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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Nov 1998

Vol. 496 No. 4

Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 195:
In page 35, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
"51. — The Minister shall ensure—
(a) that examinations are a fair test of a student's competence in the subject being tested,
(b) that examinations are conducted in a way that is equitable to all students taking the exam,
(c) that candidates are permitted to have their performance in an exam reviewed independently of the marking made by the original examiner,
(d) that students with special needs are facilitated in so far as is practicable to take the exam."
—(Deputy R. Bruton).

Deputy Bruton's amendment seeks the inclusion of a new section in relation to examinations. There is merit in the Deputy's suggestion in the context of students with special needs. This area cannot be overstressed in the legislation, not only from a statutory point of view but also in terms of underscoring the House's commitment to facilities for people with special needs.

Paragraph (a) of the amendment states that the Minister shall ensure that examinations are a fair test of a student's competence in the subject being tested. This resurrects the debate on dys-lexic students and what provision should be made for such students when they are sitting examinations. I have misgivings about the proposal for this year. When the examination papers of such students are being corrected it is necessary, to ensure fairness and equity, that the people marking the papers are fully aware of the various difficulties experienced by students with the condition. The bottom line is that the students' knowledge should be tested, as the amendment suggests, in a fair way.

Nobody could have any problem with paragraph (b) of the amendment which states that examinations should be conducted in a way that is equitable to all students taking the exam. Paragraph (c) states that candidates should be permitted to have their performance in an examination reviewed independently of the marking made by the original examiner. In the context of an appeal, if fairness and equity are to apply, the paper should be evaluated in full by someone other than the original examiner.

It may appear on the face of it that the amendment is stating the obvious to some extent. However, it is worth including so it is clear that there is a commitment to fairness, equity and a proper appeals system in terms of papers which are re-evaluated. Most importantly, it would be clearly stated in the context of examinations that the special needs of students will be addressed.

I listened carefully to the case made by Deputy Bruton and Deputy O'Shea. While I understand the logic of their arguments, I do not intend to accept the amendment. Paragraph (a) of the amendment is unnecessary and would be in any case very difficult to provide for in legislation. Paragraphs (b) and (d) relate to equity and, in particular, to special needs. They are encompassed by the existing paragraph (b) which provides for the making of regulations relating to procedures at places where examinations are conducted. This will include procedures relating to students with special needs.

Paragraph (c) provides for a statutory basis for appeals which would be independent of the original examiner. This is covered by the existing paragraph (f) in section 51 which provides for the making of regulations relating to the terms under which candidates may appeal the results of examinations and the procedures for such appeals. I am of the view that regulations which will follow the primary legislation provide a much more flexible approach to many of the matters raised by the Deputy than prescription in the Act.

I am surprised at the Minister of State's reaction to the amendment. Many of the provisions in the Bill set out what was often thought but not well expressed. We are putting into statutory form matters of which everybody is aware. People know that the role of the Minister for Education and Science is to provide education appropriate to people's needs. However, this was not being delivered. Making a statutory provision draws a line in the sand which the Minister must meet. A Minister would fail in his or her duty if that line were not met and people would have recourse to the courts and elsewhere if they found that the Minister did not do what the Oireachtas said he or she should do.

This is also true of legislation. The Minister of State pointed to the fact that regulations may provide for certain aspects. However, that is not the same. The point of the Bill is to move away from a position where people's rights and expectations are set out in letters and circulars internally in the Department and to give them a statutory basis. I do not understand why we do not seek to set out some positive statements about people's rights in relation to the examination system as the amendment seeks.

The Minister of State said it is unnecessary and difficult to provide for in legislation. It is difficult to provide for and nobody would attempt to set out in great detail what constitutes a fair test of a student's competence. However, if Ministers or Departments failed to do that, it would be the legal reference point. The question on which a judge would be expected to adjudicate is whether it was a fair test of a student's competence in the subject matter being tested. This will open up issues for consideration in the future.

It may be found in time that we have been much too narrow in the way in which competence in certain areas is tested. Test issues will arise in relation to the examination system. This is why it is important to have a legislative framework which forces Ministers to comply with certain standards and principles. This is the point of the amendment.

No principles are set out in the section on examinations in terms of students' rights. What must the Department deliver in relation to an examination system? This should be covered in the Bill. I made this point on Committee Stage and I am surprised that a measure was not developed in the intervening months. The provision only states that the Minister may make regulations and that the Department will come down like a ton of bricks on people who commit offences. That is only a partial view of what the examination system involves. The stool is missing a leg.

The amendment is my attempt to set out what I consider to be the principles underpinning a proper examination system which should be set out in statute. I would be happy if the Minister considered that some polishing and improvement was required but the amendment would be accepted. Regarding Deputy O'Shea's point, it may be stating the obvious but many of the provisions in the Bill state the obvious. Unfortunately, the obvious is not always delivered in practice. There would be some assurance of it being delivered if it was included in the legislative code. I hope the Minister will think again about this matter.

The amendment relates to the detail of how examinations are conducted. This matter is more appropriate to detailed regulations which the Minister will make rather than provisions in the legislation.

It is the principles, not the provisions.

I have experience of the courts and how principles such as these are dealt with by the courts. On the basis of my experience, it would be worthless to include prescriptions of the type advanced in the amendment, undoubtedly with the best intentions.

I propose between now and the introduction of the Bill in the Seanad to discuss the matter with officials in the Department and to consider whether the term "may" in section 51 should be changed to "shall". In relation to paragraph (b) which deals with procedures where examinations are conducted and paragraph (d) which deals with the issuing of results of examinations, I am sure it will be possible to include a provision to make it abundantly clear that the examinations and the students referred to in the measure include students with special needs. I will make that suggestion in all humility to the relevant officials and it will go some way towards meeting the Deputy's general point. The detail of how examinations are to be conducted is a matter for regulations which may turn out to be longer than the legislation. Short prescriptive terms would be legally valueless.

Fairness should be the touchstone of the sections which deal with examinations, yet it has failed to receive a mention. This is bizarre. The Minister of State may be correct that the litigation route to achieve rights is a difficult one to travel but to fail to provide for the principle of fairness in legislation governing the functions of the Minister and the Department is even worse. I accept his goodwill and welcome his commitment to look at section 51 again. In addition to special needs, the section should include a reference to the object of examinations, namely, that they be a fair test of competence. I still find it strange that the Department did not have something positive to say about them.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 196:

In page 35, line 34, after "who" to insert "knowingly".

Section 51(1) states:

The Minister may make regulations as he or she from time to time considers appropriate for the effective conduct of examinations and in particular, without prejudice to the generality of the aforesaid, may make regulations relating to. the penalties to be imposed on a person who acts in breach of regulations made by the Minister or who otherwise misconducts himself or herself in respect of an examination.

I am seeking to insert the word "knowingly" after the word "who" where it first appears. It can be advanced that ignorance is not a defence but it is strange that we are seeking to impose penalties on a person who unknowingly acts in breach of regulations made by the Minister or who otherwise misconducts himself or herself in respect of an examination. While the legislation should defend the integrity of the examination system, the terminology used in terms of the penalties to be imposed is draconian.

The point made by Deputy O'Shea is valid and he is right to raise it now rather than depend on the Minister to make provision in regulations to protect those who act reasonably but in breach of regulations. I suspect that the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, would tell us that the word "knowingly" does not have a great record. It could never be proved in relation to the drink laws that a person had knowingly served drink to a minor. One could say that they must have been crazy not to think that a baby was under the age of 18 but one could not prove that they knew. This was a loophole in the law. The word "knowingly" may not be the best choice but the point is valid. If a person takes reasonable steps to act within the regulations, they should be protected. Provision should be made either in the Bill or regulations for a test of reasonableness before a person is exposed to penalties.

The strong legal advice is that there is no need to include the word "knowingly" but I undertake to discuss the matter again with the parliamentary draftsman to see if another word can be used to meet the concerns articulated by the Deputies.

It can be done in regulations.

I will return to the matter in the Seanad.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

We now proceed to amendment No. a196a. Amendment No. 196a is an alternative. Amendments Nos. a196a and 196a may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. a196a:

In page 36, line 9, to delete "papers," and substitute "papers and".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 196a not moved.

We now proceed to amendment No. 197. Amendment No. 198 is related. Amendments Nos. 197 and 198 may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 197:

In page 36, lines 28 and 29, to delete "or otherwise interferes with" and substitute "or engages in activities that are likely to result in obstructing".

This section deals with offences related to examinations. The Bill provides that a person is guilty of an offence if he or she knowingly and maliciously obstructs any candidate or persons engaged in the conduct of an examination or otherwise interferes with the conduct of an examination. That is an extraordinarily wide provision as the phrase "otherwise interferes with the conduct of an examination" is open to loose interpretation. A student who unwittingly looks over his shoulder at another student's paper or brings material into an examination could be found guilty of an offence.

On Committee Stage, the Minister did not intend to create such a wide offence and I suggested that instead of using the words "otherwise interferes with" he should substitute the words "or engages in activities that are likely to result in obstructing the conduct of an examination." The Minister stated that "otherwise interferes with the conduct of an examination" referred to individuals who stole papers or disrupted an examination by creating a melee and it was not possible to complete the examination. I am happy that these would be deemed offences but I have serious misgivings about this terminology remaining in the Bill. We could make criminals of people who may have committed the equivalent of a yellow card offence. They should be issued with warnings, etc. but to make them guilty of an offence leaves them open to summary conviction in subsequent sections. Students would have criminal records, which would be inappropriate.

I fully support the notion that the integrity of the examination system must be protected and people must police it. Certain administrative penalties could be used for cogging, etc. but criminal offences of the nature described in subsequent sections should not be included here. I advocate my amendment as it uses preferable phraseology and it follows the Minister's original intention as discussed on Committee Stage. I hope this is acceptable to the Minister.

My recollection of Committee Stage is that we were anxious to confirm that the subsection dealt only with those who interfered in a general way with the examination. My amendment broadens this.

If the Minister is happy that his legal advice deals with my concerns, I will happily withdraw my amendment. I do not know what "general" means when one interprets it. It is an almost meaningless word in some ways.

On Committee Stage I referred to a number of examples in this context such as an individual arriving outside an examination centre with a ghettoblaster or operating a pneumatic drill outside. If the individuals do not take appropriate action and the Garda are summoned, will the matter be dealt with expeditiously? Is the Minister using the word "general" to cover all eventualities?

I am happy with that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 198:

In page 36, line 29, before "conduct" to insert "general".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 199:

In page 37, between line 4 and 5, to insert the following:

"(4) No action shall lie against an examiner in respect of anything done by him or her in good faith and in pursuance of his or her functions as an examiner."

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 201 is related to amendment No. 200 and both may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 200:

In page 37, to delete lines 5 to 12 and substitute the following:

Refusal of access to certain information.

"53. — Notwithstanding any other enactment the Minister may —

(a) refuse access to any information which would enable the compilation of information (that is not otherwise available to the general public) in relation to the comparative performance of schools in respect of the academic achievement of students enrolled therein, including without prejudice to the generality of foregoing —

(i) the overall results in any year of students in a particular school in an examination, or

(ii) the comparative overall results in any year of students in different schools in an examination, and

(b) refuse access to information relating to the identity of examiners."

There is a dual purpose to my amendment — first, to protect the identity of examiners and, second, to prevent the compilation of comparative information which could lead to the formation of school league tables. The Bill already provides for the withholding of information in regard to examination performance only. The amendment allows the withholding of information in relation to issues such as whole school evaluation and retention rates. The release of such information would represent another form of league tables to which I am strongly opposed.

The broad education community is in agreement on this issue. League tables are crude comparisons of how schools perform in terms of the achievements of their students. I will not accept amendment No. 201 because it is not appropriate to this section. The rights of parents, students and staff in terms of their relationship with the school are not affected by this provision which relates solely to the Minister refusing access to national based information. Schools will be free to continue to provide any information they wish and, indeed, as a result of a number of provisions in this Bill they have a statutory duty to do so. Sections 6(f) and (k), 9(g), 23(ii)(d) and (e) place statutory obligations on schools in terms of the provision of information to parents and the general school community.

I broadly support the Minister's position but I am convinced that it is necessary to state that nothing in this section will restrict the right of parents, students and staff to information about the results of their schools. The phrase "that is not otherwise available to the general public" is used in an earlier section. It is not clearly stated what a parent is entitled to from schools. Schools are obliged to provide certain information to parents, but not any specific information. This is a stricture which does not allow for the availability of certain information about examination results to third parties. It could easily result in a practice developing within schools that such information is not open to discussion and that would be unhealthy.

I agree with the Minister that league tables would be undesirable because one is trying to measure everything in one line and everyone is aware that our education system is excessively rigid and one dimensional. This would aggravate a weakness that is already there. I support the Minister's principle not to have league tables, but equally I support the view that parents should have access to the fullest information. I am unhappy that the combination of schools deciding what information they will release and this stricture coming into operation generally in terms of examination results might result in a hands off area where parents will not have reasonable access.

That is why there is merit in stating explicitly what the Minister is saying implicitly, namely, that not only are parents' rights not affected, but they would have a reasonable right of expectation concerning such information.

This does not take precedence over that right.

The right of a parent to information is not spelt out in the Bill. It is left to schools to decide what that might be.

Sections 6(f) and (k), 9(g) and 23(2)(d) and (e) impose statutory obligations. Section 9(g) states that one of the functions of a school shall be to "ensure that parents of a student have access in the prescribed manner to records kept by that school relating to the progress of that student in his or her education".

Section 23(2)(d) states:

under the direction of the board and, in consultation with the teachers, the parents and, to the extent appropriate to their age and experience, the students, set objectives for the school and monitor the achievement of those objectives,

Section 23(2)(e) states that schools shall "encourage the involvement of parents in their children's education and in the achievement of the objectives of the school".

It is true that a parent has a right to access information about his or her own child. It is also true that the board shall establish procedures for informing parents about the general performance of the school. It is for the board to decide what that information shall be. There is no attempt to indicate what a parent might reasonably expect in the way of information.

Is the Deputy saying that parents should have rights to the full set of results in the school?

Yes. A parent has the right to know how their school has done.

That is getting close to comparative league tables.

The Sunday Times is the only newspaper which has attempted to compile lists and say that one school is better than the other. However, we should not deny parents information. Everyone is interested in this information and parents are interested in their children's school. This is relevant to the questions they will ask the school about how it is doing. The combination of all of this will be to say that general exam results for a school are out of bounds, not only to the media, but to parents of children in the school. That would be a bad development.

What generally happens when leaving certificate results come out is that certain schools announce they got so many As and Bs. They do so anyway. The Deputy's amendment would give a parent the right to access all the school's results.

Their own school.

What about a community which has three schools? The profile of Irish second level education is different from that in England. We already have diversity which includes a degree of competition about which people inform themselves locally. The danger is that one could end up with educational apartheid, even in a local context, whereby people would say that one school got so many Es or Fs. What of a situation in which 50 students in one school are doing the leaving certificate and four or five do particularly badly? Unrestricted access for parents would mean that it would not be hard to find out which students did badly. Bit by bit one would be opening the door to comparative league tables.

Some schools perform miracles and do well without ever achieving As and Bs. Some teachers do very good work given the literacy and numeracy standards of the children. This work will never be reflected in As or Bs. I would hate to think that provisions in the Bill could lead to a situation in which that progress would never get due recognition but would be swamped by the generality of results. Unfortunately, that is how people would use the information. This would undermine the raison d'etre of amendment No. 200 which is to prevent the compilation of comparative league tables.

I take a different view of this matter. We have had this debate during Question Time and the Minister and I have different perceptions. The examination system is too narrow and we should not measure performance in such a meaningless way. There are many other aspects we should be measuring, celebrating, certifying and recognising in schools. I strongly disagree with the assertion that, because we have a very narrow method of measuring success, we should close off information to parents. The opposite should be the case. We should be reforming the manner in which we certify, accredit and celebrate schools. We should give parents access to that information and let them participate in the development of these aspects of their schools.

The Minister's position is similar to that of the Kerryman who is asked directions and says that one does not start from here. The Minister is starting from a position. However, it would be a retrograde step if we denied parents access to information about how the school is doing in any area of activity. The examination system is a very limited measure of performance. Nonetheless, parents are interested in it and we cannot cut them off from that information.

I agree with the Minister that the number of As is not the way to judge the success of a teacher or a school. The test of the quality of teaching is the progress which children make and the experiences to which they are exposed. I am nervous of the insidious element of this, which is that because we do not want league tables we are going to deny access to information which is legitimately the property of parents. That is where we are heading. The Minister recognises this fact by saying he is nervous that if parents have access to information about students in a school, they will talk to other parents and an overall picture will emerge of how different schools in an area are doing. However, that is the price we have to pay for freedom of information and parents participating in the life of schools.

I agree that we should prevent measures which would systematically lead to the compilation of league tables. However, I do not agree with unwittingly closing off access to information which is the right of parents. I am not trying to stop the Minister's intentions in this respect. However, nothing in this section, which I accept, would restrict the right of parents and students to obtain information.

We are dealing with a fundamental and important area of the Bill. It does occur that children who sit an examination in one year are better or worse than those who sit the examination in other years. There are variations and simplistic information could be divulged when, for instance, a group of lower level achievers sit an examination.

The difference between a D and a B on a pass paper could be a phenomenal achievement but might not look so impressive if compared with results from other schools. I have strong feelings about the PR operations some schools mount in terms of their pupils' achievements. If a lot of information were provided to parents, it might even be possible to identify the results of individual pupils. Any information provided could never be sufficiently comprehensive in terms of providing an overall context, nor could it describe the actual achievement of a particular pupil within a group in a particular year.

I am strongly in favour of freedom of information but in the current milieu, where schools compete for pupils, there are inherent dangers in providing that kind of information. As a former teacher and someone who observed the system over many years, I have grave reservations about any information other than information relating to a particular pupil being released to parents. Anything other than that could, in certain instances, be used in a way which could disadvantage a particular school. On this occasion, I find myself in agreement with the Minister's amendment.

Deputy O'Shea has outlined the reasoning behind the amendment very eloquently. I acknowledge Deputy Bruton's genuine concern to strike a balance between parents' rights to information and the fundamental objectives of our education system.

In recent years, we are thankfully moving away from the position where a terminal examination is seen as the single determining factor in assessing and evaluating student performance. If we allow a situation to develop where league tables can be compiled, we will inevitably regress to a model where the only thing that will matter will be traditional leaving certificate results. In view of the success of the leaving certificate applied and the LCVP, the way is open for more flexible modes of assessment and evaluation at second level. I envisage the emergence of a more complex model in which we would have different modes of assessment in different subjects as the syllabi are revised by the NCCA. In the event of the compilation of league tables, that complexity would be reduced to a very crude and simplistic analysis of performance.

A great deal of concern was articulated about the transition year programme when it was first introduced. It would be very difficult to provide information about the performance of students in transition year. Individual schools have developed the programme in different ways and placed different emphases on it. Many people regard the introduction of transition year as a great success story. The leaving certificate applied programme has also grown significantly. Taken together, it and the transition year will, over time, impact on the content of the leaving certificate programme and on the modes of assessment and evaluation.

The unavailability of league tables is a very positive feature of Irish education and we should not do anything to encourage their compilation. The Bill provides very specific guarantees to parents in terms of access to their own individual records, school policy, objectives, curriculum and so on. I do not believe there is any significant restriction of parents' rights to information in this section. School management boards will be free to provide information to parents with the proviso that they do not provide information which could enable the compilation of league tables. That is the purpose of amendment No. 200. I do not believe there will be a problem on the ground in this regard. Parents are generally well informed in terms of the programmes in which they wish their children to participate.

I want to clarify that the Minister is not, through this amendment, seeking to adopt the power to direct boards not to issue information. I would not for a moment stand over a situation where the Minister would prevent schools providing information because he feared it might be leaked.

Irish history has taught us that if one makes something difficult to obtain, people will assume it is extraordinarily important and will turn handstands to obtain it. The Minister will create a thriving black market in information on school performances. There is a penal law mentality in this country that if one does not have something, one must obtain it. We should be much more open and state that although the whole picture is not available, parents have a right to information, including information in respect of their schools. The Minister and I take a different view on this matter and I do not intend to delay the House any further.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 201:

In page 37, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

"(2) Nothing in this section shall restrict the right of parents, students or staff to obtain information about the results of their own school."

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 202, 203 and 204 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 202:

In page 37, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:

"(2) Such an order shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas for approval and shall not take effect until after that approval has been granted."

We are moving on here to the bodies corporate. Essentially this relates to a power the Minister is taking to establish executive agencies to carry out certain functions. The Minister intends to confer quite a lot of powers on such agencies. I understand one such body corporate which we might see developed over time would deal with psychological services. I am sure the Minister has others in mind. Amendment No. 202 provides that such an order shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas for approval and shall not take effect until after that approval has been granted. In other words, the Minister would be obliged to come into the Dáil to inform it that he was proposing to establish an agency such as a national psychological services agency and to outline its functions, composition, method of staffing and budgetary operations. The House would have to approve the order before it could take effect. Prior to making such an order, the Minister should consult with those directly affected by it, including staff who might be transferred, their unions or representative organisations, proposed recipients of the service and national associations representative of the education partners. Prior to establishing a body or agency of this nature, we should engage in proper consultation and debate on it. To provide a blank cheque to establish these bodies without having such provisions built in would not be a satisfactory way to proceed.

I know the Minister is sympathetic to this position and I hope we can reach agreement on the matter.

I do not know whether Deputy Bruton is familiar with amendment No. 204 in my name which basically achieves the objectives of amendments Nos. 202 and 203. Amendment No. 204 is as follows:

In page 37, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:

"(7) Before making an order under this section the Minister shall consult, as the Minister considers appropriate, with persons directly affected by the proposed order or with trade unions or associations representing such persons.

(8) Without prejudice to the generality of section 5, the Minister shall not make an order under this section unless he or she has first caused to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas a draft of the proposed order and a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by both Houses."

Does the phrase "persons directly affected by the proposed order" include recipients of the service and associations representative of the education partners?

It does. That is the way if has worked to date. For example, in the case of the psychological service the steering committee is composed of all partners.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 203 not moved.

I move amendment No. 204:

In page 37, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:

"(7) Before making an order under this section the Minister shall consult, as the Minister considers appropriate, with persons directly affected by the proposed order or with trade unions or associations representing such persons.

(8) Without prejudice to the generality of section 5, the Minister shall not make an order under this section unless he or she has first caused to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas a draft of the proposed order and a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by both Houses."

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 205 and 206 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 205:

In page 37, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following:

"(2) A person seconded or transferred to a body established under section 54, shall not, while in the service of that body, receive less remuneration or be subject to less beneficial conditions of service than the remuneration to which that person was entitled and the conditions of service to which that person was subject prior to such secondment or transfer.”

This is to safeguard the conditions of service of staff transferred or seconded to agencies. This amendment, together with amendment No. 204, meets the objective of amendment No. 206 in the name of Deputy O'Shea.

I am prepared to support amendment No. 205 as proposed by the Minister on the basis that it covers the areas I expressed concern about on Committee Stage. I will withdraw amendment No. 206.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 206 not moved.

Amendment No. 207 is out of order as it involves a potential charge on Revenue.

Amendment No. 207 not moved.

I move amendment No. 208:

In page 38, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:

"(e) the continuing accountability of the Minister to the Oireachtas in respect of the activities of the body.".

The end is in sight. I hope we can indulge the Minister's good will on one final occasion. Many Deputies find it very frustrating that with the establishment of executive agencies the reply to legitimate parliamentary questions concerning the work of the agency, its impact and its success states that the Minister has no responsibility for the day to day activity of such a body. I find this totally frustrating and undemocratic as it means the only accountability of such a body is if they are occasionally called before a House of the Oireachtas to account for their public accounts or before the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science, something which has not happened to date.

We should get some indication from the Minister that when he establishes executive agencies to do certain things which were previously his responsibility, we will not get this type of reply to legitimate parliamentary questions. The amendment seeks to provide for the continuing accountability of the Minister to the Oireachtas in respect of the activities of the body. Under the new dispensations the Minister is responsible for policy matters and the Secretary General is responsible for other matters. Perhaps, therefore, the wording of my amendment is not entirely accurate in that there should be some reference to the Secretary General in the light of the division of responsibility. However, the traditional accountability to the Oireachtas should be maintained so we can get reasonable information about policy, activity levels, population targets, etc. I hope the Minister agrees to the amendment as Members on both sides of the House spend time in limbo and it is in our mutual interest that we have reasonable access to information.

I agree wholeheartedly. It can be very frustrating when new bodies are established and the Oireachtas tends to become marginal in terms of public policy and its implementation. I am advised that section 54(6) provides for accountability to the Minister who continues to be accountable to the Oireachtas for any body or agency for which the Oireachtas provides funds as set out in section 58. Therefore, to a certain extent sections 54(6) and 58 cover the point raised by the Deputy. It is desirable that the legislation makes it clear that the Minister continues to remain accountable to the Oireachtas for the conduct of bodies and, to be doubly sure, I will accept Deputy Bruton's amendment subject to drafting.

I will withdraw the amendment subject to its redrafting.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass".

I thank the Minister for his forbearance in the debate which has been very worthwhile, albeit lengthy. It has been an educational experience for us all and the Minister has been generous in his acceptance of amendments. Of course, there are issues on which we will continue to disagree, but where it has been possible to find common ground we have done so. I thank the Minister's officials for the support they have given us in our work.

We have concluded a long debate. In quite a number of areas the Minister has been forthcoming and I compliment him on his approach which has in general been constructive. There are basic areas on which we disagree, but that is the cut and thrust of politics. I also compliment his officials for their assistance during the debate. It is the most important legislation debated in my time in the Oireachtas. We will agree to differ on some issues, but I wish the Minister well.

I thank Deputies Bruton and O'Shea for their kind comments. I appreciate their co-operation on Second, Committee and Report Stages. This is an extremely important Bill and the first Education Bill the Dáil has passed. I am particularly conscious of this and it is important that we provided sufficient time to discuss it. I acknowledge the extraordinary hard work Deputies put into the debate in terms of amendments, without the resources which are available to Ministers. I think the Bill has been significantly improved since publication. We acknowledge there are differences of opinion on a number of substantive issues, but this is the nature of parliamentary democracy. I have no doubt there will be further amendments proposed and refinements required in the Seanad. I thank my officials for their contribution. The Bill is the culmination of a long period of consultation, etc. and I thank them for their tremendous effort.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 5.20 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.