The Government of Renewal policy programme sets as the first priority under education "the completion and early publication of the White Paper on Education and the introduction of the subsequent legislation". It has been my privilege, as Minister for Education, to implement the commitment in the Programme for Government to publish the White Paper Charting Our Education Future. The White Paper is constructed around and fully supports the commitments to educational development in the Government of Renewal to policy programme. I look forward to beginning the putting in place of the legislative framework. It is my earnest and confident hope that this White Paper is a visionary testament to a new partnership approach to educational provision and practice and that it lays a solid foundation upon which we can build confidently for future generations of students.
The launch of the White Paper marks a significant stage in the development of the education system. It is the culmination of an extensive and in-depth dialogue among all the partners in education. It builds upon the strongest features which have characterised the development of the education system in recent times. From this solid foundation it seeks to chart the course of future developments.
The White Paper is a framework for development. This description merits some elaboration. What the White Paper seeks to do is to establish a number of the key parameters around which educational development will take place in the future. It sets out the role of the State and the individual colleges and schools in the context of a broad philosophical rationale. The basic purpose of this rationale is to clarify the concerns and responsibilities of the State while underpinning the freedom and empowerment of individual institutions to nurture and promote their particular philosophical approach to education.
The White Paper identifies key policy directions which will inform future policy formulation and evaluation from pre-school to adult and continuing education. Among the central policy aims are: the development of curricula, teaching methods and assessment approaches to meet the needs of the widely diversified student body now participating at all levels of education in order to ensure the development to the full of their educational potential and their full participation in social, cultural and economic life; to ensure that education and training is available on a continuous basis throughout life in order to enable people continually to update their knowledge and skills and renew their personal development; to ensure that those who are disadvantaged, as a result of social or economic factors, or as a result of physical or mental disability, receive sensitive and caring consideration which facilitates full participation in the education system in accordance with their abilities and needs; to ensure that education contributes in a dynamic and innovative way to the country's economic and social prosperity recognising the increasingly central role of education in the promotion of economic and social well-being.
The White Paper affirms the central role of parents in the education system. It signals clearly that, for the future, parents' constitutional rights will be given legislative expression in our laws. The White Paper sets out the statutory rights of parents to representation on boards of management and education boards. It emphasises the necessity for boards of management to promote the setting up of parents' associations and the need for schools to set out a policy for the involvement of parents in all aspects of the life of each school and college.
The White Paper addresses the crucial contribution which the teaching profession makes, and will continue to make in the future, to education at all levels. It emphasises that the quality, morale and status of the teaching profession are of central importance to the continuing development of a first-class education system in the years ahead. It views the teaching career as a continuum involving high-quality preservice training and access to a comprehensive programme of in-career professional development available throughout a teacher's career. The White Paper also emphasises the importance of increased flexibility and adaptability in the teaching profession. This will be essential to ensuring the overall effectiveness of education for students and society.
There is in the White Paper a special emphasis on those with special needs or those who, through social or economic disadvantage, are prevented from participating fully in the education system. As long as any of our people, from the youngest to the oldest, are unable to fulfil their full education potential, there is inequality in our education system. The Government, all the partners in education and schools and colleges are obliged to address inequality with persistence and commitment. Removing inequality cannot be a discrete item on our agendas. It must be at all times integrated through all our activities and efforts.
The White Paper outlines a radical overhaul of the organisational structures for the management of education. There is real partnership in the management of schools embracing in equal part patrons-trustees, parents, teachers and the wider community. Within schools, dynamic new planning processes, coupled with a major reorganisation of in-school management structures, are signalled. Ten new education boards will be established to plan systematically and co-ordinate the delivery of education and to provide a wide range of support services to schools.
At national level the Department of Education, and its inspectorate, will change radically. There will be a more integrated and cohesive approach to the development of vocational education and training and adult and continuing education through the establishment of a new Further Education Authority and the establishment of TEASTAS — the Irish National Certification Authority. There will also be much closer liaison between the Departments of Education and Enterprise and Employment with the objective of developing an integrated approach to education and training.
A more co-ordinated and systematic approach to the development and management of higher education is signalled with the extension of the remit of the Higher Education Authority to embrace the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. Future development of the higher education system will be informed by the importance of balancing proper institutional autonomy with the needs of public accountability.
The White Paper heralds a major legislative programme. Many of the key developments outlined in the paper will be underpinned in the legislation. This will represent the transformation of the context within which education is managed and services delivered. Legislation will affirm the proper autonomy of schools and colleges, set out their roles and responsibilities and establish clearly the role and responsibility of the central authorities and the Minister for Education. These are the cornerstones of the foundation from which we are now charting the future of our education system.
The consultative process which has led to this White Paper is unique and possibly unprecedented in the history of education. At one level, the extent and depth of the debate has been extraordinary. Throughout the length and breadth of the country over the past three years seminars have been held and conferences arranged. Special consideration has been given by the staffs of schools and colleges to the issues and in excess of 1,000 written submissions have been received in the Department of Education.
The National Education Convention and the subsequent roundtable discussions on intermediate education structures and school goverance involved, for the first time, structured multi-lateral dialogue among all partners in education. There is now a wide recognition that this process significantly enhanced mutual understanding. It promoted an appreciation of respective positions and difficulties. It promoted an enhanced awareness of the fundamental importance of partnership, plurality and a deeper commitment to cooperation and consensus as the key to charting our education future.
I have emphasised repeatedly in public statements the importance which I attach to the multi-lateral consultative process. I indicated that I would listen carefully to the views of all and I believe I have done so. The evidence for this is provided in the extent to which the White Paper draws upon many of the key conclusions and findings set out in the report of the National Education Convention.
At this point I would like to pay a special tribute to the partners in education who engaged so constructively in the debate and who sought consensus as a way forward. It is my hope that I have been able to build upon the consensus in charting the future of Irish education. More important, the framework set out in this White Paper does full justice to the consultative process which preceded it and creates a solid foundation which can be built upon in the future in the interests of students, society and the economy.
This is a White Paper for parents, teachers, managers and owners as well as students. They should read this paper, study it, discuss it and be aware of how its provisions affect their sector. What are their rights balanced by their responsibilities? My Department will facilitate this debate which should take place in school halls, teacher centres and parents' associations. Copies of the White Paper are on sale for £5 from the Government Publications Office. A visual presenation is being prepared for use for an introduction to the public discussion. The contents of this paper will influence the future direction of education and everybody involved should know about it.
The philosophical rationale for the future development of education, set out in the White Paper, is perhaps, unique for a public document here. It underlines that the Government, the State and the Minister have certain key concerns. These are set out as the promotion of equality, pluralism, partnership, quality and accountability and the protection and promotion of fundamental human and civil rights, together with the promotion of social and economic well-being. These define the responsibilities of the State. Within this national framework, individual colleges and schools are empowered and have an entitlement to puruse and nurture their own particular distinctive and traditional ethos and values.
The White Paper sets out the most radical and far-reaching proposals in the organisation of education in the history of this country. It sets out clearly the manner in which organisational development will take place at school and college levels, at regional level and at Department and national level. The White Paper covers the establishment of boards of management for first and second level schools, the reorganisation of management structures within schools and the development of school planning processes. It details the establishment of new education boards to plan and co-ordinate provision in their regions and to provide support services to schools. The White Paper further details the strengthening of the policy and evaluation capability of the Department of Education and the devolution of executive functions from the Department to schools and education boards. The development of an organisation framework will proceed from the fundamental principles which I have outlined. That is, the setting out of clearly defined rights and responsibilities at the different levels, thereby empowering all to maximise their efforts in the interests of students and society.
The White Paper heralds a new partnership among all. It heralds a partnership within institutions, among teachers, students, parents and the community served by the school or institution. It heralds a partnership in the management of institutions through providing for equal participation among patrons-trustees, parents, teachers and the wider community in the management of schools and education boards. It sets out and establishes clearly the principle of equality of representation for all concerned interests and the wider community. This reflects and represents a great maturing in our society. I am confident that all the partners in education will respond in a positive and constructive way to this new partnership. The White Paper signals clearly that, in the future, there will be much greater openness and transparency in the operation of the education system at all levels from the Department of Education to the individual school.
The White Paper acknowledges that the human capacity to develop is universal, lifelong and multi-dimensional. While the capacity to develop is part of human nature, each individual also has unique learning needs. The State serves the educational rights of its citizens to participate in and benefit from education in accordance with each individual's needs and abilities. Within this framework individual schools and colleges have the opportunity to promote their philosophical values.
The White Paper makes clear that policy formulation in education should value and promote all dimensions of human development and seek to prepare people for full participation in cultural, social and economic life. It also recognises that the policy-making framework should embrace the intellectual and cultural heritage of the past; these are the knowledge, beliefs, values and traditions transformed and transmitted through succeeding generations.
An underlying theme of the White Paper is accountability. There is no threat in accountability. We are all ultimately accountable to the people we serve. The people we serve are entitled to understand the way we make decisions and to know how effective our decisions are in practice. Accordingly, the new framework for education will emphasise the rights of people served by the education system to understand and participate in the decision-making which affects them and to be informed about the effectiveness and outcomes of the educational process of which they are a part.
The White Paper emphasises important dimensions of accountability. It underlines the need for improved communication and information for parents and the community served by schools and colleges. It also, as a complementary dimension of this, emphasises the importance of accountability, through regional and national structures to the nation as a whole for the effectiveness and efficiency with which policy is formulated, evaluated and implemented and the efficiency and effectiveness with which resources are used. The White Paper signals a new age of maturity and openness in our education system. I am totally confident that this will serve only to enhance the quality of our education system.
The White Paper sets out clearly the approach to resourcing. It states:
The Government will aim to provide, during its period of office the resources for the development needs identified in this White Paper, within the framework of the budgetary parameters set out in the Government of Renewal Policy Document, including the acceptance of the Maastricht Treaty convergence conditions. The amount which can be made available in any given year will have to be decided by the Government in the context of its financial position and its other public expenditure priorities at that time.
An important principle informing the approach to funding is the recognition that: "the state should serve the educational rights of its citizens to participate in and benefit from education in accordance with each individual's needs and abilities and the nation's resources". This implies prioritisation on those with greatest need; it implies diversified provision to meet varying abilities and aptitudes; and, finally, it implies that provision for education must take account of the nation's overall resources. This latter dimension embraces the priority needs of other social services — for example, the health and social welfare services, and also the budgetary and fiscal parameters underpinning the management of the public finances, including Ireland's international commitments, specifically its commitment to the Maastricht convergence conditions.
As I said, a further central theme of the White Paper is its emphasis on accountability and value for money. These are crucially important in ensuring that available resources are deployed effectively and efficiently, that they are deployed in support of well defined aims and objectives and that this is done in the most cost effective way. These themes are integrated into the new framework in a systematic way, embracing the restructuring of the Department of Education, the operations of the new education boards and the management and planning process at school level.
The White Paper also locates education and training as an integral part of wider economic and social planning. One of the principles articulated in the paper is that:
the development of the education and skills of people is as important a source of wealth as the accumulation of more traditional forms of capital... thus investment in education is a crucial concern of the State to enhance Ireland's capacity to compete effectively in a rapidly changing international environment.
This integral linkage of education into economic planning processes builds upon authoritative reports in recent years from national and international bodies, for example, the National Economic and Social Council and the work of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. It also reflects the central place afforded to education in successive national understandings with the social partners.
Though it may not always have been recognised, the debate on the allocation of resources to education is at the centre of the debate on economic policy. In short, in the context of funding of education, the White Paper establishes the importance of investment in education rather than seeing education simply as a social service expenditure. Accordingly, the White Paper establishes key benchmarks for the continuous evaluation of investment in education by the Government in the context of the annual consideration of the priorities for public expenditure.
Putting in place a modern legislative framework for the education system is a major part of the reform programme set out in the White Paper. The legislation which the Oireachtas enacts will serve education well into the next century. Legislation for education is widely recognised as a complex task, given the absence of any significant legislative tradition in the education field and the diversity of partners involved in the education process. Accordingly, the preparation of legislation will require careful consideration to ensure that the needs of students and society are served to optimum effect.
In bringing forward legislation, it will be important to ensure that provisions are not overly prescriptive. If this were to happen it would potentially constrain necessary flexibility in the administration of the system. Accordingly, the approach I favour is one which provides a comprehensive enabling framework, based on setting out roles and functions at the various levels and setting out the broad principles informing educational provision and practice.
The White Paper sets out a clear set of policy directions, including major changes in the organisational structures for the management of education. Thus the key directions and principles for legislation are in place. These are supported by a broadly-based consensus among the principal partners in education. The White Paper contains a firm commitment to giving statutory effect to key policy directions outlined in it. This will involve a very substantial legislative programme which can only be implemented effectively over a period of time. However, I am committed to making immediate and significant progress. The White Paper sets out an ambitious legislative programme. I will be giving priority to legislation setting out the principles and framework for provision of education at primary and post-primary levels; this legislation will provide for the establishment of the education boards and will provide the framework for boards of management in schools.
Another priority will be legislation providing for new governing body structures for the universities, the restructuring of the National University of Ireland and the putting in place of arrangements for appropriate public accountability.
My objective is to bring both Bills before the House before the end of the year. Work has already begun and my Department is in contact with the parliamentary draftsman's office with regard to the drafting resources necessary. The resource implications and legal complexities of this programme are very considerable and I appreciate that my objectives for this year are very ambitious. As the work of enacting legislation in these areas progresses, I will be in a position to draw up detailed plans for the enactment of legislation in the remaining areas.
Legislation must have regard to the constitutional rights and duties of parents and of the State, property rights and the rights of religious denominations to manage their own affairs, as well as equality principles and the interests of the common good. Any provisions must reflect a careful balancing of the many legitimate rights and interests in education — rights and interests which at times may be in conflict one with another — so that the exercise of rights by one of the partners in education does not unreasonably delimit the exercise of their rights by any other. Accordingly, the approach will be to seek a harmonious balance among the differing rights conferred by the Constitution. Of course, all legislation will be carefully examined by the Attorney General's office. The general approach to legislation will be a combination of detailed provision, where this is desirable but within a general scheme of provisions, which will be a more flexible statement of principles with provision for back-up in the form of regulations, rules and directives.
The launch of the White Paper is a landmark in the history of our educational development. Most importantly of all, there is no exclusive ownership of this landmark. It is above all else common property. It is the common property of all of those who have engaged with and participated constructively in the debate and dialogue which has led to the White Paper. It is the common property of all of those who, over many years, have contributed to the education of the people of this country young and old, in a spirit of great public service. It is very importantly the common property of all the children of this country who are entitled to participate fully in our education system, in accordance with their abilities, and develop their educational potential to their maximum. Shared ownership of the White Paper will truly ensure that it represents an enduring charter for the development of education in the future.