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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 4 May 1995

Vol. 452 No. 4

White Paper on Education: Statements.

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.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the White Paper on Education in this House. Its publication is an important event in the evolution of Irish education policy. I have already welcomed many of the proposals contained in the White Paper and I wish to use this opportunity to give a more considered response to it. I am somewhat disappointed that the public had access to the White Paper only yesterday afternoon. It renders this House somewhat irrelevant and the process somewhat farcical that we, the representatives of the people, are now debating a document which is of fundamental importance to our education system without the people having had access to it and being in a position to make representations to their public representatives who could have articulated views and ideas on this document in this House. The rather hasty launch of the White Paper prior to the teachers' conferences had a good deal to do with this. It is unacceptable when a document of this importance is being published and launched that we should not have all the i's dotted and the t's crossed and the whole operation properly laid out so that the people, interest groups and the professions can have access to it from day one.

I welcome chapter 1 and the provision of a philosophical framework within which our education system will grow and develop. I am in broad agreement with the main thrust of this section and endorse the commitment to pluralism, equality, partnership, quality and accountability in education. However, it is important that these principles are reflected in the daily reality of Government decisions on education.

In a recent Private Members' motion on Higher Education — which I tabled — I referred to a whole range of students not given equality of treatment in the recent budgetary package on education, such as PLC students who do not receive maintenance grants, mature students, evening students, part-time students, postgraduate students attending various third-level colleges excluded from the Minister's budgetary package; so much for equality. When these students read the principle of equality, as outlined in the philosophical chapter of the White Paper on Education they will be very sceptical, if not cynical. One can understand that cynicism, that lack of belief in whether the Minister or we are serious about genuine equality of opportunity in education.

Clearly, there is also a lack of equality in the funding system for second-level schools, as revealed in the recent unit cost study published by the Department. Our primary and pre-school sectors are the poor relations of our educational system, as the OECD report of 1991 confirmed.

This morning we read in our newspapers the plight of a 12-year old Cork girl who cannot gain access to any place within our educational system. The relevant District Court judge pleaded with the Minister for Education to urgently provide a place for that child. Where is the commitment to equality when there are children on our streets without access to any educational opportunity? We must be very careful, in announcing a broad philosophy, laudable though it be, that we match it with the reality, with the daily initiatives and decisions of Government.

This is a very interesting document, all 235 pages, but the most interesting feature is that it seems to have appeared from nowhere. In her Foreword the Minister states:

This White Paper is the culmination of a lengthy and broadly based consultation process. For the past three years there has been intense debate on the most appropriate framework for the future development of education in Ireland... The debate has also been characterised by a number of unique and innovative features, specifically the National Education Convention in October 1993 and the subsequent Roundtable discussions on intermediate education structures and school governance, in 1994.

We read about the National Education Convention in most of the 235 pages, but no mention of the real parentage of the White Paper, no mention of the Green Paper on Education entitled Education for a Changing World, until page 233 when it appears among 37 other documents in a list of principal references.

We all know the problems of this White Paper on Education. It derives from substantial discussion and preparation of the Green Paper on Education during the tenure of office of the Minister's predecessor, Deputy O'Rourke, was developed by former Ministers, Deputies Noel Davern and Séamus Brennan, published in 1992 by Deputy Séamus Brennan, the then Minister for Education. Much of the White Paper on Education follows the headlines of the Green Paper, represents the broad consensus of the education community and will be generally welcomed. However, it seems churlish of the Minister, in her "I, me and my" mode to pretend that this is all her work, to make no generous reference to the initiative and work undertaken by her predecessor, Deputy O'Rourke, particularly in the production of the Green Paper on Education.

The implementation of many of the changes recommended in this White Paper on Education will require a broad consensus; to refuse to recognise, in such a churlish manner, the authors of the basic documents on which this White Paper builds scarcely augurs well for the Minister's chances of winning support for these changes, for winning what she calls "a more robust consensus in support of key changes".

I strongly support the enhanced role for parents within our education system outlined in the White Paper on Education. Our 1937 Constitution's strong recognition of the role of parents as the primary and natural educators of the child will be reflected in a number of legislative proposals. In many respects we are catching up with a phenomenon that has grown remarkably over the past ten to 15 years. The National Parents' Council is formally recognised as the representative body of parents at first and second levels. The proposal to give statutory basis to this formal recognition will be welcomed by all sides of this House, as will placing a statutory duty on boards of management to promote the establishment of parents' associations in every school. Parents' associaations play a vital role in many school environments. As a member of a number of boards of management, I can testify to the constructive contribution of parents at board level and in school life generally.

Access to records is essential for parents. Fianna Fáil also supports the proposal to give a statutory basis to representation of parents on each school board of management and will support legislative proposals to this effect. Many of these proposals were signalled in the Green Paper on Education, particularly on page 155 of that document which outlined the role of parents as partners in education, which in particular suggested the need for the inclusion of a formal home-school liaison policy in each school's plan and the right of parents to receive full information from schools on all aspects of their children's progress.

Maidir le Gaeilge tá réimsí móra den gcaipéis seo nach bhfuil aon tagairt ar leith ann don Ghaeilge ná don dátheangachas. Ní luaitear aon Ghaeilge ar chor ar bith sa chaibidil ar na struchtúir nua. Níl aon tagairt sonraitheach do na treoirlínte a d'fhoilsigh an Rialtas a rianaíonn na bealaí ar ceart do eagraíochtaí foilseacháin dátheangach a chur ar fáil don phobal.

Tá eagraíochtaí nua le bunú faoin bPáipéar Bán — mar shampla na Boird Oideachais agus Teastas agus an tÚdarás Aosoideachais — agus tá seans iontach ag an Aire a chinntiú go mbeidh na heagraíochtaí nua seo in ann seirbhís iomlán trí Ghaeilge a chur ar fáil.

Caithfidh na heagraíochtaí stáit a léiriú don phobal go bhfuil siad dáiríre faoin Ghaeilge. Níor thapaigh an tAire an deis a bhí aici í bhfoilsiú an Pháipéir seo.

Ba chóir di é a dhéanamh i bhfeidhmiú na bpolasaithe. The document is very worthy — well it is very wordy — about 100,000 words in total — agus níl an leagan Gaeilge againn fós!

Tá sé ag teacht.

Tá sé ag teacht, tá sé ródhéanach. Dála an scéil, a Cheann Comhairle, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Aire Ealaíon, Cultúir agus Gaeltachta a d'fhoilsigh an Páipéar Glas faoi chraolachán an tseachtain seo caite agus é clóbhuailte go snasta agus é go hiomlán dátheangach rud nach ndearnadh leis an bPáipéar Bán seo toisc go raibh deifir faoin Aire é a chur amach roimh Cháisc.

At the outset I placed strong emphasis on the question of resourcing the proposals contained in the White Paper on Education and in drawing up a medium to long term plan of implementation. Those proposals should be honestly costed. As a society we must then face up to the reality presented to us by that exercise, then seek the resources to fund them. My emphasis on this issue in the context of this debate stems from a genuine commitment to educational development and a desire to see many of the proposals contained in the White Paper on Education implemented.

When I read some time ago the report of the National Education Convention I was struck by the importance attached by the Secretariat to the issue, particularly in chapter 17 of that report entitled The Resourcing and Implementation of Educational Change. The report was emphatic about the need to face up honestly to the question of resourcing educational change and to produce a plan of implementation. The report stated:

The issue of funding cannot be marginalised in the policy decisions of the forthcoming White Paper. Increased resources are by no means the only ingredient for a major educational reform process, but they are an essential element if reform efforts are not to become frustrated and counter-productive.

However, the Secretariat in its report was realistic, accepting that it would be self-deceptive to presume that everything could be achieved at once within available resources. Therefore, it quite sensibly put forward the following view:

A policy of prioritising and targeting to areas of most urgency or fundamental need is necessary if real progress is to be made.

The Minister simply ignored that advice.

There is a chapter missing from this White Paper on Education. The issue of funding has been side-stepped. Consequently, the credibility of the entire exercise has been seriously undermined. The only significant reference to funding, a fairly ominous one at that, is to be found in the Minister's Foreword from which I quote:

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.

If that remains the Government's position, the death knell has already sounded for many of the proposals contained in the White Paper on Education. In all the presentations since its publication and in the Minister's opening remarks this morning, she and the Secretary of her Department have upheld this line of argument — that we can proceed on an annual basis only, that decisions and priorities will be determined from year to year at budget time. Such an approach lacks imagination and suggests a lack of real commitment to implementing the cost-related proposals of the White Paper. Furthermore, it flies in the face of the advice in the report on the National Education Convention that, "to operate within existing financial resources even allowing for some redeployment will not facilitate much development".

We are all conscious of the great demand for resources within our educational system. The Department of Education made a significant presentation to the convention on the costings of proposed changes. Those costings were based on proposals made at the convention and implied by the proposals in the Green Paper. On aggregate they amounted to an additional £478 million and some participants at the convention believed those figures were conservative. In its interim report, the Higher Education Authority's steering committee's technical working group stated that the costs of meeting the projected growth in enrolments in third level education, based on information supplied by the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education, are estimated at £390 million by the year 2010. It added that most of this expenditure would have to be incurred between now and the year 2000.

Participants at the education convention agreed that primary and pre-school education needed greater investment. Concern was also expressed about the need for an appropriate infrastructure to cope with expansion at third level, or standards in higher education would decline. There was strong consensus on the need to resource in-service training for teachers and improvements in the arts, science, technical education and Irish and modern European languages.

In response to all of this the secretariat reached the conclusion that to allow early intervention in these areas as part of a long term comprehensive planning process it would be necessary for the Government to make strategic decisions on educational expenditure and it would be necessary to make special financial provision for education at this time as distinct from the normal annual incremental pattern. Significantly it added that, "it is only self-deceptive to think that a redeployment of existing resources could make any meaningful contribution to the implementation of planned reforms". It pointed out that the Government would have to be realistic about what it is feasible to achieve without the injection of essential financial resources needed to convert proposals and aspirations into practice. Finally, it warned that without better matching resources to aspirations, credibility problems emerge which undermine goodwill and commitment to reform.

It should be noted that no special allocation for education at this time is on the agenda. A strategic long term plan is required and Fianna Fáil in Government will prepare and implement such a plan, in consultation with all the partners in education. It is worth noting that under the Programme for National Recovery, the Programme for Economic and Social Progress and the Programme for Competitiveness and Work special provision for education was made over a three year timespan. Targets were set and achieved. There is no reason a similar exercise, following the publication of the White Paper, cannot be entered into.

I am satisfied that following my early identification of this issue as a critical one, considerable debate has developed. In my opening press release following the publication of the White Paper I outlined the need to involve the private sector in helping to fund education change and development. On reading the Education and Living supplement to The Irish Times I was heartened to note a most constructive contribution by Mr. Séamus O'Neill, vice principal of St. Paul's primary school in Navan entitled “Business in Education”. He made the important point that no modification of the existing curriculum nor the introduction of new curriculum areas can be seriously undertaken without adequately financing them from their inception. He argued further that the emphasis on the importance of discovery and investigative learning highlighted the need to finance the provision of suitable material to children to realise this objective. His fundamental point was that corporate sponsorship can help provide schools with many of the basic requirements to make primary education more child centred and forward looking. In that context he suggested the establishment of a business-in-education consultancy to tap into this financial resource and suitably direct its funding to help primary education where it is needed. It is imaginative ideas such as those that we seek and to harness them, the White Paper should have addressed this issue.

In the same supplement there was a further revealing article by Paul Cullen on the importance of overseas fees to the revenue base of our universities. Medical schools in our universities expect to earn £10 million in fees income through doubling the number of places available to overseas students this year. The growth in this sector has been phenomenal. According to ICOS figures for 1991-92 there were 4,329 international students studying here. The President of UCD, Dr. Art Cosgrave, speaking at a recent seminar on international education stated that Irish universities could no longer survive without the fee income they received from overseas students.

At pre-school level, greater consultation with existing providers, both in the community area and in the private sector, could have enabled the Minister to introduce a more comprehensive and nationally based pre-school system. Instead we have had the early start programme, which is laudable, but is too little too late in so far as adequate pre-school provision is concerned. AMI Montessori teachers and centres were excluded — so much for the principle of equality. Community play groups and pre-schools were ignored and excluded, people who for years without any State assistance pioneered pre-school education.

I have mentioned but three areas where resources for educational change, outside of Exchequer resources could be found. I doing so I am highlighting the need for a comprehensive, thorough and studied approach to funding Irish education development for the future. The White Paper did not include such a process and the entire exercise has been undermined as a result.

The White Paper proposes significant structural changes in education in the years ahead. It contains proposals for new boards, authorities and commissions. We in Fianna Fáil believe in and support devolution of power and authority in the education system from the Department to the local community. In this context the board of management structure is pivotal to the realisation of this objective. There should only be one intermediate tier which would play a co-ordinating and supportive role to our schools. Local education boards should be established on a county by county basis. The composition of such boards would embrace all partners in education, including public representatives, to ensure genuine democratic accountability.

We oppose the concept of regional educational boards as outlined in the White Paper. Their geographical remit is too large and they have the capacity to become bureaucratic nightmares taking resources from the classroom to be swallowed up in administration costs. We must recognise that to date our primary schools and the majority of our secondary schools have survived without such bureaucratic back up and traditionally have enjoyed a degree of independence in operational and management functions. That must be respected and we must not impose an authoritarian structure on these schools. Local education boards are the correct response to the need for a co-ordinating and supporting body fully au fait with and sensitive to the needs of local communities. A proper psychological service could be provided at local level by such boards. Early intervention could take place more effectively in the cases of students with behavioural problems. Greater linkages between primary and secondary schools could be organised more effectively by local boards. In-service training and local curriculum development would also benefit as a result.

What is incomprehensible is the decision by the Minister to retain the vocational education committee structure side by side with the new regional education board structure. Essentially we will have two competing intermediate structures with consequent duplication of effort and needless waste of resources and energy. The Minister has avoided real decisions in this area and has established a committee to oversee the rationalisation of vocational education committees. This is nothing more than a political cop-out and will lead to a bureaucratic quagmire.

One of the most important areas dealt with somewhat deficiently in the White Paper is in-school management and the critical leadership role of the principal in the life of the school. The section dealing with this essentially concentrates on the methodology of appointing principals, in-career development and terms of office. The only real commitment is to initiate discussions on a major reorganisation of the middle management system — vice principals and post-holders. No real reference is made to research undertaken by the principals, the findings of which are contained in a working party report on principals and principalship. The AMCSS is to be congratulated on this initiative which illustrates the realities for many principals in our schools.

Greater support structures will have to be put in place. Fundamental to this is the need for parity of funding for all second level schools. It was further recommended that the areas of responsibility and the rights of the principal must be clearly defined by means of a standard contract of employment. By delineating the parameters of the role the task of the principal may become feasible.

There is a perception at the moment that the principal is a fixer of immediate problems and is reactive rather than proactive. It is worth noting in passing that it is clear from research undertaken that principals in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland receive a much higher salary than principals here. Very little recognition is given to our principals who perform tasks outside of the school such as meeting parents, making telephone calls and so forth.

Above all, principals are adamant that the existing middle management structures are inadequate, that the present system is not working and that it needs to be replaced, not reformed. I am not convinced that the White Paper is strong enough in this area. The Department of Education, management and unions must negotiate new structures as a matter of urgency. The Secondary School Principals Association of Ireland, in its response to the White Paper, expressed grave disappointment with the lack of proposals on middle management posts of responsibility. It felt that the White Paper was very clear on the duties and responsibilities of principals but extremely short on specifics in the area of middle management and it felt that an opportunity had been missed. It was also stressed that house examinations cannot be held in the same period as certificate examinations. Above all, the SSPAI greatly regretted "the almost total lack of reference to resources and the absence of a calendar for implementation".

We should all bear in mind, that irrespective of what new structures we put in place, the quality and content of our education system will ultimately depend on the interaction between the teacher and the students in the classroom. This is the fundamental relationship in education which needs to be nurtured, supported and properly resourced.

I was very disappointed with the selective leaks prior to the publication of the White Paper——

——relating to the integrity of the school year which sought to undermine our teaching profession and gave no recognition to the outstanding and selfless dedication of generations of teachers, manifested by participation after school hours in extra curricular activities such as sport, drama, public speaking and a plethora of other activities. We should never be slow in celebrating the role of the teacher in Irish society.

The 1991 OECD review of national policy for education in Ireland endorsed this view of the Irish teacher and commented that other countries may be lamenting a lack of good teachers and a concomitant decline in the overall status of the teaching profession, but not Ireland. It accepted that entrants to the colleges of education and university departments of education were of a very high academic quality. While I accept that the integrity of the school year must be on the agenda for future discussions with all the partners in education, I am concerned that by insisting rigidly on strict adherence to a clocking in and clocking out system, education may suffer. Teachers may certainly conform to the rules on hours, days etc. but they may feel they are no longer obliged to become involved in extra curricular activities that are so important in the overall ethos and spirit of a school's life. I warn the Minister to tread very carefully when she goes down that path.

Finally, as matters stand the White Paper is a closed book for the approximately 40,000 teachers in this country. The bungling of the early retirement talks and the shabby treatment of teachers by the Minister throughout the negotiating process has left a sour taste, forcing the teachers to ballot for industrial action and ushering in a period of non co-operation with the Department of Education. The Minister should remember my opening remarks about the need to match aspirations and philosophy with reality. Where is the principle of partnership, the philosophical basis on which the White Paper is founded? It collapsed on the very day the White Paper was published.

I have already commented on the unfortunate timing and the manner in which the White Paper was launched, incomplete as it was. It was reckless and totally insensitive of the Minister to launch the White Paper in a hasty manner prior to the teachers' conferences in the full knowledge that the early retirement talks would collapse. It was wrong of the Minister to attempt to use the White Paper as a diversionary tactic to deflect attention from the early retirement issue. It did not work and it represented a most inauspicious beginning for the White Paper.

Seldom has a Government policy document dodged so many issues or referred to so many steering groups, working parties, task forces, monitoring committees, councils, authorities and evaluation groups.

It is called partnership.

It is about dodging the issues and not making decisions. I cannot claim to have identified all of them but I did come across a national youth advisory committee, a steering group on second level funding, a teaching council, an ethos working party, a leaving certificate evaluation group, a special education task force, a special implementation group, a further education authority, a feasibility study on a national institute on mental health studies, an early start monitoring group, an in-career development unit, a monitoring committee on in-career development, a working party for a teacher welfare service, a task force on truancy and 782 student councils. We might welcome many of those bodies but——

Which ones will the Deputy's party abolish?

——many of them are a substitute for action.

No, it is partnership.

It is avoiding decisions. Yesterday we referred to a discipline problem and the Minister said she would set up a committee or research group to examine it.

The Deputy has the answer.

We will continue to set up research groups and committees but we will not have action and decisions will not be made.

We will continue to consult people.

The Deputy, without interruption.

Unlike the parents associations, which boards of management support as a statutory duty, in the case of the 782 student councils in second level schools the boards of management will merely be encouraged to promote their formation. I believe those student councils should be given a statutory basis. Why is the Minister laughing?

Set up another committee to look at it.

Why should students not have the legal right to form student councils? Are we not trying to encourage students to participate in the democratic process?

They got recognition in the White Paper. The Deputy has not read it.

I have read it. The Minister acknowledges that. The seanfhocal "Cobbler, stick to your last" can be very apt. When the Minister tries to run the education system like a Labour Party conference, she is going too far.

I am a school teacher first.

Tell that to the teachers. While I welcome many of the recommendations in the area of curriculum reform, a number of areas are neglected. I am surprised that in the section dealing with language assessment, no consideration is given to the need for oral and aural competence in the English language. There is strong emphasis in the White Paper on the need for oral and aural competence in both Irish and modern European languages. It is stated that there will be an increase in the proportion of marks awarded for oral and aural competence and that the policy objective will be to move towards a position where 60 per cent of the total marks available will be awarded for such competence. I welcome and support this emphasis but I do not understand why a similar policy is not applied to the teaching of the English language.

Communicative skills in English are an essential and fundamental prerequisite for students leaving school. Not enough emphasis is placed on public speaking or oral competance in the teaching of English. Too much emphasis traditionally has been placed on literature and on the written language. I know from my own experience as a teacher that this is so. I am disappointed that the White Paper makes no mention of this and it is an issue which I intend to pursue vigorously in the months ahead.

On languages generally the White Paper states that all students should have access to the study of a modern European language. This is hardly earth-shattering given that most students have this access already. Our young people need competency in more than one European language. As Gillian Nelis, in an article in a recent edition of the Sunday Business Post, pointed out, a wider range of European languages is urgently needed. French remains dominant, studied by over 70 per cent of junior certificate students and over 60 per cent of leaving certificate students. The Irish Business and Employers Confederation expressed disappointment that there is no firm commitment to include a foreign language in the primary curriculum. The White Paper states that primary school students should be introduced to European languages as part of a general programme of European awareness. The proposals in the Green Paper in this area were stronger and greater commitment is required from the Minister.

While on the subject of assessment generally, I wish to sound a strong note of caution in relation to the proposal in the White Paper that an essential shift in emphasis from external examination to internal assessment will be implemented in the future in respect of the junior certificate examination and that a similar approach will be adopted in respect of the leaving certificate. We must not in any way endanger the integrity of our external examination system which is its strongest point. We must not dilute its status by ill thought out and questionable internal assessment procedures which may prove to be too subjective in form and in nature.

Many teachers are rightly concerned about these proposals. I share their concern and stress the need to retain the impartiality, objectivity and quality of our present examination system. I am disappointed there is no mention in the White Paper of a comprehensive substance abuse programme in primary and secondary schools. Alcohol and drug abuse is the single greatest threat to young people in society today. Having spoken to youth workers, social workers, the Garda Síochána and teachers I am satisfied that young children are exposed to drugs and alcohol abuse. We need to give this issue top priority but we are not doing so and the fact that the White Paper makes scant reference to it confirms this fact. We need in-service training for teachers and courses for parents. Our young people need to build their self-confidence and self-esteem to withstand peer pressure and have the capacity to say "no" when approached to take alcohol or drugs. A substance abuse programme must form part of the core curriculum at primary and post-primary level and steps must be taken urgently to set this in train.

The health promotion chapter.

Fianna Fáil is committed to such a programme.

An area of curriculum reform that demands immediate attention and priority is information technology. The manner in which the White Paper was launched and disseminated illustrates the lack of importance given by the Minister to this area. The White Paper, Charting our Educational Future, was launched with great pomp on the first Wednesday of April. How would an interested person get a copy of this White Paper?

It was available in the Department of Education.

If a teacher had called to the Government Publications Sales Office he or she would have been told that it was not available and would not be available for a further month until the first Wednesday in May. They would have been told that it is at the printers which would have been an acceptable reply ten or 20 years ago but today, with modern information technology, that is not good enough. The White Paper could have been made available to schools, colleges and universities on the day it was launched if it had been put on the computer network. This lack of understanding of the capabilities of information technology is typical of the Minister for Education and a major weakness in the White Paper. I have searched through the 225 pages of the White Paper — correct me if I am wrong — and the words "internet", "worldwide web" and "super highway" do not appear anywhere in it.

"Computer" does.

How is it possible to produce a White Paper without referring to these developments? This is the information age, or more precisely, the information revolution. The leaders of the future will be those with access to information, the vast information stored electronically on databases, which is available for the price of a local call. Our children need to know how to access this information and how to use it productively and creatively. In America, President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore are totally committed to making more information available to school children on the "super highway". In the United Kingdom, millions of pounds are being spent on upgrading their computer network and CD facilities in schools. In Northern Ireland, schools receive ten times as much in grants for computer facilities as their counterparts in the Republic. Information technology should have jumped out at us from the White Paper and the White Paper should have been part of the new information technology. What a wasted opportunity. We all know why the White Paper was at the printers so long. The Minister did not want close scrutiny and detailed analysis of its contents.

That is not true.

The more we examine it, the more we discover what is missing. I have referred already to the missing chapters on cost and information technology.

Why is there no recognition given to the great work done in primary schools in this area? The White Paper lists the areas we must foster, develop and promote, but there is no mention of information technology. How can a chapter on the international dimension of Irish education not emphasise information technology? How can we talk about preservice teacher education without referring to information technology? I pay tribute to the Irish media, newspapers, radio and television for their comprehensive coverage of the White Paper as without that the general public would know nothing about it. One newspaper journalist, Gillian Nelis of the Sunday Business Post highlighted the lacuna in the White Paper. The newspaper heading in bold capitals read: “Minister pays lip service to computer skills”. Is this what our business community want to hear? In her article she states:

Leading figures in the Irish computer industry have commented privately that they find it difficult to find Irish employees who are sufficiently computer literate. Without improvements in computer facilities in schools, this situation is unlikely to get any better.

The article goes on to say that there is no commitment to improving computer skills with "no undertaking in the paper to increase funding for scientific and technological facilities in schools".

All schools, primary and second level, raise money in every possible legal way for information technology. Parents are investing heavily in home computers. This area of education is developing outside the Irish education system and the official educational system is becoming less relevant. Those who can afford information technology have it, those who cannot afford information technology do not and the gap is widening — so much for equality. The White Paper has very little to say about information technology and nothing in so far as it applies to primary schools. I presume the Minister is too embarrassed to mention it. If they want to use computers in primary schools the parents and teachers must raise the money and they are doing this throughout the country. If they raise the money for hardware and software, the Minister might give them a grant for a trolley to wheel around the computer. When they read this White Paper, they will know that computers are not mentioned in any great detail.

To add insult to injury, the Minister's colleague, Deputy Gay Mitchell, has offered to solve the information technology crisis in Irish schools by an essay contest advertised in last Tuesday's Irish Independent. It read:

Win a trip to Strasbourg and a Computer for your School

Gay Mitchell TD

Minister of State for European


and the Irish Independent

in conjunction with

Aer Lingus and ICL Computers


invite entries for an essay competition

on the theme of

Ireland in the European Union in the

Year 2000.

That is a nice plug and Deputy Gay Mitchell will be delighted.

Is this the way to run an educational system? Does this represent the sum total of the Government's commitment to information technology in our schools?

The Fianna Fáil Party broadly welcomes the philosophical framework of the White Paper and the philosophies outlined must match up to the reality of Government's daily decision-making. Fianna Fáil is deeply concerned at the way the issue of resources and the funding of educational change was treated. The issue has not been treated seriously in the White Paper and since then there has been very little commitment from the Minister to costing the changes in it. Fianna Fáil reiterates the primary role of the teacher in our educational system and the need for local rather than regional education boards and will oppose in legislation the concept of regional education boards. We support and welcome the legislative recognition being given to parents.

Deputy Coughlan will deal with specific chapters in the White Paper dealing with primary education in more detail, Deputy Flood will deal with special education needs, Deputy Brendan Smith will deal with youth education, Deputy Aylward will deal with youth sport and recreational chapters and my other colleagues will deal with various chapters. The great tragedy is that the White Paper is available only now through the Government Publications Sale Office to the public at large. It is a tragedy that the teaching partners have been excluded from this process by the very shabby treatment and bungling of the early retirement talks.

I welcome the publication of the White Paper on Education. It has been a slow and tortuous process. I congratulate the Minister in bringing this legislation forward and having it published. Regardless of the manner in which it was published, it is now available to the general public. I hope it will prove to be a basis for constructive discussion. Although I welcome the White Paper — no one could disagree with the introductory chapter outlining the philosophy for our education system — I would like to see greater emphasis on the individual and on the self reliance of individuals within society. However, in general, the philosophical framework covers a multitude and provides a basis for legislation.

I am disappointed with the bulk of the White Paper. Obviously there are elements in it which we welcome. The Opposition do not oppose for the sake of it and I hope the Minister accepts it in a constructive spirit. All the education spokespersons have a background in education. Everyone thinks they are experts on education. We have all been through the education system and have either been victims of it or blossomed as a result. Every parent thinks they are an expert on education. One of the lessons I learned as a teacher was that teachers may be objective but all parents are subjective about their children. That is as it should be — it is impossible for parents to be objective about their children.

The Minister spoke about how the White Paper heralds a new partneship with institutions, teachers, parents and the community served by the school or institution but there is a sour note in that the issue of early retirement has not been resolved. While that does not form an intricate part of the White Paper it is unfortunate that it is being introduced against that background. It may cloud the judgment of teachers although they are professional enough to rise above that.

One expects a White Paper to be specific. This document is vague and does not contain specific targets of costings. There is a missing chapter and that is the one on resources. It is extraordinary that the commitment to resources is couched in such nebulous phrases as "the Government will aim to provide resources for the development needs identified in this White Paper". They do not fill me with confidence about the Minister's future plans. If we set targets or have aims we must be specific about the costings and availability of resources to meet them. There is more emphasis on structures than on the type of education we want. I know the Minister did not state she has all the answers. She was prepared to listen and not just apply formulae and pat answers. We must congratulate her on that. However, there is a time for listening and a time for policy making and we have reached that critical juncture. The Minister had deliberations on the Green Paper, national education conventions and advisory groups. We have many more advisory groups as a result of the White Paper and I hope the Minister does not once again turn consultation on its head, as happened in the case of the Dunboyne school, the decision regarding third level fees and the decision to abolish and then reinstate, albeit on a rationalised basis, the vocational education committees within the new structures she sees in the education system.

While there are elements of the White Paper which will find support we must call on the expertise of professionals for guidance in formulating legislation. I hope the Minister realises that the views expressed by Opposition spokespersons reflect the mood of people on the ground, educationalists, parents and children. We must not turn our faces against the consultations which were held. I was critical of the decision to abolish third level fees and the fact that we have a report which was basically ignored. We have not, as yet, had an opportunity to debate it properly.

It will be no great news to the Minister to hear that primary schooling is a hobby-horse of mine. Unless we have the level of education that children deserve at primary school we will not have a basis for children at second or third level. It is critical that resources be directed in a more equitable manner towards primary schools. Despite the constitutional commitment to free primary education we know that this area has traditionally been under-funded and that continues. It is the only sector which is required to seek funding at local level. The report of the review body on the primary curriculum indicates that in the 1989 budget £1.7 billion was spent. Primary school children were funded to the extent of £85 per capita. The Minister has given figures for primary school funding.

In the 1970s, secondary school facilities were expanded and the differential in capitation grants between the primary and secondary sectors was consolidated. That trend continues in the 1990s. The Minister announced an increase in the post primary capitation grant per pupil to £165 while it still remains at a relatively low level at primary level. That is depressing for those who are committed to equality in education. In the 1980s, third level education saw the expansion of regional technical colleges, institutes of higher education and universities.

The interim report of the technical working group of the steering committee on the future development of higher education found that public expenditure for a full-time student was above that in a number of European Union countries. It concluded that in terms of economic conditions higher education was well funded when compared with other countries. It also noted that expenditure on higher education as a percentage of total expenditure on education is close to the OECD average. Yet the Minister has seen fit to abolish undergraduate fees from September 1996 at a cost to the Exchequer of £20 million. Many parents of third level students will say that it is not the fees but the maintenance grants which are the constraint. A more enlightened examination of this area, taking into consideration family size, incomes and assets and granting graduated levels of tax relief for those marginally over the qualifying limit would have ensured the introduction of a progressive rather than a regressive system. Such a system would be fairer and less costly to the Exchequer and would have done more to promote equality. It is wrong to argue that free higher education will benefit the poor or working classes.

It is very easy for people who can afford to send their children to third level education to welcome the abolition of fees. However, last April Dale Tussing, Professor of Economics at Syracuse University, stated in a report in The Irish Times that there is no basis in the philosophy of the State or in the economic theory of public good, for institutional aid for higher education. He went on to question the Minister's decision and to argue that this money could be more productive if put into primary education. Interestingly, Dale Tussing is the author of the ESRI study on the funding of education which generated debate in 1978 and which predicted the financial crisis which hit secondary schools, including the introduction of voluntary contributions.

Whose advice did the Minister seek in coming to this decision? Did she read or consider the INTO report on poverty and educational disadvantage, "Breaking the Cycle"? At the presentation of that report the General Secretary of the INTO said that the past two decades had seen a dramatic rise in the level of child poverty in Ireland and that poverty is not confined to any one area of their lives but is multifaceted and cumulative, effectively excluding them from any meaningful participation in the wider society. How will free third level education improve the chances of children who come to school hungry, cold, under nourished and inadequately dressed——

They would be colder if the Deputy's party was in power.

——and who do not have money for school books, copies, pens or outings?

What about 1989?

No interruptions, please.

It is a new feature of the Dáil that instead of heckling from the Opposition we now have heckling from Ministers and Government backbenchers.

The Minister would be much better advised to fund the primary sector to help it fulfil its potential as an equalising force in our society. The INTO report found that many schools in isolated areas are starved for cash, caught in a permanent poverty trap, in a poor physical condition and lack even the most basic items of educational equipment.

Thirty years after the introduction of the remedial teaching service in primary schools, most small rural primary schools still do not have the services of a remedial teacher and as many as six schools are forced to share a teacher between them rendering the service ineffective. The primary sector caters for 500,000 children, including a significant number of what would be regarded in other European Union countries as pre-school children. The primary review body has noted — this is quoted in the White Paper — that much of what is considered pre-schooling in other countries is already incorporated in the primary school system in Ireland. There is a fundamental flaw in the thinking in the White Paper in relation to pre-schooling and I am very surprised that the Minister has let this through. She is in a unique position in the Dáil in being able to differentiate between what is meant by pre-schooling and schooling for infants in the primary school sector. There is a considerable difference between the two and as I said there is a fundamental flaw in the White Paper in relation to pre-schooling and early childhood care.

In the past 20 years we have seen a growth in early childhood services, most of which are unregulated and unfinanced. This has been due to many factors, one of which is obvious to both the Minister and I, that is the increased number of mothers in the workforce, which has led to child care becoming a political issue in terms of equality for women. Very little attention is paid to early childhood care and there is practically no Government policy on it. Many of the problems arise because this issue falls between two stools, the Department of Health and the Department of Education. The Child Care Act draws a distinction between a pre-school child and a child attending national school — a pre-school child is one who has not attained the age of six years and who is not attending a national school or school providing an educational programme similar to a national school. There is a difference between care and education and it is understandable why the Department of Health would not concern itself with a service regulated by the Department of Education. However, as a result there is no policy on the provision of early education for young children. This fundamental flaw is not addressed in the White Paper.

Primary classes of 30 pupils are not suitable for four or five year old children. There is a fundamental flaw in our thinking in this area and it is important to realise that the causes of early school leaving do not lie solely in the educational system but also in the pre-school environment and the complex set of relationships between families, communities and schools. Good as it is, the early start programme is not adequate to meet the needs of our society. A large proportion of four and five year olds attend school, most of them attend primary school. I am totally astounded that experts in pre-schooling are given no recognition in the White Paper.

That is partnership.

It reflects the lines of demarcation between the Departments of Health and Education.

There is no reference in the White Paper to truancy. Is this because the Minister of State, Deputy Austin Currie, has been given responsibility for bold children? I do not know if he has a permanent office but he has been given responsibility for co-ordinating the efforts of the various Departments which have responsibility for children. Does this mean the White Paper should ignore this huge problem in our society, that because a task force has been set up there is no need to refer to it in the White Paper? This is an amazing gap given that a task force has been set up and the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, has a degree of responsibility within the Department of Education. That is astounding and I should like to know the reason.

I wish to refer briefly to the regional education boards. Unfortunately there are wide gaps in the White Paper. It is extraordinary that in a supposedly comprehensive paper there is scant reference to the stay safe programme and sex education. I asked the Minister whether she would make the stay safe programme mandatory in schools but her reply did not give me any hope. She said it was essential that parents continue to have the right to refuse to have their children participate in the programme if they wish. Parents can decline to have their children participate in the programme within the context of the school accepting that they will take on the stay safe programme. That programme is critical. Evey day when we open the newspaper and read about child abuse and so on we see the critical need for such a programme. It is a grave disappointment that there is no recognition of that in the White Paper. It is not quite written out but it might as well be.

I said that the document is more about organisation than education. The regional education boards as proposed initially by the Minister were very different from those advocated in her paper on regional education councils. As initially proposed it would have been the first major step in administrative reform for some years, which could have been a significant contribution towards improving the quality of the education system. The various statements and submissions at the National Education Convention in Dublin Castle demonstrated that no modular system still exists. There is a wide variety of unco-ordinated structures and the result is that our education policies and objectives are institutionally oriented. They are guided by sectoral or group interests and are not always related to the needs of local communities. This runs counter to the needs of students for equality, as emphasised in the White Paper, and a broad range of educationl experience which each school cannot afford to provide on its own. The increased emphasis on vocational education training advocated cannot be adequately dealt with by individual schools. We must respond to changing needs, educationalists must ensure that the delicate balance of education and training is maintained and that we do not produce a generation of over-trained and under-educated students.

The question of educational administration decisions must be made in the context of educational effectiveness rather than revolving around the politics of control, as happened when the Minister announced that the vocational education committees, albeit rationalised, are to remain alongside the regional education boards. This duplication and waste of taxpayers' money could not be a step forward. It will create another layer of bureaucracy and not the organic unity — so decribed — that we should strive to attain. In other countries such as Denmark, Norway and Scotland there are sub-national authorities. Such a structure should not interfere with the devolution of power to individual school units. It should be supportive of schools and engaged in activities which cannot be effectively carried out at school level and which need not necessarily be carried out at national level. Administration and policy decisions on education should be taken as near as possible to and by the community. We have had some developments in that sphere: the involvement of teachers and parents through the boards of management, the recognition of the parents' council in 1985 and subsequently its partial funding. It has involved the parents at national level, which I welcome.

We should take the bold step and leave the delivery of the educational provision to properly structured regional education boards. The Minister's proposals for the continued existence of the vocational education committees with their current functions would inhibit any boards from carrying out their functions as previously proposed and the result would be a duplication of authority and responsibilities, inefficiency and unnecessary expense on the taxpayers. There was no support for the concept of regional-local education authorities in the debate at the National Educational Convention. I ask the Minister not to turn the consultative process on its head. What is the point in having a consultative process where people are in broad agreement if it is suddenly changed? The Minister cannot ignore the consultative process when making the decisions because it undermines consensus. If we do not have a complete consensus within the educational system then we are a long way towards achieving it. Any two-tier system would encourage unhealthy rivalry and destructive competition between schools and could damage the interests of the children we are supposed to serve.

The education boards must be structured to avoid unwieldy geographical spreads. We should look again at what has been proposed. The Minister should set out a revised plan for the introduction of the education boards as originally proposed.

The Protestant secondary schools are to retain their present, centrally calculated and paid, block grants. Why should a Catholic or a non-denominational secondary school not be at liberty to opt out of regional education board funding as well, especially in the light of Article 42.4 of the Constitution which prohibits the State from discriminating between schools under management of different religious denominations when legislating to provide State aid for schools? They are basic questions that the Minister, despite the consultative process, has fudged. While there has been consultation there has not been agreement and a workable system has not been arrived at. I am fearful that we will have large, unwieldy and inefficient structures which will cost us more money.

I will not deal comprehensively with some of the elements of the White Paper. I ask the Minister on foot of the White Paper — for all its vagueness and indecision and the fact that it does not set targets or funding proposals — if she wishes to reach a consensus to consult, act on the process and not to turn her face against it. As we have seen before, the results in some cases have been disastrous.

I congratulate the Minister for at least giving us a benchmark against which we can mark the educational process. I agree with Deputy Martin that there are wide gaps in the White Paper on the whole area of information technology. This is a vast area which is not addressed by children collecting bottle tops or receipts in supermarkets to get computers for their schools. It is a complex, exciting and a growth area. Multinational companies here recognise the level of computer skills of our young people. That wide gap in information technology will have to be addressed. This goes back to one of the difficulties I have with the White Paper, that it deals with organisational structure, not with what we should be teaching in our schools.

I sometimes wonder if Deputies from the Progressive Democrats talk to each other. Only a week or ten days ago we heard Deputy McDowell bemoaning the content of a White Paper about which he knows little and referring to it as a fantastic edifice. He was seeking ways to cut all areas of social expenditure to the bone, but I cannot see how some of the improvements suggested by Deputy Keogh, with which I fully concur, could be implemented if the Progressive Democrats' financial spokesperson had his way. If he has his way in any right wing coalition after the next election——

He would hardly coalesce with the Labour Party.

I have expressed my fears about how the Deputy's party may well be pulled to the right as this parliament goes on and end up suffering badly at the hands of the electorate. The Progressive Democrats should straighten out their views on financial resources and what they want to do with the educational system.

This White Paper marks a watershed in the development of education since independence and the establishment of the Department of Education in 1924. For the first 20 or 30 years of independence we did not come to grips with the key task of a Department of Education, to develop our citizens to their fullest potential. Unfortunately, in the early part of our history, we continued the dreaded "murder machine" that Padraig Pearse so eloquently condemned in 1913 and 1914 because of its concentration on the treadmill of the narrow range of subjects geared towards entry to third level education. Under this Minister we are finally turning our backs on that kind of education and returning to the visionary attitude of Pearse and the founding fathers of our country, perhaps even going back to the great Thomas Davis whose open-ended vision of education is finally reflected in some of the structures and ideas which this Minister has injected into the final version of the White Paper. We can, I hope, turn our back on the failures of the past which led to huge numbers of people dropping out of not just the second but the first level of education. In my city there are huge areas——

The Government needs to put resources into first level.

This Minister is the first to have done that. She has concentrated on the first level although she has also opened the doors to third level. She has joined Donagh O'Malley in the pantheon of great Education Ministers. This White Paper with its clear statement of ideas and organisations for an education system for the next 30 or 40 years will allow us to give a holistic and well balanced education to all our citizens and, it is hoped, full employment with a satisfying life-long role for every citizen.

I welcome the key values enunciated throughout the document. The ideal of pluralism, that we are all different in our approaches to learning, education and how we want to live our lives, must be reflected throughout the system in terms of a variety of schools and approaches to education. I welcome the commitment to equality. As somebody who has six sisters and who sometimes felt they did not get the same benefit from the education system as males generally, I see this White Paper as overcoming another fundamental barrier. Through this White Paper we will finally smash the glass ceiling and allow full equality for all our citizens. The hallmark of this document is partnership in which the Minister has, for many months, involved all the relevant interests, including parents, patrons, owners, managements and now, in a way that has never been done before, the wider community, business and economic life.

On the Committee of Public Accounts, of which I am proud to be a member, the issue of accountability in the context of spending on education has often been raised. Every year when dealing with the Department of Education we have asked what happens to the £2 billion. Obviously salaries are paid, but how can we account for resource moneys? The Government, of which the Labour Party was a member prior to this, legislated for a major extension of the powers of the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine and look for value for money throughout the education system. The structures of the education boards and of boards of management which are enunciated in the White Paper will provide a basis on which the Comptroller and Auditor General can perform his role because it is clear that huge amounts of public money must be accounted for. All areas of public life, including the education system, must be held to account in this regard. I like the thread running throughout this report providing for accountability in terms of public finances.

As a teacher, I am interested in the ideal of the delivery of the highest possible quality and standards. I have always felt the members of my profession are the ideal people to assess the value of their students' work and I welcome the developments in the primary sector since 1971 and now at second level whereby the teaching profession, as good professionals, will increasingly examine and be responsible for the achievements of their students.

The hallmark of this Minister for Education has been her consensus approach. She has been engaged in a very long consultative process, going back to her first days as a Minister two and a half years ago, through her National Education Convention which, as a teacher, I found one of the most interesting fora in education. She has received a large number of submissions from all interests in the education sector which led to her roundtable talks and finally to this White Paper.

In regard to boards of management and the future ownership and leasing of schools in all areas of the education system the approach of consultation and consensus has been remarkably successful. I congratulate the Minister on her achievement in that regard. She can claim to be the first Minister for Education to have been able to unravel the problems that existed in that area with people defending their own patches and so on. I look forward to seeing her plans incorporated in the Education Act.

Parents are the primary and natural educators of children as stated in the Constitution. I, therefore, fully endorse the moves to bring them in as whole partners in the education system. I echo the findings of the documents quoted in the White Paper in regard to the input of parents to the performance of children. Clearly children achieve in a learning environment where parents are interested in and follow precisely their performance both at home and at school. Children spend only about one-seventh of their time on the school premises. As they spend most of their time at home a close relationship between parents and schools is critical for academic achievement.

The Government has continued the programme under which links are developed between home and school to increase the flow of information. I welcome the fact that the new pupil profile cards will be available at all times to parents so that they can assess the achievements of their children. The White Paper therefore marks a watershed in relation to parental involvement in terms of their membership of boards of management, which is to be put on a statutory footing, and regional education boards. This offers the great prospect that education interests will be fully integrated.

In the past I have been critical of the role played by the Department of Education, which has often tried to do too much. Reference has been made to the inspectorate. As much of the time of the relatively small number of inspectors and the psychological service is taken up in the delivery of services it has proved difficult to assess properly the ongoing work of schools. In recent times many second level schools have been inspected only once every four to five years, if at all. If their performance is to be assessed we must have detailed inspection procedures. I welcome the fact that the Department of Education will be moved out of the picture in the delivery of services.

The Department of Education is involved in the strategic management initiative, a key element of which is that civil servants will set their own standards against which they will measure their own performance. Public representatives will be able to assess their achievements in the light of those standards. For example, reference is made to a comparative analysis with the position in other countries, such as the Scandinavian countries. There is a need to carry out fruitful research to ascertain the reasons we have not attained success in the teaching of Irish and second languages. Research and development and strategic planning form key elements of the initiative which I welcome.

I also welcome the establishment of intermediate structures for the delivery of day-to-day services. While many neighbouring second level schools tend to co-operate with each other, boards of management often find themselves isolated in preparing students for public examinations and developing new programmes and curricula. In this context the establishment of democratic regional boards to oversee the delivery of services is a major innovation which I welcome. It is stated in the White Paper that it is expected there will be a marginal increase in costs. I caution that we may be decentralising the dead hand of the Department of Education; we should try to ensure that another intractable layer of bureaucracy is not put in place but rather a vibrant local agency to manage the 40 to 60 primary and secondary schools in each area.

In referring to the establishment of regional boards the Minister commented on the school attendance committees. I am concerned about the levels of truancy in Dublin city in particular and our inability to resolve this problem. This matter should be addressed.

My colleague, Deputy Costello, will deal with the vocational education committees. I welcome the fact that, while there will be rationalisation, the enormous achievements of the vocational education committees will be recognised. They provide an excellent service in deprived areas. In more recent times they have offered post leaving certificate courses to give people an opportunity to pursue further education. Many of the schools concerned have attained junior regional technical college status. The vocational education committees deserve great credit for this.

On the way schools are governed, I congratulate the Minister for securing agreement at primary level on the incorporation of all interested parties, including the wider community, on boards of management. I also welcome the proposals to put a middle management structure in place. In this connection the provision of extra resources and in-service training for middle management will form key elements. Very often principals carried a huge burden. Developments are already taking place in putting a proper middle management structure in place and the White Paper and the legislation which will follow will provide a massive boost in this regard.

Unlike the previous speaker, I welcome the introduction of the early start programme. The White Paper rightly notes that in other countries four to six year olds are regarded as being in the pre-school category. This programme is having an impact on the most disadvantaged children. If one traces the record of a pupil who is doing badly at primary or second level one will often find that the problems started when the child reached the age of two or three. This programme is therefore invaluable.

I encourage the Minister to make contact with the infant schools in the private sector which have been developed on an ad hoc basis and where teachers received some training to assess the extent to which we can ensure interaction with the Department.

During the past 20 years the primary sector has been very successful. The 20,000 primary teachers deserve enormous credit for their achievements in changing the curriculum and in adopting a more child centred approach.

The Minister referred to pupils with special needs. I have a particular interest in the needs of travellers. At first level in particular there is a need for integrated education. I am proud that in my constituency a number of schools are famous for integrating traveller children in the school system. The provision at first and second levels for traveller children is very poor and it is very difficult for them to get through second level education. My colleague, Senator Kelly, will shortly publish a report on travellers. A co-ordinated effort is needed between the Departments of Education, Environment and Health to provide the environment where traveller children will be able to pursue education at all levels. Provision at second level for traveller children is appallingly low and we are not making an effort as a community to improve that position. Heroic efforts are made by traveller families to keep their children at second level. Perhaps the Department of Education will carry through its plans by interacting with the other relevant Departments with a view to solving this problem.

Like many second level teachers, I welcome the junior certificate introduced in 1989. In other countries junior, primary and second levels are part of the same system and the objective in the White Paper of linking the primary with the second level system is welcome.

Deputies referred this morning to relationships and sexuality education and I echo the comments in that regard. I welcome the curricula on civic, social and political education. It is appalling that after 70 years of independence we have no system of civic education. As legislators we should be concerned about this matter. Desultory attempts were made in the late 1970s and early 1980s in this area, but civic education was gradually squeezed out of the curriculum. I welcome the efforts to encourage young people to take a critical evaluation of political life and perhaps in the decades ahead we will see a changed Dáil as a result.

On the subject of the leaving certificate, I welcome the applied system and setting up of TEASTAS, the new certification board. To some extent the leaving certificate acts as a grinding process to select people for the seven universities and, to a lesser extent, the regional technical colleges. We must give greater consideration to the transition from second to third level.

On a number of occasions Deputies referred to resources at first and second level. The Minister for Education placed much emphasis on providing resources, particularly at primary level, for example, she increased the basic capitation rate for primary schools by 43 per cent, disadvantaged capitation has been increased by 44 per cent, the number of home-school link co-ordinators has been increased by 139 per cent, the capital building fund for primary and second level has been doubled and the disadvantaged fund for primary schools has been increased by 200 per cent — nearly 20 per cent of all primary schools now have disadvantaged status. The charge sometimes levelled at this Government that we have not made resources available at first and second level is nonsense. The Minister has a remarkable record and deserves congratulations on measures relating to the capitation rate at second level, career guidance, home-school links, remedial posts and provision for handicapped pupils.

Many Deputies were interested in the comments on the integrity of the school year and the number of school teaching days, but there is practically no mention of the other side of the coin, the extra curricular activities. Even though many primary and secondary teachers willingly devote a great amount of time to activities such as sport and games, there is only a brief reference to sport in the White Paper. Perhaps provision could be made in the Bill for this matter, taking into account the extra time teachers spend on extra curricular activities such as drama, music, debating and sport. There has been much support down the years for football and hurling teams and teachers sometimes spend their weekends organising athletics competitions and so on.

Many people, particularly some of the wild-eyed commentators in the Sunday Independent who seem to have had problems with their teachers years ago, engage in teacher bashing. These people should be made aware of the huge amount of time teachers willingly give to their pupils. To be successful, a great deal of preparation must be made by teachers. Many second level teachers have no option but to spend the month of July correcting public examinations and some of the month of August preparing for the following year. The comments on the integrity of the school year are a little simplistic. Perhaps civil servants will consider the role of the teacher in terms of total hours rather than just class hours.

I welcome the comments in the White Paper on higher education. The step taken in the budget to increase access to third level education will bear great fruit in the years ahead. The obvious corollary is that we must provide extra places. I welcome the measures to increase access particularly to post leaving certificate courses. I welcome also the encouragement to our universities and colleges to relate better to their local areas. I have always been unhappy with Dublin City University in that it has not related sufficiently well to the north side of Dublin. It is only beginning to take some tentative steps in that regard. Likewise, Trinity College in the centre of Dublin, which is very close to areas of great deprivation, and UCD should relate better to their local areas.

Debate adjourned.