriously quibble with this. It is difficult to think of a better method. However, if someone can think of a better method it would be easy to insert it in the Bill.

The teacher representatives should be elected by a ballot of all the full-time teachers in each VEC area. We looked at the idea of part-time teachers having a vote, but in the end we decided against it, because part-time teachers tend to be somewhat transitory and it would be unfair to give a vote to teachers who may be in a school for just a year in electing the members of a VEC which would be in office for at least five years.

For too long parents have been fundraisers and teamakers. They are always available and readily welcomed for raising funds for the extra computer, for more resources, for sport, for whatever is necessary to provide better education and facilities for their children. Their contribution in this regard is worthy of the recognition it deserves, but their role must be greater than this. They have so much to offer to educational debate and decision-making. They now have their own association, PAVE, which highlights constantly the educational needs of their children in VEC schools. Anyone aware of the work, dedication and aspirations of PAVE would not only agree but, in fact, insist on them having representation on the VECs. They have proven consistent, fair, aware and honest in working for the welfare of students in VEC schools.

They have won for themselves observer status in many VECs, the most frustrating and unfulfilling status that any one can have. We, in Fine Gael, are adamant that they will have full membership of the VEC. They deserve this status and, furthermore, the VECs would benefit from such representation.

For too long, teachers have been confined to the classroom, denied any participation in the very body that manages and directs the essence of their everyday work. Surely it is incredible that teachers with so many ideas, wanting to grasp new opportunities, open new horizons, broaden the curriculum, determined to make school life meaningful to all and constantly trying to improve teaching techniques have no place to air, promote or initiate their concerns and views. I believe that their membership of the VECs would not only enhance their present role, but they would contribute to and direct the debate towards the needs of the students today. It is vital that representation be given to all concerned and interested in the education decision-making process.

We must look to the past at what teachers in VECs have given to vocational education. The TUI members have proven to be progressive and innovative. They have displayed an enormous capacity for change. They answered the call for industrialisation in the forties. They moved with ease from providing a junior cycle to providing a senior cycle. They are there yet again to answer the call to technology in providing computer courses. They made themselves available to educate those who, unfortunately, did not have the opportunity when they were young, by providing adult education. They too initiated the course run in our regional technical colleges. They are the people who are making tremendous efforts to provide post-leaving certificate education for those who do not get to regional colleges or university. Given that contribution to education, surely they deserve a place on our VECs. Without their representation many of our VEC members would not be aware of what is going on in the schools.

The Minister constantly says that she is committed to participation by parents but she opposes this Bill on the weakest excuse; it can only be summarised as dodging the issue. She is claiming that the Bill is flawed and inoperable. This Bill is at all times open to amendment.

I can summarise the Minister's objections into three categories. First, she argues against the provision of not fewer than two parents and not fewer than two teachers, claiming we have no limit on the number of parents and teachers who can be represented on our VECs. That can be cleared up adequately by amendments on Committee Stage insisting that local authorities decide on the number who can be represented. She asked who is to decide on the number of parents and teachers who should be members of the VECs. No person or group of persons is given power to decide this in the legislation. Again I see no problem about accepting an amendment that this be passed on to the local authority. The Minister dealt at length with the appointment of teachers' and parents' representatives and wondered how long their period of membership would last. Surely their membership of the VEC, like that of other members will lapse when local authority elections are called.

I see no problem about dealing with any legal arguments, if there are any or any differences of opinion. It would be unusual for the House to pass a Bill without it being amended. This Bill is no different. Any differences of opinion or any problems or worries can be sorted out on Committee Stage.

I was somewhat alarmed when Deputy Dempsey implied that teachers are more interested in defending the interests of their unions than in the interests of the students. That is a serious allegation to make against teachers and it shows an enormous lack of knowledge of the dedication and interest of teachers in our vocational schools. They devote an enormous amount of time to their students. The Deputy posed weighty questions about how parents and teachers would be elected to VECs. One wonders how we could ever have a Presidential election or a general election considering the huge problems Deputy Dempsey foresaw in electing two parents. Again, this can be discussed and a solution found. Worst of all his final argument was that the Bill would not be through both Houses before the June elections. That is hardly a very strong argument, considering that commencing tomorrow the University of Limerick (Dissolution of Thomond College) Bill amalgamating two colleges will be passed in two days. The Finance Bill was passed within one week. I cannot understand why Deputy Dempsey believes that an amendment proposing four extra members on a VEC cannot be passed within the next month.

In a recent letter the Minister called for more parents' associations. Parents want representation at decision-making level. Passive roles have existed for too long. We want to give parents a role where the authority lies. There must be real recognition of the role of parents and teachers in the education of children today.

The Minister used the occasion to detail all the progress made, as she saw it. Indeed, she congratulated herself on all she has done to ensure participation of teachers and parents. Whey then are VECs an exception? Why is there no specific representation for parents and teachers on VECs? Why is the Minister reluctant to co-operate with us and help to improve the position if she is unhappy about it? We want to ensure representation of parents and teachers on our VECs. We have heard about Bills to come, Green Papers in progress and so on but the Minister would take a major step forward if she supported this Bill. It is necessary to have representation at all levels of education. Teachers and parents must be represented at all levels of the education decision-making process.

The Bill is not, as the Minister said, premature; it is long overdue. Only with its passing can real partnership in education be achieved. The terms of the Bill are reasonable, fair, just and capable of implementation. I hope Members of all parties will have no objection to the Bill. Indeed, the great surprise is that nobody thought of bringing in such a measure sooner. I appeal to Members to give parents and teachers a say in the running of the schools.

Deputy Boylan who is next has five minutes tonight and seven minutes next Tuesday.

I am happy to have an opportunity, brief as it is, to make a contribution to this debate and I compliment Deputy Higgins on moving this Bill.

As chairman of the Cavan Parents Committee of Cavan vocational school, I have first hand knowledge of the role of the vocational education system. I have a high regard for it. Deputy Higgins's Bill is very timely. It is regrettable that nobody saw fit to move such a Bill many years ago. It would be more regrettable if for any reason we were prevented from enacting this very important legislation that would allow parent-teacher representation on VECs.

I do not accept the Minister's attitude. I was disappointed that a person for whom I have a high regard saw fit to shoot down this Bill. In her speech last night she said the Bill was a very short one. It is because it is full of detail and not of waffle. The Minister said the Bill sought to give representation on VECs for two parents and two teachers and she was in sympathy with the thinking behind the proposal. However, the best legal advice to her was that the Bill was flawed and inoperable. I am not a legal person, but I do not accept that. If there was a will on the Government side of the House amendments could be prepared.

I am happy to note support from the different parties for the Bill and I believe there is support from the Fianna Fáil Party, if not from the Government, for tabling amendments to the Bill. The rank and file of that party know as well as I that the role of parents and teachers in education is highly important and never more so than at present when there are so many developments and problems arising that only parents with children at school can appreciate. Parents, therefore, can offer their opinion and advice on those problems to the committees who govern the vocational education system. To coin a phrase, the Minister's attitude was childish. She sulked, obviously, because she had not introduced the Bill. I regret she is not present to hear me say that. She would do herself a great deal of good if, having considered the proposals in the Bill over the weekend, she came back next week and said she had second thoughts and better legal advice about it. The advice she received was given for the sole purpose of highlighting the difficulties, and they are not major. It would not be difficult to overcome whatever provisions in the Bill are not acceptable to the Minister. Perhaps following the weekend we will see a change of mind by the Minister.

In supporting the vocational education system I am well aware that many people and, to an extent, the Department of Education regarded vocational education as a system for children who had problems learning, children from a certain section of the community and those who wished to follow a trade. Vocational schools were the first to offer second level students a broader range of subjects than just academic subjects, for example, woodwork, metalwork and various other crafts.

Debate adjourned.