Education Expenditure: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann, recognising that cuts in education expenditure pose a major threat to the quality of education and have serious consequences for the future of our children and young people, calls on the Government to review all its education cutbacks because of their serious implications for the quality of the education service and in particular for those pupils who are educationally and socially disadvantaged.

I welcome the Minister to the House for this debate. This is the first opportunity we have had in the lifetime of the present Seanad to have a major debate on education, and I am delighted that the Minister is able to be here for it. I am confident that the debate will be useful and constructive and I hope that we will persuade the Minister to restore all education services to previous levels. I hope that in turn the Minister will persuade the Government that the cutbacks have serious implications for the quality of the education service, and that when the Book of Estimates is published we will see an allocation of finance for education that will indicate that the Government are committed to ensure that there is no erosion of the quality of the education service, and that we will also see that the Government are committed to provide for the needs of those pupils who are educationally and socially disadvantaged.

Education cutbacks mean real deprivation for students and potential students, but I think they mean more than that. A denial or cutback in education or training is not only a disaster for the individual but it is also a great disaster for the health of the economy and for the future development of the nation. I would like to quote from the Foreword in the Ninth Report of the National Council for Educational Awards, July 1983, addressed to the Minister. This is what the Chairman, Dr. Tom Walsh, had to say:

Investment in education, in the broader context, should be viewed in the longer term as an investment in the future development of the nation and all its people. It is my view that such investment will contribute substantially to the wealth of the nation and its people, young and old. It will pay rich dividends to individuals in a personal, professional and cultural context and therefore to national life in societal, economic, developmental, entrepreneurial and cultural terms. Even in times of recession, investment in education should be maintained at current levels at least, if we are to sustain the system at its present quantum and quality, without contemplating greater access to, or higher participation rates in Higher Education. To fail to do so, is to abandon the greatest mechanism for realisation of human potential. It is education that shapes the creator and the marketer, the entrepreneur and the employer, the planner and the implementer and in so doing ensures all of them a useful and fruitful life.

This country has the lowest per capita spending on education of any country in the EEC. I would like to tell the House what the Vice-President of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, Mr. J. J. Connolly, had to say in an article entitled “Education Cutbacks” in Tuarasgabháil, the monthly bulletin of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation which is circulated to the Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas. In that article, which is a report of a speech Mr. Connolly made to a meeting of north Dublin teachers on 20 October he said that figures published recently showed that whereas Denmark spent £1,182 per school-going inhabitant and Britain spent £749, the Republic of Ireland was at the bottom of the spending league with only £532 per capita. He went on to say that the primary sector in particular, with over 600,000 pupils, has been starved of financial support. Each pupil at primary level costs the State £440 as opposed to £748 at secondary level, £922 in vocational schools and £2,040 at third level.

The Minister may say, as she has said in the past, that the percentage of gross national product being spent on education in this country compares favourably with the percentage of the gross national product which is spent on education in other countries. I would like to point out that the percentage of the population in this country in full-time education is considerably higher than in any of the other EEC countries. This is the only country in the EEC with an increasing school population and the Government have a duty to provide the best possible education service for these young people.

The facts are, however, that the quality of the education service at every level is being adversely affected by cutbacks. The cutbacks will reverse the major progress that has been made in education over the last two decades. The principle of free education is rapidly being eroded, and the movement that we have seen over a number of years towards equality of opportunity in education has been halted. With growing levels of unemployment and poverty in society, it is essential, and it never was more essential, that the level and quality of the education available to all children be maintained and improved. Unfortunately, however, this is not happening, and the hardest hit by the cutbacks are the pupils who come from the most deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds, and indeed from the most deprived and disadvantaged areas. Our primary schools still have the largest class sizes in western Europe. The latest statistics available show that there are more than 70,000 pupils in classes of over 40. Again, it is in the deprived and disadvantaged areas that the problems are most acute. It is true to say that those deprived and disadvantaged areas exist not only in Dublin but in Cork, Limerick, Galway and many other areas throughout the country.

I would suggest that the Minister establish a working party to identify schools situated in deprived areas, or schools which serve children who are economically and socially deprived, and that a special programme of aid for such schools be established. It is also vitally important that a curriculum suitable to the learning needs of such children should be drawn up and implemented.

At an INTO press conference last week as reported in The Irish Times of Wednesday, 23 November, Mr. Morgan O'Connell, president of the INTO, called for special measures to compensate children in such deprived areas for their educational and social disadvantages. He suggested that every pupil in such deprived schools should be counted as two for the purposes of allocating teachers. He pointed out that it was impossible with the large classes that exist at present to make very much progress in these schools and that the good pupils suffer as well as the others because they are all held up all the time. A suggestion made during the course of that press conference was that a home school liaison teacher should be allocated to such schools. Such a teacher would keep in contact with the parents of the pupils attending those schools, because there is a need for a teacher who can visit the homes, contact the parents and build up a liaison between the families and the schools. I would like to endorse the call. I believe it makes sense and would be a very constructive approach towards achieving a solution, or achieving some progress towards a solution, to that major problem in our educational scene.

At that same press conference, the scale of the social problems facing schools in such deprived areas was outlined. The press conference was told of a school in one particular disadvantaged area in Dublin where children came from a background of broken homes, drugs, unemployment, overcrowding in the home, where they had to work at delivering papers, where there was gang warfare, vandalism, lack of parental control and so on. In many schools in these disadvantaged areas, the children come from homes where the parents are unemployed, where there are single parent families and many other social problems.

Children coming from such backgrounds are enormously disadvantaged when it comes to education. The problems in these deprived areas can be dealt with only through the establishment of a programme of aid which will take cognisance of the educational needs of the pupils. There should be special staffing ratios in these schools and specialised training for the teachers who teach in them. Extra facilities and equipment need to be provided in such schools. My information is that, in some of them, the children have not even such basic requirements as books.

There should also be the provision of adequate assessment and psychological services and, of course, remedial teachers too. Throughout the primary sector generally there is a totally inadequate provision of remedial teachers to aid and support the weaker pupils and those with learning difficulties, and especially the handicapped. Adequate remedial education is an essential part of the education service. There is an overwhelming case for giving the highest possible level of support to the weak, the handicapped and the disadvantaged. This can be done only by providing adequate remedial education services.

In regard to the educational services for the handicapped and disabled pupils, integration has been very much mooted in recent years. Integration can be undertaken effectively only if adequate accommodation, equipment, staff and support services are available. In the case of physically handicapped children attending ordinary national schools and children in special classes in ordinary national schools, the Department of Education grants should not be less than the grants paid in respect of their counterparts in special schools. At the moment only the £17 capitation grant is paid in respect of such pupils.

The decision to phase out the schemes for the provision of caretakers and clerical assistants will have adverse effects on the quality of the educational service at primary school level. Such personnel are essential for the proper care and maintenance and efficient running especially of the larger schools. There is considerable evidence to suggest that, where caretakers have been provided, there has been a significant reduction in vandalism in schools, especially in the disadvantaged areas.

As far as the maintenance of primary schools is concerned, the £17per capita grant from the Department, together with the £4.25 local contribution, are totally inadequate to meet the operating costs of most primary schools. Indeed, many boards of management are finding it extremely difficult to stay in a break-even situation, and some boards of management have incurred considerable debts. In many schools the per capita amount is sufficient only to meet the heating, cleaning and lighting costs. It is not adequate to cover the other costs, such as the cost of painting, minor repairs and all the other operating costs, including the cost of providing equipment and materials.

The annual conference of the Catholic Primary School Managers' Association was held this year in my own county, Roscommon, in the Elphin Pastoral Centre. It was attended by the Minister and there was a call for an increase in the capitation grant to £24. In connection with the capitation grant, I was given particulars of a certain school in Dublin with an enrolment of 350 pupils. In 1982 the total grant amounted to £7,437. The insurance cost £3,000. The cleaners' wages cost a further £3,000. Cleaning equipment cost £700, leaving a total of £737 for the maintenance, security, lighting, heating, telephone and the provision of school materials and teaching aids. Heating and lighting costs amounted to £7,600, while the other costs amounted to £5,000. This school was expected to raise some £12,000 over and above its local contribution in an area of very high unemployment.

That case is reflected in many other schools throughout the country. It underlines how totally inadequate the capitation grants are to cover the operating costs of the schools. In some schools in middle-class areas funds are being raised by parents and by the community to buy equipment and to meet the shortfall in operating costs. This, of course, leaves the poorer areas at a disadvantage. Children in the middle-class areas — and I suppose that is a minority of the areas in the country — through the efforts of their parents and because of the fact that their parents are able to pay, are in a position to have the equipment and the facilities which they require. This leaves the children in the poorer areas at more and more of a disadvantage vis-á-vis their counterparts in the middle-class areas. There is a constitutional obligation on the State to provide free primary education for all our children. The quality of that education is becoming increasingly dependent on the ability of parents to contribute towards the cost of maintaining and equipping their schools. Again, this is rapidly eroding the principle of equal opportunity in education at primary level.

I should like to refer to an election questionnaire which was sent out by the Irish National Teachers' Organisation to all the political parties prior to the last general election. The first question in that questionnaire was: "Will your party guarantee to promote equality of educational opportunity?" The reply from the Minister's party was: "Yes, Fine Gael will guarantee to promote equality of educational opportunity." Arising from that question, there was a second question: "If so, will you maintain as a minimum existing levels of educational provision?" Again, the reply from the Minister's party was: "Yes, Fine Gael will maintain existing levels of educational provision having regard to an examination of their cost effectiveness."

I suggest that equality of educational opportunity is disappearing, and is being eroded, because of the fact that the deprived and the disadvantaged are suffering through the inadequacy of educational provision. One of the most tragic consequences of the cutbacks, or the inadequate provision for education, is that hundreds of young, qualified teachers are unemployed while their professional skills are urgently needed in classrooms throughout the country. Levels of unemployment among the 1983 graduates of the colleges of education are the highest ever. Estimates put the figure at something in the region of 500. When this number is added to the number of graduates who have remained unemployed since last year, we are talking about a number in the region of 700 teachers.

The reason why all those young people who are highly qualified are unemployed is that no new teaching posts have been created by the Department this year, over and above those required to cater for the increased intake into schools owing to growth of population. The only other teaching posts available to 1983 graduates arose from retirements. Many of these young teachers will remain unemployed throughout the year because the Department of Education have not improved the staffing arrangements and provided teaching posts for them.

In this connection I should like to point out that the number of teachers trained for national schools is determined by the Department of Education. Each year the Department determine the number of students to be admitted to the colleges of education. The decision is taken in the light of anticipated teacher demand, the projected growth in primary school numbers and the commitment to reduce the serious overcrowding that exists in schools. I have already pointed out that there are in excess of 70,000 pupils in classes of over 40. It can be said that the problem is not that we have too many teachers but that we have too few jobs.

The single most important factor in determining the quality of the education service is the size of the class in which the children are educated. If class sizes are big, especially in the socially disadvantaged areas, the children suffer enormously. For many years we were making progress towards the elimination of large classes but, unfortunately, as a result of the cutbacks, this progress has been halted. It is a tragic and a scandalous waste of resources that so many young qualified professional people who are urgently required in our classrooms are in the dole queues.

I want to move on to the cutbacks as they affect second level education. Before doing so I should like to refer to the totally inadequate provision for in-service training for teachers at both primary and second levels. I understand the Minister recently received a report on the whole question of in-service training. In that report there is a statement to the effect that the level of financial provision for in-service training in the Republic of Ireland is approximately equal to what was provided in Northern Ireland ten years ago and amounts to far less than one-hundredth of 1 per cent of total educational expenditure.

The problems teachers have to cope with are increasing every day. Teachers have to cope with problems arising from disadvantage and drug abuse. They have to deal with problems arising from homes where there is unemployment, and so on. The development of proper in-service training and education for teachers, not alone in the methodology of teaching, curriculum development and school administration, but also training in coping with the problems of pupils with special needs, is more essential now than ever. The cutbacks at second level could be described as discriminatory, inequitable and shortsighted. They strike hardest at the poor and the educationally deprived.

The Senator has less than two minutes left.

Free education is so far as it ever existed is a thing of the past. In fact, I would say that the cost of second level education today has gone away beyond what average parents can reasonably afford. I would like to say much more about the situation at second level and at third level where decisions on cutbacks such as the raising of the requirement for regional scholarships or the introduction of the two honours requirement for regional scholarships, deprived many of our students of an opportunity to receive technological education.

I will conclude by saying that, when we refer to cutbacks, we are talking about cutbacks not alone in the educational service, as such, but cutbacks in the progress towards the elimination of large classes, cutbacks in the development of career guidance and counselling services, cutbacks in progress towards the provision of adequate remedial teaching services, cutbacks in the availability of technological education, cutbacks in the intake of student teachers.

Investment in education has often been referred to and, in bad times or good, investment is always well advised. A prudent investor invests when times are bad, because investment implies a dividend or at least expectation of dividend at a future date. In times of recession, the Government should continue to invest in education. I agree with cutting spending, but not cutting investment because money spent on education is investment.

I second the motion and, in doing so, I should like to make the point that our motion is a positive one and a very general one. It extends far beyond the narrow confines of the amendment which has been put down and, I presume will be proposed by the Government side.

Like my colleague, Senator Mullooly, I should like to refer briefly to some election promises made before the last election in regard to some areas of education. For example, on the pupil-teacher ratio, Fine Gael's reply to the ASTI was that the party were committed in their policy document to work progressively for the improvement of the pupil-teacher ratio. On the career guidance side they said that career guidance will be greatly expanded in schools. The Labour Party through their spokesman, Deputy Taylor, made the point that they were most concerned at the situation regarding pupil-teacher ratios and would resist any attempt to cutback in this area in any sector of education.

This is a positive motion. It is very general. Everybody in this House should support it rather than support the narrow confines of the amendment. When we talk about the socially disadvantaged we are talking on average about 25 per cent in each school. These are the very people who are being hit most by the cuts in education. The stronger students will always survive. The academically weaker students tend to be in the socially disadvantaged category. Clearly they will be the most affected. There is a degree of hypocrisy in the amendment, because of the reasons I have given. The cutbacks are hitting the very people whose lot the Government say they should endeavour to improve.

For the average secondary school with, say, 300 pupils there will be many problems in the years ahead. Class sizes will increase. Subject options will be fewer. As a result of these cutbacks the morale of the teaching profession will be lowered and teachers will perform less well because of the increased pressures that will obviously be present. For people dealing with timetables, life will become a mystery and one big headache, because they will not know what is happening. The decision on career guidance and counselling is most regrettable. We all realise that career guidance is vital. Counselling is also vital because it is very important for the teachers to know the problems of the children at home. If a pupil is not working well or is behaving wrongly, the teacher will be aware that the reason is that there is a problem at home. Counselling is very important and it should never have been discontinued on the scale proposed by the Minister.

The whole area of counselling and career guidance needs special attention. The Minister was wrong to discontinue those services. This clearly discriminates against the small and moderately sized rural schools. Many school leavers will have no guidance for career choice, or preparation for the world of work. Those who stay in school will have no guidance on subject choices as they relate to associated careers. There will be no assessment of their aptitudes and occupational interest or help with personal and behavioural problems. It is probably true to say that in the absence of this free service which was available to students, many parents will have to pay for career guidance outside the school. Many will feel it is necessary.

Planning for the future will be a nightmare. Remedial training which is so necessary for many boys and girls is a thing of the past. That is regrettable. That training should be restored. In an average vocational school with, say, 350 to 400 students, the same problems will arise. The pupil-teacher ratio has been increased. Teachers do not know from day to day whether they will be in place A, B or C. Student weeks have been reduced in some cases from 45 to 38. Generally, the standard of education in those schools has been reduced considerably by the various and severe cutbacks. In many schools the prospect of remedial teaching, which is vital in vocational schools, is out of the question. Guidance, information and special attention — all these aids for the weaker students will be gone. Physical education will not be introduced. The very people the Government say in their amendment they should be looking after and protecting will be most affected if cuts continue to be made.

The RTCs have grown dramatically since they were established in the early seventies. All of them have been extended recently. The college in Athlone was extended at a cost of almost £1 million. We are pleased and delighted that all the RTCs are full to capacity. This may be a sign of the times rather than anything else. Many students are in these schools because they have no jobs and, obviously, rather than being idle they opted to continue their studies, which is understandable in the circumstances. The success of the colleges is based on the close liaison which exists between them and industry. This ensures that courses are relevant to industrial requirements and also that employers are aware of the expertise and the resources within the colleges. This has been proved in my own town time and time again. Despite the recession, some graduates are obtaining suitable employment, and long may that continue.

Because of the growth in student numbers, particularly in the past two or three years, the financial allocations to the colleges have not been sufficient to cater for the necessary increase in staff numbers. Laboratory equipment and facilities generally have been neglected over a period. This, too, will result in a lesser degree of practical experience which, in the long term, may damage the students' employment prospects.

During the year I was very saddened at the Minister's decision regarding the two honours requirement for a VEC scholarship. It does a grave injustice to many students who sat the examination only to be told they must now have two honours, and there was nothing they could do about it. I would have understood it if the Minister had said it would apply in two years' time. That would be fair and just. I have to say this cutback is unfair. It causes problems for many students.

College fees have increased substantially over the past year. They are currently below university fees, and that is how they should stay. Facilities in the colleges cannot be compared with those in universities — for example, research, library and student union facilities.

Cutbacks in education are false economy. A well educated body of boys and girls is an asset to our nation. I condemn in the strongest possible way these cutbacks and many others to detail which would take up quite some time. It is a retrograde step and one which the Minister might see, in her wisdom, must be halted.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:

"having due regard to the present economic situation, recognises the importance of education as an investment in our children's future and calls on the Minister to have as a priority the educational needs of the socially disadvantaged."

At the outset, I welcome the Minister to the House. This is the first opportunity we have had, as Senator Mullooly remarked earlier on, of debating an educational motion here. I am sure that in the lifetime of this Government it will not be the last. If any Government has shown commitment and action in education, this one has in its short term of 11 months.

In view of earlier discussions on the Order of Business today, anybody present must question the sincerity of and the sentiments behind the motion in view of the fact that it is a Fianna Fáil motion. I say that because just 12 months ago, prior to the last general election, the Estimates for the Fianna Fáil Government were published. Today we hear them decrying the cutbacks. All of this, despite the fact that if Fianna Fáil had implemented the Estimates presented in November 1982 we would be in a far worse situation, far more cutbacks having been implemented than had to be implemented by this Government. The Estimates allowed for something in the region of £750 million for the running of the Department of Education. The costs estimated for this year under this Government are nearer to £900 million. I ask the members of the Opposition why we have not heard from them in the interim period. Let them answer with honesty and sincerity, if they are as concerned as would appear from their motion today, where those cuts were to have been implemented. Were they to have affected school buses, with the chaos that occurred when that was implemented, much of the chaos orchestrated by Fianna Fáil?

At the start of business today they orchestrated this matter as they did previously on the ground among the parents in many areas. We never heard what Fianna Fáil's intentions were in regard to school transport. Neither did we hear what their intentions with regard to the pupil/teacher ratio would have been had they been returned to Government. I quote from the statement made by Deputy Brady, the then Minister when presenting those Estimates in November 1982:

Some other measures will have to be taken also to restrict current expenditure in 1983 to a level which can be met from the available revenue. These will include amendments to the conditions for the appointment of teachers in post-primary schools. The relevant curriculum circulars to the schools in relation to these matters will be issued in due course.

What is the point in the Opposition making long statements today when the reality of the situation is that that would have been their intention had they been returned to Government?

The provision of £900 million for education this year is £150 million more than would have been provided by Fianna Fáil. There is £70 million more for non-capital expenditure. Coming from County Galway and being a member of the County Galway VEC, I can say that this Government have given the go-ahead on the capital side for the replacement of pre-fab schools, something which has lain dormant for years; £1 million plus for the erection of new schools; in Loughrea a new vocational school; in Tuam, Gort, Ballinasloe and Portumna, extensions or new school replacements. This commitment by the Government proves that they have set a priority in education rather than what we would be led to believe from the Opposition in the House this evening.

In the primary sector alone, the provision made by this Government has been £319 million, an increase of nine per cent on the original estimate. Likewise in the secondary and post-primary branch, it was £394 million — an increase of 14 per cent. Can any Opposition Senator stand over what that party call the cutbacks, if they were to have implemented their Estimates at their figures? Surely the people whom we call the underprivileged and disadvantaged would be a sorry state today, in educational terms, if these restrictions had been implemented? There has been a hollow ring in the utterances of people who search for problems in this area. They have created these problems and should be putting forward realistic constructive suggestions to improve the present situation in educational circles.

I would remind the Opposition also that for the past 50 years they have monopolised education. Not once had we a forward-thinking plan from any former Opposition Minister for Education. All the educational estimates and plans were an ad hoc arrangement which catered on a day-to-day basis for the problems that arose — increasing numbers, need for new facilities in schools and so on. In this present day we have the relics throughout the country — pre-fabricated schools because of decisions made in haste; completely unfurnished schools; many facilities such as science halls unfurnished and without the apparatus required to carry out ordinary educational projects.

This situation has existed for 50 years, but I am glad to say that the Minister has brought forward and proposed an action plan for the next four years in education. We did not have a plan like this heretofore. I look forward to the details of the plan being introduced into the House, when we can debate them and see their merits.

We have progressed in the much needed areas of revision of the curriculum and the examination board. I congratulate the Minister on having initiated that work and I am confident that she will bring it to fruition in the near future. A few years ago I was present as a Member when she expressed those views, then as a Senator. I am delighted that now, as Minister, she has taken up that task and intends making these changes in our educational scheme.

All of us have heard employers saying over the years that the leaving, intermediate and group certificates no longer provide standards for acquiring a job or admission into any future activity or career. The higher education authorities say that they are no longer acceptable as genuine and realistic standards of selection for places within the universities and regional technical colleges. I believe that to be true and welcome the day, very soon, when a Minister can bring forward a revised curriculum of subjects with a content relevant to today's needs and implement it in the educational system.

While many people on the other side of the House might say that there have been cutbacks in the choice of subjects, in the very near future children within the post-primary and other levels of educational institutions will have a far wider and more meaningful choice to help them to educate themselves for life and for work. This has not been the case in the past.

As regards the revised scheme for modern languages, the Minister has made a very important change, in liaison with her Department officials in introducing a new scheme for oral examinations. Modern languages will thus be useful not just at school but thereafter. That is what the whole educational process should be about. No previous Minister had taken any worthwhile steps to bring this about. With regard to all available Government educational resources, I would ask the Minister to take note of one area of duplication. There is an encroachment on the educational system in the true sense, in the post-primary level and in particular the vocational sector, because agencies such as AnCO run courses parallel with similar courses available in vocational education schools. Not only do they run parallel, but they also threaten the very existence of such courses within the vocational education scheme. I ask the Minister to take a close look at the finances being made available for training and education under the Government's agencies and that agencies now outside the educational sphere should not be encouraged to tap those much needed resources.

It has been mentioned in this House in recent debates that AnCO have encroached on or sought to run parallel with the schemes run by the Youth Employment Agency. Here, again, may I say that it is regrettable that that very agency has been taken from the Department of Education and put under the auspices of the Department of Labour. I am sure that it would be the wish of many Senators and others that the Youth Employment Agency, the establishment of which was to create training and educational input, would return to its rightful home, the Department of Education.

Vast resources are at present being channelled into other agencies which could ensure not just the maintenance but also the expansion of many relevant courses of education and training. Due simply to red tape, vocational schools cannot use these training finances because the student must have left school. If a carrot is dangled before them outside the educational scheme, they will leave that scheme, which is bad. They are leaving at a time when they are young and have not completed their education and are brought outside the educational scheme into the sphere of AnCO.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator has one minute to complete his contribution.

On the membership of the examination and curriculum review board, I welcome the Minister's initiative to give a voice not only to those with expertise involved in education in the field of management and trades, but also to the parents. For the first time all interested bodies can have a say in the working out of a new and worthwhile system of examinations and a relevant curriculum, thus ensuring that education can flourish, regardless of the expenditures involved.

Firstly, I would like, on my own behalf and on behalf of the Labour Party, to welcome the Minister to this House and to take the opportunity to discuss for the first time here an educational topic. I share the doubts that Senator Burke expressed at the bona fides of the concern expressed by the movers of this motion, having regard to the factual situation last year when the Fianna Fáil Government published the educational Estimates. However, I intend to confine my remarks to the generality of education.

Ireland, in recent years like the rest of the western world, has trundled along a rocky road. We are all struggling to cope with a changing world, and nowhere is the pressure greater than on our young people who are desperately seeking a future for themselves in what appears to them to be a crumbling society. The question must be asked whether the road is rocky because we have gone off the track or because we have come to the end of the road on which we have been travelling. This debate gives us a timely opportunity to take stock of our educational system, to ask what we want of it, how it can best serve our people and how many resources can and must be channelled into it.

Education surely must attempt to prepare our youth for the workplace. However, its fundamental role must be in personal development, the self-actualisation of all our children. As public representatives, we must recognise the importance of education as an investment in the future of our children and, indeed, of our nation. That is what the amendment asks. Ultimately, our people are our greatest resource, despite whatever may be found underneath our soil, or off our coasts. It will be our people and their skills and knowledge that will pilot our nation into the next century. It is the preparing of our people for the continuing and increasing rate of change that presents the greatest challenge to our educators and to the educational system.

"Now The Chips Are Down" was a BBC programme broadcast in 1978 which attempted to explain and examine the changes that would be brought about in society as a result of the silicon chip and new technologies. Such chips are the reasons why Japan is abandoning her shipbuilding and why many of our children will grow up without jobs to go to. New technologies have always had the effect of ensuring advantage for those who can learn to operate them and power, which is real dominance in society, for those who can understand, invest in and direct their potential.

Each new technological development has created new bases for inequality. It will be the function of the schools and our educators to attempt to counter this. However, they may not succeed. All the goodwill in the world among our educators will not suffice to eradicate these ills, for that requires a more profound change in the distribution of power in society and in the goal towards which power is made to serve. Unemployment and the taking of skill from occupations are inescapable consequences of the present technological revolution, not just in the short term but for the foreseeable future. All current forecasts indicate the increased trend towards unemployment. The World Centre which was established last year by President Francois Mitterand published last year a study on computer development and its human impact. It has forecast that by the year 1990 the micro processor, independent of all other factors, will be responsible for the elimination of 50 million jobs in the western world. In my view, the role of education will be of increased importance as our dependence on technology and our increased leisure time make more and more demands on our system.

In 1971, the new curriculum was established throughout our national schools. It was to be a child-centred approach to education, allowing discovery and self-advancement. We were taking the first tentative steps away from the chalk and talk approach and, in fairness, the Department of Education tried to provide the necessary facilities — open plan areas, general purpose rooms, moveable, light, furniture, increased lighting and, most important of all, reduced pupil/teacher ratios to enable this change to take place and bear fruit. Let it be said that enough has not been done and that to expect any meaningful one-to-one interaction to occur between teacher and pupil in a class of 40 plus is to expect the near impossible.

The reduction in the pupil/teacher ratio in primary schools is the single most significant improvement that could be made in the area of primary education. This is especially so in the area of infant education and, indeed, the whole area of infant education needs to be examined, having regard to the crucial role which it occupies in the education process. To no small degree, the infant department prescribes all that comes after it. It forms the boundary, in many instances, of the educational advancement of many weaker pupils. As everybody knows, there are twin views on the origins of cognitive abilities — firstly, that heredity sets the limits of growth and secondly that the environment is the crucial factor. My own experience indicates and underlines forcibly to me that the most important aspect is early school training and, of course, let me add, home training where an educationally supportive environment exists in the home. Indeed, there are many important educational research reports to support this belief.

The amendment that I have the honour of seconding calls on the Minister to have, as a priority, the educational needs of the socially disadvantaged. The first task is to identify the disadvantaged children in our society. A special committee of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation published a report in 1979, listing the following criteria for the identification of disadvantaged children, which I propose to read into the record of this House:

1. Unemployment, low family income.

2. Overcrowded, substandard housing.

3. Mentally retarded, disturbed, or physically handicapped.

4. Estimate of educational disadvantage.

5. Estimate of parental attitudes.

The committee went on to give a series of recommendations which should be well noted tonight by the Department of Education, the Minister here present and all of us. They recommended that the special educational provision should be made in schools where a high number of children had been designated disadvantaged and that the special provision should include a programme of home/school liaison, pre-schools, special staffing arrangements, specialised training for teachers, adaptation of the curriculum and extra facilities and equipment. The committee recommended the establishment of a comprehensive school psychological service, a crucial factor. For my own county of Wexford, the nearest school psychologist is based in Waterford City. That psychologist caters for all referred cases from several counties.

The committee recommended the creation of a national council for child care, to oversee and co-ordinate existing child care social services. Hopefully, some action may be taken in that regard in a new Children Bill being prepared by the Minister for Health. The committee recommended that, within the school, attempts should be made to offset the effects of low socio-economic factors in the children's environment. Indeed many schools can be highly commended for utilising their own resources and generating, from within their own communities, resources to offset economic hardship on children attending school who have not had breakfast that morning, or who come to school on winter mornings in summer attire, or without socks. It is up to the schools, in many instances, to provide these basic requisites, because it is an insult to attempt to teach a child any subject when that child is hungry, cold or malnourished.

The final recommendation was the establishment of suitable adult educational programmes for the parents of disadvantaged children, another crucial factor. I have the happy experience of working in close collaboration with Wexford Family Centre, established with the support of the South Eastern Health Board and with funding and staffing by the ISPCC. I have seen, at first hand, the impact of an immersion programme of that kind recommended by the task force in child care facilities set up by a former Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Brendan Corish, which advocated the use of that sort of neighbourhood resource to tackle this disadvantage. Let me say to the credit of the teachers of Wexford that 20 teachers work on a voluntary basis, giving extra educational help to the children of those families. It is to approaches and moves in this regard that I would ask the Minister to direct her attention.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator has one minute to conclude.

No doubt, there is always the temptation to look for political advantage in any situation. However, a brief look at The Way Forward would clearly indicate that there would have been no boom in educational spending had an alternative administration been returned last year. As a small developing country with a very large dependent school going population the burden of providing for our children's educational needs is a heavy one. We are all aware of the fact that the education bill is a huge one, rapidly approaching £1,000 million and the taxpayers of this country are groaning already under the burden of tax bills.

In conclusion, it is our responsibility, cognisant of these facts, to seek not to gain political advantage but rather to help the Minister and the Department to ensure that whatever resources can be acquired for education will be spent for the educational advantage of all our children, particularly those who are socially disadvantaged.

I warmly welcome the Minister to the House and wish her well in her very onerous position. In the course of this very brief contribution there is one main point that I wish to make. In the educational field the gap between the socially advantaged and the socially disadvantaged is widening. The gulf is continuously becoming greater and the result of the education cuts is antisocial.

As we all know, in the case of primary schools the revenue comes from two sources, Government grants and local contributions. Quite clearly, as has been pointed out already, the Government grants are totally inadequate to meet the running costs of primary schools. This raises the question of local contributions which in turn raises the question of how well off people are in the various parishes. In parishes where the bulk of the population are in the lower income group — and God knows we have too many such parishes — funds for schools are just not there in adequate quantities to meet the balance of running costs of schools. This, of course, means that there is poorer maintenance and, indeed, a drop in morale where funds are just not adequate to keep the schools running properly. Precisely where the funds are needed most, in the case of poorer areas, there is less money available. In a nutshell, the under-privileged are being victimised, the disadvantaged pupils are increasingly worse off. This is obviously unfair with profound social implications.

The second point I wish to refer to is the pupil-teacher ratio which Senator Howlin has already raised. By way of confirmation, regarding overcrowded classes for young children, I have a son aged six in our local national school and he is one of 40 pupils. There are still too many schools with classes of 40 pupils. This is a serious problem for all pupils in such classes, but it is a particularly acute problem where the children come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Not alone is the quality of education adversely affected by such large classes but, for the socially deprived, it is more serious because some of them will never see the inside of a secondary school. They end up, therefore, with an exceptionally poor education which diminishes further their prospects of getting jobs.

More generally, we now have a situation where, on the one hand, the population is growing and the need for placing pupils is ever greater while, on the other hand, we have, as a consequence of Government policy, fewer teachers in the training colleges. We have, therefore, an increasing demand for pupil places side by side with fewer teachers being trained. Two further examples of cutbacks in primary education which have already been touched upon are, firstly, the facilities generally and, in particular, with audiovisual aid grants which have been cut and this of course results in a diminished teaching service. The second example relates to in-service education for teachers, where funds have been cut to the bone. In any occupation it is necessary to keep abreast of modern developments so that the benefits of new knowledge, skills and experience can be utilised. This particular cutback will mean that the standards of teaching will fall.

I wish now to refer to the freeze on teacher recruitment which has the effect, of course; of filling only one vacancy in three in the teaching field at all levels. This is having a very serious global effect on all levels of teaching but it has a particularly direct and adverse effect in the case of career guidance teachers in particular. This is so because where vacancies are left unfilled career guidance teachers, who were ex-quota prior to the one-in-three formula, now are included in the general pool of teachers in small and medium-sized schools. To return to disadvantaged children, they may well have come through an overcroded primary school system and now find themselves in a second level school where career advice is just not available. They in particular need career advice. The one-in-three principle can also be illustrated in the case of a small school where, for example, a science teacher retires or leaves. Under the present formula of one-in-three that science teacher will not be replaced and therefore the school has to go without a science teacher.

My final point relates to third level where, of course, the one-in-three principle also applies. It is having a very serious impact on third level institutions. There are up to 100 unfilled vacancies in University College, Dublin, at the present time, where I work myself. This, in the case of unfilled academic posts, has serious implications for the quality of courses. It means that people with special expertise who retire or leave are not replaced except on the very restrictive one-in-three formula. The one-in-three formula of course also has a direct effect on small group work which is so necessary given the very large classes in arts and commerce, for example. Tutorials are either cut back or are terminated.

In conclusion, I wish to revert to my main point which I set out at the beginning, namely, the opening and widening gap between socially advantaged and socially disadvantaged children, particularly in the primary schools. This is in urgent need for remedial action.

I would like to support the amendment and to address my remarks mainly to the amendment. The amendment at least takes us up to reality and attempts to take cognisance of the difficult economic climate and situation in which we find ourselves. I would disagree with the Opposition motion in that it does precisely the opposite. It ignores total reality and makes a blanket condemnation. It is an accepted fact of life, accepted by all sides, Opposition, Independents and otherwise, that we find ourselves in a difficult economic situation not of our own making.

It is an accepted fact of life that there have to be cuts in public expenditure. Department by Department pruning has been necessary. Any Government would have to take positive remedial action for the long term economic salvation of the people, particularly the children, and the children born yesterday in this country, otherwise we face doom. We recall that in Opposition we opposed the measures taken by the then Minister for Health and Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Michael Woods, in deleting 900 items from the medical card service. We thought that was unduly harsh at that time. The present Minister tried in some respects at least to alleviate the hardship thereby created by restoring some of the items in question back on to the medical card service again.

One would imagine, from listening to the remarks from the Opposition benches, that the educational edifice was about to fall down, that things were at such a stage that it was crumbling, that it was all about to disintegrate, that the years of endeavouring to build up a worthwhile system were now about to be frittered away. This is not the case. While the pupil-teacher ratio has been somewhat increased, in my opinion — I speak as a teacher — it has not placed an intolerable burden on teachers. I cannot accept that in days of extreme economic exigency a pupil-teacher ratio of 17 to one is unfavourable.

I cannot accept that the school transport modifications that have taken place have been anything but fair. They have been very fair indeed, with only minimal charges being foisted on people related directly to people's ability to pay. I regret that within the next two years the Minister may be forced, because of the non-imposition of charges, to take possibly even tougher measures in this regard, because we know that the buses which were brought in in the sixties have just about ended their usefulness. A vast capital expenditure will be required to replace them.

There is one area that I address my remarks and exhortations to the Minister. It is contained within the spirit of the motion and the amendment, that is in relation to the area of special education and remedial education. Whatever has happened in this area nothing positive has ever been done by any previous Administration to really grasp this nettle. It is a sad fact of life that in this country today 10 per cent of the students who sat in the benches of primary and post primary schools derived absolutely no benefit whatever from the tutorship of the people who walked around those class halls and who had direct tutorship over them.

It is a fact of life that 10 years ago precisely the same situation operated. It is a sad indictment on any education system that one out of every 10 pupils in this country leaves a class hall at 4 p.m. or 3 p.m. no wiser than when he arrived. The emphasis is, unfortunately, on the average pupil, the higher grade pupil or the pupil who has the academic and intellectual attainment and ability to derive from the present curriculum. Special education must be grappled with but I would stress that this Government have not done anything that would in any way worsen the lot of the child who requires special remedial education.

I ask the Minister to look at one possibility. At present the Department of Labour operate, in conjunction with the Youth Employment Agency, a youth employment scheme. In my own county alone there are projects to the tune of £500,000 going on under this scheme. They are very worthwhile. They employ people between the ages of 17 and 25. They pay them an average wage of £60 per week. Unfortunately they are too short-term. I believe that the Minister for Education and the Department of Education should seriously look at the possibility of some type of liaison or integration between the Department of Education and the Department of Labour with a view to employing the surplus graduates who are now walking the streets, who are now drawing unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit.

For years, we have been aspiring towards a better deal for our teachers and pupils. I believe that in this blending together of the two Departments we could utilise those graduates and those surplus teachers' assistants or aides to at last bring us, in terms of educational development, into the twentieth century with the introduction of team teaching. There is a vast pool here. There is a vast expertise that has been untapped. Rather than allow them to walk the streets as very well educated unemployed we should at lest allow them to realise some self-fulfilment within the class hall situation which they are more than adequately trained for.

The Minister has the necessary sensitivity, ability and comprehension of the problem. I know that the Minister has addressed herself to shifting resources and making necessary modifications as far as the finances available have allowed her. I know that in the curriculum area we can expect new developments. I note with some gratitude that the Minister again this year, for the first time, is introducing oral examinations for linguistics. This is a very worthwhile development.

I am confident that the Minister will take cognisance of the suggestion that I have put in relation to the utilisation of the Youth Employment Scheme. I commend the amendment because it is pragmatic, realistic and it states reality. I dissociate myself from the particular motion proposed by the Opposition because it has already been pointed out very forcibly by Senator Burke, in proposing the amendment, that were the projected figure, as envisaged by the Opposition party when in government, in relation to the budget deficit implemented the axe would have fallen on all Departments and education would have been no exception.

I would like to welcome the Minister and thank her for coming here this evening to listen to this debate on this motion. I hope, having listened to some of the problems we hope to outline, that she will perhaps at the end of the debate have inspiration to go back and do battle with the Minister for Finance and try and ease some of the burdens as we see them.

I would like to say at the outset that I am still concerned about the motive behind the amendment tabled by the Government. While I agree in principle with what is embodied in the amendment by the Government side of this House, apparently they do not want to recognise that cuts in education expenditure pose a major threat to the quality of education. They do not want to recognise the fact that these cuts will have serious consequences for the future of our children and young people. They do not want the Government to review all their education cutbacks, in particular, for those pupils who are educationally and socially disadvantaged.

The motion was tabled by our party because Fianna Fáil are seriously concerned for the future of education. We are concerned because of the quality of education. We are concerned because of the consequences of the threatened decline in the standards of education. We are concerned for the future of our children. They are the real victims of the cutbacks being imposed by the Coalition Government. We are also concerned at the total apparent lack of understanding of the difficulties which these cuts have imposed on both the pupils and staff contrary to what some of the speakers in this House might like to think. We feel education, sadly, no longer seems to be a priority in this country. It seems to be a priority area for Government saving. I believe that by the continued dogmatic. pursuance of their present policies the Government will soon reach the stage when children will be denied the right to education which is guaranteed in our Constitution.

I am sure the Minister has heard enough about the school bus service, but coming from a rural area and understanding the problems of rural parents, children and teachers, I would like to reiterate the importance of the school transport system. I would like to re-emphasise the problem children have in getting to school. At one stage I thought that school transport might not be that necessary, but in modern day traffic and with the deterioration of our roads, which are getting worse every day, the school bus transport service will have to be part of the entire school service, as administered by any Minister or any Government.

The sad part is that during the summer-autumn period buses, which previously carried up to 60 pupils, are now travelling with an average of 13 pupils. It seems ridiculous that the buses are travelling three quarters empty to schools. In the wintertime people will be forced to avail of the transport. I know there are exemptions, but there are still people who cannot avail of the free transport and who cannot afford to pay for school transport services. I know one school outside Oldcastle where there were almost 30 children travelling on a bus but now there are only 13 school children. The others walk to school on very dangerous stretches of roads. You have the anxiety of parents and indeed the feeling of deprivation of the parents of those children who cannot, because of financial constraints, afford to pay these charges.

An area that was touched on briefly is the capital development expenditure programme. Many people have a feeling that recently there has been a remarkable slow down in progress on this scheme. I would like a reassurance from the Minister that a deliberate stalling exercise is not at present in operation. If the Minister would bear with me for a moment I will give her a few statistics from my own school, St. Oliver's post primary school, Oldcastle. Contrary to what some people say, that there will be a decrease in the school-going population in rural areas, especially at second level, the junior class numbers have been increasing. Junior class numbers in this school have increased to 34. These are housed in prefabs and classrooms designed to accommodate 20 to 25 pupils.

Practical cookery or science is not possible with such numbers. There were 15 additional pupils in the school in 1982 and a further 13 in 1983. No additional staff were appointed. The pupil-teacher ratio is 18.5 to one which was originally, when I was a member of the VEC, 16.5 to one. The career guidance teacher is not ex quota because we are under 500 pupils. As a result the career guidance teacher spends the majority of her time teaching. Our enrolment is 460 pupils. All teachers are timetabled for maximum teaching hours because of the additional pupils and no additional teachers. This leaves nobody with time for supervision, less time for preparation and correction and no extra activities. There is only 18 hours per week metal work teaching available in the school. As a result of this pupils cannot sit for the group certificates any longer. There is no remedial teaching any more as it is not possible to give any necessary attention to slow learners who now form part of the large class group. This is a sad day, and I ask the Minister to take special notice of that particular area in regard to remedial teaching.

With regard to maintenance and equipment, relatively new and good buildings are neglected because of a severe shortage of funds for routine maintenance and repairs. At the same time huge sums of money are wasted in employing various consultants and setting up committees at Government level. This is why I feel there is a stalling exercise there.

At our school no additional accommodation has been provided over the past four years even though we have had an increase of 50 pupils. The permanent extension approved in principle over three years ago is still at first drawing stage and is being held there while a number of people are doing the necessary preliminary work and getting the money which in my opinion should be used to provide the facilities. A gymnasium promised in 1969 and sanctioned by a Coalition Government in 1974, as part of the amalgamation with the vocational and secondary school at the time, has not yet been provided. Theoretical classes are held in woodwork, metal work, science and home economic rooms, which means that teachers of practical subjects cannot adequately prepare class material and prepare equipment.

As well as that we have a school promised for the town of Kells for many years which we thought would go ahead early this year and which we are very concerned over. There is also a school for the village of Nobber which we hope will start in the new year. The school was promised in 1978. Across the border in Castlepollard the school is bursting at the seams. This school wished to cater for an extra class for the 1984-85 term but because of lack of accommodation unfortunately will not be able to do so. Up the county Senators will have read in the newspapers about a new school for the village of Boardsmill, where the school the children were being taught in was condemned.

These are the problems which the Minister will have to tackle. Deprivation of facilities for the future population of this country cannot be justified by any Minister for Education or Finance. I would like to say that while our sincerity was questioned by the Government side of the House, I assure the Minister that she will get every co-operation from us to co-ordinate the educational standards for the children and for the future young people of this country. The cutbacks we have seen in the last nine months have created havoc.

Senator Burke and Senator Higgins referred to what might have happened if Fianna Fáil were in Government. I wish to assure the Members of this House and the people of Ireland that our party never did or never would create the havoc and confusion being experienced in this country for the past nine months.

I have to question the integrity of the original motion. We all know that the current financial situation is a direct result not of the last nine months, as Senator Lynch said, but of mismanagement and lack of planning within the education system over a number of years.

The programme for Government presented by the Opposition, namely, The Way Forward, specifically said cuts would have to be made. There was no examination or details of where best to make these cuts and there was no reference to how to spend wisely what was, or is, available. Why start playing politics with this sorry subject? Why not spend this valuable time and energy exploring within the confines of existing finances how best to spend the money, where we should be spending it and establishing priorities?

If we look at the situation we know what needs to be done. The intake in our primary system needs to be sorted out either by setting up a proper kindergarten system or a three-year infant programme. The pupil-teacher ratio needs to be reduced dramatically. The matter of assessment examinations needs to be changed. The method of selecting inter-training colleges needs to be examined. The problem of teachers who are not suitable to their posts needs to be examined, and we must decide how best to resolve this problem. The training of second level teachers, building programmes, how to overhaul the curriculum and how to bring it into a situation where you have continuity from first level through second level and finally into third level must also be looked at.

I could go on and on and speak for the time allotted, but I have a strong objection to going into detail after detail, fault after fault, without doing what we as parents and some of us as teachers, and as public representatives, are elected to do, that is, come up with solutions on how best to expend our resources, not in an idealistic fashion but under the harsh realistic financial circumstances which prevail.

I would appeal to the Minister that when, where or if, cutbacks are being considered, or alterations or changes are being made, we, the elected Members of the Oireachtas, and especially the teachers in the Oireachtas, and on an all-party basis, be asked for our views on specific proposals, not, "What do you think about the primary education system?" or "What do you think about the third level system?" but rather "We propose to do such-and-such. What is your view on that, or can you come up with an alternative?" Our valuable experience and knowledge must be seriously taken into account before final decisions are taken. The officials in the Department, while well meaning, have no actual experience on how rationalisation is called for or when changes are required. It is often the experienced person who has a practical knowledge and who is working on a day-to-day basis with the problem who can come up with a solution and, in many circumstances, at no great cost, or at no additional cost.

On a practical level, Senator Howlin, Senator M.D. Higgins and I are currently active with our own Labour teachers' organisation on a countrywide basis. The purpose of this organisation is to keep in touch at first-hand level with what is going on in schools throughout the country. We meet on a regular basis. Solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems, often arise from these meetings and discussions, the idea being that for practical solutions one cannot afford to do without the view of those who experience the problems on a daily basis, and at first hand.

I have listened with much interest to the contributions to this debate and I should like to thank those Senators who welcomed me on what is the first protracted debate on education. I have been here during the last year but not for such an in-depth discussion. I am very glad to come into the Seanad to discuss education because I know, and I have heard today, that there are many people with a very practical involvement and expertise in the education area. For that reason, our discussion has been particularly well informed and I should like to thank all the Senators who contributed so far to this debate.

Before I respond to some of the main points made by individual Senators who spoke, I would like to make some general comments. The debate which has been going on here today gives an opportunity to highlight the very extensive investment which the Government are making in education. We all recognise that education is one of the most important services which the State provides. The money spent on educational services represents a strong commitment to and vote of confidence in the future of our young people.

The very grave financial crisis which we inherited — and ‘crisis' is not too strong a word — has forced us to look closely at any areas where public spending can legitimately be curtailed. It is generally agreed that this is the role that responsible Government must play. We must get away from simplistic views based on a false kind of popularism which applauds Ministers for the amount of money which they can wrest from their Cabinet colleagues, and the taxpayer, in order to spend within their own particular areas. To think in terms of "the bigger the spender, the better the Minister" is to think dangerously and irresponsibly. Simply to spend without regard to where the money is coming from or without a proper examination of where it is going, is a recipe for total disaster. It may not be a popular idea but I believe one should compliment Ministers for prudent saving rather than for extravagant spending. We had rather a lot of that in the recent past before this Government came into office. The plaudits should go for cost efficiency measures, not for opportunistic or popularist action.

There is never any difficulty in justifying expenditure on education. We could double the budget and justify every penny spent in terms of the quality of service offered — but what would be the result? Total financial chaos.

Our level of expenditure, therefore, must take account of the capacity of the taxpayer to meet the bill. To talk of ensuring a future for our young people does not mean only providing them with education, important as that is, it also means handing on to them an economy in good health. The worst possible favour we could do them would be to saddle them with terrible national debts; to make them pay later for our spending now. Any debate about public spending, on education or anything else, must take place in the context of that reality.

But — and this is a big "but"— as public representatives there is a great onus on us all to think positively, to talk positively, both about the present and about the future. Let us not talk about a 2 per cent "cut" in education spending, as some people have done, as if this was some kind of savage, calculated attack on young people. This kind of wild, intemperate and exaggerated rhetoric does no one any good — least of all our young people. In effecting economies, absolutely necessary in the national interest, there need be little or no reduction in the actual quality of education service offered — if the response is better management of resources and a greater effort made by all involved. Our greatest responsibility, therefore, is to ensure that the near £900 million which we are spending this year on education is spent wisely and it is incumbent on everyone engaged in the provision of education services to face up to the elimination of wasteful expenditure, if we are serious about maintaining the quality of service.

I would have some difficulty in agreeing with the statement in the original motion that cuts in education expenditure pose a major threat to the quality of education. I find it difficult to agree with the wording of that motion in the framework of the kind of cost efficiency and examination of resources of which I am speaking, and to which many Senators have addressed themselves. While our financial difficulties force us to scrutinise every aspect of spending, we can move forward and achieve progress in a whole range of areas. We know the limitations but within them we can achieve effective and useful change.

This fact was recognised by my immediate predecessor in office, Deputy Gerard Brady, in a statement made following a meeting with the education correspondents of the daily papers. He said, and I quote from a press release of 8 November 1982: "In future years a Minister for Education will need to rely more than in the immediate past on his record of achieving worthwhile improvements within the limits of a tight financial situation — a question of quality and value for money — rather than on promises of largesse and increasing financial outlay". The only word I have to disagree with in that sentence was the use of the word "his", but then, I suppose, Deputy Brady did not know who would be Minister for Education. I welcome the fact that this admission was made by the former Minister in the course of a general election campaign and it is regrettable that some of his party colleagues have yet to come to terms with that sense of realism.

When Members of this House talk about reductions, what they are really saying is that we should be spending more on education. That is the meaning of the original motion. The reality is that the present Government have provided more money for education in 1983 than ever before in the history of the State — nearly £70 million more for non-capital provisions, compared with the outturn for 1982. Does this not represent a commitment of Government to education and a real investment in this area. In seeking economies in education, the options open to the Government, as indeed open to the previous Administration, were extremely limited. Pay and pensions take 81.7 per cent of the non-capital budget, one of the highest percentages in any Government Department, because of the nature of education. With such a labour intensive service it was clear that the growth in the numbers of teachers over the past ten years simply could not be sustained at a time of financial retrenchment. For example, in 1972-73 there were 29,187 teachers at first and second level. Ten years later, in 1982-83, their numbers had increased by 11,068 to 40,255 — an increase of 37.9 per cent. Over the same period — and this is the important figure — the number of full-time pupils had increased by only 17 per cent. The continuous escalation in teacher numbers could not be sustained at this difficult budgetary time for the country.

We have heard much about the adverse consequences of the changes made in pupil/teacher ratios at post-primary level — there were, of course, no changes made at national school level. Many of these prognostications of disaster were made early in the year when people were forecasting dramatic problems for schools. While I do not suggest that the changes have not created some problems, information available to me suggests that in reality, now that the new school year is well under way, schools are operating effectively.

I pay tribute to those manager and teacher representatives who, together with officials of my Department, served on a quota review committee working hand in hand to adjudicate on cases of schools where special difficulties were encountered in adjusting to the new ratios. We have heard much about subjects being dropped off the curriculum as a result of the reduction in the pupil/teacher ratio. In many cases this can be avoided if teachers are willing to teach for one extra period per week. The range of options offered in any school is one determined by the principal who seeks to operate his/her timetable within the parameters of pupil/teacher ratio, class size, length of school day and the number of hours taught by each teacher in the school each week. I make these points because the level of the pupil/teacher ratio is not the sole determinant of the number of subject options offered in post-primary schools.

I hope that in debating the motion the House will take note of the significant financial improvements which have taken place in 1983 despite the financial problems. My Government provided a sum of £1.9 million in order to increase the grant to secondary schools in lieu of school fees from £82 to £92. They also provided an additional sum of £1.2 million to increase the capitation grant to national schools from £15 to £17, while the grant to children in care in residential homes was increased by 25 per cent from £68 to £85 per child. This year there are 326 more teachers in primary and post-primary schools as compared with 1982.

In relation to the education problems of Dublin's inner city — and this is a particular area which was mentioned by Senators in the context also of the disadvantaged child — the year 1983 has been one of consolidation and progress. Despite the severe pressure of budgetary constraints, I succeeded in maintaining the enhanced numbers of teachers deployed in this area. This meant an actual improvement in an already favourable teacher/pupil ratio in those schools where numbers have fallen. On the investigation side, the main thrust of my endeavour has been in the curricular field at primary level.

Earlier in the year I established a committee which includes members of the INTO and the teaching orders to advise me on suitable curricula for deprived areas and I await with interest the outcome of their deliberations. I am greatly encouraged in this connection by the response of teachers in inner city schools to the many challenges which face them and by the initiatives they have taken of their own accord. Under the auspices of the Teachers' Centre in Drumcondra they have formed themselves into an Inner City Teachers' Group which have been very active in seeking curricular alternatives to suit their particular situation. One tangible manifestation of their work has been the production of a Resource Directory for Teachers, with the launching of which I was very happy to be associated. The practical concern of this dedicated group is greatly to be commended and I will support their efforts in any way I can. I was pleased recently to be in a position to provide the necessary financial assistance to enable representatives of the group to visit Glasgow to investigate the measures being adopted in the Strathclyde area in circumstances similar to our own.

The end of 1983 is near. The Estimates for that year are now almost a matter of history. The present is hardly a time for looking back at what happened in the beginning of the year. I want to be positive and to look forward with hope and with courage to the next four years. For that reason, I welcome the terms of the amendment put down by Senators.

The House will be aware of the fact that since 1981 this country has had six Ministers for Education. I think I am right when I say I am the longest serving Minister in the last five years. This is an example that something has been happening in the area of education and in Irish politics in the last few years. This has led to the position that many groups involved in education have been seriously concerned at the lack of coherent planning in the education system and at the need for change and reform. This also was mentioned by Senators with some concern. In order to restore a sense of purpose and a sense of direction to this crucial area of education planning, I have taken the unprecedented step of involving the major groups in education — parents, managers and teachers — and engaging them with a working party in my Department in the planning process. I am now putting the final touches to a four-year Programme for Action for Education prior to its submission to the Government. My first year in office necessarily had to be one in which the foundations were laid for at least four years of progress and consistency. The Programme for Action will chart a clear path in education for the next number of years. I need hardly add that it must be rooted in reality and have regard to current financial difficulties. Through the action programme we must ensure that the available money is spent wisely. It means eliminating waste and indeed needless bureaucracy in order to enable students to benefit directly from the money invested. It means transferring resources, where necessary, to enable the disadvantaged to participate fully in the education process and that is an area I will be returning to later. It means consultation with a wide range of interests and on a scale never known before. It means greater participation by everyone, management, teachers and parents working together on a major overhaul of our education system.

I am not naive enough to think for one moment that the production of a Programme for Action will of itself be the panacea for all our ills in the educational system. After almost 12 months in office, I am aware as never before of the complexities in education, and the minefields in which one must tread warily. I am also aware as never before that everybody in the country is also an expert on education. I acknowledge and respect the external factors — social, demographic and financial — which necessarily influence the implementation of any new policies. Our large young population, the lack of employment opportunities for school leavers and the new and disturbing trends towards vandalism, drug-taking and other forms of social disruptive behaviour, provide a formidable challenge to me and to all who have responsibility for the education of all our children.

Independently of the Programme for Action, significant progress has been made in relation to the reform of school curricula. There has been an almost universal demand from parents, teachers, students and employers that major changes should be brought about. Many students, particularly those of lower ability and those in disadvantaged areas, increasingly find existing school courses irrelevant to their needs. The need for reform is urgent. This too has been stressed by many Senators. I am sure this House will be aware of the fact that I will be setting up early in 1984 a Curriculum and Examinations Board to undertake a fundamental review of curriculum and assessment procedures. Again extensive consultation and in-depth investigation of systems elsewhere have been a part of the planning process for the setting up of this board. This initiative, which has been widely welcomed in educational circles, is potentially one of the most significant steps ever to be taken in Irish education. I am confident that all involved in education, particularly teachers, will respond to the opportunities offered. The board, which initially will operate on an interim or ad hoc basis, is intended to be established statutorily in due course and ultimately to take over the function of running the State examinations. This is an illustration of the kind of steps of a reforming nature which can be taken, even in present circumstances.

There are many areas of curriculum reform where work is already under way. For instance, important developments have been introduced this year in modern languages, where new syllabuses are being accompanied by a major overhaul of examinations which from 1985 will include listening/comprehension tests. I have given a commitment for the development of an oral interview test as from 1986. These have been mentioned by some Senators already. I believe there has been a certain amount of despondency among language teachers and among students and parents at the lack of progress over the years in the field of modern languages. All involved in education must work together to make sure that we make this particular breakthrough, and make it very quickly. These changes will be of major significance in developing a new communicative approach to language teaching which is sorely needed in this country.

Another area where reform will be promoted is in the whole area of technology, including computer education. This also was mentioned by Senators. It is vital, and I very much agree, that education responds to the major changes which the age of technology has brought upon society. Another aspect of curriculum of special concern to me is the area of civics and political education. With our extraordinarily structured demographic situation, it is extreme folly for any of us in this House to contemplate a continuance of the situation where we are turning out young people who already have the vote and we have not in fact brought to them a realistic course in participative citizenship to use a phrase which is a jaw-breaker, but it is a neat way of describing the kind of realities we need to bring home to young people, particularly in a society which is dominated by the under-25s. There is a need for urgent reform in this area and I intend to take action without delay. There are already significant moves afoot in my Department in that area.

These, then, are illustations of work that is going on and which will feature prominently in the work of the Curriculum and Examinations Board. I am also most anxious that the board will play an important role in achieving the equalisation of curricular opportunities available to both boys and girls and in overcoming sexism in education as identified by the recent Hannon report and the Employment Equality Agency. We in the Department have been studying that report extremely carefully in a special working party and we will be undertaking very significant steps throughout the education system in that area.

I believe, too, that we must encourage a greater involvement by parents in our decisions about educational priorities. Already I have ensured that consultation takes place with parents, something long sought and for some strange reason long denied. I intend to encourage the establishment of a National Parents' Council, through which the views of all parents may be expressed. I would like to say at this point how very impressed I have been at the standard and quality of the submissions given to my Department by parents' groups who have joined with us in our discussions.

I want to turn to another aspect of the amendment to the motion — the request that the Minister for Education will give priority to the educational needs of the socially disadvantaged. Let me say straight away that this is a subject dear to my heart and I fully accept its terms. Indeed, when I established the working party last May to submit to me the draft Programme for Action for the next four years, I stated to the group that a major thrust of my policy was positive discrimination in favour of the socially and economically deprived. I directed that this principle be enshrined in the draft programme and that ways and means of implementing this policy be identified. I can assure this House that in this regard Senators are pushing an open door. I intend to do all in my power for the disadvantaged. I accept that if we are to be a caring society, steps must be taken towards removing barriers to equality of opportunity. While participation rates in the latter years of post-primary education have increased generally, the fact remains that there is a below average participation rate by those from the lower socio-economic groups. This matter has been mentioned also by Senators and is one of grave concern.

At third-level, there is a lower participation rate still by these groups. It is a problem not unique to this country; it is one which has not been found easily amenable to change, even in countries with larger sums to invest in education. Quick, easy solutions are not readily available. If resource improvements cannot be spread over all pupils and all sectors of the educational process, special treatment must and will be accorded the disadvantaged. But let us be clear about one thing: the educational system by itself cannot redress the imbalances in our society. A concerted, coherent and comprehensive social programme is required. All sectors of public life have a role to play. We in education will certainly play our part. But let us remember that the challenge is a formidable one and that it will be a long haul. At the same time let us not be dismayed by the extent of the daunting task. We owe it to the disadvantaged in our society to press ahead regardless.

In all the discussion we should not overlook what is being done already for the disadvantaged. I would not postulate by any means that sufficient is being done. The provision for remedial education, particularly in national schools, has been a strong feature of educational policy in recent years. There are now well over 600 teachers in national schools engaged in such work. This policy will be continued but I intend for the future that schools, principally in certain urban areas, which cater for a high proportion of children disadvantaged in respect of social and educational backgrounds, who receive little support in the home environment, will be given priority in the allocation of extra remedial teachers for the purpose of combating educational backwardness. As I pointed out earlier, extra resources continue to be provided for schools in the Dublin inner city area.

In the financial adjustments which had to be made this year, the importance of primary education so vital for the disadvantaged was recognised in the protection accorded to that sector. The pupil-teacher ratio in national schools was maintained. We regret that it was not reduced. No charge has fallen on eligible national school pupils for school transport. An initial proposal to restrict the allocation of ex-quota remedial teachers to schools of more than 300 pupils, proposed by the former Government, was set aside. The grant for free books was increased compared with 1982. The subvention for the special education projects at Rutland Street and other projects in Dublin, Cork and Limerick was increased by £53,000 to a total of £404,000.

The physically and mentally handicapped represent, perhaps, the weakest section of our community. Successive Governments have demonstrated their concern for these pupils, and we have now one of the best schemes in Western Europe for special education. There are now some 12,500 pupils receiving special education. Exceptional provision is made for them by way of a lower pupil-teacher ratio, an adaptable curriculum, a more flexible transport system and higher capitation grants. It is not necessary to detail for Senators what is being done, as I know the House is aware of the marvellous educational work being done by various voluntary groups, the religious and lay teachers for the mentally handicapped, the deaf, the blind, the emotionally disturbed and the travelling children. All these children will continue to be among my priorities.

I turn now to some of the comments made by individual Senators and where I have not covered them already I will try as far as possible to respond to their remarks. Senator Mullooly in opening the debate referred to Dr. Walsh's remarks in the NCEA report. Dr. Walsh, of course, would never encourage investment without great care being taken about cost efficiency and cost effectiveness. I am sure Dr. Walsh would agree that is what we must achieve for the sake of all of our young people. In the context of his call for investment, it is important to inform the House, and Senator Mullooly in particular, that there was an increase for RTCs of £5 million in 1983 compared with 1982. That is the area within the jurisdiction of the NCEA.

Senator Mullooly also mentioned that Fine Gael had undertaken to increase levels of educational provision. As I mentioned earlier, the levels of educational provision this year were greatly increased. He also referred to the speech of the vice-president of the INTO. He is right. Our expenditure per capita of population is less than it is in most EEC countries. This reflects an unfavourable economic situation relative to those countries. However, as he pointed out, our percentage of GNP devoted to education is one of the highest in the EEC. That is the measure of the commitment of the Government to education. In other words, we as a community devote more of the resources available to us to education than other EEC countries. For Senator Mullooly's information, the voted expenditure on education in 1983 is some 14.7 per cent of the total budget which is an increase of .2 per cent on 1982. I believe that is a measure of commitment to education.

Senator Mullooly mentioned a figure of 700 unemployed teachers which I have to question because, from the preliminary information available to me, I understand that all teachers trained in 1982 who were seeking teaching posts have secured them. As far as the 1983 graduates are concerned, I understand that at the conferring at one college three weeks ago it was announced that 51 per cent had permanent jobs and 39 per cent had temporary teaching posts with long term employment as substitutes. Only 10 per cent, fewer than 30, had no posts. In view of those figures, I am not sure where the Senator may have got his information. I felt it was necessary to point that out to him.

Senator Fallon used the expression "cutbacks in remedial teaching". Of course, there have been no cutbacks under this Government on remedial teaching. It is necessary once again to make sure that point goes on the record. The remedial teaching cutbacks which were proposed by the former Government were deleted by this Government and the service was restored. Senator Fallon also brought up the question of the two honours requirement for entry into RTCs. It is necessary for me to mention this and to expand a little on the realities of the situation. We should ask ourselves what precisely has been the effect of the change.

I should like to inform the House that the total number of new awards this year in respect of scholarships awarded by committees and in respect of European Social Fund grants exceeds the number of new awards in 1982. Similarly the aggregate total of scholarships and grant holders this year is significantly higher than the total in 1982. That is an extremely important figure to write into the record of the House. It refutes that particular criticism.

On the question which Senator Fallon also raised about increases in fees in RTCs and colleges of technology, I should like to put the record straight. The fee levels were very low, particularly when compared with the level of fees in universities. The cost, for example, to a student taking a degree in architecture at UCD is £700 per annum for the first four years and £629 for a fifth year, compared with £200 per annum for the first and second year and £160 for the third and fourth year at Bolton Street College of Technology. Fees for certificate and diplomas courses in the colleges generally are of the order of £130 per annum. In these circumstances, I do not think it is unreasonable, having regard to the financial situation, to increase those fees on the scale determined.

At this point I should mention that at least two out of every three students have their fees paid through the scheme of scholarships or from grants from the European Social Fund. Fears have been expressed that the increased fees would have a serious adverse effect on the enrolment in these colleges. This is not so. Preliminary information available from the colleges for the academic year 1983-84 indicates an overall increase in the total enrolments and an increase in the number of new entrants compared with the academic year 1982-83. It is necessary to reply to some of these points because they can cause misapprehensions, and it is necessary to put the record straight.

Senator Burke referred to the question of the youth employment area and particularly the question of AnCO and the vocational sector. I am very aware that certain AnCO courses are similar to courses provided in schools and colleges. We are very concerned that at a time when there is such pressure on resources, overlapping and duplication should not occur, and that the resources available to us should be used as effectively as possible. Attention has been drawn in particular to the needs of those young people who, at a time when jobs are hard to get and unemployment is high, are faced with an unusually difficult transition from school to adult life. In this situation it is true to say that there is more than enough scope for the agencies concerned with education and training to try to respond imaginatively to the needs of these young people.

The whole question of co-ordination between all of the agencies involved in education and training and how best to bring this about is at present under consideration by the Government. Specifically in regard to AnCO, arrangements have been made for the establishment of a small liaison group representative of my Department and AnCO. My hope would be that this will be part of the assistance to eliminate overlapping and that it will lead to fruitful co-operation between the educational institutions and AnCO.

I note the remarks Senator Jim Higgins made on the interesting proposal for the utilisation of the youth employment scheme. Senators may be aware — and if they are not they might like to know — that for the first time there was a joint meeting of EEC Ministers for Labour and Education in Luxembourg this year which also represents a significant step on the road to joining together in the work of helping young people.

Senator Howlin mentioned the BBC programme "When the Chips were Down". I did not see it but I heard about that programme. The Senator had some rather pessimistic figures on the number of jobs which will go as a result of computer technology. It poses an enormous challenge to us to make sure that people leaving our educational system are very well equipped to handle the new computer age and to take advantage of the new jobs which will be created in those areas dealing with computer technology. It is my great concern to proceed as fast as possible to ensure that every second level school will be equipped at the first possible moment with computers and with teachers who are both willing and able to communicate these skills to the young people, who acquire them so quickly and so easily given the right direction.

Senator Howlin stressed in particular the educational needs of the socially disadvantaged. I hope that in my remarks I have been able to alleviate some of his concern, while continuing to acknowledge that there is a great deal more to be done.

Senator Hillery brought up the question of the widening gap between the socially advantaged and disadvantaged. I assure the Senator that that is an area that we are watching very carefully. It is an area we must approach and I intend to approach it. One misconception was mentioned by Senator Hillery. He spoke of the one in three embargo principle in the public service as applying to the educational sector. It is necessary to put the record straight here. This one in three filling of vacancies is not now applied and has not been applied to teachers. All vacancies requiring teachers are filled, and all vacancies arising from increased numbers of pupils are filled. Perhaps the Senator has been given some misinformation about this. He also mentioned that as a problem at third level. The principle does not apply either at third level for the actual teaching area. What has happened is that university authorities have decided not to fill a number of vacancies arising, in order to stay within their budget, but the one in three question certainly has not been applied to that area.

Senator Hillery and other Senators also mentioned the whole question of career guidance. I want to stress that guidance and counselling services will remain a central and important feature of school programmes. We need, however, a formal mechanism to review current guidance provisions and to establish guidelines for schools and teachers providing guidance services. I would see this as being achieved by establishing the equivalent of a syllabus committee for guidance along the lines of the existing subject syllabus committees.

I would prefer to see future allocations of guidance posts being made on the basis of school needs, and taking account of the range of programmes available in the school. Basing the allocation on school needs would have the effect of ensuring that schools in disadvantaged areas would be given priority. Of course we must remember the role of parents in the whole question of career guidance and, in this respect, I should like to compliment all the participants in a crucial seminar which took place last Saturday in the RDS, organised by The Irish Times and the RDS, which laid great emphasis on the role of parents in this area.

I hope Senator Lynch will bear with me when I say I feel many of the remarks he made were more in the area of surmise and perhaps exaggeration. I do not know whether the case being made was helped by that. I cannot accept his strictures on the transport area because the charges, as has been pointed out, are minimal and apply only to those who can afford to pay, and might be construed as being considerably less than what urban children must pay in many areas. The total contribution from parents for the running of the school transport system is a tiny fraction of the actual cost to the taxpayer of running the transport system.

Senator McAuliffe-Ennis mentioned consultation. The whole question of consultation, both with Members of this House, the other House, and the wider educational interests, is crucial. I welcome her willingness to join in consultation with me. I will be delighted to do so at any time. There are certain confines about Estimates confidentiality which I am sure the Senator will understand. We have established a pattern in the Department of Education this year in terms of consultation that has never before taken place. This is generally regarded as being quite revolutionary in the educational field.

I have tried as far as possible to respond to most of the Senators' contributions. I fully accept the terms of the amendment to the motion. There are great difficulties ahead. All of us must be aware that resources will be scarce. I have no magic wand. There is no crock of gold at the end of some rainbow waiting for me or any other Cabinet Minister. However, I should like to assure the House that I have the commitment and the resolution to do the best I possibly can for all pupils in our educational system.

I sincerely welcome the Minister to the House. Even though I am not on record as being in the middle of all this flag-waving when women get top appointments, I was absolutely delighted when the Minister was appointed because she started here in the Seanad. My introduction to politics did not start in the women's political organisations. I came up the harder and longer way. I am caught on the wrong foot, which is not usually my style. I was to speak before the Minister but I hope my remarks will be noted.

In times of difficulty rather than prosperity we should re-examine the direction we are taking. The Minister has given the impression in her reply that she is doing just that in the Department of Education. We all know and, I hope, understand the pressures of modern living. Some courageous action must be taken to solve some of the problems which may be greater in the field of education today for the Minister than for former Ministers. The commitment of the teaching profession is total. I have close associations with that profession. At times they do not get the credit they deserve for the way in which they serve the nation. It is a little like ourselves except that they may be doing a better job. They get a little bit of the stick just as we do.

Much emphasis has been put on the cuts. I would be concerned about cuts that would directly affect members of a less well-off family and prevent them from achieving their potential. If fees are increased the person with the smaller salary will not be able to pay them. The wealthy person's son or daughter will not be aware of the increase because they will have the money, and will be able to realise their ambitions.

I should like to ask the Minister is she happy with all these schemes for youth training. We have six-month courses, 12 month courses, and so many weeks courses. I do not know whether the Minister made some reference to her concern about this in her reply. There is duplication. Nobody knows who the boss is. I have spoken about this in public and, indeed, in this Chamber, before. One Senator said the youth employment levy should be included in the Minister's portfolio rather than the Department of Labour. Perhaps that was the answer, and we might have less confusion today. I should like the Minister to say whether this is right.

The funding of sporting activities was reduced this year by £100,000. That cutback seems mad at a time when there is so much unemployment and when we are trying to get young people involved in some way. I understand the money was transferred to the training fund for the 1984 Olympics. I am not saying the 1984 Olympics training is not important, but I am saying that the £100,000 should not have been transferred at this time. We should not have cutbacks in sport and the leisure side of education when there are not enough jobs for everyone.

Job sharing was not mentioned by any Senator. It is nearly as dangerous as to use the word "divorce". I am talking about job sharing as a choice. I have spoken to some teachers who said shorter hours would suit them. This should not be imposed on teachers, but should be a matter of choice. Let us be quite honest, some students would benefit enormously by some teachers spending fewer hours in the classroom. If you are tired, no matter what you are doing, somebody is at the receiving end of your tiredness. Perhaps we should all stand up and be counted. Teachers to whom I have spoken are quite prepared to talk about this with senior people in Government.

The figure of 70,000 pupils in classes of over 40 and 42 gets back to the pupil-teacher ratio, and this has already been dealt with this evening. I understand that this year the largest number of qualified teachers since the foundation of the State are unemployed. Senator Higgins said he was worried about this, and proposed some way of getting these qualified teachers to do some other job, rather than having them unemployed. The recent figure showing that 60 per cent of the graduates of one training college are unemployed at the moment is frightening.

The Minister of State might take note of the fact, while we talk about the value of Departmental property, we have no caretakers in some schools. We have them in schools with 16 teachers, but we have schools today — and the Minister of State will be more familiar with this than the senior Minister — with ten or 12 teachers and no caretaker. The school may be worth £½ million. The salary of the caretaker is small. We are talking about only £85 to £87 per week. We all know the damage and the vandalism in some of our schools in rural Ireland.

The Minister said that there was no cutback on remedial teachers. I accept that, but what percentage of schools have remedial teachers? I have given a long time to our special schools as a voluntary worker. All special schools need the services of a full-time remedial speech therapist. I would ask for educational psychologists to assess the pupils rather than a clinical psychologist. I would ask for a resource room with a teacher and a teacher's aide to cope with four to five children with dual handicaps. I would ask for paramedical services in schools. Perhaps the Minister of State might note my last remarks because the Minister talked about our commitment to special schools. The services in some of the special schools down the country compare very unfavourably with the services and the back-up facilities in the extensive Dublin units for dealing with the moderately and mildly mentally handicapped. I could say more on that subject.

The Minister said that she did not realise until this evening that we were all experts in education. I deal with people every day in rural Ireland, but would never claim to be an expert. If you are dealing continually with children and their problems and parents and their problems, you do not have to be expert to ask for some help. I am delighted that the Minister who has direct responsibility is present. I have a belief in the Department.

We have six minutes left.

Tuigim go maith nach bhfuil ach trí nóiméad agam agus tá mé an-bhuíoch don Seanadóir a thug seans dom labhairt anseo. Os rud é go bhfuil an tAire imithe is dócha nach bhfuil mórán gá a bheith ag caint ar chor ar bith ach tá Aire eile anseo ag éisteacht.

I would like, in the few brief moments I have, to emphasise the importance that I place on the quality of the teaching profession as against the quality of television sets or any other apparatus that may be provided. Much as we might like to have these aids, we still rely very much on the quality of our teachers, not alone to instil knowledge but to set example in the classroom and to be leaders. The days of the village schoolmaster may be over but the example which the village schoolmaster set is still valid. The fact that parents, teachers and management boards are being brought together to discuss problems is very important. Teachers cannot function on their own. If the parents and teachers have not a proper relationship, then one is beating one's head against a stone.

I mention the word beating and that brings me to one problem that has arisen since the abolition of corporal punishment. Discipline in the schools is becoming a problem. Too much time is being taken up in correcting children. I never believed in the abuse of corporal punishment, but, as principal of an 8-teacher school, I found that the threat of its being there always worked when children were sent by other teachers to me. I am supposed to be a psychologist, a mind reader and I do not know what else and to teach a class at the same time. It is going to affect greatly the quality of education, because if children get used to talking and doing almost what they like in class, it will affect their attitude right through school.

I would like to make one suggestion about school buses. A lot of unnecessary hassle was raised about them earlier on in the year. A small village should be regarded as a unit, because it is ludicrous, if there are two houses in a village, one three miles and the other 2.9 miles away from the school that one person gets the bus and the other person does not even if it is only from a few yards away. I am very grateful to Senator Mullooly and am sorry for taking up two or three minutes of his time. Go raibh maith agat.

I would like to thank the Senators who have contributed to this useful and constructive debate. I would like also to thank the Minister for her contribution, although I could not agree with many of the points that she made. Senators Burke, Howlin and other speakers from the opposite side of the House questioned the bona fides of this side of the House in relation to this motion. They were somewhat arrogant in suggesting that we were less than honest in tabling the motion or that we were playing politics with this very important subject. I can assure the Senators opposite that we were motivated by a genuine concern for the future of our education service and gave recognition to the serious implications of the cutbacks for the educationally and socially disadvantaged in our community.

A number of other points were made by Senator Burke in proposing the amendment, echoed by Senator Higgins, with which I could not agree, either. Senator Burke referred to the school transport service and the pupil/teacher ratio. While he accepted that there were cutbacks, he stated that the situation would be far worse under Fianna Fáil. Senator Higgins also made this point. Senator Higgins said that the increase in the pupil/teacher ratio had not placed an intolerable burden on teachers and the Minister made more or less the same point in her speech, as follows: "We have heard much about the adverse consequences of the changes made in pupil/teacher ratios at post-primary level." She continued that the changes had not created the kind of problems that were suggested. I would like to point out to Senators Burke and Higgins and the Minister that the increase in the pupil/teacher ratio has had the most serious implications during the year for the quality of the educational service. The increase in the pupil/teacher ratio resulted, and will continue to result, in larger classes in our second level schools. In some cases, there are 30 and 40 pupils in leaving certificate classes. There are fewer subject options available to pupils and there is less individual attention for students with learning difficulties.

The Minister referred to the importance of introducing new items into the curriculum. The increase in the pupil/teacher ratio will make impossible the introduction of such items as computer studies and other technology-related subjects. Pre-employment and secretarial courses have also suffered as a result of the increase in the pupil/teacher ratio. In many schools in the past, girls did not have equal opportunities with boys as regards the availability of subjects. Girls did not have the opportunity to study subjects such as physics, applied mathematics and other subjects which were the preserve of boys. In recent years, this was changing for the better and schools were attempting to make available to girls subjects which were traditionally considered boys' subjects. However, the increase in the pupil/teacher ratio has slowed down and will continue to slow down considerably, if not eliminate completely, this development.

In many schools, if a teacher resigns or leaves, that teacher cannot be replaced and in the case of a specialist teacher a particular subject may have to be dropped from the curriculum. This has happened. Even if the subject can be retained in the curriculum through the deployment of the remaining staff, it means that all the other subjects suffer a reduction in the amount of time available to them. So, the implications of the increased pupil/teacher ratio are very far reaching and to the detriment of the quality of the educational service.

Many schools which can afford to do so are providing part-time teachers from their own resources, and these resources are funded, in many cases, through a system of what are called voluntary subscriptions and enrolment fees. The result is that in the case of these schools there is no dilution of the quality of the education being provided, but it is no longer free education. It is a return to the situation where the parents' ability to pay determines the educational opportunities which are available to their children. It is a return to discrimination in regard to equality of educational opportunity against the deprived and the disadvantaged in the community when, as the Minister said in her speech there should be positive discrimination in favour of such pupils. In fact, there is positive discrimination against such pupils.

As a result of the increase in the pupil/teacher ratio, too, special classes for pupils with learning difficulties have in many schools been seriously affected and, in some cases, have been eliminated completely. Everybody recognises that such classes, if they are to be effective, need to be sufficiently small to enable the pupils to receive special individual attention. Where the numbers in such classes have had to be increased or where such classes have had to be eliminated altogether because of the increase in the pupil/teacher ratio it is the most educationally disadvantaged who have suffered and will continue to suffer. Experience has shown that it is among such pupils that the highest drop-out rate exists, and it is recognised that many of the social problems which are causing so much concern today are most prevalent in areas where there is a high drop-out rate from education. Any development which worsens the educational service to those who are most disadvantaged can only exacerbate an already very serious situation.

There have been savage increases this year in examination fees for the Department's certificate examinations. These are causing considerable hardship, as are the school book and the other charges which parents have to meet. Many families have at least two children sitting for certificate examinations and Members of this House will be aware of families who have, maybe, three and even four children sitting for them. The payment of the fees involved is a very severe hardship on many parents.

In the case of many pupils sitting for the leaving certificate examination, fees in respect of the matriculation examination will also have to be paid, together with one or possibly several £10 application fees for positions in the public service. We are talking in terms of £100 or more in respect of such fees. I can tell the Minister of State that there are very few ordinary families today who can afford to pay out that kind of money without severe hardship.

To charge a fee of £27 to pupils sitting for the intermediate certificate is nothing short of immoral. This is a totally useless examination but, as things stand at the moment, it is compulsory for those pupils who intend to proceed to the leaving certificate. These savage increases in examination fees will increase the drop-out rate and it is the deprived and disadvantaged pupils and parents who are hardest hit. The point can be made that the Minister has introduced some kind of a waiver scheme to make provision for a reduction in the fees in cases of extreme hardship, but such a scheme can operate only if it is adequately funded. This certainly is not the case as far as this waiver scheme is concerned. County Roscommon Vocational Education Committee, of which I am a member, got a figure in the region of £800 to operate this scheme. This is totally inadequate and a mere pittance.

Finally, I want to make the point that we on this side of the House could not accept the amendment which has been tabled to our motion, because it dilutes completely the motion which we tabled. I would like to draw the attention of the House, and in particular the attention of the members of the Labour Party in the House, to a resolution that was passed some months ago by the Annual Delegate Conference of ICTU and adopted unanimously. This resolution declared that the conference were committed to the principle of equal educational opportunity and the right of access to educational facilities at all levels. It condemned the Government cuts in the education service and called on the Government to restore all educational services to previous levels and demanded adequate planning in education to ensure that public funds are used to maximum effect in the interests of working people.

That resolution condemns the education cuts, as does the motion that we have down here. We will have to oppose the amendment.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 27; Níl, 17.

  • Belton, Luke.
  • Browne, John.
  • Bulbulia, Katharine.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Connor, John.
  • Conway, Timmy.
  • Cregan, Denis (Dino).
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Hourigan, Richard V.
  • Howard, Michael.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kelleher, Peter.
  • Lennon, Joseph.
  • McAuliffe-Ennis, Helena.
  • Daly, Jack.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durcan, Patrick.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • FitzGerald, Alexis J.G.
  • Fleming, Brian.
  • Harte, John.
  • McDonald, Charlie.
  • McMahon, Larry.
  • Magner, Pat.
  • O'Leary, Seán
  • O'Mahony, Flor.
  • Quealy, Michael A.


  • de Brún, Séamus.
  • Fallon, Seán.
  • Fitzsimons, Jack.
  • Hillery, Brian.
  • Honan, Tras.
  • Hussey, Thomas.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Killilea, Mark.
  • Lanigan, Mick.
  • Lynch, Michael.
  • McGuinness, Catherine I.B.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • O'Toole, Martin J.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Ryan, William.
  • Smith, Michael.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Belton and Harte; Níl, Senators de Brún and W. Ryan.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, put and agreed to.