I move amendment No. 1:—
In page 2, Section 3, before sub-section (2), to insert a new sub-section as follows:—
(2) A child who is receiving education in a school situated within the State shall not be deemed for the purposes of this Act to be receiving suitable education within the meaning of this Act unless such school is a national school, a suitable school, or a recognised school.
This amendment, as will be noted, is self-explanatory. I think that the amendment is necessary for the sake of clarity and for the information of the enforcing authority, as well as for the information of those who have set up or propose to set up private schools within the State. I should like to stress again the fact that once this measure is passed into law, for all practical purposes it passes out of the hands of the Minister into the hands of the enforcing authority. The Minister has taken power, of course, to go into private schools and to make such inquiries and investigations as he thinks necessary, but it cannot be expected that he or his officials will be, as it were, looking for these schools. If that were to be the case it would put an undue burden on already overburdened inspectors. How this will work out in practice will be that the enforcing authority, whether the schools attendance officer or the Gárda, will know that a school is operating in their particular area. It will be their duty to make inquiries as to whether it has obtained a certificate from the Minister as a suitable school. If it has not, it will be clear that children between the ages of six and 14 attending that school will not be complying with the provisions of the Act. No doubt, the conductor or the manager of the school will then take the necessary steps to get it certified. If it is not certified then, as I say, the children who are attending that school will not be attending school in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
Reference was made here to a case which happened down in Wexford direction, I think, some years ago, where children who had been attending a school which had not received a certificate from the Minister were brought before the court and the justice decided that, in fact, they were attending a suitable school or, at least, that they were getting suitable education. I feel that this amendment of mine would clear up that position, because it says definitely that if they are not attending one or other of the types of schools specified they cannot be deemed to be receiving proper education. I am not now referring to, nor does my amendment deal with, children who may be educated in their own homes or who may be sent outside the country to be educated. The amendment deals entirely with what are called private schools within the confines of the State. When we were debating Section 4 here, I asked the Minister whether this individual examination which is provided for in Section 4 applied only to children who were being educated outside the State or who were being educated in their own homes by tutors or governesses. I understood him to say that that was the case, so that those who are being educated in a school within the State must be educated at one or other of the schools set out in the amendment. I consider that if the amendment is accepted it will simplify matters very considerably for the enforcing authority, the Minister and his Department. Those people who have set up private schools or who are contemplating setting up private schools will know exactly where they stand in the matter. They will know that if they propose to take in children between the ages of six and 14 it will be necessary for them, in order to comply with the law, to apply for and obtain a certificate from the Minister.
There is just one point I want to make clear. It was suggested, I think, on the Second Reading that something I had said indicated that I was opposed to private schools and, in fact, it was suggested in a certain publication that I and other speakers on these debates attacked the right of parents to send their children to private schools. Of course, I did no such thing. I do not think anybody here attacked the right of parents to send their children to private schools, or to have them educated in any way they wished, so long as the law is complied with. I may question their wisdom, from their own point of view, and from the point of view of their children, in sending them to schools where they may not get as good education as they get in the regular schools. That is another question. It is not interference with the right of parents to send their children to private schools. During the debates on this Bill we have heard a lot about the principle of that kind of thing, but the main principle is already in the Bill and also in the Principal Act— the principle of compelling parents to send their children to school. In this measure what we should concern ourselves with is its practical application, and its efficacy towards solving a particular problem, and the problem we are facing is the fact that we have 65,000 daily absentees from our national schools. If we could settle that problem we would have gone a long way towards dealing with the question of school attendance. Of course some people objected to the principle of compulsion altogether, but, as the Minister rightly pointed out, not only have parents rights but children also have rights, and are entitled to protection also. I appeal to the Minister to accept this amendment. It would clarify the whole position with regard to these private schools, and the necessity for Section 4 will be largely obviated. If it is accepted it will simplify very considerably the whole administration of the Act. I strongly urge the Minister to accept it.