Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997: Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, line 7, to delete "CHILD" where it firstly occurs and substitute "PERSON".
There is agreement on this amendment which proposes to replace two references to "child" in the Long Title with references to "person". This is in line with concerns expressed.
I thank the Minister for accepting this amendment. We should not confine an Education Bill to children. Education is about lifelong learning and this amendment gives appropriate recognition to this in the citation of the Bill.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, line 7, to delete "CHILD" where it secondly occurs and substitute "PERSON".
Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 5, line 14, after "PARENTS" to insert "THE WIDER COMMUNITY".
This amendment proposes to include in the Long Title a recognition that the wider community is an integral part of education and their interests should be recognised. Amendment No. 4, in the Minister's name, proposes to insert the words "THE COMMUNITY SERVED BY THE SCHOOL". I accept his amendment as reasonable and withdraw my amendment.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 5, line 20, after "STAFF" to insert ", THE COMMUNITY SERVED BY THE SCHOOL".
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 5, to delete lines 34 to 39 and substitute the following:
"(2) Subject to subsection (3), this Act shall come into operation on such day or days as, by order or orders made by the Minister under this section, may be fixed either generally or with reference to any particular purpose, function, provision or class of school, and different days may be so fixed for different purposes, functions or provisions of this Act or different classes of schools.
(3) This Act shall come into operation in respect of any purpose, function, provision or class of school, with reference to which the Minister has not made an order under subsection (2), on the day that is one year from the date of its passing.".
Concern was expressed on Committee Stage that section 1(2), as drafted, would delay unnecessarily the implementation of the legislation. This is not the intention of that section. My concern is to ensure the Act is brought into operation in an ordered manner, with consequent maximisation of benefits for all parties. However, because of the concerns expressed on Committee Stage, I tabled this amendment, the purpose of which is to ensure the Act is fully commenced within one year of enactment. It provides that any provisions which have not been commenced by commencement order will automatically become effective one year after the enactment of the legislation.
While there is some sense in the Minister's proposal, some elements of the Act should come into effect immediately. For example, under section 7, the Minister has accepted it is the function of the Minister, and therefore his or her Department, to ensure every person resident in the State, including a person with a disability or special educational needs, gets an appropriate level and quality of education. The enactment of such provisions should not be delayed. Why is it necessary to delay enactment for one year? Before agreeing to a deferment of up to one year for some of the provisions, perhaps the Minister would indicate where he intends to use the deferment and the provisions which will come into effect immediately.
It would be unfair to read this amendment as an attempt to defer the implementation of a provision. The amendment arises out of concerns expressed on Committee Stage about the original wording of the Bill which gave a very indefinite timescale for the implementation of the legislation. In other words, one could imply from a reading of the original draft that a Minister could take three or four years to implement the Bill. Under this amendment, all provisions of the Bill must be enacted within one year. It is my intention to move quickly to implement the Act in its entirety within the year. I will certainly not defer the implementation of the specific issue to which the Deputy referred, particularly in terms of the right of children with special needs to an education.
I tabled an amendment on Committee Stage that sought to bring the Act into operation immediately. The Minister's amendment is reasonable and I support what he seeks to do.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are related and may be taken together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 5, after line 39, to insert the following:
"(3) The Vocational Education Acts, 1930 to 1993 and this Act in so far as it relates to vocational education may be cited together as the Vocational Education Acts, 1930 to 1998, and shall be construed together as one.".
Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are essentially technical amendments and the legal advice available to me is that they are required to tidy up the Bill. Amendment No. 6 proposes that the vocational education Acts, 1930 to 1993 and this Act in so far as it relates to vocational education be cited together as the vocational education Acts, 1930 to 1998. This would tidy up the legislation. Collective citation in this regard is important. Similarly, amendment No. 7 proposes that Intermediate Education (Ireland) Acts, 1878 to 1924 and this Act be cited together as the Education Acts, 1878 to 1998.
While I respect Deputy O'Shea's legal advice, my legal advice on this matter is somewhat contrary. We have taken advice from the parliamentary draftsman's office on the matters raised in the Deputy's technical amendments. I am assured the Bill as drafted is correct and that the collective citations as proposed by the Deputy are neither necessary nor appropriate, given the limited extent to which the Education (No.2) Bill, when enacted, will amend the Acts concerned. We will introduce a new Act to amend the existing Vocational Education Committee Act, which I hope to publish before the end of the year.
Amendment No. 6 refers to the vocational education Acts. When the Minister introduces further legislation this common citation should continue. Amendment No. 7 merely seeks to tidy up existing legislation by tying it in with this legislation. Even though this is a technical matter, it would provide for neatness. Therefore, I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter.
The draftsman considered it was not necessary, but I will accept No. 7.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 5, after line 39, to insert the following:
"(3) The Intermediate Education (Ireland) Acts, 1878 to 1924 and this Act may be cited together as the Education Acts, 1878 to 1998, and shall be construed together as one.".
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 6, line 11, to delete "by the Minister" and substitute "under section 10(4)".
This amendment was also tabled in the interest of neatness. Section 10(4) provides that from time to time the Minister may designate a place to be a centre for education. The second reference is superfluous. In the interest of tidying up the legislation, I ask the Minister to accept this amendment.
I will accept the amendment.
These are not identical matters.
It is a technical amendment.
It does not appear technical to me in that a centre of education includes schools or other range of possible locations of education, whereas section 10(4) refers to a school. They are not identical, but perhaps the Minister's advice is better than mine. I thought the notion of a centre of education pushed the boat out beyond conventional schools, whereas section 10 provides a narrow definition of schools.
Amendments Nos. 9 , 73, 76 and 79 are related, Nos. 74 and 75 are alternatives to 76 and 79, 88, 89, 92 and 93 are cognate. Therefore, amendments Nos. 9, 73 to 76 inclusive, 79, 88, 89, 92 and 93 may be taken together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 6, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following:
"‘Inspector' means a member of the Inspectorate;".
The purpose of amendment No. 9 is to provide a definition of inspector as it appears later in the Bill. In doing so, a concern that was expressed on Committee Stage about uncertainty as to the role of the chief inspector can be addressed. I outlined on Committee Stage my view that amendments which would have the effect of establishing an inspectorate in some way independent of my Department were the wrong approach and somewhat misguided. It is my firm intention that the inspectorate will remain an integral part of the Department's operation and team, answerable to the Secretary General as accounting officer and to the Minister as head of the Department. For that reason, I do not accept the amendments which appear to have the aim of distancing the Minister from the operation and direction of the inspectorate. However, I propose in amendment No. 74 to delete a reference to the Minister in this provision. I consider it to be unnecessary in that context.
I have no difficulty with the Minister's proposal to provide a definition of inspector. However, why did he not consider it necessary to define the chief inspector in the interpretations section of the Bill? This issue arose on Committee Stage.
Why did the Minister not outline in legislation the functions of the chief inspector? That is necessary because the Bill does not distinguish between the functions of the inspector and the chief inspector. Amendment No. 73 seeks to outline the functions of the chief inspector. The first function is to manage and co-ordinate the activity of inspectors to maximise output. Perhaps that is customary practice in the Department.
It is important that the inspectorate has a degree of independence but it must also be answerable to the Minister. The chief inspector represents the inspectorate and reports to the Minister on a regular basis. Amendment No. 73(3)(d) states that the functions of the chief inspector shall be "to report to and advise the Minister". He will also take direction from the Minister on policy matters and this is where the difficulty arises. The Minister has the final word on policy in the Department and he or she will instruct the chief inspector on what must be done in this area. However, the day to day management of the inspectorate must be seen to be independent of the Minister.
One of the criticisms I have of this legislation is that there is no provision for devolution. This section, which I am seeking to amend, gives the impression that everything rests with the Minister. It must be demonstrated that is not the case. From time to time the Minister will need to refer to the chief inspector and to discuss matters with other inspectors. There should be a line of communication with the chief inspector who would have the delegated responsibility from the Minister to organise, manage and co-ordinate the activities of the inspectors.
An annual report should be published on the activities of the inspectorate because it is charged with responsibility for quality assurance within the system and for evaluating and making recommendations to the Minister. A report would be valuable not only in the context of the Minister's operation of his Department but in relation to parents and the partners in education so that they have an audit of what is happening in the Department on a yearly basis. The initiatives which have been taken and the research and evaluations carried out should be available to parents. While I want the report to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas, the Minister should have the right to amend it, where necessary, for legal reasons if it contains sensitive material.
One of the functions of the chief inspector is to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities in or seeking access to the education system are addressed. They may be students or people involved in teaching, lecturing or administrative duties. We must ensure they have full access to education and equipment and that they have support so they can realise their full potential. We need to send a signal to disabled people that the chief inspector and the inspectorate will ensure their needs are addressed. If the Minister agrees to do this, he will be remembered for having done something worthwhile. He would send a signal to people with disabilities that the State and the education system cares about them and their needs.
The functions of the chief inspector must be included in legislation. The chief inspector has a shadowy existence in this Bill. Inspectors are expected to report to and advise the Minister. However, I get the impression they meet the Minister separately and that there is no co-ordination. We must include the chief inspector's co-ordinating role in this legislation. The chief inspector is the person charged with the most effective use of the inspectorate. I am perplexed that the Minister does not include in the Bill the functions of the chief inspector. I ask him to consider amendment No. 73. This issue is so important we may need to go back into Committee to discuss it. The chief inspector is charged with wide-ranging and vital functions, but it is extraordinary those functions, as distinct from those of the other inspectors, are not stated.
Amendment Nos. 74 to 76, inclusive, are contingent on the acceptance of amendment No. 73 and amendments Nos. 88, 89, 92 and 93 are contingent on amendments No. 9. The chief inspector should have a variety of functions to ensure the maximum benefit is gained from the inspectorate.
An extremely important role of the inspector is how he deals with people with disabilities in the system and with those who seek to come into it. I am talking about mainstreaming education. During a recent debate I forcefully made the point that a high rate of capitation is paid in respect of a pupil with an intellectual disability attending a special school or a special class in a mainstream school compared to the low capitation rate paid in respect of a similar pupil attending a mainstream school, while a capitation of £70 in paid in respect of children attending a Gaelscoil. Regardless of any arguments the Minister may advance, there is no denying that State policy discriminates against the integration of children with special needs into mainstream schools. An onus should be placed on the chief inspector to address the needs of all those children whose parents are seeking a place for them in the education system and parents should have the option to have their children integrated into mainstream education. This amendment is vital if we are to address the needs of people with disabilities. It affords the Dáil an opportunity to do something meaningful for those people that will have a long-lasting effect. I have had to table Dáil questions in respect of children with special needs. If the buck were to stop with the chief inspector in this regard, there would be a much more ready and comprehensive response to the needs of these people.
I am a little puzzled at the grouping of the amendments. Amendment No. 73 is a substantive one dealing with the role and functions of the inspector while the others are definitional, but that is the Order of the House. I warmly support the approach adopted in Deputy O'Shea's amendment. It is very reflective of an amendment I tabled on Committee Stage, which the Minister roundly rejected. I modified my amendment to incorporate a number of amendments and I hope it will meet the approval of the Minister and get the support of the House. It refers specifically to an annual report, the subject of amendment No. 73. It is essential that there should be an annual report of the inspectorate. It is very important that the inspectorate should have some degree of independence from the Minister. I said repeatedly on Committee Stage that the notion of the inspectorate being dependent on the Minister to decide what inspections it does and that all the reports should go solely to him reflects backward thinking in the approach to ensure quality improvement in our schools.
We must see inspection as part of a partnership with teachers, schools, patrons and parents. That is the concept of inspection I would like to see developed, but the Minister, for whatever reason, has turned his back on that and insists the inspectorate should be answerable to him in respect of every dimension of its work. That is regrettable because we want the inspectorate to be a strong independent force that is fearless in its willingness to criticise not only schools, if it considers that is necessary, but also Government policy, if appropriate. It is not appropriate that the inspectorate and the chief inspector should be so much under the thumb of the Minister. The biggest test of our success in facing up to the special needs of many children with disabilities or children who are at an educational disadvantage will be the inspectorate. Under this legislation the inspectorate is to be a creature of the Minister and is not even permitted to make an annual report independent of the Minister. As we face into the next century and such rapid change in the workplace, the issue as to whether our education system is in tune with those rapid changes will be tested by the inspectorate. Amendment No. 75 seeks to give the inspectorate some ability to self-initiate its work. It would be a significant step forward if the Minister accepted that proposal, which is much more modest than my original one.
Deputy O'Shea's amendment and my Committee Stage amendment raise the issue of who will oversee the implementation of individual education plans for children with special needs. We are moving towards a system of assessment of children with special needs and that will be followed by some form of statement drawn up in consultation with parents as to what those needs are. The big issue is who will oversee their effective implementation. Deputy O'Shea's amendment and my Committee Stage amendment envisage that the inspectorate will play an important role in this, but there is no mention of that in the phraseology used by the Minister in regard to the role of the inspectorate.
There is a later amendment on that issue.
The grouping of these amendments is somewhat unfortunate because we are discussing the functions of the inspectorate along with its definition. I warmly support many elements of Deputy O'Shea's amendment and several of them are reproduced in my later amendments. I hope the Minister when responding to this group of amendments will indicate some willingness to push forward the role of the inspectorate. The inspectorate should incorporate more partnership, give parents greater involvement, be more centrally involved in disseminating information and assist schools in framing plans to improve the quality of their schools in an open way rather than being bound by advising and reporting to the Minister and being dependent on his instruction to do its work.
I support my colleagues on this side of the House, Deputies Bruton and O'Shea, on this matter. It is important that the inspectorate should have the opportunity to highlight problems of inequality or inadequacy not only at school level but also on policy implemented by the Department and by the Minister. It is also crucially important that they should have the opportunity to publish an annual report.
The inspectorate should also play a bigger role in liaising with and co-ordinating special education and mainstream education. I raised with the Minister on numerous occasions the lack of resources in mainstream education. The Minister is trying to change that, but we need to ensure that the inspectorate can find suitable places for children and liaise between the relevant schools and other organisations. This amendment addresses that problem and it is important to focus on it. I hope the Minister takes the views expressed here into account when replying.
The opportunity afforded by this Bill is a very important one because it will be some time before we are able to return to the topic. Many people will be affected by what is proposed in the Bill. Deputies O'Shea and Bruton have been very positive in urging the Minister to use the occasion of the Bill to establish some things that are issues of fundamental principle.
Amendment No. 73 in the name of Deputy O'Shea, which I strongly support, is crucial. If we accept that amendment, what we are accepting is an arm's length relationship between the Chief Inspector and the Minister of the day. That is valuable. In practice the inspectorate has very valuable experience on which it can draw. More important, for a parent trying to deal with the needs of a child with special needs to be told that the matter has gone to the inspector establishes a principle whereby the chief inspector has a defined role with functions to respond both to need and to policy. The alternative is one that has, unfortunately, been necessary for parents of a child with special needs who have found that educational provision is not being made within the existing system and have had to go to court. Some have recently gone to the High Court, and High Court judges have spoken in favour of their rights and have been trenchant in their criticisms. One has to be practical in dealing with this situation. The last thing one wants when dealing with a case of special needs is to be locked into conflict with the administration while one's child needs the services and, at the end of the day, frustrated as temporary arrangements can be made almost on an ad hoc basis to relieve the situation for a while with no possibility of being certain of the future. What the child wants in education is rights. What the parents want is policy that vindicates rights. What they want is neither a procedure that is bureaucratic administratively nor to be backed into the position, as several have this year, of having to go to court for the vindication of the rights in education of a child with special needs.
I was appalled at one recent case with which I have been very familiar. The interesting point about it is that, in hearing the case, in addressing parents etc., and in finding in their favour, the courts have found against the Department and against the State on a constitutional basis. If we are to avoid being locked into imprecision, locked into ad hoc arrangements and having no certainty, there is an opportunity here for the inspectorate to respond sensitively to each case and the chief inspector, having gathered information for a year, would be able to make a report on the location of facilities, mainstream education etc., and it can be addressed.
It is very interesting that in drafting legislation to apply European directives connected with market considerations we have accepted the concept of the regulator. We have allowed the regulator to be at a distance from the Minister in telecommunications — the l988 Act transmitted powers to the regulator in that area, and the regulator gets on with looking at balances, at fairness and so on. Why not allow the chief inspector to have a role, to have definite functions and to be able, above all else, to respond to the situation on the ground so that in preparing Estimates at the end of the year or in changing legislation, the Minister can respond? If that is not done, what we are being told is that we can have more of the same, and that is not enough. More of the same is letting children down. That is the reason for there being that distance, that autonomy, that requirement to publish reports annually and report back to the Oireachtas.
This is a good amendment and I urge the Minister not to fall back into saying that at the end of the day any aspect of the Department of Education and Science can come back and report to him as Minister and he can respond. The reality is that the courts are responding in a number of cases. Why not make it possible for us to have an annual overview as to how we are proceeding and whether we are making progress by specifying the functions and accepting something that has been accepted in other legislation, a requirement to publish a report? I support the amendment very strongly for all those reasons and I urge the Minister to accept it.
I too feel the arguments being put forward are ones to which the Minister has to respond positively. The inspectorate has for many years been doing a very good job but always it appears to have been very much in the shadow of the ministerial control which was exercised on the day. The result has been an innately conservative and thorough style of inspection. That is the job the inspectorate was given and it has been done very well.
In proposing these amendments Deputy O'Shea in particular has had a good chance to impress on the Minister the need for a more independent inspectorate, and I support him. I also support the proposal that the chief inspector should bring forward a report. I understand this is done in other countries and I hope the practice could be followed here.
In regard to many of the issues that have been raised, the question of resources arises and that has to be faced up to. Perhaps the Minister for Finance should be present as well. Regarding the parts of the amendments relating to people with disabilities, it is ironic that schools with special needs children are crying out for resources. Inevitably they get more resources per capita than mainstream schools, yet we are hearing again and again that integration is the ideal if it can be achieved. Unfortunately it cannot because the resources are not designed to facilitate that integration. That needs to be addressed.
The Minister has a role in this. I am not saying the Minister would be letting everybody off the leash to run riot. By resourcing the inspectorate and its in-service needs, we will ensure greater innovation and accountability which will be to the benefit of those being educated who we are trying to help, young people in particular. That is the essence of the wisdom behind the amendments and I support them.
I welcome and recognise the importance given to the inspectorate in the education process. Heretofore, the inspectorate was seen as only an advisory body. It would be wrong to say there is nothing short of fear in schools about the new role being given to the inspectorate. I welcome the inspectorate's role in so far as it can be advisory, helpful and positive. It is important that it is seen in that light and that any change envisaged would be seen to be in that light. However, whether it is the fault of the Department of Education and Science, the Minister or the inspectorate, in the past it was not seen in its true light. There is a great need to educate teachers, school management and the inspectorate to liaise and break down the barriers, whether notional or real.
In my 25 years at the chalkface, I was never visited by an inspector.
Was that at second level?
Yes. It is paying lip-service to the inspectorate if, in a subject like PE, there is only one inspector. That is nothing more than token recognition of an important subject to which we hope to give greater importance within the overall education scene.
There is a fear abroad that the new functions are about school evaluation which might involve the setting up of a league system. Teachers and school managements fear such a move. I ask the Minister to comment on that at a later date because we, as teachers, would be fearful of such a development.
I thank Deputies for their comprehensive contributions. This Bill contains extremely comprehensive provisions for special needs children, even more comprehensive than the Education Bill, 1997. On Committee Stage we accepted amendments tabled by Opposition Deputies to strengthen and reinforce a number of the provisions relating to special needs children. Frankly, the buck in this regard does not stop with the chief inspector; it stops with the Minister. It must stop with the Minister.
The key issue, as Deputy Sargent said, is always resources. Deputies Michael Higgins, O'Shea and Richard Bruton would all have been in Government when the O'Donoghue case had to go to the Supreme Court to establish the right of the child of that parent to an education. Successive Governments can take collective responsibility for the way things have developed.
That was the legal route.
The legal route was there but the person would not have had to take that route if there had been intervention earlier by the State, not through the chief inspector, but on a policy and funding basis, to acknowledge the right of a child with a severe disability to an education.
The key issue is resources. The Bill reinforces, in so far as legislation can, the constitutional rights of every child to an education. I acknowledge that improvements have taken place over the years. Since the publication of the report of the Special Education Review Committee there has been considerable improvement in pupil-teacher ratios in certain classes, but I acknowledge that not enough has been done and that we need to do more in relation to special needs. We need to do far more to facilitate integration into mainstream education.
I have met almost every group involved in special education on a number of occasions. We have taken significant steps and we will do so again in the coming weeks in terms of the appointment of resource teachers to facilitate integration. In terms of the information technology programme, we made specific and generous grants over and above those applying to national schools for children with special needs, both in mainstream and special schools.
The Minister is getting rid of many teachers.
We are not getting rid of any teacher. Every teacher is being retained within the system this year as in previous years. They may be retained in different places, but they are being retained within the system as per the policy for some time.
The Minister should visit the west and the midlands.
The chief inspector should not be independent of the Department. The chief inspector has an important role to play as a member of the Department's top management group and he should be integrated into that team approach. I do not want to go down the road of the British model, which has an independent inspectorate. I accept Deputy Burke's point. The British inspectorate is completely alienated from the teaching profession in England and there is actually a sense of hostility between them. I know that is not the direction in which Deputy O'Shea wants us to go——
——but there is a danger in a statutory sense that the more one delineates the roles and functions of the inspector and the more one moves towards having an independent chief inspector, the more likely that will be the outcome.
Ministers will always be told of dangers not possibilities.
No. The possibilities are much richer. For example, there is no mention of curriculum in amendment No. 73. The chief inspector has an important role in curriculum development and reform and the principles governing that. The chief inspector liaises on a daily basis with the National Curriculum and Assessment Council, but there is no mention of that in amendment No. 73. Amendment No. 73 is very narrowly defined in terms of directing and controlling the inspectors under the chief inspector, but the chief inspector has a far broader educational role than that. The chief inspector would talk to me about much more than inspectors. He would talk to me about the broader education issues in terms of policy, curriculum, the direction in which the country should move, etc. It is far more important that the chief inspector would be sitting around the table with the secretary general and the four or five assistant secretaries general on a regular basis to develop a coherent and cohesive education plan and policy on a national basis.
The Department is now obliged to publish an annual report of its policies and achievements within which there is a section to deal with the chief inspector and the inspectorate. Therefore, I have no difficulty with annual reporting on the concept.
In page 16 of the Bill the inspectorate is given a specific role in terms of advising schools' boards of management and teachers in respect of special needs children and services in that regard.
Is the Minister accepting annual reporting from the inspectorate?
No. We already produce an annual report in that regard.
From the chief inspector?
No. I am not accepting an annual report from the chief inspector, even though I have no great difficulty with that. I said on Committee Stage that I have a general intolerance of the notion that everybody in the system should produce an annual report.
I think we mentioned on Committee Stage we could do without the Minister's report if he gave us the chief inspector's report.
I know the kind of inspectorate report Deputy Bruton wants. It is not the one which Deputy Burke wants.
The Minister is a sharp man.
Deputy Burke is quite perceptive.
So is the Minister.
Deputy Burke stated that he had not seen an inspector in 25 years. The present chief inspector and the Department have developed, in collaboration with the partners in education, the school evaluation project. It is the first step at second level towards an evaluation process, which is motivated by a desire to help and improve overall school standards, which accepts the professionalism of teachers from the outset, and which is not like the older model in which the inspector or cigire sat in the corner trying to find fault with a teacher and making reports or like the British response, developing league tables, etc. The role of school evaluation is, in partnership with the education partners, the board of management, the teaching profession and the parents on the board of management, to develop a proper school evaluation system.
Although there is no need, there are fears. Two of the teacher unions, the INTO and the ASTI, have agreed to participate in the pilot project. We are working with the TUI to iron out its reservations and to have everybody involved. Deputy Burke said he has not seen an inspector in 25 years. In this respect the whole school evaluation is a significant step forward.
Under the Public Service Management Act the secretary general will delegate functions to all officers of the Department. I will accept amendment No. 75 in the name of Deputy Bruton which seeks to include the words "on the initiative of the Inspectorate".
The Minister is including by way of amendment a definition of "inspector". Why is he not including a definition of "chief inspector"? He has not explained where this shadowy figure will fit in the overall system. We are looking to the future and at how this legislation will serve the best interests of all the partners in education. My colleague, Deputy Higgins, mentioned that in dealing with legislation Ministers tend to put the emphasis on problems rather than on opportunities.
The Minister said there is no reference in amendment No. 73 to the curriculum. The Bill already contains references to the curriculum and the functions of inspectors. I am seeking to outline the functions of chief inspectors which should include managing and co-ordinating the activities of inspectors. I have not attempted to itemise all the areas on which chief inspectors should focus as the list would run to several pages.
Under the new regulations each speaker is confined to two minutes. If a wider discussion would be welcomed, Deputies could agree to recommit the Bill.
I cannot agree, we spent 18 hours discussing the Bill on Committee Stage.
A number of my amendments are being discussed with the Minister's amendment. This is the only opportunity I will have to respond to the points made by the Minister——
The Deputy will have another opportunity to speak.
No. When we eventually reach amendment No. 73 the Chair will say it was discussed with the Minister's amendment.
The Deputy is correct.
Am I limited to two minutes to respond?
Unless the House agrees to recommit the Bill.
That is unfair. We spent 18 hours discussing the Bill on Committee Stage. To have a second Committee Stage debate would make a laughing stock of the procedure of the House. I understand the Deputy will have a further opportunity to speak on this group of amendments.
No, the ruling is the Deputy will have to speak now.
Although I want to be reasonable, I cannot agree to the proposal.
I should have allowed the Minister only two minutes to respond also. The question is: "That the Bill be recommitted in respect of amendment No. 9 and related amendments".
- Barnes, Monica.
- Boylan, Andrew.
- Barrett, Seán.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Belton, Louis.
- Broughan, Thomas.
- Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
- McGahon, Brendan.
- Bruton, Richard.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- Burke, Liam.
- McGrath, Paul.
- Burke, Ulick.
- Mitchell, Gay.
- Carey, Donal.
- Mitchell, Jim.
- Cosgrave, Michael.
- Mitchell, Olivia.
- Crawford, Seymour.
- Naughten, Denis.
- Currie, Austin.
- Neville, Dan.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- O'Shea, Brian.
- Dukes, Alan.
- Owen, Nora.
- Farrelly, John.
- Perry, John.
- Finucane, Michael.
- Reynolds, Gerard.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Ryan, Seán.
- Gormley, John.
- Sargent, Trevor.
- Hayes, Brian.
- Stanton, David.
- Higgins, Joe.
- Timmins, Billy.
- Higgins, Michael.
- Ahern, Dermot.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Ardagh, Seán.
- Kenneally, Brendan.
- Aylward, Liam.
- Killeen, Tony.
- Blaney, Harry.
- Kirk, Séamus.
- Brady, Johnny.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Brady, Martin.
- Lawlor, Liam.
- Brennan, Matt.
- Lenihan, Conor.
- Brennan, Séamus.
- Martin, Micheál.
- Briscoe, Ben.
- McCreevy, Charlie.
- Browne, John (Wexford).
- McDaid, James.
- Byrne, Hugh.
- McGennis, Marian.
- Callely, Ivor.
- McGuinness, John.
- Collins, Michael.
- Molloy, Robert.
- Coughlan, Mary.
- Moloney, John.
- Cowen, Brian.
- Moynihan, Donal.
- Cullen, Martin.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Daly, Brendan.
- O'Dea, Willie.
- Davern, Noel.
- O'Flynn, Noel.
- de Valera, Síle.
- O'Hanlon, Rory.
- Dennehy, John.
- O'Keeffe, Batt.
- Doherty, Seán.
- O'Keeffe, Ned.
- Ellis, John.
- O'Rourke, Mary.
- Fahey, Frank.
- Power, Seán.
- Fleming, Seán.
- Roche, Dick.
- Flood, Chris.
- Ryan, Eoin.
- Foley, Denis.
- Smith, Brendan.
- Fox, Mildred.
- Smith, Michael.
- Hanafin, Mary.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Haughey, Seán.
- Wade, Eddie.
- Healy-Rae, Jackie.
- Wallace, Mary.
- Jacob, Joe.
- Woods, Michael.
- Wright, G. V.
I ask the Minister to accept the amendments.
We must agree to differ.
It is regrettable the Minister is unwilling to accept the amendments. I am glad he is prepared to accept my amendment to allow inspectors to act on their own initiative without having to genuflect before the Minister each time.
The Minister should have accepted the fundamental principle that there should be an annual report from the inspectorate. He seems happy to allow scrutiny of others in the education system — schools will be open to appeal mechanisms and they will have annual reports on their performance. However, he is not willing to grant an appeal mechanism to people who are unhappy with the way the Minister and the Department honour their commitment to ensure every child has an adequate and appropriate education. The inspectorate is supposed to examine such issues as how well Ireland compares with other countries, how we deliver services to children with special needs and how we address issues of education quality. However, the Minister refuses to allow such reports to be public knowledge.
In cases where issues of delivery are down to the Minister, he will not have appeal or reporting mechanisms. However, he is pleased to see the other partners in the education system submit to such a process. He is being hypocritical in refusing to have annual reports on the quality of education and refusing to allow appeals on key issues such as the availability of education to children with special needs.
We are not refusing that at all. The Deputy is playing to the gallery with propaganda and polemic.
We will see later in the debate if the Minister will agree on the appeals issue.
We had an extensive debate on the appeal system on Committee Stage. As outlined in the Bill——
The Minister voted down Deputy O'Shea's amendment on an appeal mechanism.
——there is a facility within the appeal mechanism provided for which will facilitate the identification of other areas in which appeals might be made in consultation with the partners involved. We accepted an amendment on that matter on Committee Stage. We will have to agree to disagree.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 6, line 41, to delete "on a national basis" and substitute "throughout the State".
This amendment seeks to change the interpretation of a national association of parents. The Bill refers to it as
. an association of other body of persons established by parents with objects which include representing the views and interests of parents with regard to education and assisting parents in exercising their rights and role in the process of the education of their children, that is . established and organised on a national basis and has a membership distributed over a substantial part of the State ..
The term "on a national basis" is somewhat nebulous. The definition of the national association of parents should encompass participation by parents throughout the State. "On a national basis" could mean that the national association was representative of a number of centres but not necessarily widespread.
We must address ourselves to ownership of the education system by people throughout the State, whether in isolated areas or in large urban centres. The wording in the Bill is not sufficiently strong in this case in seeking to ensure universal ownership. My main concern is that a few centres will dominate and people from the less populated areas will not play a full role in the operation of parents' associations at national level.
I recall the Committee Stage debate on this issue and there is not a great difference of principle between us on it. My aim is to recognise as national associations of parents only those associations which are organised on a national basis, and which are representative of parents nationally. These national associations would be consulted by the Minister in regard to the development of educational policy.
There is an important difference between a body organised on a national basis and one organised throughout the State. The former provides for an organisation which is so structured that it allows for the involvement of parents nationally although at any given time there may not be representatives of the organisation throughout the State.
I am concerned that Deputy O'Shea's amendment could be interpreted so that only those associations which had an organisation in all parts of the State would qualify under the Bill. There is no disagreement in principle. The wording in the Bill states: "(a) established and organised on a national basis and has a membership distributed over a substantial part of the State and, (b) for the time being recognised by the Minister for the purposes of this Act, including the National Parents Council Primary and the National Parents Council (Post-Primary) Limited, being bodies for the time being so recognised".
This section of the Bill is endeavouring to recognise the existing national parents associations both at primary and post-primary level. Even though these organisations have been recognised by successive Ministers over the years as the national associations representing parents, they may not yet have a branch in every parish. I would be concerned that any amendment to the wording in the Bill might undermine their current position as the national partners who consult regularly with the Minister and with the other partners.
I take it there is not any substantial difference between the Minister and myself on this issue. I did not seek to delete the section which refers to the membership being distributed over a substantial part of the State. The interpretation of "substantial" is subjective but I am concerned that the membership of these organisations would be based predominantly in large urban centres and would not reach out to all areas.
The problems experienced by parents of special needs children are greater when they live away from urban centres. The parents and children face major problems in terms of delivery of service. For instance, a child may have to go to a residential centre five days per week because a service is not provided in his or her own area.
I am anxious that the voices of these people will always be heard through the national parents associations. They should not be excluded from having an input into these associations because they live in remote areas. We must ensure that their problems are addressed by the associations. We do not want the parents associations to deal only with urban issues but also with those that are comprehensive in the context of the needs of all the partners in education.
I would have the same concern that people living in remote areas should be in a position to have their voices heard. In fairness to the existing national associations they are doing their best to achieve that. One could argue equally that the term "throughout" could be interpreted in a subjective way. Is the Deputy suggesting we should state in legislation that every parish should have a branch established before we have a national association? That would be unnecessarily restrictive. I am confident the Deputy's concerns will be met and we will keep a watching brief in that regard. Some branches are more active than others and that applies to both rural and urban areas.
Amendment No. 11 is in the name of Deputy O'Shea. Amendments Nos. 13, 95 and 193 are related and the proposal is that we take these amendments together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 7, line 9, to delete "Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964" and substitute "Guardianship of Children Acts, 1964 to 1997".
I tabled these amendments because my legal advice is that they are necessary in terms of the accuracy of the legislation. Amendment No. 11 takes cognisance of the more recent legislation. Amendment No. 13 is of the same order and deals with adoption. It seeks to change the definition of "parent" to include "and in the case of a child who has been adopted under the Adoption Acts, 1962 to 1998". The other amendments deal with the same issue and I ask the Minister to accept them.
I accept all the amendments.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 7, line 9, after "1964," to insert "or other person acting in loco parentis who has a child in his or her care subject to any statutory power or order of a court”.
The purpose of this amendment is to cover a number of concerns expressed by Members on Committee Stage. The intention is to cover a range of bodies and people, including health boards, who would have custody of children.
I welcome this amendment but has the Minister framed it in an unduly restrictive manner in that many children may effectively be in the care of their grandparent without that being conferred by way of a statutory power? Will the addition of the clause "subject to any statutory power or order of a court" prevent grandparents from acting in this respect?
I am advised it will not but I will seek further clarification on that point. We must be careful because the protection of children is important also. The phrase in loco parentis would cover that but in a modern era it is desirable that whoever has the care of a child should have some statutory backing or court order in that respect.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 7, line 10, to delete "to 1991" and substitute "to 1998".
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 7, line 44, after "Minister" to insert "following consultation with recognised trade unions".
This amendment seeks to provide for consultation with recognised trade unions in the context of the school year. Under the interpretation section, the school year is defined as meaning such 12 month period commencing on a day that falls between 1 July and 1 October in any year as may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister. I am seeking to insert the words "following consultation with recognised trade unions". Consultation should take place with recognised trade unions in terms of prescribing the school year.
The consultation procedure is outlined in section 25. The Minister may prescribe regulations pertaining to matters such as the school year and other matters only following consultation with all the partners. We are still at the definition stage, defining the school year in a general sense. This is in essence a technical matter. Section 25 deals with concepts of school year.
On the basis of the assurance given by the Minister, I withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 15 is in the name of Deputy of O'Shea. Amendment No. 16 is an alternative and the two amendments may be discussed together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 8, to delete lines 1 to 3 and substitute the following:
"‘special educational needs' means the educational needs—
(a) of students who have a disability or a learning difficulty,
(b) of exceptionally able students, and
(c) of students who, by reason of social or economic circumstances or familial dysfunction, are liable to experience education disadvantage;".
This amendment deals with the definition of special educational needs. As the Bill stands, special educational needs means the educational needs of students who have a disability or exceptionally able students. That definition, however, is not comprehensive enough. I seek to delete that definition in favour of my amendment. Government Departments usually like clear definitions. In definitions such as this the allocation of resources is taken into account. If the definition of special educational needs is broadened there would be need for greater resources.
There is no dispute about students who have a disability or a learning difficulty or about gifted children. There is a group of children, however, who are falling through the net — I spoke at some length on this matter on Committee Stage. Those children cause problems because they are not provided for in the system. These problems arise for a number of reasons, social, environmental and economic as well as general dysfunctioning of the family. Dysfunctional behaviour requires more than remediation in the educational sense. We are talking about a real educational need.
The Minister is making efforts, on which I compliment him, to extend the educational psychological service. The group I am seeking to have included by this amendment is a group that will benefit probably more than any other from the services of psychologists, and the sooner a universal service is available the better. The children I am concerned about come from backgrounds where their verbal and social skills are not developed. In many cases by the time the children go to school a great deal of time has been lost and they are not equipped to benefit as they should.
One of the problems that arises relates to discipline because these children can be disruptive in the classroom. The discipline problems that exist in many schools are not admitted to by the Department or the schools for understandable reasons — for example, if the schools broadcast their problems relating to children who display challenging or anti-social behaviour it can have the effect of lowering confidence in the school and children may not be enrolled in or may even be taken out of the school.
Many teachers have to cope in extraordinarily difficult circumstances with children who cannot be controlled within the present school system. I repeat the point I made a number of times on Committee State that an integrated approach must be adopted to this matter. The Minister gave me some hopes in this regard when he said that under the school attendance Bill, which he is preparing, there will be a much broader role for the school attendance officer. These children will not benefit from the education system or aspire to being citizens who have a decent quality of life unless their problems are addressed in a family context. I have made detailed suggestions in this regard in later amendments but I will not refer to them now.
The group of children I am talking about — unfortunately, it is a growing group within the education system — have special educational needs just as have those with a disability or a learning difficulty. The other side of the scale relates to children who are gifted. Those children also have special needs and must be provided for so that they can realise their potential to the full. A concentrated, integrated approach must be adopted to the difficulties of children who display challenging and anti-social behaviour. Those children make it difficult for teachers to provide education to other children. The education system and the support services do not have the where-withal to cater for these children.
As with all special needs people, early diagnosis is important. The various agencies of the State should adopt a united approach to catering for these children. For example, the Garda, the health board, the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, or whoever is informed of the problem, should work to ensure the child's educational needs are met because at the end of the day education is the means by which most people escape from the poverty trap, from a life that holds little promise in terms of fulfilment of potential. We must acknowledge that there is a growing group of children who must be seen as having special education needs and we should move to address that problem in this legislation.
As Deputy Joe Higgins said, we are visiting education with major legislation. For most of us, the House will never again visit education at first and second level in this comprehensive way. This legislation will dictate how the system operates for a long time to come. I ask the Minister to take this amendment on board and to make a policy statement where he recognises the special education needs of this group. Having recognised them, we will be in a position to make full and adequate provision for them.
Essentially we are dealing with the definition of "special educational needs" and the Minister has taken a very restrictive approach. He confines the definition to two ends of the education spectrum — those with an intellectual or physical disability and those who are exceptionally able. Special educational needs are not confined to these opposite ends of the spectrum. They are characterised by a much wider group than is suggested by the Minister's definition.
It is instructive to recall the committee on special educational needs, which carried out a detailed survey on the extent of such needs. It is significant that the survey went beyond "disability" as defined in the Bill and referred to children with needs of a behavioural origin or related to various obstacles to learning that would not be characterised as a disability in conventional terms. The Minister should amend his hand to some degree, recognise special educational needs in the same way as they are recognised by the committee's report of 1993 and broaden his definition.
Deputy O'Shea's amendment broadens it to include not only those with specific learning difficulties, which embraces many children with dyslexia, hyperactivity, etc., that hampers their learning, but those who suffer from educational disadvantage. I am open to defining "educational disadvantage" separately. At least the Minister is correctly setting up a committee to address this matter, but I share Deputy O'Shea's belief that children who are educationally disadvantaged because of social or economic circumstances have special needs. My amendment acknowledges that there is a difference between policies aimed at disadvantage and those aimed at special educational needs. That is the convention that has developed and it is open to debate whether that is right.
Even if we accept that there is a definition of "special educational needs" or policies on it which essentially address learning difficulties, the Minister needs to move away from this restrictive definition and embrace children with behavioural problems, etc. The Minister will be aware many groups are established which focus on hyperactive attention deficit disorder, dyslexia and behavioural problems. These would not be correctly defined as disabilities because such children can achieve the highest standards of education. The Minister should modify his position. My amendment should include the word "or" at the end so that it follows properly the rest of the definition.
This is one of the most important amendments that has been tabled in the name of the Labour Party by our spokesperson, Deputy O'Shea. I refer to the thinking behind the different texts. The Bill as drafted states that "special educational needs mean the educational needs of students who have a mental or physical disability and the educational needs of exceptionally able students". The alternative is contained in amendment No. 15. Deputy Bruton referred to the report of the committee on special education needs in 1993, and the approach it took is much closer to amendment No. 15 than the legislation.
I have been a sociologist for more than 20 years. The wording in the Bill is not to be found in modern legislation in other jurisdictions for very good reasons. The definition is based on aspects of an individual child. It has been accepted from most work on sociolinguistics, social deprivation and the transmission of poverty, that one must think of the child's biography as that which is delivered to the school. The child is not, therefore, reducible to a set of personal characteristics in terms of learning ability. They must be recognised, but there is a distinction between the necessary and complete characteristics of the child.
It is important that we accept what we are doing here. The child must be accepted in a full biography that is rounded in terms of its social experience. Research stands incontrovertible on the subject in regard to, for example, even intergenerational transmission of poverty. A raft of poverty studies highlight this. There is also the question of the social setting in which the child finds himself in terms of problematic behaviour that might be associated with parents due to alcohol abuse, etc. The suggestion that the child's needs can be either diagnosed within the spectrum of the physical or mental child does not stand up any more and has not for some time.
I am aware of the thinking of those who drafted the wording in this way. One has two choices in regard to the wording. One can say the child delivers the full biography and is socially disadvantaged and call that a learning difficulty. One can also say the child has a disability, but the thinking on this is negative. One can recognise the fullness of the situation in which the child in groups of children experiences disadvantage and say in terms of the social and economic circumstances which are self-evident in familial dysfunction they are likely to experience educational disadvantage.
There is nothing to stop the Minister in terms of policy allocating resources according to need which he can recognise in terms of physical or psychological ability and then moving on to gradually address the other problems and remove obstacles. What we cannot do — it is reductionist and intellectually does not stand up — is decide that if the people in the second wider category want to qualify they will have to back themselves into a diagnostic definition. That diagnostic definition is based on a very negative view of psychological thinking rather than on the present educational notion of educational disadvantage in the child and children.
I can put it in the language of the Department of Education and Science. One could not dream of reducing the learning situation to personal attributes of the child. The learning situation is itself a social definition. We could use a phrase frequently used in the debates in the Erasmus Committee and refer to children at risk. One is at risk not from what one is carrying in one's head as an autonomous person, but also from one's circumstances. Risk factors arise out of the social setting and the biography of the child that cannot be reduced to the narrower ground upon which these definitions are based. I say this to be of assistance. This is not a criticism of the Minister. I am simply saying it is wrong to suggest all those in the periphery. It is rather like that old argument that used to be in the history of politics about people going blind and how much vision one had to lose before one was genuinely blind. This was appalling in many ways. Life has changed rapidly since then. There is a touch of that in the language used in the Bill. I am not suggesting any malevolence in this. This is the way it is going but there is another side to it — and I say this without putting a tooth in it in relation to education. I am as influenced as anybody else by the case which has been put forward for absence of control in classes.
In my constituency I am dealing with the third generation of people who have exactly the same difficulties as their parents and grandparents had. To suggest that any child of that third generation could be described in terms of his or her educational future or personal characteristics, I could say I have dealt with their parents and grandparents since 1969. Special educational needs can be defined on the narrower ground with those who are in the vague area, including all the different forms of social deprivation, having to back themselves into the narrower psychologistic deterministic definitions and diagnosis. Alternatively, he can leave it as in the amendment and say we will look at the prognosis of the child out of its total biography, its social group and special circumstances, separate from any socio-economic indicators. The Bill will either be narrow, under which we will seek to qualify on a narrow ground, or it will be inclusive.
We can have the resource argument on another day. Resources neither help nor defeat text. What we are dealing with here is what the legislation is trying to do. It is the message to the child and the message to the future. It is a matter for politicians on different sides to say, once the definition is agreed, where resources should go. The text of the Bill is very bald. The educational needs of students who have a mental or physical disability and those of exceptionally able students is pathological in construction rather than educational. That is why I strongly urge the Minister to include everything in that definition, plus the possibility of a wider interpretation, by accepting the amendment.
I support the amendment in the name of Deputy O'Shea. He proposes that "special educational needs" means the educational needs of students who have a disability or a learning difficulty, of exceptionally able students and of students who, by reason of socio-economic circumstances or familial dysfunction, are liable to experience educational disadvantage. This is an important amendment. This section defines the needs of children and children with problems. The Minister's definition of "special educational needs" means the educational needs of students who have a disability and the educational needs of exceptionally able students. That definition is very restricted in the context of the problems that exist. To illustrate the point I will give an example.
Parents of children who attend a post-primary school which has been in receipt of millions of pounds from the State for a new school building have contacted me. Children with a learning disability do not have the right to remedial teaching in their school. Because of a decision of the board of management that the school might be seen as elitist, the school does not cater for the educational needs of all the children in the area. The board of management will tell the parents their child has a learning disability and needs remedial teaching, but the principal will say the school does not provide remedial teaching. The child will then have to go to either the community college or the VEC. That is how the system operates. The children of that school, which they have a right to attend, do not have the basic facility of a remedial teacher.
The Minister's definition of "special educational needs" is too restrictive in the context of special educational needs. It does not deal even with existing problems. How does he propose to cater for the needs referred to in Deputy O'Shea's amendment in the context of his definition of "special educational needs"? If he is not prepared to take on board the objectives contained in the amendment, how can he ensure the rights of children, whether of exceptional ability, with disabilities, learning difficulties or blind children, can be asserted in this legislation? Unless the Bill covers all the problem areas, school principals and boards of management will take their own interpretation, and if the groups mentioned in our amendment are not covered more thoroughly than the Minister proposes to do, the view taken will not be in the interest of all our children.
The problem of educationally disadvantaged children is growing daily and economic and family circumstances are causing grave difficulties for schools. It is not good enough for a school to say it does not cater for a particular problem or will not accept people with a learning or reading disability. I ask the Minister to outline how he proposes to deal with school boards of management who are not prepared to provide basic remedial teaching facilities and how he will guarantee such facilities should there be a need. Those of us who sit on school boards of management are aware that there are different educational abilities, all of which must be covered. If the Minister accepted the amendment he would be better able to cater for the various categories of disability and the problems which exist in reality as opposed to in the Department.
I support my colleagues' remarks on this crucial amendment, which defines special educational needs. It is a question of whether the Bill is to be inclusive of all sections of society or if we are to continue the present, flawed system. We must focus on the growing problems of social and economic disadvantage and familial dysfunction, which Deputy O'Shea has covered in the amendment.
I commend the Minister for the broad definition of educational disadvantage in section 32, which includes impediments to education arising from social or economic disadvantage. He has also set up a committee. However, he should now go a step further and accept this amendment, which would put the definition of educational disadvantage at the heart of this Bill. The legislation will be a major charter for Irish education. Many Deputies are teachers by profession, like myself. It is crucial that the Bill's definition of an important matter like special educational needs should mention social and economic circumstances.
Deputy Ryan mentioned the ongoing problem that children with special educational needs, often from areas of deprivation or with a tragic family history, are denied their fundamental rights as citizens to an appropriate education. This is happening in the system currently run by the Minister. Since I entered this House there have been problems in the disadvantaged schools system, particularly with the unevenness in the choice of disadvantaged areas and the lack of definition. This also makes the case for Deputy O'Shea's amendment, under which the assessment of special educational needs would include consideration of social and economic circumstances.
In my constituency an outstanding Gaelscoil — which I mentioned on the Adjournment last week — an outstanding non-denominational school and a national school exist cheek-by-jowl on the same campus. Parents who are interested in Irish language or non-denominational schools are often extremely committed to education, so the children in those schools are equally committed, even though they may come from areas of social deprivation. Over the last few years — the former Deputy Fitzgerald was most upset about this during the last Dáil — the ordinary national school has had to look after the children from the least committed families, and it does a heroic job. The Minister has not defined that school as disadvantaged, yet the Gaelscoil and the non-denominational school effectively have that status. The school which is struggling with the most deprived children has no status, whereas the schools with the most committed parents and pupils do, which does not add up. Deputy O'Shea has given the Minister an opportunity to keep the heart of the problem of educational disadvantage — social and economic circumstances, and familial dysfunction — to the forefront of what the Department is doing, and to make it a sine qua non of the considerations of the committee to be established under section 32.
I am Labour spokesman on enterprise, trade and employment and the Fine Gael spokesman on education and science is the former Minister for Enterprise and Employment. There is no question but that the key to our current economic prosperity has been the excellence of our education system. It is a question of trying to continue that and I commend the Minister for his work on IT and technology generally since entering office. However, our core weakness is in areas such as Dublin 17, where I live, and Dublin 8, which have the lowest level of third level participation in Ireland. We have tried to set up local bodies such as partnership companies through the local government structure and to devise compensatory mechanisms. Coolock has the Challenger and Excel programmes, whereby the local economy helps first and second level pupils to stay in school. We also provide support to students at third level and we hope the Minister will soon directly support such programmes. This work in local areas around the country should be based in statute. As Deputy Ryan said, no board of management or principal can tell a child he or she is not entitled to extra help, whether it is home-school liaison, remedial education, assistance with technology or entrance to third level.
I accept the Minister has gone some distance in trying to incorporate this in section 32, but it needs to be placed in the heart of the Bill. There is provision for disability and the exceptionally able, which we support and commend. We must make this an inclusive Bill. The Minister is making a praiseworthy attempt to set out in statute for the first time the rights and powers of boards of management, inspectorates, etc.
However, the rights and needs of students and parents are fundamental. I have been a Member of this House for almost six years and when I meet my former colleagues who teach higher second level students, they say it is becoming increasingly difficult for teachers to cope with the competing demands of society, such as the family problems of students. This is an appropriate time to give the teaching profession a boost by extending the definition of special educational needs to include social deprivation and family dysfunction. I ask the Minister to take that extra step and incorporate this in the Bill.
It is dealt with comprehensively in the Bill. This amendment proposes to broaden the definition of special needs as it is included in the Bill. I reject that approach for a number of reasons. With respect to Deputy Higgins, we are not defining children only in the context of their physical characteristics or personality.
I said psychological.
Or psychological characteristics. These definitions are used later in the Bill and provide for a focused and specific response to needs. There is a danger that if I accepted Deputy O'Shea's amendment, the focus would be diluted and consequently the provision in terms of resources for special needs children. If the special education review committee which was established ten years ago had adopted that formula we would not have witnessed such a degree of improvement in relation to special needs children.
That does not stand up.
It does. We had focused targets in terms of the pupil-teacher ratios in special schools and we have attained most of those, though not all. In terms of integration we have achieved certain objectives set out by the special education review committee.
That is acknowledged.
It is — the approach was the correct one.
The point is to gradually make it narrow.
No, we must not make it narrow but focused. This Labour Party amendment is all over the shop and could lead to a lack of specific focus in terms of needs. I did not dream this up or take inspiration from the Education (No.1) Bill, which was introduced by the Labour Party when in Government and did not define special needs at all.
We delivered — the Minister did not.
Neither was there any mention of the establishment of a committee on disadvantage. This Bill is an advance on the Education (No. 2) Bill in that respect.
I accept that a child's environment is of fundamental importance in his or her development. Socio-economic factors are critical and poverty is an issue. However, we are endeavouring to deal with this in the context of policies related to disadvantage and the establishment of a committee on educational disadvantage which will have a broad focus outside the definition of special needs we have accepted to date.
We arrived at this definition following very informed consultation with all the groups involved, particularly those dealing with special needs. We went through the Bill with a fine toothcomb with all the groups involved. Initially people thought the Bill did not cater enough for children with special needs. Parents of children attending special schools and special classes in national schools were concerned we should get this definition right. Deputies were also consulted.
The definition on page 8 must be cross-referenced with page 6 where there is a clear definition of "disability". Section (2)(1)(e) deals with children with a learning difficulty.
Why was it not cross-referenced in the text?
It is in the text. Deputy Bruton raised learning difficulties. There is a growing degree of awareness of this issue, ranging from dyslexia to attention deficit disorder to Asperger's syndrome, etc. Invariably, different groups of parents represent the various categories of learning difficulties. We will have to respond to these issues more than previous Governments. Section 2(1)(e) covers any conditions which can emerge.
Paragraphs (a) to (e) cover malformations, disfigurements, etc.
Paragraph (e) refers to a condition, illness or disease which affects a person's thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment or which results in disturbed behaviour.
Parents of children with special needs wanted a narrow definition. If consultation is to mean anything, we must take on board the concerns which have been represented in a focused and detailed way. The approach from the special educational review committee onward has been a good one and has netted good results. However, they are not sufficient and we need to do more to meet the special needs of children. We also need to intervene more with, and provide more resources for, children who by virtue of where they live suffer from socio-economic disadvantage.
Ultimately, this will be done with more comprehensive and well researched policies and strategies which can meaningfully tackle disadvantage. We must deal with teaching methodology, the in-service and pre-service of teachers, as well as providing additional resources to schools and students. Deputy Broughan referred to the disadvantaged scheme. We need to review that and the policy on disadvantage. I hope the committee which will be established as a result of this Bill will bring a particular focus to the issue of disadvantage and that we will be in a strong position to advise the Minister of the day on policies and strategies which should be adopted in tackling it.
Will the Minister respond to the point I raised?
The role and responsibilities of boards of management are set out in the Bill. It is unusual that certain boards are refusing remedial teachers. My problem is that we do not have enough remedial teachers.
It is a fact.
If the Deputy brings the individual case to my attention I will deal with it. This Bill sets out the role and responsibilities of boards of management and the rights of children to an education.
The rights of children must be covered in the Bill.
The rights of children are covered in the Bill. As soon as this legislation is placed on the Statute Book, the rights of children will be strengthened.
The Bill does not go far enough.
I am disappointed the Minister is not willing to accept amendments Nos. 15 or 16. They are variants, both of which propose widening the definition of "special educational needs". I will illustrate to the Minister how strange his definition reads. I am sure he accepts that under section 7(a) he is responsible for ensuring the level and quality of education to a person with a disability or other special educational needs. Under the Minister's definition the only addition under “other special educational needs” will be the exceptionally able. When the Minister drafted section 7(a), which most people welcomed as a significant step forward, he did not state “a person with a disability or the exceptionally able”. He stated “a person with a disability or who has other special educational needs”. In the back of his mind he thought the definition of “special educational needs” was much broader and would not include only persons with a disability or exceptional ability.
The definition covers that.
Under paragraph (e) on page 6, the Minister refers to a condition, illness or disease. Most behavioural problems in classrooms are not conditions, illnesses or diseases. As Deputy Higgins said much more eloquently than I could, they are products of the environment in which people live and family circumstances. I have no great personal investment in amendment No. 16 as against No. 15. In many respects, amendment No. 15 is more attractive. The provision in amendment No. 16 would be based on an empirical test which would show if a child had greater learning difficulty than the majority of children of the same age. I ask the Minister to accept amendment No. 16.
I will press amendment No. 15. Nothing the Minister said convinced me his definition of "special educational needs" is superior to mine. He rationalised somewhat when he referred us to the earlier definition of "disability". I tabled a similar amendment on Second Stage in relation to "disability". All the Minister did in terms of the definition of "special educational needs" was delete the words "mental" and "physical" before the word "disability". Whereas the argument has some validity in terms of a condition, illness or disease which affects a person's thought process, a much broader clarification is necessary in terms of special educational needs. If a child is exposed to violence in the home and lives in constant fear his or her thought process will be inhibited. It can also give rise to emotional or anti-social behaviour. Environmental, social and economic conditions can restrict a person's ability to absorb education in the normal sense and they must be included under the definition of "special educational needs". We are not talking about a large number of people, but the number is increasing. None of the Minister's arguments has changed my attitude and I will press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 8, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
"(c) guidance and counselling services;".
The aim of this amendment is to respond to concerns expressed on Committee Stage that these services should be given special mention. I reiterate, however, that the list of services, including these additional ones, is not exhausted. That was never the intention. The support services to be provided to schools, students and parents depend on the circumstances prevailing. The services outlined in the Bill are illustrative only.
I welcome this amendment which was sought on Committee Stage. Guidance and counselling services are an essential support to education and they do not get adequate recognition or resources. It is extraordinary that students do not have access to a guidance or counselling service in the month of August, when most students decide on their careers.
Students should have access to such services when they receive their leaving certificate results. However, that is a debate for another day. I welcome the amendment.
I, too, welcome the amendment and compliment the Minister on introducing it. The Minister of State recently referred to a matter of increasing concern, the problem of suicide. Guidance and counselling services in schools should focus on this problem. I welcome the amendment, which recognises the importance of guidance and counselling services for students. However, in the light of the Minister of State's publicly stated and deep-rooted concern about the problem of suicide, will he take steps to include advice in that regard in these services? Suicide is a major problem throughout the western world, particularly among males.
I support the amendment. Unfortunately, guidance and counselling services are inadequate in many schools. Deputy Bruton made a valid point that students who have completed the leaving certificate examination should have access to such services during the summer months. As Deputy O'Shea said, suicide is a growing problem.
Another serious problem on which a report was published recently is college dropouts. Students go to college without knowing what is ahead of them or what subjects to choose. They realise half way through the first year or two years later that they have made a mistake and they drop out of college without telling the college authorities. They only find out when the students do not turn up for examinations. If this problem was tackled and guidance and counselling services provided, it would help to combat suicide. I know of cases where young people went to college and took courses which were not suitable. However, they could not tell their parents they were dropping out of their course, so they took what they regarded as the easier option and committed suicide. More resources need to be put into this area.
In some schools the guidance counsellor fulfils a role rather than being involved in mainstream teaching. It is an opt-out for them. Tired teachers are often given the post of guidance counselling, but they have no interest in furthering the students' education or providing information. Many school libraries do not have basic information, such as college prospectuses, to give to students. This can lead to depression, college dropouts and increased cases of suicides. The number of girls committing suicide is rising. Recent statistics show that there is little difference between the number of young girls and young men committing suicide.
I support this amendment. However, there is no point including it in the Bill unless we tackle the root cause of the problem and provide the necessary resources.
I welcome this amendment. School guidance counsellors have a difficult task. Guidance counsellors were introduced to second level schools in the 1970s when they were only required to give information on school regulations and entrance examinations. However, they now have a more demanding task to perform. The difficulty is that this service is not available in all schools. Teachers perform this role in schools which do not have professional guidance counsellors. This service must be available to all schools on a statutory basis. The size of the school should not determine the availability of this service, as is currently the case. As a member of Galway VEC, I know that only two schools have a professional guidance counselling service. This important service must be provided, even if only on a shared basis.
As Deputy Richard Bruton said, it is important that this service is provided during school terms. It is often needed when schools are closed, particularly at examination time or when students appeal results. If professional services are required within the school year, including holiday times, there should be a flexible agreement with the school management and the Department that guidance counsellors can take time off in lieu of services provided when other teachers are absent.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): I support this amendment. Guidance counselling services are needed more than ever in secondary schools. Students are under great stress, particularly in this drugs environment. I do not know if it is a chicken and egg situation, but it might help if the pupil teacher ratio in secondary schools was reduced so that teachers could try to resolve students' problems. The official pupil teacher ratio is 1:10, but it could be 1:35 in classes where English, Irish or history is taught. There could be seven or eight in a class where honours mathematics is taught. Classes are usually big so they do not bear out the official pupil teacher ratio statistics. We should try to tackle this problem.
There is usually one career guidance teacher for every 500 pupils. I accept the Minister may have financial problems but surely a school with 300 or 400 pupils needs a career guidance teacher as well. If a school has career guidance services, it might prevent square pegs being fitted into round holes.
We should change the attitude that if a student gets high marks in the leaving certificate, they must do medicine, pharmacy or veterinary medicine in college. If someone wants to be a doctor, they should follow that calling but they should not become one because they got high marks in the leaving certificate. If they do that, they are likely to drop out of college half way through their course. If they stay, it suggests they are not interested in people but in research.
We cannot overemphasise the importance of proper career guidance in schools. Career guidance teachers should be available to help children with problems. It is pointless guaranteeing career guidance teachers to schools with 1,000 pupils because they are too big. There should be a limit on the size of schools. It would be more practical, but perhaps not constitutional, to have two small schools where people know one another, rather than one big school.
I thank Members for their contributions and their acceptance of this amendment which was introduced as a result of constructive comments by the Opposition on Committee Stage. If the career guidance and counselling service was extended, we could make a greater impact in dealing with the problems adverted to by Deputies, those of students who drop out of school or may take their own lives. The guidance and counselling service has been extended gradually, but not as quickly as we would like. The House can be assured the Minister and I are fully committed to extending that service as widely as possible within the shortest possible timescale. It comes down to a question of resources. The annual Estimates battle has commenced and we are making a determined pitch for more resources in this area.
I hope the Minister of State has his boxing gloves.
I will bear in mind the suggestions made by Deputy Ulick Burke on how the available resources should be distributed. Regarding the pupil-teacher ratio at second level, I had a meeting recently with the ASTI on that matter and its representatives are raising it with the Minister this week. Deputies can rest assured that they have put forward a good case. I was very impressed by it and I am sure the Minister will be equally impressed.
A Cheann Comhairle——
The Deputy should have raised his point previously. The Minister has replied to the amendment.
We now come to amendment No. 18 and amendment No. 114 is related.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 8, line 14, after "schools" to insert ", adaptations to buildings to facilitate access".
These two amendments respond to concerns expressed on Committee Stage that these particular services be given special mention in the support services definition and in the functions of a school. I commend them to the House.
I support these amendments. It is vital that these facilities are put in place not only for students attending these schools but to provide easy access to the school building for elderly parents and wheelchair-bound parents attending parent-teacher meetings or visiting the school for some other reason. At election time many of these schools are used as polling stations. In County Roscommon the county registrar has made funding available to primary and secondary schools which are used for that purpose. The putting in place of ramps will provide easy access to school buildings for the elderly and the wheelchair bound to enable them cast their votes.
I know of two schools where the principals have not allowed ramps to be put in place. One principal said there are no students in the school that require that facility. He may not be aware that some students have elderly parents who find it difficult to climb steps, some students may require that facility at some stage in the future and the elderly will require it for gaining access to a polling station. It is disappointing this situation has arisen. I welcome these adaptations to school buildings, but this issue needs to considered not only in regard to our education system but in regard to all other buildings that receive State funding. I welcome this amendment and I hope it will encourage other Departments to make such adaptations to buildings.
I compliment the Minister of State on tabling this amendment. It provides for adaptations to buildings to facilitate access, but it does not mention access to transport. School transport vehicles should be adapted to facilitate access. Will the Minister indicate if the Department would provide funding to small operators to facilitate them in adapting their vehicles to enable persons with physical disabilities to have easier access to transport? In many ways access to transport is as important as access to a school building.
Will the Minister of State ensure there is access within school buildings as well as access to the building? Many second level schools are two or three storey buildings and it would be helpful if lifts were provided in them. A school in my constituency has provided schooling for a student who is confined to a wheelchair and some compromise has had to be made with regard to certain classes, for example, where the science hall or other specialist services were available at a level other than at ground level. That student has had to be literally hauled from one level to another.
If we were to change the text of this amendment, it would have to be recommitted. I will bear in mind what Deputy Burke said, but we are not prepared to accept a recommittal of this amendment. I am surprised about the attitude adopted by the two principals to whom Deputy Naughten referred and I ask him to bring those cases to our attention.
I accept Deputy O'Shea's point. However, two-thirds of those vehicles are supplied by private contractors and there has been a constant reduction in the percentage of vehicles supplied directly by Bus Éireann. I understand that practically all the vehicles used in the special needs area are provided by private contractors. Because operators are only given a contract for one year and it may not be renewed, they are unwilling to undertake the major investment required to adapt their vehicles. I am proposing a policy change that if private contractors adapt their vehicles accordingly we will consider giving them a three to five year contract, which would give them some security of tenure.
We now come to amendment No. 19. Amendments Nos. 19, 26, 38, 46 and 47 are related and, therefore, can be taken together.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 8, line 16, after "language" to insert "as the first official sign language".
This amendment arises out of a substantial submission by the Irish Deaf Society concerning the need to have proper recognition of Irish sign language in our education system. We have a very unsatisfactory approach to teaching deaf children. There is no recognition of sign language generally in our education system. There is ample evidence from other countries that a dual system — allowing children to learn either through sign language or through the oral tradition — is a better approach. The Swedish model has had considerable success. That was recognised by the Minister on Committee Stage. I welcome his decision to send a delegation to Sweden so that we can learn from its experiences. If sign language is the language in which children find it easiest to learn, it is wholly inappropriate that they should be forced at school to learn through a tradition that hampers their progress. We should offer flexibility in schools and have parallel recognition.
The reason for this amendment is that currently we have no proper recognition of Irish sign language, no system for training people in its use, and little in the way of interpreting services for people in education. There is serious underprovision in this area. I am pleased that on Committee Stage the Minister agreed to include in the list of support services a commitment to provide for students learning through Irish sign language or other sign language.
However, one remaining concern felt by many of those who campaigned for this recognition in the legislation relates to the text as it now reads which essentially gives equal prominence to Irish sign language and other sign language. Irish sign language is distinctively different in that it is a language proper. It has a syntax of its own and is a full language in many ways, whereas many other sign languages do not have that same completeness. There is concern that if the amendment remains as it now stands the Department will be able to fulfil its legal obligations by simply providing the option of an inferior sign language and will not fulfil the obligation to introduce Irish sign language which has been at the heart of the efforts to achieve recognition. My amendment proposes to insert after "Irish sign language" the words "as the first official sign language". We have a tradition of recognising first official languages which gives them a priority and a special position in legislation would give them a priority. If those words were included it would make clear legislatively that Irish sign language would get proper recognition and proper resourcing.
The other amendment in my name is to include among the objects of the Act the promotion of the development of interpreting services for deaf people in education. If we do not have interpreting services we cannot achieve the equality to which we aspire.
These amendments build on the Committee Stage debate where the Minister showed a welcome willingness to accept amendments in this area. Since Committee Stage there has been considerable work on this. I hope the Minister will accept these amendments as a further improvement on the work we did on Committee Stage.
There are two amendments in my name relating to this area. These are amendments Nos. 46 and 47, relating to the functions of the Minister. Subsection (2) (d) currently reads: "To provide support services through Irish to recognised schools which provide teaching through Irish and to any other recognised school which requests such provision". Irish sign language is a distinctive language which stands up in its own right. Just as the Irish language is part of our general heritage, Irish sign language is part of the heritage of deaf people. It is therefore only right and, more important, equitable that we should provide for deaf people the same support and back-up in terms of their language which is fundamental to their heritage as we provide in respect of the Irish language which is fundamental to the heritage of all.
What I am seeking is that subsection (2) (d) should read: "To provide support services through Irish and Irish sign language to recognised schools which provide teaching through Irish and Irish sign language and to any other recognised school which requests such provisions". There are other sign languages which are available and that can be used, but Irish sign language is the indigenous sign language. It is a language that stands independently in its own right. I ask that my amendments Nos. 46 and 47 be accepted so that we deal equitably with the population at large and the deaf community in the context of language heritage.
I too support my colleagues on this side of the House in relation to Irish sign language. It is very important that it should get official recognition just as the Irish language does in the Constitution and in this Bill. People who are deaf should be taught in their first language rather than orally which, to them, is a foreign language. It is unfair that they are forced to be taught through a foreign language. It is analogous to when English was first spoken in this country. People now believe it was wrong to insist that children be taught through English, which led to the demise of the Irish language. We have the same problem in that Irish sign language is not being recognised. I urge the Minister to accept these amendments. It is important that it gets the recognition it deserves. Other models, for example, the Swedish model, has been quite successful. By granting this recognition, we too can have a successful education system which will not discriminate against any minority language. For that reason I urge the Minister to accept Irish sign language as an official language for teaching.
I too support my colleagues' amendments. It is with regret that I note the omission of speech therapy from the list of support services. The lack of speech therapy facilities at primary level has led to a greater need for the teaching of sign language. Let me cite an example as the best way to illustrate what I am talking about. In the mid 1980s I and a number of other Deputies and Senators were contacted by a group of parents who had children suffering from what they called language and learning difficulties. In the case with which I dealt, the child was eventually diagnosed by the Ursuline Sisters through their school in New York which specialises in this area as suffering from language and learning difficulties. The Ursuline Sisters kindly allocated a teacher who had skills in this area and the parents opened a special unit behind the church at Donnybrook. They paid the costs themselves because the Department refused to recognise the unit.
The child with whom I was dealing had been assessed, both medically and educationally, as being mentally handicapped and was placed in a school for mentally handicapped children. When I was Government Chief Whip, the parents brought that child into my office in the Department of the Taoiseach. I will never forget that day. He ran over to the farthest corner of the room and sat on the floor behind a chair with his head in his hands. The parents, who were naturally very upset, apologised and said it was not a problem, to leave him alone. Because the child was placed in an institution with mentally handicapped children, he had copied all the habits of the other children. Therefore, he appeared by his actions to be mentally handicapped.
The parents had been told the child was mentally handicapped, that they should put him in a mental institution and have another baby — those were the words used. If the parents had not been diligent and concerned, and fought this diagnosis, that is what would have happened.
In the mid-1980s I brought the then Minister of State at the Department of Education with responsibility for special education, Deputy Enda Kenny, by car to the unit in Donnybrook. We walked in on a nun who was teaching seven children. Her skills were unbelievable. The parents had fought tooth and nail to get a speech therapist, but as a result of not having speech therapy when the children were very young, their difficulties had increased. Through a political decision, the unit in Donnybrook was recognised, but the Department insisted it should be recognised only for the period in which the children in that unit remained there. The unit was eventually shifted to the primary school on Baggot Street. It was closed the day the last child left three or four years later.
The Ursuline sister's skills were lost to the education system, even though the order offered to make her available. Eventually, she went on missionary work to Africa and was there only a couple of months when she was involved in an accident and lost her arm. She is now back in Ireland doing care work. She had tremendous skills in this area.
The reason I tell the Minister this story is that the father of that child came to me last week or the week before to tell me the child, who was suppose to have been put in a mental institution because of the inability to deal with children with special needs, had graduated from Kevin Street college as an architectural technician with first class honours. Out of 70 or 100 students, he was placed sixth. When he left that primary unit, he went to St. Joseph's School for the Deaf and learned through sign language, but it is obvious that if he and the other children had received proper speech therapy at an early age, their speech would have been better.
He eventually played bowls and football for Broadford Rovers. He is a grown man now and is going to do a degree in architecture as a result of getting through the leaving certificate and getting a first class honours diploma.
I was delighted. If ever I did anything in politics, that was worthwhile. It horrified me to think of the number of people in institutions who should never have been placed in them. If those parents had not been so diligent and committed, and if there were not other parents like them, that man would be in a mental institution today because of the lack of proper facilities for children at a very early age.
I am delighted the Minister is doing something in this area, but he could go a little further. There is still time, before debate on this Bill is completed, to include in support services a right to speech therapy for every child who needs it, irrespective of provisions for sign language. Of course I support the sign language provisions. In this particular case it was the vehicle which allowed that child to progress. The reason I make this argument is that that child could have done better had he received speech therapy earlier. It is a scandal at a time of great economic prosperity that people must scrounge and scrape to get speech therapy facilities for their kids. The title of the Bill guarantees every child, including those with a disability, the right to a proper education.
Things turned out well for that child, who will proudly receive his diploma and go on to receive a degree, but it is frightening to think that people could be in mental institutions who should not be in them. It was the education system that saved that child. He was not mentally handicapped. It was frustration. He did not have the ability to express himself. This was what caused all the outward signs of mental handicap. Therefore, it was the education system, not the health services, which saved him from being in a mental institution. Through the commitment and skills adopted by the Ursuline Sisters, who specialised in this at New Rochelle outside New York, most of the children who were in that special unit ended up doing well. I want to put on the record the fact that politicians do not always do things incorrectly. Ministers who make brave decisions at certain times in their political careers can do a great deal of good.
Having said that, I do not want to criticise officials in the Department of Education and Science who do their job well, but there are times when it is only by us being able to stand up here and explain in detail what is happening to people that we can convince others of the need for certain things. When it comes to education and people with handicaps, whether it is access to buildings, speech therapy at an early age or special pupil-teacher ratios, we should go out of our way to ensure that, as the Bill states, every child has a proper legal entitlement to full facilities for education.
In all their amendments, Deputies Bruton, O'Shea or Naughen are not trying to be critical. Everybody is trying to ensure we legislate comprehensively and table amendments which will improve the Bill, if that is possible.
I ask the Minister to remember that story. I could introduce him to that person, if he so wishes. I am sure the Minister would be proud, not only of the child and his parents, but of the education system which gave him the opportunity to use his true talents. I have met other such children. The father of this child gave lectures to parents of children in Ireland and Britain who had this terrible problem to console them and explain how the problem could be solved. I urge the Minister, therefore, to accept the amendments.
It would be a shame if the Bill was allowed to become law — I understand the amendments were ruled out of order because they would have imposed a charge on the Exchequer — without including a reference in the definition of "support services" to speech therapy. It is the one service that is missing. I am sure the Minister shares my concern but he will probably be advised that this service should be provided by the health boards. I do not accept this, it is the responsibility of a school where it is the only means of communication with the children one is trying to teach.
I thank Deputies for their contributions. I agree totally with Deputy Barrett on the need to help children to develop their talents to the maximum potential. I would hate to think they are treated in the manner he described. All children have right of access to services best suited to their needs.
The amendments deal with the issue of sign language. In response to representations and submissions from the Irish Deaf Society and others I am delighted to make provision in the Bill for students learning through Irish sign language or other sign language. Deputies share the view that we should give statutory recognition for the first time to Irish sign language. This is a good day's work.
To a certain extent, the amendments are superfluous in the sense they do not add anything to the core provisions of the Bill. The point made by Deputy Barrett is valid. The list of support services, however, is by no means exhaustive and was never meant to be. To that extent, additional services are not excluded. We are working with the Department of Health and Children to get a fix on the issue once and for all. The current position is unacceptable. Very often schools have to depend on health boards to provide a service. The establishment of special classes is being delayed by the failure to secure a language therapist. There is a need for more places at third level. I am not anxious to insert a definitive statutory provision until outstanding matters between the two Departments are resolved.
A distinction has been made between Irish sign language and other sign languages. Irish sign language has a structure and syntax, unlike other sign languages which are seen largely as derivatives and do not have the same status in the eyes of those sponsoring the amendment. They are concerned that over time a second rate sign language will gain recognition in the education system and are anxious to ensure Irish sign language has primacy. That is the background to the amendment.
My only concern is that we would be seen to be exclusive.
The provision would be inclusive in that it would contain a reference to the first official sign language and other sign languages. I am seeking to ensure Irish sign language has primacy.
The Minister said amendment No. 26 is superfluous. The reality is that there are only four interpreters throughout the country. While it may be implicit in the Bill, I would like the promotion and development of interpreting services to be given explicit mention.
On the point made by Deputy Barrett, it is strange that the list of support services produced by the Department includes psychological, sign language and transport services but excludes speech therapy which has been relegated to the also ran category. Including it in the list would not encroach on the dual responsibility between the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Children. Perhaps the Minister will consider this either now or before he brings the Bill to the Seanad.
I move the following amendment:
In page 8, line 17, after "language" to insert "including speech therapy and interpreting services".
Do I understand that the wording proposed by the Minister will be included in the list of support services under (d)?
It will be inserted on page 8 at line 17.
That is appropriate. Is the Minister in a position to include the term "first official language" in the provision as suggested in amendment No. 19?
I am not sure that the term "first official language" has any meaning in a statutory sense. However, I will reconsider the matter before the Bill goes before the Seanad.
In the interest of clarity, will the Minister restate the wording of the amendment he proposed?
The amendment reads "In page 8, line 17, after "language" to insert "including speech therapy and interpreting services".
I thank the Minister for bringing forward the amendment. I am sure he will have ample time to consider if further amendments are necessary before the Bill goes to the Seanad.
I welcome the Minister's intervention and thank him for introducing the amendment. Is a distinction being made in respect of speech therapy services? Speech therapy is required by Downs syndrome children as much as it is required by those with other disabilities. I am concerned that the Minister's action is somewhat discriminatory.
No, it is not. The wording will be included in the list of support services.
It is in addition to the specific provision for people who require sign language, Irish or otherwise. Could a more general wording be used in respect of speech therapy?
I am trying to be helpful. I have been at pains to make the point that the list of support services is not exhaustive. I like to respond to valid points made by Members. Deputy Barrett made a good point about speech therapy, which he mentioned in the context of this area. I introduced the amendment to respond to his point in a meaningful way. I do not believe the provision could be labelled as discriminatory against other children who may also require language therapy services because it is legislatively encompassed by the support services section. Our ongoing policy is that we must provide additional speech therapy services. I will examine Deputy O'Shea's point before the Bill goes to the Seanad to ensure the provision is not discriminatory.
Many of the representations Members receive relate to the general need for speech therapy services or the lack thereof. We are seeking to address this problem in a constructive way and in doing so perhaps we are excluding people who have just as great a need for speech therapy services.
It cannot be argued that the amendment excludes anyone.
Specific provision is being made for one group.
Yes, in the context of the section dealing with provision for students learning Irish sign language to which a number of amendments dealing with interpretative services, etc., were tabled.
I would prefer if we followed the rules governing Report Stage rather than engaging in a question and answer session between two Members across the floor. I accept that the legislation is important and everyone wants to be helpful but it would be better if we adhered to the rules governing Report Stage.
We departed from procedure to allow the Minister's welcome intervention. I am concerned that we should not take a course of action which people will perceive as discriminatory. I support the Minister's amendment and, as already stated, he is not trying to exploit the situation. However, I do not believe that what we are attempting to do reflects justice in terms of special needs and speech therapy services.
I echo the sentiments expressed by Deputy O'Shea in respect of speech therapy services. If the term "speech therapy services" was included in its own right on the list of support services, it might solve this problem. I understand and support the Minster's intentions and I am not trying to be critical of the action he is taking. However, there is need to provide speech therapy services to children with special education needs, particularly those with Downs syndrome.
This is probably the most controversial issue involving children with Downs syndrome because their schools do not have the resources to provide them with speech therapy services. My local school, St. Hilda's, Athlone, cannot obtain the services of a speech therapist. The problem lies in the fact that speech therapy is seen as a service provided by the health boards and the Department of Health and Children rather than by the Department of Education and Science. Schools are obliged to seek resources from the Department of Health and Children to provide speech therapy services and they are obliged to send children to outside institutions to allow them to avail of such services.
I am not seeking to engage in a debate on this important matter. However, the provision of speech therapy services is a major issue of concern to members of the sector of the community to which I referred. Adequate resources were not put in place in the past and it is time action was taken in that regard. I suggest that the inclusion of the term "speech therapy services" in the list of support services would solve everyone's problems.
I was trying to be helpful about this matter. However, I propose to withdraw the amendment and reconsider the matter before the Bill goes to the Seanad. Deputy Barrett offered a good example which illustrated a particular point. I reiterate that the Bill does not in any way exclude the provision of language therapy services and the list of support services was never meant to be exhaustive. I will withdraw the amendment.
I was under the impression that we had already agreed to the amendment.
In that case, what is the Deputy seeking to achieve? I am trying to be helpful. The Deputy articulated a view that he would not support the amendment because he believed it to be discriminatory, but perhaps I misunderstood his remarks.
That is incorrect.
Deputy O'Shea will allow the Minister to conclude.
I merely offered my interpretation of the Deputy's remarks.
I did not say that I opposed the amendment.
Deputy O'Shea will allow the Minister to conclude. He will then have an opportunity to make his point.
Was the amendment formally agreed?
I suggest we leave it at that then because I have nothing more to add at this stage.
On a point of order, I cannot allow to pass unchallenged the Minister's statement that I was——
That is not a point of order. We have had a long debate on this issue. The Deputy was entitled to speak twice. I was not present for the start of the discussion but he spoke once before I entered the Chamber and he has made a number of subsequent contributions. I suggest that we proceed to deal with amendment No. 20.
On a point of order, we are saying that we agree with the amendment but we believe it should also be applied to other sectors——
That is not a point of order either.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 8, line 18, after "provision for" to insert "early childhood,".
This amendment includes the term "early childhood" education in the list of support services for children with special education needs.
Amendment No. 175 is an alternative to amendment No. 21. Therefore, we will take amendments Nos. 21 and 175 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 9, before line 1, to insert the following:
3.—Without prejudice to the application of that Act to both male and female students, section 6 of the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Act, 1878, is hereby amended by the deletion of subsection (4).
This is a technical amendment which seeks to remove from legislation an anachronism which discriminates between male and female students. The Minister is at one with me on this issue and I hope he will accept my amendment.
I do not propose to accept this amendment because my amendment No. 175 deals with the matter. It reads:
In page 29, after line 41, to insert the following:
"(2) Without prejudice to the application of the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Act, 1878, to both male and female students, section 6 of that Act is hereby amended by the repeal of subsection (4).".
Amendments Nos 32, 40 and 44 are related to amendment No. 22 and they may be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 9, line 26, to delete "have regard to" and substitute "comply with".
This amendment seeks to tighten up section 6 which lays out the legislation's objectives. The preamble reads:
Every person concerned in the implementation of this Act shall have regard to the following objects in pursuance of which the Oireachtas has enacted this Act.
The term "have regard to" is not strong enough. The objectives of the Bill are listed and we need to strengthen the obligation on every person concerned in the implementation of the legislation. To have regard to something means not much more than to think about it. A stronger provision is required and if the amendment is agreed the preamble would read:
Every person concerned in the implementation of this Act shall comply with the following objects in pursuance of which the Oireachtas has enacted this Act.
Amendments Nos. 32 and 40 are in my name. The objectives set out in the Bill are good and well set out. However, having done so we should ensure that at every level in the education system where plans are framed, the objectives will get proper recognition. Thus, school and departmental plans would consider issues such as equality of access, opportunities for adults and the rights of parents. My amendment provides for this so that in framing strategic plans these objectives would be respected and achieved.
Amendment No. 40 provides that the Minister will report annually on the extent to which the provision of education is meeting the objectives set out in section 6. In other words, he would have an obligation to report on equality of access as part of the annual reporting provision.
The Minister proposes amendment No. 44 which is welcome. However, he wishes to provide that he will report annually, not on the broad objectives of the Act and the extent to which they are being achieved, but on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the education system. In common parlance, those parameters constitute a narrower remit than the broad range of objectives set out in section 6.
I accept the Minister is seeking to some degree to address the concerns expressed on Committee Stage, concerns with which he had some sympathy. However, he has done so in a narrow fashion. He could do better and accept the amendments I propose which are not onerous provisions. We simply want to ensure that when a school or the Department is framing a plan it will remind itself of the objectives in section 6 and consider how well or otherwise it is meeting them. I also want the Minister to report regularly on the extent to which the objectives are being achieved.
There is a fundamental understanding of the section. Section 6 is intended as a set of guiding principles which will underpin the operation of the Bill when enacted. As such they are broad statements of principle rather than finely drafted provisions which have direct effect. To try to ensure they have a direct effect in the form of a statutory duty, as amendment No. 22 proposes, is to misunderstand their purpose. It is a relatively new concept to include a broad set of objectives in a Bill in this manner. It is not appropriate to suggest an onus should be put on people to comply. The consequence of that is enforcement which would raise the issue of how to enforce compliance. That is not the intention of the section.
I do not propose to accept Deputy Bruton's amendments that seek to ensure the objectives set out could be taken into account as an explicit part of the planning process for education. Given that section 6 refers explicitly to the objectives being taken into account by every person concerned with the implementation of the Bill, the Deputy's amendments would dilute the impact of the provisions by referring specifically to the duties of some of the interests in education towards the objects of the Bill and not referring to the duties of others.
As the Bill stands all involved in its implementation must have regard to the objects. This is the best approach. I see merit in creating a capacity in the Bill to review the extent to which people are having regard to the objects in carrying out their duties. I propose in amendment No. 44 that the Minister, in monitoring and assessing the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the education system in the State, will do so using the objects as a yardstick to measure achievement. In addition, by providing that the Minister must publish information relating to the monitoring and assessment, the extent to which all interests in education are measuring up with regard to the objects will be widely known. I am confident this amendment meets Deputies' concerns.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 9, line 28, after "rights" to insert "of parents and".
I would like to hear the Minister's response to this point. One of the objectives of the education system is to give practical effect to the constitutional rights of children, including children who have a disability or other special educational needs. It has been pointed out to me that the Constitution, in practice, does not give recognition to the rights of children in relation to education. All of the rights of children in respect of education are mediated through their parents who are regarded as the first providers of education. Children have only a derived right in terms of the Constitution. The legislation, as drafted, appears to suggest otherwise and it should be amended in some way. My amendment uses the words "of parents and" children which covers both.
I am not a constitutional lawyer but I read the Constitution to check the point made to me in this regard. It is correct that there is not an explicit reference to children having a right to an education. It says the State has an obligation to provide an education and parents are recognised as the prime educators. This may be an issue on which the Minister should consult with the parliamentary draftsman but in any event there is an argument for recognising the constitutional rights of parents in this section. Either way, my amendment adds to the Bill, it does not detract from it in any way.
The Supreme Court has made it clear that children clearly have constitutional rights.
Mediated through their parents.
No, they have constitutional rights in terms of access to free elementary education, and that has been upheld by the Supreme Court. This section was included in the Bill because, following its publication, a view emerged in the public domain that somehow the Bill would undermine the constitutional rights of children. That view was advanced in particular by groups representing children with special needs. I did not accept that view and our legal advice was that that could not be the case. However, we included subsection (a) to reassure everybody concerned that the Bill would not undermine the constitutional rights of children. It is intended specifically to safeguard their rights. I would not want to dilute it at this stage by including anybody else. Ultimately everybody has constitutional rights — parents, patrons, trustees and so on. The Bill cannot undermine the constitutional rights of anybody and in particular it cannot undermine the rights of parents to educate their children as enshrined in the Constitution.
I am not convinced of the Minister's case. I accept there is a constitutional obligation on the Minister to provide a primary education to every child but the way that is phrased in the Constitution does not seem to recognise children; it seems to be mediated through their parents. Will the Minister agree it is sensible to at least recognise in the Bill that parents have constitutional rights in respect of the education of their children?
There is full recognition of the role of parents in the Bill. We can examine this matter again when the Bill returns to the Seanad. We could list everybody involved in education — it could run to two pages — and say that the Bill does not undermine their constitutional rights. That is one approach we could take. It was in response to the debate that ensued after the publication of the Bill that we included this clause. The National Parents' Council made representations to us in this regard also.
I welcome the fact that it is included.
To be honest, I think it is superfluous.
Amendment No. 24 is in the name of Deputy O'Shea. Amendments Nos. 25, 62 and 190 are related and No. 63 is an alternative to No. 62. It is proposed to take Nos. 24, 25, 62, 63 and 190 together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 9, line 32, to delete "as far as is practicable".
In relation to the objectives of the Bill, the Minister has just informed us that effectively what we have is a series of guiding principles. In amendments Nos. 24 and 25 I am seeking to delete the language of the Department from these aspirations. If these are guiding principles, why are they so highly qualified? Why does the Bill include such negative language which is the product of the Department? If these are merely guiding principles, the phrases "as far as is practicable" and "having regard to available resources" do not have any place in the Bill. Amendment No. 62 is in the name of the Minister and he will address that in due course. Amendment No. 190 is in relation to the NCCA and the need for additional resources in terms of those with special needs.
There is terminology throughout the Bill which is unnecessarily negative. It is a use of language that sends the wrong signals to parents and carers of disabled people. The reality is that the Executive decides how we should use our scarce resources. The inclusion of these phrases in the Bill is stating the obvious. They add nothing and merely make the language less consumer friendly.
As legislators we must convey to the parents of children with special needs, who feel for whatever reason that they are not getting the educational service they require, that the Oireachtas is not setting itself against their aspirations but is seeking to do the opposite. We are using language in the Bill that is superfluous. It is the language of those who watch the purse strings rather than those who want to provide a better system for everybody. They do not have any practical effect.
I do not propose to accept Deputy O'Shea's amendments which would have the effect of removing the reference in section 6 to the availability of resources. References to resources are a standard and necessary part of all legislation. It is not fair to blame the Department of Finance because it is Governments that bring forward legislation. Deputy O'Shea and Deputy Bruton were members of Government and these references were included in all legislation brought forward by those and previous Governments. It is practical and honest to improve such references. It would be dishonest not to have some degree of realistic context to this matter.
Amendment No. 62 arises from a discussion on Committee Stage relating to changing the wording of the Bill from a position where a school would provide for special educational needs from within its resources to using those resources for those needs. A slight change of emphasis, which is reasonable, was suggested by Deputy Bruton and I have accepted that. I cannot, however, accept Deputy O'Shea's amendments in which resources appear not to be a consideration. That could undermine the credibility of the legislation.
I welcome the Minister's acceptance of the amendment which offers a significant change of emphasis. If it is stated that as far as resources permit certain things will be done, there is an opt-out in that those things may be considered not very important and they may not be done. If, however, it is stated that available resources will be used to achieve certain things, that will have to be done. The change of wording is, therefore, welcome. I did not submit amendments to deal with other parts of the legislation where this arises and I hope the Minister dealt with that. This phraseology appears in respect of boards as well as schools and there should be consistency in the wording. I accept the point that Ministers must meet their commitments from the money available and this phraseology is an improvement. I hope it will be reflected in the provision of services over the longer term.
The use of phrases such as "having regard to available resources" is an opt-out which has been used frequently in the past by various Ministers, not necessarily in education. Deputies regularly put down parliamentary questions on staffing requirements or whatever and receive a blanket reply to the effect that resources are not available. We must recognise that in recent times the Minister used resources when they became available, which verifies inclusion of his amendment. Resources are being freed up and the Minister is using those resources to provide certain services. I welcome the Minister's amendment but, as Deputy O'Shea said, where the phrase is used as an opt-out it is a negative portrayal of the position.
I thank the Minister for the amendment in his and Deputy Bruton's names. It will give confidence not only to Deputies who put down parliamentary questions but also to the public, particularly people involved in education who are often told that resources are scarce and cutbacks are necessary. That is disheartening, particularly given the voluntary work and fund-raising in education. This will indicate that when the Minister says there is good news, he will back it up.
I am interested in multi-denominational school projects and I hope the Minister's statement in Galway will be backed up by available resources. It is unacceptable to say that it is hoped to spend money on a project and when the time comes say that the work could not be done because the money was not available. Commitments should not be made unless the money is available. When I raised a matter with the Minister he told me that he expected to have news within two weeks and I hope that verbal commitment will be met. I look forward to talking to him about that matter after Report Stage. I welcome the amendment.
I am disappointed with the Minister's reply. If the objectives as set out are more than guiding principles, the Minister should say so. If they are guiding principles only, I cannot see why this qualification is necessary. The Minister said it is more honest to include those references, but I dispute that. Objectives must be stated clearly. The restrictions are there for everyone to see, but to add qualifying aspirations is not intellectually sound.
The preamble states that every person concerned with the implementation of this Bill shall have regard to the implementation of the regulations. It is probably bad psychology to include in aspirations qualifications which would prevent people from being constructive and positive. The Minister is wrong in including those phrases. There is no justification for qualifying aspirations when the legislation is meant to inform the people of what the Oireachtas is aspiring to in regard to the education of their children.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 9, after line 46, to insert the following:
"(f) to promote best practice in teaching methods with due regard to the diverse needs of different students, and in the development of the skills and talents of the staff resource in the education system and to promote the highest standards to citizens accessing the education system.".
I raised this issue on Committee Stage. The Bill should state that one of the objectives of the education system is to promote best practice in teaching methods with due regard to the diverse needs of various students and the development of the skills and talents of staff to promote the highest standards for citizens accessing it. Essentially, we are talking about what we want to achieve in the system, but we also want to ensure teachers and others have an opportunity to develop their skills to the maximum extent possible. At a time when virtually every company in the world monitors the development of its human resources, we want to achieve best practice in the system in terms of the skills and talents of the teaching staff and the teaching methods they employ.
It is remarkable the Bill does not provide for that because it is an area that needs development. In-service training is very patchy and ad hoc. The cost to the Exchequer is between 1 and 1.5 per cent of payroll whereas companies using good practice invest up to 10 per cent of payroll in the development of skills. Many companies do not primarily use their human resources as they often manufacture products. It is remarkable they devote a much higher proportion of payroll than the Department of Education and Science to enhance and upgrade the skills of their human resources. There is merit in explicitly recognising in the system that we do not merely want to ensure appropriate education for each child, but also to ensure the teaching resource is developed, receives investment and teaching methods are up to best practice. The Minister may say it is an implicit objective, but it should be explicit.
Nobody can dispute the thrust of the amendment and that it has validity and merit. Earlier, we sought to add provisions to the functions of the chief inspector. The same issues are involved here. It is important there is more visibility in the system in terms of what is provided, how it is monitored and assessed and the criteria that are implemented for quality assessment. Deputy Bruton seeks to move in that direction. He seeks the highest quality service and the maximum utilisation of the skills and talents of staff.
A great deal of that happens within the system anyway, but the amendment deals with a wider issue which is becoming more important. I already stated my major difficulty with the Bill and in saying it is fundamentally flawed, I do not want to take from the fact that the Minister has been very open minded and constructive in terms of accepting amendments and taking on board points of view on Committee Stage and today. However, effectively there is no real devolution against the background of our participation in the EU and the thrust of its institutions which promote the concept of subsidiarity to bring decision making closer to those who are affected by the decisions.
The first prerequisite in the decision making process is that the maximum amount of information is provided and that it is up to date in terms of how the system is working and the innovation that is brought to bear on the system at large. There is a large deficit in what the Bill provides, given that the Department operates as a monolith and on any given day one million people are involved throughout the system.
I support the amendment. That assessment is part of the system and is fine as far as it goes, but at the end of the day there is a huge need for communication with all the partners in education regularly and comprehensively. Having a Department that is ring-fenced and remote from the community and the partners in education, in particular, is not the road we should follow as we head towards a new millennium and move the education system forward. Partnership, participation, ownership and inclusion may be buzzwords, but that is where we should be going. I compliment the Minister in terms of the sub-agenda — the Bill — as he has been forthcoming and constructive, but that is against a background of the real agenda being ignored with no provision made for decentralisation or devolution at regional or local level.
We have not received a commitment on the consultative fora the Minister mentioned. I tabled amendments on the issue of local and regional boards in regard to corporate bodies. The amendment effectively seeks to make up for the information and communication deficit and the ongoing visible assessment of the system with regular reporting to the Oireachtas and the public. This goes a long way beyond the annual report of the Department.
I welcome the amendment. It is an important, necessary and positive statement which has been overlooked in many cases in the past. The Department's record in improving teacher skills has been abysmal while the resources made available to teachers and boards of management have been derisory. The Department has introduced enormous changes in various curricula on a shoestring budget and, were it not for the goodwill of the teaching profession and its commitment to education, pupils and management down through the years, education would have stagnated, particularly in the 1980s.
I hope the Minister will take the amendment on board as a positive statement that he recognises the need to make available additional resources for an important changing process. The changes in education are ongoing and that is inevitable. In delivering a good service changes have to be made. We are five to ten years behind our neighbours and the United States in introducing many policy changes here. Some people take on board certain aspects of what was termed a major initiative. The record shows we have taken on board policies later than other countries and now we see the results of the failure of those policies in certain areas. I shall give one example, though there are several.
The whole concept of the amalgamation of schools in certain areas and the creation of huge flagships, one of which is in Donegal and which is probably our largest school, has been a disaster. Anybody who has been involved in it recognises it as such. There is a great need for resources to ensure proper in-service training for teachers. Such training cannot be made available on the cheap. In the past, time for in-service training was recognised by the Department and was within school hours. There was no flexibility. In-service training was available and teachers either attended or did not make themselves available. In many cases schools closed and there were no classes or other members of staff covered for the teachers involved. While that situation continues we must point the finger and say we are not serious about making the best practices in teaching methods readily available to teachers who are anxious to get on top of their job and improve their teaching skills.
I wholeheartedly support Deputy Bruton's amendment. It is essential that the Minister includes it as a positive statement of his recognition of the position.
I support the amendment in the name of Deputy Richard Bruton. It is important to incorporate in the Bill the concept of the diverse needs of different students. Much of what is incorporated in this amendment operates in practice and that is probably the Department's objective. What is wrong with incorporating this objective in the Bill in the form outlined here? Earlier we debated a previous amendment which ties in with this amendment in relation to students with disabilities and different learning abilities or difficulties. In response the Minister said that acceptance of that amendment would not improve the Bill and that it might detract from it because it was too specific. This amendment, which is not as specific as that rejected by the Minister, states clearly the objective of promoting the best practices in teaching methods with due regard to the diverse needs of different students. I cannot see the Minister having any difficulty with that. Incorporation of the amendment would strengthen the Bill.
I welcome the Minister's decision to provide IT equipment in all schools. It is, however, rather like somebody who wins the lotto, buys a car and has to learn to drive. We have the equipment and the teachers are scrambling to learn to use it. That issue will have to be addressed. The question that must be asked is whether inclusion of the amendment would weaken or strengthen the Bill. It would not weaken the Bill in any way and would incorporate and show clearly the diverse needs of different students and the need to promote best practices and provide the resources for teachers to acquire that standard. Many of these objectives are in operation but I seek merely to have them included as part of the Bill.
Is mian liom tacaíocht a thabhairt do leasú Uimhir 27 in ainm Teachta Richard Bruton. Tá sé an tábhacht.
I accept the amendment, subject to redrafting of the words for the Seanad. I have no difficulty with the subject matter of the amendment. I intended to include it in the teaching council Bill which is in preparation and will be brought forward in the autumn. It covers the whole issue of the teaching profession, training, standards and so forth. However, there is no difficulty in including, as an objective of the Bill, the whole area of best practice in teaching methods which is the subject matter of Deputy Bruton's amendment. I have no difficulty in redrafting it for the purpose of bringing it forward in the Seanad.
In response to Deputy Ryan, 12,000 teachers will be trained in information technology between now and December. This is the largest ever in-service programme in the history of the State. The whole IT process is not just about providing equipment, it is about training the human resource as well.
Is the amendment accepted?
Yes, subject to redrafting.
I thank the Minister for accepting this amendment which gives balance to the Bill. We talk about the rights of children and parents and we need to recognise the importance of teachers and developing their resource so that they can cater for the different needs of pupils.
We come to amendment No. 28. Amendments Nos. 29, 55, 98, 104, 150, 170, 177 and 181 are related. I suggest that amendments Nos. 28, 29, 55, 98, 104, 150, 170, 177 and 181 be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 10, line 4, after "boards" to insert ", persons or groups of persons who have a special interest in, or experience of, the education of students with special educational needs".
Amendment No. 28 has the effect of including persons or groups with whom liaison and consultation should be promoted, persons or groups of persons who have a special interest in, or experience of, the education of students with special educational needs. This is a comprehensive way of involving such interests in the consultation process and avoids the pitfalls of making reference to any specific organisation. There are many organisations and I want to enshrine the principle of consultation with all of them. The amendment has the same effect as amendment No. 55.
I draw the House's attention to my amendment to section 7, accepted on Committee Stage, which places an obligation on the Minister, in carrying out his functions under the Act, to consult generally with persons or groups of persons who have a special interest in or experience of the education of students with special educational needs. This covers amendment No. 98. People with an interest in special education are, therefore, placed at the centre of the consultation process.
I have considered carefully amendments Nos. 104, 150, 170 and 181, which would have the effect of inserting in the Bill specific references to liaison and consultation with the Irish Council of People with Disabilities. I do not propose to accept these amendments because the areas concerned are not ones where there is a specific need for reference to people with an interest in special education. Amendment No. 104 relates to the composition and establishment of boards of management; the agreement required by the section is one arrived at by the main partners in education and these will include people involved in special education, either as teachers or as parents. Amendment No. 150 relates to decisions which may be appealed; again, parents and teachers with a special interest in special education are included in the partners and, in my opinion, there is no need to make specific reference to them. On amendment No. 170, I have already outlined my view that the disadvantage committee is specifically focused on social and economic disadvantage. Some students with disabilities may fall into this category but in general it is my view that the Bill should not combine the two categories, as we said this morning.
As regards amendments Nos. 177 and 181, I am making provision through amendment No. 182 for the representation of people with specific interest in special education on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. I do not propose specifically to refer to them in the consultation process but they are represented in the parents' and teachers' organisations. I believe amendment No. 182 goes a long way towards meeting Deputy O'Shea's objectives.
I welcome amendment No. 28 relating to the objects or guiding principles of the Act and will not pursue my amendment No. 29. My other amendments sought to introduce specific reference to representatives of people with disabilities. My Committee Stage amendments mentioned the Irish Council for People with Disabilities because it is an umbrella group but I took the Minister's point and returned with a different drafting, "organisations representing people with disabilities". The Minister said consultation with such groups would occur in the context of the committee on disadvantage but the disabled are no more represented in that group than they are in the population at large, so I am not in tune with his logic for not making specific provision to represent them. However, mentioning such people in the section laying down the objectives of the education system is a substantial move forward and I welcome it.
This is a good provision but what will it mean in practice? On Committee Stage we discussed the procedures for appointing principals and teachers — their duties, job descriptions, etc. — and the Minister, no doubt not solely for his own reasons, was adamant there would not be consultation with parents about matters which were seen to concern industrial relations and should not be subject to parental input. The Minister has improved this objective of the education system by providing that those with an interest in special education will also have a say. Does this mean those people will have a right to consultation in deciding job descriptions and procedures for appointing principals?
No, it does not. Amendment No. 28 is designed to promote effective liaison and consultation between schools and centres of education, patrons, teachers, parents, the communities served by schools, local authorities, health boards, etc. It does not deal with the point raised by the Deputy and it is not meant to do so.
I am disappointed with that. We say we are interested in the partners but when it comes to explicit issues with a considerable bearing on the effectiveness of the education system and the extent to which it delivers to a certain child or a parent, the shutters go down. Despite our laudable objectives, we decide that parents cannot have a say in the job description of the principal, even though that might be the most crucial issue for the school. Objectives are fine but it is their implementation which is important.
In practice the Minister has had to step back from his laudable objectives in several instances, due to the various interests involved. He is doing a good thing but I hope he can extend it more effectively than we have seen so far.
It is one thing for people with special educational needs to be represented by a special interest group, but increasingly they wish to have direct representation. Is it the Minister's intention to provide such representation, not necessarily by a student but perhaps by a person with a physical disability, for example, rather than by a person with an interest in the area? There is frustration among people with disabilities that they are not represented by a person who has a disability.
The aim of the amendment is to meet that point, that we would promote consultation with the people themselves.
Amendments Nos. 30, 69 and 113 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 10, line 10, after "language" to insert "at school and in the community".
I am interested in promoting the Irish language and one of the objects of the Bill is to contribute to the realisation of national policy and objectives on the extension of bilingualism in society, particularly greater use of the Irish language. As a former primary school teacher, I know that a considerable amount of the State's effort in this regard has fallen on deaf ears. There has been progress in some areas but a significant lack of it in others. One could say the history of this question is full of pious aspiration. I ask the Minister to accept this amendment as it emphasises that unless Irish is used in the community it will continue to be a sad day, schools will be left carrying the burden and the community will not have to.
I accept the amendment. Deputy Bruton's amendment No. 69 is already included in the Bill by way of a Committee Stage amendment.
I will withdraw that amendment — it slipped through in error.
Amendments Nos. 113 and 186 do not add to the Bill and are unnecessary. I am happy to inform Deputy O'Shea that as my amendment No. 188 provides as a function of the council that it should advise the Minister on strategies which have as their objective the enhancement of the effectiveness of teaching and use of the Irish language in schools, his amendment No. 187 is unnecessary.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 10, line 15, after "system" to insert "both locally and nationally".
I thank the Minister for accepting amendment No. 30. This amendment inserts the phrase "both locally and nationally" in section 6(k) which enhances transparency in the making of decisions in the education system. The history of this question is an argument between whether to devolve the education system, make it more or less effective or more or less expensive. By inserting "both locally and nationally", we recognise that decisions are made locally and nationally. For example, when a teacher cites the Department as responsible or vice versa, the responsibility should be acknowledged on both fronts and decisions should be made at all levels.
I accept the amendment. The Deputy has made a fair point.
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 10, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
"(l) to provide an education system—
(i) directed towards the goal that every student (having regard to his or her needs and abilities) is best equipped for full inclusion in the social, economic and cultural life of the nation, and
(ii) aimed at countering inherited educational disadvantage.".
This amendment relates to section 6 which deals with the objectives of the Bill and proposes the insertion of another objective, which is to a large extent self-explanatory. Nonetheless, this amendment needs to be stated strongly. We must provide an educational system which has as its goal the needs of every student — from the gifted to those who are not succeeding in the educational system for whatever reason to children with special needs and mental, sensory or physical disability.