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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 5 Feb 1998

Vol. 486 No. 5

Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

We have a unique education system of which we can be very proud. Historically, it has been through education that people have sought to progress and there is no doubt that the quality of the education provided throughout our schools has given us not only our literary and academic reputation, but also our considerable economic success. What is particularly noteworthy about our system is how it has developed organically, without the overwhelming central control exercised in so many countries. This is not to say there has been no central control in important areas, but there has been a freedom of choice and diversity absent in many countries.

We should recognise that the role of legislation in providing for education is a complex question; it is not possible to simply pass a law and expect every problem in the education world to disappear. Resources will always be an issue, and we will have an extensive opportunity to discuss the funding of education when we consider the Estimates over the coming months. I believe that the basic role for overall legislation like this is to provide an enabling framework; one which protects valuable traditions and allows for the further development of the system.

There is little need for me to speak at length of the great achievements of the Irish education system. They are visible all around us in the prosperous, sophisticated and confident society we have created. The statistics are also impressive. The most recent statistical report of my Department records that in that school year there were over 478,000 first level students in 3,317 publicly funded schools which had 21,052 teaching posts. At second level over 370,000 second level students in 768 publicly funded schools were taught by almost 21,000 full-time teachers, with additional part-time teaching. Almost one third of our population, therefore, are at present engaged in education at first and second levels alone. While these are statistics to be proud of they also pose challenges and they certainly should not induce complacency — there is still much to be done.

Against the background of an education system which has operated without any statutory basis and which is by any measure a success, the most obvious question is why the Oireachtas should now seek to legislate for it. There are many reasons for this, including developments in society, legal and constitutional imperatives and the requirements of accountability and transparency in modern administration.

The structure and administration of the present education system at first level derives from a letter written in 1831 by the then Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Stanley, to the Duke of Leinster who was to become the chairman of a new Board of Commissioners for National Education. The second level system, outside the vocational education sector, has its origins in legislation enacted in the latter part of the last century. The absence of comprehensive legislation enacted by the Oireachtas relating to first and second level education has long been the subject of critical comment by commentators, the courts and most recently the Constitution Review Group. There has long been unease that the administration and regulation of a complex system are conducted through a process of administrative circular. This Bill will fill the legislative vacuum and complement the constitutional provisions relating to education.

On a social level, the consensus which previously operated and which facilitated the operation of the education system in our schools through an alliance of Government and school owners needs formal articulation in a legislative context. The other partners in education, notably parents and teachers, wish to see their role given formal recognition. Parents in particular increasingly want to exercise in a meaningful, practical way their constitutional rights and duties as the primary educators of their children. Furthermore, the interest which the wider community has in the quality of its schools and the scope for the community to contribute to the mission of the schools is recognised by most objective observers. A key objective of this Bill is to provide, on a legislative basis, for the respective roles and functions of all the partners in the education system. Anyone who has observed the process leading to this Bill will be aware that it has grown not out of the view of any individual or small group, but from a consideration and distillation of the views of many. There has been a very lengthy process, stretching back to my predecessor, Deputy O'Rourke, leading to the publication of this Bill. The publication of the Green Paper on Education in 1992 marked the beginning of a process of widespread consultation and discussion on how the education system should be reformed to meet modern challenges and the demands placed upon it. The Green Paper noted the unsatisfactory position that:

Ireland is probably unique among European countries in the degree to which it administers an education system without a comprehensive and up-to-date legislative structure.

It also noted a continuing concern about the lack of openness and the relatively minor role played by parents in the system. There has been widespread debate on these and other matters since 1992 and on my immediate predecessor's proposals.

I have sought to address the many issues raised over the past five years in a spirit of inclusive dialogue informed by a simple, overriding premise; we need legislation that ensures that the education system is as responsive, effective, efficient and accountable as possible in meeting and responding to the rapidly changing demands for high quality education into the next millennium. Since I came into office I have undertaken an extensive process of consultation with the partners in education on a range of matters, but most particularly on the contents of an Education Bill. I have taken into account the concerns of the education partners in drafting the Bill now before this House. In all, this has amounted to the largest ever consultation process carried out in my Department in advance of the publication of a Bill.

Rather than going through the Bill section by section, I propose to outline some of its principal features and explain the rationale behind them. Because of the level of debate in recent years on the establishment of regional education boards, I will at this stage briefly refer to them. The Bill does not involve the establishment of these boards, a move which has been welcomed by most groups. Many inflated claims were made for the boards about how they would solve problems in a range of areas and would, somehow, bring education closer to communities. The concept of these boards was fundamentally flawed on a number of levels, but most importantly educationally and financially.

We should be clear on what these boards would actually have done. At base, they would have been a vehicle for the massive extension of State control of schools and would have increased greatly the levels of bureaucracy. Rather than devolving power from the Minister, they represented a vehicle for making it more comprehensive. In nearly every area the proposal made clear that decisions would be made centrally by the Minister, with the boards acting merely as clearing houses. In this, they represented a damaging departure from the very characteristic of our system which has been so successful — local autonomy. This "Statist" model has been discredited in many countries and it would be extraordinary if we were to move towards it at the very time others are trying to discard it.

Did the Minister read the OECD report?

Some of the great stereotypes of departmental control are well out of date. An important example of this can be seen in the primary capital area where I will this year, for example, allocate more than £10 million to schools for them to spend on minor capital projects at their own discretion, subject to proper accounting. I accept the need for reforms and am committed to further practical action, but this must build on, and not undermine, the strengths of our system.

I am not interested in extending my control of the system. I am interested in working in partnership with all those involved in education. As a result, I have not included in the Bill a range of new powers which it was previously proposed should be given to the Minister. Leaving aside that the proposed boards would have extended bureaucracy and would have made little or no educational contribution, their cost would have been unjustifiable. I spent many months in Opposition attempting to get the previous Government to tell the House what the boards would cost, but to no avail. I have since discovered that a 1995 estimate stated that they could cost up to £40 million a year to run and that no credible plan was drawn up for their establishment.

I can think of no circumstance where the expenditure of £40 million on creating a new layer of bureaucracy should take precedence over using scarce resources where they are needed most — in the classroom. The approach outlined in the Bill directly fulfils promises contained both in our election manifesto and in the programme for Government.

One of the central objectives of the Bill is to promote and give statutory recognition to partnership as a principle which underpins the operation of the education system. That system cannot be managed and administered by a small elite. It must be one the management of which is open to all the stakeholders and which is operated for the benefit of students.

The principle of partnership is underlined early in the Bill in the Long Title. It is reinforced in section 6(e) which sets out the objects of the Bill. It is to be found time and time again in the many provisions which require the consent of or consultation with the education partners and is emphasised in section 14, which places the establishment of a board of management in schools firmly within the context of the requirements of partnership.

Partnership implies that the partners act together through seeking common ground and consensus, rather than any one of them seeking to impose a particular view. It implies a process of discussion and negotiation, rather than coercion, and it implies a tolerance, perhaps even encouragement, of diversity rather than uniformity. The letter and spirit of this Bill is consistent with the principle of a partnership among equals in matters central to the governance and management of our schools.

The success of our education system fundamentally rests on the skills and dedication of the more than 40,000 teachers who work in our schools. We should not only recognise but celebrate their role. I have included a specific section concerning teachers. Section 22 recognises that, in general, teachers are responsible for the instruction provided to students and contribute to their education and personal development. It further recognises the differing roles they may play within the school. Their vital role also permeates the remainder of the Bill. An example of this is the right of teachers to be consulted on a range of issues at both school and national level, including appointment and appeal procedures and school planning.

The Bill also recognises the pivotal role of principals, particularly as the instructional leaders of the school community and it outlines their various areas of responsibility. The principal of a school is the leader of a unique community, not readily comparable to other spheres of activity, such as business or commercial life generally. I have already established a specific review group to examine the role of principals. The Bill provides a solid framework within which they will complete their work.

One of the features of our education system at first and second level is the degree of autonomy enjoyed by our schools. There was always a danger that in seeking to legislate for schools some of that autonomy would be sacrificed in the interests of legal certainty and uniformity. I am happy to inform the House that the autonomy of schools is enhanced by this Bill. The Bill gives specific statutory recognition to the patrons of schools. This person or, in some cases, a body of people, normally establishes the school out of a desire to educate students in a particular environment. This environment, which the Bill refers to as the "characteristic spirit of the school" may relate to language, religion or religions, a particular teaching method, an emphasis on a particular skill, be it musical or sporting or a combination of any or all of these. Whatever it is, the Bill gives statutory support to the right of anyone to establish a school according to a particular characteristic spirit and to receive public funds, subject only to meeting certain requirements relating primarily to viability and educational criteria.

The Bill specifically provides in section 7 that the Minister for Education and Science must at all times have regard to the right of a school to manage its own affairs in accordance with its charters or other such instruments. The importance of these instruments, through which schools were established or which are agreements entered into with parents and teachers, is also underscored in section 15 which requires boards of management to act in accordance with the terms of such documents. As a further recognition of the traditional autonomy of schools, the Bill also requires the Minister to have regard to the practices and traditions relating to the organisation of schools or groups of schools which exist at present. These provisions are aimed at preserving the autonomy of and diversity among schools, qualities which have served the education system well.

The autonomy of schools is further supported by other measures. The recognition of schools will be conducted in a transparent way in accordance with statutory requirements. Schools will be funded in accordance with statutory criteria and schools and their boards of management will have specific statutory roles and duties.

In section 14 the Bill supports the involvement of all the education partners in the management of schools and gives statutory support to the principle of partnership in school management. In doing so, however, it is my objective to avoid prescriptive provisions which limit the autonomy of schools and which rely on coercion rather than consensus for enforcement. For that reason the Bill emphasises the requirements of partnership in placing a duty on patrons, wherever practicable, to appoint a board of management. The phrase, "wherever practicable", is intended to address situations where there are objectively sound reasons for a board not being appointed. I am confident, however, that such is the widespread recognition of the benefits of the involvement of all the stakeholders in the management of schools that within a short time of the enactment of this Bill the majority of our schools at all levels will voluntarily implement the provisions of this section.

Already at primary level there is clear evidence of the potential for such consensus. Parents, patrons and teachers have already agreed a model for boards of management which will apply in such schools. I was pleased to have been able to help the reaching of this consensus last year and elections to boards of management of primary schools have been taking place throughout the country since then. The position at second level may be more complex because of the diversity of school types. However, I know that the model of co-operation which worked so well at primary level will work again at second level, while retaining the diversity which is a hallmark of those schools. I and my Department will do all we can to assist the partners reach appropriate agreements.

Those who pay for public services and those who use them increasingly demand that the providers of those services are accountable for their actions and that their operations are transparent to ensure there is meaningful accountability. This assertiveness by the public is a relatively recent development and is probably due in part to the success of the education system in producing more aware and proactive members of society. The Education Bill addresses issues of accountability on a number of levels.

Schools are required to be accountable to parents. They must keep proper audited accounts; they must establish procedures for informing parents of matters relating to the performance of the school; they must prepare and circulate the school's plan to parents; they must ensure that parents have access to records on their children; they must establish a grievance procedure for students or their parents and they must facilitate and give all reasonable assistance to parents' associations. Many of these requirements also apply as regards the accountability of schools to their students, depending on their age and experience.

Boards of management are required to be accountable to the patron on whose behalf it manages the school. Schools, through their boards, are required to be accountable to the Minister in respect of financial matters and the conduct of the school in accordance with the Bill and regulations. The Minister in turn is accountable to the schools in that requirements for funding and recognition must be transparent. The Minister is accountable to the community through their elected representatives in this House. The Bill, therefore, constructs a framework within which each of the stakeholders has both duties and rights in relation to accountability.

Catering for children with special needs has rightly become a major focus of education policy since the establishment of the Special Education Review Committee by the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, during her time as Minister for Education. Most of the core principles are clear and I am conscious of the level of need and the fact that resources will continue to be the major issue. It is not the case that simply establishing a series of committees will deal with this area, as suggested by some.

In the Long Title to this Bill a specific reference is made to children with special needs and section 7 outlines that the Minister will have to ensure that an appropriate level and quality of education is made available to each person. This is further added to in other parts of the Bill and establishes the key principles. I have already held positive discussions with the Irish Council of People with Disabilities and have received a number of suggestions from it which I will consider on Committee Stage.

I outlined earlier some statistics relating to the education system and I indicated that, while they were impressive, there was no room for complacency. Notwithstanding the many achievements of our society and especially the economic achievements in recent years, there remain significant numbers of our citizens who, because of disadvantages, are at risk of being marginalised. I am conscious of the important role which education has to play in overcoming disadvantage. Education is a crucial factor in breaking the cycle of inter-generational disadvantage and in reintegrating into society and the workforce those at risk of becoming marginalised. My Department currently provides a wide range of programmes targeted across the continuum of educational provision to meet the needs of the educationally and socially disadvantaged.

The Government has identified social inclusion as the major challenge for the years ahead. In areas such as early intervention, provision for the needs of early school leavers and providing a quality adult education service, further action will be needed and a commitment to action is contained in the programme for Government. The achievement of these goals is a vital priority in ensuring that the continuing expansion of the economy will be balanced by growing social inclusion at all levels of society. I am pleased to have already been able to implement initiatives in these areas in the months since my appointment and I will announce further initiatives in the near future.

When enacted, this Bill will provide a statutory framework which will complement the many initiatives already operating. It will do so through a combination of aspirational and practical provisions which have as their objective the elimination of educational disadvantage. The opening words of the Long Title to the Bill convey directly what we are about. It states: "An Act to make provision in the interests of the common good for the education of every child in the State.". This theme of education for all is carried through in the first stated object of the Bill in section 6 which is to provide, as far as practicable and having regard to resources, that each person in the State has available to him or her an appropriate level and quality of education to meet his or her needs and abilities. That section goes on to state as an object of the Bill the promotion of equality of access to and participation in education and the promotion of adult education.

In addition to these guiding principles for the implementation of the Bill when enacted, the Bill also provides two specific measures aimed at disadvantage. In section 12 it is provided that the criteria for funding of schools may allow for the payment of additional moneys to schools having regard to the level of educational disadvantage. Section 32 provides for the establishment of a committee, the remit of which will be to advise on strategies to be adopted in tackling disadvantage. The Bill makes clear that this committee will not be merely an intellectual talk shop; up to half its members must be drawn from bodies involved in relevant work. In this way the marginalised and those who work closely with them can have a direct input to policy formation in this crucial area.

The place of the Irish language in our schools curricula, its role in our education system and its place in the cultural and social life of our country have long been matters of debate. There are those who would dismiss the language as a leftover of history, but they are a minority. In general there is widespread affection for the language and a sense that its teaching should be encouraged. In more recent times there has developed through the gaelscoileanna movement a more confident and proactive approach on the part of parents and teachers to the teaching of Irish and teaching through Irish. This is arguably the most exciting and positive development in decades in the long struggle for revival of the Irish language. The level of commitment shown by such parents and teachers is highly commendable and holds the key to the increasing use of the language and its revival as a language in common use.

The Irish language is an essential part of Irish culture and tradition. It is, therefore, an essential part of what we are as a people. Education is primarily an exercise in helping people to develop and grow to the best of their abilities so that they can be fully part of society. We are not concerned here with society in the abstract. We are concerned with Irish society and the education of Irish people. The Irish language is of great importance to the personal development of an Irish person. Should our education system overlook that, we as a society would be the poorer.

Tá roinnt forálacha sa Bhille Oideachais a bhfuil sé mar aidhm leo cur le baint amach na spriocanna náisiúnta i leith na Gaeilge. Beidh dualgas ar scoileanna i gcoitinne an Ghaeilge, agus traidisiúin, litríocht, ealaíona agus an cultúr Gaelach i gcoitinne a chur chun cinn.

Dúirt mé cheana féin gurb é mo thuairim go dtugann scoileanna ina múintear trí mheán na Gaeilge an-spreagadh do dhaoine maidir le labhairt na Gaeilge a chur chun cinn. Is mian liom an dul chun cinn atá déanta ag na scoileanna sin a chaomhnú agus gach spreagadh is féidir a thabhairt don ghluaiseacht seo. To that end, section 31 of the Bill provides for the establishment of a body which will have advisory, research and executive powers in relation to learning and teaching through Irish. It is my objective that this dedicated, focused and committed body will give a further impetus to the long-standing national aim of a thriving Irish language.

I have outlined how the autonomy of schools individually is supported by the Bill. The education system generally is also given a new autonomy through the placing of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment on a statutory footing as a statutory body corporate. The NCCA has operated for many years on an ad hoc basis and has done much valuable work in the area of curriculum development. Its ad hoc nature gave the wrong signal both to the council itself and to the education partners. It has made a very considerable contribution to the fundamental area of what we are teaching in our schools. The council is in no sense an optional extra to be retained or removed at the whim of a Minister. It has a vital role to play in ensuring that appropriate expertise and objectivity is brought to bear in matters relating to the curriculum in schools. In my view the council can best carry out that mission if placed on a proper statutory footing.

Given the central importance of the State examinations, it is essential that they should be given protection through a sound statutory basis. The Bill will provide for this through a comprehensive range of provisions. Innovations, such as my appointment of examination commissioners, are comprehended by the Bill. The examinations involved include, in addition to the junior and leaving certificates, such examinations as the ceard teasteas and technical school examinations.

It is obvious that serious interference with State examinations should be a statutory offence and the Bill provides for offences such as having improper possession of an examination paper before an examination. I would emphasise that it is not intended that the serious penalties outlined in the Bill will relate to basic offences relating to candidates which can often be the result of the considerable pressure of the examination process. Existing procedures in these cases will continue, and sanctions will be proportionate and appropriate.

I have outlined earlier in this speech my commitment to the principle of partnership in the development of our education system. Partnership should not be confined solely to the immediate stakeholders in the system but should extend to co-operation at local level among all the bodies with an interest or an involvement in education. The Education Bill provides a broad statutory support for such partnership and co-operation. Of particular relevance is section 6(e) of the Bill which states that one of the objectives on which the Bill is founded is the promotion of effective liaison and consultation between schools, centres for education, patrons, teachers, parents, the communities served by schools, local authorities, health boards and the Minister. Schools are also obliged by section 9(i) to establish and maintain contacts with the community they serve.

I repeat that it is not my intention to legislate in a prescriptive way for local partnerships and co-operation. My aim is to encourage the growth of local partnerships and co-operation in education, which already exists, and enable it to develop in an organic way as the needs of communities require. This does not need prescriptive statutory provisions which could in practice restrict development. Neither does it need the expenditure of scarce resources on an expensive bureaucracy. As Minister, I will facilitate and support local initiative, where appropriate and where needed. County education fora could play a valuable role and I will be reviewing their establishment following the passage of the Bill.

The publication of this Bill is not an end in itself, but it is an important milestone on the path to a more open and responsive education system for all. As I mentioned at the start of this speech, built on the idea of partnership and protecting the diversity which has been the strength of our system to date, it will provide an enabling framework to help our schools develop in the new millennium.

The unprecedented round of consultations which preceded its publication has been one of the elements behind the positive response it has received from most parts of the education community. As we undertake the parliamentary discussion of the Bill, I look forward to hearing the comments of all Deputies. I hope this will be a constructive debate which focuses on how to provide for the future development of our education system for the good of its students and society. I assure the House that I will constructively respond to the points raised. This is an important Bill which deserves widespread support and I commend it to the House.

I suspect that apart from the Minister and myself most of the people in the Chamber are teachers. Perhaps that says something about the approach of the Dáil to education. As a community we have to wake up to the importance of education. It is not the concern just of teachers and the education experts. It is critical to our economic future. It is the one area where we can create and maintain real competitive advantage as a nation. Much of our recent achievement has undoubtedly been due to the success to date of our education system.

However, the fact that our education system ranks first or second in the world gives a false and misleading impression. The reality is substantially different and there is a danger in becoming too self-congratulatory about our system. Let us take serious note of the recent OECD study which showed that 17 per cent of 16 to 25 year olds, those who have recently left our education system, are deemed to be at the lowest level of literacy and numeracy. That is a shocking statistic. It is commonly assessed by the experts that up to 21 per cent of our children leave our schools illequipped to cope with the pressures of obtaining and holding down a job in a modern economy. As far as children with a disability are concerned, 80 per cent remain unemployed during their posteducation lives. In many areas of this city up to 25 per cent of children are persistent non-attenders in the school system. We have to keep those issues in focus. There is a temptation to think of education as delivering quality education to the high achievers in our society, but we have to look at the much wider remit of our education system. The Minister is right to review the points system. That is one of the most important areas of change if we are to dilute the excessive focus on the high achievers and make sure we deliver a system that caters for the needs of all.

There is much to be welcomed in the Bill which has had an extremely long gestation period under several Ministers, but the recooked version we have today is pretty thin gruel. Much of what was challenging to the existing system has been taken out. The biggest losers in that process have been parents and students with special needs. Parents have seen their rights eroded through the watering down of the grievance and appeal procedures, the abandonment of the obligation to have an annual report on the performance of a school, the watering down of the obligation to establish a board representative of all partners, and the abandonment of local fora for debating education policy which went with the abandonment of regional boards.

Similarly, the Bill does not recognise as a clear legal obligation the rights of individual students with special needs to an appropriate education. The Minister was wrong to say that under section 7 he will have a duty to ensure there is made available to each person an appropriate level and quality of education. This is not provided for and if the Minister reads section 7 he will see that this is the case. The scribes who drafted the Minister's speech should rethink the points on this very important principle.

The legal responsibility pinned on the education boards in the previous Bill has been diluted to a vague objective. In so far as anything of substance remains, the buck has been passed on to individual schools. It is wholly wrong that access for children with special needs should be dictated by the availability of resources in a particular school. The management of these schools share that belief. The Bill places an obligation on schools which they cannot hope to deliver.

It is children with special needs who will lose out. We should look to other countries which have put in place progressive legislative frame-works which demand that the potential of each child is developed to the maximum and that obstacles in their way are systematically overcome. The Minister suggested in a recent interview that there were no such precedents. However, the American disabilities Act sets out obligations on schools and the education system in relation to access. It not only sets these out in a legal way and recognises that they cannot be delivered overnight, but it also puts an obligation on the Minister or relevant agency to account for their stewardship each year and to show they acted reasonably to remove obstacles holding back such children in terms of access to schools. If the Minister is open to constructive change, this is the type of amendment I will seek to have made to the Bill on Committee Stage. There is a track record in this area and we should adopt a similar progressive approach.

The stranglehold of the Minister for Education and Science on the education system is consolidated by the abandonment of the regional education boards. It is strange to see this being done by a Minister whose main criticism of his predecessor was that she sought to wield excessive power over the system. With the abandonment of the regional education boards has gone the hope for locally responsive support services which recognise that many issues vitally affecting education transcend the individual school. Such services are particularly important for disadvantaged children where the school alone cannot address their needs.

This vacuum was rightly diagnosed by the OECD in its l991 report. It will become much greater as the withdrawal of the religious communities from education accelerates in the future. A strong centralised bureaucracy will find itself more and more unable to respond to the differing needs of different communities as it seeks to impose its deadening uniformity.

The Minister suggested that the Bill has been broadly welcomed and people are happy with it. It is significant that the people who have not welcomed it are those who carry a particular responsibility for catering for the needs of people with a disadvantage and those who represent parents. By adjusting his ambitions to meet the demands of some well organised groups within the system, the Minister has lost sight of the needs of parents and those with a disadvantage. I am not advocating that we should turn the clock back and have regional boards. I accept the Minister's decision to pull back from these boards. When one reflects on them, perhaps regional boards were too ambitious. The idea of making a regional board the sole budget holder, the establishment of elaborate committees, the strong control on the recognition of schools and an autonomous inspectorate were a bridge too far in terms of creating new local structures. However, the Minister has thrown out the baby with the bath water and diluted the clear line of responsibility imposed on a locally accountable board to provide support services and do many of the things we will have to develop through partnership at local level in the future. We need to rethink some of the changes the Minister has made.

While it may be good politics to include section 7 which deals with consultation with national organisations, many of those involved in education at the coalface know that consultation with national organisations is no substitute for real local dialogue and accountability. The Minister must rethink those aspects of the Bill. I will look for the inclusion of a framework which we can use to develop devolved educational power and budgets in the future. This cannot be achieved, as the Minister suggested, by not doing anything legally and not providing a framework. We must provide an enabling framework which can over time be used as a vehicle to devolve powers and budgets to schools and local regional education centres which come together. That is the way we will evolve organically, and not by walking away from the excessive centralisation of the system and pretending that with the inclusion in the Bill of a three line section dealing with consultation between the Minister and people in the education system our hero has bounded free. That is not an adequate response to the cogent criticism in l991 which has been restated by many of those dealing with children with a particular disadvantage and parents who naturally believe they will lose out in terms of local accountability and democratic input.

I am disappointed the Bill has shied away from developing a coherent structure for the systematic pursuit of quality in the education system. For example, it does not recognise that developing the talents and skills of the teaching force should be a key objective of the system. Its approach to the auditing of standards in the school is very old fashioned. The participation of the partners in the school is not provided for in these audits which will be at the direction of the Minister, to whom the results will be sent.

There is no provision for resources to address quality improvement where defects are identified. This approach, with its emphasis on judgmental, outside control of quality, needs to be changed so that all partners inside and outside the school will embrace quality improvement as a shared objective with a process which is reaffirming to those involved.

I was surprised by the sections dealing with the inspectorate. Many provisions in these sections are framed in a positive way but many others are extremely disappointing. They refer to a dawn raid type approach to quality control where inspectors arrive at a school, there is no consultation, the parents are not involved and the reports prepared by the inspectors are sent back to the Minister. That sort of thinking is light years away from what is needed in terms of the approach to quality control. The Minister must look again at those elements so that there is a much more positive and reaffirming approach to quality improvement. The Minister will be aware from the submissions he has received from various sectors that that is precisely the critique being offered. There is no indication in the Bill that there will be resources to deal with defects in schools and that quality improvement will be a shared responsibility with diagnosis and critique and the crucial element of rebuilding and putting resources back into schools which have problems.

Although educational disadvantage is the issue which should most prominently exercise the minds of policy makers at present, the Bill pays little more than lip service to the issue. It proposes the establishment of a committee, which is welcome, but that committee will be no more than a talking shop. When we consider, for example, the scope given to the Combat Poverty Agency to promote innovative approaches to deal with educational disadvantage, it is surprising similar powers are not given to this committee.

Anyone working in the city will be aware that if we are to address educational disadvantage we will have to go beyond the school system. With the abandonment of regional boards there is no replacement vehicle to consider the wider partnerships that are necessary. If the Minister is serious about dealing with educational disadvantage through this committee he must give it the mandate to develop pilot programmes in a proactive way and bring together agencies in co-operative structures to consider the problem of educational drop-out.

The most successful experiments in recent times in the city have had nothing to do with the education system. They have been often undertaken by poorly funded community employment projects which considered, for example, after school activities with children, bringing them out of the school context and getting them involved in projects and activities which are of advantage to them. That has changed children's approach to education. Experts dealing in particular with difficult children are aware that the best way to approach the issue is through a positive project-oriented approach to education.

There is no new thinking in the Bill on the problems of educational disadvantage. It simply codifies existing thinking on the matter, which is admirable but is not innovative. The Minister made one crack in the dam by establishing the committee on disadvantage, but he should go a step further and give it real powers and resources so that it can foster innovative approaches to disadvantage. That would be a significant development and would be widely welcomed. It is not sufficient to hope that a national organisation will solve the problem, but perhaps it will foster in local communities the adoption of broader approaches to this matter.

It is surprising there is no provision in the Bill dealing with the essential role of schools in providing guidance services designed to help students participate fully in the wider world. As an outsider — I am relatively new to this portfolio — reading about the functions of the school and the objectives of the system, I am surprised there is no recognition that at the end of the day pupils who have to participate in the wider world and find employment must have the support of guidance as well as teaching. The representative organisation for guidance counsellors was similarly surprised. I am sure on Committee Stage the Minister will correct that imbalance. It is vital that schools equip children for the challenges of life, many of which in the workplace are light years away from the present style of teaching.

The great emphasis in the future will be on teamwork, the ability to lead groups and co-operation in managing change and setting objectives for groups, which is not encouraged in our education system. There is still excessive emphasis on the competitive silent work of the individual studying his or her books. We need to look afresh at the education system and let the winds of change that are sweeping industry also sweep the education system. There is no hint in the Bill of new thinking in that regard.

The actions of the Labour Government in Britain in terms of education are remarkable. The standard of schools in that country is so low that they had to start thinking radically. Not only are they measuring performance of schools, setting real numeracy targets and establishing league tables, but they have invited local industry to manage schools that are not up to acceptable standards. Such an approach by a Labour Government shows that change is sweeping the world. That would have been anathema to Labour thinking in Britain five years ago. It is interesting that the reaction of many unions in Britain has been hostile to the proposal by the British Minister for Education. I read with interest a comment from a prominent trade unionist who spoke about the need for change, innovation and variety in the education system, and the only response from the trade union was that uniformity has always been equivalent to equality of opportunity. If we continue to think along the lines that equality of opportunity requires uniformity, with everyone doing the same thing, the prospect is bleak.

We can learn from the British in terms of our education system. That is not to say our system is comparable to theirs — they have allowed their system to slip very far — but we should learn from the radical change under way in other countries. As we struggle to maintain our competitive education system we must be alert and acknowledge what is happening elsewhere. One of the duties of the inspectorate will be to make international comparisons, which is welcome. We have been much too insular in our thinking on the education system. I hope the work of the inspectorate will be properly resourced. The OECD has criticised the Department for its lack of comparative analysis of the education system with approaches adopted elsewhere.

Fine Gael believes changes are necessary in the Bill. I will deal with four areas where I will seek changes on Committee Stage, although that does not mean I will put down only four amendments. A clear obligation should be imposed on the Minister for Education and Science to provide for special education needs of children and systematically remove obstacles in their way. I will seek to have that done in such a way that the Minister will report back on an annual basis on what is being done. The school plan should include consideration of special needs and ways of resolving those issues. The Minister has ultimate responsibility for this matter. Responsibility is vague at national level and is shunted down to the school.

A framework must be put in place so that moneys and powers are devolved to local partnerships, schools and education centres as vehicles for the future development of a more decentralised and democratic education system. Over time we should ensure there are resources in the regions so that schools see it as being in their interests to co-operate. In that way the organic development for which the Minister hopes will be realised. The pump could be primed by throwing water into it initially and hopefully in time there will be a response in terms of co-operation by schools. That will be particularly important in towns where there is obvious need for co-operation.

I will seek the establishment of an education ombudsman with a wide-ranging remit to deal with the grievances of parents and students. I am not happy with the convoluted scheme proposed by the Minister or with his presumption that agreement is needed by all partners before an ombudsman is appointed. He has sold out there on the rights of parents and students. He should go for a much simpler approach of an education ombudsman. It is laughable to see the Secretary General of his Department receiving complaints from schools and setting up committees. In this day and age where the thinking around ombudsmen is well established — every industry in the country with a significant number of clients is moving towards that thinking — the Minister and his Department should be thinking along those lines also, and making it clear that it is totally independent of the Department, the Minister, his officials and the schools.

We should look again at the Committee on Educational Disadvantage and give it powers to pilot new approaches. This committee was a welcome addition to the armoury, and I would like to see it developed.

On Parts II and IV, the Minister has decided to weaken the sections relating to the establishment of boards. The previous Bill did not qualify the establishment of a board to where practicable, but it did recognise the need for agreement and a transition, and it did provide ultimately for a possible sanction of freezing funds where boards were not established. I share the concern of those who fear that this change, which the Minister has made, might be used to unreasonably avoid the appointment of a board. While I recognise the rights of patrons to preserve their ethos, for example, I do not see that having no board is a necessary response to preserving that ethos, if that is the concern. We need more creative thinking about structures in this area.

While it is welcome to see an obligation on boards to have a coherent policy on admission, it is very surprising that no similar requirement has been established for a policy on suspension because many parents feel that very varied criteria are applied by different schools in this area. Parents have a rightful expectation that there should be uniformity and coherence in what is done in this area. If we go the ombudsman route, one of the benefits will not be just the cases with which he or she deals but the whole change in culture within the school which will follow from the establishment of an ombudsman. That is why it is a very important amendment.

I hope the Minister will not tell me that he will provide for suspension in the school attendance Bill, which would seem to be still in the fourth division as far as the priority rankings of the Government's legislative programme are concerned. This is the time to do it. If the Minister has serious things to do, I, as a Minister who probably made the error of not doing things early enough in a shortterm, advise him that when he has a Bill before the House and there is broad support across the House he should grab it and include additional provisions because he may never get to see some of these Bills, which are further down the ranking, reach the light of day.

If it is a two year term, the Minister might not.

One at a time.

In two years he might be out on the street and I might be over there.

Two Bills in seven months.

It is good that school functions should include staff development needs, but it is very surprising that they do not figure elsewhere in the Bill. One of the functions of the education system is the development of its people, it should be an obligation of the Minister and provided for in the Bill.

I am disappointed that the requirement to produce a report on performance available to the education authority and parents is gone. That is not compensated for by making plans every five years. That is a pretty important right of parents. The philosophy of the Bill seems to be that parents are somewhat less than equal partners. There is something of a residual belief that parents are there to be tolerated and not really embraced as equal partners, that if they are given too much rope they will be vexatious in complaining about everything, and that if they are allowed to go to an ombudsman it will drag the school into all sorts of controversy. That is a pity.

I would like to see parents put far more squarely in the picture. When an inspector is carrying out an audit of a school, parents should be among the first to be consulted. Every year parents should be asked by the school how they feel the year went. They should fill in a questionnaire. They should make comments on the performance of the teachers and these should go to the principal. We must be much more open about all this. There seems to be a belief, particularly among some of the representatives of teachers at national level, that if one starts to measure things, ask questions and make public performance there will be unfair comparisons of a school in Darndale, for example, to a school in Clontarf. That is not necessary. It could happen, if one abused measurement or misused a vehicle which can be a very powerful tool for quality improvement. Of course if one misuse any tool, one can have a bad outcome. If we went down the route of having crude comparisons of Darndale versus Clontarf, one would only reinforce the difficulties of schools in difficult areas, but we can be much more imaginative.

I am surprised that the Minister found it necessary, for example, to introduce a ban in the Bill on the publication of examination results. That is just another example of this view that secrecy and keeping a lid on it is a good approach. We need to be much more open and inclusive.

I am puzzled at why the Minister has given the psychological services to the inspectorate. To have the inspectors also as developers of psychological services seems an uneasy combination, but maybe I have missed something.

I am surprised that the section on examinations makes no reference to the rights of students. It is all about administration, procedure and penalties, and there is nothing about rights and the positive virtue of examinations. I am surprised, equally, that it does not push out the boat about new ways of assessing performance. It looks to be cast in the old ways of traditional mark-based examinations whereas of course we need to move towards team and project working to have an education system which mirrors the sort of challenges of the future.

I welcome the statutory recognition of the NCCA, but I am surprised that it is not being given the power to appoint staff with a more hands on role in implementing curriculum change. There will be questions about its membership. There is a belief that it should be a more broadly based membership, particularly representing what might be loosely called the third strand, those who represent the people — not national organisations of parents, teachers, etc. — who are not doing well out of the system or who are having difficulties.

I welcome the Bill and I look forward to an interesting debate on Committee Stage. I hope the Minister will, as he said, take amendments on board because I was disappointed that the last time we had a Bill here which I regarded as sensible amendments were not accepted. Perhaps that was because we had two Ministers handling the Bill at different stages and the arguments were lost in the exchange, but I look forward to making a contribution on Committee Stage.

That an Education Bill is long since needed is not in dispute. Therefore, in principle this Bill is to be welcomed. The Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997, has a number of distinguishing features. It is a Bill which is designed not to raise any hackles. It is minimalist and singularly devoid of vision. Its lack of creativity is an appalling response to a period of unparalleled potential and challenge in Irish education at first and second levels.

The Bill is underpinned by cuteness as distinct from flair, incisiveness and decisiveness. It is incomprehensible that any Minister for Education and Science, who even vaguely subscribes to the concept of partnership and inclusiveness in education, could produce an Education Bill which does not impose a statutory obligation to introduce boards of management. To the best of my knowledge, there are well in excess of one hundred schools at second level which do not have boards of management. The Minister has chosen to funk the issue and intends to allow a situation to continue where parents and teachers have no formal role in the management of these schools. In an educational sense, the Minister has chosen to disenfranchise the many rather than the few.

The education system is, by and large, slow to change. In this Bill, his first major legislative challenge, the Minister has signalled in no uncertain manner that he does not intend to be a catalyst for real change against the background of a rapidly changing social order and a growing marginalised underclass. He is proceeding down the road of conservatism which he perceives to be the safest route. Worse still, unlike his predecessor, Niamh Bhreathnach, he totally rejects decentralisation and opts instead for the continuation of a model inherited — with the exception of the Vocational Education Act, 1930 — from the British.

The monolith in Marlboro Street is alive and well, with its future assured if the Minister has his way. This exercise is about providing a statutory basis to existing systems rather than encouraging real partnership, transparency and accountability. What should have been an exercise in partnership and innovation will just be more of the same. This occurs against the background of a budget which provided the princely additional sum of £500,000 for the provision of school books at primary level as the only addition to capitation or budgets in mainstream first and second level schools. The status quo remains the net position for such schools under this Minister and they will not receive additional funding.

It must always be the fundamental objective of any Government to achieve optimum value for money for taxpayers in the context of every service provided. The Education budget is of the order of £2 billion. In terms of the State's finances, this is a considerable sum of money. It goes without saying that co-ordination, streamlining and integration of services to obtain maximum output must be addressed at all times.

In the interpretation section of the Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997, there is a clear illustration of where the legislation is fundamentally flawed. I refer to the definition in the new Bill of the term, "support services", which are defined as follows:

"support services" means the services which the Minister provides to students or their parents, schools or centres for education in accordance with section 7 and shall include any or all of the following:

(a) assessment of students;

(b) psychological services;

(c) technical aid and equipment for students with special needs and their families;

(d) provision for primary or post-primary education to students with special needs otherwise than in schools or centres for education; (e) teacher welfare services;

(f) curriculum support and staff advisory services, and

(g) such other services as are specified by this Act or considered

appropriate by the Minister.

In the Education Bill, 1997 introduced by the then Minister, Niamh Bhreathnach, the interpretation of "support services" was as follows:

"support services" means the services which an education board provides to students or their parents, recognised schools or centres for education in its education region in accordance with section 9 (2) (b) and shall include the following:

(a) assessment of students;

(b) psychological services;

(c) technical aid and equipment for students with special needs and their families;

(d) provision for primary or post primary education to students with special needs otherwise than in schools or centres for education;

(e) management services;

(f) industrial relations services;

(g) legal services;

(h) teacher welfare services;

(i) curriculum support and staff advisory services;

(j) library and media services;

(k) school maintenance services, and

(l) such other services as are specified by this Act or considered appropriate by the board or the Minister.

The range of support services which were to be provided under the Bill produced by Niamh Bhreathnach have been decimated and the following services have been omitted: management services, industrial relations services, legal services and library and media services. The Education (No. 2) Bill is even worse when compared to the earlier Bill which states that support services "shall include the following"— in reference to the long list of services — while the new Bill, with its greatly reduced list, states that support services "shall include any or all of the following". One must ask what remains? The answer is that there will be fewer services, which will be centralised in the Minister's Department, and under the proposed legislation he does not even have to provide all of these services.

The Minister and the Government deem this legislation appropriate for first and second level education in Ireland in the 21st century. It is nothing short of a shameful funk, devoid of any real spirit of partnership. We are presented with a sterile bankrupt philosophy of education. There is no dynamic. This is just plodding on with nothing more than cosmetic adjustment to the inherited British model. Niamh Bhreathnach's Bill was inspired by real vision of partnership. It raised hackles and it did not seek to please everyone. The Education (No. 2) Bill, in seeking to offend no one, is bland and completely misses the wonderful opportunity presented. In effect, it does a violence to future generations and blights the prospect of real partnership in education.

The issues surrounding the huge difference between the definition of support services in both Bills are at the kernel of difference between the creative progress the earlier Bill would have brought about had it become an Act and the paralysis the new Bill represents. The education system requires leadership and direction. It is primarily in the Minister's care and no amount of glib PR work can conceal the fact that the Government lacks the courage to challenge the system and release the creative energy emanating from the positive synergies between the partners in education into the system at first and second level.

Section 7 is new and outlines the functions of the Minister as follows:

(1) Each of the following shall be a function of the Minister under the Act:

(a) to determine national education policy, and

(b) to plan and co-ordinate—

(i) the provision of education in recognised schools and centres for education, and

(ii) support services.

Section 7(4)(b) states that the Minister:

shall, wherever practicable, consult with patrons, national associations of parents, recognised school management organisations, recognised trade unions and staff associations representing teachers and such other persons who have a special interest in or knowledge of matters relating to education as the Minister considers appropriate.

This is a far cry from real partnership in education when compared with section 27 of the earlier Bill which charged the directors of education boards with producing an education plan as soon as may be after they were appointed and at such intervals as may be specified by the Minister. The plan would set out the objectives to be achieved by the education board in the three years following its preparation or in such other periods as may be specified by the Minister, the priorities accorded to these objectives and the means by which they would be met by the education boards.

Niamh Bhreathnach's Bill further provided that:

(3) The education board shall, in accordance with such directions as may be given by the Minister, consult with the parents, patrons, students, teachers and other persons or bodies likely to be affected by the plan or who have an interest in the plan in the education region concerned, on the plan as prepared by the Director.

(4) The education board may, having regard to the consultation as provided by subsection (3) either approve of an education plan without modification or following appropriate consultation with the Director approve of the education plan submitted under this section with such modifications as it thinks fit to make.

It continues:

(6) An education board shall ensure that—

(a) a copy of the education plan is given to each school in its education region

(b) a copy is made available at the main office of the education board for inspection by any person who wishes to inspect it

(c) access to the plan for the purpose of inspecting it is given to such person or persons during normal office hours

(d) a reasonable number of copies of the plan are deposited in each public library in the education region and,

(e) copies of the plan are available for sale to the public at a reasonable charge

(7) The Director of an education board shall review the education plan annually and shall make a report on the plan to the education board which may amend the plan on the basis of that report.

(8) An education board shall provide the Minister with a copy of the report made by the Director under subsection (7) as soon as practicable after it has considered it together with a copy of any amendments to the education plan arising from it.

I stress the education system has served the country exceedingly well. Irish people are among the best educated in the world. The previous Minister, Niamh Bhreathnach, informed the House of an international report which concluded that Ireland was second only to Singapore in the contribution made by education to the competitiveness of its economy. However, we cannot stand still and, while building on success, we must adapt and manage change.

It is timely to quote from a speech the Minister's predecessor made in the House in May 1996 when she described the Department of Education as follows:

The Department of Education is overwhelmed with the day-to-day business of the education system, a system in which more than 1 million students and teachers are involved every day. The Department, through sheer pressure of business, is seen as bureaucratic, unresponsive and slow. Communities develop a dependency culture while waiting for a central Department to make decisions. Partnership in planning for education is stifled. Competition rather than co-operation between different schools can result. This is why now, more than ever, we need decentralised structures in education. Given the maturity of our educational system in the 1990s there is now the need to look afresh at the administrative arrangements.

Has the position changed to any extent since that speech was made less than two years ago? Is there no less need now for decentralisation in the Department? Does the Minister accept that the Bill offends in a very profound way against the principle of subsidiarity enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty and endorsed in the Amsterdam Treaty? In what way is the Bill anything more than a touching up of our centralised system of administration which originated in the 19th century?

When the Department of Education was established in 1924 and assumed responsibility for all national secondary and technical education, it took over the existing system. The Vocational Education Act, 1930, was positive and effective devolution. However, we now find ourselves with a unique level of centralisation as against that which pertains in the rest of Europe. The Minister is refusing to follow best international practice in education matters which matches need and distinct traditions in education systems.

We need a model which would confine the Department to areas such as overall policy matters, curriculum supervision and quality assurance. It should also devolve administrative matters such as staffing, school building provision and developing linkages with the business community to the regions. On Committee Stage the Labour Party will seek to substantially amend this Bill. We will seek in our amendments to introduce decentralisation, accountability and transparency to legislation which looks back rather than forward and challenges nothing.

I seek clarification on one of the functions of a school listed in the Bill. This function is to "promote the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students in consultation with their parents having regard to the characteristic spirit of the school." The term "characteristic spirit" needs much more precise definition. Although the Minister in his contribution went some distance down this road, I still find the concept he presents to be very vague. In addition this function replaces the function in the previous Bill — to "provide social, personal and health education for students". Why was the word "health" dropped? Why has the function changed from the specific "provide . education" to the vague "promote . development". I look forward to the Minister's response.

Part III, section 13(2)(iv) relating to the functions of an inspector states that the inspector "shall advise parents and parents' associations". The previous Bill provided only for advising parents' associations. Why has the Minister brought about this change in drafting and is there a danger that the inspector could have an inordinate amount of his or her time taken up with discharging these functions to the detriment of other duties? Why is there no specified function for the inspectorate in the provision of inservice training? Will he put down an appropriate amendment in this regard?

Will the Minister explain why in section14(5), relating to the establishment and membership of boards of management, the phrase "which has an appropriate gender balance" has been dropped? It seems the Government and the Minister have been exposed for their total lack of commitment to gender balance. I call on the Minister to restore the phrase on Committee Stage.

Section 15(2)(g), which refers to the functions of boards of management, states that a board, in carrying out its functions, shall "within the resources provided to the school in accordance with section 12, make reasonable provision and accommodation for students with special educational needs". This is an extraordinarily weak subsection and effectively confers no rights on students with special needs. The section requires substantial strengthening if it is to have any worthwhile impact and I await the Minister's response on this. The Labour Party will accept nothing less than the proper addressing of provision and accommodation for students with special needs.

Section 18(2) deals with the keeping of accounts and records. It states:

(2) Accounts kept in pursuance of this section shall be made available by the school concerned for inspection by the Minister in so far as those accounts relate to moneys provided in accordance with section 12.

There are moneys voted by the Oireachtas whereas the Bill introduced by the previous Minister states:

49. (1) A board shall keep, in such form as may be approved of by the education board, all proper and usual accounts and records of all income received by it or expenditure of such moneys incurred by it.

Why is the Minister, in this era of public accountability, excluding accounting for donations from the accounts of boards of management?

Section 30(2)(b), (c) and (d), which deals with the curriculum, raises the question of a clear and concise definition of "characteristic spirit of the school". Section 32 deals with educational disadvantage, but does not define it. It is imperative that all the partners in education understand what the legislation means by educational disadvantage. Why does the Bill omit any reference to further education? Does the Minister intend to introduce separately a further education authority? Does he not agree this extremely important segment of the second level sector urgently requires co-ordination and direction?

I am also puzzled by a term "staff associations" which appears in Part III, section 13(7), Part IV, section 14(1), Part VI, section 25 and section 28(1). This term is not defined in the interpretation section of Part I and did not appear in the Education Bill, 1997. How does this inclusion improve the Bill and what does it mean? Who do the staff associations represent? Have they a negotiating licence because the Bill seems to involve them in industrial relations areas?

Many people, including myself, are concerned about children who are young offenders, very disruptive in school or generally out of control. The schools cannot deal effectively with such children. It appears that some 1,000 children annually do not make the transition from first to second level and many others leave the education system at a very young age. There is a serious deficit of parenting skills in the community. As a primary teacher I believe dysfunctional children can be identified by teachers at an early age. The antisocial behaviour of such dysfunctional children can be effectively addressed only in a family context and the sooner this is done the better. I have long believed that there should be at least one school welfare officer in each VEC area. Such officers should have the backing of statute law in being enabled to co-ordinate the various statutory and voluntary organisations which would have a role in resolving the difficulties of dysfunctional children in a family context. The problems relating to these dysfunctional children are multi-faceted and require a co-ordinated multifaceted response. Without such a dedicated devolved response, no meaningful widespread progress will be made.

To say the Bill is disappointing is a major understatement. I look forward to Committee Stage where I will seek by amendment to develop real partnership in education.

The Minister said that following the passage of the Bill he would review the establishment of county education fora. Basically, he is saying he is prepared to consider the establishment of institutions that would have no base in legislation. If the Minister intends to do that, he should introduce an appropriate amendment on Committee Stage. When the word "fora" is decoded, it suggests talking shops. Such fora should have a more solid base and even though this is much less than what the Labour Party would seek, it would be progressive. However, institutions set up after the legislation has been enacted will not have the necessary teeth and would have limited value in education.

I am sure the Minister agrees that the number of places for young offenders is inadequate. The system, inasmuch as it relates to such offenders, is too fragmented. The Department of Education and Science should be the lead Department in dealing with those people. Children as young as nine and ten — even a small number of them — can wreak havoc in communities. From their point of view they are on a trail to nowhere and will merely go further down the road of offending. While there is certain sympathy in the Bill for that group, real structures must be put in place because those children have a huge detrimental effect on the educational system. They are part of a system which has difficulty coping with them.

The Bill is disappointing, but the Labour Party will table constructive amendments on Committee Stage. I hope there can be an effective meeting of minds in the select committee.

I welcome the publication of this Bill. It is the second landmark Bill in the education area published by the Minister since he came to office and I commend him for that. Many of us will recall that until relatively recently teachers were guided by a dog-eared book covering the rules and procedures for national schools which was kept in the principal's office and governed by the operation of circular letter. As other speakers pointed out, the last significant legislation on education to come before the Dáil was the Vocational Education Act, 1930. It is extraordinary that some speakers can laud the benefits of that Act while at the same time try to decimate the bodies set up under it.

I pay tribute to the legislators who built up the education system, of which we are justly proud. The introduction of free second level education and other initiatives was visionary. I also pay tribute to staff who work in the institution in Marlborough Street which many of us in the teaching profession treat with caution and suspicion. They were enlightened, creative and sometimes eccentric, but they brought to the education process a diversity which reflects well on all of us.

I welcome the Minister's decision to introduce a freeing-up mechanism. He talked about encouraging organic development and diversity. The Bill is not prescriptive in its approach. It encourages partnership, which many of us have sought for a long time, and it will enhance the autonomy of schools.

I want to speak briefly about the Minister's decision not to go down the road of regional education boards. That decision will be greeted by a sigh of relief from many parent and teacher groups and management bodies. Those of us involved in education until recently decided that if regional education boards were set up we would try to work with them. However, many of us believe they would have extended the dead hand of bureaucracy and that the £40 million could be used more usefully in resourcing schools. I also welcome the development of local fora, to which Deputy O'Shea referred.

I am pleased at the reference to early childhood education in the Bill. We are relatively recent converts to the importance of early childhood education. In Dublin community play-groups have been set up by parents, officials of Dublin Corporation and statutory bodies, all of whom have done tremendous work. Latterly we have witnessed the setting up of early start programmes. These contribute greatly to countering many deficiencies in the education system, including poor parenting, lack of social skills which many children experience and various levels of deprivation. I commend the Minister on his decision to set up a forum on early childhood education, on which I look forward to a constructive debate. The models in operation for delivering early childhood education have many positive aspects which commend them but are not the only models we can follow.

To have to write in anything about disadvantage in an Education Bill is almost an admission of failure on the part of all of us to treat the children of the nation equally. It is important that the Minister acknowledges the need for special provision in the area of disadvantage. Special financial measures are required in this area. Disadvantaged schools, which by definition are located in areas of high unemployment and poor social skills, find it extremely difficult to raise money. Such schools do not have access to industry in the same way as schools in better off areas. Positive discrimination must be made for schools in disadvantaged areas.

I welcome the setting up of the special committee to look at questions of disadvantage. It is only by targeted initiatives that we can address the issues discussed at the Joint Committee on Education and Science recently, for example, early school leaving, disruptive behaviour, low levels of educational attainment etc. It is important that provision is made for these areas.

The breaking the cycle initiative is important but we need to be even more focused than that. There are a relatively small number of areas throughout the country which are severely disadvantaged. Those areas need a whole range of resources targeted at them, whether at parents, teachers or even buildings. We may have failed in recent times by allowing the ripples of disadvantage status to extend outwards so that everybody is getting a little of the resources. I would much prefer if some of the £40 million saved here was used to reduce class sizes right across the board and to target intensively measures to alleviate disadvantage in severely disadvantaged areas.

An issue arose at the joint committee which merits consideration but it may be more of an administrative matter. Many of us are aware that children from disadvantaged areas attend schools on the fringes of disadvantaged areas. Unfortunately, they are going into a school of larger class sizes where there are no home-school co-ordinators, remedial teachers and resource teachers unless the local community buys in those resources. When talking about disadvantage, we need to look at that group.

Last week I spoke to the staff of a school where 60 per cent of its intake comes from an adjacent area which has disadvantaged status and yet it cannot get any form of positive discrimination for its school. With the aid of the Bill, schools will have to learn they are involved in a multi-agency approach. The day is long gone when schools could do everything. In my earlier years when studying for my H.Dip at Trinity College, I did a minor thesis on the role of the school in the community. Last night and the previous night I was leafing through it to remind myself of the deep thoughts I had in those days. A school can do much for a community. It cannot engineer a community, nor should it be expected to do so, but it can animate a community and many teachers have been effective in doing that. Where it has been successful it is being done on a multi-agency approach.

The Bill refers to admissions policy. Many of us over the years will have had great difficulty in trying to ensure a smooth progression from primary to post-primary schools without entrance examinations. The whole assessment process at primary and post-primary education needs to be linked. Children who transfer from the primary sector, a child centred education system, to the post-primary sector, a more exam-based system, need to have a system developed where they can transfer more readily. I for one will not shed tears when I see the back of entrance exams.

There is a reference in the Bill to the links needed between primary and post-primary schools. This is where the local fora can be effective. For many 12 year old children the transfer from primary to post-primary schools is traumatic. They move from relating with one teacher to as many as seven or eight in the post-primary sector. They leave primary school in July and in September they are in a much different situation. Some children lose momentum and there is a lack of progression in their educational achievement. I encourage the Minister to develop mechanisms to establish links between primary and post-primary schools to enable a greater understanding of the difficulties which young people experience when transferring from primary to post-primary schools.

I welcome the section dealing with the inspectorate. I am old enough to remember an inspector, who shall be nameless, who came into a school one Monday morning and wondered why the class which knew "Yellow Submarine" could not sing or play "Fáinne Geal an Lae". Recently, we have developed a more enlightened inspectorate. The functions of the inspector, as outlined in the Bill, are encouraging. The Bill states that an inspector shall visit recognised schools and centres for education and evaluate their management and the quality and effectiveness of the education provided in them including the quality of teaching and effectiveness of individual teachers; evaluate the education standards; assess the implementation of regulations made by the Minister and report to the Minister on these matters; advise teachers and boards of management in respect of the performance of their duties and, in particular, assist teachers in employing improved methods of teaching and conducting classes; advise parents, and parents' associations — this is a significant and positive development — may conduct assessments of the educational needs of students in recognised schools and advise those students, their parents and the schools as appropriate in relation to their educational development.

Much time has been lost in putting in place a school psychological service which has been long sought. Deputy O'Shea mentioned disruptive and dysfunctional pupils, many of whom could have been dealt with effectively if such a service was provided earlier. It takes only one or two pupils to disrupt a classroom or school.

I am delighted teachers may be seconded to the inspectorate. In recent times they have been seconded on an informal basis. Stay Safe co-ordinators, sex education programme advisers, and home-school-community liaison co-ordinators fall into this category. It is a pity that more teachers have not had the opportunity to share their expertise and advice with colleagues. They may be far better received than members of the traditional inspectorate who are seen as more lofty characters and not as enlightened as some of their peers.

On the issue of expulsions and suspensions, every Member has on his or her file correspondence concerning up to 20 intractable cases where young people have been excluded from schools. It is extraordinarily difficult to reintegrate them in another school. This is unsatisfactory. I have great sympathy for the school principal who is left with no other option but to exclude a student from a school and for the exasperated parent who tries without success to find a placement for their young adult in another school. The provision in the Bill is convoluted but will be welcomed by parents nonetheless. The process needs to be transparent and coherent.

The questions of school attendance, exclusions, expulsions and suspensions are inextricably linked. Disadvantage and geographical location are not the only factors. Expulsions and suspensions occur as often in affluent areas as in areas of great need.

The policy on children with special needs which has been in place for some time is presenting difficulties for teachers and parents. There is a need to provide extra resources. The special needs of gifted children also need to be looked at. Groups such as An Óige Tréitheach do great work.

Alternative school models such as the youth encounter projects need to be looked at. The Minister is anxious not to have prescriptive models. There is a need for organic development whereby schools can develop links with communities as well as other schools.

It is commendable that adult education is mentioned in the Bill. Some extraordinary initiatives have been taken by local groups. I compliment Sheila Conroy, the People's College, the National College of Industrial Relations and community education co-ordinators throughout the country for the unbelievable work they have done during the years.

The establishment of students councils in post-primary schools is a progressive move. This will give students an opportunity to understand the democratic process, although it may cause many problems for school managements and principals. I am delighted provision is made for parental involvement, in keeping with the concept of equal partnership first advocated by Deputy O'Rourke, as Minister for Education, in 1987 when she provided seed funding for parents' associations which have gone from strength to strength.

Few Bills have had such a long lead-in. This Bill has been coming for a long time. Educationists have been commenting for years that the education system does not have a statutory basis. A Green Paper was published in 1992 which was the subject of lengthy discussions with all those involved in education. This was followed by the publication of a White Paper, the Education Convention at Dublin Castle, rounds of consultations between the many bodies involved in education and the then Minister and the Department, the publication of the Education (No. 1) Bill, a further round of consultations with the Minister and the publication of the Education (No. 2) Bill. We were entitled to expect that this Bill would do great things for the education system.

For the first time this Bill places the education system on a legislative basis. Apart from that, I wonder what it is all about. I have gone through it with great care to ascertain where the education system is to be reformed. I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and have no doubt he will bring his well acknowledged talents and energies to the position but, from the first child of the Donogh O'Malley generation to occupy the office of Minister for Education and Science and the youngest Minister for Education and Science in the history of the State, I had expected some reforms. I am greatly disappointed. This legislation does no more than freeze in time the education system. It is an accurate snapshot or still of the education system in 1998. It is fossilising in legislation the education system as it is now without providing for any reform of the system. The explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill refers in a number of places to the fact that it is legislating for the status quo. It is an interesting historical fact that it is establishing the education system on a legislative basis.

Is it appropriate to freeze in legislation an education system which has been evolving without legislation? What effect will that have on the evolution of the education system? The argument could be made that our education system has evolved over time without any legislative basis. It is responding to the needs of our society in the way it is managed and the way in which it delivers its service without any legislation and notwithstanding the degree of denominational control of the education system. There has been participation by the different partners in the education system and changes have occurred such as the growth of gaelscoileanna and the growth in the multi-denominational and the further education sectors, particularly within the VEC system. It is a retrograde step to superimpose legislation which does no more than simply state the status quo.

This Bill abandons the reforms contained in the Education (No. 1) Bill advanced by the previous Government. I am not a fan of the idea of regional education boards but if those boards are to be taken out of the legislation, as the Minister has done here, he should provide something in their place. He has transferred policy making and development functions from the proposed regional education boards to the Minister, which is a retrograde step. He has also taken out of the legislation the services which would have been provided through the regional boards — the management services, the industrial relations service, the legal service, the library and media service and the school maintenance service, all of which are necessary back-up to the schools now being charged with responsibility in law to deliver an education service to the public.

Legislation is promised with regard to reform of the vocational education committees but, if the Minister intends to abandon the idea of regional education boards, he should at least replace them with some kind of structure based on local authorities or introduce reform of the vocational education committees contemporaneously with this legislation. It will be difficult for us to address in a meaningful way the structures the Minister has in mind until we know the reforms he is planning in regard to the vocational education committees.

The most worrying aspect of this legislation, however, is the way in which it consolidates the status quo in the education system and gives it legal effect. I am concerned about the way in which the Bill consolidates the existing power of the Minister and of the patrons of schools. I am concerned about the way it shifts the responsibility for the delivery of the education service to the schools and shifts the burden of responsibility from the patron of the school to the board of management, the principal and the teachers.

I advise every school principal, every teacher who holds a post of responsibility and every member or prospective member of a board of management to read this Bill very carefully because for the first time they will have responsibilities which are set down clearly in legislation. I advise their trade unions and representative organisations to get their lawyers to trawl through this legislation and identify the enormous potential contained in it for teachers, principals and boards of management to end up in the courts responding to litigation based on the responsibilities being placed on them in a legal way in this legislation.

Unfortunately we already know, and I am sure the Minister also knows, about the greater possibility of litigation in the area of education. Some members of the legal profession appear to be trawling for cases to be taken against schools. This is part of the growth in litigation generally. This Bill will substantially increase that possibility because the legal responsibility for the delivery of the education service is being placed on the shoulders of the teachers, the principals, the schools and the boards of management. The Minister, his Department and the patrons of the schools will be very well protected by the way in which this legislation is set up, but the actual deliverers of the service will be exposed with regard to the legal responsibility placed on them.

It would be an interesting exercise to contrast the language used in the different sections of the Bill with regard to the Minister and the responsibility on schools. Section 6, which admittedly applies to everybody in the education service, states that the objects of the Act are to promote, contribute and enhance. They are very aspirational terms. In relation to the functions of the Minister, apart from the areas where he is giving himself absolute power to determine national education policy, they are well couched in providing funding as the Minister considers appropriate. In relation to all of the other functions it states that the Minister shall have regard to the resources available and to the practices, traditions and organisations. He can consult, wherever practicable. He is well protected by the terms of the Bill.

In regard to the functions of the schools, however, the language in the Bill moves up a grade in the degree of responsibility. It does not refer to the schools doing things which are practicable and as resources permit. They have to ensure that the educational needs are met, that the education complies with the requirements of the Minister, that the parents of the students have access to material and so on in those terms. The Bill states that the principal shall provide leadership and be responsible for the many aspects of the functioning of the school. Different language and terminology is used in relation to the functions of schools, principals and teachers from that applied in the case of the Minister or the patrons of schools.

Under section 7 the Minister effectively gives himself power to determine the policy on education. The inspectorate will be set up on a statutory basis, but I question if it was ever under threat. The NCCA will be set up on a statutory basis which I welcome, but I did not see any mention of the course committees of the NCCA which undertake much of the material work. The patrons' position is still copperfastened. The Bill states the setting up of boards of management will be on a purely voluntary basis. A patron may or may not set up a board of management. Under the Bill power is given to patrons, admittedly with the approval of the Minister, to dismiss individual members or the boards of management.

While the Bill places legal responsibilities on schools and on the providers of the service, it is silent in many respects and in other respects unclear on the relationships that exist within the school. The relationship between the principal and the teachers is not clearly defined and is unclear. There is no mention of what one might call the second tier of management in a school, which will be considerably enhanced as a result of the latest agreement between the Minister and the teacher unions. That will provide for the appointment of deputy principals, assistant principals and various posts of responsibility, but they are not mentioned in the Bill and it is not clear what their functions will be.

The Bill is silent on the critical area of discipline and the relationship between pupils and teachers. It does not deal with the problem of bullying. Deputies O'Shea and Carey referred to the problem of dysfunctional students. There is a provision whereby a parent or a student who is dissatisfied about an expulsion from a school can appeal it. I welcome that and it is an important provision, but it is not clear under what circumstances that will be granted or what are the rights of the school or the principal in relation to the discipline of students in the school. Unwittingly one of the outcomes of this legislation may well be that the rights of appeal to the statutory responsibilities of the schools may be exercised by those who are responsible for the dysfunction in the first place.

There is no mention of what happens where a child is expelled from one school and finds it difficult to get into another one. Deputies Carey and O'Shea mentioned the many instances of children who have been expelled from one, cannot get into another and who will end up in difficult circumstances. That area needs to be provided for. If rules are laid down for schools, responsibilities are placed on them and there is a system where they have to exercise some discipline and control, the State and the Minister must provide for the fall back position that will apply.

The legislation does not refer to a further education authority, which I know the Minister when in Opposition was keen to have established. Given our education system, the concept of education and life long learning, people returning to education and the phenomenal growth in the PLC sector and in further education generally, we need a further education authority, but that is not provided for. There is no provision for the regulation or development of the further education sector, particularly the private sector of further education. The Minister's long time promise to introduce some bonding legislation on private institutions was mentioned earlier and there is a need for some regulation in that area.

The Minister referred to disadvantage and a debate on education would not be complete without mentioning it. I was surprised the Minister did not refer to the national anti-poverty strategy developed by the last Government which provided for an integrated approach to tackling poverty. The education system is important in addressing poverty and disadvantage, but it alone cannot tackle those problems. At a practical level many of the children presenting as disadvantaged and, in some cases, as troublesome and dysfunctional in schools come from a family background where poverty is a serious problem. It seems many of the traditional methods adopted to address the problem of proverty in education and in social services generally have not succeeded. There is a need to adopt a new approach to tackle the problem of poverty and to address educational disadvantage in that context. As Deputy

O'Shea said, that will have to be done by addressing the problem at the level of the family. The manner in which we are dealing with it at present is not working. Through the social services and other State services we are providing different forms of intervention to address poverty. That problem is addressed through the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, health boards, housing departments of local authorities, various methods used to tackle disadvantage in schools and in some cases through the justice system. In many cases the same people are presenting for intervention time after time and service after service. A new approach is required to address that problem on an individual and family basis. The national anti-poverty strategy for the first time set out an integrated and co-ordinated plan as to how that could be done. While the Minister acknowledged disadvantage and the Bill refers to the problems of disadvantage, I am disappointed that the strategy set out by the last Government for tackling poverty and addressing it in a new way appears to be about to be abandoned. I hope that is not the case and I ask the Minister to address that specific point when responding to this debate.

In 1832 the Duke of Leinster in a letter to the national board of education established the national school system. Since then the primary schools have been governed by the structures outlined in that letter, by rules and regulations for national schools and by successive ministerial directives over the years. In this century no substantive legislation was enacted in relation to first or second level education other than the Vocational Education Act, 1930, yet since its foundation the education system has served millions of pupils. We have inherited a wealth of efficient structures and services which have stood the test of time.

Our system is characterised by high educational expectations of practitioners in the system and of a society which has strongly valued education as far back as we can remember. Keen parental interest, high pupil participation, the commitment of teachers and responsible management have equally played their part in making our education system successful. Changes in society, higher educational expectations, the need for rapid change in the workplace, continued education and retraining, developments and findings in pedagogically related fields of study and the increasing incursion of technology on our lives demands the adaptation of the education system. Such a change demands leadership and creativity from the legislature.

This Bill recognises the core elements of the present system which has contributed to the success of education. We need to develop the curriculum with schools and their companion organisations — parental, managerial and professional bodies — in conjunction with the State. This Bill provides the framework for reform and development. It places our education system on a statutory basis and will ensure it is able to respond to the rapidly changing demands for high quality education in the next century.

Education in Ireland is based on a partnership. For the first time, this legislation gives each of those partners recognition. A separate section of the Bill deals with patrons, parents, teachers, principals, boards of management and inspectors. In recent years we have witnessed a change in the nature of the patrons of our schools. Recognition and appreciation must be given to the religious orders who over the years have funded, financed and provided education. Now they are faced with challenges and change. Decreasing numbers create a challenge for us to ensure the buildings, systems, structures and management continue in an orderly fashion. We must couple this with a vision and a determination which these orders showed in their commitment to the provision of education.

The new nature of our multi-cultural society means we have a diversity of cultures and religions. In the south city of Dublin alone, there are Jewish, Muslim, French and German schools as well as many all-Irish schools. I welcome the recognition of the diversity of culture in this Bill. It shows people's willingness to take responsibility for their education while protecting what is best in their culture. I am sure groups such as Educate Together welcomed the Minister's announcement last week of his support for multi-denominational schools.

This Bill also gives recognition to non-denominational schools, guaranteeing the choice parents need and deserve. These parents have contributed to, and participated in, our local schools for years. They have worked through their representative organisations and, particularly in rural areas, have been responsible for fundraising for extra classrooms or facilities. They now have a recognised role which involves them in consultation and policy. Parents are no longer outsiders and are full participants. They are an integral part of the education system and their associations are now recognised.

This too gives responsibility to parents. There is a tendency for a parent representative on a board to think of his or her own child. However, the responsibility must be on the parent to do whatever is best for the overall running of the school so that each child can benefit. A parent must represent all parents. We should be conscious of the fact that there is a natural inclination to protect one's own. However, we should recognise that parents can broaden their scope and have a valuable role to play in the wider educational and management structure.

Over the centuries, teaching was a highly respected profession, going back to the time of hedge schools when the schoolmaster was the most respected person in the village, a person of great learning and knowledge of the classics and the three "rs". Previous Administrations tended to forget about the role of teachers in their Education Bills. However, this Bill is the first to emphasise the vital role of teachers in the school. The teacher is now no longer just the provider of an education course. He or she is an adviser, counsellor and friend. He or she is responsible for enforcing the curriculum but also for the personal development of the child.

The teacher has to respond to changes in society and the curriculum. He or she influences, encourages and fosters the child. This innovative and imaginative Bill recognises the role of the teacher — a recognition which is welcomed by unions and not in previous Bills.

Recognition is also given to the principal who plays a pivotal role in the daily management of a school. The principal is the leader and he or she guides staff, creates the environment in which learning can take place and supports teachers and students. The importance of the wording of this Bill in relation to teachers and principals is that the power and autonomy for the day-to-day running rests locally and individually with the school, without interference from the State. There is a local responsibility to fulfil the needs of students and the community. Over the years people have tended to think there has been too much State interference. This Bill recognises the role of local people in administering the educational system in each school.

Parents, teachers, principals and patrons come together on the board of management of each school. Fortunately, the regional boards have been abandoned and I am delighted that neither Fine Gael nor the Democratic Left are shedding crocodile tears for their loss. Bureacracy is gone and the money will not be wasted. The overall effect will be to ensure that management works better at a local level.

Management should be based on partnership and consensus, not on coercion. I agree with Deputy Gilmore that people should read the Bill. They should note the words of recognition, encouragement, advice and support and the lack of coercion, pressure and threats which were evident in the previous Education Bill. It is supportive of all those who work in education, rather than being adversarial. This Bill is based on a consensus which underlines all school management and leads to partnership at all levels.

I had the pleasure of teaching for 16 years and I never knew what a cigire was because I never saw one in the school. That may be a reflection on my wonderful teaching but I suspect it has something to do with the inspectorate. The inspectors are now on a statutory basis, which is welcome. They will be in a position to visit, evaluate, support and assist schools and centres, and to advise parents. They will ensure quality and effective education is provided at all levels. They will help to improve methods and assess educational needs in a national capacity which is a welcome development.

Those are the groups specifically mentioned. The one heading not included is child or student. Teachers, parents, principals, patrons and inspectors are mentioned, but not the child. The child is central to all aspects of this Bill. The child is at the core of all provisions, structures and policies. The rights of every child are recognised throughout every section of this Bill: their rights to special needs schools and the rights of children with educational disadvantage. The type of curriculum offered, its role in the school structure, an appeals system and the security of the examination system are all covered in the Bill. There would be no education system without the children.

Any of us who have ever been involved in education recognise that there is not an adequate service to cater for children with special needs. The dignity of each child is not sufficiently recognised. Special assistants should be allocated to schools that are willing to accept children with special needs for the duration of their education. Many educationalists now recognise the learning and social integration which can benefit such children in ordinary schools is better than that in special schools. The role of voluntary organisations in providing services, where we over many years have failed, must be recognised.

Educational disadvantage has nothing to do with geography. The constituency of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, which most people would recognise as not being a disadvantaged one, has a school drop out rate of 2.5 per cent compared to a national average of 0.7 per cent. The constituency's early school leaving rate of 2.5 per cent compares to a national rate of 2.2 per cent. These figures are contained in a Nexus report for Dún Laoghaire VEC published in December 1996.

It is a priority of the Government to address such problems, but it means that, to date, the Government and all local organisations have had to come together to address these specific needs. The response of the Southside Partnership, the Dún Laoghaire Youth Service and schools like Scoil Cholmcille, can reflect the capacity of wellintentioned and well-directed groups towards assisting those needs.

Programmes such as early intervention are so important. It is not good enough that Barnardo's in Loughlinstown can point out three toddlers to me and say they are the children who will end up in jail. Unfortunately, Barnardo's is right because there is no follow through from one sector of education to another. Early Intervention programmes in Dunedin, Mountown and Fitzgerald Park are so successful that they have immensely enhanced the value placed on learning for those children in preparing them for formal education.

However, there is no communication or other link between the primary and secondary schools. It is a serious problem, particularly in cities where there is a choice of secondary schools. It can be presumed that if a child did not end up in one secondary school they must have gone on to another, but there is no follow up if a drop out has occurred.

Equally, there is a great need for more counsellors, including guidance counsellors. At the moment counsellors do two jobs in one, but there is a need for two people to do the separate jobs. It is a matter of regret that the system has allowed geography to determine whether a school qualifies for a remedial teacher. A school with 600 pupils does not get a remedial teacher because of its location. Does that mean that children, in what would be deemed a better off area, do not have any kind of learning difficulties?

Education disadvantage needs to be tackled at all levels. It is a priority of the Government to ensure it is tackled, but I am particularly concerned about the lack of links between primary and secondary level to ensure these problems are dealt with.

I welcome the recognition given in the Bill to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, which is involved with curricular development. In recent years we have witnessed a number of new courses, each of them worthy and welcome, but there are not enough hours in the school day to teach them all. I would like to see better co-ordination of the range of courses being offered in schools. I am particularly interested in the transition year, which is a tremendous success. However, it is left to the individual school and the talents of individual teachers to provide the service. Perhaps we should examine the possibility of giving a national certification for different courses. Some students thrive in transition year because they develop extra talents, although they may not shine in the traditional exam system.

I also welcome the fact that history will remain a core curriculum subject in our schools. It is important that our understanding of events like the Civil War is not dictated by films such as Michael Collins and the RTÉ programme, The Madness from Within.

Fáiltím freisin roimh an méid atá le rá faoin nGaeilge sa mBille seo. Ó bunaíodh na scoileanna náisiúnta, tá an-dul chun cinn déanta in ainneoin gur dúradh ag an am sin nach raibh cead an Ghaeilge ná an stair a mhúineadh. Tá sé de dhualgas ar na scoileanna anois tabhairt faoin dátheangachas, faoin teanga, cultúr, traidisiún agus litríocht a mhúineadh. Ba mhaith liom go gcuirfí béim ar labhairt na teanga agus tá súil agam go bhféachfaidh an bord nua molta seo ar na háiseanna atá ar fáil agus go mbeidh polasaí nua ann maidir le múineadh na Gaeilge.

Tá fadhbanna ann maidir le caighdeán labhartha na múinteoirí Gaeilge agus maidir le meon roinnt scoileanna a gceapann nach ionann tábhacht na Gaeilge agus tábhacht ábhar eile. Tá fadhbanna ann maidir le daltaí cliste a gceapann nach cóir dóibh leanacht ar aghaidh leis an nGaeilge mar nach bhfuil sé chomh tábhachtach leis na hábhair eile. Tá fadhb ann maidir le tacaíocht don Ghaeilge lasmuigh de na scoileanna.

Molaim na scoileanna lánGhaeilge agus gaelscoileanna ach tá fadhb ann maidir le leanúnachas ó na bunscoileanna go dtí na hiarbhun-scoileanna, a thugann dúshlán dúinne. Tá gá le cabhair, le hairgead, agus le cabhair rúnaíochta agus riaracháin atá geallta don bhord sa Bhille seo agus fáiltím roimhe sin.

Ba mhaith liom go mbeadh an Roinn Oideachais ag obair lámh as lámh leis na heagrais Ghaeilge, go háirithe le grúpaí ar nós Gael-Linn atá ag obair leis na scoileanna ag cur imeachtaí ar nós díospóireachtaí agus Slógadh ar fáil. Nuair a fheiceann scoláirí go bhfuil an Ghaeilge forleathan, bríomhar agus beomhar lasmuigh de na scoileanna, is ansin a dtuigfidh siad go bhfuil tábhacht agus fiúntas ag baint léi.

As democracy is at the core of what we do in this House, I particularly welcome the development of school councils in all schools. They can only serve to promote an understanding of democracy and the voting system. I recommend every school to use the proportional representation system so pupils will realise just how difficult it is to get elected. Students should recognise they have a wide brief and not a selfish one; they represent not just their own interests, but those of their schools as well. They might, for example, want to introduce a smoking policy which would not be in the interests of the school, so they must adopt a sense of responsibility.

At the end of the school term, examinations are what matter most. The examination system must be open and honest. It must be something over which we can stand, not just as a Legislature but as a country. This Bill grants protection to examinations and puts the exam system on a sound statutory footing.

I welcome the fact that there will be no league tables. There will be no information on the overall performance of a school so there can be no comparison between schools. What is a good school? It is not just the one that gets results, it is also one that turns out mature adults.

This Bill works on what is best in our education system and recognises our past, present and future. The Bill has been welcomed by teachers and unions alike and it demonstrates a vision. In 1956 the then Minister for Education stated:

I regard the position of the Minister in the Department as that of a kind of dungaree man — the plumber who will make the satisfactory communications and streamline the forces and potentiality of the education workers and education management in the country. He will take the knock out of the pipes and link up everything.

If the Minister for Education, Mr. Richard Mulcahy, was the dungaree man in 1956, this Minister, Deputy Martin, is the silicon man because of his innovation and imagination. He is pushing our education system into the future and building on the best of what we have.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Other speakers said the Bill has had a long gestation period. I was pleased to support the Education (No. 1) Bill which was debated before the general election. I regret the Minister has become a prisoner of the verbosity he used when he was Opposition spokesperson for education. This Bill is a step backwards from the first Education Bill.

A cursory glance at questions tabled to the Minister for Education and Science highlights the extent to which our education system is centralised and the fact that improvements are the gift of the Minister. The following are examples of the type of question tabled to the Minister for written reply today:

To ask the Minister for Education and Science if he will give details of the latest stage of planning of the third level college for Blanchardstown .

To ask the Minister for Education and Science if he will initiate planning for the provision of a second level school in the Mornington, Laytown and Bettystown area .

To ask the Minister for Education and Science if two teachers . can be granted leave of absence .

To ask the Minister for Education and Science when a second teacher will be supplied to a school in County Mayo .

To ask the Minister for Education and Science the position in relation to the provision of the new school at Coláiste Choilin, Swords.

To ask the Minister for Education and Science if he will have arrangements made to ensure that an additional grant of £40,000 is made to the authorities of the new special school at Limerick .

To ask the Minister for Education and Science the decision . for the appointment of a home-school liaison teacher .

To ask the Minister for Education and Science if a school bus route may be altered slightly for the benefit and collection of some 13 children .

To ask the Minister for Education and Science where a young person under 18 years of age can be referred for residential psychological assessment .

We have the most centralised education system in all OECD countries, according to a recent extensive OECD survey of education systems. The Minister referred to the Education (No. 1) Bill in a derogatory fashion and insulted the previous incumbent of his office by saying it was statist. I assume he meant it was excessively centralised. Today's Order Paper shows that our education system is centralised and that all power is vested in the Minister. Slates are not put on roofs of schools without people trying to curry favour through petitions, deputations and Dáil questions. If that is not statist and centralist, I do not know the true meaning of those words.

Deputy Hanafin said that nobody in Fine Gael or Democratic Left lamented the fact that regional education boards are no longer proposed. I lament their passing. During the debate on the earlier Bill I gave only qualified support to regional education boards because of the unsatisfactory relationship they would have had with the VEC structure. I advocated then, as I do now, that the proper solution would be to abolish the vocational education committee system and to introduce a proper regional education system.

The Minister quoted from the Department's publication on key education statistics. Some 25 to 30 vocational education committees administer 246 vocational schools in the second level sector. If that is not excessive bureaucracy, I do not know what is. Surely the proper approach is to abolish the vocational education system which has served its useful purpose. Prejudice still exists in my constituency vis-a-vis the services being delivered by vocational education committees. It would be more appropriate to abolish vocational education committees and to establish fewer regional education boards which would be able to plan an integrated approach between primary, secondary and third level education.

Deputy Hanafin also said there was no proper system of liaison between the different education facilities. It is ironic that the Minister proposes to allow 25 to 36 vocational education committees to continue to administer 246 vocational schools, yet he will not introduce a system of regional administration for the 3,500 primary schools and 768 second level schools. That is why this Bill is flawed.

The Education (No. 1) Bill proposed two tiers of bureaucracy. The ideal solution is to abolish the vocational education committees, which are regional education boards under another name, because they only administer education in one sector. Westmeath VEC, which has been in the news recently, has a bureaucracy which administers five schools. I understand that Laois VEC administers even fewer second level schools. vocational education committees are involved in adult education and post-leaving certificate courses but this only happens in a limited number of schools for which they are responsible. The best way to proceed is to amalgamate the vocational education committees with regional education boards and to reduce their number.

The Minister has hung his hat on the claim that it would cost £40 million. What does it cost to administer 250 schools under the VEC structure? The Minister said he proposed to facilitate the type of dialogue that regional education boards would have provided by establishing county educational fora. Are there any estimates of what that will cost? Will it be a talking shop? Is it not the case that the Minister is seeking to copperfasten powers he already has rather than trying to make the education system more open and inclusive? The decision not to proceed with regional education boards is flawed.

During his speech the Minister mentioned boards of management. I accept this is a complex legal and constitutional issue. If the Education (No. 1) Bill erred on the side of throwing caution to the wind by making it obligatory to have boards of management, this Bill is a cop out. Not alone does it remove the necessity to have boards of management in certain schools, but it leaves the door open to all schools to decide not to have such boards. Far from achieving the objective of a participatory education system, it could close the door if patrons decide not to have boards of management as envisaged under the Bill. There are difficulties. Approximately 25 private schools are currently receiving public funds. If the previous Minister erred in throwing caution to the wind, this Minister has erred on the side of abandoning all efforts to make these schools accountable. There is a real danger that other schools may decide to opt out of their obligations with regard to the provision of boards of management.

I am concerned also about the provision of educational facilities for children with special needs. In dealing with this issue the Minister said: "Section 7 [of the Bill] outlines that the Minister will have to ensure that there is made available to each person an appropriate level and quality of education". It is my understanding that section 7 in no way achieves that objective. Section 7 states that it shall be a function of the Minister under this Act "to provide funding to each recognised school and centre for education and to provide support services to recognised schools, centres for education, students, including students with special educational needs, and their parents, as the Minister considers appropriate and in accordance with this Act;". The section also states that in carrying out his or her functions the Minister shall have regard to the resources available. This Bill seems to be taking one step forward and one step back.

There are no guarantees with regard to the provision of facilities for children with special educational needs. In this context let me refer briefly to the report published recently by the School Transport Review Committee which contains recommendations with regard to provision of school transport for children with special needs. This report highlights the minimalist and inadequate nature of the service, even to those children to whom the service is provided. The report recommends — I wholeheartedly agree with its recommendations — that greater resources be devoted to the provision of home pick-up in an increased number of cases. It further recommends that no pupil should be picked up earlier than 8 a.m. or returned home later than 4 p.m. approximately.

The report goes on to recommend that, once current tests have been evaluated, a significant number of buses should be adapted to accommodate passengers in wheelchairs; that harnesses should be provided for all passengers needing them; that escorts should be provided on most services to special schools; that the level of medical grants should be reviewed at intervals no greater than three years; and that continuous efforts should be made to co-ordinate transport provided by the Department and health boards. That illustrates clearly that even where we are providing education for children with special needs, we are not providing it at locations adjacent to their homes, and the school transport service being provided is inadequate in a whole variety of areas. None of those issues is addressed in a satisfactory manner in the Bill.

Section 7 also deals to an extent with the provision of Irish language teaching in schools. In my constituency I represent gaelscoileanna, what might be referred to as ordinary national schools, and primary schools in a Gaeltacht area. There is discrimination against the schools in the Gaeltacht area in terms of the pupil-teacher ratio. Primary schools in Gaeltacht areas are de facto gaelscoileanna; they are providing education through Irish. They often labour under excessive difficulties that ordinary primary schools do not face in that teachers are obliged to run, side by side in the one classroom, education through Irish for children of the Gaeltacht and education for children of returned emigrants or children who have moved into the area from outlying areas and who may not be fluent in Irish. It is time the Minister moved to end this discrimination against pupils and teachers in Gaeltacht primary schools. There are great tensions in the national teaching profession about pupil-teacher ratios in gaelscoileanna as opposed to those in ordinary national schools, but there is good reason to address this anomaly at least and ensure that gaelscoileanna and Gaeltacht national schools, which are de facto gaelscoileanna, have the same pupil-teacher ratio.

I represent a largely rural constituency which has yet to see evidence of the existence of the Celtic tiger. The lifeblood of the communities in large tracts of that constituency is being attracted to other areas where there are employment opportunities, and there is increasing demographic evidence of a structure of dependency in the local population with large numbers of retired people and young children but few people in their productive years to drive the local economy. Alarm bells are sounding in many areas throughout rural Ireland because of some of the recommendations in the School Transport Review Committee report.

It is regrettable that the Minister did not take the opportunity presented to him today to nail on the head some of the threats in this report to pupils in rural areas. I refer to recommendations such as that except where a family holds a medical card a contribution of £90 a year should be made for any eligible or concessionary primary school passenger carried under the school transport scheme, or that the contribution with respect to an eligible or catchment boundary passenger whose family holds a medical card should be £30 a year. Such recommendations are a direct attack on the children of rural Ireland. I would like the Minister when replying to avail of the opportunity to reject the contents of this report in so far as they propose to charge pupils who are availing of the school transport system in rural areas. Such charges sound the death knell of primary schools and ultimately of secondary schools throughout rural Ireland, and that would be a regrettable development.

This Bill is most unsatisfactory. For a Bill that has had such a long gestation period, which has seen such a remarkable and unprecedented level of consultation with the education partners, with parents, teachers' organisations and patrons, it has achieved very little. Deputy Gilmore hit the nail on the head when he said that we are enshrining in legislation a snapshot of the here and now which virtually imprisons the education system and prevents it from developing in a desirable fashion in the future. The most regrettable aspect of the Education (No. 2) Bill is its failure to embrace democracy as a fundamental principle.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Keaveney. I welcome this timely Bill. The old ad hoc system worked well but as we march into the next century it is important that we put the basic provisions governing education on a statutory basis. The success of our graduates on the international stage is evident. The return of many of them, with a broad base of knowledge, as the Celtic tiger roars on is very welcome. However, there are huge challenges facing us and legislation is no good unless the necessary resources are invested in education. While some people have the resources to educate their children, we must ensure that adequate resources are directed towards areas of high unemployment, poor housing and social exclusion.

Globalisation has meant that the qualifications obtained in Irish colleges are recognised throughout the world and graduates can now obtain jobs in most countries. This is a tribute to the people who have gone before us in this House and to the education system. While the advances made in technology and science are evident, there are major problems at certain levels in society, particularly in areas of high unemployment. I am very concerned that the gap between those who have and those who have not is widening not only in financial terms but also in terms of education and the resources invested in certain areas.

Recent surveys point out that high unemployment leads to truancy, crime, delinquency and drug addiction. This chain could be broken if the necessary resources were put in place to ensure people were detected at an early age. There has been much debate about the pupil-teacher ratio, but I am concerned that we have taken our eye off the ball. While it is reasonable to expect a teacher to teach a class of 30 pupils who have the same intellectual and academic ability, in some areas teachers may only be able to teach 12 or 15 pupils because of different levels of ability. I urge the allocation of more funding for remedial teachers in areas of high unemployment and social exclusion. I commend the Minister on his endeavours in this area. The introduction of the Breaking the Cycle scheme has been a positive step in my constituency but much more could be done in this area. The drop out level among students in areas of high unemployment and social exclusion is alarming. During a recent visit to Brussels I was told that approximately 20 per cent of students in the EU leave school without any qualification and that of these more than 50 per cent have basic difficulties in learning the three Rs. This is reflected in this country.

The Bill refers to patrons, parents, principals and teachers. It is very important that the Bill has been brought forward on the basis of consensus as partnership in education is what it is all about. We do not want to return to the past when some teachers adopted a stern attitude and many pupils did not like school. The Bill recognises the need for compromise and consensus throughout the system. There has been much debate by the various interest groups. It is very important that the education area is governed by legislation and that adequate resources are provided for its implementation.

Many primary school teachers can identify which students will be in jail by the time they are 18 years. In most cases they are correct. The necessary resources must be allocated for psychiatric assessment and remedial teaching so that these pupils can be given extra assistance. Teachers are crying out for this assistance. Many of them have told me it is possible to teach a class of 30 pupils if they are all at the same level but that if there is one disruptive pupil it is very difficult as one is effectively teaching two classes, a class of 29 who are performing well and one pupil who is progressively falling behind.

Most schools have computers but unfortunately full use cannot be made of them as schools close too early. Schools should be regarded as institutions of learning within communities. In areas of high unemployment and social exclusion parents should be able to attend schools during the evening so that they can become involved and interested in and understand the education system. Parents who dropped out of the education system at an early age have low self-esteem and do not have the ability to apply for a job. Some people who visit my clinic ask me to write their CV for them. Many of them have five or six children and do not have the opportunity to avail of further education which would provide them with the opportunity to obtain a decent job.

Schools should be made centres of learning which are attractive to students, parents and the wider community. There is nothing more depressing than to see a school locked and unused during a fine summer's evening. While advances have been made in the area of adult education, there is a fundamental need to bring everyone within the one unit so that partnership and interest can be developed within communities.

In recent decades much lip service has been paid to people with special needs. It is recognised that these people have a right to an education and to attend the school of their choice. However, the necessary resources have not been provided for this purpose. The basic provision of access for wheelchair users is still far behind what is required, while people with special needs find it difficult to get to school because of a lack of proper transport. This is very regrettable. While it has been acknowledged that the right place for people with special needs is within the school and the community, much more needs to be done in this area.

If 20 per cent of students in the EU leave school with no qualifications then it is possible that 20 per cent of Irish students do the same. While students with the ability, interest and desire to further their education have benefited from the advances in this area, many students find school unattractive and drop out at an early age. Even though many of these students may be given support at home, the system may not suit them. We must make the curriculum more flexible and recognise that all students do not mature at the same age. Many of the 35 and 40 year old people attending adult education classes could not apply themselves to learning when they were 15 and 16 years. The Minister has acknowledged that the blunt instrument of the examination system can make many students afraid of failure and rather than do this they drop out of school. We must look at the point system and the huge pressure this puts on people, particularly low achievers. The blunt examination system is forcing out of the system the students we most need to keep in it.

When I left school I could speak Irish. However, as I have had no opportunity to use it in the meantime I have lost the confidence to speak it. It is desirable that Irish would be more commonly spoken. While there has been an increase in gaelscoileanna, people find that Irish is forced upon them as opposed to encouraging them to speak it. For that reason we have lost our national tongue, which is regrettable. People of my age group who are still young enough to pick up on the basics we learned in national and second level schools should work on developing the Irish language. If I speak Irish it gives the opportunity to another person to speak to me in Irish. There is lack of encouragement of the mature population to use the Irish language.

Central to this issue is the teacher. In Ireland the teacher is held in high esteem and recognised as a person of standing. Other European countries experience difficulties recruiting teachers because the profession is considered less important than other professions requiring degrees and it is not as attractive financially or socially. The teacher is central to the education system and must be kept on a pedestal in the community. The policies the Government is pursuing will allow the teacher to have a say in teaching methods, which provides for diversity in the education system. The status of the teacher within the education system and the community must not be undermined.

As regards patrons, it is important that parents and pupils are given a choice. As we move into a multi-denominational, multi-cultural society it is imperative that patrons are not removed from the education process. I welcome the provision in that regard. Everybody has a right to decide what is best for their children.

The Minister has been very innovative. I welcome the refreshing impetus he has put into the education system as we face the millennium. Just because he comes from Cork does not mean I will not be seeking extra provisions from time to time. Resources must be put into national schools as many students drop out of the education system at that stage. There is not enough psychiatric assessment in schools. In the event of a child becoming obstructive in the classroom there is little the teacher can do except put him or her outside the door. That problem is not being addressed. Reports suggest a direct link between delinquency, juvenile crime, long-term unemployment and a criminal record with lack of education. It is imperative this Bill is backed up with resources in the areas mentioned.

Deputy Hanafin suggested there is no association between geographical location, truancy, delinquency and crime and the lack of educational achievement. That may be true, but in certain parts of the country there are problems which are obvious to people outside the community but not to those within it. People in those areas consider it normal for pupils to drop out of school at 14 years of age and for young people not to be able to read and write. Many parents in those areas are long-term unemployed and have low self-esteem, as have their children. Because resources have not been made available, teachers surrender to those circumstances. The breaking the cycle scheme should be extended because it has the potential to address such problems.

Deputy Creed said that every day there are questions on the Order Paper to the Minister about planning permission for new schools, school extensions and changes in bus routes. It would be difficult to change that system. At the end of the day there is accountability to this House. Deputies have an opportunity to ask questions of the Minister about problems in their constituencies and the Minister has ultimate responsibility in that regard. I would be very slow to change that system. In the recent past many of our institutions have become unaccountable. I would be concerned about any change that would give ultimate accountability to unelected people. The Minister for Education and Science has a very important role in ensuring education is properly provided and funded.

Having studied in depth the Bill and the Minister's speech, I look forward to the next millennium because the Minister has deep knowledge of what it required for the future. While the Celtic tiger roars and our graduates make great achievements at national level, there are others who fall far behind.

The proposal on regional education boards, when first mooted, received much attention from the public and the teaching profession. It would have cost £40 million to set up that system, which would not have been as effective as we were led to believe. The present system works reasonably well. All that is needed is the legislative framework to back it up and allow for consultation within the education system. The bringing together of various bodies will result in greater accountability and give greater feedback to those who make the decisions.

If regional education boards were set up as originally proposed, many problems would have arisen. For example, it would have resulted in centralisation. The Minister would have greater influence over the direction the education system would take. At present there is an independent system which allows for diversity of teaching, views and cultures. I welcome the Minister's courageous decision to abandon the proposal to set up regional education boards. The sum of £40 million is a substantial amount and in the light of the problems which I have outlined, the lack of remedial teachers and access to national and second level schools for people with disabilities, it will go a long way towards solving those issues which are huge obstacles to individuals trying to get into the educational process.

I commend the Bill and compliment the Minister on it. I look forward to the debate on subsequent stages and its successful implementation.

I think this is the first time I have had an opportunity to formally congratulate the Minister on his appointment and, as a fellow Cork man with east Cork connections, I wish him well.

I also take this opportunity to thank the Minister for the action he took earlier this week in deciding to grant aid a gaelscoil in Cobh. It has led to great joy in Cobh. He is aware of the conditions under which children and teachers there were working. I know he went through an exhaustive process of examining the needs and the provision of schools in Cobh. It is a welcome step and I thank him for it on behalf of the people of the area.

When I look at an education Bill I try to figure out the philosophy behind it. In the 1960s we were concerned about access and later we became concerned about participation. The Minister mentioned both among the objectives of the Bill, which I welcome, but we must go further. The Minister has attempted to go further by mentioning something new. He said that we must promote the means whereby students may benefit from education.

I welcome the fact that the Minister said he would look for constructive points in regard to the Bill. Most speakers have alluded to disadvantage in education, and maybe the Minister should insert in the Bill a provision to compensate those suffering disadvantage. This is the one thing which remains to be done.

In the 1960s people could not see beyond access. They felt that everybody would be satisfied if they could solve that problem, but that did not solve it. In the 1970s and 1980s it was participation, but that still did not solve the problem. We must go beyond these issues. We must make that an important provision in the philosophy underpinning this Bill and everything we do from now on, and we must insert that in the Bill in some way.

The Minister spoke about having regard to the rights of patrons and the effective and efficient use of resources, but that is not very specific. We must flesh that out because when one is putting it into law — it is the first time this is being done — I would like to see a little more detail.

The Minister spoke about enhancing accountability and transparency in making decisions in the education system, yet he does not say how that will be done or what it means.

In the earlier Bill the Minister inserted an amendment to include specially resourced centres for students with behavioural difficulties and special units for severely disruptive pupils but they are not included here. I wonder why the Minister changed his mind. Why did he not include his own suggestion regarding severely disruptive pupils in this Bill, because the Minister and I are aware that the one element which causes teachers, students and parents most stress is the disruptive student? One disruptive student in a school of 800, 900 or 1,000 can upset the whole school because the teachers speak about the disruptive student in the classroom all the time, they do not know how to cope and they do not have the resources. I do not see this addressed in the Bill either. The Minister spoke about looking into the matter, but it is very serious.

The Bill contains an appeals system where a student is suspended from a school. For the first time there is provision for a board to permanently exclude a student from a school. By making such a provision in the Bill, the Minister has acknowledged the right of a school to permanently exclude a student and, by definition, he has also implied that all other schools can refuse to enrol a student for reasons other than the unavailability of accommodation. If that appeal is made, if it goes right up the line and everybody says the school, the principal and the board are right, what happens to the student? Could the Minister look into making some provision in this Bill where such a student can be looked after? We might be talking about a 15 year old, a 14 year old or a 12 year old. Earlier this week there were reports in the media of children between the ages of seven and eight with whom the system cannot cope, and this is extremely serious.

The Minister talks about resources and seems to be preoccupied with their availability.

Throughout this Bill — not the other one — the provisions are qualified by the phrase "where resources permit". When we talk about issues like this, resources are not the primary consideration. When we talk about a child between the ages of eight and 12, who is disrupting a school and a family and with whom the system cannot cope, we need to find the resources. However, resources should not be the primary concern, and I think the Minister would agree with me.

It seems that the provisions for suspension and expulsion are very convoluted and could take a long time. What happens in practice when a student causes a major problem? It is not clear in the Bill whether the principal can suspend the student on the spot, and that might cause problems later. The Minister has not made provision for it. Has he given the school principal the power to suspend? The board has the power, but does that mean it must meet to suspend a student? Can it devolve the power to the principal? This could cause problems at local level, especially if a parent decides to test it in court. We could all be back here again next year to amend the Bill so it might be useful to look at that.

The Bill provides for "a reasonable time from the date that the parent or student was informed of the decision". What does that mean? I suggest that an amendment is inserted to tighten up that provision.

If something happened in a school, the board hears about it and a student is expelled or suspended, it goes up the line to the Secretary General of the Department. If that is not centralisation, what is it? That is very serious. Students who are suspended or expelled from school often come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Asking their parents to interact with the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science is like asking them to interact with President Clinton. They will not be able to do so. Parents and children faced with this kind of problem often give up hope and do not try to interact with anyone because they are not be aware of the procedure whereby they can appeal. I suggest that the Minister include a provision to allow parents of children in educationally disadvantaged areas to be advised by school authorities that they can appeal a decision if they wish. They should also be given the support to do so. I am sure the Minister will take this serious point on board.

The Minister stated that the regional education boards might not work, might be very expensive to operate and might be overly bureaucratic. In that context, however, I offer him the example of the vocational education committees which work extremely well. The vocational education committees are currently doing a job which regional education authorities could do. The vocational education committees in Cork city and county work extremely well and they have been successful and innovative. If the Minister will pardon the pun, they are at the "chalk front". Will the Minister reconsider his position on this issue?

The Minister referred to "county fora" but no one knows what the term means. Is he referring to 26 or 28 different groups which will be mere talking shops? Will these fora have powers or will they be able to provide support to schools? The Minister referred to these fora but why did he not include them in the Bill?

I agree with the Minister in respect of co-operation at local level, which is laudable. It was one of the main planks designed to underpin the regional education boards. In the context of local co-operation, let us consider an area in a town or city where three schools offer similar subjects and a number of students in each school wish to pursue physics at honours level. If there was enough interest from students, it is possible that the three schools could put together one honours physics class. However, if they work individually their resources will be stretched. Will the Minister put in place a provision to encourage schools to co-operate with each other in areas of the kind to which I refer? If they could, it would be of benefit to students who are our main concern.

I am familiar with schools which were unable to offer students various subjects at leaving certificate level because only a small number of students wished to avail of those subjects. Other schools in the same area encountered similar problems. The regional education boards could have played a role in this regard because this is a local issue, of which the Department of Education and Science's advisers and inspectors might not be aware. It is crucial that the Minister give consideration to this matter. Co-operation between schools would also mean that music and other subjects, which are currently unpopular for the reasons outlined, could be offered by schools.

While we are discussing local co-operation, there is no reference to the home-school community liaison programme in the Bill.

There is no need for its inclusion.

The Minister has recognised many things in the Bill so why can he not recognise that scheme? The home-school community liaison programme has been extremely successful and it should be expanded to include all schools as soon as possible. I agree with Deputy Kelleher that disadvantage is not confined to certain schools or areas. There are disadvantaged students in every school and there are different types of disadvantage. The home-school community liaison programme would also provide the link between primary and secondary schools to which Deputy Hanafin referred. There are areas where students leave primary school and do not enrol in secondary school but there is no mechanism to track them. Perhaps the Minister will take note of that point.

The Bill states that boards of management will be established where practicable. That leaves an opt out clause for patrons and others who, if they do not agree with boards of management, may place obstacles in the way of their establishment. I suggest that the Minister strengthen the provision. I agree there may be isolated cases where boards of management cannot be established but I cannot recall one. In a democracy, it is important that boards of management be established in all schools. As it stands, the provision leaves an opt out clause which could benefit idiosyncratic people who do not like boards of management.

The Bill makes no reference to gender balance in respect of boards of management. Perhaps the boards will be made up of all-male or all-female personnel. If nothing else, it would be useful to include a provision on gender balance as an aspiration which has been omitted since the publication of the previous Education Bill.

I commend the Bill. The great changes in education came about as a result of my party's publication of the Just Society document in the 1960s which proved to be a major catalyst for change. One Minister for Education in the 1950s referred to himself as a "dungaree man". Deputy Hanafin reminded us that he stated "You have your teachers and you have your schools but I am just the dungaree man hitting the knocks out of the pipes". The Minister's colleague today christened him the "silicon man". I hope that was intended as a compliment.

I am reflecting on whether it is a compliment.

As am I, because it has many implications. As the silicon man, I hope the Minister will not be like the dungaree man who did little to change the system.

I am concerned that the Bill is too centralised and provides for too much control by the Minister. I hope he will not become the super computer chip in the Department of Education and Science exercising control over everything.

I am a most unlikely microchip.

This debate has been constructive.

The Minister referred to promoting the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of students. We have been sitting in the House for the past 90 minutes and we have had no physical exercise. Is that the reason for his failure to allude to physical development in the Bill? Students are becoming fat, lazy and unhealthy. Why does the Bill fail to mention physical development? Has the Minister gone soft? I hope I do not become soft. The Minister should include a provision on the physical development of students.

Debate adjourned.