Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Feb 1998

Vol. 487 No. 1

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

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

Despite the extraordinary fact that there has been no substantive educational legislation of general application since the foundation of the State, and only the Vocational Education Act, 1930 at second level, Irish education is highly regulated. Many of those involved, especially school principals and managers, have received circulars about which they have not been pleased, and have felt that their right to be consulted has been overlooked. That is an interesting background to this Bill because many Ministers for Education would have wanted to introduce legislative provisions but the combined strength of forces with an interest in the matter meant they were not in a position to do so.

There is a perception that Irish education is highly successful and this is reflected in the attraction of the Irish workforce, particularly highly educated young people, for high-tech employers. A great debt of gratitude is due to those who achieved this with limited resources and less recognition.

There is, of course, another side to the story. It must be borne in mind that each year approximately 1,000 pupils fail to make the transition from primary to post primary level. Some 3,000 leave the post primary system without any qualification and about 15,000 leave with only a junior certificate or an undistinguished leaving certificate. More than 90 per cent of the approximately 4,000 who leave with no qualification whatsoever come from very poor backgrounds. Upper middle class children are seven times more likely to avail of third level education than those from poor backgrounds.

The challenge for educators and the system is to maintain the generally high standards, while simultaneously ensuring that the educational disadvantage and poverty which were illustrated in the 1997 NESC report on early school leaving and youth unemployment are addressed. That is a huge challenge for educators. The challenge for Government, which is somewhat different, is to provide resources and distribute them wisely to ensure this is possible. The challenge for the Oireachtas is to design a legislative framework which facilitates progress and regulates fairly, balancing the interests of the partners in education — parents, patrons, students, teachers and the State.

It should be clearly stated that where conflict arises between the various interests the welfare of students should have priority. The guiding principles should be access, participation and benefit. Levels of access and participation are clearly reflected in the benefit of the education system to students and, ultimately, to society and the State. In fairness, it is probably the case that resources rather than legislation are the key to progress in this area.

This legislation has been debated for a long time, beginning with the Green Paper in 1992, the White Paper and the Second Stage debate of the Bill introduced by the former Minister, Niamh Bhreathnach, which took place from 3 to 13 March 1997, almost a year ago. The Minister is not repeating his predecessor's most glaring errors which brought her into conflict with the various interests, and showed how powerful those interests are in many respects. However, we must publicly acknowledge her work as a Minister and her commitment to improving the quality of education and the service provided to pupils. The contribution of other Ministers and Ministers of State to the debate since the publication of the Green Paper, such as Deputies O'Rourke, Davern and Brennan, must also be acknowledged. The Bill has had a long gestation period.

The Minister has chosen to drop the regional education boards, as per his pre-election commitment. Any such boards or other intermediate structure ought to be judged on the basis of cost, reciprocity and democracy. I said during the debate on the previous Bill that the boards appeared to have little or no powers and I found it difficult to judge whether they were a tiny step in the right direction towards greater democratisation or a cop out. The directors of those proposed boards had excessive powers.

There will now be no immediate tier but the Minister has indicated he will encourage local partnership and co-operation in education, which is very important. I know he is aware of the Clare education forum in which all the interests at primary and second level came together — anyone who knows anything about education will know how diverse those interests are — and sought consensus over a long period. It is fair to say they reached an unprecedented level of understanding and co-operation. I would like to see an intermediate level at some stage in the future. I do not favour retaining the monolith of the Department ad infinitum as I do not think that is healthy.

It is interesting to hear the different perspectives which people bring to the debate. I am sure my views are very strongly coloured by the 20 years I spent as a teacher. I am probably required under the ethics in public office legislation to declare that interest because if I lost my seat or decided to leave the Oireachtas I would return to work as a school principal. As I said, my perspective is coloured by my experience as a teacher; others approach the debate from the perspective of a parent, which I am also. There are subtle differences which colour people's approach to the debate and to this Bill.

In the past, teachers tended to be extremely annoyed by the issuance of edicts by circular, which used to be signed by the Secretary of the Department, particularly in regard to contentious matters. I am glad this is now being put on a legislative basis.

In section 2 the Bill defines "special educational needs" as referring to the needs of "students who have a mental or physical disability". That definition falls far short of recognising dyslexia and other learning difficulties and does not appear to refer to groups with special needs, such as traveller children and ethnic minorities, which is now arising with the increasing number of refugees. There are also substantial numbers of schoolgoing children from the alternative lifestyle community in areas such as my own. Such children did not present any difficulties in my school in terms of discipline and so on. Of course, they do present some difficulties for schools as English is not always their first language.

An increasing number of rural schools in east and north Clare, parts of west Cork, Mayo and elsewhere have such students. It would be appropriate to state in sections 9(a) and 15(g), where reference is made to special educational needs, that the relevant needs of these groups ought to be considered. If that were done I would be far more at ease that students who need the assistance of resource teachers, remedial teachers or psychological counselling would be included in the special educational needs category.

Section 7(4)(b) states that the Minister shall "wherever practicable" consult with the usual interests. There is a good case for making that consultation process a formal requirement in law. I do not foresee any particular difference in the immediate future, but it might be safer to make it a requirement in the legislation and to delete the "wherever practicable" element.

In section 8(1)(b) the Minister has handled the tricky area of the powers of trustees and patrons exceptionally well. To the best of my recollection, the majority of community schools have not yet had their trustees sign and the Minister is clearly allowing space and time for that issue to be resolved. That is wise of him but, in the interest of a better system and better accountability and procedure, that area must be dealt with in the not too distant future.

Sections 10 and 11 deal with the recognition of schools and the withdrawal of recognition. It would be helpful if, for example, in section 10(2)(a) the Minister were required to specify the numbers required for recognition and the withdrawal of recognition. I understand it is difficult to do that because special circumstances pertain in some geographic areas, such as islands, which would not readily accommodate themselves to a general rule. However, the failure to specify numbers may create difficulties for future Ministers. The Minister, and anybody who has looked at future planning for education will be aware that the demographic forces at work will create many difficulties for future Ministers and, indeed for this one. There is a plus in that teachers are becoming available because of the drop in enrolment and may be redeployed where the Minister sees fit or where the greatest need arises. The drop in numbers at primary level and, subsequently, at second level will have an impact on the type of enrolment which makes a school viable. It will bring pressure to bear on school amalgamations and other rationalisations which, undoubtedly, will create difficulties. We will witness objections and demonstrations in defence of schools. I am glad sections 10 and 11 have been included but I would prefer if they were more precise in relation to numbers and the criteria to be used in making judgments in such cases because it is always easy to be precise in the absence of a specific case than when dealing with particular cases.

Section 13 deals with the inspectorate which has made an enormous contribution to the evolution of education. Since its role changed from that of policeman of the system to facilitator of growth and development inspectors have, individually and collectively, made an enormous contribution. That is probably more evident at primary level where it is easier for them to contribute than at second level where inspectors tend to inspect with regard to specific subjects and probably find it a little more difficult to impact on the system generally. I note they are to conduct assessments and advise students and parents. I am not clear about the rationale for that but I thought those who would advise pupils and parents in the first instance would be teachers. If outside personnel are to do so — nobody could argue but that inspectors are well qualified to do so — there could be practical difficulties. That is a matter about which I am a little concerned and an area in which I declare an interest. The interest of the teacher might be somewhat put upon in such a circumstance, particularly if it was not handled as it should be.

Under section 13 the Minister proposes to set up the psychological service and include it in the inspectorate. It is a much needed service. Without giving the matter much consideration, I would have assumed the way to set it up would be to set it up on a statutory basis at national level but the Minister obviously has good reasons for including it in the inspectorate. I will be interested to hear the rationale for that decision and I am sure it will be debated at length on Committee Stage.

Fáiltím roimh an plean ag an Aire Coiste a bhunú in a Roinn chun pleanáil a dhéanamh i leith leabhar agus áiseanna do mhúineadh na Gaeilge. Tá ceist le freagairt againn mar Stát áfach. An bhfuilimid i ndáiríre faoin nGaeilge a athbheochan? An bhfuil stádas na Gaeilge ag dul chun cinn nó ag cúlú? Is ceisteanna deacra iad sin. Má fhéachaimid siar ó bunaíodh an Stát ceapaim nach mbeimis sásta leis an freagra má tá freagra macánta le tabhairt ar an cheist sin. Tá súil agam, áfach, go mbeidh dul chun cinn éigin againn leis an Bhille seo ach nílim chomh cinnte go mbeidh.

Another element of the Bill which interests me and which I see, to some extent, as an omission is the area of discipline and a code of conduct in schools. Section 22 deals with principals and teachers, section 23 with the principals and section 24 with staff matters generally. While it is clearly implied that under the school plan there would be a code of conduct or discipline for pupils, it is not spelled out in the way teachers, in particular, would like. On the counter side, there is a grievance procedure and other procedures for appealing decisions of teachers but from my reading of the Bill, there is little provision for sanctions. It is not fashionable to talk about sanctions nowadays but anybody who has stood in front of a class, as the Minister has done, will know there is a need for discipline. It is not something we can sanitise out of the education system and I am not sure it is wise to attempt to sanitise it out of education legislation as well. I am sure it is an issue which can be sensibly revisited on Committee Stage. Perhaps I have misread the Bill because there seems to be plenty of opportunity to provide a code of conduct. It is a reality in any education system and there should be a specific provision for a code of conduct or discipline per se.

The school plan has been mentioned, which I welcome. The introduction of the school plan over the years has been a great contributor to development in Irish education. It has encouraged staff, even in the smallest schools, to consider their roles and to put on paper a system to develop an educational provision for children which best meets their requirements. It also enables teachers to perhaps identify their strengths and weaknesses and to devise a school plan which provides for the best interests of the pupils in their care. I am glad the school plan has been included in the Bill and that it still has considerable potential for development.

The provisions for examinations are welcome. There is a comprehensive range of provisions to protect the integrity of the system which is important after the glitches in recent years and the publicity surrounding the loss of examination papers. Of all the elements in the education system, nothing requires protection of its integrity in the way the examination system does. It is seen as an objective assessment of a pupil's educational progress. There are plenty of arguments in favour of changing the system and that is a matter which may be looked at in terms of the provisions proposed by the Minister. He has left adequate room for various possibilities to be explored. However, the examination system must be seen to stand independently and be beyond reproach. The provision in the Bill will go some way in this. We must accept that people believe the education system needs to go some way to show the system of examinations can stand up to scrutiny.

There is the parallel debate about whether the education system, as it stands, is the most appropriate way to deal with the assessment of people and their growth in educational terms. There is room for another provision in the Bill which sets up the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment on a statutory basis. Much work needs to be done in this area.

All the reports I have read which measure the lack of participation in education by people from poorer backgrounds and the lack of benefits to them from education point, among other things, to the overly academic school curricula being pursued at various levels. I wish the Minister well with the Bill and urge him to bear in mind some of my suggestions.

May I share my time with Deputy Boylan?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am glad of this opportunity to speak on this Bill, and compliment the Minister on bringing it before the Dáil. The Minister spoke about regional educational boards. I always said at county and urban council level that I am not too keen on regional boards and would prefer things to be done on a county basis. People should have control over their own areas and have a say about everything in their county, whether relating to health or education. Regional boards are too removed from local areas. People can have an input into county boards and I welcome the Minister's decision to leave vocational education committees as they are. While some people have been critical of vocational education committees, they have worked well. They meet on a regular basis and the general public are able to have their concerns raised at meetings by their public representatives. I compliment vocational education committees on their excellent work.

I welcome the allocation of £10 million for minor capital projects as it will eliminate the need for schools to contact the Department every time they need a boiler serviced or want to buy new desks and chairs. I mean no disrespect to civil servants, but I hope they adopt a lenient attitude and will not require schools to produce a receipt for every nail and bolt. At the same time there must be accountability. This scheme is being run on a trial basis and consideration should be given to developing it further.

On boards of management, I welcome the increased partnership between parents, teachers and schools. I was a member of a board of management for many years and was chairman for part of that time. The board included the bishop's nominee and the principal's nominee. In many cases the principal of the boys' school nominated the principal of the girls' school and vice versa. This meant that if they did not agree with a proposal it was defeated. The only proposals they always supported were those relating to fundraising for the school. I am delighted that there will be equality on boards of management as it means everyone's rights will be protected and there will be compromise rather than a dictatorship.

I am not being critical of the nuns and Christian brothers who educated and looked after pupils. I wish there were more of them as they were dedicated to the education of young people. There has been much outcry about certain events but I compliment these people on their devotion to education. As in all walks of life, there are good and bad in this sector of society. Nuns and Christian brothers are committed to the education system and they should be thanked for their work.

I have had many disputes with teachers who, like politicians, can be very sensitive and tend to get worked up over minor comments. However, it can be very difficult to teach a class of 31 or 32 pupils. It is not correct that people can make unsubstantiated complaints which may damage a teacher's reputation. It is important, therefore, to protect teachers. Most teachers do a very good job and they must be complimented on this.

The Department operates a scheme under which primary and secondary teachers are given leave to go on a cultural exchange to a Third World country. Two primary teachers in my town have applied for leave to visit Aror in Kenya. The people of Westport have taken on the project in this disadvantaged area on a pilot basis. They are very generous and every penny collected by them is used to build health centres and schools and to train teachers, nurses and doctors in Aror. This project which has been running for ten years is a wonderful success and recently won a national award. I compliment John O'Donnell, Liam Lyons and the other people involved in it.

These two teachers applied for leave to visit Aror to see how the project can be progressed. They were granted leave without pay — I believe they should be paid by the Department — but they will lose their pension rights for these two weeks. I contacted officials but they do not give a damn and have no understanding of the matter. The only way I can get the matter resolved is to raise it with the Minister. The local priest and bishop in Westport have visited Aror on many occasions and if the Minister contacts them they will tell him how successful the project is. These two teachers have young families but they are committed to the project. I ask the Minister to ensure that they do not lose their pension rights. If the Minister's officials ring my office I will give them the names of these people. The Minister is a teacher and a caring man and I have no doubt he will solve this problem.

Teachers in one teacher schools must act as principal, secretary, nurse and maid. I know a lone parent in north Mayo who had little confidence and spent much of her time at home. She obtained a place on a FÁS scheme, following which she secured work in the local school where the teacher was very good to her and helped increase her confidence. Consideration should be given to allowing schools take on FÁS trainees to help them with secretarial and other work.

I will not be too hard on the Minister in regard to one and two teacher schools as the Government has given commitments in this respect and I know he will solve the problem relating to the two teachers to whom I referred. It was originally proposed to make all one teacher schools two teacher schools but reference is now being made to schools with 16 pupils or more. I have no problem with this but the commitments should be honoured as quickly as possible. If ever a sector of society needed investment this is it. I will keep pressure on the Minister until he honours the commitments in this area. It is wrong to expect a principal of a school, male or female, to be secretary, doctor and nurse as well as teacher. Because of the risks involved and the fact that people make claims against them, teachers must be protected. I hope the Minister takes that point on board.

There is great need for remedial teachers to deal with a sector that is disadvantaged. I am reminded of Ernie Sweeney, whom the Minister has probably met — I am aware Deputy Coughlan met him. He was illiterate and educated himself. He is the person who requested that photographs be placed on ballot papers. Last week I attended a meeting of Macra na Feirme, an organisation which holds courses to educate people on farming. Of the 12 or 15 people doing the course, three or four could not read or write. Resources must be put into remedial teaching. Funding should also be made available for the literacy campaign undertaken by vocational education committees. That money would be well spent and would help a disadvantaged sector.

Last night I raised on the Adjournment the special needs of people such as those with autism and other handicaps and disabilities. Funding must be provided to help those people, for whom there is nobody to speak. There are no organisations such as the IFA or the INTO to help them. While many families are affected by such handicaps, the number is not sufficient to make a strong case for those involved.

I compliment the Minister on the Bill and hope the education sector will gain from it. I hope the Minister will honour the position of two teacher schools.

I thank Deputy Ring for sharing his time with me. I ask the Minister to take on board the Deputy's comments about teachers in Westport. As a Cavan-Monaghan Deputy, I compliment the people in Mayo and the teachers in question on their generosity. The Deputy referred to what is probably a pilot scheme, which should be extended. This is the first time I have heard of the scheme, which is worthwhile. It is wrong that people who are so generous are penalised by the State.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on a very important Bill. Legislation without the necessary back-up will not solve the problems that exist. It would be like faith without good works. We must provide the necessary wherewithal for education. We have an excellent system of education, and the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Many modern industries are attracted to this country and our young people are capable of taking up jobs in those industries. That is because we saw the necessity to develop a much maligned area of our education system, regional and technical colleges. Not every child is geared to be a professional, to take up jobs in accountancy, law and medicine. Technical education was neglected up to recent years and in the last decade or so children have adapted well to the vocational education system. As chairman of the parents' committee of Cavan vocational school I have first hand knowledge of the tremendous input of that system to education. This area needs greater resources, and money provided for that purpose would be an investment in the State.

There is no difficulty for children who have the ability to learn, they will succeed in any school, whether a vocational school or a college. I am not downgrading the college system of education, but vocational schools cater for a broader spectrum of the population. Those schools were once considered second class education institutions, which was wrong. There are insufficient resources to cater for children with difficulties — 50 or 60 per cent of students are in that category. Perhaps there is not enough support in the home and not all parents encourage and help their children. There may be various reasons for that which are unrelated to social problems. Perhaps some parents believe, as in my time, that primary school education is sufficient. That was acceptable 15 or 20 years ago, when on leaving primary school one could get a job in the bank, but that is no longer the case. The minimum education needed at present for any worthwhile job is the leaving certificate.

There are children who experience great difficulties learning and are unable to keep up with the brighter students. Those children need support and it is important to provide remedial teaching at an early stage. I could flood the Minister's office with representations about remedial teachers, for which there is a demand in every school. The Minister is trying to meet that demand by grouping schools, but there are still many schools that do not have the service of a remedial teacher. Such a service is vitally important at an early stage to encourage children and give them the necessary back-up. Perhaps teachers should even visit homes and encourage parents to help their children.

Since my youngest child is doing the leaving certificate examination this year I am aware of the concerns and tensions involved. The points system, which is outdated, must be examined because it puts much pressure on children. Difficulties are also experienced in filling in CAO forms. It is not uncommon for young people to have a nervous breakdown and drop out of school because they cannot achieve the necessary points for the job they wish to take up. The points system should be changed. For example, a young girl who gets a sufficient number of points to study nursing may not make a good nurse whereas another girl who is well suited to the job may not have the necessary number of points. That is the case across the board in various aspects of education. Because a person gets the necessary number of points does not mean they are suitable for the job. I am not saying the points system should be abolished, but a certain number of places should be filled by interview.

I have every confidence in the Minister who is a young man and not far removed from the education system. I hope he will take on board the matters raised so that as many children as possible are assisted in achieving their goal in life.

I commend the Minister for introducing this Bill. The practical realities which people bring to the debate are perhaps more important than the legislation before us. The Bill appears to be acceptable to the partners in education. This is to be welcomed because I recall acrimonious debates on the previous Bill when I was on the other side of the House.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): The Deputy was not often in Opposition.

I have no intention of being back in Opposition. When we were in Opposition we got our points across. I recall it being said that when Fianna Fáil returned to Government we would not introduce regional education boards. Nobody believed us. I am delighted, therefore, that the Minister has not proceeded with them.

It is important that all the discussions in the various education fora or on the Green Paper or the White Paper have been brought together in the Bill. While it contains statutory provisions for teachers, boards of management, functions of the school, the school plan, etc. , it has enough flexibility to allow for the development of education.

The achievement of so much without statutory provisions has only been possible because of the flexibility within the educational system. For example, there would be no vocational educational schools without parental support and if people had not been prepared to fight for them. I hope, therefore, that there will be enough flexibility within the section dealing with the recognition of schools to allow for community needs and for what communities consider to be important. While we cannot have schools appearing everywhere, perhaps the Minster will introduce an amendment which provides that community needs must be taken into consideration in giving formal recognition to schools.

I welcome the provisions regarding boards of management. I am also glad that there is no more acrimony regarding these boards and that the State will not be dictating to schools the kinds of boards they should have. Boards of management have been helpful and I believe that discussions among the various partners in education will address situations where the principal of one school is on the board of management of another.

However, there should be more openness among boards of management and they should involve people with an interest in education who could perhaps bring more to them than teachers and parents. That would be an excellent development. All means of persuasion should be used to ensure that almost all schools have boards of management because they allow for more openness within schools and enable people to be more aware of what is happening within the schools system.

I may have misread the Bill but there appears to be no mention of gender equity within the boards of management. Perhaps the Minister will address that. Probably most parents on boards are women but gender equity should be encompassed in the legislation.

There has been much discussion on disadvantage and I compliment the Minister on including a section on educational disadvantage; if it were not included it would not be recognised. I am especially worried about educational disadvantage because I represent a rural constituency. We must distinguish between the high achievers and those with special educational needs, such as people with autism and dyslexia and children who need remedial education.

At a recent meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which considered details on the education provided by Teagasc, I was taken aback at the revelation that eight out of 15 students attending one of the agricultural colleges could neither read nor write. How did these people get through the system with such terrible disadvantage? While there are tremendous achievers and while many have taken up third level education, which is very important, many other people have slipped through the system. Resources and support structures must be provided. They should be inclusive and should involve parents, teachers, boards of management, the schools inspectorate, educational psychologists, remedial teachers and home-school liaison officers. If these groups combined to support young people we could deal with many aspects of educational disadvantage. Access to remedial education must be allowed which does not entail the remedial teacher spending 50 per cent of his or her time driving to and from the schools within his or her remit. The issue of remedial education is close to the Minister's heart and I hope he will ensure that it will be made available to all the schools and all the pupils who need it.

Section 12 deals with funding and I am glad that the Minster has allowed flexibility here. For example, in recent years the tax year and not the academic year has been taken into consideration. However, the academic year is the best way for dealing with funding allocations. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the position on funding vocational education committees. The section does not mention the VEC scheme but provides that money will be provided to the vocational education committees who will then distribute it equally to the schools. The flexibility of funding for the scheme has been removed. The Minister has had much experience on vocational education committees and perhaps he might look at this aspect. The money should be provided to the VEC scheme as opposed to the schools.

I welcome section 31 which provides for teaching through the medium of Irish. This was a huge omission from the previous Bill. It is very disappointing that many young people have little regard for the language. Although they are taught Gaelic from the age of four, their fluency and working knowledge of the language when they finish their leaving certificate is poor. I hope the board will address this matter.

Ba mhaith liom go mbeadh níos mó suime ag na daltaí sa teanga. Tá Bille Teanga le teacht agus mar gheall ar sin beidh níos mó postanna le fáil ag daoine a bhfuil Gaeilge acu. Dá bhrí sin tá sé níos tábhachtaí go mbeadh suim ag na daltaí sa teanga agus go mbeadh níos mó tacaíochta don teanga ón Roinn. Tá áthas orm go bhfuil rud éigin á dhéanamh ag an mBille maidir le téacsleabhair i nGaeilge a chur ar fáil. Tá súil agam nach ndéanfar dearmad ar an teanga atá thuas i gCúige Uladh. Sin atá á dhéanamh faoi láthair mar tá go leor téacsleabhar ann ó Chonamara agus áiteanna eile mar sin.

When the Minister sets up the boards, will he take special cognisance of the Gaelscoileanna, particularly those based in the Gaeltacht? Gaelscoileanna have evolved and developed but I hope they are not a fad or something parents feel their children should attend because it is the "in place" to go. There is huge sincerity among people developing Gaelscoileanna but I hope there will be regard for small Gaeltacht schools. The people running the Gaeltacht schools are annoyed, and correctly so, because they feel the Gaelscoileanna have greater pupil-teacher ratios and access to support structures and Gaeltacht schools are losing out. I do not want that to happen. There are many Gaeltacht national and second level schools in my constituency. I hope the structures will be there to ensure support for these schools and the development of the language, even in the Gaeltacht.

Tá eagla orm go bhfuil na Ghaeilge ag fáil bháis sa Ghaeltacht.

Will the Minister ensure that a representative of Gaeltacht schools, in addition to a representative of the Gaelscoileanna, is involved on the board? This is most important. There was much support for the establishment of a special structure for Gaeltacht areas during the discussions on the regional education boards. In common with the Minister, I do not agree with regional boards, but I hope the new board will address some of the concerns expressed during those discussions.

The responsibilities given to students and the recognition of their role within the school system are most welcome. I hope the partners in education by having students involved, will instil responsibility in young people. As the chairperson of the board of a large vocational school with almost 1,100 pupils, I am aware that instilling responsibility and respect for their school in students is a difficult job. Their involvement in the educational system is most important. I am glad school councils will be recognised and students will be involved in their schools because they are the people who will benefit from the education system.

The recognition of the role of parents is vital and I commend the work done by parents in recent years in the development of schools. It is unfortunate that parents were in the past only hauled out for fundraising events. They have more to say and do than fundraising. I am delighted recognition has been given to parents' associations and that they will work in partnership with teachers to ensure that the best is gained from the educational system. They will be involved with the boards of management in the development of schools and discussions on school plans. Parents are involved in the development of their children and they will have educational responsibilities. At parent association meetings, a principal often says it is most unfortunate that the parents he or she wanted to see are not present. The people who are really interested are involved in parents' associations and I hope an increasing number of parents will get involved in the development of education for their young people.

The Minister's innovation with regard to technical education through the provision of computers and the need for computer literacy is most welcome. It is a milestone in the educational development of young people. I hope they will be able to compete with the best. However, we should consider what skills are required for the new millennium and what jobs will be available then. Technical education and computer literacy are necessary but many computer companies are dying off and jobs are being lost. An initiative must be taken involving education and employment and enterprise groups to ensure that the needs of the next 20 years are addressed now. Education will decide what jobs will be available in the future.

The Minister is aware that the development of vocational education is most important. The Department should have an increasing role with regard to apprenticeships. This area warrants an initiative. It is most unfortunate that many young people who want apprenticeships as plumbers, electricians or carpenters through FÁS cannot take them up because they cannot get sponsors. It is a pity people are being brought in from the UK to fill jobs which were not available in Ireland 20 years ago when we exported our trades people. People who need trades people now know they must write large cheques and take their chances in finding somebody. The Department of Education and Science should be more involved in the development of this type of education in terms of the skills needed for the new millennium.

I commend the Bill to the House. The Minister wishes to bring forward a number of initiatives during his term of office and I hope we can get down to basics and address the problems in the educational system. These include capital expenditure, the provision of remedial teachers, support services, educational psychologists and addressing the future needs of young people.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Nuair a chuir an tAire tús leis an díospóireacht seo chuir sé in iúl dúinn go raibh áit faoi leith ag an tír seo sa mheid is nach raibh córas dleathach againn sa chóras oideachais. Chuala mé é sin ó thánas anseo go dtí an Dáil don chéad uair, nach raibh córas dleathach againn sa tír. Ní dóigh liom go gcuirfidh sé feabhas ar bith ar chaighdeán oideachais na tíre seo toisc go bhfuil ceartanna ag daoine. Mar braitheann sé go mór ar an méid airgid a chuireann an tAire agus an Roinn Oideachais isteach chun tacaíocht a thabhairt.

Rights are one thing but availability is something else. The Fine Gael spokesman on Education, Deputy Richard Bruton, mentioned the importance of catering for disadvantaged children. However, it will make no difference to disadvantaged children to give them the right to education in their schools if the Minister and his Department do not provide assistance for the school.

I am aware of a case in County Carlow involving a seven year old child who has cerebral palsy. I am awaiting a response to my queries about this girl, who has been denied access to nearby schools. She is entitled to be accepted by her local school, but teachers there have no extra services to back them up and are in difficulty. In the early 1970s I experienced a similar situation when I was teaching, when teachers were willing to work with two disabled children.

There is no point in telling disabled people they are entitled to go to their local school unless the Department allocates a special assistant to look after them. Classes are too big and of mixed ability. Inspectors do not expect any difference in children's abilities; they expect all the children in a class to be of the same high standard. This is why I worry about giving legislative standing to our educational system.

We can give legal rights to a pupil, but if the local school cannot cope with two extra disabled children, what good are those rights? The children's parents may go to court and insist their children are accepted at school, though I hope that does not arise. The Minister should not hide behind the legal framework. If children have the right to go to school, assistance should be made available to the school concerned. I met a conscientious teacher recently who was at her wits' end trying to accommodate a particular child. She wanted to give the child as much attention as possible but had to teach two other classes as well. She should not have been asked to do so, but she felt the child was entitled to an education and did what she could out of kindness.

There are probably enough armchair generals in education to defeat Saddam Hussein. Everybody went to school, so everybody has views and prejudices about education. Those who loved Irish think it should be taught full-time; those who hated it think it should be banned. History was thought to be unnecessary, but now it is an essential subject. Those who liked teachers think they are wonderful, while those who had horrible teachers think they are the worst people one could encounter.

As a former teacher, I must admit an interest in this matter. I recall going on my bicycle to teach in a school which had a rat that died of cold there. I see nothing about teacher training and preparation in this Bill. If teachers are not the most important part of teaching we are in trouble. We can have all the regulations we want, but if teachers are not dedicated there will be problems. Teaching has always been a very dedicated profession. I hope teachers do not become cynical, because if teaching is regarded as a 9 to 3 job, education is finished. Teachers do much that is beyond the call of education. They are criticised for short hours by people who never stood in front of a class. I never had fewer than 36 pupils in a class and had 54 once.

It is not as easy an occupation as it seems. Parents understand this, but academics who have not seen a classroom since being taught themselves produce maddening theories. There should be much more emphasis in teacher training on the art of teaching. One may be an expert in French or history, but that does not compensate for lack of teaching skill. Old training methods may be criticised, but that method included a critic who said to one after teaching "Bhí an ceacht sin go maith, ach.. "That "ach" would knock one for six for half an hour. One learnt quickly what one was doing wrong in the classroom. There is not enough emphasis on this aspect of teacher training now.

The higher diploma in education does not cater for the art of teaching at second level. Unless one falls over one gets the diploma, but that does not mean one knows how to teach. There is an art to having patience and to accepting a child saying he or she does not understand without savaging them. It is not easy to have patience. I spent 32 years teaching, and my one regret is not giving enough time to the slower learners in the class. One must strike a balance and advance with a big class, and I am sure there were pupils who could not follow the lessons.

Many years ago I returned to college to study for a BA, and one professor spoke with her back to us while she wrote on the blackboard. The class was composed entirely of primary teachers, and nobody knew what she was saying. No inspector improved my teaching like that lesson. It must be most frustrating and boring for slow learners to listen to a teacher who knows the subject off by heart but who forgets that they do not understand. I liked teaching but I regret not spending more time with slow learners and less time with top students.

I compliment the Minister on his Bill, but what was he thinking when posing for photographs to sell computers for Tesco? This will give the Minister goose pimples in later life. It is a great sham and shows the oxymoron of this Government. The Minister for Agriculture and Food is asking Tesco to sell Irish beef, while the Minister for Education's photograph is helping to sell food in the same supermarket. Tesco will give a printer for £35,000 worth of food bought in the store or a computer for £150,000 of food; if the Minister thinks that that is value or helpful to the Department of Education he has missed the boat. To misquote Churchill, never have so many parents bought so much food for so few computers. It is an unbelievable mistake. The Minister should place a note in the newspapers withdrawing his sanction for this scheme. He is supporting a group that is trying to abuse the demand for computers.

Examinations are dealt with in the Bill. The Minister intends tackling the points system, and I wish him well with that. It will be a difficult task, but that system must be examined. I have often advocated that in addition to attaining a certain number of points, students should also be interviewed to determine their suitability for courses. I accept, however, that such a system could be open to abuse. Guidance teachers should not advise students to take up courses in medicine simply because they attain high points in the leaving certificate. I was flabbergasted when a person asked me why a girl went on to do primary teaching when she had attained very high points in her leaving certificate. The person thought that because she attained high points she should take up a course in medicine or pharmacy. I simply said she wanted to be a primary teacher.

If large numbers of students become doctors simply because they attain high points in the leaving certificate, the standard of medicine will drop. They will become academics and do research work or end up being very dissatisfied with their careers and will not want to be disturbed by patients. Attaining high points in the leaving certificate does not necessarily mean one has a talent for medicine or veterinary practice. Students who attain high points could be very happy in jobs other than medicine, pharmacy or veterinary practice for which high points are required. While it would be difficult to devise an alternative system, I hope the Minister will review the matter. I accept that the points system is fair in that students get a place in college on merit, but it could lead to many square pegs in round holes. Many students will be dissatisfied with their careers because they do not have a natural talent for them.

I welcome the establishment of boards of management and parents' associations. In the 1960s I set up a parents' association long before the matter was spoken about in the Department of Education and Science. Deputy Coughlan said those organisations should not merely do fundraising work. The association I set up in the 1960s did a great deal of fundraising for the school so that we had overhead projectors at that time. The Department was not very happy about that but it got good value from the excellent staff in that school.

Schools cannot function properly if there is not a good relationship between parents and teachers. Friction between parents and teachers leads to trouble for a school. Teachers must ensure that, within certain limits, parents can visit schools to discuss matters with principals. However, they cannot be allowed take up too much of a principal's time, particularly if he or she is not a walking principal. There are many disruptions one can do without while trying to teach a class and, as a former principal — not a walking one — of an eight teacher school, I am well aware of that. Children suffer when there is friction between teachers and parents and consequently everyone loses out.

A school's eligibility for an extra teacher is determined by the numbers attending the school on 30 September each year. Schools carry extra pupils for a full year before another teacher is appointed. When I was teaching I think the time period involved was two quarters. It should not be necessary for a school to carry extra pupils for a full year before an additional teacher is appointed. If, for example, a family moved into an area in October and their children attend the local school, that school would have to wait two years for the appointment of an extra teacher. Why should children who are entitled to an extra teacher have to wait a full year for the appointment to be made?

The Minister's colleague complimented him on his interest in remedial teaching. He visited an important part of the country shortly after his appointment and was told of the need for a remedial teacher for two large schools in the area. Will the Minister seriously consider appointing a remedial teacher for the Tullow area? I received a letter from the board of management today informing me this is the fifth year it has made a submission to the Department in this regard. Instead of theoretical nonsense about legal status and so on, we should appoint remedial teachers to help slow learners. I accept there could be a huge demand for such teachers, but when the regional boards are abolished I hope the £40 million allocated for that purpose will not disappear into a black hole in the Minister's Department or the Department of Finance. The Minister should allocate that money to different areas of the education sector, particularly remedial teaching.

My campaign since 1990 for the abolition of flat top desks has not ended. When a reply to one parliamentary question from the Minister's Department informs me that one school has taken up the offer of sloped top desks and another states that statistics are not available on such matters, there is something rotten in the state of Denmark. I will not be fobbed off on this issue. Flat top desks cause lordosis, forward curvature of the spine. That did not happen in the past when desks were sloped. School principals have informed the Department that flat top desks are easy to put together for art classes and so on and pens will not fall off them. Children are bending over these desks for 14 years. RTÉ carried a television programme on the matter and physiotherapists also support my view. The flat top school desk is the murder machine of modern day Ireland and while the Department accepts this, it has fobbed me off. I will take up the matter on a major scale.

I could spend many hours talking about the inspectorate. During my time as a teacher inspectors acted as bully boys, but I am sure times have changed. In my first year of teaching a divisional inspector spent an afternoon showing me how to do an aspect of the curriculum and when I proudly presented the copies to him at the end of the day, he said I should not be doing that. Inspectors did what they liked under the old system. I hope advisers and helpers are appointed and that consideration is given to the way university professors and secondary teachers give lectures.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and congratulate the Minister on the work he has done. He has taken many initiatives in the first eight months of his ministry, he is a very refreshing voice.

The Bill is particularly welcome because it puts the administration of the education system on a statutory basis and builds on the strength of the education system. There has been no substantive legislation on first or second level education in the 20th century, other than the Vocational Education Act, 1930. This Bill clearly outlines the rights and responsibilities of parents, students, teachers and school managers. This was not the case in the past. It will ensure that all the partners will be aware of their roles and respective rights in education. The Bill also underpins the Minister's power to regulate and conduct State examinations and an effective appeals system will be put in place. The appeal system should balance the rights of students and parents with the effective operation of schools.

Both the Minister and Deputy Browne referred to the important role of teachers. Much of the credit for the education system in contributing to our economic growth must go to teachers. The Bill provides for consultation with teachers on a range of issues. I would like to think this House would be concerned about the welfare of teachers. This is an issue I hope we can discuss in the Committee on Education and Science. Teachers can feel isolated and taken for granted in their work. I welcome the Minister's initiative to appoint a second teacher to one teacher schools of ten or more students. In one-teacher schools there are enormous pressures to teach students from junior infants to the senior classes. There are more than 100 one-teacher schools. The only technology the teacher may have is a telephone to ring for help in the event of a crisis.

This brings into focus another problem, that of the panel system for teachers. The position is quite good at primary level in that teachers get panel rights which lead to a teaching position, usually within 28 miles of the school in which they are teaching and in their diocese. However, there is a greater problem at second level where teachers have been known to be on teaching panels for more than six years without receiving a teaching position. I am informed there may be as many as 700 teachers on secondary school panels. That is an appalling prospect for those teachers. If one is tied in to a secondary school panel system, one cannot apply for teaching positions in vocational or other second level schools. To do so would mean the loss of one's panel rights. Perhaps the Minister will examine the issue of the teaching panel system at second level.

We need extra remedial and resource teachers. The demographic dividend, about which we have heard much, should give us extra teachers. The former Minister for Education, Niamh Bhreathnach, appointed remedial teachers and resource teachers and this must be continued. In reply to me and other Deputies the Minister said the staffing arrangements were agreed with the Irish National Teachers Organisation for primary schools in March 1997. Under that agreement 26 resource teachers and more than 50 remedial teachers were appointed.

I hope the Minister can find resources to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio given that some teachers are endeavouring to cope with large numbers of students. In one-teacher schools and special needs schools, the child care assistant programme should be funded. In many cases a scheme is organised through the FÁS training authority. By its nature, FÁS will allow only one year of employment for a child care assistant. It is difficult for a board of management to operate child care assistants on a one year basis.

It has been reported in recent months, and even in today's newspapers, that there is a problem in getting substitute teachers at primary level. There is concern about the shortage of male teachers. Some people consider it is now a female profession at first level. I hope that gender inequality can be addressed. It is ironic that there is a shortage of substitute teachers and a difficulty for teachers in obtaining employment at second level. Perhaps the Minister will address both these issues.

I welcome what the Minister said about examinations. An issue which has not been covered so far concerns the needs of children with a physical or mental disability. This issue has been discussed briefly at the Committee on Education and Science where we have talked about the use of information technology and music for such children. When sitting some State examinations, children with a disability should be allowed extra time to complete the examination paper. I have raised this issue on behalf of a profoundly deaf child, to which I received a reply from the Department to the effect that it would allow ten minutes extra in respect of a junior certificate examination this year. There are people with other disabilities who may need more time in which to complete an examination paper. The Department should examine this situation and allow more flexibility. An extra ten minutes does not meet the requirements of such students who are trying to deal with State examinations. The Irish Deaf Society say the use of a sign interpreter for examination purposes is just as important as the amount of time allowed to sit examinations. I understand there are only six qualified interpreters to ensure access for the whole deaf population to services and resources which the rest of Irish society take for granted. I hope this matter can be addressed.

The Irish Deaf Society has stated that in countries such as Sweden and Denmark, when discriminatory practices are removed and access policies put in place, the achievement of deaf people in education matches their potential and reflects their abilities. It also states that through the work of programmes such as the EU HORIZON Initiative, when Irish deaf students have appropriate access, their achievement patterns in third level education compares with those of their hearing peers. This is an issue we should discuss at greater length and I hope the Minister will take it on board. The Irish Deaf Society say that many deaf students at second level are being directed into the rehabilitation service, that few enter third level and few have access to professional occupations.

The Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, has responsibility for school transport, a report on which has been published. On reading the report I was amazed to note we are still talking about the same rules and regulations as in 1968; that there must be ten eligible children between the ages of four and ten to establish a transport service and those children have to be two miles from the nearest school. There may be some flexibility in the report in relation to children over ten years of age and that they could still be allowed the two mile limit. There are other issues in relation to the privatisation of the school transport system.

Other issues such as privatisation of the service and whether schools should have a say are not addressed in the report. This is disappointing. What is the position on the four pilot projects, one in each province, initiated in 1988? Given the decline in the school-going population at first level there is a need to change the regulations to give schools a say.

At second level the position is different, there is overcrowding on school buses. This leads to a lack of discipline and is a distraction to drivers. It is impossible to comply with the regulations.

While there are guidelines on the transportation of goods and cattle, there are none on the transportation of students to school.

Like other speakers, I compliment boards of management on their efforts to raise funds. Every first and second level school has to do this to meet running costs. Thanks to the Minister, more money will be available for technological education.

Boards of management that wish to use educational videos — I raised this issue with my constituency colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, when he was the Minister responsible — have to have a television licence. No Government has tackled this issue, the buck has been passed between the many Departments involved. While the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs has a scheme under which old age pensioners are supplied with a television licence, there is no scheme under which primary schools are exempt.

It is a matter for the Department of Education and Science.

Primary schools should not be expected to buy a licence to show educational videos. This issue has been taken up by the Union of Students in Ireland whose view is that students should pay a reduced fee.

The process of consultation on this Bill was initiated by Deputy O'Rourke as Minister for Education. A Green Paper was published by the former Minister, Niamh Bhreathnach. This was followed by the education convention and the publication of a White Paper.

I am happy the Bill does not provide for the establishment of regional education boards which would lead to greater bureaucracy. Instead £10 million is to be made available this year to schools for minor capital projects. A sum of £40 million was to be made available for regional education boards.

When the INTO conducts a survey to identify schools in need of refurbishment there should be an immediate response. To allow refurbishment works proceed in one of the schools in my area, Kilglass, teachers and pupils had to move to office accommodation formerly occupied by the ESB.

Much could be done at local level. We need only look at what local authorities and county and city vocational educational committees are doing to appreciate the benefits. In this regard the Minister proposes to establish county fora. Gaelscoileanna have been established in a number of counties. Scoil Ui Cearnaigh in Ballinasloe which is based in substandard accommodation hopes to be included in the proposed scheme.

There is greater co-operation between inspectors, teachers and boards of management. Inspectors now seem to understand that in each class there are children of mixed abilities. There was a view that inspectors thought all children at primary level were of equal ability and would progress at the same rate. This is not the case. There were horror stories about what inspectors wanted children to do. I remember a colleague of mine saying the children he was teaching had to learn their tables in Irish at a time when they were finding it difficult to learn them in English. Now inspectors are pressing for the appointment of remedial and resource teachers. This is to be welcomed.

I compliment the Minister on bringing forward the Bill and hope he will deal with some of the issues which have been raised by Deputies on all sides.

I wish the Minister every success in this important ministry and congratulate him on taking a courageous decision on multi-denominational education and making the announcement in my constituency. It is welcome that the National Curriculum and Assessment Board is to be placed on a statutory basis.

Having congratulated the Minister on grasping the nettle of multi-denominational education I do not agree with much of what he said. His speech was a model of revisionism so far as the Department of Education and Science is concerned. The House is embellished by many teachers who will be able to bring their experience to bear in their contributions. I was a university teacher for years and may be again, depending on the will and love of the people. The Minister's extraordinary hubris is unsustainable. For example, it states: "We have a unique education system of which we can be very proud". People are in the habit of describing themselves as unique. They are unique in some sense but that does not mean a great deal. His contribution went on to state: "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". The fact is, however, that some of our significant literary and academic figures found it necessary to flee the country, look back at it from abroad and see it objectified. They returned to tell us what was wrong with the education system only to have their books banned as a consequence.

Another part of the Minister's speech suggested that the education system has grown organically. It has not. I offer these views not as any criticism of the present incumbent of the Ministry for Education and Science but as the views of a public representative that are important to state. For example, John Marcus O'Sullivan's innovations in education were opposed tooth and nail. The l930 Vocational Act created a near riot in the country. Elements of the church were solidly against it. The vocational schools were referred to as being Godless. In the history of vocational education, wonderful people were expelled from their positions, people like Frank Edwards who was driven from his post in Wexford on the basis that he was a communist.

If the Department of Education and Science decides to open its files it might try to identify the corpses littered through the history of education. An outrageous abuse of their position was taken not just by the Roman Catholic Church but by all those who purported to have an even more extreme view than the people offering the doctrinal view.

I see a Deputy here from Wexford. Wexford has a fine history to write about the organic development of education when communities were torn apart. The truth is that in the history of education people were driven from their positions and were criticised on the basis of ideological views they might have held even on issues of race.

The Minister's contribution further states: "There is little need for me to speak at length of the great achievements of the Irish education system". There have been achievements. They are visible all around us in the prosperous, sophisticated, confident society we have created. We might like to call ourselves prosperous, sophisticated and confident, but there is also another society that is not participating in prosperity, that is deeply demoralised and that feels excluded. That society is not included in our change and it wants to be respected also.

My criticism would be of whatever person filled the position as Minister for Education and Science. I do not like these speeches that are what I call windy rhetoric — the WR factor. When we joined the European Union we sent people to Europe who occasionally stood up and gave speeches to the effect that we are a small country, but a proud country. The Department of Education and Science is inclined to say, "we are and have been a wonderful Department".

I want to give some more examples on why I welcome the National Curriculum and Assessment Board being put on a statutory basis. I was once chairman of a regional development organisation's arts committee, before we were disbanded. That was the first assault on regionalism. I understand it is now an extraordinary perversion of logic that getting rid of regionalism is supposed to be getting rid of bureaucracy. I thought regionalism was supposed to dilute centralised State control, but we will leave that aside for the moment. Recalling my time on that committee in the 1970s, I remember suggesting to the Department of Education another of its great achievements. The Department regarded martial airs as being suitable for boys and lullabies suitable for girls.

The Department had an even more brilliant insight into its organic development. It regarded dance as having nothing to do with physical education. We once tried to have a seminar for teachers on the incorporation of dance and movement into physical education. The Department not only prohibited it but it prohibited teachers attending. It organised its own seminar in Wexford on real PE, jumping up and down ex-sergeant major style, in opposition to a seminar organised in Clifden.

That is not entirely true.

The suggestion, therefore, that we have arrived at a prosperous, sophisticated and confident society that is growing organically, with the Department of Education and Science having one inspired rush of blood to the head after another, simply does not hold up. I feel a moral necessity to state this. There has been a battle about education since the State was founded and before that.

I now offer another critique to the revisionism on offer. In his Second Stage speech last week the Minister stated: "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 is to become the chairman of a new Board of Commissioners for National Education". That is referred to in the history of education as the Stanley letter. That letter admits, and I congratulate the Minister for putting this into print, that there never was a constitutional or a legal basis for the role of patron in the history of education.

When I was a Member of the Seanad I recall asking a previous incumbent of the office of Minister for Education, the former Deputy Paddy Cooney, on at least eight occasions to show me the legal or constitutional basis for the role of patron. The Department eventually came up with a piece of casuistry that was of its best vintage. It said there was not a legal basis but there had been a principle of continuity. Translated into the language of the ordinary democratic citizen, we had been getting away with it for years on the basis of the Stanley letter so why should we not be allowed to continue? That is the deconstruction of the principle of continuity.

The reality is that the Stanley letter was the basis of a grab for power and control that has left its mark on education. It reflected itself in the debate in the l930s about vocational education. It was the basis of the Department wanting to have as much control in vocational education, the Godless sector as it was called by the Department, as in the sector over which it claimed patronage on the basis of a letter sent in the l9th century which had no legal or constitutional basis in Irish law or in the procedures of this State.

The debate in education has always been about three main factors — control, access and curriculum. More recently, a fourth factor has dominated these other three, that is, the question of resources. I have sympathy for this Minister and other Ministers because when one examines the cost five years ago, the total Estimate for the Department of Education was a little over £2 billion. There is pressure on any Minister, therefore, to manage such a huge proportion of public expenditure.

Education is so important it should not have to be restricted in the same way as expenditure in other areas. For example, it is not simply an expenditure, it is a necessary investment in the structure of the citizenry towards the future. I hold another view about that. The case for expenditure in education at all levels should not be made on the basis of utility. That would be a singularly narrow minded view.

Deputy Coughlan referred to a time when existing computer corporations might fade along with the opportunities that exist in the information technology and other areas, and how they would be replaced. Everybody knows that in relation to the hardware, we would not have the formation that already exists. Irish people are highly intelligent and it is a credit to those who trained and educated them in that sphere that they are so adaptable to be able to attract investment. It is important to bear in mind, however, that the base skills which made the hardware possible were engineering skills, and without the training in mathematics and engineering in its different forms, that would not have been possible. Equally, on the software side and the lateral skills which are necessary in developing programming, etc. , they have drawn a wide range of skills from music to mathematics and other forms of skills and adaptations.

The net point is an enriched broad based education is the best equipment for adaptability into the future. It is likely that the average person in his or her life's work will change occupation between three and five times compared to perhaps having changed it once when our parents worked, if they got work. It is the ability to be adaptable and mobile that is important. Anyone who likes to lean on education for the production of a narrow base at the cost of the general investment in skills and adaptability is getting education and planning wrong. I have heard voices from industry who want to go down that road, but there is another more extreme view. It is if they want to go down the other road they should pay for it. Industry should take on as training the production of the narrow skills of application. We are subsidising the whole of Europe through such education. In practice, the big corporations are effectively socialising their costs while privatising their profits. They are pushing the costs of training and adaptation in new skills applicable within a sector of their industry on to the taxpayer. Education must be respected as an area that will enable all citizens to do any task and to be capable of being employed in the most highly skilled occupations or whatever, but its more general functions are even more important.

I am pleased there was a reference by other Deputies to the commitment of the former Minister and my colleague, Niamh Bhreathnach, particularly to special education. Deputy Killeen gave the game away to some extent when he used the memorable phrase, "this tricky area" when referring to the area of control. That is a very telling phrase. If one is in education and wants to grasp nettles in the area of control, access and curriculum, one would have to make a number of significant changes.

While recalling many of those who have done reconstructions of their time or written articles like "My Education" and so on, many a child is experiencing something similar today. It is necessary for some public representative to say there is something wrong with schools where education comes to an end when the lights are switched off at night and resumed when they are switched on in the morning when the classroom is full. There is always talk of resources for schooling, but there is a difference between schooling and education. There are countries in Europe where nothing happens in the classroom in the morning until there is an atmosphere of relaxation, music is played and people create an atmosphere in which learning can take place.

On school architecture, the good old organically driven Department of Education sanctioned putting in concrete floors in schools so that pupils would break a leg if they tried to dance. There was not a sprung floor in a school that it built until the 1980s. The architectural design of schools consisted of concrete walls in case teachers wanted to stage a play. The Department created buildings that were a nightmare. I say good luck to whoever is Minister for Education, but there is a need to shake up the self-congratulatory ethos of saying, "are we not wonderful to be standing as sophisticated, well off and as well endowed as we are today". School buildings were a disaster.

The exclusion of music from the curriculum has been appalling although some concessions have now been made. People will probably write immediately to the Minister to tell him there are 10,400 tin whistles around the country. Good luck to those who are playing in all the tin whistle bands or those who are playing the odd melodeon, but that is a far cry from including music in the education system. The present position is a disaster. When I was Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht I had meetings with the then Minister for Education and in the White Paper there is a chapter on the arts, which we wrote.

I have not heard the word "creativity" in this debate and there was no reference to it in the Minister's speech. Children are not going to school to be reared in what I called in the open mind lecture on education, "a pedagogy of fear". We should eliminate all fear from education. There should be a pedagogy of creativity and a pedagogy of love. Education may be the most important Cabinet post. That is why I wish the Minister well in it. It is perhaps one of the most important areas in society.

If we are to adopt a proper approach to education there are a series of measures that should be taken. On the issue of the television licence, unless one is broadcasting one does not need a licence. As happened in regard to social welfare, the Department of Social Welfare recouped to the broadcasting division what was lost in respect of the licence fee. I would welcome schools being linked up to channels like the discovery channel and others which would assist teachers. I support all the other measures people want which would involve the input of resources. There is no disagreement on either side of the House on putting more resources into special education although it must be identified as perhaps the most urgent. There is a need for teacher retraining, in-service training and other such requirements.

I listened with interest to Members, who had been teachers, say it is a tragedy if a child with learning difficulties is not discovered early on. If a child's difficulties are discovered early on, something can be done about them. Imagine the distress of a child who is isolated and managing to get by one day after another by hiding his or her deficiencies.

For all those reasons I make a case for a radical approach to put those missing elements into education. We should spend the democratic dividend on special needs, music and the arts, restore creativity and take teachers, many of whom are deeply distressed, from different levels of education and allow them a period of time to retrain and restore themselves.

Fáiltím leis an méid atá scriobhta fan Gaeilge ach tá eagras orm.

We should not be hearing about téacsleabhar 15 years after we first debated that matter. How can one teach Irish in the Donegal canúint? Text books are not available in any canúint in relation to Irish in some places. That is a disaster. I wish the Minister well and I hope he will return here soon to debate the philosophy of education. I pay tribute to his Department for its rightful achievements while encouraging it at times to contain the hubris when it comes to wiping out historical facts of the appalling things done in the name of education in our history.

(Wexford): I compliment the Minister on bringing this Bill before the House. Last night I attended a function in Wexford involving the Arts Council, the Department of Education and four local schools. The Minister for Education and the former Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht were highly praised for their commitment to the arts in general. A partnership arrangement between the three bodies brought the arts into the school where teachers and the students were taught about drama, music and dance. Almost all the 100 teachers present last night thought it was a worthwhile exercise and the children who were present thought it represented something different. It marked a move from academic subjects such as history and mathematics and showed them another side to education.

The Department and the Arts Council should be commended for their active involvement with the arts officer in the local authority and in helping to bring a different culture to our schools. The Minister should continue this approach and encourage more schools to become actively involved in this sector of education.

Our education system has served the country well. There are many excellent teachers but there are also some very bad teachers. It baffles me that no matter how bad teachers may be the students are stuck with them. There appear to be few mechanisms for dealing with substandard teachers. Generally, however, teachers are of high quality and give a good service.

There are sectors of the education system that need to be addressed — children from disadvantaged backgrounds, children who are physically challenged and traveller children. Historically, these three sectors have been left behind by the system. Previous Ministers have played a major role in developing education through the years. However, these areas have not been given the attention they deserve. I know the Minister, Deputy Martin, has a deep commitment in this regard and that he will make resources available. At a time of economic prosperity when funds are available it is important to recognise that problems in the education system need to be dealt with urgently.

There are large housing estates in my town where very few, if any, of the children go to second and third level education. Over the last year Enniscorthy vocational college has increased the number of post leaving certificate places it offers from 20 to 180. I know the Minister is committed to the expansion of the post leaving certificate courses. For the first time in Enniscorthy young people are given the opportunity to attend courses in the vocational school that may allow them to advance to third level courses. It is important that post leaving certificate courses are developed and made relevant to companies or industries in a given area.

I thank the Minister for reconstituting the urban vocational education committees as sub-committees of the county vocational education committees. However, he should go the extra mile and reconstitute them as independent bodies. They have provided a good service in the past to urban areas. Deputy Michael Higgins referred to the shenanigans in Wexford when the vocational education committees were formed in the 1930s. The Wexford town vocational education committee was excellent and provided a good service to the people of the town. It was a mistake to abolish it and I thank the Minister for reintroducing it to some extent. He should consider restoring its full powers. In addition to their normal courses, the vocational education committees now offer second chance education, post leaving certificate courses, adult education and a range of other educational courses. Urban areas are growing rapidly and there are large numbers attending the vocational colleges. Therefore, there is a need for a proper vocational education committee structure in urban areas which have different problems and needs from rural areas, properly constituted town vocational education committees should be reintroduced on a statutory basis.

The provision of facilities for physically challenged children must be addressed. Most schools have a distinct lack of facilities for handicapped children. They do not have ramps or wheelchair facilities. The Minister should be generous in his allocation of funds to schools with such children attending. Almost every school in any given region will have two or three pupils who are physically disabled because many parents have decided that it is better for their children to integrate with able bodied children. The Minister should continue his work in this regard and make further funds available urgently. Quite some time may elapse between a school making an application to the Department for funds and its application being dealt with. These applications are always urgent and it is important that the Minister and the Department should be on the same wavelength. It may happen that a Minister's orientation may be in the interests of the students but it can take time for the Department to respond as he or she would wish. The Minister should have a priority section in the Department to deal with this area.

School transport is causing problems in many areas of the country. The school transport system was an excellent idea when it was set up in the 1960s. It brought a new dimension to education and for the first time gave rural children an opportunity to attend second and third level education. However, 30 years later it is time to review the system. The education system has changed and the boundaries for schools have changed. The results of the review carried out by the last Government were not encouraging. The Minister might broaden the terms of reference for a new review or for the review group that has been operating.

The withdrawal of the transport system would not be acceptable. Such suggestions appeared following the report of the last review group but the school transport system is very important for rural areas and must continue. Perhaps the time has come to remove CIE from the system and to hand it over to the schools. Grants could be made available to the schools to run transport in conjunction with private operators. When I contact Bus Éireann officials in Waterford to inquire about problems with the school transport in areas in County Wexford, they indicate to me that they would be in favour of such an arrangement. However, when such suggestions are put to the Department they are refused apparently on the grounds of reports made by Bus Éireann. Yet, when I contact the Bus Éireann inspector he tells me that he would have no problem with it if the Department approved it. It is an ongoing battle which creates major problems for Deputies and parents. It needs to be looked at more broadly than was done in the last review.

Deputies Mary O'Rourke, Séamus Brennan and Noel Davern and the former Deputy Niamh Bhreathnach have all been Ministers for Education over a five or six year period. Over the past few years there was a consultation process and a green paper. The consultation process is not in question. Parents, politicians and teachers have all had their say. It is time the Bill was introduced, and it is welcome. However, we can over legislate in the area of education. There must be co-operation between teachers, parents and students in areas not covered by legislation. For example, problems of discipline have to be dealt with locally, and common sense must prevail.

It is proposed to put the examination system on a statutory basis and provide for penalties of £1,500 or six months imprisonment and £5,000 or two years' imprisonment for interfering with examination papers. The Minister should instead consider some kind of community programme where the offender would speak publicly about the offence or serve a sentence within the local community. The penalties proposed are very severe and could send the wrong signals to young people. I do not condone interference with examination papers by students, but we can be too severe, and we should look favourably at a more reasonable sanction such as suspension or community service.

Ministers invariably talk of teachers having a duty to encourage and foster learning. I see it as their job to do that, and I wonder if it is to be regulated and how it fits into the Bill. I wonder also what action can be taken against poor quality teachers. Such teachers are in a minority, but no matter how bad they are, there is no way of dealing with complaints about them.

More resources are required to improve the pupil-teacher ratio. We all read about the scarcity of teachers in yesterday's papers, and how difficult this will make it to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that when concluding the debate.

There have been major attacks on the vocational education system over the past week or ten days, particularly by Deputies on the far side of the House. That system has served us well over the years but, as education moves on, the role of the vocational education committees has to change. I would welcome a role for parents, teachers and the wider community on the committees. It must be said, however, that the structure of the vocational education committees has been very good for education here. It gave students from different walks of life the opportunity to attend second level education. Therefore, I do not support the attacks made on the system during the debate.

Another cause for concern is how schools operate after school hours. Most schools are based in villages or large urban areas. From about 4 p.m. in the afternoon most are closed down until 9 a.m. the following morning. A large number of schools now have caretakers so it would be possible for school facilities, particularly sports and recreation halls to be made available to the local community. This would help to meet the demands being made by me and other Deputies of the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, for massive amounts of money for community centres in villages and urban centres. There is a need for more co-operation between the different Departments, and to look at the possibility of opening school facilities to parents, community groups and young people after school hours. Young people tell me that, once they leave the school premises at 4 p.m., school is no longer relevant to them and they spend their time standing at street corners and getting into all sorts of trouble. Perhaps the Minister would open schools in a few urban centres and villages after school closing time on a pilot basis.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to gaelscoileanna. We have a new one in Baile na Scorthaigh in a rented premises and another in Baile Loch Garmáin and these schools are in need of proper premises and facilities. The Minister is committed to the development of the Irish language, but the facilities available to gaelscoileanna are not good. They need extra teachers and equipment. Most of them have only been up and running in the past year or two. Will the Minister look seriously at funding in the coming years for the further development of such gaelscoileanna which are proving popular in many areas?

I congratulate the Minister and wish him well as Minister for Education and Science. One of the characteristics of the ministry during his short period in office has been accessibility of himself and his officials. It is very important that the Minister in a Department like the Department of Education and Science is available to hear people's views and wishes.

In debating this Bill and education in general, one message coming loud and clear from practically all sources is that there is great confidence among the public in the education system and in the deliverance of the service by all involved. Given the degree of confidence, it must be recognised that we are making progress and providing a good service. This has been acknowledged by other contributors to the debate.

If we were to ask young people about education, they would be concerned about points, their future and how education could prepare them for life. If we were to ask parents, they would say there is a total lack of services for physically or mentally handicapped children. If one asked that question of everyone, one would get many different responses, depending on individual needs. Therefore, I recognise the difficulty every Minister experiences in delivering a service which is acceptable to and not criticised by the public.

I welcome the Bill as a long awaited, comprehensive response by the Minister to refocus education for the new millennium. We can talk about the history of education and the education has been well-delivered by many people — teachers, departmental officials and Ministers — down the years, often in difficult circumstances. However, we must look at the position now and for the future and I would be more concerned with that than with the past.

The Bill was brought to its present state by the Minister but many of his predecessors had a hand in it. Few Departments have experienced as much change as this one and many Ministers who tried to introduce change were stifled by changes of portfolio or the short life of various Governments. The first moves towards change occurred in the 1980s when a former Minister, Mrs. Gemma Hussey, introduced a document on partnership in education. This was the first time we had a debate in which people not directly involved in education were asked for their views and brought together in a forum to express those views and to try to reach a consensus about the needs of education in our modern society. Emphasis would have been placed on the leaving certificate but there was also discussion about the organisation of education and delivering the service in a cost-effective way. Mrs. Hussey's successors as Minister, including Deputy O'Rourke, were conscious of what happened before and were prepared to continue to make improvements, leading up to this Bill.

I have compared this Bill to the one produced by the previous Minister, Ms Bhreathnach. When the Minister was Opposition spokesperson on Education he tabled almost 100 amendments to the original Bill. I do not know how many he has incorporated in the new Bill but I doubt they are all there.

They are.

Some of those amendments were welcome. When a Bill like this is published the media highlight various issues and sectional interest groups give their opinion. The education boards proposed in the last Bill came in for terrible criticism and I welcome the Minister's decision to drop them from this legislation, if for no other reason than if they were retained, those who were looking for resources or services would always home in on the costs of these boards rather than their merits. If they had been established they would have many advantages on a local level — the intention was to decentralise — but those groups which had justifiable claims for additional resources and staffing would state that spending £40 million on education boards was not justified in this context.

In dropping the boards the Minister has eliminated matters which caused tension and discussion. Pruning the Bill of all provisions which were contentious or would have given rise to a bad press may be a mistake. One example of this is the provision concerning boards of management. His statement on this subject was vague, indicating that such boards could be appointed if the school so wanted. As a result, boards of management will not be put in place in all schools because there are fears, legitimate or otherwise, that such boards may not be appropriate for particular schools in the light of how they have been administered in the past. Some schools would find it difficult to change to a board of management system. As we progress through the Bill we will see whether he incorporated all his amendments to the original Bill, but I doubt he has.

We should begin at the beginning, and in the education process that is the primary sector. If that service is delivered properly the education system as a whole will be good. However, that is not so. Why over the last decade have we slavishly copied many characteristics and ideas from other systems, particularly from our nearest neighbour, which have been of no benefit to us? Emphasis has been placed on things other than basic education or the three Rs. We are beginning to see the folly of our ways. According to an OECD report we have the highest level of school leavers with poor competence in literacy and numeracy. That is a serious problem which should be addressed as a matter of urgency. Every school, whether in an urban or a rural area, has children who cannot cope. Their background may not be a factor but their ability to leave primary school and enter second level has been severely retarded by the lack of availability of basic learning. I do not blame national school teachers because it is impossible for them to give personal, one to one attention in cases of great need in classes of 30 to 40 pupils.

The three areas in which there is a great demand for change are pupil-teacher ratio at primary level, the provision of remedial and resource teachers where there is an established need and the provision of resources. When I heard Deputy Michael D. Higgins talk about the environment for learning and hearing the wonderful sound of music being taught in the mornings, I felt it was a far cry from where I came and from what many Deputies witnessed in their schooldays. That might be a pious notion for the future, but many teachers and pupils have had to work under very difficult conditions in the past. Thankfully there is now a programme in place, which I hope the Minister will continue, to provide adequate facilities, particularly for small schools which were totally unsuitable to educate children, especially during the cold winter months. If those three areas were tackled at primary level we would have a very sound foundation on which to build a good education system. The fact that the system has survived without those changes is a credit to those at the coalface.

Over the past couple of months since I was elected to the House I have made representations on behalf of many school boards, principals, teachers and parents who have asked for the provision of resource teachers. They are not being very demanding in those requests as they are willing to share teachers, to change children to other schools and to transport them in order to have access to that very important facility. I am sure every Deputy has had that experience. However, we have been told that a total reassessment of this problem will take place in April or May for the coming school year. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that and react positively to the great need which exists.

Is it necessary for the Minister to add further to the burden at primary level by introducing the teaching of a continental language, as he recently announced? It is a great idea, provided the basic fabrics are in place first. However, to add another burden to an already overcrowded curriculum is unnecessary and unjustifiable. Many primary teachers may not have the ability to teach a modern language adequately. A previous speaker suggested that resources, such as tape recorders and audiovisual equipment, might be provided by some of the multinational companies. However, we should not have to rely on the generosity of such companies, whose intentions may be questionable at times.

It is far more important to home in on teaching the Irish language. We all have a great commitment to Irish, but what does that commitment consist of? I think it is very short lived. The teaching of Irish in our schools is in crisis. I have just come from the second level system where Irish is the most unpopular subject among the majority of pupils, who would investigate any available alternative rather than persist in learning Irish. That is very frustrating for those who are trying to teach Irish. We must focus immediately on our native language and its place in our educational system, rather than abandoning it and increasing the burden of young people by making them learn another language.

The position in regard to English is similar. We can find ample evidence in our everyday work to show the rapid deterioration in the standard of written English. Our examination system is a contributory factor, although not the sole factor. In the new junior certificate examination structure students can get full marks for many questions by filling in a box or underlining a word. That represents a total reneging on the idea of getting young people to express themselves in writing. If we continue along those lines we will be at the top of the league of students who leave the education system with serious literacy and numeracy problems.

We see constant references in the media to groups of parents complaining about the heavy bags of books which schoolchildren must carry on their backs, to which we will add with the introduction of new subjects. There is also a great need for the Department to standardise education texts, within reason. When book publishers present glossy books to schools they are engaging in profiteering as the educational content is often doubtful. Teachers are pressurised by representatives of publishing companies who give them free copies of books to use on a trial basis, which will then be used in future years. Three or four texts are often made available to teachers within the same year.

I hope the Minister will tackle seriously the problem of school transport, which I know is a difficult task. It may seem like heresy to some people to suggest that the day for CIE to deliver that service is long over. I can see why the company was chosen to provide the service initially because the decision was taken rapidly and CIE had many buses available which were unsuitable for ordinary passenger transport. However, it is now time to stop fudging the issue, with the Department blaming CIE and CIE blaming the Department. The delivery of school transport is a total disaster.

I will not get involved in a debate on school transport but a point of which I was reminded towards the conclusion of Deputy Burke's speech related to school books. For many years we have prided ourselves on having a system of free education but the Minister should consider an extension of the system in the form of a free books scheme for students. I know such schemes exist but they should be extended on a universal basis to primary school children. I strongly believe such a move would be popular with parents and would help the education of primary school children. Whether the State would become involved in the type of exploitation to which parents are subjected and to which Deputy Burke referred would remain to be seen.

I broadly welcome the legislation which is the first measure of general application to address the organisation of education since the State was founded. The Stanley letter supplemented by various circulars regulated the primary sector. There was legislation at the end of the 19th century dealing with intermediate and secondary legislation. In 1937 when the Constitution was enacted detailed provisions were included in relation to education. I take it the Bill was framed in the light of those provisions. I welcome the fact the Minister has modified the approach taken by his predecessor on this subject.

I extend a particular welcome to the decision not to establish regional education boards. This is a small State, even with a growing population in excess of three million. There are many larger states which have a unified educational authority administering a population of that size. I have always found the Minister and his officers helpful in dealing with representations. I do not see why the system cannot be administered by a centralised Department as at present. If we established this regional tier, we would add to the bureaucracy and complication of the system. Far from establishing genuine devolution of power, parents, patrons and public representatives would make representations to the regional education authority in the first instance and then to the Minister. We would have an addition to the existing ladder of access to the Minister.

It is refreshing to see a Department and Minister take responsibility for the system they administer. I have often deplored the tendency in recent years for Departments to shuffle off areas of business to bodies which are unaccountable to this House or anybody else. Appointments are made to the boards of these bodies over which public representative have little real influence. By real influence, I do not mean improper influence to advance individual or personal cases but influence over the policy and direction of these bodies.

I welcome the fact the Minister is accepting responsibility for the administration of the primary and secondary education systems and that he has abandoned the regional boards. These regional boards would have contributed to an unnecessary escalation in the cost of the education system which would not have added to the level of teaching and instruction provided in schools.

Another reason I welcome the abandonment of these boards is that our education system is in transition as it was in the 1980s, 1970s and 1960s. We had a clear demarcation in our education structure between the rights and responsibilities of the State, teachers and religious denominations until the 1960s. Since the 1960s we have experienced a period of great change which has not settled down and the contours of our education system are not yet clear. We need to provide time for further evolution before we embark on the type of radical measure proposed by the previous Minister. This is a wise and well thought out measure and I welcome the Minister's decision to drop these regional education boards and retain overall responsibility for the system. At the same time, the Minister has said he wants to foster diversity within the education system and establish a partnership at board of management level in schools. A good balance has been struck in the legislation in that regard.

I was struck by the unusual phrase "characteristic spirit" in the definition section which was not in the previous legislation. It does not relate to an alcoholic substance but to the characteristic spirit referred to in section 15(2)(b). It shows our schools have developed in different ways and that they have characteristic ethos, although that phrase is considered a little old fashioned. The Minister wants to conserve that spirit, which is what parents want. We must respect the wishes of parents in this area. There was no great demand by parents generally — I speak of parents as my constituents and not as parents organised in specific lobby groups — for an elaborate education structure such as that proposed by the previous Minister. Various educational engineers, if I may call them that, called for such a structure. Parents want quality in education and a good service which is what this Bill is about. On boards of management, the Minister made it clear the intention is to allow for some degree of flexibility in the evolution of these boards so that parental participation may take place in an ordered framework.

This entire measure puts education on a statutory as well as constitutional foundation for the first time. A matter which is not referred to in the Bill and which is important in growing suburban areas is the provision of land for schools. Local authorities have powers to acquire lands, on a compulsory acquisition basis, for the construction of roads, parks and social housing but the Minister for Education and Science has never had that power. That is a problem when one looks at developments in suburban areas. In the formulation of development plans local authorities often reserve lands for schools. I would like it to be made an express obligation of the local authority and would like a provision where the Minister could acquire lands in exceptional circumstances because that would give him the power to negotiate the acquisition of lands and would mean he could not be held to ransom by developers in relation to the provision of a site for a school.

A change I have seen in suburban areas in terms of the development of new schools is that there is a demand by parents for a diversity of school type. Some parents wish to send their children to non or multi-denominational schools, to schools with a particular religious ethos, including Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland or other Protestant denominations or to gaelscoileanna. This has created problems in relation to the acquisition of sites. There is a case for the Minister to take powers to acquire sites for educational purposes. It would not be an unconstitutional power because it is predicated on the provision of adequate compensation. It would mean the Minister could not be blackmailed because he does not have the power to acquire sites. At present he must acquire land voluntarily. That is an issue at which I would like the Minister to look on Committee Stage.

I am concerned about the functions of the Minister and the objects of the Act in section 6. The primary function is set out in section 6(a) which states: "to provide that, as far as is practicable and having regard to the resources available, there is made available to people resident in the State a level and quality of education appropriate to meeting the needs and abilities of those people;". I notice the crucial provisos of "as far as is practicable" and "having regard to the resources available" have been included. This matter was considered in the context of special education by the decision of the High Court in the case of O'Donoghue and the Minister for Education. I understood there was an obligation on the Minister to provide free primary education. That is also the constitutional obligation of the Minister and yet its seems somewhat qualified in that phrase. Are we safe proceeding in that way?

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.