Teaching Council Bill, 2000: Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to introduce the Bill, which is extremely important for teachers, pupils, parents and the country as a whole. Its general aim is to provide for the establishment of standards, policies and procedures for the education and training of teachers, which will include a professional code of conduct. It will provide, in particular, for the establishment of a Teaching Council.

For our 44,000 teachers the Bill will afford them a significant degree of professional autonomy and self-regulation. It will also enhance the status and morale of the teaching profession and the quality of education provided. For students and their parents, the Bill will provide them with an assurance that the teachers who work with their children meet the highest standards of professional qualification and competence through a professional code of conduct. It will also provide parents with a clear and transparent course of action in the event of a teacher failing to meet these standards. For the country as a whole the Bill will copperfasten the already high standard of education provided, which has been and will continue to be so important to the economic and social development of the State.

Much work has been done on the establishment of a teaching council in Northern Ireland. The work we will do today will ensure teachers in Ireland, North and South, will move forward together. The establishment of teaching councils in both parts of Ireland will ensure that the high standards of teaching, North and South, of which we are so justly proud, will not only continue, but will be seen to continue.

Today marks a significant step towards the establishment of a Teaching Council in Ireland where teachers are among the most highly regarded of the professions. Like all professionals, they know what it is to face change in their lives and work. They know that they must adapt to these changes if they are to continue to provide a first class education for their students. The teaching profession has been to the forefront of change in education, not only reacting posi- tively to change, but also leading and driving it in all aspects of education.

The Bill will enhance further the status of teaching as a profession. The Teaching Council will play a central role in ensuring the high standards of teachers, and education will be sustained and strenghtened. The establishment of the council will allow teachers to undertake the functions necessary to ensure quality remains the hallmark of the teaching profession.

A professional council charged with maintaining and developing standards is a natural part of the maturing of any profession. We already have similar professional bodies in a number of areas, including the Medical Council and the Nursing Board. It is timely that teachers should have their own professional role formally recognised by the State in a Teaching Council. This will confirm the status of teachers, entitle them to regulate their own affairs and empower them with greater responsibility for the standards and quality of education.

I will go further. The establishment of an autonomous Teaching Council to be the voice of teachers on educational matters and to promote the highest possible standards of practice in our schools is fundamental to the growth and development of the teaching profession. As a means of consolidating past achievements and as a preparation for the challenges of the future, it is timely that a statutory council be established to protect and promote the status of teaching in society and the advancement of the profession.

The Bill represents the culmination of a process of consultation and deliberation which began two and a half years ago with the establishment of a steering committee in which teachers were centrally involved and which advised the Minister on the establishment of a Teaching Council. The steering committee's report was published in October 1998. The drafting of the Bill was based on its conclusions and recommendations, which were agreed by all involved. The establishment of a Teaching Council has long been advocated in a range of official reports, including the 1991 OECD report, Review of Irish Education, and the 1992 Green Paper, Education for a Changing World.

Teachers and the other partners in education have long sought the establishment of a Teaching Council. They believe, as I do, that the council will have a major role in recognising the contribution of teachers as professionals who possess the knowledge and expertise not only to shape the future of their profession but also to contribute effectively to the future direction of education policy. The council will be an independent statutory agency which will exercise the powers and perform the functions through which teachers can achieve a large degree of professional autonomy and self-regulation. The council will have a statutory role in the regulation of the teaching profession and the professional affairs of teachers and an advisory role in other matters.

Section 7 outlines the functions of the Teaching Council, which are to promote teaching as a profession; establish, review and maintain codes of professional conduct for teachers; establish and maintain a register of teachers; establish and promote standards in programmes of teacher education and training; promote the continuing education and training and professional development of teachers; conduct inquiries into and, where appropriate, impose sanctions in relation to the fitness to teach of teachers. The council will also conduct or commission research, represent the teaching profession on educational issues and provide advice for the Minister.

Section 8 provides for a broad representation of interests on the 37 member Teaching Council. As is the norm in the case of professional bodies, the majority of members will be drawn from the teaching profession and elected by practising teachers. It is important that the council should have access to expertise from areas outside of, but deeply interested in, the teaching profession. The steering committee, which was representative of the partners in education, recommended the composition outlined in the Bill. On its recommendation, the Bill provides for the representation of the teacher training colleges, parents' associations and management bodies on the council. I have also provided for five persons representative of outside interests to be appointed to the council, of which two – one each – will be nominated by the ICTU and IBEC. I am confident that the broad-based composition of the council will be an important factor in ensuring widespread support for the work of the council and its overall success in promoting best practice within the teaching profession.

The Teaching Council will have much to offer teachers. Working through the council, teachers will play a key part in the self-regulation and development of their profession. Within the framework provided by the council, teachers will be able to address issues of professional autonomy in the context of teaching.

Teachers' professional status and recognition will be enhanced greatly by many elements of the Bill, in particular the professional code of conduct provided for in section 6. While it will be the responsibility of the Teaching Council to draw up the code, I envisage that it will encompass a statement of professionalism agreed by all teachers. As far as individual teachers are concerned, being part of a recognised, collective professional identity with statutory authority will enhance their individual status and identity. The council will be the voice of teachers in promoting the profession of teaching through a celebration of achievements and raising public awareness of the way teachers work and the environment in which they work. An improved and widely promoted image of the profession will benefit teachers of today and encourage new entrants for the future. The Teaching Council will play an important part also in ensuring the in-career professional develop ment of teachers remains relevant to their short-term and long-term needs.

The Teaching Council will advise the Minister in relation to standards for entry into programmes of teacher education and training, and teacher supply. The council's role will be to ensure the professional needs of teachers and the teaching profession are recognised when policy decisions are taken in these key areas. With the new professional image provided by the Teaching Council, teachers will be better placed to have an input into policy development.

The role of the Teaching Council in representing teachers is distinct from the role of the teacher unions. While there are many areas of common interest to the Teaching Council and the teacher unions, there is a fundamental difference between their roles. The Teaching Council will be concerned with promoting and maintaining the highest standards within the teaching profession. Negotiations on conditions of service, salaries and pensions will remain the preserve of the teaching unions. There is no contradiction in this arrangement; the work of the two bodies will complement each other.

In common with most self-regulated professions, the Teaching Council will establish and maintain a register of its members. This is provided for under section 30. The register of teachers will function as the main regulatory instrument of the Teaching Council. It will stand as a verifiable expression of the standard of teaching, knowledge, skill and competence that teachers aspire to have and maintain.

Section 30 also provides for the Teaching Council to decide the information to be held on the register. This will include specified details for each registered teacher, including the findings of any disciplinary proceedings and the period for which such information will remain on the register. The council will publish the register and make it available for inspection in such form and manner as it considers appropriate.

To be registered, a teacher must have attained a satisfactory level of professional qualification and training. Thus, the register will effectively act as a statement of the standards required of teachers. Only persons who reach these standards will be able to work as teachers in State funded positions. Following the initial period of registration, teachers will renew their registration annually. As Deputies are aware, there are highly experienced people who have worked for many years in education who are not formally recognised as teachers and who will now be required to comply with the requirement to register under the Bill. The contribution of these people has to be given due recognition and I will bring forward an amendment on Committee Stage to address this issue.

For parents, the Teaching Council will provide an assurance that teachers who work with their children have been recognised as meeting the highest standards of professional qualification and competence. Where parents have concerns regarding their children's teacher, there will be a clear and transparent course of action available to them, with procedures to safeguard the rights and duties of all parties, and with appropriate remedies where such are found to be needed. If setting and maintaining standards by the Teaching Council, acting on behalf of the teaching profession, is to have any meaning, then the council must have power to act in the event of a teacher failing, for whatever reason, to reach these standards. Thus, a procedure for dealing with complaints against a teacher is set out in section 40.

Essentially, two committees will deal with complaints, the investigating committee and the disciplinary committee. These committees will be empowered to investigate and adjudicate on complaints where it is alleged that teachers have failed to meet acceptable standards of practice. The members of the investigating committee and the disciplinary committee will be drawn from the membership of the Teaching Council as laid down in sections 26 and 27. The committees will operate under procedures drawn up by the council. These procedures will be developed to protect the rights of all concerned. In particular, any teacher against whom a complaint is made will have his or her rights to due process fully observed, and a teacher's right of recourse to the courts will not be impinged.

Section 43 provides the Teaching Council with a range of remedies in the event of a teacher being found unsatisfactory, following the procedures I have just outlined. For example, a teacher may be retained on the register, subject to some conditions. The conditions are intended to assist the teacher to overcome the difficulties he or she is encountering and include referral to the teacher welfare service or to a relevant professional development course. In other cases, teachers may be suspended from the register for a period. In a very serious case, a teacher may be removed from the register. Removal from the register is obviously a very serious matter for the teacher concerned. In recognition of the very serious consequences of de-registration, any such decision by the council will require the assent of the High Court. This is provided for in section 43.

The manner in which the Teaching Council addresses this difficult but important task of disciplining a member will, no doubt, be watched with interest by all of us who have an interest in education. The relevant provisions in the Bill adequately meet the needs of these cases. The provisions are a fine balance between respecting the rights of teachers to fair consideration and due process and the rights of students and parents to have confidence in the system of redress open to them in the event of a complaint against a teacher.

The Teaching Council will give members of the profession a significant measure of control over professional issues relating to all aspects of the teaching career, from recruitment and supply, through initial preparation, induction and probation, to in-career development, as well as for professional conduct and competence. Currently, there is no unified framework in place for the recognition of teachers and the accreditation of programmes of teacher education and training. At first level, the Department's inspectors have a role in this area; at second level the task falls to the Secondary Teachers Registration Council. In the changing and increasingly complex academic and professional world there is a need for a more unified approach. Increasingly, universities and colleges are designing more courses targeted at those who want to teach in our schools. The demand for recognition from teachers qualified outside Ireland is also increasing. Ireland is now part of a wider Europe and we must be mindful of our European Union and wider international obligations in regard to the recognition of qualifications. The Teaching Council will be the designated authority for the purpose of ensuring that these commitments are fulfilled.

The Bill provides us with a timely opportunity to regularise and review accreditation procedures for teachers, whether qualified in Ireland or abroad. The Bill will repeal the Registration Council (Constitution and Procedures) Rules, 1926 under which the Registration Council operated and the council's functions will pass to the new Teaching Council. The Teaching Council will then be responsible for determining the education, training and qualifications required for the purposes of satisfying the requirements of registration.

The role of the Teaching Council in regard to the professional education of teachers will not end when the teacher begins to teach. Rather, the Teaching Council will play an important part in the probation and induction of teachers and in the professional education of teachers throughout their careers.

I know Deputies are conscious of the importance of fostering and developing good North-South contacts in all areas, including education. Deputies will also be aware that there have been very fruitful contacts between Ministers and Departments North and South in recent years, and that this interaction has now been formalised through the North-South Ministerial Council established within the framework of the Good Friday Agreement. The North-South Ministerial Council has already met twice in education sector format and has established a number of joint working groups to progress co-operation on matters of mutual concern. These groups are looking at issues such as special needs provision, tackling disadvantage, educational exchange activity and the position of teachers in the island as a whole. The groups will continue to report progress to the North-South Ministerial Council.

Much work has been done on the establishment of a teaching council in Northern Ireland. Section 7 specifically provides for co-operation with it so that an all-island approach can be taken where that is mutually beneficial. We have much in common with our colleagues in Northern Ireland in the high standards of education provided to our students. I am pleased the Bill gives statutory expression to this spirit of co-operation.

There is much scope for co-operation in the areas within the remit of the Teaching Council and I know that both councils will approach this matter with the enthusiasm that has been the hallmark of previous endeavours in this field. There has been ongoing contact between officials on both sides of the Border as proposals for both councils have developed. We look forward to continuing close contact in the future.

The initial stage in establishing the Teaching Council will be critical from the financial point of view. Until the first council is in place it will not be possible to levy fees and, therefore, provide the necessary finance to fund the initial phase of establishment. In the interim the start up costs will be provided from central funds. There are a number of reasons for this. The Teaching Council will assume responsibility for a range of functions currently being performed by my Department. In particular, the work now being done by the Registration Council will be transferred to the Teaching Council. The Teaching Council will provide a range of advisory services and expertise to my Department and it will make a significant contribution towards continuously improving the quality of education.

In recognition of these services, it is appropriate that the Government, through my Department, signal its support for the work of the Teaching Council by financing its activities through this critical early period of development. Section 20 provides for this funding. The steering committee, which was representative of all the partners in education, recommended the payment of a membership fee by all new applicants for registration. It also recommended that the fee should be waived for the first year of registration in the case of existing teachers who qualify for registration with the council. Section 22 allows the council to set and charge fees.

The high quality of the teaching profession in Ireland has been a theme running through my speech. The profession has traditionally attracted personnel of a consistently high calibre. We all have an interest in seeing this continue. The Teaching Council will be central to the development of the teaching profession in the future. Through the council the teaching profession will mature as a profession and reach a new stage in its development. The development to this point of the proposals for the council has taken place in close co-operation with those for whom it will be most immediately relevant, the teachers themselves. I look forward to continuing to work closely with teachers and the other partners in education as together we move to establish an Irish Teaching Council. I commend the Bill to the House.

Fine Gael believes that every child should have a legal right to the best possible edu cation and to an individual educational plan overseen by an Ombudsman for children with authority to see that resources and facilities to meet that educational requirement are provided by right. To achieve this objective the educational system must be radically overhauled. We have deluded ourselves for years as having the best educational system in the world. It is for those who are bright, intelligent and articulate and who can avail of our one chance system. However, for thousands of others the future is a dim tunnel of non-involvement, deep frustration and personal under achievement. A system starved of resources, seriously lacking in facilities and driven by a profession that is acutely disappointed, under remunerated and unable to achieve the heights of its potential is one that is not working satisfactorily.

This Bill is only one element of what is required. Its range and remit are unclear in many respects and ill defined in others. If our education system is to perform to the highest standards in the interests of all pupils it must be driven by a profession that has standards, that rewards performance and that must be paid for.

The Bill is being introduced at a time of deep unrest within the teaching profession. There is annoyance and deep frustration, reflected in the recent decision by the ASTI to take industrial action. This is symptomatic of a serious malaise within the profession, not only about a central issue like pay, but about a range of professional requirements and facilities that will allow professionally trained people to reach their capacity and achieve their full professional potential.

The Bill does not state clearly what elements of departmental responsibility are to be removed from the Department of Education and Science and transferred to the Teaching Council. Nor does it state what impact the Teaching Council will have on the teacher training supply. It does not define clearly what will be the implications of complaints to the council where sacking, dismissals or allegations are made. It does not allow for the appointment of principals to the council from second level schools, even though they are ultimately responsible for the induction, probation and monitoring of teachers into the profession.

Given the current desperate state of morale within the teaching profession, the Bill is not capable of being implemented. I hope the Select Committee on Education and Science will hear evidence from the relevant bodies and organisations before it proceeds to consider Committee Stage. The Bill is described as an Act to promote teaching as a profession, to promote the professional development of teachers, to maintain and improve the quality of teaching in the State, to provide for the establishment of standards, policies and procedures for the education and training of teachers and other matters relating to teachers and the teaching profession and to provide for their registration by means of the Teaching Council, An Chomhairle Mhúinteoireachta.

Over the years the teaching profession has, by and large, served the State and the people well. There have been instances of outstanding teachers who have cared for the pupils and students way above and beyond the call of duty. They have received an education that has stood them in good stead to deal with life's experiences, both at home and abroad. No more than in any profession, there are teachers who have become frustrated and have found no way out of a rut other than to punch in time to the end of their remit.

I welcome the Teaching Council Bill, which has been around for more than 20 years. In that period the majority of the teacher unions called for the establishment of a teaching council and most Governments would have liked to have established one. In that sense the Bill is welcome in that it will put the profession of teaching on a platform and allow the public to judge it for its real value. If teaching is to be the jewel in the crown of public service, however, we have a long way to achieve it.

The Minister drew the clear distinction between the responsibilities of teacher unions in respect of pay negotiations, salaries and conditions, and the responsibility of the teaching council in respect of perception, raising standards, teacher training and so on. One is not mutually exclusive of the other. If the teaching council were to arrive at a position where the profession of teaching was deemed to be very high in young people's minds, the remuneration levels – the 26 year incremental scale and the woeful lack of facilities – are a stark reminder of just how far we have to go. I would like to see a teaching profession in all categories that would be highly motivated, highly driven, well resourced and financed and able to build on its professional call to provide every child with an educational plan to reach his or her ultimate level of achievement.

In the few months since I took up this brief, I have been shocked by the inadequacies that abound in many of our schools and within the profession. I met members of the parents of the Down's Syndrome association yesterday. A child of ten years of age, who suffered a stroke at the age of one and a half, has not had physiotherapy in approximately eight years. That is an abomination. We call ourselves Christians and boast that we have some of the highest standards in the world but incidents like this are simply appalling. I will send the Minister the details later.

If we are to have a profession that is highly motivated and that people want to get into, we need to examine what is made available either through negotiations or demonstration from the Teaching Council that teachers require more than they have got and in return for which they will be expected to give a level of performance in keeping with the high standards being set by the Teaching Council.

In time, we should have sabbaticals for teachers, particularly those who have taught for a number of years who find themselves wondering if they should continue in the profession. I am thinking of something akin to the Canadian system where every six or seven years teachers can take a sabbatical on full pay, having contributed towards that themselves, during which they can involve themselves in further educational courses which can be accredited incrementally. They can then decide whether to return to the profession of teaching.

Young people starting out on a teaching career are being told that after 26 years they will reach their maximum salary. That is not just a problem for the teaching profession but applies in many walks of life, including the Civil Service. The appointment of principals at a designated level should be for a seven year period, they should retain their principal's allowance, their pension should be based on that but there should also be performance related measures. Many principals who are appointed to positions for life tend not to have the same level of commitment after a number of years as they should have and, no more than Secretaries General of Departments, they can perform at a high level for a shorter period.

For those involved in the teaching profession at all levels, there should be the option of getting out for those who realise that teaching is not for them. I know many teachers, primary and secondary, who arrived at an understanding some time ago that teaching is not what they really want but career breaks or the other options that are currently open are not sufficiently broad or flexible to cater for that. Irrespective of its remit, the Teaching Council, as distinct from the teacher unions, should ensure that this profession can stand on any platform and attract bright, young, intelligent, articulate people who will want to give of their expertise in turning out future students who will be a credit to our country. That is not the case, however, and under the current regime I doubt if we will have many answers to those type of problems.

In his contribution the Minister referred to the question of teachers coming here from abroad and the training of teachers. I am interested in that because as the Minister is aware, we have almost 2,000 untrained teachers in the primary system and that is now beginning to take effect in the secondary system. We should be preparing to at least give the Teaching Council, when it is set up, some basis upon which to adjudicate and make recommendations that can be implemented in this regard. There are teachers in the system currently who have taught for more than 20 years but who cannot get recognition. That should be changed. They have experience that one cannot get in any training college because they acquired it over the years. Montessori teachers in the system are not given full recognition and that needs to be examined, as well as the current system of training which is not sufficiently flexible.

There is also the question of teachers who received a recognised European Union qualifi cation in an EU country and their right to teach here. They may be brought in as resource teachers because they do not have to comply with the Irish qualification. If we are short of teachers, this has to be looked at as has the question of teachers from outside the European Union. I have on file a letter from a married woman who came to County Meath from Australia with full professional teaching qualifications but who was not recognised in Ireland. She left the country because of frustration with the Department and her view of its lack of imagination and creativity in this regard. We must examine how we can get people who have a teaching qualification into our system.

We should avail of modern technology, and the Teaching Council should recommend that in the context of training teachers. Second level teachers who are married with families and who wish to teach in primary schools cannot attend a course for 18 months or three years. They should be able to use the virtual classroom to do courses from their own homes by distance learning, with the odd tutorial in between. That would enable them to do their training and achieve a recognised qualification from their own homes rather than having to travel at night, every weekend or attend a course on a full-time basis. We should examine all these options because if we are to maintain our position internationally as a country with a high reputation and a high level of educational standard, the profession needs assistance and should be given the opportunity to better perform.

I referred to the drop in teacher numbers at primary level and the same applies to secondary schools. I am informed by a number of teaching sources that some schools have been unable to fill teaching posts in all categories over a range of subjects. In some cases these categories include permanent positions. Places cannot be filled in subjects such as metalwork, woodwork, home economics, business studies, science and Irish. This creates serious problems for schools which will either employ substitute teachers who are not qualified in the subject or change the curriculum on a long-term basis. Schools have started to remove metalwork, woodwork, business studies, science and home economics from their timetables or to reduce them greatly. The curriculum offered is not fitted to the students' needs but to the availability of teachers. Schools are required to fulfil a legal obligation. If a child is offered home economics in first, second, third, fourth and fifth year in preparation for the leaving certificate, surely there is a contractual obligation to provide a trained teacher in sixth year? The State might also be subject to litigation as has happened in other cases.

There is a serious problem in the Dublin area and throughout the country in that teaching is not attractive to young graduates. This will continue until the entry point on the pay scale is changed. The Teaching Council should do something about the perception of teaching as a worthwhile profession. Only 38% of those who trained as metalwork and woodwork teachers last year decided to teach because remuneration levels were higher in the private sector due to the explosion in the construction industry.

The Department of Education and Science has started a programme of whole school evaluation, but I am not sure at what stage it is at present. School development plans must look sensitively at issues in the school. If we want planning in every school, surely we must have planning in the Department? The Bill is not clear about the requirements and projected number of teachers over the next ten years. What are we doing about the shortage of speech therapists, physiotherapists, aural trained teachers and teachers in many other categories? If the State is found to be negligent in providing a decent and proper education for a child, what will the Department do about the projection requirements? Will we hive this off to the Teaching Council to make recommendations or to offer advice to the Department? Where does the authority ultimately lie?

The Minister has produced an interesting set of figures for membership of the council. The council shall consist of 37 members. The teaching unions have made their case and this is obvious from the number of elected and registered teachers who will serve on the council. I am disappointed that only two persons can be nominated jointly by the National College of Art and Design, the National University of Ireland, Cork, the National University of Ireland, Dublin, the National University of Ireland, Galway, the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Dublin University, University of Limerick, Dublin City University, St. Catherine's College of Education for Home Economics, Sion Hill and St. Angela's College of Education in Sligo. Only two persons can be nominated jointly by St. Patrick's College in Drumcondra, the Church of Ireland College of Education in Rathmines, St. Mary's, Marino, Froebel College of Education, Sion Hill and Mary Immaculate College in the University of Limerick.

Some 40% of teachers in the primary system emerge from the two major training colleges, St. Patrick's College in Drumcondra, where I was a former resident, and Mary Immaculate College in the University of Limerick. If a person is nominated from each of these colleges – I would have thought that would be a necessity given the volume of teachers going through their doors – that means the Church of Ireland College of Education in Rathmines would not have any representative. If that happened, we could be open to the charge of discrimination on religious grounds. I am sure the Minister does not want to go down that road. It also means that St. Mary's, Marino or the Froebel College of Education, which are two smaller institutions, would not have any representation. The Minister should reconsider the bodies included in the Bill on Committee Stage.

I am unclear about what will happen if there are allegations of unethical practices, bad behaviour or threats of dismissal of a teacher. If, for example, a teacher in a school is guilty of gross misbehaviour, what influence does the Teaching Council have? As I understand it, a teacher cannot be dismissed in the vocational education system without a public sworn inquiry under the Vocational Education (Amendment) Act, 1944. If a parent, teacher or a third party writes to the Teaching Council about a teacher whose behaviour or misbehaviour is being investigated by management, is it required to set up an investigation committee or to have the matter investigated by a disciplinary committee? If so, what are the consequences of this work proceeding in parallel with the public sworn inquiry in the case of a VEC teacher or with an investigation in a second level school? The safeguard of the High Court assent in the case of ultimate de-registration is necessary because this is the ultimate sanction against a teacher. If sanctions are imposed on a teacher by the registrar of teachers, it will result in the usual talk about ability.

Section 6 is important because it deals with the objectives of the council. These are to regulate the teaching profession and the professional conduct of teachers to establish and promote the maintenance and improvement of standards of programmes of teacher education and training, teaching, skill and competence of teachers in recognised primary and post-primary schools, and the professional conduct of teachers. These objectives have a direct bearing on the quality of teaching provided, the standards set by teachers and their performance. This will have an impact on the pupils and therefore it will involve parents. Education should be based on team work. It should involve trained professionals and extra assistance should be available when required.

The Department of Education and Science has always had responsibility for the supply of teachers and for the professional development of teachers. Perhaps the Minister could clarify if these responsibilities will be handed over to the Teaching Council. Will standards be set on the basis of reports and advice from the Teaching Council? We are talking about the oldest Department in the country which needs a radical shake-up. It has had remarkable influence over the years. My difficulty with the Department has always been that it seems to regard the process as more important than the objective. One can drive from Dublin to Mayo in a reasonably straight line. However, the Department has sometimes tended to travelvia Waterford and Dingle to get back up the west coast. Given the pressures to perform and to be able to perform, I hope the Minister will give this issue his full attention.

The Teaching Council could look at the issue of teaching practices. The best place in which to learn to teach is in front of a class. I am not sure the higher diploma in education for secondary teachers delivers adequate teaching practice stan dards. We need to seriously examine the extent of the course, the issue of day or block releases and the practical element of teaching in front of classes.

It is a while since I was a practising teacher and I may be a little out of touch, but teaching standards and practices in other countries have been revolutionised in the past ten years, are very sophisticated and include high levels of training. I would like to think we could match these practices, that the Teaching Council would examine best international practices and that we would make no bones about implementing such practices in Ireland. The Minister should make the resources available to implement such practices as we are talking about the present and the future, and the international perception of Ireland as a country which can stand on its own two feet.

Will a letter from an irate parent be sufficient to bring about the setting up of a disciplinary or investigating committee? If someone has a difference of opinion with a teacher, whether or not it involves a student on educational matters, does this mean that every whim has to be investigated by a disciplinary or investigating committee of the Teaching Council?

Section 22 refers to the right to charge fees. Teachers are going on strike over pay and the other two unions may be sucked into this dispute which will have serious consequences for the entire fabric of the PPF. The Minister will be aware that some primary schools are located on second level campuses and that TUI members work in community schools and will not pass pickets. There will be strong resistance from teachers if the Teaching Council starts to levy unspecified charges in ten areas.

I welcome the Bill but the Department has a great deal of work to do and is in need of a radical overhaul. If we are to have a teaching profession of the highest standard the Department must have performance related standards and we must pay for it. That will be in the interests of every school going child, some of whom are sadly lacking facilities and resources, which is a shame on us all. Such an education system would also be in the interests of pupils who will attend schools in the years ahead.

I welcome the Bill. There has been widespread consultation with the education partners, including teachers, parents and managers in the preparation of the Bill and, by and large, the end product is a fair representation of the issues and concerns raised during that process.

It is unfortunate that there was such a long delay in publishing the Bill. Undertakings were given that the Teaching Council would be established by the beginning of this year. The timetable set out in the report of the steering committee indicated that it was intended to publish to Bill in November 1998 but this is almost November 2000 so there has been a two year slippage. That is unfortunate as the establishment of the Teaching Council is long overdue.

There is general agreement within education on the need for a Teaching Council. The proposal is for a council which would be an independent, statutory agency which would exercise the powers and perform the functions through which teachers can achieve a large degree of professional autonomy and self regulation. The Bill also provides for a fair degree of accountability on the part of teachers. From a parents' perspective there has been some concern that it was difficult to get any satisfaction following complaints about standards in schools or the performance of individual teachers. Parents who found themselves in such situations will derive some comfort from the fact that there will now be a forum for dealing with serious complaints regarding misconduct.

An important objective of the council is the setting of clear standards within the teaching profession and education generally. Too often in the past the development and operation of the education system has been left to the private sector, as it were. The reasons for this are partly historical due to the way in which our education system was established and the way in which it has evolved. Successive Governments were quite happy to allow the system develop in the hands of the private sector and there was little regulation and control over what happened. There was also very little accountability and it was easy for Governments to pass responsibility back to the religious orders or other bodies which provided education. Parents and pupils were caught in the middle of the process without any adequate form of redress. By and large, that system still obtains and the Department takes a hands off approach.

There is a reluctance on the part of education management bodies to continue with this kind of system and demands are being made on the Department to start playing a full role in the provision of education and a properly funded State education system. It has suited the churches and successive Governments to be able to pass the buck between themselves on this issue. The country is well able to afford it so we need to move towards a scenario whereby the Government fully funds the education system and takes responsibility for ensuring proper standards.

A well established council has the potential to enhance the status of teaching and improve morale among teachers, thereby enhancing the quality of the education provided to pupils. This is an important objective for us all to keep to the fore. A Teaching Council has a role in enhancing morale and status among teachers but the current conditions in which teachers work are damaging morale to a point where urgent action is needed.

It is clear from recent statements by the leaders of teacher unions and from last week's overwhelming result in the ASTI ballot that there is a high level of dissatisfaction and anger within the teaching profession. There is no doubt that teach ing has become much more difficult and challenging in recent years. Many more pupils are presenting in schools with social problems and, as a result, engaging in disruptive behaviour. The kind of problems we see in the Children's Court on a daily basis and the marked increase in public order and anti-social problems on the streets and in local communities are all reflected in classroom behaviour. The increased rate of family breakdown combined with high rates of alcohol and drug abuse in recent years, and the effects of these on student behaviour and performance, all contribute to increased demands on teachers in the classroom. In addition, there are greatly increased responsibilities placed on teachers in respect of recent legislation. Too often we see new legislation enacted, such as the Education Welfare Act, 1998, but insufficient resources being allocated to facilitate the full implementation of that legislation. The under funding of the education system generally causes its own problems for teachers with added pressures caused by working in poor school buildings with inadequate supports. It is difficult for teachers to feel professional about themselves, their role and their work if they are trying to teach in a professional manner in a cold classroom in a dilapidated school building. It is difficult for teachers to feel professional if they must get involved in fund-raising in order to meet heating or cleaning bills in a school. It is difficult for teachers to feel professional about their work if there is no back-up available, if, for example, the provision of secretarial supports and caretakers in schools is totally inadequate as it is at present. It is also difficult for teachers to feel professional about their work if they know additional services such as psychological, counselling and speech therapy are necessary in order for them to do a professional job and they know well that those services are simply not available. They know that the system is short-changing the children they are trying to teach and that the supports are not in place, that it is totally under funded. In those circumstances it is difficult for teachers to feel professional about their work and to feel that they, in turn, are being valued for doing their important job. Clearly they feel undervalued.

Status, whether we like it or not, is generally determined by a person's earning ability and by the financial reward society gives to people for their work. Teachers are standing by and watching while comparable graduate employment pay is leaving them far behind. They are seeing colleagues with whom they were in university going on to work either in other jobs in the public sector or increasingly in the private sector and coming out in five years with salaries to which teachers could not even aspire after 25 years service. Younger teachers are finding that they cannot realistically aspire to own their homes because their pay levels simply will not allow them do that. Already we are seeing a high drop out rate from the profession as newly qualified teachers are attracted to jobs in the private sec tor, where pay scales promotion prospects and job satisfaction are better than in teaching.

It seems that there is likely to be serious unrest within the teaching profession over the coming months and I would urge the Minister to take immediate action to address the genuine concerns of teachers and to put in place a mechanism to deal with their serious grievances in a shorter time scale than that provided for under the PPF. Teachers will simply not accept what the Government is suggesting. As the House will be aware, the ASTI rejected the PPF, the INTO only accepted it by a very small margin and the TUI is now talking about the need for pay increases of the order of 20% over and above what is provided for under the PPF. There are rocky times ahead in all sectors of education unless the Minister deals with this matter urgently. There can be whatever kind of teaching councils or other mechanisms or distractions the Minister likes, but unless the pay and conditions of teachers are dealt with adequately, we are facing the prospect of increasingly low morale, anger and increasing recruitment problems within the teaching profession.

It makes sense to establish a professional body to regulate and enhance the professionalism of teachers. As the House will be aware, most other professions such as the legal and medical professions have their own regulatory bodies. Many other countries have teaching councils and lessons should be learned from their experience. A properly established council will achieve a number of objectives. As well as helping to confirm the status of teaching, it will entitle teachers to appropriate regulation of their own affairs and endow them with greater responsibility for the quality of teaching.

It will also have an important role in overseeing teacher education programmes. Issues of new demands on teachers and new requirements emerge in the classroom in terms of training, dealing with disciplinary issues among students, curriculum development, etc., and there is a significant time-lapse between the experience gained in the classroom and within schools and changes to the training programme. It is important to have this overseeing body, which can draw on the experience of what is happening in the classroom and which will have a foot in the training colleges.

Another important role for the council will obviously be in looking at the question of supply and demand for teachers. Later this evening the Joint Committee on Education and Science will deal with that very matter because we have got to a point where it is critical, certainly in the primary schools. Almost 70% of post-primary schools are reporting difficulties in recruiting staff. There is too much of a time-lag between problems of recruitment emerging and programmes, whether they be the post-graduate programme or the traditional training programme, being put in place to increase the numbers and ensure that the supply meets demand. I hope the new Teaching Council will bridge that gap and play an important role in ensuring adequate supply on an ongoing basis.

Another important factor related to teacher supply is recognition of different qualifications, whether they are obtained in an EU or non-EU country. There are many fine teachers, who have trained abroad, doing an excellent job in the schools and because recognition has been withheld many of them are working for even lower pay than their fully trained and recognised colleagues. This is a sore point. Where there is a shortage of teachers it seems wrong that we should discriminate against highly qualified people who are not given the recognition they deserve just because those qualifications come from abroad.

This area of recognition needs urgent attention in terms of improving the supply of teachers. Deputy Kenny has already referred to a number of categories of people in the teaching profession which are not fully recognised. Programmes need to be put in place to ensure that those people can easily gain the necessary qualifications in order to be recognised fully and paid properly. Some provision of in-service or block release training should be available for the cohort of people working in schools, who started off as substitute teachers 20 or 25 years ago and who have first class records in teaching and excellent experience, to facilitate them in gaining full qualification. In addition, there is scope for the Montessori teachers, and for teachers without the Irish qualification who have qualifications from the UK or Northern Ireland. There is a demand for teachers like that, many of whom are very committed. There are schools crying out for that kind of experience where the teaching of Irish may not be very relevant or there may be innovative ways of getting around that whereby somebody else in the school can take the class for Irish. There is an urgent need to direct attention at that. The Department or the Minister is not doing that at present. I would like to see the teaching council play a very central role in that issue.

We are fortunate in Ireland that teaching has traditionally attracted personnel of a high calibre and it is vital that this continues to be the case. I reiterate what I said already that it will not continue to be the case as long as teachers feel they are being undervalued, underpaid and not represented properly at the Cabinet table. The Minister has a very important function in ensuring that teachers get the recognition and remuneration they deserve. It is all very well talking about national agreements and sticking to the terms of the agreement but the same thing is going to happen to teaching as happened to nursing. People will vote with their feet and they will leave. There are plenty of other opportunities for teachers to get much better paid jobs, jobs in which they will be treated in a more professional manner and in which they are valued more. Unless attention is given to this area as a matter of urgency, there will be a haemorrhaging of teachers from the sys tem and we will soon find ourselves in a very serious situation.

The existing teaching force has demonstrated great commitment to professional development through engagement in a high level of in-service training opportunities. It is important that we build on that through the teaching council. In order to ensure vibrancy and innovation in teaching, it is timely that the council is being established to promote the advancement of standards in the teaching profession.

One of the roles proposed for the teaching council is to provide a forum for the education partners in the promotion of quality and high standards in education, and this is certainly welcome. At present there is no forum in which those issues are being addressed. We have a very austere and inflexible Department dealing with education and the regulation of education, the funding of schools, etc., on a very centralised basis. There is very little opportunity for debate or any kind of discourse or discussion about education policy – there simply is not an adequate forum for that. My party's position is that we should have local structures in education which would provide that kind of platform to address local education issues and meet education need. However, because of the way the Department of Education and Science is structured, that kind of debate is not happening and education is the poorer. I hope that under the proposal here, the teaching council, we can involve all the partners in promoting standards, in being agents for change and in devising policy and that it can be a forum in which policy can evolve.

A critical factor in the success or otherwise of the proposed council will be the commitment of the Minister to properly fund the establishment of the council. We should not underestimate for one moment how important this will be. The Minister has spoken about this but he has not given any clear commitment in terms of the level of or the extent of funding which he is prepared to provide. Before we complete consideration of this Bill, I ask the Minister to give very clear commitments, in terms of figures, on the funding he intends to provide for the establishment of the council.

It is envisaged that the council will assume responsibility for a range of functions which are currently carried out by the Department. In addition, the council is expected to provide an advisory service and to contribute to the ongoing improvement in quality of education. It would seem that the council is being asked to take on a range of responsibilities which are currently – in theory anyway – carried out by the Department of Education and Science. At the very least, the full establishment costs, by way of grant, should be provided as well as setting up the council in properly resourced headquarters. I ask the Minister to give a clear commitment on that so that from the start, the council can be up and running on a proper footing and that it will not be looking for premises or funding for premises in a year's time. Let us do this properly from the start and give a commitment that it will be put on a proper footing with decent headquarters so it can operate as the professional regulatory body which it is intended to be.

After the initial establishment, it is envisaged that the council will be self-financing. In view of the functions of the Department of Education and Science which the council is expected to take on, I do not see that that makes sense. There should be a commitment from the Minister in relation to the ongoing funding of at least aspects of the work of the council. It will be very limited in terms of what functions it can take on if it is expected to be self-financing. On grounds of fairness, some ongoing funding should be provided given the responsibilities it is taking off the shoulders of the Department.

One of the main functions of the teaching council is to advise the Minister on various aspects of education. I am concerned that the provision there is a little bit loose. The Bill states that advice would be available to the Minister, or something along those lines. There is a need to strengthen that a little. If the Minister is setting up this body, which is representative of all the partners in education, a very professional body, there should be some obligation on the Minister of the day to have regard to advice from the council. For that reason, we should think about an amendment to oblige, or require, the Minister to have regard to advice from the council. At the very least, if the Minister does not take the advice of the council, he or she should be required to make a clear statement as to why they are rejecting that advice. We want this to be a real, active and professional body which makes a real contribution to the development of education. There is no point having it if it is just going to be a talking shop running parallel to the Department of Education and Science. It has to be very much integrated. It is expected to take on responsibilities from the Department and, in turn, the Department and the Minister of the day should be expected to take on board the advice from the council. I will certainly table amendments to strengthen the Bill in that regard.

The distinction between the role of the teaching council and the trade unions is a very important one to make. There could be improvements in the wording of the Bill in that regard. Rather than teacher representatives representing their members, we might change the wording of the Bill to read: "present the views of members". That very much raises connotations of the functions of a trade union, that is, to represent its members. The role of the teaching council should be to present the views of its members. That is something at which we will look on Committee Stage.

There has been some correspondence from the principals of the post primary schools. They have expressed dissatisfaction that they are not specifi cally represented on the council. I would welcome the Minister's views on that. A number of them are represented through the various trade unions and could stand for election by their own members. However, I would like to hear the Minister's view on that because they seem quite disappointed about the lack of specific provision for them.

Two parent representatives on a 37 member body seems quite a small number of representatives of the consumers of the education service. The body could be strengthened in that area.

I generally welcome the Bill. It has a useful role to play in the development of the teaching profession, in terms of regulating the profession, dealing with disciplinary matters, ensuring standards and achieving quality in education, which are all very important. However, it is only a very small part of what is needed in education.

The Minister knows the position of teachers on matters such as morale and professionalism. He knows the deep dissatisfaction and concern there is among the teacher unions at the failure to recognise adequately their contribution to the development of education, the Celtic tiger and the economic success the country is enjoying at the moment. There are very strong grievances at the lack of recognition of that contribution. They did a good job when times were hard, and most teachers expected that when things picked up and the cutbacks ended they would get a share in the prosperity.

Many teachers feel very sore that, having contributed much to the educational development of their students, which they were happy to do, they are lagging seriously behind in the area of financial recognition for the job they do. That is very damaging to morale and must be tackled in a serious and acceptable way and according to a timetable acceptable to teachers. I am not talking about the possibility of an increase through benchmarking in June 2003 but something much sooner than that. That is the most important thing.

There are also major problems in education to be tackled, such as the unwieldy, inflexible and centralised nature of the Department and its inability to respond to local education needs. There is an inability among many of the decision makers, from the Minister down to senior management, to empathise with the kind of educational demands which arise in disadvantaged areas, in particular. We are all conscious of the huge cultural gap between those at a senior level in the Department and the kind of children who are least served by the education system. The centralised nature of the Department contributes to that.

We need to look at new ways of delivering education services and ensuring there is local response to local needs, which there is not at the moment. The global figures, in terms of retention rates, leaving certificate participation rates and so on, are fair but they are not very good and they are slipping slightly back.

However, those figures hide very severe concentrated problems in particular areas of social and economic disadvantage, where the education system is not acting as the agent of change which it should be. It is not giving people the opportunity to break out from the cycle of poverty and disadvantage, which it should do, because it is not responding to their needs.

There is very limited targeting of resources to the areas most in need. In areas of severe disadvantage there are pilot projects, such as Early Start and Breaking the Cycle. However, those special targeted initiatives have not been expanded in the past three years and there are disgraceful participation rates because of inadequate resources. There are still classes which are far too big, given the nature of the problems pupils are presenting with. There are still problems of children not transferring from primary school to secondary school – some 2,000 slipped out of the net at that point last year. That is a serious indictment of the education system.

There are still inadequate career guidance and counselling services for children with serious social problems, which are cropping up on an increasingly frequent basis. The ordinary teaching staff are not in a position to cope with the scale of social problems that are now presenting in some schools. The existence of children with those problems, and their consequent behavioural problems, is mitigating against their classmates, who are trying in difficult circumstances to achieve a good standard of education. Teachers feel they are letting down their classes because of their difficulties coping with that kind of behavioural problem. Unless the Minister is prepared to put in the necessary resources, those children will continue to drop out and, in turn, appear before the Children's Court on more serious charges and their classmates will be deprived of the education they should receive.

There are many areas which need urgent attention. I welcome this Bill, in as far as it goes. It will make a small contribution to the developments in education but much more needs to be done.

I congratulate the Minister on introducing this legislation, which has been talked about by various Governments over the years. The first aim of the Bill is to promote teaching as a profession, which is very important to the teacher unions and the partners in education. The whole question of teaching as a profession is very much in the limelight at the moment.

The issues of the quality of teaching in the State and providing for the establishment of standards for education and training of teachers are also important. The Minister also spoke about the question of registration and regulation of teachers, which is very important. Competence standards will also be established through this Teaching Council.

I note, from what the Minister said, that a teaching council has been talked about since 1991, when the OECD produced the review of Irish education. It was also mentioned in the 1992 Green Paper on education, known as Education for a Changing World. There has been widespread consultation on the Bill in the past two and a half years, which is very welcome.

When issues have arisen in relation to discipline or dismissal of teachers, the teacher unions have often asked why they should not have a teaching council, like the Medical Council. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows, the Medical Council has been part of our health system for many years. It is important for us to proceed along that avenue in this legislation.

The Minister referred to the question of accountability of teachers, which is one of the reasons the Bill has been welcomed. However, parents will also welcome the Bill as their role is outlined in it.

We are very concerned today with the issue of having a qualified teaching staff. It is important, in that context, to highlight the need for remedial and resource teachers. That every school has now got access to a remedial and resource teacher is one of the very welcome initiatives the Government has brought in. Where there are clusters of schools, remedial and resource teachers sometimes have to cover a wide area to see the children in the various schools. This is an important issue in rural areas. I hope we will move towards the remedial, resource and special education teachers sharing fewer schools and not having to spend a large portion of their week travelling to the various schools. This issue has arisen on many occasions among teachers and parents in rural areas.

There is difficulty recruiting qualified teachers. It is also difficult to get temporary and substitute teachers, even teachers for permanent posts. This has been the subject of debate in the education and science committee. Today Deputy Sargent produced a report in that regard which the committee will discuss later this evening. It brings the shortage of teachers into focus. There has been a lack of proper planning for many years. One teacher training college was closed. When the training colleges changed teacher training from a two to a three year cycle the intake to the colleges was frozen for a period.

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of students taking up the teacher training course. In 1998, for example, the intake increased to 1,000 and the graduate courses recommenced. I understand there will be another graduate course next year. This often caused overcrowding and inadequate resourcing at college level but it had to be done and was most welcome. According to the INTO, the output for 2001 will be 1,300 graduates.

Every year I hear about the disappointment of the many students who are not "called to training", as it was formerly known. Why are the points so high, now that the points system applies to the teacher training colleges? Approximately 440 points were required this year and many students who got more than 420 points were disappointed not to have got the teacher training course. The same problem has occurred in nursing with the introduction of degree courses and high qualification standards. As a result, people who have a real vocation for teaching or nursing have been disappointed not to be able to enter those professions. In the Western Health Board area the training courses for nurses are linked to the university, as is the case with teacher training, and people are disappointed that the points required are so high. Given that we need more teachers, the Central Applications Office will have to look at this issue again. I am aware the Minister cannot deal with it in this legislation but it is particularly relevant at present.

The INTO says that class sizes are too high, particularly where there are multi class situations. That organisation is also keen to have more people entering the training colleges. It mentions, in particular, the supply panel. The supply panel of teachers in many districts is extremely low. In the Louth, Monaghan and Cavan district, for example, six supply teachers cover 26 of the 250 schools. In fact, large areas of the country have not ever heard of a supply teacher. This issue must be addressed. A total of 900 teachers is required for the supply panels and the INTO makes a strong case for these to be provided.

Another issue which has been brought to the attention of the education and science committee is the difficulty experienced by principal teachers finding substitute teachers. More and more schools employ untrained people or retired teachers for substitute work. Principals might have to make up to 20 phone calls in an effort to find a teacher. At the same time principals have classes to teach and administrative duties to fulfil. There are obvious difficulties. The Minister is good at putting his case to the Cabinet so I urge him to secure extra funding for teachers. The Department of Education and Science decides the number of students to be taken in by the teacher training colleges. Perhaps the Minister will say if there will be a change in that regard.

The teaching profession, particularly in the primary sector, is most concerned about untrained and unqualified teachers working as substitute teachers. It has been pointed out that this would not happen in any other profession. A lay person would not be employed to replace a nurse or doctor on sick leave. It is an issue the teachers are anxious to address. Teachers can pick and choose where they teach and this is also causing difficulty. They can leave a small school where there are multi classes or a school in a disadvantaged area and move to a more affluent school. This results in disruption where qualified replacements cannot be found.

This problem has been raised with the Department. The officials told us that in many ways we are the victims of our success. Enrolments in primary schools were declining for many years. During the 1990s, for example, enrolments were decreasing at a rate of 11,000 annually. Successive Governments decided to retain in the system the teaching posts which would otherwise have become surplus and, as a consequence, there was a steady reduction in class sizes and the allocation of hundreds of posts to areas of special need and disadvantage. If these posts had not been retained, the supply of trained teachers would have far exceeded the demand. As a result of the demographic dividend, as it is known, there are extra teaching posts and the number of teachers in the system has increased by approximately 1,000 since 1995 but there is additional pressure in the demand for trained teachers.

The number of teachers opting for early retirement increased following the introduction of the early retirement scheme under the PCW agreement. The number of retirements increased from 443 in 1995 to 603 in 1999. This has had an effect throughout the education system but particularly at primary level. There are 156 teachers in the job-sharing scheme which was introduced in 1993 and approximately 800 teachers are on career breaks this year. The welcome news is that the number of students in the colleges of education has increased.

The Bill provides for contact with the relevant body in Northern Ireland and for recognition of qualifications of teachers trained outside this State. That is important. Graduates from St. Mary's College, Belfast, can teach in schools in the Republic and primary degree holders who have a H.Dip in Education are recognised as fully trained for substitute teaching. That is welcome.

Since the Joint Committee on Education and Science of which I am a member visited Belfast last year we have had excellent co-operation from the authorities there. We went there to discuss the role of music education and we were pleased to note substantial resources are allocated to music education there. Following the committee's production of a report on music education to which the Minister has given a favourable response, I hope similar resources will be allocated to music education in our schools.

The Minister said the North-South Ministerial Council established under the Good Friday Agreement provides a basis for formalised interaction between Ministers and Departments, North and South. He referred to substitute and temporary teachers who have worked for years in our education system. Their case has been documented and put to the Department on a number of occasions. I have met long-serving substitute and temporary teachers with leaving certificate qualifications who have been working for 20 to 30 years in our primary schools. They seek a status or grade that will recognise the role they have played over those years. They are disappointed they are not entitled to sick pay, holiday pay, maternity leave, a pension, salary protection, increments or job security despite the fact that they do the same work as recognised qualified teachers. The question of their registration and the reports they sent to the Department should be examined. Such teachers have attended in service courses that were available and following the introduction of the excellent new curriculum in primary schools they have attended in-service training courses on that curriculum.

Substitute and temporary teachers were able to complete a conversion course in the past to regularise their positions, but such a course has not been held since 1975. They cannot complete the current conversion course, as participants must hold a primary degree, which they do not have. They made a strong submission to the Department seeking to regularise their positions and requesting the Minister to take account of their experience and dedication and to grant them a status or a grade in keeping with their years of experience and commitment. Given that we are discussing this Bill, I ask the Minister to examine if they have a role to play in our education system.

The Joint Committee on Education and Science received a submission from the Church of Ireland Board of Education which has been seeking to introduce rationalisation in schools under the patronage of the Church of Ireland. It made the point that there are 200 national schools in the sector of which 50% are two teacher schools and 10% have administrative principals. It gave an example of such rationalisation whereby countries such as Leitrim, Limerick, Longford and Offaly would each have three national schools under its patronage. I hope the points it made about the availability of teachers and other difficulties will be addressed by the Department. It carried out a surveys of the needs of the schools under its patronage and raised the question of setting up a supply panel on a pilot scheme basis with a view to extending it nationwide.

Deputy Kenny referred to teaching practice. That the two year training course in primary school training colleges has been extended to three years is helpful in that it provides more beneficial practical teaching practice for students, but I do not know if much progress has been made regarding the higher diploma in education. In that regard, block release programmes are in place but there is not provision for a similar level of teaching practice. The Minister, the Teaching Council and the inspectorate should examine the question of teaching practice. While the role of an inspectorate may be non-existent in some European countries, our inspectorate plays a strong role, which is provided for in the Education Act. The question of teaching practice must be addressed. If students do not get practical teaching experience, it is difficult for them to obtain it later in in-service courses.

I congratulate the Minister on bringing this Bill to fruition. I hope members of the Teaching Council will be successful in their work on behalf of the council and the young people who will be taught in our schools.

I thank the Minister for a letter I received from him today regarding the appointment of a third teacher to Achonry national school, which I raised recently on an Adjournment Debate. That appointment is very much appreciated.

It is welcome that the Bill before us will repeal the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Act, 1914, which has been on the Statute Book for 86 years. The Bill is to promote teaching as a profession; to promote the professional development of teachers; to maintain and improve the quality of teaching in the State; to provide for the establishment of standards, policies and procedures for the education and training of teachers and other matters relating to teachers and the teaching profession; to provide for the registration and regulation of teachers and to enhance professional standards and competence; and for those purposes to establish a council. The establishment of such a council is long overdue and very much welcomed.

Part 2 provides that the objects of the council shall be to regulate the teaching profession and the professional conduct of teachers; to establish and promote the maintenance and improvement of standards of programme of teachers, education and training, teaching knowledge, skill and competence of teachers in recognised primary and post-primary schools; and to promote the continuing education and training and professional development of teachers. That is very important. Part 2 also provides that the functions of the council shall be to promote teaching as a profession; and to establish, review and maintain codes of professional conduct for teachers, which shall include standards of teaching, knowledge, skill and competence. The current standards among the teaching profession must be established and defined.

Traditionally, teachers in our secondary schools have been responsible for educating most of our people very well. Lack of funding in certain areas is slowly choking the secondary school system. Secondary schools have made an enormous contribution to this country over the past 100 years. We can be proud of the selfless and voluntary service provided by many dedicated religious and lay people in our secondary schools.

The capital grant is the mechanism by which voluntary schools are funded. Currently the grant allocated is £192 per pupil and £222 per pupil in schools designated as disadvantaged. In real terms, schools receive £30 less per pupil, as this sum is the notional amount allocated from the capitation towards the £400 per annum part of the teacher's salary, so the capitation is actually £172 and £202 respectively. The grants for secretarial services of £10,500 and £7,950 for caretaking are also hopelessly inadequate and do not come close to a proper salary today. These grants are well below the necessary amounts required by schools to finance costs for heating, lighting and maintenance as well as repairs and staffing resources. The financing and resourcing of voluntary schools have always been less than they should be and have now fallen well behind other post-primary schools.

The complexity and variety of the principal's role is another issue. It is a challenging and rewarding one for many principals, but there is also evidence of overloading as well as a lack of focus making the position less tenable to classroom teachers and current incumbents. There is general recognition that the responsibility for leadership, management and administration have become more onerous and diverse in recent years. The conflicting demands faced by most principal teachers who undertake a dual role, combining full-time teaching duties with the administrative, leadership and management roles, lie in the centre of many disputes taking place at present. Principal teachers with full-time teaching duties should be relieved of their duties for set periods each month to enable them to undertake their non-teaching and administrative duties. This is a huge pressure on principals and substitute cover should be provided for this purpose. Immediate arrangements should be made to provide facilities in schools where the principal has full-time teaching duties. Principal teachers with full-time teaching duties should be relieved of their duties for set periods to carry out the large range of non-teaching duties for the successful delivery of a quality primary educational service. In addition, school caretakers and secretaries should be appointed on a shared basis to cater for the needs of urban and rural schools.

The Minister will be aware of almost 1,000 teachers being involved in one day stoppages in Munster, Connacht and Ulster on this issue. The long-delayed publication of the report on post-primary school funding offers an opportunity to provide an adequate funding system for secondary schools. The report recommends a funding system which takes account of the needs of the school to meet fixed costs such as heating, lighting and insurance. An equitable, fair and transparent mechanism for funding all second level schools must be stressed and the running costs of our schools must be met by central funding. The voluntary contributions which some schools depend on have led to anomalies in how voluntary secondary schools are funded and that must be recognised. The report has acknowledged, finally, the need to address the imbalances that have existed in post-primary schools for a number of years. Other points raised relate to a formula for funding taking account of enrolment and insurance and subject to material costs to allocate an initial 90% of the total non-paid funding, while the balance of 10% would be paid as supplementary funding.

All recognised second level schools should receive grants sufficient to facilitate the purchase of services and equipment as well as a full-time secretary and a full-time caretaker. Schools require a significant increase in income to meet growing demands which are compounded by a decreasing school population. There needs to be a minimum increase in capitation, therefore, of £50 per pupil.

The phased lowering of the pupil-teacher ratio would alleviate much of the disadvantage experienced by pupils today. A reduction in teaching contact time for assistant principals from 22 hours to 18 hours is an essential target that needs to be achieved. The report also recommends that the Department grant-aid schools for the employment of ancillary staff for supervision at lunch or breaks. That is also important.

Deputy Kitt mentioned teachers taking voluntary retirement. There is huge pressure on teachers and the formation of this board is very welcome. Section 8 of the Bill relates to boards of management and states that the council shall consist of 37 members, with two members appointed by the Minister and 11 registered teachers employed in or qualified to teach in recognised primary schools, nine of whom shall be elected by registered teachers employed in or qualified to teach in recognised primary schools. In addition, two persons shall be nominated jointly by bodies such as St. Patrick's College, the Church of Ireland College of Education, Rathmines, St. Mary's of Marino and St. Angela's College, Sligo. I was at the conferring ceremony in St. Angela's last week, which was also attended by the President of the NUI, Galway, a body which is linked to St. Angela's. The Minister should check out a problem raised with me regarding only 100 students being accredited by the Department – there are up to 500 students taking adult education degree courses at the college, but it is only getting funding for an approved 100.

The Minister should clarify the funding for St. Angela's, as it is a wonderful educational facility in Sligo that complements the Sligo Institute of Technology. It is very important that St. Angela's receives sufficient funding and I ask the Minister to look into this, as my inquiries suggest the college is disappointed with its level of funding. There is a huge enrolment by mature students in weekend and evening courses there and it is important to recognise these people by funding them.

Many of the universities are based in Dublin or other large centres, but a regional balance is very important in this area. When the final council is appointed there should be representatives of each region, regardless of whether they come from the NUI panel or the primary education panel. No part of the country should be excluded.

Section 7(3) states that the council in the performance of its functions shall "implement the policies relating to teacher education and training, probation, qualifications, professional conduct and standards of teaching as established, from time to time, by the Minister". What is the Department's role in this regard? Perhaps the Minister could provide clarification in that regard.

Section 8 states that the Minister shall have regard to the desirability of an appropriate gen der balance as he or she may determine, from time to time, when making appointments. The Minister should take a firm stance on this important matter.

Section 11 deals with the role of the director. The council will comprise 37 members and the director will be appointed within two years of the establishment of the council. In addition, he or she will be appointed in accordance with procedures determined by the council subject to the consent of the Minister. Why must the Minister wait two years before appointing the director, particularly if his or her role is so important?

Section 13(1) states that "Subject to the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance, the Council may, from time to time, appoint such and so many persons to be employees of the Council as the Council may determine." What we do not want is the establishment of a quango to provide jobs for the boys. We require a body that will improve educational standards and the primary role of which will be to promote teaching as a profession, encourage the professional development of teachers and maintain and improve the quality of teaching in the State. We do not want people to be appointed to the board who do not have expertise relevant to this area. In certain instances, people are appointed to boards who do not have proven expertise. We need to appoint people who will honour and promote the concept and ideals of the body. It is important that parents should play a role on the council. In addition, it should not be dominated solely by teachers and its membership should include lay people, representatives of teaching bodies and school advisory groups.

Section 15 deals with membership of either House of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament and states that where an employee of the council is nominated or elected to membership of either of these bodies "he or she shall thereupon stand seconded from employment by the Council and shall not be paid by, or be entitled to receive from the Council, any remuneration, fees and allowances for expenses in respect of the period commencing on such nomination or election". Will the Minister clarify the position in that regard, particularly in view of the fact that section 15(2) states that "A period referred to in subsection 1 shall not, for the purposes of any superannuation benefit, be reckoned as service with the Council"?

Section 16 deals with inquiries and the removal of members of the council from office, which is extremely important. Section 16(1) states:

Where the Minister is of the opinion that the Council has failed, neglected or refused to perform a function assigned to it under this Act or has failed effectively to perform any such function or otherwise is in breach of this Act, the Minister may, after first advising the Council of his or her opinion and considering any explanation given in response, appoint a person to inquire into any matter giving rise to the Minister's opinion.

What evidence would be required in this regard and how would such an inquiry be initiated?

I wish to deal with national schools and the role played by principals. There is a need to provide support services in this regard. The council will be an important body but its work must focus on the role played by the providers of education and the services on offer. Second level schools have been credited with fostering Ireland's high educational standards and developing the skills of those who brought about our booming economy and it has been stated that this was achieved through investment in the 1970s and 1980s. In my opinion, however, our economic success is a testament to the dedication of teachers who worked very hard in the 1980s and 1990s and overcame the inadequacies of the structures in which they operated.

The Celtic tiger has brought billions of pounds into this country and the day of principals being obliged to clean classrooms and provide caretaking and other services should be long gone. People in business often state that "turnover is vanity and profit is sanity". We must protect the sanity of teachers who are obliged to carry out the humbling tasks to which I refer. These people must be given a sense of pride in the job they do, particularly in view of the fact that they are obliged to supervise pupils in the school yard at lunchtime and provide sanitary and other services. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that investment in the education system should be targeted at those operating at the very bottom level.

Ar dtús ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille seo. Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an Aire as ucht é a thabhairt os comhair na Dála.

This is the latest in a long list of significant legislation that this Government and the Minister have brought before the Dáil. It is probably easy to skim over the record of previous Administrations—

The Deputy would never do that.

—but Fianna Fáil led Governments have been responsible for, among other things, introducing the Universities Act, the Dublin Institute of Technology and the institutes of technology Acts, etc. Previous Governments invested heavily in publishing Green Papers and papers of every other colour.

We have been waiting for this for two and a half years.

When this Government came to power in 1997, there was a dearth of new legislation on education. We were relying on Acts, some of which had been in place since the days of British administration. I compliment the Minister and his predecessors for putting a body of legislation in place in respect of education.

I speak from the perspective of a teacher – I do not have a background in business – and I wish to nail my colours firmly to the mast. In this area, Fianna Fáil led Governments have been shown to be reforming in the area of education legislation.

What about the radicals?

I do not see any radicals present.

Deputy Carey without interruption.

Not long after we entered office a major investment was made in providing educational technology to the extent that every school has access to the Internet. In addition, quite a high degree of technology is now available in our schools.

The Government made the Education Act, a key item of legislation which the previous Administration prepared in draft form, its own and turned it into something that was acceptable to the education partners. The Bills brought forward in the House have come about as a result of widespread consultation with the education partners.

I compliment the Minister on piloting the Education Welfare Bill through the Dáil when he had so recently taken responsibility for his Department. That Act will help to address many of the issues which had been left for years, such as the lack of a school attendance, child psychological and curriculum development services. He has now introduced the Teaching Council Bill. At almost every congress or conference I attended during my teaching career a call was made for a teaching council. The Minister also proposes to amend the VEC Act.

This Bill will be important for teachers, pupils, parents and the country as a whole. I pay tribute to all the partners in education. I pay tribute to teachers for the quality of the service they have delivered to their students in difficult circumstances in small and large schools and often in overcrowded, unheated and dirty classrooms. The testimony of their work is to be seen in the educational standard of their students. It is only in recent times that parents have been taken on board as real partners in education. They have brought their unique perspective to primary and second level education. Who would have thought when parents were given a tiny grant by the then Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, that their organisation would grow into the significant influence it is today. The Bill is important because it places us at the cutting edge of significant development in education.

The self regulation of the teaching profession has been called for again and again. I welcome it. The Bill is the product of the steering committee. It is a consensus document and I do not expect a great amount of disagreement on it. The architectural, engineering and nursing professions and every profession worthy of the name has its own self-regulation. I wonder if our absent colleagues in the press gallery would agree to a similar regulation of their profession. I am sure they would think of many reasons they should be different from the rest of us.

The Bill addresses entry procedures, standards of teaching and professional performance, professional conduct, grievance procedures and the welfare of teachers. It will be hugely important to the 44,000 teachers in first and second level. Teaching has undergone a remarkable change in recent years. In the short time since I left the profession, probably temporarily, there has been remarkable change in curriculum development.

Deputy Carey is here to stay.

Is that a vote of confidence from Deputy Kenny?

The polls show Deputy Carey is doing very well.

Deputy Kenny's reassurance is very welcome.

Changes in the curriculum have been remarkable. I compliment the teaching profession which is going through a difficult period. There is no doubt that morale has been higher. However, I have complete trust in the capacity of the Minister for Education and Science to address current difficulties. I have no doubt he and the Government will work closely with the teacher unions and parents to address the current temporary difficulties.

For parents, the Bill will provide an assurance that the teachers who work with their children will meet the highest standard of professional qualification and competence through a professional code of conduct. That provision is amply developed in a range of areas in the Bill. It will copperfasten the already high standards of education which have been so important to the economic and social development of the State.

Teachers have been asked to take on a range of new areas of responsibility. Some of us will attend a meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Science this evening where we will discuss a report on staffing difficulties in schools. The demands on teachers are constantly changing. When he was Minister for Social Welfare the Minister displayed remarkable foresight in facilitating unemployed people who wished to return to full-time education. I attended a meeting last evening in a school where I chair the board of management. In this school the number of people in return-to-education courses has increased from 125 last year to 175 this year. Many of these students are former pupils of my colleagues and myself who had dropped out of school early, gone into low paid jobs and who suffer many difficulties including low self-esteem. Teachers are now devising a curriculum which is appropriate to their needs.

It is important that the new and more difficult areas of education be resourced. Although we have virtually full employment many people have a great yearning for education but they will not easily get back into the workforce. Pupil teacher ratios of 1:5 or 1:10 are needed in adult education classes and this will be very expensive. These adults are the last remaining group who are in difficulty in our economy and they need to be supported.

It is important that the grievance procedures in the Bill are fair and equitable. People who bring forward complaints against teachers must be assured that their complaints are adequately and openly addressed. It is also important that teachers feel they have had a fair hearing and that no one is deliberately trying to undermine them. The Bill contains adequate safeguards. The investigating and disciplinary committees for which the Bill provides will be important.

The welfare of teachers is often inadequately addressed. There are teachers who are under performing or are inadequate for a variety of reasons and who need support. It is important that a welfare provision for these teachers be made available. It is not good enough to tell these teachers to take early retirement. What are teachers to do when they have taken early retirement?

They come back as teachers.

Having received adequate counselling and support they should be able to come back as teachers. By the way, I see no reason teachers should not be allowed to teach until the age of 68, as they used do. Many teachers would gladly stay on to that age if they were able, although some cannot wait to get out of the profession.

It may be time to look at our readiness to release teachers for specialised programmes. These programmes are important but the first area of importance is the chalk face of the classroom. If a principal is torn between placing a teacher in the classroom or on a specialised programme such as the home-school liaison link scheme, I would always opt for placing the teacher in the classroom.

Debate adjourned.