Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 7, 10, 30, 50, 51 and 52 are related and may be discussed together.
Education and Training Boards Bill 2012: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 8, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:
“ “Education and Training Boards Ireland” means the association established to collectively represent education and training boards and promote their interests, which is recognised by the Minister for the purposes of this Act;”.
At the start of Committee Stage my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, indicated that he wanted to consider how the legislation should reflect the current and future role of the Irish Vocational Education Association, IVEA. This consideration included its capacity to co-ordinate information and provide more support generally within the sector. The purpose of amendment No. 7 is to include a provision that permits the Minister of the day to request a new body to make representations on behalf of an education and training board to conduct surveys relating to information sought by the Minister and to give assistance to a board as necessary for the effective discharge of its functions. These provisions will help to make explicit the useful support role which can be provided to the new boards in carrying out their functions. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, also stated on Committee Stage that the IVEA was going through an internal process to ratify a change of name to reflect the structural reform taking place in the sector. That process has now concluded and, accordingly, the Government is tabling the remaining amendments in the group, which have the effect of recognising the new body in this legislation. It will now be known as Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI.
These amendments also replace references to the IVEA with references to the ETBI in this legislation and in the Youth Work Act 2001. As the national representative for VECs, the IVEA has played a pivotal role in the development of the sector for more than 100 years. I believe the ETBI will continue in that proud tradition and I look forward to working in partnership with the body as we enter a new era for education and training in Ireland.
I am happy enough with that amendment.
My reading of amendment No. 7 suggests additional powers and oversight for the Minister in respect of the functions of the board. It is not possible at this stage to table a further amendment but it would be useful if the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection were used more as well. It is well and good to give the Minister additional oversight, but if he requires additional information or details then the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection should be the forum to discuss that information and detail in order that we can better scrutinise it. I fully understand why the Minister is seeking this power. This is more an observation than opposition to the amendment.
Certainly the Minister will be guided by the opinion and considered consensus of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection in terms of how he might exercise this function. He has always sought to engage actively with the committee, as the Deputy is aware, and none of this legislation will prevent that process from taking place in future.
The Minister may request that particular surveys be carried out. I presume any such surveys would be laid before the House anyway and would be open to scrutiny.
The Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection should have an active role in the process.
One of the many positive reforms emanating from the legislation is the fact that we will be able to share expertise throughout the entire education and training board network. Now and again, to determine how we are succeeding in that regard, it will be necessary for the Minister to request such surveys. I imagine that when the results of such surveys become available they will be made available to the committee as well.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 8, to delete lines 41 and 42.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 11, lines 38 and 39, to delete “provision of, education and training” and substitute the following:
“provision of education and training, including education and training for the purpose of employment,”.
It was noted on Committee Stage that the Minister for Social Protection had emphasised the need for the functions of education and training boards to include explicit reference to education and training for the purpose of employment. After further consideration the proposal makes sense given the expanded role of the boards in line with the upcoming SOLAS reforms. SOLAS will be established under the Further Education and Training Bill 2013, which is scheduled to be taken later this evening, and the amendment ensures that education and training for the purpose of employment will be core functions for the new boards.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 11 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 12, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
“(d) enter into arrangements with, and provide support services to, education or training providers, in accordance with section 22*,”.
The purpose of these amendments is to permit education and training boards to operate education facilities jointly with bodies that are not education and training boards and, in certain circumstances, to provide support services to such bodies. It is something to which the Minister, Deputy Quinn, referred previously. Schools are subject to increasing demands and principals must not only exercise leadership roles in the school communities but also be responsible for the day-to-day back office functions that are integral to all organisations. In times of constrained resources, when we are compelled to seek best value for money, there is an opportunity to tap into existing expertise in the VECs.
Amendment No. 11 inserts a new section 22 which provides that an education and training board may, with the Minister's consent, enter into an arrangement with an education or training provider for the joint performance of any of the board's functions. This will be subject to terms and conditions agreed between the board and the provider. The section specifically refers to land and project management but these are merely examples. The Minister for Education and Skills is given the discretion to direct an education and training board to perform functions jointly with an education or training provider where a provider makes such a request. This section also introduces an enabling provision to permit education and training boards to provide support services to other education or training providers if requested. Those support services could include matters such as procurement, human resources, finances, ICT and corporate governance. The provision of support will be subject to ministerial consent and the agreement of terms and conditions between the parties. The Minister will also be empowered, on foot of a request from an education or training provider, to direct boards to provide support.
It should be noted, however, that the legislation does not place an obligation on education or training providers to avail of support services. By way of example, while the Minister might direct an education and training board to arrange to supply services to schools that are not covered by the education and training board in a locality, the legislation does require not them to avail of such services. In this way, it remains open to other providers to use or decline services that may be arranged or provided directly by a board. Education and training boards may also be requested by the Minister to assist a board in implementing a direction. Amendment No. 4 includes these co-operation and support service provisions as functions of the new bodies.
Sinn Féin supports these amendments because we think they are positive. We will be giving the boards significant responsibilities and we have to ensure they can access all available expertise. The legislation sets out a range of support services but I presume that is not an exhaustive list. Is a mechanism available for providing additional supports not prescribed in the Bill?
The list is not exhaustive. It merely suggests a number of areas in which collaboration can occur. The legislation also allows that to happen in other areas.
Amendments Nos. 5 and 17 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 12, line 17, to delete “effective.” and substitute the following:
(k) require an education and training board that includes a Gaeltacht area to ensure the delivery of its services in schools and education centres, including youth work services in Gaeltacht areas, through the medium of Irish.”.
Amendment No. 5 provides that where an education and training board area includes a Gaeltacht, services should be provided as Gaeilge. It is common sense that somebody from a Gaeltacht should be able to access services or make inquiries as Gaeilge.
The Minister, Deputy Quinn, indicated previously that Conradh na Gaeilge would be a nominating body for community representatives. I do not know whether that commitment has been implemented and I ask the Minister of State for a clarification.
Amendment No. 17 is similar to amendment No. 5, although it deals with the education and training board system as a whole rather than focusing solely on those which include Gaeltacht areas. It is important that a minimum number of members of a board are able to carry out their functions through the Irish language. When we raised this issue on Committee Stage, we were advised that education and training bodies will come under the Official Languages Act as public bodies. It is important that our national language is promoted and bodies which are instrumental in providing necessary supports must be able to carry out their functions as Gaeilge. For that reason we ask the Minister of State to consider both amendments favourably. We will be supporting amendment No. 5.
The issue of including specific obligations on education and training boards in respect of the Irish language was discussed on Committee Stage. As Deputies will be aware, the 20 year strategy for the Irish language from 2010 to 2030 promotes an integrated approach to the Irish language, which is consistent with best international practice. The programme for Government commits to supporting that strategy. In addition, VECs are public bodies which fall within the terms of the Official Languages Act 2003 and it is the intention that the Education and Training Boards Bill 2012 will preserve that position so boards are also obliged to meet the relevant Irish language requirements. These include a requirement on them to prepare a language scheme when requested to do so. The scheme must be agreed between the VEC and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. When a scheme is agreed it has legal effect and the VEC is under a duty to comply with it. Bearing in mind that significant legislative protection is already in place, it is not appropriate to impose additional obligations on these new public bodies in the way proposed in amendment No. 5 and for that reason I do not propose to accept it.
In regard to amendment No. 17, local authority members are elected through a democratic process and quotas for those with proficiency in Irish are not a feature of local elections. There would be a danger in putting down a requirement of this nature if it is not capable of being met and, therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.
I will be making a similar argument on gender quotas in the context of a later amendment. This is why we included the phrase "where practicable" when we drafted the amendment. We are not insisting that three of the ten members be fluent Irish speakers. Where a capacity exists within a local authority, that should be the aim. This is why we tabled the amendment.
If we are serious about promoting the Irish language, these boards will have a huge responsibility in terms of training and education. For that reason alone, it is important members of the board are able to carry out their functions in Irish if necessary.
As I pointed out, the new ETBs will be subject to the terms of the Official Languages Act 2003, as is every other public body. I live in an area where there is a substantial Gaeltacht and the local VECs have been very adept, professional and committed to providing services to the Irish language community across the whole of County Galway. They have seen it as important to do that because that Gaeltacht is there. I do not believe that by imposing these extra requirements on any ETB, we will enhance that service. It will be apparent to all ETBs that operate in an area where there is a substantial Gaeltacht or sufficiently strong use of the Irish language that they will be obliged to interact with people on a daily basis in the language. There is sufficient legislation already in place providing for the protection and enhancement of the language through bodies such as the ETBs and anything over and above that would be superfluous and unnecessary.
Coming from the constituency he represents, the Minister of State would have a better understanding than I would of a Gaeltacht area. However, the setting up of the educational training boards is ultimately about providing a better service for users. The Minister of State has alluded to the fact that he believes it will be apparent to the boards that will deal with and represent Gaeltacht areas that they should provide a service as Gaeilge as required. Therefore, I do not understand the reluctance on the part of the Department to accept this amendment. Fianna Fáil supports the Bill in general and any amendment we bring forward is constructive and can only help improve the Bill.
Based on our consultation with VECs and people involved in Gaeltacht areas, they want an amendment to the legislation to ensure the service can be provided as Gaeilge by the boards that look after a jurisdiction with a Gaeltacht area. It is regrettable the Department and the Minister of State are unwilling to take this amendment on board. My colleague, Deputy McConalogue, made the point far more strongly on Committee Stage and he has apologised for being unable to be here today. It is regrettable the Government is not prepared to accept the amendment being put forward.
Deputy Troy spoke about Gaeltacht areas, but our growing number of Irish speakers is not just confined to Gaeltacht areas. If one of these speakers contacts an ETB that is not within a Gaeltacht area and wishes to avail of the services through the Irish language, it is important that the facility is there to provide for that. If there are no Irish language speakers on a particular ETB, does that mean the board will have to outsource translation services? If somebody wants to avail of services through the Irish language, how will that board meet its obligations under the Official Languages Act? If it is the case that requirements such as translation must be outsourced or that additional services must be brought in, that will surely involve an additional cost. That cost could be offset here and now by including in the legislation the provision that a certain number of board members should be able to carry out their functions through the medium of the Irish language.
The members of the boards of the ETBs, with the exception of those members who are on the staff, would rarely interact with the general public. They are there in a managerial capacity and do not sit at the front desk of a VEC or Youthreach service anywhere. It is those people who need to interact with the public in an effective manner. I agree with the Deputy that there are areas other than Gaeltacht areas where the public want to interact through Irish. If it transpires within any ETB that there is demand for such a service - a demand that would be most tangibly felt in Gaeltacht areas - there is nothing to prevent the board of that ETB ensuring that service is available. In fact it is obliged to ensure it is available where it is needed. Therefore, I do not see it as a prerequisite of providing that service that Irish language speakers must be on the managerial board.
In an area where there is a Gaeltacht, insisting that at least three of the ten elected members of the board should have the capacity to discharge all of their functions through Irish would skew the democratic process more than necessary. I see no benefit accruing from that. Rather, it would undermine the democratic process. There is sufficient protection available within the Official Languages Act to ensure the services to Irish language speakers are provided consistently across the service. Any legislation or imposition over and above that is unnecessary and might prove unwieldy.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 12, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
“(b) recognised teaching unions representing staff of an education and training board,”.
In fairness to the Minister, he took on board many of the observations made on Committee Stage, particularly with regard to increasing the membership of the boards. We wanted to ensure they are reflective of society and that there will be a diversity of opinion on them. In fairness, an amendment is proposed which will increase the membership of the board from 18 to 21. The Minister also took into account some of the suggestions made by Opposition parties at committee level with regard to having nominating bodies.
This amendment seeks to ensure the newly configured boards will be as representative as possible. One of the reasons for including this amendment is that because the boards will deal with education and training, there is a need to have a recognised teaching union representative on the board. We ask the Minister of State to consider this seriously. If a recognised teacher union representative is in place, he or she will represent teaching staff and the interests of the teachers will be protected. Amendments further down the line seek to ensure there are representatives of the business community and adult learners are on the board. This amendment is just an extension of that. In order to ensure there is diversity of opinion on the board, we want this amendment included so the teaching profession will have the right to sit on one of these boards.
The Bill requires each education and training board, in performing its functions, to consult with a range of stakeholders, including members of staff of the board. Therefore, I do not think it is necessary to include teaching unions specifically. Furthermore, were unions to be included, it would be wrong to confine that requirement to teaching unions, given that VECs and future ETBs will employ a wide range of staff, perhaps represented by staff other than teaching unions. For that reason, I do not propose to accept this amendment.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. I intend to press this amendment.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 13, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
"(5) The Minister may request Education and Training Boards Ireland to—
(a) make representations on behalf of an education and training board in respect of its functions,
(b) conduct surveys in respect of information sought by the Minister in respect of the performance of functions by education and training boards, and
(c) give such assistance to an education and training board as the Minister considers necessary for the effective discharge of its functions.".
As amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are related, they may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 15, line 27, to delete "subsection (8)" and substitute "subsections (8) and (9)".
The purpose of these amendments is to enable the Minister to direct an education and training board to release a CEO in order to facilitate his or her secondment to another education and training board or another public service body. The amendments are being proposed to provide for flexibility, particularly in the early stages after the establishment of the new body.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 15, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:
"(9) The Minister may direct an education and training board to arrange for the secondment of the chief executive of its board to—
(a) another education and training board, or
(b) another public service body.
(10) An education and training board shall comply with a direction under subsection (9).".
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 20, lines 35 and 36, to delete "the Irish Vocational Education Association" and substitute "Education and Training Boards Ireland".
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 20, between lines 41 and 42, to insert the following:
"22.—(1) An education and training board may, with the consent of the Minister, enter into an arrangement with an education or training provider for the joint performance of any of the functions of the board, subject to such terms and conditions as may be agreed by the board and the provider.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), but subject to section 52 and any regulations made under that section, an arrangement under subsection (1) may relate to the acquisition, holding, management, maintenance, development (including project management of such development) and disposal of land, or any interest in land.
(3) The Minister may, at the request of an education or training provider, direct an education and training board to perform any of its functions jointly with that provider, subject to such terms and conditions as may be specified in the direction.
(4) An education and training board may, at the request of an education or training provider, with the consent of the Minister and subject to such terms and conditions as may be agreed by the board and the provider, provide support services to the education or training provider.
(5) The Minister may, at the request of an education or training provider, direct an education and training board to provide support services to the education or training provider, subject to such terms and conditions as may be specified in the direction.
(6) The Minister may request Education and Training Boards Ireland to give such assistance to an education and training board as he or she considers necessary for the implementation of a direction under this section.
(7) An education and training board shall comply with a direction under this section.
(8) In this section, "support services" includes—
(a) the holding, management, maintenance or development of land,
(b) project management,
(c) the giving of assistance in relation to the purchase or procurement of goods and services,
(d) human resources,
(e) financial services,
(f) legal services,
(g) information and communications technology, and
(h) corporate governance.".
As amendments Nos. 12, 15, 21, 25 and 40 are related, they may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 26, line 28, to delete "18 members" and substitute "21 members".
The composition of education and training boards was discussed in detail during the Committee Stage debate on the Bill. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, did not give any particular commitments in this regard at the time, other than to say he wanted to reflect further on the contributions that had been made by Deputies. The amendments before the House, which have been introduced on foot of that reflection, will increase the number of members of each education and training board from 18 to 21, the number of local authority members on each board from ten to 12 and the number of community representatives from four to five. When we reach other amendment groupings, we will discuss the minimum representation for each local authority that is to be set down and the sectoral interests that will have to be represented on education and training boards. Our approach in this regard is informed by a number of principles, including the need to ensure smaller counties are adequately represented, the importance of ensuring there is a reasonable balance across all education and training boards and the need to strike an appropriate balance between local authority members and community representatives. Our overriding concern is to provide that the membership of the new boards is small enough to ensure they are effective. I believe these amendments go some way towards meeting the demands of later amendments to be proposed by Deputies McConalogue and O'Brien.
We welcome these amendments. As the Minister of State has suggested, my colleague had tabled amendments to make this point. I am glad the suggestions of Opposition parties are being taken on board and the numbers are being increased. I would like to comment on the most important aspect of the composition of the education and training boards. If the boards are to be enacted fully and effectively, there must be balanced representation. They should be composed of stakeholders in further education and training in our local communities who are motivated and committed. While I welcome the decision to increase the number of board members, that does not matter as much as the most important point, which is that those who come forward to serve on the boards must be committed to educational development, have experience in the relevant areas and have something to bring to the educational formation in the areas they represent.
I echo what Deputy Troy has said. On Committee Stage, we had a good discussion on the possibility of increasing the number of people who will sit on these boards, including in areas where there will be more than one local authority after the amalgamations take place. In fairness, the Minister took many of the issues we raised into consideration. It is difficult to strike a balance between having the right number and having the right expertise. If we go too far, we will make the boards unwieldy. I welcome the Minister's decision, on reflection, to increase the numbers. I believe we will have a much better balance in light of these amendments, which we intend to support.
I concur with the observations of the Deputies. We are trying to strike a balance between having sufficient local and community representation on the boards and ensuring they are small enough to be able to work effectively and deliver for the learners across the country whom they will ultimately serve.
Amendment No. 13, in the name of Deputy O'Brien, may not be moved because it is out of order. As amendments Nos. 14 and 16 are related, they may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 26, line 28, after "comprise" to insert the following:
"of whom a minimum of 8 shall be women and a minimum of 8 shall be men with the remainder to be composed of either men or women".
These amendments have been resubmitted on foot of the debate on Committee Stage, when they were the subject of a pretty extensive discussion. The Minister said he would reflect on the matter. I presume that having done so, he still feels unable to accept what we are proposing. I will not labour the point. We have already had this conversation. It is regrettable that some way of legislating for the spirit of the amendments we proposed on Committee Stage could not be found.
The Bill reflects as far as possible the desire for gender balance on the new boards. One man and one woman will represent parents on each board. We are increasing the number of community representatives from four to five and providing that there must be a minimum of two women and two men. The Minister of the day will have the power to make regulations to establish women-only and men-only panels from which people will be elected. That is the position under the current regulations. The current position with regard to local authority members is that the proportion of male and female local authority representatives on VECs must mirror the proportion of the total number of members of the relevant county, city and town councils who are male and who are female. It was mentioned on Committee Stage that this provision had given rise to practical difficulties. This is inevitable, in my view, when a number of bodies come together to elect people to a single board. Instances of this nature in the past have led to unnecessary conflicts at local level and have created doubts about the legitimacy of boards that do not reflect the correct gender proportions.
As Deputies are aware, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, brought the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 through the Oireachtas last year. The effect of this legislation will be to reduce the level of public funding given to parties that do not reach minimum levels of gender representation among the candidates they put forward at general elections. This will inevitably have an impact on representation at local level. This issue must be addressed at electoral level, rather than by imposing threshold levels for State boards where there can be no guarantee that the requirement laid down can be met. Having regard to the mandate of members who are democratically elected in local elections, it would be wrong to seek, over and above that, to impose gender balance criteria on education and training boards. The local authority members who will be appointed to each board will form a majority of its membership. On that basis, I do not propose to accept these amendments.
I completely understand why the Minister of State does not propose to accept these amendments. Following the Committee Stage debate and today's brief discussion, local authorities need to be sent a message to the effect that they should try, where possible, to make sure the gender balance within a local authority is reflected when they are nominating members of the new education and training boards. If the debate today and on Committee Stage sets that process into practice, it will have been worthwhile.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 26, line 29, to delete “10 members” and substitute “12 members”.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 26, lines 36 and 37, after “subsection (2)” to insert the following:
“and the local authority will, where practicable, ensure that at least 3 of the 10 elected members will have the capacity to discharge functions in relation to the board in the Irish language”.
Amendments Nos. 18 to 20, inclusive, in the name of Deputy McConalogue have been ruled out of order.
Is it possible to comment on the amendments even though they have been ruled out of order?
No. The Deputy may have an option to comment later, if it is relevant.
In that case, I will comment later.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 27, line 4, to delete “(d) 4 members” and substitute “(d) 5 members”.
Amendment No. 22 in the name of Deputy O'Brien has been ruled out of order.
Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 26 to 29, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 27, line 5, to delete “Subject to subsection (3), where” and substitute “Where”.
The purpose of my amendment No. 26 is to ensure appropriate representation for lower population counties while ensuring fairness to all by keeping the overall number of members across all education training boards, ETBs, the same. As a result of my amendment, there will be a guaranteed minimum of three members from each local authority area where three authorities combine to elect members to an ETB. There will be a guaranteed minimum number of four members from each local authority area where two authorities combine to elect members to an ETB and the balance of members will be determined having regard to population. I believe this meets the concerns that motivate amendments Nos. 24 and 29 from Deputy McConalogue.
Turning to his amendment No. 27, I believe there may be a difficulty in including factors additional to population and then using those to determine the proportions in which each local authority area is represented. If a blend of factors is used, questions arise as to what weighting should be given to each factor. Ultimately, such an approach is likely to lead to more subjective decisions being made and accusations of unfairness arising, which we certainly want to avoid. We have sought to ensure fairness and certainty by relying on population based on the most recent census as the measure through which the remaining numbers are arrived at. This approach will ensure that the voice of all communities, large and small, is heard while also maintaining objectivity in how the appropriate balance is reached.
As the Minister of State outlined, these amendments mirror similar amendments that were put down by my colleagues. We welcome the amendments. It is important, when looking at the new structures, that smaller counties would not be disproportionately affected. Coming, as I do, from an area where the new configuration is Longford-Westmeath, I welcome the fact that, on the Government taking office, it reconfigured the position of Westmeath as it is a much more natural lie for Westmeath to be with Longford. However, while the people of Longford might not like for me to say it, Longford is a much smaller county than Westmeath both in terms of geographical area and population. In any configuration of the education training board, I would not like to see Longford at a disadvantage with regard to Westmeath.
I welcome the fact the Government is taking on board what my colleague has suggested on the make-up and configuration of the new boards. There is a situation where Mayo, Leitrim and Sligo have been grouped together and it is important that each county would have a say in the make-up of the board. I compliment the Government on taking on board our suggestions.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 27, line 10, to delete “10” and substitute “12”.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 27, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
(a) 3 local authorities are mentioned in column (2) of Schedule 4 opposite mention of an education and training board in column (1) of that Schedule an order under subsection (2) shall specify that at least 3 members of that education and training board shall be elected by each of the local authorities concerned, and
(b) 2 local authorities are mentioned in column (2) of Schedule 4 opposite mention of an education and training board in column (1) of that Schedule an order under subsection (2) shall specify that at least 4 members of that education and training board shall be elected by each of the local authorities concerned.”
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 27, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
“(3) The Minister shall have regard to the size of each outgoing Vocational Educational Committee in regard to staff, student numbers and budget as well as to the population of their respective counties in deciding an appropriate proportion of local authority members to be nominated to the Education and Training Board from each county.”
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 27, line 11, to delete “When making an order under subsection (2),” and substitute the following:
“Subject to subsection (3), when making an order under subsection (2),”.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 27, line 11, after “Minister” to insert the following:
“while ensuring that the education and training needs of each and every vocational educational committee area that existed prior to the establishment day shall not be disadvantaged under the education and training boards”.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 27, lines 17 and 18, to delete “the Irish Vocational Education Association” and substitute “Education and Training Boards Ireland”.
Amendments No. 31 to 34, inclusive, and 42 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 27, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:
“(7) The education and training board shall promote contact between parent associations in schools and the community and shall facilitate and give all reasonable assistance to parents associations who wish to elect their representatives to education and training boards.”
The legislative foundation for the development of education policy that is inclusive of the rights of parents in the management of their school at local level is in place since 1998. The Education Act 1998 at section 26(3) provided that the board of management “shall promote contact between the school, parents of students in that school and the community and shall facilitate and give all reasonable assistance to parents who wish to establish a parents' association and to a parents' association when it is established”. This partnership was further developed and built on by the inclusion of the rights of the parents at the level of the local authority area and the enactment of the Vocational Education (Amendment) Act 2001. That Act provides that membership of the committee shall include two members elected by parents of students who have not reached the age of 18 years and who registered as students at recognised schools or centres for education established or maintained by the committee.
The State has already facilitated and given all reasonable assistance to parents as key stakeholders to engage and participate in the governance of further education and training at local level. However, I believe the Education and Training Boards Bill 2012 will cause parents to become disengaged because, if section 28(7) is not amended, it will cause a disintegration of the dynamic partnerships that have been emerging between parents and their educational providers in their local communities in the past ten to 15 years.
Section 28(7)(a) states that:
the Minister shall, for the purpose of subsection (1)(c), specify a national association of parents in respect of the education and training board who shall nominate 2 parents, one of whom shall be a man and one of whom shall be a woman who shall be appointed as members of that board.
Section 28(7)(b) states that:
Where, in the opinion of the Minister, an education and training board provides a significant amount of primary education he or she may, for the purpose of subsection (1)(c), specify more than one national association of parents in respect of that board who shall each nominate 2 parents, one of whom shall be a man and one of whom shall be a woman for appointment to the board.
Section 28(7)(c) states that:
Where more than one national association of parents is specified under paragraph (b), the members referred to in paragraph (a) and (b) of subsection (1) shall appoint 2 members to the education and training board from among the persons nominated under paragraph (b) of this subsection, one of whom shall be a man and one of whom shall be a woman.
At a local level, parents will always be unevenly organised. Therefore, the ETB as a governing body has a duty of care towards parents as critical stakeholders. In effect, this means that parents must be supported and facilitated in the election of their representatives to the ETBs. Since the Education Act 1998 provides that parents are supported and facilitated to establish parents' associations, it follows that in the interests of good governance and coherence between the Education Act 1998 and the Education and Training Boards Bill, the Minister must consider the amendment as proposed.
This is another area about which there was much discussion on Committee Stage. One of issues raised was the importance of local knowledge to the ETBs. The Minister admitted during the debate on Committee Stage that this local knowledge is essential to the success of the ETBs and that we need to ensure that local knowledge within communities is reflected in the ETBs. It is for this reason that we are supporting these amendments.
In respect of amendment No. 31, the power to nominate parents to ETBs rests with national associations of parents. It will be a matter for them through their network of local associations to decide how they nominate parents to each board. On that basis, I do not propose to accept this amendment. While parents' representatives are to be nominated by national associations of parents, those nominated must be parents of children who are registered as students in an ETB facility. This is crucial and an improvement on the current position whereby parents of registered students do the electing but the representatives themselves do not have to be parents of students in a VEC school. To underline this, by virtue of section 32, a person will cease to be an ETB board member if he or she ceases to have a child attending an ETB institution. The legislation is further empowering parents in the local community and those who are parents of children attending ETB schools rather than diminishing that power. On that basis, I do not propose to accept Amendments Nos. 32, 33 or 34.
Excuse my ignorance on this as I am just doing this for the evening. If my understanding is correct, heretofore, even though the parents of children who attended the school had the vote regarding who the representative was, parents in a school down in Galway could have voted to put Robert Troy on the VEC board even he has no children within that jurisdiction. Under the new legislation, while the representative will be appointed by a national body, that body must appoint a parent who has a child attending a school within the jurisdiction of the new board.
Where does the national body pick the parent from? It makes clear sense that someone sitting on a board should have an interest and be a stakeholder by virtue of his or her child attending one of the colleges or further education centres. Where does the national association pick the parent from? Is it a lucky dip or is there a mechanism for interested parties because the person who has to serve on the board must have an interest in doing so? There is no point in appointing someone to a board if he or she has no interest in being on it so we want to get someone who is interested in and committed to developing the educational facilities within the jurisdiction. Could the Minister of State enlighten me in that regard?
Amendment No. 31 is the one I want to focus on because I understand the process that will be put in place. Even at local board of management level, it is difficult encouraging parents to get involved. Trying to convince a parent representative to sit on an ETB is a significant challenge. This amendment says that every assistance needs to be given to those parents. We need to look at whether there is some additional training or assistance that needs to be given to the various parents' association within an ETB board area to enable those parents to have the confidence and ability to go forward and sit on the board.
I will address the questions raised by the two Deputies. Deputy Troy is correct in pointing out that he could have ended up as the parents' representative in a school in Wexford under the old system.
I suppose I would need to have children first.
The national parents' associations' collective bodies draw their candidates from the parents' associations within each school. If I am on the parents' association of my local school, we collectively come together and put forward candidates for consideration. Under the old legislation, it was not necessary for that candidate to be a parent of a child in the school. Under the new legislation, it will be an absolute necessity for them to be parents. The democratic right and power of parents to exert influence over the policy direction of the ETBs will be enhanced rather than detracted from as a result of this. Those parents' representatives in parents' associations in each individual school are the ones put forward for election. Those names emanate from within the parent organisation within each school. In the past, sometimes people nominated by the local parents' association were not parents of children in the school at the time but perhaps were nominated for some other reasons best known to the parents' association.
Could Deputy O'Brien recap the point he made?
The amendment states that the education and training board shall promote contact between parent associations in schools and the community.
My apologies. Deputy O'Brien asked about whether parents have sufficient expertise to be able to-----
Or even supports to enable them.
Having been a long-standing member of a parents' association both in primary and post-primary school, I know that parents' associations nationally have fairly effective training opportunities in place for parents' representatives to ensure they maximise the opportunity as best they can when they are elected to boards such as this.
Only Deputy Troy has the right to reply.
From what the Minister of State is saying, it seems to be reasonable and fair. To clarify matters, the parents' associations within schools must nominate somebody to the national association first so the national association will not be just a lucky dip. There will be a chain of command and it will come from the bottom up. The local associations must nominate somebody and if they are nominating someone, that person would have an interest in and knowledge of the issue. He or she will be the choice of his or her peers. If what the Minister of State is saying is correct, that is welcome, including the fact that he or she must be a stakeholder vis-à-vis his or her son or daughter being a pupil in the school.
In respect of another amendment, Deputy O'Brien made the point that parents are serving on these boards, be they boards of management or the boards of the new ETBs, in a voluntary capacity.
With the best will in the world and with their own expertise to provide, it is only right and appropriate that a certain amount of training should be afforded them before they are asked to sit on the education and training board to ensure that they are fully equipped and aware of their responsibilities as board members.
Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 may be discussed together, as amendment No. 36 is related.
I move amendment No. 35:
In page 28, to delete lines 1 to 7, and substitute the following:
(i) at least one of whom shall be a body representative of business, industry and employers,
(ii) at least one of whom shall be a body representative of learners, and
(iii) at least one of whom shall be a body established for the purpose of representing the interests of persons engaged in the management of, or leadership in, recognised schools,
and each specified body shall nominate one man and one woman who reside within the functional area of the education and training board concerned, for appointment to that board.
(b) The members referred to in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (1) shall appoint 5 members to the education and training board from among the persons nominated under paragraph (a)—
(i) at least one of whom shall have been nominated by a body referred to in subparagraph (i) of that paragraph,
(ii) at least one of whom shall have been nominated by a body referred to in subparagraph (ii) of that paragraph, and
(iii) at least one of whom shall have been nominated by a body referred to in subparagraph (iii) of that paragraph.
(c) The members appointed in accordance with paragraph (b) shall reside within the functional area of the education and training board and shall include at least 2 men and at least 2 women.”.
The purpose of amendment No. 35 is to ensure that those with a real stake in the work of the new education and training boards will be represented on the boards. Its effect is to guarantee representation for business, for learners and for school leadership or management interests on education and training boards. The Bill currently provides that the Minister must specify a number of bodies which in his or her opinion have a special interest in or knowledge of education and training. Each specified body will have a right to nominate a man and a woman for appointment to the board. It is then for the local authority staff and parent representatives to choose two men and two women from those nominated. The effect of amendment No. 35 is to narrow the discretion of both the Minister and the education and training board members who do the appointing. The Bill retains the requirement on the Minister for Education and Skills to specify certain bodies with a right to nominate people for consideration for appointment to education and training boards. However, now, at least one of those bodies must be a body representing business, industry and employers; at least one of those bodies must be representative of learners; and at least one body must be representative of school management or leadership. Each specified body must nominate one man and one woman who reside in the area. The local authority staff and parent members must then appoint five people, at least one of whom must be from a specified body representing employers or business, at least one must be from a specified body representing learners and at least one must be from a specified body representing school management or leadership. All five must reside in the area. At least two must be men and two must be women. I believe this provides for what is specified in Deputy McConalogue's amendment, No. 36.
The amendment meets the requirements of Deputy McConalogue's proposal. Originally there was not sufficient emphasis on representation from the business community. This amendment is welcome as it addresses this point. It can be very easy when the Government co-operates with the Opposition and listens to some good suggestions. These boards will be important for driving the agenda within their jurisdictions. It is important that the board members will include captains of industry and people who are learners, who will contribute their expertise to ensure that adequate courses are made available to provide training opportunities for those who are unemployed. We can learn from the experience of others. I am pleased there will be specific targets to ensure the right expertise on these boards. I commend the Government on its acceptance of Deputy McConalogue's proposals.
Amendments Nos. 36 to 39, inclusive, are out of order.
I move amendment No. 40:
In page 29, line 4, to delete “4 members” and substitute “5 members”.
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 38, line 5, to delete “under subsection (6)” and substitute “in accordance with subsection (7)”.
This is a drafting amendment to rectify an incorrect cross-reference in section 42(5).
Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 are out of order.
May I ask why amendments Nos. 43 and 44 have been ruled out of order?
The Ceann Comhairle's office will advise the Deputy in more detail. They are out of order as they involve a potential charge on the Exchequer.
I move amendment No. 45:
In page 50, line 8, after “board” to insert the following:
“and that as far as is practicable, serving teachers will be transferred within the boundaries of their current VEC administrative areas and will only be deployed within 45 km of their current VEC place of work or confines of the original VEC area”.
We discussed this amendment on Committee Stage. I am sure the Minister of State will read in his notes the rationale behind the proposed amendment. I am interested to know if there has been any reflection on this amendment by the Minister since Committee Stage and whether he has changed his opinion since then.
The Minister, Deputy Quinn, indicated on Committee Stage that the TUI had raised this issue with the Department. My officials inform me that a meeting under the auspices of the Teachers' Conciliation Council is due to convene shortly to discuss this issue. I will not comment further other than to say that such issues are more appropriately dealt with in an administrative or industrial relations context rather than by providing for them in the Statute Book.
I move amendment No. 46:
In page 55, line 24, after “specified” to insert “in”.
This is a technical amendment which adds a word omitted from section 71.
I move amendment No. 47:
In page 55, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:
“(2) Subject to this Act, references (however expressed) to a vocational education committee in any Act passed before the establishment day, or in any instrument made before that day under an Act, shall be read as references to an education and training board, unless the context otherwise requires.”.
This is a technical provision. Schedule 6, introduced on Committee Stage, makes amendments to all non-VEC legislation referring to VECs. Those references will be changed to references to education and training boards. However, as an insurance policy, the drafting office has advised the inclusion of this provision also, which will provide that any reference to a VEC in an Act or a statutory instrument will now be read as a reference to an education and training board.
Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 48:
In page 75, line 56, to delete “(4)”.
These are technical amendments which remove additional text which should not appear in the Schedule.
I move amendment No. 49:
In page 75, line 57, to delete “to”.
Amendment No. 50 appears on the first additional list of amendments dated 26 February 2013. It has already been discussed with amendment No. 1.
I move amendment No. 50:
In page 82, line 45, after “of” to insert “ “Irish Vocational Education Association”,”.
I move amendment No. 51:
In page 82, to delete lines 50 to 56, and substitute the following:
“ ‘education and training board area’ has the same meaning as it has in the Education and Training Boards Act 2013; and ‘Education and Training Boards Ireland’ has the same meaning as it has in the Education and
Training Boards Act 2013;”.
I move amendment No. 52:
In page 87, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:
In subsection (5) to delete “the Irish Vocational Education Association” and substitute “Education and Training
I do not know if the Minister of State wishes to comment first.
The Deputy should feel free.
This is extremely important legislation. In a few moments we will be discussing the establishment of SOLAS under the Further Education and Training Bill 2013. As stated, the Education and Training Boards Bill 2012 is both ground-breaking and reforming in nature. It is one of three primary legislative measures with which we are dealing. There is cross-party support for the Bill because everyone recognises the importance of it.
I accept that the Minister of State cannot do anything now about the matter I intend to raise. However, this is the only opportunity I will have to bring it to his attention. I refer to the significant number of amendments that were ruled out of order because they would have imposed a charge on the Exchequer. As Opposition spokespersons, Deputy Robert Troy and I were trying to be constructive in some of the amendments we had tabled. A number of them were very similar to the ones the Minister introduced. I refer to the amendments which suggested increasing the level of representation on the board from 18 to 21 members. However, when the Opposition parties table amendments of this sort, they are ruled out of order because it is perceived that they would give rise to a charge on the Exchequer. We are unable to bring forward any amendment which would impose such a charge.
It is extremely frustrating for Opposition spokespersons who bring forward good, well meaning amendments to have them ruled out of order on a continual basis. I accept that the Minister of State cannot deal with this matter, but consideration must be given to it. As a relatively newly elected Member, it is extremely frustrating that we spend a great deal of time studying legislation and bringing forward constructive amendments which, in our opinion, would enhance it only to have them ruled out of order. This is not just our opinion because the Minister of State took on board some of the suggestions Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin made in their amendments and then brought forward his own alternatives. I congratulate him in that regard. As stated, however, it is very discouraging to spend time drafting amendments and then have them ruled out of order because they would give rise to a charge on the Exchequer. If we are unable to bring forward amendments to legislation as important as that before the House in order to increase the membership of a board, there is something drastically wrong with the way we do our business.
As the Deputy is aware, it is a normal legislative instrument and we have heard the phrase "ruled out of order because of a cost on the Exchequer" on numerous occasions. If we are to change this, as the Deputy suggests, the support of every party in the Chamber would be required. He may wish to pursue the issue in another setting.
I agree with the Deputy that this is ground-breaking legislation. I thank him, Deputy Robert Troy and others who made very constructive and positive contributions to the debates on the Bill. I am glad there has been significant consensus on the vast majority of measures it contains. The Bill will bring together the expertise accumulated within the VEC structure across the country in the form of a far more effective model which will deliver significantly enhanced, high quality educational opportunities for the thousands of people with whom we need to interact and support in their efforts to educate themselves and also those others who need to access high quality educational and training opportunities in order to return to work. I am extremely confident that the legislation will assist us in that regard. I again thank the Deputies for their contributions.