Education (Welfare) Bill, 1999 [ Seanad ] : Report Stage (Resumed).

Debate resumed on amendment No. 38:
In page 12, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
"(7) The Board shall endeavour to establish a liaison network at local level which shall also involve those involved in education and other relevant community groups to promote coherent and consistent support to pupils, parents and schools.".
–(Deputy R. Bruton).
Mr. R. Bruton: The Minister indicated that he was not disposed towards accepting the amend ment. The general opinion on both sides of the House when it was discussed earlier was that a local liaison network is central to the success of this initiative. For the Minister to argue that this does not need to be spelled out in legislation and to view the representation of the community sector on the national board as fulfilling this clearly shows little understanding of how locally-based initiatives develop. It is important that the board sees itself as pump-priming initiatives of this nature and facilitating them to develop. That is what the amendment seeks to do. It seeks that the board act as facilitator for the emergence of the local liaison network. It seeks no more and no less and the consensus before the debate was adjourned was that this would be desirable. All the evidence exists that it would be desirable. The amendment does not damage anything else in the Bill and it is inexplicable that the Minister would not support it.

(Dublin West): Will the Minister reconsider this? As was said before the debate was adjourned, it is a matter of the board taking the initiative to encourage local networks. It does not tie it down to specifics. The amendment should be made to the legislation because the type of local networking envisaged would help promote coherent and consistent support for schools, pupils and parents. For example, a survey conducted in west Dublin in an area badly-hit economically found that there was an average non-attendance of children under 15 in the school system of 13%, while the average in a more well-to-do area of west Dublin was about 7%. Local liaison would play a crucial role in dealing with that type of disadvantage.

It would also play a crucial role in helping to end one of the most scandalous wastes of public resources which is that the majority of school buildings, which are publicly-owned, are closed from 3 o'clock or 4 o'clock in the afternoon when they could be utilised by local networks as community resources and facilities. If there was a more organised and structured way of doing this, a new resource could be made available to the local community of school buildings and their related resources. Deprived communities are struggling to create community centres in their areas.

This amendment would be of great assistance to educational welfare officers. It is critical that these people are brought on stream quickly and that resources are allocated so that they can assist local networks of parents, teachers and groups to come to grips with the problems of non-attendance and other issues.

I accept the points made by Deputies about the importance of locating schools within a local network of other service providers, voluntary groups and other local agencies. In that sense, I agree with the points made by the Deputies. However, as they have pointed out on many occasions, mere legislative drafting will not create such networks and the ones which have been created and to which they have referred have come about through good management and organisation and not through legislation.

These structures need to be developed over time and supported in their development. I have made explicit provision for the educational welfare board to take account of these needs and to support their development in sections 9 and 22 and in the membership of the board. However, it is imperative that the board takes continuing and ongoing notice of this critical issue. Therefore, I am happy to inform Deputies that I intend on the enactment of the legislation to write to the board to set out my views and those of the House on the importance of this issue. As Deputies will be aware, section 12 makes provision for the Minister to make such directions to the board.

Unfortunately, the Minister made brief references to section 22 which deals with codes of behaviour. I will have to revisit it but it does not appear to—

I meant to say section 21.

School attendance strategies?

School attendance strategies concern the identification at an early stage of students who have problems and the establishment of closer contacts between the school and the families of students. It does not deal with the type of local networks which have been the subject of our discussion. Such networks bring together the community, the educational welfare officer, key players, such as the juvenile diversion officer and the health board social worker, and key groups which can help run homework clubs. These are the people who would be part of a local liaison network and who would, as Deputy Joe Higgins said, dramatically extend the reach of the educational welfare officer in terms of executing their task. It is not just the school with which we are concerned in the school strategy and that is why we have failed in many ways and have a record of non-attendance which is double that of the rest of Europe. We have been preoccupied with in-school policies rather than recognising that it is part of something broader within the community which we must develop. The Minister is wrong in pointing to section 21 as a solution. Section 9 deals with functions and I do not see any implication that the board must foster the development of local networks in this way.

What we have proposed in this amendment could not be construed as putting some type of bureaucratic dead hand on the development of local initiative. It is framed in a way which facilitates the board as much as possible to do this in a flexible way. It does not define catchments within which it must be done nor does it impose an obligation to do it. It is about encouraging the board to go in this direction and facilitate this development. As other Deputies have experienced from their constituencies and as I have from mine, the reality in many communities is that the development of such networks already exists in embryonic form. What the board can do is prime the pump of those which exist in embryonic form and allow them develop more strongly. It can also roll out those successful models to areas where it does not exist. We on the north side of Dublin could learn a great deal from Clondalkin because it has been good in this area of building networks to track early school leavers. There is scope for us to learn in parts of our constituencies on the north side. The board is in a unique position to draw together the strengths of different local liaison networks to try to foster those in different areas and to reach out to the areas which have none. In too many areas there are schools where, after 3 o'clock and the talk and chalk is over, no further support exists for children. We must break out of that model and this amendment is a good opportunity.

I do not have confidence in the Minister's writing to the board. If the Minister will refuse to accept an amendment which does not impose anything which could possibly be construed as hamstringing the board, I have no confidence that some letter which he will write to the board after this debate in which we will have no say and into which we will have no input could possibly meet the needs of the amendment. The Minister can write his letter to the board but he should also accept the amendment which has been tabled in good faith and which can only help endorse a movement which already exists by supporting, nurturing and expanding it. That is what we need to do rather than thinking that the Educational Welfare Board and educational welfare officers can have all the answers without these invaluable networks which exist and need to be developed elsewhere.

The Minister is empowered to give a direction and not just send a letter.

I have given an undertaking to do that and I will do so once the Bill is passed.

Amendment put.

Allen, Bernard.Barrett, Seán.Belton, Louis.

Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas. Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).

Tá–continued

Bruton, John.Bruton, Richard.Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Farrelly, John.Finucane, Michael.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gregory, Tony.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.

Kenny, Enda.McCormack, Pádraic.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.Quinn, Ruairí.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.

Níl

Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.

Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Malley, Desmond.O'Rourke, Mary.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Woods, Michael.Wright, G. V.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Barrett and Stagg; Níl, Deputies S. Brennan and Power.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 39:

In page 12, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

12.–(1) The Minister shall appoint one of his or her officers as a development officer for each school in every disadvantaged area, in order to promote the development of appropriate relationships between the school and the local business community and relevant agencies.

(2) An officer of the Minister appointed under this section shall not be given additional remuneration by virtue of having been so appointed.".

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that a proper liaison process is put in place and it is aimed specifically at schools in disadvantaged areas. I have no wish to repeat points which were made earlier. However, there is a fundamental difference between the Minister's arguments in respect of previous amendments and those offered by Members on this side of the House. The Minister is putting his faith in a kind of evolving sentiment which he believes will deliver everything provided for in the Bill. Members on this side, however, have argued that there is a need to put the incentive and the prescription of a statutory provision in place to ensure that this will happen.

In a disadvantaged area where a number of schools are experiencing the same problems, it becomes enormously valuable to have a wise individual who can incorporate the various structures into a balanced whole. The amendment refers to the "relationships between schools and the local business community and relevant agencies". In that context, when I served on the McBride Commission on the Prison System many years ago, I had the privilege to hear the evidence of a retired senior school attendance officer from Dublin. The person in question had adopted a wonderful approach in terms of the way he anticipated the problems of children. It is no reflection on the Minister, his predecessor or the current staff of the Department but, at that time, the Department of Education did not share its data with the Department of Justice. The retired chief attendance officer's view was that children at risk could have been identified much earlier if such data had been shared.

I cannot discuss issues of cost and I was obliged to include subsection (2) in the amendment to ensure that it was not ruled out of order. However, I am allowed to state that there are many people who could offer great expertise in terms of suggesting how the network could be put in place. With respect, the Minister may be aware of places throughout the country in which there are excellent emergent systems where people are co-operating with each other in all forms of partnership but I am equally aware of places in which that is not happening. We should not leave these matters to chance and a statutory mention would ensure that such a network would be put in place.

In reply to a previous amendment, the Minister stated that he could envisage the system evolving. We cannot afford that time because we are experiencing problems now and not only in regard to literacy, children's problems and children in trouble. I insist on using the term "children in trouble" because all these children can be saved. I would be interested to hear whether the Minister will incorporate my suggestion in his directions to or communications with the board.

My intention in providing for the appointment of educational welfare officers is that they will perform a number of functions relating to school attendance and will, in doing so, liaise with individual schools, pupils, parents and other appropriate services. Liaison with other appropriate services will be further ensured through the appointment of the liaison officers, as provided for in section 12.

The National Educational Welfare Board, as the national overseeing body, will be in a position to ensure the co-ordination of all its officers' activities. For the Minister to appoint development officers would provide nothing more than an overlap of functions. The Deputy asked whether these matters would be covered in directions to the board and I would be happy to do that as I am very anxious to see the board operating effectively. I am anxious to progress this legislation in order that the board etc. can be functioning by autumn. This is a major development and we want to ensure that, in management terms, it will do the job we want it to do.

Will the Minister again specify where the liaison service will be located? Will it have its source in the Department? I am trying to envisage the organisation chart or structure for the service. Will it be a local structure? It cannot be a regional service because the Government is ideologically opposed to regional structures. Will the liaison service exist in an administrative manner? Who will staff the liaison service? Who will run it and to whom will it report? We will all welcome the educational welfare officers when they arrive but what will the structure be? Will the service be completely paper-based?

The officers will be local but there will be a national structure. I am considering the entire structure of the Department with a view to localising and regionalising it. We have held discussions with the unions and an independent investigation is being carried out into how this might be done. We want to ensure the Department will operate on a local and regional basis. At the moment, the Department is administered from a central point, a matter about which the Deputy is concerned. I assure the Deputy that it is our intention to localise and regionalise our structures.

The Minister's clarification has confused me even further. He seems to be saying that the liaison system, as currently constructed, is purely a national concept—

I did not say that.

—and that he is otherwise developing a local dimension to his Department's work. As far as school attendance issues and educational welfare are concerned, it would seem to me that it would be very important to have the network at local level. With well meaning institutions at national level to facilitate this system, we would not need a structure at national level.

The service will be a national one.

We are talking explicitly about the liaison service. The Minister has provided for the establishment of 48 or 50 bodies which will appoint liaison officers. The danger is that that could become amagnum opus at national level with people meeting in the Burlington Hotel twice a year. That would not have any relevance to what is happening in local schools. The Minister seems to be saying that he is going to regionalise the Department which is all very well but what of the liaison structure?

We will have liaison officers and welfare officers. Welfare officers will deal with individual schools on the ground and the liaison officers will co-ordinate the networks in local areas. The service will be a national one in that it will be provided throughout the country.

How many liaison officers will be appointed for the whole country?

I could not provide the figure off-hand.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 12, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

"(4) The Minister shall lay such direction before each House of the Oireachtas.".

When I tabled this amendment on Committee Stage, the Minister appeared to be prepared to reconsider it prior to Report Stage. The amendment seeks to provide that if the Minister were to issue directions in writing to the board, those directions would be published and laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

This will be largely a management and executive function and it is envisaged that many directions will be issued. I would not have any problem, given sufficient time, with putting the group of directions together and laying them in the Oireachtas Library or with allowing people to inspect particular directions. However, a large number of detailed directions will be issued, particularly in the early stages. We are not dealing here with regulations which will last for several years. It would always be possible at the end of a six month period to make a group of directions available in the Library. These type of internal management directions are not normally laid before the Houses.

The Minister stated on Committee Stage that he would re-examine the wording of my amendment prior to Report Stage. I took that to mean that he would accept the amendment. The Library is a spacious place and it is now possible to lay reports etc., however large, before the Houses electronically. I would be happy if the directions were to be laid before the Houses in electronic form in order that we could access these directions. I am not asking the Minister to transport all of these heavy directions to the Library in a wheelbarrow but if he issues written directions to the board, they should also be made available to the Houses of the Oireachtas. I cannot understand why the Minister does not accept this.

A direction will be available if it is required. However, there will be a section dealing with such directions and one would probably need to put them together in the form of a book every three or six months. I have no problem making such an arrangement in order that they are made available. I did that at one stage when I was the Minister for Social Welfare. However, there are huge numbers of these directions. While one can get individual ones, I am prepared to give an undertaking to put them together, bind them and make them available at intervals of three or six months.

I do not know why the Minister makes a song and dance any time we seek to make a simple amendment. We just want information to be laid in the Library. Why is he stating he will issue the directions at intervals, or that he will write to somebody and see would they do it? This is a simple amendment. It is common in most legislation that written ministerial directions to a body are available on the public record. If Ministers make such policy directions, we are entitled to see them. Our job is to monitor policy directions made by Ministers to boards. The Minister is trying to make a meal of this. He is obliged to inform the House of actions on policy matters. He should do his job and agree to lay these directions before the Houses of the Oireachtas. He should stop this song and dance about how he will put them together, bind them, etc.

These matters are too comprehensive and detailed and they relate to management. We should not be obliged to do that every time such a direction is made. Apart from the fact that it would clutter up the Library, these can be put together at intervals.

The Minister should install an electronic system in the Department.

The alternative is for the Deputy to become Minister and he can then deal with the day to day operations. These are part of the day to day operations.

The Minister claims this is part of the day to day operations. The section states the Minister may give a direction in writing to the board requiring it to comply with policy decisions made by the Minister on the functions of the board. The Minister may then amend them. These go to the heart of the policy framework within which the board will operate.

Every time we seek to make an amendment the Minister responds by stating he will bear in mind what the House has to say and make directions and suggestions to the board. However, when it comes to the House seeing those directions or suggestions, the Minister claims they are too comprehensive and difficult to communicate to the Deputies, yet he can put them together and bind them and produce his binder to the Library. This is lunacy. You, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, have been in the House much longer than I, but I cannot understand why ministerial directions to a board set down in legislation should be treated in a cloak and dagger fashion and why the Minister will not release them to the Oireachtas. The Minister claims these matters are complex. We can understand complex issues. These are directions regarding high level policies.

One in five pupils drop out of school early and one in ten leave school without adequate literacy skills. There is a serious problem of absenteeism, the level of which is double that in the rest of Europe. In that context, the Minister is not willing as a matter of course to publish directions issued to the board responsible for trying to improve the situation and to lay them before the Houses of the Oireachtas. If the Minister takes such an ostrich-like view of education policy issues, we are wasting our time debating these issues in the Dáil. I weep when I hear his colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, talk of reforming the electoral system to make this Dáil more relevant when a Minister comes in here and states we are like mushrooms, that we should be kept in the dark and up to our knees in "you know what". That is the attitude the Minister is displaying towards the Oireachtas.

We are simply looking for what is our right, to know what policy directions are being issued by the Minister to the board, which we were a party to establishing. We want no more and no less. If the Minister cannot agree to this, it is a sorry state of affairs in the context of the relevance of this House.

I may be of assistance in this regard. I see a parallel between this and when I was Minister with responsibility for broadcasting. If one had to consider an issue of policy, one drew a distinction between a policy matter and a matter which related to the administration of a semi-State body which was at arms length from the Minister. For example, the order under section 31 of the Broadcasting Act is a policy matter but how it will be implemented within RTE is a practical management matter.

The text of the Bill, which Deputy Bruton's amendment addresses, states that the "Minister may give a direction in writing to the board requiring it to comply with policy decisions made by the Minister in relation to the functions of the Board." It is reasonable to expect that those in the legislature who frame, approve of, oppose or amend legislation shall be involved in matters of policy.

On the execution and the detail of it, without referring to the Devlin report, etc., there is a chief executive in the Department related to the execution of the Minister's policy directions. One is not requiring the provision of the combined correspondence of the Minister with the board but such policy directions as the Minister may make to the board.

I could think of many other parallels. I might give an example of where it would be a matter of assistance to a Minister. For example, if the statistics on dropouts, literacy, etc., to which Deputy Bruton referred, remain the same and the Minister found it necessary to write to the board to say his policy regarding what was intended in the legislation was being frustrated, it would be of great assistance for the Minister to put such before the Houses of the Oireachtas. It could then be debated and the Minister could be assisted, and it might be necessary to replace the board.

The issue is being unnecessarily confused. That which is policy can be before the House and that which is administration can remain with administration. Nobody wants the detail of the administration. People want only notice of the policy decisions.

Hear, hear.

There is a difference. This is an agency of my Department, not an independent semi-State body. There will be many communications and directions regarding policy, particularly in the early stages. The main reason in this case is not to get the day to day workings involved because there will be a great deal of toing and froing. There may be a direction in a letter about doing something in a particular way and a response stating not to do it that way. The process will go on in that fashion. Therefore, after a period one would reach conclusions on the way in which things would be done and these can be put together more easily. As I have stated, I do not mind giving a summary periodically. I am just concerned because I do not want to create a great deal of bureaucracy for this body as it starts out, or for the Department.

That is a ridiculous answer. I cannot but press the amendment. I tried to be constructive here, but the Minister is trying to draw distinctions between agencies and boards. The Bill provides for directions in writing to the board and the Minister is not willing to release them. That is the bottom line here. I cannot accept that.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Before calling Deputy Higgins, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that we are debating Report Stage of the Bill. While I appreciate that Report Stage can be very confining, I remind the House that Members may speak twice. Members may make a second contribution on each amendment which may not exceed two minutes. The Member who moved the amendment retains the right of reply so that the mover of an amendment may speak three times: a contribution when moving the amendment, a second contribution of two minutes and a third contribution to conclude the debate. If an amendment merits more debate, a Member may move that the Bill go back into committee.

I mention this because on the last amendment a number of short interruptions were made and it was not clear whether they should be regarded as contributions.

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 12, line 14, after "school" to insert "and who is not receiving education at a recognised school".

This amendment is of assistance to the legislation. The Minister promised to consider this amendment for Report Stage. If a child was receiving "grinds" or, to use a term which some prefer, a "top-up", in a given subject, under the unamended legislation such a person or institution would have to be listed. The amendment cures this inadvertent flaw in the Bill.

Amendment No. 41 is a technical amendment which seeks to clarify the purpose and role of the register. I have had this matter re-examined by the parliamentary draftsman. The Deputy's fear was that a loophole existed in this section. The parliamentary draftsman has assured me that there is not a loophole and that the legislation is satisfactory. The register is only designed to cater for students who do not attend a recognised school. Students will be admitted to the register on application of their parents who have decided to educate, or have their child or children educated in a place other than a recognised school. This circumstance is dealt with in subsection (2). There is no other circumstance of entry to the register. It is not my view, for instance, that children educated at a school and additionally by their parents at home will need to be registered under this section.

I have had this matter clarified by the draftsman and he has confirmed that the Bill is satisfactory as it stands.

While I acknowledge that the draftsman is, at least, being consistent in insisting that he was right the first time, I worry about the advice he has given the Minister. Words are words and the language of the section is what will be invoked. Section 13(1) and (2) states:

(1) The Board shall, on the commencement of this section, cause to be established and maintained a register of all children in receipt of education in a place other than a recognised school (hereafter in this section referred to as "the register").

(2) Subject tosubsection (3), where a parent chooses to educate, or have educated, his or her child in a place other than a recognised school he or she shall, in accordance with this section, apply to the Board to have the child concerned registered in the register.

It is all very fine to say that subsection (2) allows a parent to choose to exercise the option of going on the register. Unfortunately, this does not relieve one from the ambiguity of the language in subsection (1), which states explicitly that the board shall "cause to be established and maintained a register of all children in receipt of education in a place other than a recognised school".

The impact of this subsection on anyone who attends a language school or any sort of specialised class is clear. The draftsman may have facilitated parents in exercising an educational option and putting their child on a register. Unfortunately, the specificity of subsections (2) and (3) does not relieve the ambiguity of subsection (1).

I stand by the parliamentary draftsman in this case. Subsection (2) states that "where a parent chooses—

That is not the issue.

—to educate, or have educated, his or child in a place other than a recognised school he or she shall, in accordance with this section, apply to the Board to have the child concerned registered in the register". I do not see the Deputy's problem.

On further consideration, the difficulty in subsection 13(1), to which my amendment is directed, is not relieved by subsection 13(2). I now see a difficulty because subsection 13(2) does not refer to a child being principally educated. Any supplementary education chosen by a parent falls within the ambit of the register, as the Bill is worded. We are in agreement regarding the procedure involved in parents putting a child on the register. However, subsection 13(1) has the merit and demerit of a simple statement. It means that any education outside formal schooling requires to be registered.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 12, lines 18 and 19, to delete "apply to the Board to have the child concerned registered in the register" and substitute "register with the Board".

This section deals with home education when a parent chooses to educate his or her child at home rather than in a recognised school. The Minister is making provision for such a parent to apply to be included on a register. A vetting system will be put in place to determine if such a parent can continue to educate his or her child at home. The thrust of the legislation appears to be hostile to the notion of home education and I grant that the Minister has modified many of the more objectionable features of the Bill, as first drafted. The thrust of that is fairly hostile to the notion of home education. I grant that the Minister has modified many of the more objectionable features of this Bill, as first drafted. In this amendment I put forward the concept that instead of waiting to be vetted and considered acceptable to educate in the home, parents who educate in the home should automatically go on a register and that only if the board subsequently felt they were not reaching an acceptable standard, a process of assessment and examination would be put in place.

The alternative is that the board will immediately be presented with the assessment of every family educating in the home within a short period. The other approach would mean parents register first and then the board, having developed a good advisory service to support home education and enable it to be in a position to deal with it, could then consider the parents who have registered. It could offer the support of its own expertise and proceed to carry out the various assessments for which the Bill provides.

That would be a preferable approach and would be less threatening in its appearance to people who perhaps have many years experience in home education. The Minister will probably say the effect will be the same but there is a lot in the way one approaches this issue. Parents are the primary educators and this Bill still, even with the improvements, gives the impression that home education is something of an aberrant behaviour which has to be carefully vetted before it is accepted.

The Constitution recognises that home education is possible and acceptable once a minimum standard is achieved. My amendment seeks to ensure the tone of this legislation is more in character with the Constitution and that approach. It will not, in any way, dilute the State's obligation and duty to ensure a parent educating in the home achieves a minimum standard.

I support Deputy Bruton's amendment. I have an interest in home education due to the fact a number of my constituents have been involved in it. Unfortunately, there was a number of high profile District Court cases in regard to some of the individuals involved. The thrust of the cases and the media attention gave the impression that home education was not the way forward. The legislation in place at the time could not deal with home education adequately. What Deputy Bruton said is important in that we should enact legislation which has more in common with the thrust of our Constitution than try to subvert people who decide in their wisdom that home education is the best way to educate their children. It is extremely important that this legislation deals with that and that structures should be put in place.

A number of people have contacted me about home education and they have made two points. They want a designated home education adviser to be appointed to oversee and carry out the assessment of home education. That is a fair and worthwhile proposal and I hope the Minister will consider it. They also asked that when making appointments to the National Educational Welfare Board and the appeals committee, he should include a lay person with an interest in and an understanding of home education. Heretofore, the Department of Education and Science probably felt that people who educated at home should not have done so. The people involved in the constituency I represent felt isolated in their communities but they have done some excellent work with their children at home. I would be grateful if the Minister would consider the proposals I have made.

Deputy Bruton acknowledged the fact that we have listened carefully to what was said earlier. We talked to various interest groups and tried to balance this against the legal duties imposed on me as Minister. The Bill has changed very substantially in the light of the changes brought in during its passage through the Dáil. I also considered models from other jurisdictions and, where appropriate, incorporated changes. In those circumstances, I believe the Bill has struck a reasonable balance. I understand the rationale of the Deputy's amendments Nos. 42 and 43 but I do not consider it possible to accept them.

I would like to explain my thinking in the area of registration. The State has a solemn constitutional duty to vindicate the rights of children just as much as it does in the case of the rights of adults. A core right of children is to receive an education which enables them to make the best use of their abilities and equip them for life. The system of registration and assessment provided in this section seeks to create an effective structure to vindicate this right of each child. I have tried to ensure that, in so doing, the system respects the rights of parents. On balance, therefore, I am of the view that the basic structure of this section must remain unaltered.

The right of a child to an education is so precious, particularly in the context of today's knowledge based society and the protection afforded to this right by the Constitution is so strong, I am of the view that we, as a society, must take sufficient steps to protect these rights. This amendment would alter the focus of the relationship between the National Educational Welfare Board, as an institution, and each parent or parents. I am not convinced of the value of this amendment. It is essential that, in an area as important as a child's education, the board satisfies itself that the child in question is receiving a minimum education. A direct relationship between parents and the National Educational Welfare Board is the best means to ensure this.

At the same time, I draw the attention of Deputies to section 13(6) which allows the board to register all children attending an institution once the board is satisfied that the institution is providing a certain minimum education. I am satisfied that this is a more appropriate means to deal with this particular situation. The objective of registration is to establish which children are not attending recognised schools so that their education can be assured in line with the State's constitutional duty.

The decision to educate a child outside the recognised school system is that of the parents, not an institution which they are attending. It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that the initial responsibility for registration lies with the parent. However, it is also appropriate that where the board is satisfied an institution is providing at least a minimum education to all its attending students, it is not necessary for each student to undergo a detailed assessment to establish this fact. On balance, therefore, I am happy for the section to stand as drafted.

I accept the Minister's argument in relation to amendment No. 43. Section 13(6) adequately deals with that matter. Given that my earlier amendment was lost and the fact the Minister does not envisage developing policies within schools which are not recognised ones in regard to attendance and so on, this amendment no longer has any validity. I withdraw amendment No. 43.

I am not, however, entirely persuaded by the Minister's argument in relation to amendment No. 42, although I do not propose to divide the House. The Minister rightly said that it would alter the focus of the relationship between a parent engaged in home education and the board. It would not have a penal or inspectorate type relationship and it would change it to more of an advisory one and one where inspection would be done in extreme circumstances where the parent is no longer reaching a standard. I am not sure whether changing that focus would not be a good thing. As my colleague, Deputy Reynolds, said, we would have an advisory element within the board. That would be the merit of the small change I propose in this amendment. It would change the focus on what the Minister rightly identifies, but it would not be a bad change because a greater partnership would develop.

I will not press the amendment because amendment No. 45 also deals with the idea of an advisory service or at least having advice available to the board that would be relevant to the needs of home educators. The Minister should see the merit in a change in focus as proposed in the amendment.

Will the Minister consider the designation of home education advisers to be appointed to oversee and undertake the assessment on home education? When appointing the board will he also consider that a National Educational Welfare Board and an appeals committee should contain one lay person with an interest in and an understanding of home education?

I cannot start to regulate the home side, although I take the point about providing guidelines or advice and will consider that aspect. If an application has to be made to the board to have the child registered that gives an explicit opportunity for assessment. If, however, it is provided that the person will merely register with the board, there is no requirement for assessment. It could be argued that in a roundabout way there is an obligation on the Minister in this regard and that he can, in law, ensure that such an assessment takes place.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 43 not moved.

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 12, to delete lines 27 and 28.

This was requested by home school parents, among others, in communication with us. Why should it be necessary to specify that the time and place, etc., be registered when it could easily be handled by regulation? The Minister said the board will function as an agency of his Department and he is of a mind to issue it with comprehensive regulations. If so, there is no need to retain lines 27 and 28 on page 12.

Amendment No. 44 has been taken on board to some degree by an amendment in my name on Committee Stage providing that it should not be necessary for the parent to specify the times at which a child is receiving an education at home. Deputy Higgins has proposed to take this further and remove the requirement that parents specify the place at which a child is educated. However, it is important that the place of education be specified. Deletion of this requirement might lead to a situation where certain parents might try to evade their requirements under the Act to the detriment of the child's education. This is a reasonable requirement given the importance of the subject in question – the right of each child to receive a certain minimum education.

I return to the point I made to the Minister on Committee Stage. We have a difficulty evaluating the home school option. It is not easily resolved but it will have to be. The thinking, the procedures and the way people in the Department operate are very much in terms of formal schooling. There is a difference between that and home school education. Of its nature, home school education will probably be best assessed – even if I am guided in the court decisions on this – by the outcome of the education as much as anything else. So, a child may visit an art gallery, he may be brought to a natural history museum or an interactive display or whatever.

I have a problem here. The Minister acknowledged my case on Committee Stage by removing the time requirement. If he specified the principal place at which the child receives the education I probably would not have moved my amendment. The difficulty with the provision is that the home school parent would have to specify a long list which would probably include the National Library, the National Museum of Ireland, the National Gallery of Ireland and the waxworks, if one wished to be exotic, and I could go on. I cannot see how the language of the Bill cannot be construed other than that.

It is provided that the application shall be in writing and shall specify the place at which the child receives the education to which the application relates. It does not refer to the principal place, which would make sense. The home address or an institution combining these different aspects could be provided. The Minister must clarify this. I do not believe he intended that the provision would result in the list I have outlined. If he had introduced an amendment providing that reference to the principal place would suffice, this amendment might not be necessary. That is why I propose the deletion of lines 27 and 28 on page 12.

We must be careful about the child and the interests of the child. In specifying the place one can specify the house or some other house. Reference can also be made to educational trips, which would be natural. I do not have a problem with that. The main difficulty is to be assured that there is a place where the principal education takes place. This then raises the question of defining the principal place of education.

I do not see a problem arising here. Where somebody is concerned about it, when detailing the place they can always specify visits from that place, including, for example, field trips. The provision at least ensures that a location will be provided where people can find where the child is being educated.

It would be easy for the Department to say it has hundreds of thousands of pupils to look after and it does not want to be worried by somebody who wants to bring up their child and educate them. However, there is an onus on the Department to at least ensure that the child receives a minimum education.

The Department has changed enormously in recent years in terms of the kinds of programmes of education it covers. The changes have been very successful, although there is more scope for change.

Far be for me to make the Minister's optimism wither by a fraction, but I am glad he finds progress everywhere and that he acknowledges much scope for it. I will not be provoked into thinking where it was required. I wish everybody was involved in all these changes.

The parliamentary draftsman who is advising him is providing him with very loose language. I will not go into a jurist construction of it but what, for example, if the person specified a place and then responded that the child was at another. I am as moved as the Minister by the child's protection in this. We must at all stages know that the child is receiving an education. I accept that but it is my function on Report Stage to point out that the Minister's draftsperson should have provided him with better language.

When one applies for a passport, one has an interaction with any one of the agencies of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the usual term used is principal place of residence. There is a formulation there right across the statutes that could be found. There seems to me to be a very general, generic reference to a place in which the child receives an education. I do not see a way out of it anyway because if one offers home education, one cannot then, coming out of the schooling ethos, say that most of it will be at 4 Tobercurry Avenue or whatever address one wants to register, when one will be out most of the time. To comply with this legislation, even if they are only before a court for five minutes, people will find themselves listing places where the child is educated. My only problem is that they do not say the language is not what it means. It eschews a reference to principal place of education; it retains place of education. I will not say more about it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 45 and 51 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 45:

In page 12, line 35, after "person" to insert "who has relevant experience in education outside recognised schools".

This deals with the system the Minister envisages for an authorised person to carry out an assessment of the education being provided, the materials used, the time spent and so on in the case of a parent who is choosing to educate their child at home. There is considerable concern that the authorised person in this case might be someone who comes from the culture of an inspector of a recognised school and would have little sympathy or experience with the case of a home educator.

Amendment No. 45 seeks that the authorised person would have relevant experience in education outside recognised schools, in other words, that it would be someone with an expertise, empathy with and experience in this field. People would be considerably reassured if that were the case because there is a danger that one is setting up a false challenge for someone who has chosen to educate in the home and who is then being inspected by someone who is steeped in the culture of education within a school. That could create a source of friction that would be quite unhelpful to the operation of the legislation the Minister is putting in place. This amendment is a small one but would be valuable and helpful in the way we deal with this home education issue.

Amendment No. 51 refers to where the Minister is making guidelines and recommendations as he feels appropriate in determining whether a child is receiving a certain minimum education. As the Minister will have heard from those who are involved in home education, they are quite surprised that the Minister has moved away from prescribing a minimum education where a parent would know exactly the yardstick against which they would be judged. The Minister probably did that, for what reasons I do not know but I think they were partly legal reasons. The Minister has chosen a more flexible way but people feel they are being judged without knowing the yardsticks against which they are being judged. That has caused a problem.

Since the Minister is, under section 15, taking the power to issue guidelines and make recommendations, it seems appropriate that he would, as provided for by amendment No. 51, consult with persons with relevant experience in education outside of recognised schools. As it now stands, he is simply making consultations with the National Council for Curriculum Assessment and such other persons unspecified in drawing up these guidelines.

Again, it would be useful if people who have specific expertise in home education and who are sympathetic to and understand home education were among those who are consulted when drawing up those guidelines.

In drawing up the guidelines, the National Council for Curriculum Assessment would advise me as Minister. The objective of section 13 is to ensure that children who are educated outside of the recognised school system are receiving at least a constitutional entitlement to a minimum education. Ascertaining this involves a level of skill and competence in the education of children generally. It is not necessarily the case that a person must have experience in home education to assess the education being provided. If they were to provide that, they would unnecessarily tie the hands of the national educational welfare board. There will have to be training relating to the approach to this matter and I accept what the Deputy says about the sensitivity of the work and the understanding of it generally.

In the case of section 15, the same arguments hold. It is not necessary to have experience of home education to set down guidelines for what constitutes a minimum education for children. As I said, the NCCA will advise me on the guidelines as Minister.

I have difficulty with the Minister's reply. It reminds me of the discussion we had on Committee Stage. We are back now to the tension that exists between the different concepts of schooling and education. For example, an inspector who is familiar with the training of a particular teacher for the classroom, with a curriculum for delivery in the classroom in a school building that is managed according to departmental regulation, is a person in possession of a particular kind of experience and knowledge. I know from meeting many such excellent people who performed in different ways, that they are products of a particular view of schooling within education. With the greatest respect for such people, home education is different.

There is a little arrogance in the suggestion, not on the part of the Minister but on the part of the hypothetical person who would say, that to do their job, in looking, inspecting, invigilating and all the other matters, they would have to have regard to the whole person and their education. With respect, that is not good enough. That is like saying that once a person had driven one car, they had driven them all. There is a touch of that argument there. The suggestion was that if they needed to look at anything other than schooling, it could be achieved with a little training. This is not good enough. I am impressed by the argument made by those who wrote to us citing countries such as Tasmania, which we helped found by sending a good quota of criminals in our time, which has an advanced system with the same number of families involved, 200, as we have and which has a home education adviser assessing home education. It is different. Very few people have defended the public service as much as I have over 30 years but it is a bit much to say that anything to do with home education can be grafted on to what we already have. I am not impressed by that argument.

I cannot see for the life of me why these two amendments which appear reasonable and would satisfy those who are doing something very difficult, choosing an option separate from the conventional one, cannot be accepted. What is wrong with this? Do not ask me to accept the notion that we are so well trained for what we are doing in relation to schooling that we will automatically be brilliant at this also. Frankly, they are not too brilliant at what is happening in the classroom, as is patently clear from what is being produced. While I am my party's spokesperson on education I will not stand for ten minutes and repeat the mantra that we have the most wonderful and best inspected system in the known world. There are a few heavy blotches. In wishing everyone well in getting on with the task let us not assume that those who are used to classroom form evaluation will be able to deal with the other automatically or prepare themselves for the task over a few weekends. They will not.

The amendment is moderate. It asks that the person concerned should have relevant experience in education outside recognised schools. Surely such a person should not be hard to find. If we were to place an advertisement in the international press we might get one or two applicants. I imagine there would be many.

I am not persuaded by the Minister's argument. I envisage that the board will want to establish a team to deal exclusively with home education which should not become part of a tack-on to an inspectorate or the ordinary work of an educational welfare officer. It is a particular task which will require expertise and empathy with what is happening in home education. It will therefore require persons who are not only sympathetic but also capable of advising parents and identifying weaknesses and improvements. This is very different from the traditional type of inspection about which the Minister seems to be talking. He said that it is not necessary to have experience and sympathy with home education to make this assessment. On balance, it is necessary to have relevant experience over and above a weekend or a crash course of a few days to bring a person up to speed. A different task is being taken on. The board will have to develop a core of persons who are skilled in this area, who will be able to offer advice and support and ultimately make the decisions which I hope will not be common but which on occasion will have to be made of withdrawing the right to continue to provide education in the home.

The Minister is incorrect in his view. This would be the right way to go, although it would place a burden on the board in the short-term. It would not be able to say that it had an identikit person who will perform this task straight from the inspectorate. The Minister should reconsider the matter. If he wants to modify the wording that would be satisfactory but it is an important issue.

While I am anxious to ensure the persons concerned have relevant experience, I do not envisage any great problems in practice in this area. I do not envisage inspectors descending from outside in great hordes. To a large extent a hands-off rather than a hands-on approach is being adopted. There will still be however an onus to ensure that a child receives a minimum education. We are talking about 200 to 300 families. There are about 953,000 students in the recognised system and there are staff shortages. There will also be an appeals system in place. While the system should provide those providing education in the home with the freedom they require, there is an onus on me to ensure a child receives a minimum education. I am therefore not accepting the amendments.

The case speaks for itself. The amendments are the right way to go. On a ratio of 20:1 the equivalent of ten teachers would be required to service the 200 families concerned if they have only one child and choose to send them to recognised schools. This is not a part-time task that one tacks on to someone's job. The parents concerned are making a serious commitment and the support of the State cannot, as the Minister seems to have at the back of his mind, be trivialised to a tiny fraction of a person's time.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 46:

In page 12, between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following:

"(b) a portfolio of the child's work,”.

Under the Bill as drafted the Minister will have an authorised officer of the board make an assessment of the education being provided, the materials used and the time spent in the provision of such education. It seems a portfolio of the child's work should also be looked at. Most home educators would be developing such a portfolio. In many ways this is more important than the materials used and time spent in the provision of such education. One could say that this is envisaged but it would be worth making it explicit. In the longer term I hope the board in relation to its advisory role in respect of home education which I hope it will develop will work through and review the portfolio and identify ways of strengthening it. I hope the amendment commends itself to the Minister.

The wording of the Bill is interesting in what it reveals. It reveals the thinking of a school based system. Let me give an example of what I mean. Paragraphs (b) and (c) read, “the materials used, or that it is proposed will be used, in the provision of such education” and “the time spent, or that it is proposed will be spent, in the provision of such education”. Deputy Bruton's amendment seeks to add the words “a portfolio of the child's work.” Let me give an example of how this would work. If, for example, a person goes to the national gallery and responds to a painting, or if a person goes to the zoo or the natural history museum, what is important is the end product. The portfolio will not only show the provision of materials. The Bill's drafters are trying to stipulate that, for example, a parent could provide the materials and the child could have drawn anything he or she liked but nothing happened. A parent may claim that the child had half the day to draw a picture and so on.

Line drawing is a technique which, unfortunately, is badly neglected in the formal schooling system which sometimes does not have the materials, even for students taking examinations. However, if one wished to practise line drawing during a visit to the natural history museum or wherever, the important issue is how the visit worked and the quality of the relationship between the stimulus, the educator and the child being educated. It is a very dated approach to say that the materials were provided and the parents said they would call the child at 8.30 a.m. and so on. There could also be a piano in the house. There are musical instruments throughout the country that no one plays. The materials and the time spent are not the issue. The value of the portfolio is that it is able to give a view of the outcome of the process and that is why I support the amendment. It makes sense.

I note the principle of the amendment which the Department and I also encountered during discussions on the Bill. It is also in use in other jurisdictions. On foot of these consultations, I tabled an amendment to section 13 on Committee Stage to take the principle on board.

The two-tiered system of registration provided for in section 13(5) has been designed with this in mind. In this context, I am happy to assure the Deputy that this point has been incorporated in the Bill. The issues mentioned by the Deputy are catered for. Section 13(5)(b) states, “the materials used, or that it is proposed will be used, in the provision of such education,”.

I know the difference between a crayon and a picture.

The time spent is also included. These amendments were made on Committee Stage.

The Minister is missing the point of the amendment which is seeking to introduce the words "a portfolio of the child's work" as one of the things to be assessed. No one is disputing that we have included the crayons but we are trying to add the pictures. The Minister has not dealt with the point.

Section 13(5)(a) covers this issue and states, “the education that is being provided, or that it is proposed will be provided, to the child,”. The portfolio would relate to that so it is included. There is no need to go further. Other things will also be included, not just the portfolio of work.

The portfolio is a wonderful guide.

I will not press the amendment but I hope the Minister's concept of education will embrace a portfolio of the child's work. I withdraw the amendment in that spirit.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 13, to delete lines 28 to 31, and substitute the following:

"(7)Subsections (4) to (7) of section 9 shall apply to any assessment of a registered child.”.

This amendment seeks to achieve parity of treatment between parents of children in the formal school system and parents in the home education system. Children in school have a particular procedure by which they can be assessed, whether by consent or by court order. As it stands, the Bill offers a different procedure for assessing children being educated in the home. It would be fairer if we had an equivalence so I am seeking that section 9(4) should apply to the assessment of any registered child. This is a reasonable proposal in that we are trying to establish equivalence and parity between different forms of education.

I support this amendment and there seems to be an anomaly. In one case, where a parent refuses to co-operate with the assessment, the board would refuse to register the parent and the child for home education. In the other case, there seems to be an obligation on the board to then apply to the Circuit Court for an order. These treatments seem dramatically different and it is not clear why the notion of applying for an order is not applied in both cases.

The difference is that section 13 includes a constitutional requirement while section 9 is a more open situation in that the parent may decide. The amendment refers to earlier discussions on Report Stage where we agreed to change the word "examination" to "assessment". I was happy to make that change but I do not see that the procedures for making such assessments should change. The situations in which an assessment would be made under section 13 are different from those under section 9. Accordingly, I would prefer to leave the position as it stands.

Apples are not oranges and it goes without saying that home education is different from the formal school system. This is not new information. Members on this side are as anxious for the security of the child as the Minister in his proposed legislation. However, if there is to be a difference in procedure one has to be able to justify that difference. If the Minister was to come clean and say that he has a more regimented system in the formal school system and that because he would not be able to keep an eye on what regularly emerges from a deviant system, he must have a different system, it would have been preferable to state, as proposed in the amendment, that section 9 (4) to 9 (7) shall apply to any assessment of a registered child.

One is always within the Constitution and even if one wants to come down on the side of stressing the rights of the child above all other considerations, as I would do, we are also balancing the rights of parents. It is hard for a parent to accept that because he or she has chosen a different concept of education he or she has diminished procedures in law. The Bill appears to suggest that procedure A is appropriate once one has a perpetual trust in the State's formal school system. However, a separate procedure is appropriate if one exercises discretion and takes on a great burden. One can only justify such an approach if one suggests, for example, that it is required for the child's welfare. However, that is not the case being put forward by the Minister.

I have nothing more to say. The effect of the amendment would be that the Minister would have to get a court order under section 9. I would prefer to leave it as it stands.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Carlow-Kilkenny): Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 13, line 34, after "assessment" to insert "which may include recommendations relating to the education, the materials, the methods or the time spent, and to additional support to those providing the education which would ensure that the child is receiving a certain minimum education".

The purpose of the amendments is to make the process of assessment more supportive of the home education model when parents decide to take that difficult route. I envisage that the assessment would not only be in favour or against but would include recommendations relating to the education, materials, methods and time spent and additional support those providing the education could receive to allow the child receive a minimum education.

The Bill envisages that a parent could be put on notice that he or she needs to improve certain aspects. The report would explicitly contain such recommendations and I outline areas for improvement. The board would provide a copy to the parent and give him or her a chance to respond to it. It is a different model from the one contained in the Bill which involves a decision being made and hearing a representation from the parent. It is a cold, unsupportive model whereas my model involves issuing recommendations, identifying areas for additional support, allowing the parent to respond and to indicate how he or she would deal with the recommendations and allowing the board to assess the response and the feasibility of obtaining necessary outside support where appropriate.

It would be a more supportive experience for both sides. They would consider how they could make it work rather than just hoisting a red flag and giving a certain number of days for the hearing of a representation from the parent before one is struck out. The model in the Bill could be improved by the insertion of the amendments. I hope they commend themselves to the House.

Both amendments would have the effect of involving the board in a very direct way with the education of children outside the recognised school system. In my view, this goes further than is permissible under the Constitution or desirable in terms of the regulation of the education system.

Where children are educated outside recognised schools, the State has only a very limited role in ensuring they receive a minimum education. This is how the Constitution deals with the issue. In the circumstances, it is not appropriate that statutory agencies should become closely involved with education delivery in the home. Nevertheless, I expect education welfare officers would try within these constraints to assist parents. However, this is different from creating a statutory obligation to do so. Accordingly, I cannot accept the amendments.

One of the Minister's points worries me. He mentioned the State's limited rights and obligations, but I question that if every child has a right to an education irrespective of where that education is provided. The argument that because one uses a system which is separate from the dominant State system, the State has diminished rights or responsibilities is wrong. That is not the case in relation to the rights of the child. The State can speak only of its limited remit in an administrative sense in so far as it may have looser administrative control over the option that is not the dominant option. However, it has clear obligations in relation to international treaties and other matters regarding the rights of the child.

The Minister's comments are serious in relation to the idea that because a child is in an educational option that is separate from the national schooling system, he or she has less protection from the State. In law, that is not the case. One cannot argue that the State's role is diminished. One can argue only that there is a diminished remit in an administrative sense on the part of the State. The balance of rights exists. More importantly, in relation to the three parties who enjoy rights in this situation – the child, the parents and the educational institution – the primary holder of rights are the parents and the child.

The State has no basis in the Constitution or in law for arguing for a lesser interest. The Minister's comments can be construed only as the State trying to suggest that because children are in an alternative option, it can argue for a lesser interest. However, it cannot do so because that would be unconstitutional. The matter requires clarification.

I agree with Deputy Higgins. I was shocked to hear the Minister say the amendment would represent too close an involvement between the State and a parent who was educating in the home. The suggestion appears to be that if one offers support and recommendations to help parents succeed, it would in some way step over the boundaries. The Constitution does not suggest anything of that nature.

Not at all.

The Constitution states the State must ensure a minimum education is achieved to protect the child. This is entirely correct. The Constitution also states the State may confer resources on institutions to help achieve this end. My view is that this would apply equally to parents doing so. There is nothing debarring the State from providing resources to assist in this regard. The Minister is misinterpreting the Constitution if he is suggesting that it would be unconstitutional and undesirable to do as suggested in the amendment.

However, I do not suggest that ultimately a parent cannot be debarred if the State finds through the board that he or she cannot achieve a minimum education for the child. However, if there is room to modify what the parent is doing to achieve the objectives of the State, every reasonable effort should be made to facilitate it. This is the purpose of the amendment. I do not understand how that represents too close an involvement by the State or trespasses on constitutional rights. The contrary is the case. The Constitution envisages the State offering such support.

The difference is that the advice can be offered but not on a statutory basis. That could be seen as an intrusion into the rights of the parents. It is clear that the only entitlement of the State is to ensure a minimum education is provided. The State can give advice but it is a matter for the parents to decide whether to take it. The only function of the State is to ensure a child receives a minimum education.

We will have to differ in this area.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 13, to delete lines 35 to 38 and substitute the following:

"(9)(a) The Board shall provide a copy of a report received by it under this section to the parent of the child to whom the report relates and shall invite the parent to respond and to outline how the recommendations could be implemented directly by the parent or with outside support.

(b) The Board shall assess the response of the parent and the feasibility of obtaining the necessary outside support and where appropriate ask the authorised person to discuss with the parent how the measures outlined by the parent could be developed and monitored.”.

This amendment is linked to the previous one and they should have been discussed together. Given that we lost the previous amendment, I do not intend to press this one.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 50:

In page 16, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

"(8) An appeal shall lie to the Circuit Court from a decision of an appeal committee under this section.

(9) The jurisdiction conferred on the Circuit Court by this section shall be exercised by the judge for the time being assigned to the circuit where the child concerned ordinarily resides or receives education.".

The purpose of this amendment is that a court determination would be necessary before an obligation to send a child to school would come into effect. The amendment is self-explanatory and makes sense. It answers any doubts on the part of people who believe a wrong decision may be taken in that it is a reasonable requirement of natural justice.

The option of judicial review is always open to a parent at any time. I note the point the Deputy makes in amendment No. 50 but I am concerned it could lead to an overly legalistic approach to the process of the registration of children. An appeal to the Circuit Court could conceivably set in train a process of appeal to the higher courts, which is costly and lengthier. In the meantime the child may be left in a vacuum without access to the minimum education to which he or she is entitled under the Constitution. I am satisfied that the appeals procedure already in place under the Bill will adequately deal with all situations which may arise. In addition, the normal remedies which people may seek from the courts, such as judicial review, are not affected by this provision.

In this context Deputies might recall a recent High Court case involving a private school. The judge was reluctant to allow a school based issue become the subject of full judicial proceedings unless there was no other recourse. In the event, an alternative solution was found relatively quickly to which all parties could agree. I am sure Deputies will agree that, in general, this type of solution is more appropriate to deal with issues arising in the education system.

If a parent chooses to seek judicial review, will that be a simpler and cheaper option for all concerned? I am not clear from the Minister's reply that the judicial review alternative to which he points parents is cheaper. Does the judicial review occur in the High, Circuit or District Court?

Some of us would not regard the example given by the Minister as a happy resolution nor as a great model. If an issue of rights is involved, it is better that it be adjudicated upon. The Department of Education and Science, since its establishment, has presided over a range of "fix-me-up" solutions which are far short of the conclusion of legal process and I do not regard any of them as superior to that conclusion. I happened to read in detail the case cited by the Minister. It begged the question whether, despite the fact that a solution was found, it was a happy resolution if the fundamental cause of the dispute was not adjudicated upon. I may appear conservative in the jurisprudence of this, but I prefer certainty and I am much more committed to the legal process than the Minister appears to be from both his example and what preceded it. It is not an argument to say that going to court could cost a great deal of money and that there is no knowing where it will end up. One would not seek an appeal to the Circuit Court on a frivolous basis. One would know that one was initiating a process. The argument that it is a long, drawn out affair with the child suffering in the meantime can be handled by regulation in another part of the Bill.

My point about the Circuit Court is simple. Whereas a judicial review would involve a High Court hearing and would be much more expensive, the idea of using the Circuit Court is that it is faster, cheaper and an easier form of representation. The amendment requires that the judge exercise jurisdiction in the circuit where the child resides or receives education. That is for ease of representation. The arguments advanced by the Minister against the amendment are not convincing.

The Deputy must recognise that I have put in place an appeals system which involves a District Court judge. That is a simpler system which can be effective and involves the same legal understanding and knowledge. That is well covered. A judicial review, while involving the High Court, is normally a quick process which is not that expensive. In any event, an appeals procedure exists which involves a District Court judge.

The difference is that the appeals system involving the District Court judge and what it decides is within the frame of what is controlled by the Department of Education and Science. I have no new arguments to make on the amendment. It is perfectly clear.

The operation of the appeals system would be independent.

The Minister should remember his earlier description of a body or agency.

An appeals system is different.

We can discuss the autonomy of the appeals system later. I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 16, line 23, after "(if any)" to insert "which shall include persons with relevant experience in education outside recognised schools".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 52:

In page 16, line 28, after "education" to insert "which shall be published".

This is a simple amendment which I am sure the Minister will be happy to accept. It provides that the guidelines and recommendations of a general nature which the Minister draws up would be published. That would be helpful to all concerned.

I have no difficulty with the objective of the amendment but the publication of guidelines or recommendations is an obvious course to follow. Otherwise, how would parents know the board's procedures? The issue of publication is best left to the board.

I do not understand the Minister's logic. He said it must proceed by way of publication but he then stated it will be at the discretion of the board. He cannot have it both ways. Either he agrees to publication and we provide for it or he leaves it to the discretion of the board and he votes against publication.

Publication is reasonable. The publications of the Department of Education and Science make fascinating reading. In the archives we have a reference to the martial airs suitable for boys and the soft lullabies suitable for girls, which lasted to the 1970s. There would be merit in publication even if it was only to place them alongside such precious archives. It is better to publish them and to state that in the Bill. There used to be the old thing of the cigireacht where knowledge was transmitted about what went on in the class. There was a way of mystically transmitting it to the teacher in the presence of a cigire in the classroom for a period of time. The Minister acknowledged it is a good idea to publish them. It is a simple amendment for him to accept and I support it.

I agree that normally they must be made known. We should let the people manage the job and stop making statutory requirements to do everything. It will not be a good board if it does not make these available.

On a point of information, it requires a direction by the Minister to the board. These are not decisions of the board.

As guidelines.

These are directions from the Minister to the board. They have nothing to do with the discretion of the board.

The Deputy can rely on me to make them available. He should not worry about it. I made available more information when I was Minister for Social Welfare than was made available at any time in the history of the State. That is the way I approach everything. I have no problem making them public.

I take it the Minister is accepting the amendment.

There is no need to make statutory requirements for management decisions.

There was in the past but not any more.

These are not management but ministerial decisions. We are talking about the Minister making recommendations and guidelines to the board. The Minister does not know the difference between ministerial responsibility and management decisions. These are not day to day issues for Department staff but for the Minister and he should publish them.

These are management decisions.

They are not management decisions.

They are management decisions of the Minister.

They are ministerial not management decisions.

The Deputy wants to turn every management step into a statutory obligation.

I do not agree with that. The Minister is so obstinate about reasonable amendments, I do not know if he is trying to spin out the Bill so we will become exhausted debating it over weeks and months and it will not come into force.

The Deputy is spinning it out. We went through this on Committee Stage but he is going over it all again.

The Minister said they will be published but it will be at the discretion of the board. However, the board is not responsible for ministerial decisions in this area. These are ministerial guidelines. The Minister has shifted his ground and he is now saying he will not agree to being bound to publish them. That shows he has a poor grasp of his brief and he is wasting the time of the House. He has not read the Bill. At times he quotes sections which are different from the ones with which we are dealing. I cannot understand how the Minister can come in here and deal with the Bill in such a frivolous way.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 53:

In page 16, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:

"(2) Guidelines and recommendations undersubsection (1) shall include appropriate individual education plans drawn up for students with disabilities or special education needs.”.

I anticipated an argument about this amendment on the basis that this issue should have been dealt with in the Education Act, but it was not. A similar amendment tabled by my colleague to the Education Act, 1998, was not accepted. It was, therefore, necessary to table an amendment to this legislation to address the needs of people with disabilities or special education needs. An adequate inclusive definition of education welfare must advert to such special needs and to the cogency and power of having a specially devised plan. Otherwise, we will have to see how guidelines and recommendations can be teased out to handle such cases. However, if we recogniseab initio this set of needs, we will take care of them.

This amendment is not appropriate in the present context. What is at issue are the guidelines of general application, not specific plans for individuals. Accordingly, I cannot accept the amendment.

I do not understand the Minister's use of the word "individuals". I thought my amendment was clear in that it deals with categories of special need. The amendment refers to "students with disabilities or special education needs". The Minister cannot deal with that by using the word "individuals". Perhaps he found a flaw in my term, "individual education plans".

If an assessment is done on a person with a disability or a special education need, it is better to handle the development needs of that person. Perhaps it would have been better if I had used the word "person". However, that is not the case the Minister is making. I can put no other con struction on what the Minister is saying other than he has laid down general procedures and guidelines with which they can fit in and he will not draw up individual plans. How then will he deal with special education needs? They will either be handled in terms of categories of needs or based on an assessment and a personal education development plan. I am put out by the Minister's categorical response which is wrongly based.

I am puzzled. I understand the Minister is defining guidelines and recommendations which would help the board to establish whether a child is achieving a certain minimum education. There is no doubt some children educated in the home will have special needs. Perhaps those needs will be acute in cases where they have not been able to get appropriate placements and a parent chooses to educate them in the home despite serious learning difficulties.

It is not clear how the Minister envisages setting guidelines for such children. This goes back to our earlier discussion about advice, support and responses from the board to support parents, which the Minister rejected. Perhaps he could clarify how he envisages dealing with children with moderate to severe learning difficulties or intellectual disabilities in the guidelines and general recommendations for children. He will have to do something along the lines proposed by Deputy Michael Higgins. I would be interested to hear any alternative wording he might prefer. There is no doubt many of the children educated in the home, for whom the Minister will be making guidelines, will have special needs which will need to be dealt with.

The amendment is broad enough to encompass children with disabilities. The main effort is to encourage children with disabilities in the mainstream. More support is being provided and this should help mainstream and specialised schools in the future. The definition is clear.

As Minister, I am advised by experts about the guidelines that are necessary and the circumstances in which a need for them might arise. The terminology used in the section is broad enough to allow recommendations of a general nature to be made "for the purpose of assisting the board in determining whether a child is receiving a certain minimum education". All children will be included under this provision and, therefore, the matters to which the Deputy refers are covered. Other matters will be dealt with in the guidelines in respect of which I, as Minister, will be advised by experts and specialists in the field.

I do not understand how one can construe the language used in the section in the way the Minister desires. I am not imputing anything other than the best of intentions to him, but he referred to making recommendations of a general nature. I could envisage a situation where a specific need might arise and where the board might be approached and the process invoked. The board's reply would be that it was charged by the Minister to make recommendations of a general, not a specific, nature. However, the amendment deals with specific categories of need and refers to "students with disabilities or special education needs".

The provision, as drafted, is vague. For example, if the Minister had put forward an oral amendment to the effect that section 15(b) should read “make recommendations of a general and specific nature” I could, with some confidence, withdraw my amendment. As it stands, I am asked to say the matters to which my amendment refer will be dealt with under the rubric of a general recommendation. That is far too aspirational, particularly as it relates to the students concerned.

The recommendations of a general nature to which the section refers relate to any category or class of children or an individual child. The point is that such recommendations cannot be intrusive in nature.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 54:

In page 16, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following:

"(a) reasonable efforts by the Board undersection 27(1) have failed to ensure that the child is accommodated in a registered school,”.

I have taken on board the intent of this amendment in amendment No. 56.

The two should have been listed for discussion together.

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 are being taken together. Amendment No. 54 is being taken on its own.

I was merely making the point that amendments Nos. 55 and 56 are a response to the points raised in amendment No. 54.

I raised this matter on Committee Stage and the Minister gave an undertaking that, in the interim, he would seek to accommodate my proposals. The purpose of my amendment is to ensure a parent would not be guilty of an offence if the board could not accommodate a child. Perhaps the Minister will inform me how he has addressed that point in amendments Nos. 55 and 56.

Following consideration of the points the Deputy made on Committee Stage, I have taken on board his amendment in amendment No. 56. Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 are essentially technical in nature and ensure a child is not required to attend school where he or she is participating in alternative provision made by the board.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 are related and may be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 55:

In page 17, line 6, to delete "or".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 17, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:

"(f) he or she is receiving a certain minimum education pursuant to an arrangement made by the Board undersection 26(2), or”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 57:

In page 17, lines 10 and 11, to delete "part of a school day, or for a school day or more than a school day" and substitute "a period of more than 2 school days, then unless the parent has given advance notice of such absence, or such absence arises from a family bereavement or any other ground in relation to which it would be unreasonable or inconvenient to give notice".

As it stands, the Bill provides that if a child is absent for ten minutes a parent is legally obliged by statute to give notice. The amendment suggests that an absence must be for a period of over two days before the obligation comes into force and that provision for prior notice should be made. The Minister has overlooked the latter point and the Bill is defective as a result. Where a family bereavement or an accident occurs, it might be unreasonable for notice to be given. This section is a mess and I recommend my amendment as a helpful gesture designed to clarify the position.

Every school will have its own local arrangements in this area. The amendment concerns the notification of a parent of a child's absence from school. The Bill, as it stands, provides a good balance between the interests of students and the need to avoid excessive reporting for parents and record-keeping for schools. In effect, however, the schools will, to a large extent, operate their own systems.

We are entering the realm of Alice in Wonderland. I ask Members to consider the Minister's comments while I read the text of the section, which states:

Where a child is absent from the school at which he or she is registered during part of a school day, or for a school day or more than a school day, the parent of such child shall, in accordance with procedures specified in the code of behaviour prepared by the school under section 22, notify the principal of the school of the reason for the child's absence.

That is not consistent with what the Minister has just said.

This section is a recipe for bureaucratic madness and it will be wide open to abuse. For example, a particularly troublesome teacher might ask a large number of questions and a parent could be virtually crucified in terms of trying to explain absences. Then there are cases where an extraordinary event – a bereavement or an accident or a national lottery win – might occur and it might not be unreasonable or inconvenient to give notice. An absence of two days or less is perfectly reasonable and does not require explanation.

The Bill states that a notification under subsection (1) shall be made in writing or by such other means as may be agreed to by the principal of the school concerned. If the Minister is describing this as a flexible scheme which does not impose too many obligations on parents and schools, we are not reading the same Bill. I urge the Minister to consider the text of my amendment. I am seeking to substitute "a period of more than 2 school days" unless a parent has given advance notice of absence in regard to a marriage or some other joyful occasion or unless such absence arises from a family bereavement in relation to which it would be unreasonable or inconvenient to give notice. That would be reasonable, manageable, non-bureaucratic and fair to parents and schools alike. As it stands, one could arrive at the construction that if a student went out for lunch and did not come back for two class periods, his or her parent would have to explain his or her absence. Kafka would have appreciated the Bill as it is currently drafted.

There is an over-riding provision that the school is not obliged to report on to the board until a child is absent for more than 20 days or if a child is consistently taking half days which add up to the 20 days. Every school will have a code of behaviour prepared under section 22 and the principal will decide on what absences should be recorded in that context. I am increasing the number of days from 15 to 20. I amended the Bill on Committee Stage when I stated that the Bill provided a balance between flexibility and effective reporting measures. As it previously stood, the notification procedure was seen as being overly bureaucratic and I amended the Bill to meet those concerns.

I still believe that the Minister has not offered a case against my two day proposal.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 58:

In page 17, to delete lines 15 to 17.

This amendment removes subsection (2) which is unnecessary in view of the fact that subsection (1) provides that notifications of absences are to be made in accordance with the code of behaviour.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 59:

In page 17, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

"(3) Where a student has had problems relating to school attendance in a previous school, the school to which the application is made may request that the Board carry out an assessment of any special resources needed by that student and the capacity of the school to provide those resources.".

Section 18 deals with the admission of a child to a recognised school and provides that a parent must make information available to the school and that the school cannot refuse to admit a child except in accordance with the code of practice. If a child has exhibited behavioural or other problems in one school, we clearly want to achieve a situation where such a child would be admitted to another school and supported, as appropriate.

My amendment proposes that where a student has had problems in regard to school attendance in a previous school, the school to which an application is subsequently made may request the board to carry out an assessment of any special resources required by the student and the capacity of the school to provide those resources. We want to ensure that when a child moves to a new school to make a fresh start, resources would be in place in that school to prevent the same problem as occurred in the original school recurring and to avoid the child coming into conflict with teachers. It would be desirable for some assessment to be carried out by the board in those circumstances in order that it could seek to ensure that the school could deliver the necessary support to the child in question.

My amendment No. 60 provides for an exchange of information between schools on a student's educational progress. The question of carrying out an assessment of needs should not arise on the transfer of a student from one school to another as this is a matter to which schools should always be alert. I would be concerned that this amendment, if accepted, could become a means through which some schools might seek to exclude low performing students on the basis that they do not have the necessary resources. I cannot accept the amendment but I reiterate that amendment No. 60 provides for an exchange of information on a student's educational progress.

There is a clear distinction between amendments Nos. 59 and 60. I understand Deputy Bruton's amendment to suggest that if a child has had difficulties in one school and envisages going to another school, such resources as might have been missing in school A will not be missing in school B and that the point of transition would be used to assess a child's needs in order that the transition to the second school would be effective.

Amendment No. 60 provides that the two principals shall, as the Minister put it coyly, have an exchange of information. The text of amendment No. 60 means that the school principals could exchange anything they might wish to exchange. They could have a good chin wag under subsection (5)(a) on any problems relating to school attendance that the child concerned had while attending the second-mentioned school referred to therein. That is obvious as they would not be seeking a change if such problems had not been experienced. Subsection (5)(b) means they could discuss such other matters relating to the child's educational progress as he or she considered appropriate. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Minister argues that Deputy Bruton's amendment No. 59 would in any way endanger the transition when the looseness of the drafting in amendment No. 60 does precisely what the Minister is accusing Deputy Bruton of. Amendment No. 59 has the merit of addressing the child's needs and I support it.

Deputy Higgins has summed matters up very accurately. There is the risk that schools will seek to de-bar children who have experienced difficulties elsewhere and the one way one could ensure that schools could not unreasonably do that would be to ensure that their needs would be assessed and that the board would endeavour to ensure those needs would be met. We must allow such transitions to be genuine fresh starts where students would have the best chance of succeeding. For the Minister to say that my amendment might militate against a school accepting a child misses the point. The amendment is designed to make the transition a success.

My point was that schools might seek to exclude low performing students. I cannot accept the amendment.

This Bill is designed to deal with the fact that we have a very high level of school drop-outs and very poor school attendance levels which are twice as bad as those in other European countries. These problems are concentrated in disadvantaged areas where children get into all sorts of difficulties and are either suspended for long periods or expelled. In some cases, parents may simply withdraw children from schools. That is why the State, through the National Educational Welfare Board, should support children on their transition from one school to another.

Debate adjourned.