Schools Parent-Teacher Groups: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann would welcome fostering action on the part of the Minister for Education in order to encourage the Managers of National Schools to establish parent-teacher groups in connection with the schools under their management.

I am grateful to the Minister for coming along this evening and I am grateful also to the Leader of the House for giving me the opportunity to-night to propose this motion which I feel to be one that could, if it were accepted and acted upon, be very fruitful in relation to the education provided in our national schools. I draw particular attention, in starting, to the fact that what I am asking the Seanad to do is not to urge, direct or tell the Minister to do anything but simply to state that we, as a House, would "welcome," not a direction on his part, not a command, but "fostering action." I chose the phrase deliberately, because I realise that among the 4,000 national schools in the country, there are very widely differing circumstances and conditions. It would be quite absurd for the Minister to command that, starting from a certain date, parent-teacher groups should spring up all over the country. What I am asking is that he shall foster or encourage. I shall mention later the methods by which I think he might do that.

I draw the attention of the Seanad to the fact that the motion is couched in these terms for the purpose of recognising widely different circumtances in different parts of the country, and that it simply urges the Minister to see what action might be taken on his part not to command, direct or even request, but to foster the formation of such groups.

The background against which I propose this motion and seek to encourage the establishment of such parent-teacher groups in relation to national schools is that I feel—and I say this advisedly—that in Ireland today in many schools, there is not either enough comprehension or enough co-operation between parents and teachers and between parents and school managers. I stress the two words "comprehension" and "co-operation".

Comprehension is basic. Unless there is an understanding as between parents and teachers, there can be no co-operation. Unless there is understanding between parents and school managers, there can be no effective co-operation. I am not suggesting that on either side there is a lack of goodwill. I am suggesting that not infrequently there is a quite clear lack of understanding. It sometimes appears to those who know what the conditions are that there appears to be, on the part of the parents, a rather silly lack of comprehension of all the very real problems of the teachers.

Whether that lack of comprehension on the part of parents is silly or not, I think few can deny that it exists rather more than it should. When there is awkwardness, trouble, failure or near-failure, or conditions which are regarded as not entirely satisfactory, there is a tendency on one part or the other to "pass the buck," to pass the blame, and say: "It is the fault of the teachers. The teachers should be doing more." There is similarly a tendency on the part of the teachers to say: "It is the fault of the parents. They should be doing more."

In both contentions, there may well be a large element of truth. In other words, there is very little doubt that, where things are not functioning properly, blame is probably legitimately attributable to both sides. Nevertheless, this atmosphere of "passing the buck" or of mutual suspicion, which, as I suggest, is often based upon ignorance of the problems and difficulties involved on one side or the other, is something against which we should strive. There is sometimes—I am not suggesting this is generally the case—an atmosphere of uneasiness, even of distrust, and sometimes of feeling disgruntled.

We read of parents' strikes. I think everybody will agree that, when the parents of a particular school call a school strike and remove their children from the school, it is a thing to be regretted, and yet we should not try to say straight away whose fault it is. We should deplore the fact in itself that this can occur. I am not suggesting that every school in the country suffers from this kind of thing, but it does occur. I feel that even where it does not go to that extreme, which is rare, there is a sense of uneasiness, sometimes even of distrust, which need not even be there at all, if there were more comprehension.

The individual parent of children at national schools has only one normal channel of expression, as it were, of giving vent, I will not say to grievances, but to questions, or for the raising of points or the asking of questions. That normal channel is that of going to the school manager or the individual principal. Mothers or fathers hesitate to do that simply because they do not like "making a nuisance of themselves," as they call it. Most parents are imaginative people, and realise that the school manager and the principal teacher have each a great deal to do, and they hesitate to go and make an occasion of putting a question, raising a point, or making a minor complaint, and they put it off, indefinitely, because there is no other channel for them to express that, other than to go and do what they might term making a nuisance of themselves.

They recognise, too, that the manager is a busy parish priest, a busy reverend mother, a busy parson or a busy rabbi as the case may be, extremely busy in relation to the school and outside, and consequently many parents hesitate to raise what they might legitimately regard as minor points, yet which they would like to raise or discuss, since they do not want to "make nuisances of themselves."

Consequently, since this is really the only way at present in which they can express a view on the way in which their children are being taught in the school, there is no organised channel, as it were. All too often if we look for organisations among the parents, what we see is the organisation of a strike committee. If we were to see what were the present organisations of parents in relation to national schools, we should find it hard to go very much outside the confines of the small numbers of schools where the parents have organised themselves into strike committees to protest against conditions in particular schools. That is deplorable, that the only organisation of parents which one can see should be one springing from conditions which are extreme and exceptional.

That situation, which parents in fact in this country have to be driven very hard to reach, is a situation which all of us regret. Parents, as a rule, even the mildest of them, feel, in so far as they think about the national schools, not infrequently rather pushed aside. A lot of public speeches are made about "the rights of the parents", but, in practice, there is no way of consulting their views, no way in which their views can be put in a balanced and co-ordinated way. It is quite obvious that if you have, in relation to a particular school, where there may be hundreds of children, two or three parents strong and vocal enough to make their protests, it is possible that they are unrepresentative, and that their protests are ill-founded. Therefore, I would suggest that, in practice, it would be a good thing for the schools were there to be an organisation or informal group officially set up for the purpose of discussing things with the parents, submitting points to them, answering questions and so on.

Sometimes parents feel that in relation to the school, their views are not wanted, and that in fact they are hardly ever approached in relation to the schools, except when it is a question of raising money. Yet, even from the point of view of raising money for the school—and it is a good thing for parents to be brought in in that way— I suggest that too becomes easier if there has been active and continuous co-operation with the parents throughout the year in relation to the school.

The value of a parent-teacher association in relation to a particular school is that the parents—and I say this in all seriousness, though it might sound surprising at first hearing—will find value in knowing the premises, because I assume that the association would meet normally in one or two rooms in the school. I suggest that there is value in the parents being brought into the school, by the mere fact of their going in the door in the evenings for a meeting. I do not mean that they should meet every week or month, but there is value in the parents meeting and discussing inside the school premises.

I believe that there is a psychological value for the child, and particularly for the young child, and I say this with all the emphasis at my command, in knowing that his daddy and his mammy were in the schoolroom the evening before, perhaps sitting at his desk, perhaps seeing the same picture on the wall as he sees, and perhaps noticing certain things in the schoolroom that are usually there, that he knows about and which he has difficulty in communicating to his parents in any adequate way. There is also pleasure and psychological value in the feeling that the parents have been interested enough to come along to the school and concern themselves to meet the teachers and so on. That is the first value: the actual value of the parents knowing the premises.

It may well be that in the premises of some of our schools there might be a feeling that it would be as well if the parents did not see the premises. I am not suggesting that all schools are bad. Some of them, for reasons of poverty, are not as good as they should be, but I think the Minister would certainly not feel that there is any reason because of poor conditions in the schools for preventing the parents from seeing the inside. That would be ignoble, unjust and unjustified. It is quite obvious that very good schooling can go on in very simple surroundings, and in fact in the majority of schools while as regards the actual class rooms and so on the parents might say that things are pretty simple, that fact might in itself urge them to a better local effort to improve those very conditions.

The second value I would see in such formal or informal meetings is that the parents would get to know the teachers. In any community, some of the parents will know the teachers anyway, but in quite a lot of communities, the parents who know the teachers on a social plane and meet them informally will be a minority. That might be the case more in towns than in the country, but whatever the position, I feel that it is a good thing for the parents to get to know the teachers, (a) formally, that is to say, to see them and hear them and what they have to say about their subjects and the children, their methods of teaching and so on, and (b) perhaps even more precious, informally.

It is obvious that some parents will prove to be to the teachers a bit of a bore. You will get a mother or father who will insist on buttonholing the teacher and telling him all about little Willie or little Patricia. That is one of the legitimate hazards of the craft of the teacher. Nevertheless, a parent who gets that opportunity of seeing some of the things done in the school, or putting some questions he or she has long wanted to put, is getting a valuable opportunity psychologically, which makes for far better relations and more ready comprehension and co-operation, because—and this is very important—the parents will be getting to know the problems of the teacher.

I think it is fair to say that many parents, even with the best will in the world and with intelligence and education, find it very hard to grasp just what are the problems of the teacher. Parents who have large families will have some notion. I myself have three children, and sometimes at a meal time I think to myself that if I were dealing with 57 children in one room, as many teachers have to do, I should find it would drive me crackers. For most parents then, to be brought in touch with the teachers would be excellent, and educational for the parents, because there is no question but that the teachers carry one of the heaviest burdens in the country, and the parents must be got to realise that.

I remember a friend of mine who was, for a time, a roadworker. He was a very intelligent boy and, by saving money and winning scholarships and so on, he succeeded in putting himself through the university, and became a teacher. He told me that often after a day's teaching, he was far more tired than he ever had been after a day mending the roads. I am sure that is absolutely true and I do not think it is realised as fully as it should be. There are many people who tend—and perhaps that tendency is as prevalent in the country as in the city—to regard teachers as having a grand life.

In "School around the Corner" on the radio the other evening, a child was asked what she would like to be, and she said she would like to be a teacher. She was asked why, and she replied: "Because they have a grand life". They have "a grand life"! It is true that they have a rewarding life in many ways; but they also have an extremely hard life in other ways. They give of themselves all the time. As I say, I feel that to know the problems of the teacher is a most valuable thing for the parents, to know the conditions in which they have to work, to know the class rooms, and also to get a chance to have their own parental problems and difficulties made known to the teachers and examined sympathetically.

All of that, I suggest, could not but be valuable to the kind of education given in our schools. I have experience of two such groups, one in a secondary school and one in a kindergarten and junior school. There is always very strong parental solidarity and goodwill in favour of the teachers, when the parents know them and know the sort of work they are doing. You get strong solidarity between the parents and between the teachers, and between the parents and teachers, and they support what is good and valuable in the schools.

What I am suggesting, therefore, is that by fairly regular meetings—perhaps once or twice a term would be quite sufficient—the parents can learn a lot and the teachers can learn a lot— the parents about the teachers' problems and the teachers about the parents' problems.

I said that I have experience of two such groups. I have experience in relation to one secondary school in Dublin of a parent-teacher group, and also of a kindergarten and junior school run by the Society of Friends in which one of Ireland's outstanding educationists, Miss Isobel Douglas, who has recently retired from the Headmistressship, used to run what seemed to me a wholly admirable parent-teacher group. I attended it as a parent and there is no question but that every one of us benefited immensely both from the contact with the teachers and also from listening to the other parents, and to Miss Douglas whose experience and imaginative ideas were freely made available to us. Teachers and parents both benefit immensely from such encounters.

I believe, also, that the managers of the schools, if they could attend these groups and meet both sections, would find that it would help them also in relation to the schools by reason of the goodwill engendered and the ideas expressed.

I may be permitted perhaps to quote from a very interesting and informative article by Mr. Raftery which appears in the current issue of Studies in which he considers the situation of education in America. He had a very extensive tour there and he gives us, in an article entitled “Some Impressions of Education in the U.S.A.,” a very comprehensive view of education at every level. He refers to the fact that there are these parent teacher groups and he notes that they are useful both from the cultural point of view and from the point of view of helping all aspects of school life. At page 58, he says:

Certainly the country is prolific in useful educational and cultural bodies. Of these, the parent-teacher associations, which operate at local and national levels and in which the parents (usually mothers) appear to predominate, are an outstanding example. As far as an onlooker may judge, their concern is not so much the rights of particular parents as such—those rights are rarely challenged, in theory at any rate—but rather improved provision for schooling and other educational matters of public interest.

I have no experience of such groups in America or Britain, although I have read about them, but I am certain that they do, as here suggested, contribute very largely towards the betterment of conditions, understanding and co-operation. As I say, in that way, and by such means, we could combat a certain lack of knowledge on the part of the parents of what goes on in our Irish schools, where it goes on—the actual premises—and why it goes on.

Those Senators who are parents themselves will be familiar, furthermore, with the extraordinary incommunicativeness of the human child. You ask him: "What did you do at school to-day?" No cross-examining counsel will drag more than a few admissions from the child, and, of course, in fact, it is not a very good thing to do. The child is incommunicative partly because he is not really capable of framing the words which would communicate the school as it appears to him. Therefore, for this reason too I believe it is a good thing for the parent to know by other means what it is like in the school. If you even ask any child in any school—a young child from a national school—"How many of you are there in your class?" you will find it very hard to get an answer. Even if you ask an older child: "How many of you are there?" the child counts on his fingers and omits a few, and usually he will be wrong.

There may be objection to what I am about to say now: some parents do not care about the school or do not care about what schooling their children get. They are "not interested", or as is more likely, they feel it is the job of the school and the teachers and not their job. I would say in relation to such parents that they should be encouraged to care. Both fathers and mothers should be encouraged to attend parent-teacher meetings. I am afraid it is the tendency in this country for the father to put off such responsibility on to the mother. The mother is expected to deal with "that side." That in itself is bad. I think Irish fathers should be encouraged to take an active interest in what their children are doing at school, and encouraged to go along with the mothers to meet the teachers at such groups. Both fathers and mothers should be encouraged to attend, to listen and to talk.

I have said that there is a certain ignorance among parents about the schools, but it is also true to say that not all teachers realise just precisely what it is that worries the parents. Usually parents have some worries in connection with their children, and if they have worries, the teacher does not always realise just precisely what it is the parents are worried about. Good teachers—and we have a large number of them in our national schools—know the children in their classes well, if the classes are not too enormous.

Perhaps the Minister will forgive me if I say in that connection that I hope that very active steps are being taken to reduce the size of the classes. If the classes are not too enormous then, the teachers know their charges, their pupils, well. They will also know them in a different way from the way in which the parents know them. It is a wise parent that knows his own child. Quite frequently the parent, if he or she is receptive, can learn a lot about his or her own child, because the teacher sees the child with more detached eyes and a less emotionally involved attitude. It is also good, as I have already suggested, for the child to realise that there is this joint concern on the part of both parents and teachers for himself or herself in school. Furthermore, at such groups and meetings, general principles of education and parental, magisterial and managerial responsibility can be discussed, ideas ventilated, principles defined, and so on, in a way that could not but be useful.

How would this work out in practice? What kind of group should there be? What is the kind of group which I would like to see encouraged? In my opinion the function of such a parent-teacher group would not be in any sense managerial. It would not be a case of setting up such a group as a committee to undertake the running of some part of the school. It should not even be formally advisory or consultative. It would not be a parent-teacher group to which one would submit proposals. It would consist simply of informal meetings and discussions between parents and teachers. In a small school, all the parents would be invited to attend, say, twice a term in the school, and in a large school, you might divide the parents according to the ages of their children and their grades and invite two or three groups at different times.

They might, occasionally, I think, hear a talk, possibly from one of the teachers, possibly from someone outside, on an educational topic. A teacher or parent might informally direct the discussion, take the chair, if you like. As far as possible, all the teachers would be present, and would be introduced to the parents—introduced formally at first in order that they might be approached informally later. There should be, after the talk —and this, I think, is absolutely essential—a break for a cup of tea in which the parents would converge on the teachers and ask them all the questions they had been burning to ask for a long time, the teachers circulating and having a certain amount of private talk with the parents, and finally a general discussion once more.

This would vary from school to school. In some schools, it might work out better than in others, but even in schools where it might not work out all that smoothly at first, through timidity, lack of knowledge, shyness or something else, there would be very great imponderable results, in better feeling based on better understanding; and I feel that it is absolutely essential for parents to understand teachers' problems and for teachers to understand parents' problems.

It is certainly true that there are such people as unreasonable parents. It is also true that there are such people as unreasonable teachers. Now, both of these are in the minority. When the unreasonable parent comes along to interview the principal teacher or manager and by sheer force of personality, perhaps, remains arguing away for a very long and unreasonable time, the manager or principal teacher may find it extremely difficult to get rid of such unreasonable parents who, however much they may be in a minority, may nevertheless occupy a lot of time. It is my experience, however— and that is the point I now want to make—that there is a world of difference between the unreasonable parent nattering away in private about a particular point to a headmaster or a principal teacher and that same unreasonable parent making the same protests or voicing the same grievance in public in the presence of the other parents.

Again and again in my own experience, I have seen such a parent shot down verbally by the other parents, by another parent getting up and saying that such a point is all nonsense, or that it is quite unreasonable to expect such and such an action or an attitude. I suggest that the weight of parental public opinion in support of a teacher is a far more effective way of dealing with the exceptional unreasonable parent than a private interview can be. There is a far healthier atmosphere if the unreasonable parent is made to feel that public opinion is not with him or her.

As well as the unreasonable complaint, of course, there may occur the unreasonable answer, and both the unreasonable complaint and the unreasonable answer made before a joint gathering of parents and teachers are shown up by joint public opinion as being unreasonable. I cannot feel that this would have anything but a good effect upon the atmosphere in a school. It will be in fact more salutary—clear the air—and make complaining parents realise the exaggeration of certain claims, and in the case of an unsatisfactory answer by a teacher, the teacher may realise that the question has not been answered as fully or as reasonably as it might have been.

The grousing parent who is grousing unreasonably is answered, not by managers or teachers but by fellow parents, and not necessarily by speeches. It does not necessarily mean that another parent must get up and answer, but simply that the crowd reaction to the parent who is being unreasonable has a salutary effect and spares the principal, the manager or the teacher from devoting a private hour which appears quite fruitless to trying to answer the unreasonable parent. It is far better that such a parent should be answered by commonsensical parental opinion than by teachers. I have taken time to describe one particular type of incident, but it is representative of the process of educating parental opinion and also teachers' opinion.

What do I mean by asking the Minister to take "fostering action"? I have asked him, and asked the House to pass a motion asking him to take "fostering action". I do not suggest that he should interfere in any particular school, but I do suggest that he makes it clear to the managers of schools and indeed later to the public by circulars and by suggestions that the starting of such groups in schools where conditions permit it would be welcomed by him as an experiment. In the Regulations for National Schools issued by his Department you find again and again—I do not want to dwell on this as I have talked for more time than I meant to—regulations setting out ways in which schools can be used. On page 9, there is reference to the fact that a schoolhouse may be used by a returning officer in election time—paragraph 18 goes on to say that the Minister would welcome certain action: "The Minister desires to urge upon Managers the desirability of (a), (b) and (c)" and so on. By a similar phrase in Para. 19 "managers are encouraged as occasion offers to invite or procure the assistance of persons who are qualified to give interesting lectures or talks of an educationally useful character to the pupils and thus to diversify the intellectual life of the school." I am asking for something in line with what is already practised in the Department in issuing that kind of suggestion and encouragement to the schools and to the managers.

I should like your leave to quote the Report of the Council of Education —Paragraph 333:

"Closely linked with the parochial ownership of the schools is the managerial system. The responsibilities of school managers are many and serious, inasmuch as they have obligations to the parents, the teachers and the State. Their duties are not confined to building schools, appointing teachers and acting as correspondents to the Department on behalf of their schools, though these alone involve heavy and pressing work. The maintenance of schools, the frequent visitation of individual schools, the supervision of religious instruction, the admonishment of parents and pupils in regard to attendance, and the guidance of teachers require their constant attention, which is often given at the cost of great sacrifice to themselves. The manager is the counsellor and administrator of the school, the very pillar on which the school rests. The enthusiasm and efficiency of the school depend largely on the influence of a manager, whose energy and interest are directed not to one aspect of school administration or to one subject of the curriculum, but to every phase of school life and activity."

That is Paragraph 333 in its entirety. The object is to show the immense burden thrown by our system upon the school managers.

The next paragraph, Paragraph 334, gives an indication of how he could reach perhaps greater co-operation, even locally:

Local or parochial control of schools requires that each locality should bear its due share of the cost of building and maintaining its primary schools. Every form of local co-operation designed to further this end should receive active encouragement from all interested in local welfare. Such co-operation would produce in turn greater interest——

I emphasise that.

—and pride in the schools and, accordingly, ensure better school buildings, improved attendance, and a keener standard of education.

—which is precisely what I would see deriving from such groups.

Equally, it would result in a higher standard of citizenship on the part of the child and on the part of his parents. Local committees working under the direction of school managers could contribute much to the improvement of schools and school building, not only by procuring funds locally—

I stress that also.

—to set against State aid for building and maintenance, heating and cleaning, but also by improving and beautifying school grounds, providing playing pitches, promoting athletics and games, concerts, plays and other school activities, —

—in which I would certainly see included the meeting of parent-teacher groups.

—presenting prizes, and securing through their own initiative or from individual members of the community pictures and paintings of educational value to embellish the walls of the school-room, and books to add to the school library. There is in fact —

—this is the last sentence I want to quote from this.

—no limit to the ways in which the locality could assist its own schools, thereby fostering a spirit of initiative, independence and service, and giving force and vitality to the influence of the school.

I believe that it would be in the spirit of such recommendations that the Minister should, by circular, encourage, where circumstances permitted, the setting-up of parent-teacher groups or, if you like, simply the calling together of an occasional meeting, if the notion of a regularly-organised group of parents and teachers was not readily acceptable. I suggest a supplementary circular, therefore, to be sent to school managers by the Minister, mentioning the advantages of such parent-teacher associations as they are seen in other countries—in America, in Britain—and saying that he would view with approval the setting-up of such groups, wherever possible, in our national schools. I believe that such a supplementary circular would produce most useful results, and produce more response in the early years than even the Minister might expect.

I believe that there is a reservoir of goodwill there, which can thus be tapped, between teacher and parent. The more they come together and understand each other and co-operate together the better. These groups could start very simply. The idea could be fostered, and the practice could be engaged in in a few schools to begin with; and a great deal could be learned from them.

Nothing but good could accrue from encouraging such mutual understanding and respect, and a responsible and co-operative attitude in the face of the problems of primary education, which are, after all, the common concern of teachers, parents, managers and the Department of Education. For these reasons I propose this motion, and I venture to express the hope that it may be accepted by the Seanad.

I second the motion. I should like to congratulate Senator Sheehy Skeffington on his statement which was very fine, thoughtful and constructive. It is obvious that he believes whole-heartedly in what he said. We must all agree that he has given us a very fine exposition and I agree with it completely.

I notice in rural areas a very great demand and interest in education generally. There has been a far greater demand for it and interest in it by parents in the country generally in the past five years than heretofore. I see that the vocational schools in my county are packed out. They cannot hold all those who desire to be admitted. There is a greater demand for scholarships. There is a greater effort by parents to send their children to secondary schools. Because I see that awakening of a desire for further education and a further understanding of the principles and difficulties of education, I feel the motion should be supported and should have the support of the Minister.

If it is understood from the start that the parent-teacher groups will not interfere in any way with the work of the teacher, then the work of the teacher which the Department has given him to do should be made easier. If that is understood by both the parent and the teacher, I think such a group idea can be and ought to be encouraged At the start of such a group, one might come across the troublesome types of parents, to whom Senator Sheehy Skeffington referred, who might think they could interfere with the work of the Department. The position should be understood by both parties from the outset. The wiser and more sensible parents, who constitute the majority, would see that it was observed from the start. Assuming that to be the position, such groups could be a very great help to the teacher, to the school and to the parish. The Minister could see to it that the position would clearly be understood by both groups from the start.

Apart from what might be done by the two groups, a great deal depends on the pupil. The parent would meet the teacher and they could pool their knowledge. Every child is an individual. It is very important that it should be understood by the teacher and sometimes by the parent as well. I know of an instance where an extraordinarily shy child—shy to the point of its being nearly a great drawback to the child—was brought on by a teacher to whom this had been explained beforehand. That sort of outlook should be encouraged in any school. Such groups, as Senator Sheehy Skeffington says, may not always be encouraged by the teacher or by the manager, but if they had a general blessing, as it were, from the Minister and the Department such groups could spread. Not alone could they be of advantage to the pupil but they could be a terrific advantage to the school and to the amenities of the school, as Senator Sheehy Skeffington has read from the report on education, and to the activities outside the school.

That is a part of the national school education which is very sadly lacking in rural areas. I wonder in how many national schools in the country are the pupils brought together for any educational or semi-educational tours or lectures, or such gatherings, after school hours. The number must be very small, even of cases of senior classes being brought to the Spring Show. Latterly, some small moves have been made in that direction but they have been very minor. It should be part of our educational system to bring children on tours to see large farms, agricultural colleges or shows. That is a very important part of education and should be encouraged.

It is the sort of thing that parent-teacher groups could encourage and arrange with the teachers' consent and approval. It is very difficult for teachers to organise when they do not know the parents or the conditions of their pupils' homes. We would hope that such groups could arrange tours of that nature so that the pupils will not merely be sent home after school hours and forgotten until 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock next morning. If such groups had been in existence in the past, a great many of our country schools would not have got into the condition in which they are. Local groups would have taken an interest in seeing that their schools did not deteriorate physically to the extent to which sometimes they are allowed to deteriorate. When they are allowed to deteriorate, we turn to the Department and say we want a new school. The school could be the centre of the parish, the centre for everyone, where the parents could go to discuss the school and it would be an encouragement to the pupils to be better citizens and perhaps the parents also, in that they would take an interest in the education of their own parish and the country generally. I heartily support Senator Sheehy Skeffington's motion.

I seriously hope the Minister will not do what Senator Sheehy Skeffington asks him to do, that he should make it clear by circular to parents and teachers that such groups would be welcomed, as an experiment, by him

On a point of explanation, the circular of course would be to the manager and not to the parents.

Very well, to the manager. Although we have heard a very interesting statement from Senator Sheehy Skeffington, I think he left us more or less in the dark with regard to the real functions of these committees. I was disappointed with his speech. I thought he would throw a lot of light on the wonderful things these parent-teacher groups were going to accomplish, but so far as I could make out, the principal activity turned out to be a form of jamboree in the schoolhouse at which there would be an informal meeting once or twice for a discussion between parents and teachers: there would be a talk on some educational topic and then a break for tea and after tea, there would be a general discussion again. What the topics were to be, or what were the grave problems which Senator Sheehy Skeffington visualises a parent-teacher committee dealing effectively with, was not made clear, but I have a feeling based on the old proverbs that too many cooks spoil the broth and that what is everybody's business is nobody's business.

I have the feeling that parent-teacher committees would turn out to be the thin end of the wedge which would play hell with our system of education as it is organised in the primary schools and as it is run today. It would be no harm if, just for the record and to avoid confusion of thought in regard to this matter, we remembered that under the present system, we have great freedom in educational matters in the primary schools. We must remember that the school is vested in the manager—the State only pays the salaries of the teachers—but the Minister has one particular individual in the parish running that school with whom he can do business. He has not got eight or ten, nor has the teacher eight or ten different bosses as would undoubtedly result eventually—I am not saying immediately, but eventually —from one of these parent-teacher committees.

That is Senator Sheehy Skeffington's view. I have long experience of what might be described as infiltration and we know exactly what use could be made of that to wreck the whole system of education. The State's job in regard to schools, in regard to managers, in regard to teachers, through the inspectors and through the Department officials, is to see that the programme of instruction is carried out.

Senator Sheehy Skeffington referred to these parent-teacher groups in the United States of America and gave a quotation which was interesting in itself, but I should like to insist that the system which we have evolved here of managerial control of the schools and the operation of managerial supervision is a unique system. It is an Irish system; it is of native growth and is not precisely the same in any part of the world. Before we consider setting up any of these parent-teacher groups, it would be well to remember that long before the National Board —in the days of the British occupation—was established, there were almost 12,000 parish schools supported by the people, organised by the people and run by the people. There were 30 convent schools and 11 State schools, all maintained by the people, with the objective of giving general instruction and religious knowledge to the children.

This was done often in the face of great difficulties and it was only when the National Board met the requirements of the people and of the clergy that the people accepted the new national school system. That national school system, with all due respect to its critics, has worked very well indeed here. So far as I can judge from my contacts throughout the country— and I have many—there does not appear to me to be any great demand for anything like either a revolutionary or a small change such as is proposed in Senator Sheehy Skeffington's motion. I have not found any outcry on the part of the people, nor on the part of the teachers, for any such innovation as these parent-teacher committees. As I said, the system has served the people well in the past. It is serving them well to-day and I personally cannot see what useful functions these committees can perform, but I do see what they could lead to.

I see they could eventually become the dictators of the parish. They could become a menace. It could happen that the members of these committees would feel they had a right to extend or curtail the time devoted to any subject being taught in the parish school. The members of these committees might decide how the teacher should address his school, how he should spend his spare time, what games the pupils should go to and what places he should frequent. They might even insist on having a veto on his teaching and question his methods. Once they got going on that, you have the thin edge of the wedge which opens the floodgates and torpedoes the whole system of education as we have it in this country to-day.

I am satisfied anyhow that the present system, without these teacher-parent committees, is working very well and that there is really no need whatever for them. In relation to our people's insistence upon education for their children, it might be remembered that at the time when there was little or no education in Europe, our people got education for their children and they value it. Even at the dawn of liberty, equality and fraternity, I should like to remind Senators that the great Voltaire taught that one pen was enough for 200 or 300 hands while his contemporary, Rousseau, thought at the same time that the poor had no need of education.

Our people never took that attitude and the system which we have evolved here, the system of managerial control of schools without interference, provides that every denomination rules its own school, that the managers are the pastors of whatever religious group the school is intended for. That system has resulted in the elimination of any discrimination in regard to education here. All managers are not angels. Undoubtedly, quite a number of things that could be done possibly in regard to the maintenance of schools might be better done, but there is no doubt whatever in my mind that if a group such as is visualised by Senator Sheehy Skeffington were to assume authority to hold meetings in schools, to question the curriculum and to make, as Senator Sheehy Skeffington says, suggestions, they would not stop at suggestions. There is no doubt in my mind that would be dangerous and I am totally opposed to the idea. Whether the Minister finds it possible to do so or not, I personally would be very much opposed to it.

Senator Sheehy Skeffington seemed to have the idea that we need these parent-teacher committees so that parents could get a proper understanding and comprehension of what is happening in the schools. Parents do not need that. I do not know whether he is speaking for Dublin or the country. Down the country, parents do not need that sort of mumbo-jumbo. They know the teacher and the teacher knows them. They go into the schools. They can also do that in the city. Any citizen can go into any school and he does not need to be a parent. He can go into any classroom and just stand there and so long as he or she does not interfere with the teachers in the exercise of their duties, nobody can stop him. There is nothing secretive about the national schools or the conditions of the national schools. There is no need for committees because parents have the right to visit the national schools and can visit them whenever they like.

Senator Sheehy Skeffington seems to think that there was an atmosphere of unease and distrust and that parents were grumbling. I do not know how he got that idea. He quoted the school strikes and the removal by parents of their children because of bad conditions. There is no doubt in the world that there are bad schools in the country. There is no doubt that hundreds of schools are still in need of a large amount of repairs. We need hundreds of brand new schools. The British left us a legacy in the form of a shortage of schools which we have not overtaken yet, but the idea that parent-teacher committees are the solution to all our problems is nonsense.

With regard to the amenities of which the Senator spoke, there are in every part of this country branches of Macra na Feirme, Macra na Tuaithe, Muintir na Tire and guilds of this kind and that. In every parish, you have young farmers' organisations and all the rest of it. They have as much interest in seeing that the school buildings are well kept and that the school surroundings are well kept as anybody else. I have no doubt that where these are active they will attend to the needs of the schools in their districts, as they attend to needs in other respects.

Many parents, according to Senator Sheehy Skeffington, hesitate to go to the manager to make a complaint. I am afraid he does not know the country very well because the manager is the parish priest or the rector and in all cases the parents know the manager very well indeed and the manager knows them. He knows practically every child that goes to the school. He visits the school. I do not see that there is any possibility that anything could be slipped across without the knowledge of the manager or the parents. The parents, according to Senator Sheehy Skeffington in relation to national schools, feel rather pushed aside and there is no way of consulting their views. Their views on what?

There is a curriculum laid down by the State, by the Department of Education. That curriculum must be followed by the teachers in every school. What need is there for parent-teacher meetings to discuss one aspect or another of that curriculum that cannot be done through correspondence with those responsible for it or cannot be done by way of a public meeting or by a discussion group in the various societies which exist in the parish?

I do not see in what way this parent-teacher group could have any effective role in regard to the curriculum. I do not see that a teacher could tolerate the intrusion into the school of a group of these self-appointed committee-men who would insist, for instance, on deciding that, perhaps, two or three of the pupils did not look so well and should be sent home early. If there is to be divided control in the schools, if the teacher is not to be responsible for the class and if he is to be subjected to interference outside the educational sphere, then certainly the primary schools of this country will fall into chaotic conditions. There will be no education.

I feel that we should not tamper with the system as it exists. It is a good system. There is no reason in the world why any parent should have a grievance that cannot be attended to and brought to the notice of the manager, and certainly the teachers are not so far distant from the parents, as Senator Sheehy Skeffington ought to know, that there need be any hesitation on the part of the parents or of any citizen in consulting the teacher or the manager. We have not got any sort of hierarchy here that is so far above the common people in education that they are unapproachable. Teachers and managers are human beings, and if the parents can approach them, I do not see that the problem arises at all and that there is any need whatever for the proposition put forward by Senator Sheehy Skeffington.

All over the world today there is unrest. There is trouble about education in many countries. In this country, we have a system which works well. It puts the heads of education in the position that they know whom to negotiate with, whom they can hold responsible in any parish for any school. The teacher has one boss. The teacher knows that provided he carries out his duties and sticks to the curriculum, that is all he has to do to ensure that there will be no discomfort in his job. Introduction of this parent committee business would lead to the other position which I pointed out at the start, not immediately but eventually, and the present system of management of our schools would eventually be upset and we would have then, in effect, what would be Soviet committees in every parish. I am very much against this motion.

I have listened very carefully to this discussion and, like Senator Ó Maoláin, I find it rather difficult to pin down what exactly these committees are to do. Parent-teacher organisation is a rather nice idea, in theory, but unfortunately it does not very often work out that way. I have seen it in action in the United States, and I certainly do not wish to see any such development here or that any innocuous type of organisation should develop here that might ultimately degenerate into the type of pressure group to be found in the United States in these parent-teacher organisations. I have seen these organisations and the way they act. I do not think Senator Ó Maoláin was too strong when he spoke of acting as the Gestapo over the teachers.

I did not use the word "Gestapo."

I am sorry— Soviet-style committee was the phrase used by the Senator. I have seen those committees and the terror in which the teachers live by reason of their existence, in that they are liable to be fired by the influence of those committees on the school board, because these committees play a leading part in electing the school board, and the primary purpose, if you wish to sum it up, is really to get control of the schools system. That is what it is working out at in the United States. You have some good areas, but you have areas where the most crackpot ideas get abroad and usually the school superintendent is fired to mark the inauguration of the new idea and the new committee that steps into office as a result of the activities of the local parent-teacher organisation. I have seen them.

Perhaps Senator Sheehy Skeffington may not have read about the celebrated Pasadena case. I was there when it happened and I kept in touch with the gyrations in that district for a couple of years afterwards. I do not think we should lend our support here to the inauguration of any general system that would have even the remotest possibility of developing into such a pressure group here.

What can such a system do here? It seems that one of the high points raised by Senator Sheehy Skeffington was that there were minor points that they may like to raise or discuss. Surely if they are minor points they are points for discussion between individuals, not points in respect of which you need the elaborate mechanism of a committee and all the power of a committee decision behind you to get any justice or any amelioration. Knowing rural conditions pretty well, and also knowing conditions in Cork city quite well, I know that the teachers are not in any way remote from the parents. They are all known to one another in the same organisations in the parish and elsewhere. They meet quite often in all forms of activities, and parents are not slow to go and talk to the teachers and ask how the pupils are getting on and, in general, deal with any of these minor points likely to arise.

Why be afraid to meet them in the schools?

I do not see any necessity for that; and, incidentally, in the United States, in those parent-teacher organisations which are set as a headline for us, all their work is a matter of the individual teacher meeting individual parent and discussing how the child is getting on. Most of the teachers find that they have to spend far too much time trying to persuade a parent that his son has about 20 points I.Q. better than he actually has.

And that is why there are a couple of million illiterates.

The second point made is that they might be of some use in exercising their influence on the curriculum. In fact, they make the curriculum through the school board in the United States. Here, as pointed out by Senator Ó Maoláin, they have no possibility whatever of doing that. The courses are laid down solely by the Department of Education. If I were to quarrel with the present system, I would quarrel with it on some of those grounds, that it is far too centralised in that respect, that there is too little local autonomy and too much time spent framing a uniform system for the young lad going out to earn his living on the farm or the lad going to school in the city who will ultimately become a medical specialist in the city. I do not, however, see that the parent-teacher organisations would have anything to contribute to that matter.

Another point made was regarding discipline. Discipline, again, is something that is really tied up with the emotional and other problems of the child, and is a matter for private serious consultation between the teacher and the parent concerned, not to be explored and solemnly pronounced upon by a committee drawn from the whole parish before which one would try one's child. Again, I do not see that it has any use whatever in that respect.

Another point made was that these committees would contribute to the amenities of the school. Certainly many of our schools require a great deal more amenities than they have. In many cases, there is a lack of finance. If a parish has amenities and if it is developing, so will the school. Consequently, any development of that type is work for parish organisations as a whole, particularly an organisation like Muintir na Tíre which has done so much with regard to the raising of amenities. Having raised the general parish amenities, they will turn their efforts to the schools. It all goes hand in hand and step by step, and thank God that is the way rural Ireland has been progressing over past years.

I believe we can feel confidence in our system as it is, and we can feel a high confidence in the spirit of selfhelp and independence which is showing itself in our parishes. We can feel confident also that the growing spirit of education, and the growing realisation of the necessity for education beyond the national school level will show themselves in high standards for pupils and teachers, better facilities for our teachers, smaller classes, and so on, all of which we hope we will be able to provide as our economy develops.

I think there is little to be gained from the creation of a parent-teacher organisation of the type envisaged. Above all, such an organisation would be fraught with grave dangers, an organisation whose secret purpose could be nothing less than the ultimate control of our school system and the disruption of the managerial system as it now stands. I should like to echo the feelings of most Senators with regard to the deep debt we owe to our unpaid managers. I deplore the avidity with which little incidents here and there are seized upon as a stick to try to beat or discredit our managerial system. There must be failures; there must be occasional faults in any system; but our system, as a whole, has withstood the test of time, and, given adequate finance and a little more local control and local voice in shaping the curricula to some extent, I have no doubt that it can play its full part in the years ahead.

Ba mhaith liom focal nó dhó a rá mar gheall ar an dtairiscint seo. Táim le tamall anuas ag éisteacht leis na hóráideacha a rinne Seanadóirí ag moladh an Aire. Tháinig an tAire go dtí an Seanad uaidh féin. Maidir le ceist na gcoistí seo, tá gléas ann cheana atá dhá oibriú go sásúil. Gléas is ea é atá fé stiúradh na mbainisteoirí agus na Roinne Oideachais.

Do thug an Seanadóir Sheehy Skeffington pictiúir dúinn agus ba thaitneamhach é dá mbeadh sé ar siúl leis an dea-mhéinn, leis an dea-chroí agus leis an éirim maitheasa a bhí ina smaointe sin. Ach is dóigh liomsa— táim cinnte dhe—nár mhaith an rud in aon pharóiste sa tír agus i bparóistí uile na tíre coiste a bhunú go mbeadh aon chuid den smaoineamh acu go raibh stiúradh ná comhairle ná riar oideachais na bun-scoile acu. Ní fhanfadh sé mar sin. Sé nádúr an duine go mbíonn sé ag iarraidh i gcómhnaí a chrobhanna a shíneadh amach chun níos mó ná a bhí aige cheana a ghreamú dó féin. Sin é a thárlódh i leith coiste dá léithéid sin. Do thuigfidís go mbeadh údarás acu rudaí a dhéanamh atá dhá riaradh go héifeachtúil cheana ag an dá dhreamh atá ann. Ní chomhairleoinn don Aire an cúram sin a ghlacadh air féin. De réir mar tá sé fé láthair is féidir le haon bhainisteoir coiste paróiste a chur ar bun ar mhaithe le cóiriú na scoile, maisiú na scoile, deisiú rudaí agus airgead a sholathár chun neithe a chur ar fáil don scoil.

Is féidir le bainisteoir ar bith é sin a dhéanamh agus déarfainn go mbeadh bainisteoirí sásta go leor é a dhéanamh in a lán áiteanna. Ní dóigh liom gur gnó é gur cheart don Aire a cheann a sháthadh isteach ann go hoifigiúil mar do bhainfí na cluasa dhe dá gceapfadh na daoine go raibh sé ag cur isteach ar rud éigin. Bíodh gur bhreágh liom dá mbeadh coiste paróiste ann ar mhaithe leis an scoil agus chun cabhrú leis an scoil, níor mhaith an scéal é go mbeadh údarás acu san cur isteach ar riar oideachais na scoile, ar obair na múinteoirí, ar údarás an bhainisteora ná ar údarás na Roinne Oideachais—rud a dhéanfaidís dá gceapfaidís go mbeadh an t-údarás acu.

Gheobhfá ina lán coistí daoine a thuigfeadh go raibh an t-údarás sin acu nó gur ceart go mbeadh an t-údarás sin acu agus a bheadh dhá gcur féin in iúl agus is gearr go mbeadh ceist an oideachais ina cúrsa achrainn poiblí. Dob fhearr an cheist a fhágáil mar atá sé agus dícheall a dhéanamh chun an obair a stiúradh tríd an ngléas atá ann chun an scéal a fheabhsú san áit ina bhfuil se gan feabhsú nó é a dhéanamh níos fearr san áit ina bhfuil sé go maith. Tá gléas bunscoilaíochta againn chomh maith le gléas ar bith eile dá shamhail in áit ar bith ar fuaid an domhain. Ní haon mhaitheas bheith ag caint ar nithe i Meiriceá. Tá sé tugtha fé ndeara, tá sé ar eolas, ag daoine a bhfuil baint acu leis an dá rud, gur fearr bunoideachas anseo ná mar atá sé i Meiriceá, dá fheabhas an chaint.

Hear hear!