Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007: Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to bring the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 before the House. In doing so I propose to give effect to a key recommendation of the task force on student behaviour that section 29 of the Education Act 1998 be revisited with a view to amending it to stress the rights of the compliant majority to learn while at the same time protecting the rights of the individual student to an education.

I established the task force on student behaviour in early 2005 to examine the issue of disruptive behaviour in our second level schools, to consider effective strategies already employed, to advise on best practice in fostering positive behaviour and to make recommendations on how best to promote an improved climate for teaching and learning in our schools. The report of the task force, School Matters, put forward a number of recommendations to place schools in a stronger position to meet the challenges of motivating and catering for their entire student cohort, including those whose troubling behaviour was reflective of a wider societal breakdown of acceptable norms of courtesy and civility.

At the core of the recommendations of the task force was the putting in place of a national behaviour support service, NBSS. The NBSS is now in place and has already commenced its engagement with schools and intensive work will begin shortly with a number of schools most in need of its intervention. As part of this initial engagement, the NBSS invited schools across the country to formally make application to benefit from its services. As a result of this process, the NBSS has now completed its consideration of 124 applications that were received from individual schools for support, including the establishment of behaviour support classrooms. The applicant schools are drawn from each of the school sectors and represent a good geographic and gender profile mix.

Based on careful consideration of each application, 50 schools have now been identified to receive support as part of a phased roll-out of activity under the new service. Each of these 50 schools will now be shortly notified of their participation and a progressive roll-out of services to these schools will commence immediately after the forthcoming mid-term break.

The task force report, in its recommendations to schools, also provided valuable insights into strategies and approaches for dealing with disruptive students. It set these in the context of a whole school approach to the issue of discipline and I am sure that the report itself will be a useful tool for schools in developing their responses to this issue. It is inevitable, however, that some students by their behaviour will leave their schools with little option but to use the last resorts of long-term suspension or permanent exclusion. It is vitally important that these sanctions remain avenues of last resort and are not taken lightly.

In such circumstances, the appeal system under section 29 of the Education Act 1998 has, since it commenced in 2001, provided parents and students over the age of 18 with an avenue of independent review when this difficult rubicon is to be crossed. Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 provides that an appeal may be made to the Secretary General of my Department against a decision by a school's board of management to permanently exclude a student, suspend a student for more than 20 days cumulative in any school year or refuse to enrol a student.

The task force, in dealing with section 29, outlined the concerns expressed by school representatives regarding their experience with what it termed "this evolving aspect of the new legislative framework". However, the task force also drew particular attention to the view of the National Educational Welfare Board that the advent of the appeals system had been positive for schools and had prompted schools to re-examine and review their policies, and to ensure, as far as possible, that policies and procedures were balanced, fair and transparent. In this respect I am glad to report that the National Educational Welfare Board is currently finalising comprehensive guidelines for schools on developing and implementing effective codes of behaviour.

The task force recommended that my Department revisit section 29 of the Education Act 1998 with a view to amending it to stress the rights of the compliant majority to learn while at the same time protecting the rights of the persistently disruptive student to an education. Following a review of the legislation, officials of my Department provided briefings for all of the education partners on the changes which were being considered to the Education Act 1998 and, in particular, the redefinition of section 29 of the Act. There was a general welcome for the proposals, as outlined, and the partners indicated broad support for the proposals at the briefing sessions. I propose, in this Bill, to amend section 29 of the Education Act 1998 to take account of the task force recommendations on the appeals process.

Section 4 of the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 will require a section 29 appeal committee dealing with an appeal relating to expulsion or long-term suspension to take account of the educational interests of other students in the school, as well as the interests of the student who is the subject of the appeal, when deciding on the case. The Bill sets out a range of factors that an appeals committee will have to consider in dealing with expulsions and long-term suspensions, including the nature, scale and extent of the student's behaviour which gave rise to the suspension or expulsion, the reasonableness of efforts made by the school to enable the student to participate in and benefit from education, the educational interests of the student concerned and the desirability and practicality of enabling the student to continue to participate in and benefit from education with his or her peers in the school setting. They will also have to take into account the educational interests of the other students in the school and the maintenance of a classroom environment which is supportive of learning.

The safety, health and welfare of teachers, students and staff of the school will be also among the factors to be considered. The school's code of behaviour and any other relevant policies will also be looked at.

The aim of the Bill is to provide a clearly stated statutory framework within which an appeals committee must determine an appeal and provide for a balancing of rights between the educational interests of the student who is taking the appeal and the educational interests of the school community as a whole.

The task force also recommended that a protocol be provided to assist school boards in the preparation for an appeal. This recommendation will be given effect to in the revision of the procedures for hearing and determining an appeal. These procedures, currently required and in place under the Act, provide the administrative framework within which appeals are dealt with. The procedures will be revised and expanded to reflect a level of detail which would not be appropriate to the primary legislation but which will be of practical assistance to all parties to an appeal. Consideration will also be given to putting the procedures into the more formally structured framework of a statutory instrument. Further consultations with all of the education partners will inform this process.

The Bill allows the Minister to regulate for the suspension of the time limit for hearing an appeal during periods of school closures, for example school holiday periods. This was also a specific recommendation of the task force. Currently appeals are dealt with on a year-round basis. This provision will be expanded upon in the proposed revision of the procedures for hearing and determining an appeal.

The Bill allows for a section 29 appeals committee to refuse to hear an appeal, or to continue with an appeal, which may be frivolous, vexatious or an abuse of process and to draw inferences from the failure of parties to an appeal to comply with requirements made of it, for example on requests for information or clarity of a position. This may arise in particular in respect of refusals to enrol where there may be a dispute as to whether or not a formal application was made or a definitive decision was taken on an application.

Specifically with regard to refusals to enrol, the Bill will extend the application of section 29(1)(c) to situations where a child is refused enrolment to an all-Irish division of a school. This addresses an anomaly which exists at present in respect of schools which contain a separate all-Irish division or Aonad. At present, a child could be refused enrolment to the Aonad but would not have a right of appeal if offered a place in the English language stream within the school. This provision will now permit an appeal, in its own right, in respect of a refused enrolment to an all-Irish division of a school.

The Bill also ensures that a section 29 appeals committee does not hear an appeal which is being or has been dealt with under the appellate functions provided under section 10 the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 and vice versa. The Bill ensures however, that the National Council for Special Education, like the National Educational Welfare Board, will be able to make submissions, as it considers appropriate, to an appeals committee dealing with an appeal under section 29.

A number of minor amendments to other parts of the Education Act 1998 are also contained in the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007. Section 53 of the Education Act currently permits the Minister to restrict access to information which would enable the compilation of school league tables based on students' academic performance and to information relating to the identity of examiners involved in the State examinations. As the State Examinations Commission, SEC, has operational responsibility for the conduct of State examinations, the Bill will extend section 53 to the SEC.

The Bill will address procedural matters relating to the functions of the chief inspector and will change some of the functions of the inspectorate under section 13 of the Education Act. Certain functions of the inspectorate in respect of examinations and psychological assessments are now performed by the State Examinations Commission, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the National Educational Psychological Service respectively and the Bill will amend the inspectorate's functions to reflect this. The Bill also amends section 13 of the Education Act 1998 to allow the chief inspector to delegate his or her functions to another inspector and permits the Minister to appoint an acting chief inspector in the event of illness or incapacity of the chief inspector.

The Bill will also give effect to the Government decision to establish the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork as a national cultural institution within the remit of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. In this regard, the Bill provides that the Minister can order the transfer of the lands and property of the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork from the City of Cork Vocational Education Committee to the Office of Public Works.

I hope the Deputies will agree with me regarding the positive benefits of this Bill and I look forward to listening and debating the various provisions with the Members of the House. I commend the Bill to the House.

A year ago, when this House debated a Fine Gael motion on school discipline, the Minister for Education and Science minimised the extreme difficulties that schools have faced in dealing with discipline problems due to section 29 of the 1998 Education Act. Referring to the debate as alarmist, she said that schools could overcome difficulties with the 1998 legislation if they had proper procedures in place.

The penny has finally dropped. I welcome this legislation, late as it is, and the attempt that is finally being made to address the imbalance in the legislation to give schools more authority in how they deal with challenging or unacceptable behaviour.

There are several aspects to this legislation but clearly the most important purpose of this Bill is to amend section 29 of the 1998 Education Act. For this reason, I do not propose to concentrate on the amendments this Bill makes to the 1998 Education Act to take account of the enactment of the 2000 Education Welfare Act, and the later establishment of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the National Educational Psychological Service, the State Examinations Commission and the National Council for Special Education, although I may table amendments on Committee Stage.

Section 29 of the 1998 Education Act sets out the mechanism by which a parent or student who has reached the age of 18 may appeal against a decision of a school to expel, suspend or refuse to enrol same student. This appeal must be made to the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science, with the existing legislation stipulating that an appeals committee, comprising at least one inspector, will be appointed by the Minister to hear the case. For some considerable time, however, there have been difficulties in the operation of the legislation. Most seriously, schools have been placed in the most unacceptable situation where valid and necessary expulsions have been overturned.

The Irish Vocational Education Association highlighted this problem when commenting that some previously expelled pupils returned to their schools "with a swagger, having achieved a victory against the school authorities". This situation undermines the authority of individual teachers, and of the school itself, to insist on a reasonable level of proper behaviour. Also, the message this sends out to young people is that there is no action that can be taken against unacceptable behaviour. This is a very unwise message for our school system and for broader society. In 2005 alone, the Department of Education and Science overturned eight expulsions and three suspensions at post-primary level.

A further problem with section 29 of the 1998 Education Act is that the legislation fails to refer to the behaviour of the student which may have lead to the problem in the first instance. In addition, the legislation does not mention the needs of all pupils at the school, and how they are being adversely affected by poor behaviour, or even to the health and safety needs of teachers, students and other people employed at the school.

These are serious legislative lapses and I was surprised to hear the Minister minimise the problems that schools face in ensuring acceptable discipline when I raised this matter last year. It was all the more surprising given that the interim report of the task force on student behaviour, which was available to all of us last February, made it clear that section 29 was being used to undermine the authority of schools in expelling seriously disruptive students, and found that this was leading to schools being forced to accept as students young people previously expelled for seriously disruptive behaviour. The task force also noted that in these cases, the student returns to the school secure in the knowledge that there is no real action the authorities can take against their unacceptable behaviour.

The draft proposals we are debating this morning include a number of provisions which go some way towards addressing the deficiencies in the 1998 legislation. Under these new proposals, an appeals committee shall now consider: the nature, scale and persistence of the behaviour of the student; the reasonableness of the efforts made by the school to accommodate the student; the educational interests of the student; the educational interests of all other students at the school; the safety, health and welfare of all students, teachers and other staff at the school; and the policies of the school regarding such behaviour and related issues.

This is a step forward but I remain concerned that if this legislation is enacted schools may still find themselves in the situation whereby they are forced to re-admit a pupil who, through his or her own unacceptable behaviour, has been suspended or expelled from the school.

When this legislation reaches Committee Stage, I will submit amendments to improve the position of schools in dealing with unacceptable behaviour. I have said many times we must not emasculate schools regarding how they deal with this issue. We must respect the fact that the decision to suspend or expel a student is never taken lightly, and direct our legislation to acknowledge this fact. For this reason, the legislation should be amended so that it is absolutely clear that where a committee examining an appeal comes to certain conclusions, then that appeal committee could only in the most exceptional of cases recommend overturning the decision of the school to expel or suspend a student.

The conclusion that the appeals committee would have to come to would be as follows: a school had acted properly, in terms of notifying the student and his or her parents at each step of the process towards suspension or expulsion; it had acted reasonably, in terms of taking the final decision to expel or suspend the student; it had acted in accordance with its policies; and that these policies were well-communicated to all students and their families. Where an appeals committee is of the belief that these three conditions have been met by the school authorities, overturning the decision of the school must only be taken in the most exceptional of cases. Inserting this type of clear statement into the legislation will recognise that schools do not act lightly in this matter and will empower them further to deal with seriously disruptive and unacceptable behaviour. This would be good for schools, for teachers, for all students and for our young people.

I am also concerned that the draft legislation does not place a specific onus on the appeals committee in respect of students suspended or expelled for reasons due to violence or the threat of violence. I understand the Department of Education and Skills in Britain has introduced guidelines of this type which state that schools will not normally reinstate a student expelled for this reason. The absence of a specific reference to this issue in these proposals is not acceptable.

This is particularly appropriate given the recent attack on a teacher at a school in Dublin. Following this attack, a teacher has been left with a broken nose and several broken teeth. This is a matter that will be considered by the school board of management and is under investigation by the Garda Síochána, so I will not speculate further on this case. However, it unfortunately is just the most recent example of violence against a teacher. I will also table an amendment on this matter on Committee Stage.

Some of the difficulties that schools face in dealing with unacceptable behaviour stem without doubt from under-funding in our education system. For example, half of all primary schools still have no access to the National Educational Psychological Service almost a decade since the service was established. Many young children who need assistance are being left behind and by the time they reach second-level schooling are growing increasingly frustrated with the system. This contributes to poor classroom behaviour. Access to essential services is, undoubtedly, important from an educational point of view. These services, however, also contribute to children and young people settling into school properly, and go a long way to improving the classroom and school environment.

Our trainee teachers must be given all the necessary assistance in dealing with disruptive behaviour in the best possible way. Some inexperienced teachers, when presented with a case of serious indiscipline, may simply not know the best way in which this can be handled. In these circumstances, a discipline problem might be exacerbated by inappropriate action from an inexperienced teacher. All possible assistance should be given to new teachers to ensure that this does not happen.

An expansion of the home-school liaison service should be prioritised so that problems in the home environment which may contribute to indiscipline can be properly assessed and assisted, along with greater co-operation between the Department of Education and Science and the HSE.

Guidance services in place in schools are poor at best. Schools with an enrolment of less than 200 pupils receive only eight hours career guidance counselling per week. Guidance counsellors could play an important role in improving the school environment through one-to-one and group involvement with students but at present are completely snowed under due to a lack of adequate resources. Serious breaches of school discipline, or threatening behaviour against teachers, should be reported immediately to the Department of Education and Science, which should know the schools facing the greatest discipline challenges when allocating resources. I welcome that the Minister has decided to assign behavioural support to 50 schools. A further 74 schools have sought such support. The Minister would accept that schools would not make such an application lightly. When can the other 74 schools hope to have the support provided? What exactly will the unit comprise? Will it be a separate classroom or a group of people operating within the school as a whole? Will some of the 50 schools experience space constraints to facilitate the unit and if so what steps will be taken to address that problem?

Building a culture of acceptable behaviour in our schools has many dimensions. It is important to enable schools to deal with unacceptable behaviour properly and amend section 29 of the Education Act 1998. Resources are also key. Other areas also require action from the Government, particularly tackling drug and alcohol abuse among young people and ensuring that bullying is stamped out when and where it happens. Bullying is a deeply destructive behaviour that can have long-term negative consequences for individuals. In some extreme cases it can lead to suicide. Tackling both student discipline problems and bullying behaviour at school in tandem with each other would have a longer-term positive effect throughout society. Young people must be given clearer guidance and direction when their behaviour is unacceptable.

Recent studies have shown an unacceptably high rate of bullying in our schools. It is of grave concern that many teachers appear to feel unable to challenge certain types of bullying, for example homophobic bullying, especially when four of every five teachers are aware of verbal bullying using homophobic terms and 16% of them reported incidences of physical bullying in a homophobic context. To take a longer-term view, workplace bullying costs Irish business up to €3 billion per annum through poor productivity and absenteeism. The children and young people of today will be the workers of tomorrow. They must learn that unacceptable behaviour at school, whether it is directed at teachers or their peer students, will be tackled when and where it occurs. This would also have a positive effect in tackling workplace bullying in later life. Bullying is a vicious and destructive behaviour that must be addressed. Children who are bullied cannot be left without support and help, particularly given that it can take generations for bullying to leave a family. I call on the Minister to introduce a national anti-bullying strategy in all schools immediately.

The young people of today have unprecedented access to hard drugs and alcohol. The extent of the problem that faces us is considerable. The European school survey project on alcohol and other drugs showed that Irish boys and girls aged 16 years are among the highest alcohol abusers in Europe in terms of binge drinking and drunkenness. Some 16% of boys and 12% of girls in the 12 to 14 age group are regular drinkers. In the 15 to 17 age group half of boys and girls are regular drinkers and drunkenness is commonplace. There is documented use of cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy and opiates by 15 year olds, and these drugs are undoubtedly being used by younger children also. It is abundantly clear that young people can gain easy access to drugs and alcohol. I know the Minister will agree that this is having a profoundly negative effect on many young people. They are being confirmed in bad and dangerous habits at a young age. Their education and that of their peers is being damaged. Drug and alcohol abuse at a young age is contributing to poor school performance and early school drop out. Most seriously, it is causing serious harm to their health.

We all know that peer pressure can be a major factor in how young people behave. The need to be part of the group undoubtedly leads to some young people experimenting with alcohol or drugs, often against their better judgment. We must give schools the tools and the support to tackle this problem as effectively as possible. We need to consider the problem creatively, and examine new initiatives which could help to rid schools of the scourge of alcohol and drug abuse, and to empower young people to resist peer pressure.

The existence of a voluntary random drug-testing scheme in schools would counteract this peer pressure. For the first time, young people would be able to refuse to smoke that joint or pop that pill on the basis that there would be a very real chance they might be caught. This would give young people, who might feel pressurised into taking drugs or alcohol, a way to just say no. If a school decides to introduce random drug testing and if consent for this is given by parents or guardians, the Department of Education and Science should support this decision. Each school management authority should be asked to decide whether it wishes to introduce random tests for drug and alcohol abuse. If in favour, the school management should contact all parents and guardians and ask for their written consent that their child be included in any future random checks. Tackling the scourge of alcohol and drug abuse is highly relevant to this debate, as tackling illegal drug use will contribute to building the type of atmosphere that we all want to see in place in our schools.

I would like to see greater clarity on the issue of enrolments and intend to table amendments in this regard on Committee Stage. I accept what the Minister said in her speech in this regard. However, one of the hardest issues to tackle in the legislation is that in some cases children are not being refused enrolment. Rather schools are adopting a policy of advising parents to wait and see, and come back later. I recently came across the case of a child who tried to get into six different of schools, none of which refused him. They all claimed not to have space but asked him to come back to them in a few weeks. The child never got a letter advising that he could not enrol because the school was full. I was advised that as he had not been refused enrolment, he could not avail of the section 29 procedures. It is unfair to leave any child in that situation. He is effectively unable to gain a place but has not been actually refused a place. That issue should be addressed in the Bill.

We also support this necessary Bill. This week we read of a teacher whose nose and teeth were broken by a student. On the other side, from the children's point of view, a study by the anti-bullying unit in Trinity College suggested that 35% of boys and 19% of girls were physically attacked during a three-month period. There is no doubt that there are serious problems in our schools that need to be effectively addressed. There have been difficulties with section 29 and the task force on student behaviour proposed that this should be one of the measures the Minister should take in addressing the behaviour of students in schools.

While we will be proposing amendments to the Bill, it only represents a small part of what is required and only implements a small number of the recommendations of the task force. The Minister needs to implement some of the other measures. While this represents a rebalancing of rights and all of us would feel that the rights of the majority of students who want to learn in schools need to be protected, at the same time the children who are being excluded from school also have rights. As a society it will be to our peril if we fail to address the rights of those students also. I would be concerned that the tone of what is being said in this debate focuses on getting them out of the schools, which could then simply operate for the majority of the children. However, what happens to these young people? We complain about anti-social behaviour. John Lonergan has been quoted as saying that the level of education of people in prisons is very low. We cannot simply cast them out, particularly when they are below school-leaving age, and expect the Prison Service to pick them up at a later stage. That is no way to deal with young people and their rights to an education. While we must look after the rights of the majority of students, we must also look after the rights of the minority who in some cases cause serious problems in schools.

Before coming to the House for this debate, I took the opportunity to reread the recommendations of the task force report. The task force was very good and I commend the Minister and its other members. However, its approach was very much holistic and it was not just about kicking the troublemakers out of school. It focuses on setting up the kind of environment in schools and communities around them that would prevent children from being expelled from schools through intervening at an early stage to identify problems. There must be early diagnosis of disorders such as ADD, ADHD, dyslexia or others which cause young people to misbehave in school if we are to assist them, their families and schools.

Chapter 10 of the report states:

The interim report stressed the need for all the key players to come together in an effort to stem the corrosive influence of persistent, serious disruption in our schools. We reiterate that call. This teacht le chéile of stakeholders is a fundamental tenet of the set of Recommendations set out below. Schools alone cannot supply all the remedies. They need and deserve the support of the Department of Education and Science, management bodies, parents and society in general. The Task Force calls on all the players to make their contribution and to do so in a spirit of generosity and collegiality, in the knowledge that as an investment it can yield only good.

It further states:

As highlighted right through this report, some schools are catering for students who bring with them a multiplicity of needs, many of which act as barriers to successful achievement in school. These schools require a range of measures accompanied by adequate resources to guarantee their efficacy. We are confident that the Recommendations that we put forward can make a significant contribution to the creation of a more harmonious teaching and learning environment in our classrooms and schools.

The task force recommended more involvement by parents and the availability of parents' rooms in schools, ensuring harmonious transfer from primary to second level and that those who have supports in primary school continue to receive them at post-primary level. It also dealt with teacher in-service education and ensuring teachers are properly resourced and empowered to deal with the wide variety of problems they encounter with young people in the classroom. Obviously, we are dealing with a changed society.

The report also deals with the introduction of a charter of rights and responsibilities. I note the TUI magazine dealing with section 29 amendments also stressed the need for the introduction of a charter of rights. The task force also dealt in its report with issues such as the introduction of behaviour support classrooms. I welcome the Minister's statement that she intends to do this. Other issues such as reducing class size, the provision in schools of adequate psychological services and addressing the difficulty of getting a diagnosis — I accept this matter does not come within the Minister's remit — under the mental health for children section of the Department of health and Children need to be addressed. There are many logjams in this area which often result in families having to wait for years to obtain a diagnosis. Families are having to go on waiting lists under pressure from many other areas within the health services. This is, for many of them, an added burden imposed on them by the educational services. It is often difficult to obtain the required diagnosis in order to obtain necessary supports for young people.

I am concerned that all pupils are being categorised as troublemakers. While some pupils may just be playing bad others have disorders which were not addressed earlier in the education system. Our primary focus must be on addressing those problems. I accept we must also provide schools with the powers to expel students who cause serious problems. The task force also recommended — I am sure the Minister is aware of this — that implementation and evaluation of its recommendations be monitored. Perhaps the Minister will say if she is planning to do this. I suggest it should be done in light of the fact that many measures introduced do not have the desired effect. A clear recommendation of the task force is that its recommendations be evaluated and measured in terms of implementation and success.

The statistics I received by way of parliamentary questions on the number of appeals under section 29 are categorised under the headings, primary and post-primary and, refusal to enrol, expulsion and suspension. However, we are dealing in the main today with expulsions and suspensions. I hope later to speak on the issue of refusal to enrol. It is clear that the number of appeals at post-primary level in respect of expulsion have been steadily increasing. The relevant statistics are: 2003, 34 expulsions; 2004, 52 expulsions; 2005, 68 expulsions; and up to end November 2006, 76 expulsions. Schools are concerned about the divide between the number of appeals upheld and not upheld. This legislation is designed to ensure schools have the power to expel students who cause serious disruption to the learning of other children. I do not have a problem with that. However, we must find other ways of dealing with students who are expelled from school.

The report also includes recommendations in regard to young people excluded from school. Paragraph 9.1 which deals with out of school provisions suggests approximately 1% to 2% of young people do not fit in a mainstream school because their needs cannot be catered for in a classroom-type situation. In this regard the TUI states:

Pupils are not taught on an individual basis [they are talking about in schools] they are taught in classes of many. Their conduct, if continually disruptive, robs the right to learn of other pupils who do not misbehave in any significant way.

We should heed the task force which states that a small minority of young people are not suited to the classroom situation and recommends the introduction of out of school provision such as the expansion of youth encounter projects which exist in three of our main cities. While we have only a small number of these projects, from my experience they work well. They offer alternatives for young people from the age of 12 years who are unable to get into a school or who have been expelled from school at an early age. The task force recommends that these projects be expanded. It also recommends that Youthreach which caters for students over 15 years be expanded and the introduction of a junior Youthreach for those aged 12 years to 15 years who are out of the school system. I recently visited a Youthreach programme in my constituency. It is doing fabulous work. Many of the young people involved in that programme had been expelled from school and were in a limbo-type situation until they reached the required age for Youthreach. They were studying for their junior certificate and were doing very well. I hope the Minister will address this issue when responding to the debate.

We must, when legislating to exclude young people from regular schooling, provide them with alternatives. We cannot simply leave them out there with no support. The Minister will probably reply that such matters come within the remit of the Educational Welfare Board. I accept that. However, it does not run programmes. It can only try to secure places in programmes for these children or provide them with home tuition. We need the Department of Education and Science to value these programmes and to provide them where needed. We must address the needs of the small percentage of young people who do not conform to what is expected of them in school if we are to address problems such as anti-social and criminal behaviour, bullying, youth suicide and joyriding. I am sympathetic to schools. I know what is required if they are to run orderly, disciplined establishments which allow appropriate learning. However, I feel very passionately that we cannot simply ignore the others. If we do so, we are storing up serious problems for the future.

In respect of the National Behaviour Support Service, I welcome the fact that this support will go directly into the schools this year. I was critical of the expenditure of €2 million last year which went almost entirely on setting up a new bureaucracy, with a full-time administrator based in an education centre, a national co-ordinator, four assistant national co-ordinators, nine regional development officers and 20 part-time associates. Psychologists are included, but they have been taken from NEPS which already does not have enough psychologists. We need hands-on support in schools rather than a bureaucracy.

In reading the report of the task force, I cannot see any place where it recommended setting up this kind of a national bureaucracy. My understanding was that it just wanted support teams which would go into schools which have problems and work with them.

They are the support teams.

They are co-ordinators and——

No, they are the people who will be going into the schools.

Will the national co-ordinators be going into schools?

Yes. All those people listed by Deputy O'Sullivan constitute the teams.

So the assistant national co-ordinators will be going into the schools?

Yes, they are the teams.

I thank the Minister for that clarification because what schools say they really need is the hands-on approach. They do not need someone sitting in the Navan education centre; they need someone in their schools. I accept the clarification but there is still too much bureaucracy around it.

Genuinely not in this case.

This may be an aside, but I met school secretaries yesterday who must be paid out of the capitation grant received by the schools. The actual support structures in the schools are inadequate. They do not have sufficient access to educational psychologists and do not have the reduced class sizes and all the other measures recommended by the task force.

I urge the Minister to refrain from sitting back and simply saying that since she has set up the support measures in the schools and is amending the legislation today, she does not need to do more. There are many other recommendations. The task force also has a timeframe. At the end of each series of recommendations, it states what should be done in 2006, 2007 and so on. Its timeframe is across all the recommendations so it is not a matter of recommending that the legislation be introduced and the support teams set up and one can wait two more years to take the other measures. Its approach is about starting everything more or less at the same time so that we can address the various aspects of it. This is my concern.

Having said all that, I welcome the legislation. It is welcomed by those who work in schools and the parents of the majority of young people, who want their children to have the opportunity to study in a peaceful and proactive environment. There are some concerns with regard to the legislation and we will also table amendments in the future. I draw the Minister's attention to something outlined by the TUI in its article that there is no provision in the amendments that pupils should not be reinstated solely on technicalities or procedural grounds. I ask the Minister to examine this aspect. It is probably true that young people expelled or suspended under section 29 can sometimes use a technicality. I believe this point was alluded to by Deputy Enright and we must be aware of it. The TUI may make recommendations to the Minister in this regard.

Another aspect of section 29 relates to enrolments. I welcome the section which basically states that schools cannot deny rights under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. In other words, the right of people with special educational needs to a place in school will be maintained and this legislation will not undermine their rights, which is very important. However, their right to get into a school in the first place needs to be protected. While provisions relating to the refusal to enrol are included in section 29, schools are managing to cherry pick students and make it difficult for parents to enrol their children with special needs, which was acknowledged by the Minister. Deputy Enright also referred to this fact. Sometimes, they will not give parents a letter stating they have refused to enrol the child so that parents cannot take an appeal under section 29.

We need to strengthen the rights of people with learning difficulties in this area and the rights of schools who have an open policy. Up to 10% and more of the student body of some schools is composed of students with special learning needs and the schools cater magnificently for them. It is ironic, but these schools often end up having section 29 appeals taken against them because more parents seek to enrol their children in these open and welcoming schools, whereas other schools do not have section 29 appeals taken against them because they let it be known that they do not want to cater for young people with special learning difficulties.

The Minister needs to take action in respect of enrolment policies. I have previously stated that, under section 33 of the Act, she can introduce regulations. I do not know whether she has thought about whether this might be necessary in view of the fact that there seems to be a growing divide, particularly in Dublin where certain schools want young people who do not have learning or social difficulties and leave other schools to be more inclusive and holistic.

That is true. Hear, hear.

This upsets the balance of these other schools because for them to be effective, they need a balance and mix. The Minister should consider making regulations under section 33, which she is empowered to do under the Act.

Ultimately, we all want all young people, irrespective of their learning needs, to be able to get into schools that can cater for their needs and for all young people to have a fair chance. In order to do this, we need to ensure they can get into schools and that all schools will cater for a wide variety of needs, that the curriculum is sufficiently wide to address a wide variety of needs and that there are alternative programmes for the small number of young people who cannot or do not wish to cope in a school setting. The Labour Party suggests that there should be a social guarantee so that all young people, irrespective of whether they are in or outside school, have the opportunity to avail of education, training, employment or something appropriate to their needs. As I stated previously, if we do not do this, we will store up all kinds of problems for ourselves into the future in terms of those alienated young people who are probably the main subjects of our debate today.

We are not opposing the Bill. We welcome what the Minister is doing, but there is a lot more to do.

I wish to share time with Deputies Healy, Crowe and Finian McGrath.

On behalf of the Green Party, I welcome the publication of this Bill. As other speakers have stated, it provides a welcome opportunity to debate a number of issues, the primary one being school discipline and trying to achieve a balance between the rights of individual students, the right of all students to learn and the right of all teachers to teach.

There are a number of other areas, such as extending section 29(1)(c) which relates to situations where a child has been refused enrolment to an all-Irish division or class of a school. Other issues relate to the National Educational Welfare Board, NEPS, provisions and the maintenance of the rights of students with special educational needs. Due to time constraints, I will put down amendments relating to these matters on Committee Stage rather than dwell on them here.

The main issue is school discipline. This is a very challenging issue to deal with — otherwise this Bill would not exist in the first place and there would be no ongoing complaints from teachers' unions. One of these unions, the ASTI, carried out a survey recently which revealed that more than one in ten teachers had been physically attacked by a pupil. It also found that more than half of teachers had also been subjected to verbal abuse and taunts from students. Some 7%, a significant number, admitted they were sexually harassed in the classroom environment. How can one teach properly in such an environment and how can other students learn?

These are the challenges the Minister has attempted to deal with through this Bill. As the Minister has stated, it is primarily aimed at ensuring that the rights of the pupil appealing an expulsion are treated equally alongside the rights of the majority of students to learn in the classroom and trying to balance the rights of teachers to do their job in a normal working environment. I commend the Minister and her Department on their efforts in trying to address this problem which nearly every second-level school faces on a daily basis.

The changes proposed do not go far enough to ensure the rights of children to learn in a safe, non-disruptive and idyllic environment. In short, a disruptive pupil is still allowed to rule the roost. Notwithstanding his or her right to appeal decisions, there is still too much leeway to allow him or her remain in the school. A pupil may be allowed remain for the most spurious or technical reason.

The Bill seeks to amend section 29(4), allowing the appeals committee to consider a range of factors in appeals relating to expulsion and suspension. They have been mentioned before and take in: the educational interest of the student making the appeal; the educational interest of other students in the school; the nature, scale and extent of the student's behaviour; the reasonableness of efforts made by the school; the safety, health and welfare of teachers and students; the school's policies, code of behaviour and extent to which this complies with any issued guidelines; statutory duties of schools; and other relevant matters.

In attempting to cover all these issues the balance still has not been struck and schools can still be forced on a technicality to let a student return. A student could continue disrupting and acting as a real and present physical danger to others in some cases. It is high time schools were provided with the powers to act effectively against students who disrupt the class time and again after a warning. This Bill is an opportunity to do so and I look forward to amendments being put forward by various parties and individuals.

The TUI, another teaching union, has indicated that decisions to suspend or expel pupils are usually taken in complete exasperation with refusal by the pupils and parents to heed repeated requests for changed behaviour. Every opportunity is normally offered to pupils to make amends; it is not like a dictatorial regime where a hand is chopped off after one offence. The students go through a lengthy process.

If a student's conduct is continually disruptive and robs other pupils of the right to learn, or if pupils continue to misbehave, action must be taken. There are cases where students appeal and are rightfully let back in. I hope this will occur not on a technicality but for a good reason. Some cases of disruptive behaviour can occur, as Deputy O'Sullivan mentioned in mitigating circumstances.

There are no clear guidelines in this legislation for dealing with cases of violence or where violence has been threatened. An example is where recently at a school in my constituency a 17 year old student allegedly assaulted a teacher, breaking his nose and teeth and damaging his eyes in a vicious assault. It is claimed the row broke out after the student had been playing with a mobile phone in class and took a photograph of the teacher. Having been told to put the phone down, the student attacked the teacher.

I will not comment on the individual case because it will go before the courts. In such cases, the student should not be allowed back into the school under any circumstance. The authority of the teacher will have been severely damaged and the student, in order to save face with other students, will have to walk with a bit of a swagger and keep his or her head high even if he or she has been humbled or realises his or her error. That student would have issues of self worth and will try to keep it up by swaggering around and boasting that he or she may attack the teacher again. This is why there cannot be an environment worthy of learning where a pupil is readmitted who has been expelled for violent behaviour. Such a student would have to go somewhere else, which I will deal with presently.

Deputy Enright mentioned the Fine Gael policy of possibly searching students for drugs or alcohol, which I disagree with totally. We do not live in the Bronx or a violent era in which kids should be routinely searched for weapons. We are still a relatively sane society, thanks be to God. To bring such searches into schools would be wholly negative and would criminalise young people at too early an age.

Kids will take drugs and drink outside the school system. It is more of a problem for young people to come into school after drink or drug binges, when they cannot concentrate or stay attentive. It is not so much the problem of drink and drugs being taken within the school but a case of such actions affecting school work. That is a wider societal issue which I will not try to skirt over. It needs to be dealt with and we should tackle the root causes. We need more intervention at an early age.

In previous responses to questions I have put down the Minister has correctly stated the Department cannot take total responsibility for children. However, we need more intervention and the task force on student behaviour recommended an holistic approach to the problems. We need resources put in at primary level to cover the Department's role. For example, the Green Party has proposed a new responsibility to ease the transition for students entering second-level education. The TUI has called for an induction for students on discipline issues when they enter first year. These deal with people going into second-level education.

I previously mentioned in committees that teachers would predict that a particular youth would cause trouble or end up in prison, although the student could be as young as six or seven. Resources must be put in place to deal with problems that are not always within the education system itself. We should consider expanding social services or assessment. For example, if we had the full complement of 200 National Educational Psychological Service personnel, it could go some way in providing an overall solution.

Deputy O'Sullivan mentioned that children excluded from school also have rights and I agree. We cannot forget that while on one hand we should ensure those who cause trouble should be kept out of the system, particularly if they will affect the rights of other students and teachers to do their job, we cannot on the other hand label them as scumbags and leave them with it for the rest of their lives.

Disruptive students were not born that way. Very few people are born bad. Many are moulded by the system into disruptive students. Social background, such as a dysfunctional home life or having a special educational need that is not dealt with, could be a factor. In recognising the turmoil that leads a student to become violent we should also help such students. This may not lead to a student going back into the same school after he or she has committed a violent act as that would affect the way students and teachers relate.

Another approach outside the existing school system is required. Perhaps we need a new type of education centre. On a visit to Sydney in New South Wales some years ago, I visited Edgware school in a rough suburb of the city. That school has been specially set up with other centres to deal with discipline issues. The Minister is aware of this school.

In this facility youths can go in and out at their own time and learn when they want or learn in very small classes. This is because some may have problems interacting with others. These youths can sometimes go back into the mainstream system after a spell in Edgware, whereas others get some form of qualification through the school itself. That is the way forward.

The task force report refers to out-of-school provision. Youthreach could be expanded to be a model in this respect and a junior Youthreach, as mentioned by Deputy O'Sullivan, would be a good idea. Youthreach must be resourced as it does not currently have the special educational needs services that primary schools do. Some 70% of the people in Youthreach have special educational needs. If such issues are dealt with, Youthreach could be a model with a section dealing with particularly disruptive students. These youths could be given the opportunity to develop their lives in the way they see fit while protecting teachers and other students so that they can teach and learn in a safe environment.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which I welcome although I am not sure it goes far enough. The detail will be teased out on Committee Stage. The Bill is based on research carried out by the teaching organisations and the report of the task force. Lack of discipline is a significant problem and it needs to be tackled seriously. School is a microcosm of life. Pre-schools, schools and the wider community are all part of the social fabric. Disruptive pupils affect the majority of pupils who are committed to learning. As Deputy Gogarty stated, disruption also affects teachers. I accept this is a difficult area.

Various inputs are evident in the Bill. Contrary to the general perception of it, in this case flexibility is evident on the part of the Department. This is necessary, especially in disadvantaged areas. I refer in particular to schools in CLÁR areas and in the DEIS scheme. In my constituency, St. Joseph's national school in Ballingarry will lose a teacher on 1 September 2007 unless the Department allows the teacher to continue to work there. The school numbers have fallen to two under the quota. This school is in a disadvantaged area and has a number of special needs and disadvantaged pupils. A special effort should be made for this school and similar ones throughout the country. Ultimately, how pupils get on at school will indicate how they will get on in life.

It is difficult to understand the withdrawal of psychological assessment from some schools. There appears to be a disparity between schools that were classified as disadvantaged and those in the DEIS scheme. The Presentation Secondary School in Clonmel had disadvantaged status but has now lost its on-site psychological assessment service. This appears to suggest to the whole school community that if one works hard and gets results, one will lose one's disadvantaged status and be removed from the DEIS scheme, as happened in this case.

Class size is another factor that impacts on school discipline. Various surveys have been done on this issue. A survey that was carried out in December 2006 in my constituency makes disturbing reading. It indicated that in the 2006-07 school year over half of the county's primary school pupils would be in overcrowded classrooms. A total of 21% of south Tipperary primary pupils are in classes of between 30 and 34 pupils and another 37%, or 2,383 pupils, are in classes of up to 29 pupils. A further 143 pupils are in classes of 35 and over. Some of those classes have special needs pupils which adds to an already difficult situation. I hope that even at this late stage the Minister will implement the promise made in the programme for Government that no child of eight years or younger would be in a class of more than 20.

Sub-standard accommodation is an additional factor that impacts on school discipline. I appeal to the Minister to meet a deputation from Gaelscoil Chluain Meala. As she is aware, the school's accommodation for the past 13 years has been in sub-standard conditions. It is in a never-ending cycle of waiting for other agencies to make decisions on a site and a new school. The school opened in 1994 with two teachers. It now has 12 teachers and 250 pupils. The waiting list extends to 2011. Overcrowded and substandard conditions are not conducive to learning or discipline. I appeal to the Minister to decouple the siting of Gaelscoil Chluain Meala from the Tipperary Institute transfer to the Ballingarrane estate in Clonmel. This has had the effect of delaying the process of identifying a site and building a new school.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this important legislation which deals with violent and disruptive pupils. We have to face up to this serious matter as it is a fact of life that a minority of pupils can be disruptive and damage our education system. Nobody likes excluding a pupil but there are times when schools have to make this tough decision in the interests of the pupil, his or her classmates and the school.

We need to build and develop schools with a warm, friendly and welcoming ethos. I am pleased to say we have achieved that in many cases but we must constantly develop good practice in our schools, both from a management and teaching point of view. One way to achieve this is to have a reasonable class size. This issue must be brought into today's debate. Failure to do so would be to keep our heads in the sand. Class size should be an election issue and I commend all those who will raise this issue in the coming months.

After ten years of unprecedented economic growth, which has seen the national debt almost wiped out and regular budget surpluses that could not have been imagined a decade ago, it is difficult to believe class size is still an issue. I accept some progress has been made. It is indisputable that class size at primary level is the second highest in the European Union. For years, groups like the INTO and delegates at its annual conference have listened to Minister after Minister promising to reduce class size whenever resources permitted.

Having just witnessed a giveaway budget and the €2 billion surplus of the Department of Finance, I agree with the comment of my colleague, Mr. John Carr, general secretary of the INTO, that if resources do not permit now, they will never permit. Class size in primary schools has become a political imperative. The Minister for Education and Science stated the basic resource in education is the interaction between the teacher and the child and, therefore, the degree to which we resource that interaction is the key to our success in education. These are not my words, they are the words of the Minister.

In 2002, as part of the programme for Government, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats stated clearly that over the next five years they would progressively introduce maximum class guidelines which would ensure the average size of classes for children under nine would be below the international best practice guideline of 20:1. Five years after that promise was made, children under nine remain in the second highest class size in the European Union. Whenever there are fewer than 20 pupils in a classroom each pupil receives more attention from the teacher, fewer pupils distract each other, the level of noise is reduced and each pupil receives a greater proportion of educational resources and learns more. This can reduce violence and disruption.

A recent survey found that 35% of boys and 19% of girls were physically attacked in our schools over a three month period, a worrying development. We must address this from other angles. There is a minority of violent, dysfunctional pupils in schools but this cohort is higher in socially and economically disadvantaged areas. One cannot expect a five year old to be normal and happy if he or she comes from a family steeped in drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence. One cannot expect the child to act in a normal way at school. We must ensure the protection of these children, many of whom are identified at the ages of four and five.

I welcome developments in pre-school education. Some disadvantaged schools have fantastic programmes involving home-school liaison teachers, creative principals, high quality teachers and parents developing strategies to assist these pupils. Such policies should be implemented.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend section 29 of the Education Act 1998, following the recommendations of the task force on student behaviour in second level schools. Section 29 provides that an appeal may be made to the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science. This refers to permanently excluding a pupil, suspending a pupil and refusing to enrol a child.

I am concerned by the refusal of some schools to enrol children with special needs, disabilities or those from poor backgrounds. I challenge the management authorities to be more open. We are losing the balance in some schools. We used to have the doctor's child educated with the plumber's child and the unemployed person's child. If wealthy children go to one school and the poor to another, society will be divided. We must be vigilant that this does not happen. A mix of children lifts all of them, in respect of economics and education. Those who have experience of mixed systems believe it is the way forward.

Parents should support the local school. Shipping pupils to what is considered an elite school can be damaging. If parents, as taxpayers, have difficulties in the local school they should work with staff and the parents' council. The Minister is aware that policies have been tested in disadvantaged areas and the more progressive ideas have come from the poorer schools. We must support teachers and parents.

The Minister states she is pleased "that the National Educational Welfare Board is currently finalising comprehensive guidelines for schools on developing and implementing effective codes of behaviour". Sensible ideas are being proposed. I welcome this debate.

This debate is timely in light of increasing indiscipline in our schools, most recently displayed with the stabbing of a 17 year old pupil by a fellow pupil in a school in Templeogue and the assault of a teacher in Clondalkin who was attacked by several students resulting in the teacher losing several teeth. I am also aware of an incident a few years ago where a former pupil threw rocks at a pregnant teacher's car, breaking the windscreen. A mini-riot ensued and teachers had to be escorted from the school. Four Garda cars and the Garda helicopter were involved. The teacher had to pay for the repairs to her car because the incident happened on school property. I was not too popular at the school for highlighting what happened because the school was not happy with the publicity.

Hard cases may not make good law but I cautiously welcome this legislation. The Minister is attempting to ensure greater balance between the rights of the school, the community, the rights of teachers to work in non-disruptive classroom, the right of suspended or expelled pupils to appeal a decision and the collective right of other students to learn in an environment free from disruption and menace.

Section 29 proved a lengthy and bureaucratic procedure unpopular with teachers, unions and schools. It placed a considerable administrative burden on schools, particularly principals, making it extremely difficult to deal with serious, disruptive behaviour.

What is the Minister's response to the belief of the TUI that the issue of appeals being upheld on a technicality has not been addressed? The TUI has warned that the Minister has not gone far enough to ensure a level playing field for every member of the school community. It also seems the Minister has ignored the TUI demand that an appeals panel should normally not recommend the reinstatement of pupils in violent cases. Surely an appeals panel should include serving teachers, as is the case in Northern Ireland and Britain, or representatives of a teachers' union.

Most agree that section 29 needs reform but that reform must ensure that unruly students are not returned on a technicality to the detriment of the broader school population. We must balance the rights of all. By favouring disruptive students, section 29 resulted in schools becoming increasingly powerless to remove continually disruptive students due to the unfair appeals process. Reforming this legislation is a first step but is not enough to improve discipline, respect and a general positive learning environment in our schools. Indiscipline takes up a considerable amount of time for teachers, resulting in stress and threats of physical abuse. Pupils also lose teacher time. We should never underestimate the negative impact that a minority of disruptive students can have on others. Physical, verbal and emotional abuse should have no place in our classrooms.

While the Minister for Education and Science has pledged €8 million this year for the national behaviour support service, this will only cover 50 schools. The Minister must respond adequately to the gravity of this problem. The disruptive minority in any classroom should not be allowed to dictate to the rest and hinder a teacher's ability to teach or a pupil's ability to learn.

School discipline is unquestionably a core issue in post-primary education. The amount allocated to tackle student indiscipline should be considered in the context of spending in Britain. Following a 2001 report highlighting the extent of negative school behavioural problems in Scotland, some £32 million was spent each year in the first three years, which was supplemented by a £53 million package. This funded additional support staff in schools, such as behaviour co-ordinators and classroom assistants. Last year alone in Wales and England over £460 million was assigned to its behaviour improvement programme. The behaviour support service needs a significant increase in staff numbers. There is a need for behaviour support in classrooms to help students who are struggling. Learning support units would reduce suspensions and expulsions by improving student learning, motivation, attendance and behaviour. Many second level schools face a crisis of discipline and must be supported in tackling this problem. All students have the right to a school experience that is free from disruption and bullying.

Recent TUI research revealed the severity of this problem. One in five post-primary teachers is subjected to intimidation and threatening behaviour every week. There is a need to improve and guarantee discipline in the schools with a well-resourced behaviour support system. Suspension and expulsion of students should be the last resort. For those students who cannot cope with, or are not suited to, mainstream education an alternative education must be provided. It is not acceptable to dump young people with behavioural problems on the community to create more mayhem on the streets.

I too am happy to contribute to this debate on the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007. I am glad the Minister is taking the time to be present for the debate, as she always does, because it is important for her to understand the challenges involved and hear from those of us who appreciate her efforts in regard to education. I could talk about my constituency all day.

I am sure the Deputy will do that.

There will always be problems but this Minister has brought her own skills to bear on her office. Her background suits her job. Unlike the Minister, I do not have a teaching background. Without wishing to be soppy, today would have been my mother's birthday and I spent some time thinking about my background which I try to bring to my political life. It may come as a surprise to Deputy Connaughton that I am not from Tallaght.

It does come as a surprise. The Deputy could have fooled me.

What a confession.

It is a pity there is no one here from the media to report that Deputy O'Connor is not from Tallaght.

I started life in the inner city and attended school with the nuns in Clarendon Street, then went to Synge Street, at a time Gay Byrne describes as "brutal". Children were beaten at that time but I do not have bad memories of my schooldays. I then attended Drimnagh Castle and had no bad times there. In a debate such as this one reflects on those days and how problems were dealt with then. We live in more enlightened times and the Minister has presided over that improvement.

I am a former member of the Deansrath Community College board. Unfortunately, the school received bad publicity during the week when a teacher was assaulted, which is regrettable. There was also a serious incident in St. MacDara's school in Templeogue. I received an anonymous letter yesterday from a woman in my constituency, expressing serious upset at that incident and concern about the atmosphere there and the difficulties it creates for her two children. We must be sympathetic to her point of view. I am not picking on St. MacDara's, which is a first class school, with which I was involved as a member of the VEC. Nevertheless, it had a problem last week.

Many of these schools have up to 1,000 pupils. I visited my local primary school recently and noted that the teacher was starting the day at 9 a.m. People in every profession say their work is demanding but although it is a long time since I was in school I recognise the demands on teachers. There are two sides to the coin which the Minister understands.

Deputy Finian McGrath said that this debate is not only concerned with the central issues, about which we know. When we debated the Prisons Bill earlier this week I said that it is better to spend money on education, at every level, than to have to visit young people, from my constituency and others, in places of detention. It is easy to say that these issues could be dealt with at school but we must do all we can, particularly in disadvantaged communities, to ensure that young people get the best start.

The Minister agrees with this principle and has visited Tallaght on several occasions where she has seen the efforts made by the staff and community in the national schools in Killinarden and Jobstown to look after young people who might be at risk. She has also visited the ACE project which helps young people complete their education and go to university, as they should. Resources should be made available for all these programmes.

There are always demands and various unions knocking on our doors with different points to make. The former Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, came last autumn to see the Early Start programme in St. Thomas's school in Jobstown which is under significant pressure. We should do all we can to help it.

The Minister initiated the Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative, which she visited when Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach will visit Tallaght on Friday week with the Minister of State with special responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to launch this initiative formally. This concerns helping the community in Tallaght and elsewhere; there are similar projects in Ballymun and in the Northside Partnership.

The prevention and early intervention programme which the Department of Health and Children has initiated examines innovative methods for improving outcomes for children in an integrated way. In a reply to a recent parliamentary question the Minister of State with special responsibility for children said:

The intention is to ensure that local services connect effectively with one another, making them more focused on the multiple needs of children and families. The strategy will also provide for some new services and the re-orientation of existing services in the identified area to meet the specific needs of the community.

Apart from the impact on my community in Tallaght this project will be useful elsewhere in the region and, in time, around the country. It is important to support these programmes which create the right attitude to education in children.

I often tell young people that had I finished my education, I might now have a decent job. That is not intended to be as funny as it sounds.

There would have been no stopping Deputy O'Connor.

I bet the Deputy wants to hold on to this job all the same.

Soon after I left school it dawned on me that I missed the school and my teachers. That is an amazing statement. I missed the discipline of school.

I have made efforts to return to education, attend evening classes, etc. It is important that——

I would say that the Deputy was always a very clever student.

I recently met a lady at a coffee morning who informed me that I was a lovely little boy when I lived in Crumlin. However, my sisters say this is not true.

I enjoyed school and I still enjoy it. I have a five year old granddaughter who is taking a great deal of interest in school and who wants to draw, learn about the environment, etc. I am a strong believer in the process in that regard.

It is important that the issues the Minister is addressing in the legislation be highlighted. Everyone is aware of situations where particular students are a disruptive influence in school. We all remember our own school days and we have heard stories about what has happened to others since becoming involved in political life. When I moved to Tallaght, I never had any intention of becoming a politician. My first involvement in local politics — if one could call it that — was on various school boards. I am sure the then parish priest, Fr. Richard Sherry, who subsequently moved on to Donnybrook, will not mind me outing him for appointing me to a number of local primary school boards. It was not perceived that he and I were of the same political persuasion. I became a member of South County Dublin VEC in 1985 and ended up serving on all the school boards in the Tallaght area.

School boards of management continually raise issues relating to discipline with us and there is an expectation that, on each occasion, we should back them. That is fair enough and, in most instances, we support them. It is important that we should support the notion that young people be safe in their classes and that special attention be given to those students who want to attend classes, do everything right and behave and not be disruptive. This is vital, particularly in the context of health and safety issues.

As a result of serving on second level school boards in south-west Dublin over the years, I developed concerns with regard to those young people who were expelled from school. I except that this might not be one of the central themes of the Bill — which I welcome and which I am glad is being supported across the floor — but there will always be one young person who, for one reason or another, falls out of the system and it is not always the case that this fact is identified. Everyone can cite instances of this happening. The teacher unions and those they represent will inform one that schools cannot be all things to all people and that they are obliged to concentrate on those pupils who want to work and achieve. Young people who fall out of the system should not be forgotten. The Minister will be aware that I am particularly interested in a number of projects in my constituency that specialise in work of this nature. Those who work on these projects will always be obliged to challenge the view in the Department regarding what should be done and who should be doing it.

The Minister is aware that on a number of occasions I have expressed strong support for the Citywise education project, which is based at Jobstown village in Tallaght and which was opened by the Taoiseach. This project caters for the young people in the area. Since it commenced operations, it has run a full-time education programme for those who do not attend school and also a range of after-school supports and club and sporting activities for upwards of 250 local young people from the area of west Tallaght, particularly Jobstown, to which I refer. I spoke to those involved with the project earlier in the week and I understand they are looking after 15 young people from the area who, for one reason or another, have left school. Some of the children to whom I refer were actually expelled. It is important, particularly in the context of this legislation, that challenges exist in that regard and that someone takes action in respect of them.

I have been involved with school boards and local politics for almost 30 years. In that context, I am not sure that schools always make the best possible effort to discover what happens to the young people who fall out of the system and end up being at risk as a result. There is a great deal of pressure on the school system and those involved are obliged to provide services to those children who want to be educated, who want to act properly and who do not want to be disruptive. However, there will always be somebody who will drop out of the system and require special attention. In my view, it is important that we should cater for the needs of such individuals.

Many Deputies have received representations from the teacher unions, particularly the INTO, in respect of issues that are of concern to them. Over the next 100 days, as the end of the lifetime of this Dáil approaches, many people will knock on our doors to lobby us and take advantage of the political climate as they see it. In that context, it is important that we remain focused on what we are doing. I am glad the Government is doing so. Not long ago, a Taoiseach used to call an election, the various parties would hold their conventions and we would then canvass for two and a half weeks before voting took place. I met a man in Tallaght village this morning who informed me that the tree outside his house needs to be pruned. He poked me in the shoulder and stated that I should not forget that he has four votes at his disposal and that there is an election in the offing. I am not being flippant by recounting this story and I have always been accessible and available to people. It is the political season but people must remain focused. I hope the Minister will continue to retain her focus, that she will go about her business and that, where possible, she will visit schools. There are many schools in Tallaght and in my constituency in general at which she would be welcome.

Let us try to get the job done. I informed someone recently that I am more concerned about finishing my first Dáil term successfully than I am about being re-elected. It is important that one does one's job.

The Deputy would like to return here all the same.

It is important to do the job one was elected to do and that is my aim. That is why I take every opportunity to speak on behalf of my community in this House.

I referred earlier to what are perceived as disadvantaged communities. I am not sure that it is always appropriate to consider specific areas in certain constituencies, identify them as being disadvantaged and state that disadvantage does not exist anywhere else. The latter is obviously not the case. However, there are areas in which more challenges than normal arise in respect of school attendance and the recruitment of good teachers. In fairness, teachers, particularly those with good experience, are sometimes obliged to make career choices. It is difficult for schools in disadvantaged schools to fight to attract or retain staff on the basis that they might have an easier life elsewhere. I hope I will not be contacted by teachers for saying that.

It is important that the disadvantaged communities and schools to which I refer will always require even more help than others. As the Taoiseach famously stated, even though all boats tend to rise in good times, we should not forget the smaller vessels. As far as education is concerned, it is extremely important that we heed this advice. I will always fight on behalf of the various schools in my constituency but it is important to fight even harder for those who require special attention.

I wish the Minister well in dealing with the Bill. It is important legislation. I am always pleased to hear Opposition spokespersons, even this close to a general election, welcoming legislation.

Good man, Charlie.

Members are entitled to make political points——

We can do that on this side of the House too.

——and I have no problem with that. I admire many of my colleagues on the opposite side of the House, whether they are from Galway or Limerick.

Get out the guitar.

We should give this Minister the credit she deserves for what she is trying to achieve. She has been progressive in dealing with the issues of concern to all of us and it is important that she hears from all of us. Her efforts regarding educational disadvantage are getting support. Many people will have a different perspective on these issues but I believe she is on the right track. There will always be a need for resources but where there is disadvantage it must be addressed.

Disadvantage affects schools like the one in my community in Springfield Estate, St. Mark's, which has a large population of international students. That is a positive aspect but, as the Minister is aware, it raises particular challenges which it is important to address. I wish the Minister well with the legislation, which I support.

I am delighted to contribute to the debate on the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I welcome the Bill. Like Deputy O'Connor, I do not have an educational background although a few members of my family are teachers. Something had to be done about disruptive students. I hope this legislation will address the problem but as the Minister is aware there is "many a slip 'tween cup and lip" and legislation brought before the House often takes on a different hue by the time it is passed. However, the Oireachtas is sending a signal to teachers throughout the country that they can expect some help from the establishment in dealing with this problem.

I listened carefully to Deputy O'Sullivan and others who spoke about the other side of this coin and the balance required. I spend a good deal of time speaking to teachers and principals in east Galway and I was told by a principal in a post-primary school there that the disruption can be so bad on occasions that he feels he should wear shin guards to school. Thankfully, those cases are in the minority but one bad apple in the barrel can disrupt the entire class if they are allowed continue with the behaviour. If the class brat is allowed to upset the whole class a copycat syndrome can develop and others in the class will think they can get away with the same behaviour. That is a major problem, particularly in larger schools. Some students can be controlled at a certain level but if they see another student getting away with disruptive behaviour, they will do the same.

Being a principal of a school is a difficult job for a variety of reasons I do not have the time to go into now. Disruptive students take up much teachers' and principals' time. We all appreciate that there must be checks and balances but in regard to corporal punishment the pendulum has swung too far the other way. My generation experienced corporal punishment, and there is no doubt that was a difficult time to be in school; there was not much talk about the rights of children. I have no time for corporal punishment, nor has any other Member, but the pendulum began to swing the other way as happens in modern democracies. In the past eight or ten years in particular, the news got out that a pupil cannot be touched, regardless of what he or she does. Whether that is right or wrong, that is the perception. This legislation will redress that somewhat and I hope the teachers, principals and vice-principals who will examine it when it is passed will believe they are in a slightly better position in that they will now know where the battle lines are drawn, which was not clear previously.

I do not have enough involvement in education to know how the appeal system will work. It appears satisfactory but I assume some clever person will drive a coach and four through it before too long; it is our job to close off any such loopholes if that happens.

I could spend the next half hour rattling off examples of cases involving disruptive students. Some of the students involved are so ferocious in their intent that not only can the teachers not control them but the gardaí are unable to do anything with them. Some students of 13, 14, 17 or 18 years of age are at a stage in their lives that, regardless of the arm of the State involved, even if it is the Garda, they will upset it.

I am aware of some remarkable cases where the disruption was so bad the students were eventually expelled. In one case it took almost two years to do this during which time there were case conferences and outside agencies became involved. While all that was going on the school was being thrashed. That is the problem with this kind of behaviour.

I hope the message goes out from this Chamber that there will be no room in schools for students who are overly disruptive, whose behaviour places other students at a major disadvantage and where the dignity of teachers is impugned. I will address the question of where such students should be placed, because that will have to be done.

I did not hear it mentioned in the debate earlier, and perhaps it is not politically correct to talk about it, but I do not understand the reason all the responsibility for a child's education is placed on the school authorities. Schools play a major role and formal education is one of the most important aspects of a child's upbringing but more emphasis must be put on the family and the parents in the case of disruptive students. Many will argue that if one has responsible parents, one will not have disruptive students. A school principal informed me that he had one of his teachers trailing a family in a large town in County Galway for several months to see why the children were not attending school. The teacher finally met the father who assured him his three children would be at the school the following morning but only if the teacher paid him. No one will doubt there is more trouble in that home than was mentioned at the door to the teacher.

It is against this background that we must consider the other side of the coin. This Bill draws the battle lines and disruptive students will be expelled from the school system. Agencies, therefore, must be put in place to follow their progress outside of the school system. The real disaster is if no one cares what happens to such children. Those children left to their own devices outside of the system will inevitably have a prison term on their CV.

Some parents take no blame for disruptive behaviour. Many teachers have described situations where, after some misdemeanour by a pupil, the parents were asked to attend the school. When informed of the incident, the parents would claim it is not their child who was wrong, it was the teacher. These kinds of parents claim the teachers are failing their children and do not have the skills required to teach. I accept there are bad teachers, just as there are bad Deputies and the odd bad Minister.

The odd bad Minister.

Whatever link there is between the school and the home, it must include the parents and guardians of the children concerned.

I admire youth work and extra-curricular activities. Even in the best communities, there are always three or four parents who must do the work of 30 or 40. Whatever activity, be it youth work, football or hurling, it will always come down to three or four good community-minded people. The rest of the parents will not become involved and are not concerned so long as their children are collected and left home safely. Many parents do not take their share of the responsibility for such activities. I am a great advocate of the Outreach programme. I was once a youth work officer and I believe it is important that young people are given the opportunity to express themselves out of school hours. All youth organisations, such as Foróige, play an outstanding role. Whatever funding is given to these organisations, it must be remembered how important their work is.

Some of the Minister's actions tend to counter her legislative aims. For example, some services in the home school community liaison scheme have been reduced.

There has been no reduction. Up to 82 new teachers will be recruited for the scheme.

From a reply to a parliamentary question, I understand that the scheme in Athenry Vocational School will, as of 1 September 2007, be withdrawn.

It will not be withdrawn.

I accept the service will be spread around a wider catchment area.

That is not the case.

The Minister should listen because I know exactly what I am talking about.

The staff members who have responsibility for Athenry Vocational School and Loughrea Vocational School will not have the same remit next September. They will have to cover a larger catchment area with more students. Under the Bill's provisions, disruptive students will be removed from school. I could not imagine a better service than the home liaison community scheme to deal with disruptive students rather than expelling them. It has made a positive contribution in both Loughrea and Athenry. The teachers involved know both the students and parents. With the Exchequer brimming with tax returns, I cannot understand why this service is being reduced. The work of the scheme has a direct and positive bearing on disruptive students because it connects the problems with the family. While the process can be slow and tedious, it often works in assisting disruptive students. The Minister's legislative intention runs counter to this.

The National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, is another important service. In a reply to a parliamentary question, I learned 74 national schools in County Galway do not have direct access to the service. The Minister claimed there was another route they can take to gain access. I was not aware, until it was pointed out to me, that this can be an expensive route. Even for the schools with access to service, there is an upper quota on the children that can be seen by the psychologist in any one school each year. Principals have informed me that in national schools with up to four teachers, there is a limit to the number of children who can access the service. The service should be student-orientated. It is a good service that has ensured that children, who could have fallen through the system, were identified and assisted. I have known disruptive students who were identified at an early stage to have learning problems. Remedial action was taken and many have gone on to take university degrees. If that had not happened, God only knows where they would be now.

I agree with the Minister's recent comment that the interaction between pupils and teachers is of great importance. This makes it even more difficult to understand the overcrowding that exists in so many schools. I understand the people of my area will have the pleasure of a visit from the Minister next Saturday, during which I hope to have a chat with her. Pupils are walking over one another in Aughrim national school and in Cahergal national school outside Tuam, where there was a fire in recent weeks. I visited Aughrim last week and was astonished at the situation; one could not swing a cat in the old part of the school.

We cannot expect teachers and children to give of their best in such circumstances. As many Members have observed, class size has a major effect on pupils' performance, as do their surroundings. Children and teachers packed into a banana box will not do as well as those who enjoy the modern set-up desired by all. The Minister has a great personal interest in this area but much work remains to be done.

I cannot imagine why any Member would oppose our proposals regarding voluntary alcohol and drug testing in schools. If everybody signs up to such a scheme, including parents, teachers and boards of management, there is no reason that it should be contentious. Many parents and teachers would be only too pleased to see such schemes initiated on a voluntary basis. I sincerely hope they will be.

Who would carry out the tests?

If one decides that something should be done, a way will be found to do it.

Will teachers have to carry out the blood and urine tests? I am just curious.

According to the Minister, she is doing things in education that were never done before.

I merely wonder whether teachers will have to do the testing.

We have put forward a policy.

I simply wonder how it might be implemented.

The Minister is innovative in the area of education and so is the Fine Gael Party. There are ways of implementing such policies if the will is there. It is a challenge to tackle the alcohol and drugs crisis in our schools. There is no point in burying our heads in the sand and pretending it is not happening. The Taoiseach tried to suggest yesterday that there is no problem in this regard. Like his brother, he does not realise the urgency of the situation. There is a serious problem in our society in terms of alcohol and drug abuse.

Fine Gael has put forward an idea to alleviate this situation.

I merely ask who would carry out the testing in schools.

I will explain that presently. The Minister's attitude seems to be to reject the proposal immediately rather than listen to the details.

No, I am only asking who would do the testing of blood and urine samples.

The proposal does not involve blood and urine testing. Two Irish companies produce the tests that we propose to use in schools; they are swab tests that do not involve blood or urine. There are five or six different tests and it is for each school to decide which to use. We propose that each school should be assigned a drugs adviser who is also a community worker. He or she will liaise with boards of management, parents and teachers to implement any initiatives considered worthwhile to alleviate the problem of alcohol and drug abuse in schools. This person will work with teachers to implement those initiatives.

Fine Gael in government will implement this scheme. In the meantime, we ask the Government to consider supporting schools in this way. I agree with the Taoiseach's comment that anything that might help is worth trying. To question how it might be done and who will perform the testing is an irresponsible attitude.

It is a reasonable question.

Yes, but I object to the way the Minister asked it. I appeal to her to keep an open mind on this.

Some Members expressed concerns that such a scheme might infringe pupils' rights. It is clearly a voluntary initiative. We want boards of management, teachers, parents and even pupils to sign up to it. It will not be forced on anybody. The Taoiseach cannot understand how such testing can be both voluntary and random. It is simple. When a school decides to implement this programme or another voluntary initiative, parents will be asked to sign up their children. Only those children whose parents have given permission will be subject to random tests. These children will have volunteered to be randomly tested. It seems too complicated for the Taoiseach to figure out but it is a simple process that could deliver good results.

The problem of alcohol and drugs availability in schools creates disciplinary problems and affects the health and welfare of young people. This problem is not confined to young people but is evident in all sections of society. A different initiative is required for each section. This is one solution that we hope will work in schools. Out intention is not to catch pupils out, name them as drug abusers or give them a criminal record. The objective of the scheme is two-fold. First, it offers young people a means of resisting pressure. We are all aware that students are under immense pressure to partake of alcohol and drugs. Alcohol is the greater problem but the incidence of drug use is increasing.

Students need a way to overcome serious peer pressure. We are all affected by peer pressure at different times in our lives. For young people, that pressure can manifest itself through the use of drugs and alcohol. Research shows that the possibility of being randomly tested on any given school day offers students a way out. When encouraged to use alcohol or drugs by their peers or others, they can opt out because of the possibility they will be tested in school the next day. It is a simple but effective solution.

The second advantage of a programme of voluntary random testing is that it will identify those students who are engaging in alcohol and drug abuse so that they can be admitted to treatment programmes, receive counselling and so on. This will give them a better chance in life. We on this side of the House will consider other initiatives because we owe it to young people to protect them and give them a way out from peer pressure and bullies. We have discussed this with boards of management, parents and students. Most of those who examine it carefully see it is a worthwhile initiative.

As the Minister observed, an important aspect of this is having somebody to carry out the testing. We propose that a drugs adviser, with expertise in this area, should be available to every school to give advice on this and other initiatives. Boards of management and teachers are not experts on all the issues that affect young people. They require guidance and support and it is the responsibility of the Government to provide that.

Most students say that alcohol use is rampant among their age group, particularly among younger secondary school children of 12, 13 and 14 years of age. As they get older, students can either handle alcohol better or become mature enough to refuse it. Children of 12, 13, and 14 years are vulnerable, however, and must be protected. Fine Gael's proposal is one way of offering that protection and it has a good chance of being successful. The drugs advisers will be able to work with schools on other initiatives that will not involve random testing but will be concerned, for instance, with encouraging students to engage in other activities that keep them away from alcohol and drugs.

I ask the Minister not to mock this proposal without thinking it through fully. Some Members have argued that implementing it would set us on the wrong road, reminiscent of schools in the Bronx. We wish to prevent our schools becoming like those schools. It is all about helping young people and trying to prevent them from engaging in abusive behaviour.

Drug and alcohol abuse among students contributes to the serious deterioration in discipline in schools. Difficulties in this regard are ongoing for several years. We debated a motion on this issue a year ago, at which time the Minister said we were overreacting and being alarmist and that there was no need for changes in this area. We are not being alarmist; the facts show that this is a serious problem. That is why we support this Bill as a step in the right direction in tackling the problem of lack of discipline in schools.

The Bill brings clarity to the situation. It is hoped it will make the appeals system more straightforward and ensure that more appeals are upheld. It also clearly sets out the rights of students in terms of the arguments they can make, and provides that there will be a thorough investigation before deciding whether schools have implemented their codes of behaviour correctly. Teachers can also engage in bullying behaviour and we must ensure systems are in place to identify such teachers. The provisions requiring that everything be investigated thoroughly on behalf of both students and teachers are welcome. This clear guidance for the appeals procedure is welcome and will help ensure that all parties have a fair say.

I have not fully read through the task force report, School Matters, but I will go through it with a fine-tooth comb. The national behaviour support service assessed the 124 schools which applied to it. I accept we cannot include every school but what was the criteria under which the schools were assessed? Some 50 schools were picked from the 124 which applied. Did the other schools miss out because of funding or because they did not need the service? Will the Minister give us some information on that? I accept every school cannot be included immediately but I would like to know if there were other reasons, apart from funding, schools were not included. I appreciate it is a start-up project and that every school cannot be included immediately.

The task force has valuable insights into strategies and approaches to deal with disruptive students. The National Educational Welfare Board is currently finalising its guidelines on developing and implementing effective codes of behaviour. I mentioned before in the House and at committee that we need stronger guidelines, codes of behaviour and disciplinary procedures for schools. There must be standards across the board. There should not be huge differences between schools in terms of codes of behaviour, breaches of discipline and so on. We need better guidance. Boards of management and schools are looking for clear guidelines to be set down. Indeed, a set of rules would go a long way in many schools.

Recently qualified teachers have told me they did not get enough training in class control, disciplinary procedures and so on and feel unequipped to deal with this issue in the classroom. We need to address that issue. The Minister will probably outline all she is doing but teachers have told me they do not believe they have the skills to handle disciplinary matters. Much of that has to do with the person but it also has to do with the procedures.

I do not believe the handbook student teachers receive when they leave college has a chapter on discipline. They should be given help and guidance in the area of discipline because it is a major problem for teachers. Teachers of all ages have said to us that they can no longer cope in the classroom. Some teachers are retiring early because they cannot handle the pressure of teaching. Other teachers spend all day trying to control the class and do not even get to teach. I have seen teachers in action and some have very bad methods to deal with discipline, which add to the problem. Other teachers are very effective. Surely we can learn from teachers who get it right and can control a class. Some teachers do not have the ability to do so and we must help them, give them guidelines and provide them with better training. One way or another, we must solve this problem.

Regardless of how good the teacher, there are problems with students who need help inside and outside the school environment. Help should be given from a very young age. My colleague spoke about the role of parents. Parents have an important role in ensuring their children are disciplined, mannerly and so on. However, that is lacking among many and we must do what we can to fix it. Parenting courses would go a long way towards helping that. Not every parent is perfect. Most parents have ups and downs and admit they do not always get it right. They would be quite happy to accept help and guidance along the way. However, some parents have to be forced to accept help and guidance.

We must seriously consider parenting courses for all parents because it is a difficult time to bring up young people and to have children given the pressures we face. It is hard to instill discipline in children, get them ready to become full members of society and to treat people with respect. We need to help parents and parenting courses are one way to do so. If one wants to adopt a child, one must do nearly 18 months of courses yet any couple can decide to have a child without doing a course. On many occasions we talk about education as a way to solve problems but we must accept we can take action to prepare children for school. We cannot expect teachers to solve every problem.

While this Bill mainly deals with long-term suspensions and expulsions from school, I refer to short-term suspensions. Perhaps I am wrong but I believe short-term suspensions are dished out too quickly and, therefore, lose their effect. If they are given out all the time, they have no effect, especially if given out for minor breaches of discipline. One loses a tool one could use at a later stage for a worse breach of discipline. It is unfair on some students who get suspended for a couple of days for the wrong reasons. For some families, having a child suspended is still a big embarrassment and can cause serious problems. It is not simply a couple of days off school and no big deal. It is a big deal and it goes on the student's record. The boards will bring forward codes of discipline and I look forward to debating them. We have a serious problem with discipline which we must tackle in any way we can.

Youthreach was mentioned earlier. It does a very good job but it has not been mainstreamed. It is located in parts of buildings or wherever it can get some space. If we accept Youthreach has done a good job, surely we can give it proper places to hold classes and treat it with the respect to which it is entitled. It is doing a very good job and some students are getting a great chance, which they are taking. We need to help and encourage these students and provide them with a proper environment in which to attend school. One's environment has a big impact. If classes are too big, classrooms become crowded, especially if there are computers in the room. It is very hard to work in such an environment and for the teacher to try to control a class. Progress is being made to reduce class sizes but we must realise we are not moving fast enough in some areas.

Prefabs and poor buildings result in young people having a negative attitude towards their environment. If one is being taught in a prefab, which is 20 years old and which would fall apart if one kicked it, one would not have much respect for it and for those who work in it. We would not work in poor conditions, so we should not expect students to do so. We should demand and expect better for young people so they will feel better in their classrooms. That alone would help discipline. A range of initiatives should be taken.

Disruptive students cannot be corrected in school alone. There must be more for them outside the school, namely, in their homes and communities. Our society has become busier and richer but we have forgotten to look after young people in their communities. We have not provided them with the facilities they need. Despite the millions of euro spent in recent years, we need to do more and provide new initiatives, programmes and structures for young people of all ages in villages, towns and cities to give them a chance, places to go for support and to meet so they do not hang around streets and bad places where they will get into trouble. If young people have excess energy, there is a good chance they will do something wrong in school or outside it. If we keep young people busy, give them plenty to do and provide them with help and support, there is a good chance they will not cause major problems in school or elsewhere. However, we are failing to do that. I do not blame anybody or any Government for that. We have failed to act over a number of years as this country has developed. Young people are always the last group on which money is spent in terms of council budgets, etc. It is necessary to provide young people with facilities.

Students are under much pressure and we spoke earlier about peer pressure in the context of drink and drugs. Addressing that issue will involve drugs advisers, medical personnel and others who will help with random testing, etc. Students are under other pressures, whether in terms of fashion, religion or otherwise. They are also under pressure as a result of the workload placed on them. Are we expecting too much from some students as they go through their school years? They do a full day at school and when they go home, they do another four or five hours study or homework. Few people in the workforce would work the same number of hours as students. Some students doss as do some adults, Deputies and Ministers. However, many students are under pressure to work many hours to try to get the results they need to climb the ladder in life. We must look at that situation. We ask too much of our young people today. The education system has served us well over the years but there has to be a way to relieve the pressure on young people. While many of their problems are examples of indiscipline and bad behaviour, others are tragic. The pressures of society, examinations and workloads in school contribute to that situation.

The Bill is relatively small but the lives of students are of great significance and we do not devote enough time to them. They are not properly looked after. There is a responsibility on all of us to push their agenda and help as much as we can.

I thank Deputies for their interest in the Bill and for their comments, not just concerning discipline but wider issues in education. This Bill is only one element in tackling problems of discipline, which is a serious issue for a small number of schools. In those schools, however, it needs to be addressed. The recommendations of the task force, which are being implemented as we speak, were very broad in range and this legislation is just one of those recommendations.

In answer to Deputy O'Sullivan, the task force comprises psychologists, teachers and principals and they will go into schools as teams. They invited every school to briefing sessions to explain what their work was about. They invited applications from schools, of which there were 124 in total, 50 of which they prioritised for immediate roll-out based entirely on the information given by the schools.

There is no set model for how this will work. Some schools need support in staff training and in internal management. Others need support to work with individual groups of children and others need behavioural support in the classroom. Even for the last of those there is no particular model because the support offered depends on the circumstances of the school and the issues it wishes to address. We do not have a preconceived notion of a particular model that will work but are open to what is happening on the ground and are keen to start work immediately.

The budget for 2007 is quite generous, at €8 million, and schools will immediately be notified. Next week is the mid-term break and the behavioural support team will start working the following week, meaning we will see real progress in its work this term. Schools will appreciate the high calibre of the leader and other members. Their experience on the ground and the ideas they bring to the team are varied and will help make a real difference.

They will have to consider other options for schools, such as the involvement of parents' councils and student councils, to give a voice to students, which are a crucial part of maintaining discipline and a code of behaviour.

To answer Deputy English's question, every school is required to have an anti-bullying policy. A template for a number of different policies has been given to all schools and is available on the website, giving schools a formula to use and adapt to their own situation. I referred earlier to the code on which the National Educational Welfare Board is working for primary schools and it is something for which schools have asked.

Staff, students and parents must sign up to a code of behaviour, or for that matter an anti-bullying policy, otherwise it will not work. Significant help has been given recently by the National Centre for Technology in Education, NCTE, on new forms of bullying such as web bullying, mobile telephone bullying etc. If I were to write out all the things that were happening in combatting bullying, such as the school support service, social, personal and health education, legislation, policy templates and campaigns and supports given by the NCTE, they would amount to a national strategy and that strategy is making a real difference in schools. It is unfortunate that people still suffer in schools, as they suffer in society, which is all the more reason why targeted initiatives need to be in place.

Deputy Enright raised a typical point. She mentioned a student who had applied to a number of schools and did not receive even one answer. If a parent applies formally to a school the school must answer within 21 days. If the school does not answer, the Department can ask for clarification and, if it continues not to answer, it is taken as a de facto refusal.

Does "formally" mean in writing?

Yes. The school cannot kick it into touch. The Bill provides that the appeals committee can draw inferences from the school failing to comply with the requirement to give information, limiting the capacity of the school to defer decisions on enrolments.

Deputy O'Sullivan asked about expelling a student. The educational welfare officer must be notified before a student is expelled and a student cannot be expelled before 20 days have passed. Some Deputies asked whether such expelled students were thrown out on to the street. Anybody below a certain age must be accommodated in another school. I accept that one size does not fit all and some have particular difficulties. We are currently carrying out an audit of other out-of-school provisions that include Youthreach and the youth encounter project and provide very valuable work, with a view to seeing how they can be strengthened. A recommendation was made for a junior Youthreach, which I would support, but I am adamant it should not be for children aged 12. A child cannot be rejected from a mainstream second level school before he or she sets foot in it, which is what would happen because certain children at primary school would be told to go into Youthreach. That makes them a failure before they start.

Given that one in five primary school teachers now deals with children with learning difficulties of one type or another, I hope that problems of basic literacy and numeracy could be addressed and supported in primary schools. The school completion programme deals with transition from primary to secondary school as a key element of its work. The expansion of home school community liaison is another feature which can help children to make the transition. The evidence shows that problems largely arise in second year, rather than first, so I do not want 12 year old children to be rejected from the mainstream. I see junior Youthreach as an added support for problems relating to discipline.

Deputy O'Sullivan raised a subject which is supported by the task force, namely the idea of holistic supports in schools. These may take the form of parents' rooms, for which all the disadvantaged schools have been invited to apply under the dormant accounts scheme. Such initiatives support the work of the home school community liaison officers, of which there are currently 370, with interviews taking place for the recruitment of a further 80, making a total of 450. Their work will be concentrated on disadvantaged schools but we made it quite clear that schools that currently have a service will continue to hold it, in line with their level of disadvantage and the size of the school population. The number is over and above the mainstream classroom teachers and can make a huge difference.

I accept the point that class size can be an issue. At second level, which is what we are discussing, there is a teacher for every 13 students.

There are still thousands of students in classes of more than 30 students.

It is a statistic, not the reality on the ground.

It is the reality. If one offers subject choices at second level, some classes will be small.

Some are big.

A student I met told me that there are 28 people in her English class. When I asked her about another of her subjects, she told me that there were two people in her Spanish class. When one tries to get the best use out of one's teachers and offers different subjects, some classes will be larger than others.

We know that.

There is a teacher for every 13 students, including important posts such as guidance teachers, the number of which we have increased in the past two years——

That does not help English teachers.

——and resource teachers. As there is such variety in second level schools, it is important for a school's management to ensure that the mix of subjects and the distribution of teachers suits the school's situation. If schools have questions on this matter or on how it is being implemented locally, they can raise them with the behaviour support service to determine whether the matter is having an effect or what type of curriculum is on offer. For example, should they have junior certificate support teams and should they offer more practical subjects? Next September, the new subjects of technology and computer-aided design will be introduced. As these subjects can suit those who are good with their hands, we should ensure that schools offer such a curriculum to support children.

If we are to have top class schools, buildings are an issue. As the House is aware, of the country's 4,000 schools, 1,500 will have building programmes and their——

More statistics.

Most of them involve a new boiler or window.

They will improve a school's environment. Deputies cannot tell me that a leaking roof will not have an effect.

It has an effect.

Some of the 1,500 projects are large while some are small. The face of the situation has been transformed. Undoubtedly, a number of buildings remain to be dealt with.

The country has transformed. Naturally, schools should follow.

Of course.

It is no great achievement.

When there are 4,000 schools, it is an achievement. Tomorrow, I will visit a school that has 13 students and two teachers.

The Minister should go to Gorey where 800 children are crammed into a school. That is the difficulty.

For which reason we are building a new school in Gorey.

The playground of a school I visited this week only has a space of 2 sq. ft. per child.

The priority must be to provide educational facilities. If anyone wants to tell me to spend money on playgrounds instead of classrooms, new schools or science labs——

They are an important part of school life.

We cannot do it all.

The Minister is missing that part of it.

Is the Minister trying to raise a generation of machines?

I thought the Minister would like sports facilities.

Allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

Is the Minister saying that it is okay for children to be unable to run around at break time?

No. Children should be allowed to run around, but they do not need to go on break together. A little local management should be used to send classes out one at a time. They do not all need to run around in playgrounds that are too small for them.

We want to raise people, not machines.

That is right. That children spend 20% of their waking hours in school per year is wonderful. Deputy English is right in that we cannot expect schools to do everything. One must look to communities and parents because we cannot expect teachers to do everything or schools to answer every problem.

We want to provide quality education for all students. When the task force was launched, I accepted the recommendation to introduce this legislation to rebalance rights, but it is important not to focus on the right to expel. The Bill is concerned with ensuring that proper considerations are taken into account during an appeals process. The first consideration listed is "the nature, scale and persistence of any behaviour alleged to have given rise to, or contributed to, the decision made by or on behalf of the board" and the reasonableness of any effort made by the school to enable the student to participate in and benefit from education.

The Bill focuses on individual students. This is as it should be because constant chattering at the back of a class could be viewed as disruptive behaviour in some schools or be ignored in others. It is important not to ignore an individual's rights, but we should recognise the rights of other students to get an education and the rights of teachers to teach. I do not accept that the Bill does not go far enough. It is a rebalancing of rights and provides guidance to an appeals board on what should be considered.

Regarding expulsions, a great deal of section 29 relates to second level schools rather than primary schools. As I told Deputies who raised the matter of second level class sizes yesterday, the schedule for primary level will be sent during the coming weeks and class sizes will be reduced in September, as was the case last year.

As I told the INTO this morning, if any Minister for Education and Science had stood before it five years ago and stated that there would be 4,000 extra primary school teachers by now, he or she would have been laughed at. If a Minister had stated ten years ago when the Government entered into office that there would be 7,000 or 8,000 extra teachers by now, the INTO would have laughed at him or her. However, both increases have come to pass.

Likewise the population.

They have been targeted at the disadvantaged and those with special needs. No one suggests that they be targeted elsewhere. Having addressed those issues, which will continue to be priorities, class sizes will be reduced this year.

Deputy Connaughton commented on the important work of Youth Work. I will give credit to the former Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, who provided considerable financing for Youth Work, which supports developments in schools.

I look forward to Committee Stage and to hearing the Opposition's opinions, recommendations and amendments. Taken with the other recommendations being implemented, I hope to make a distinct improvement for the small number of schools — it is not a crisis around the country — with serious disciplinary problems.

Question put and agreed to.