Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Is mór an onóir dom an díospóireacht seo a thosnú ó thaobh an Bhille Oideachais. Tá súil agam go mbeidh díospóireacht shumiúil againn agus go mbeimid in ann roinnt a chur i bhfeidhm.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997, in the Seanad. The essential purpose of the Bill is to provide a statutory underpinning for the education system at first and second levels and at the same time to set out clearly the rights, roles and responsibilities of all those involved in the education system.

We have a system of education of which we can be justly proud. It is a unique system which has been moulded over the years to respond to the developing needs of emerging generations of students. It is a versatile system which has been adapted over the years to meet the needs of our developing economy and society. Indeed, in recent years the debt we owe as a society to our education system has become clearer than ever as our economy has made such huge strides. The role of education in contributing to this economic growth has been universally acknowledged.

The investment in the education of our young people, particularly since the introduction of the free education scheme in 1967, has yielded a substantial dividend in the form of our highly educated, highly skilled labour force which has been such a crucial ingredient in the development of our economy. In his recent book on the labour force, "Ireland at Work — Economic Growth in the Labour Market, 1987-1997", the distinguished economist, Mr. Paul Tansey, acknowledged the vital role of education in our economic development. He stated:

Continuous improvements in the quantity and quality of the human capital stock, supported by growing State commitment to investment in education, has been the fulcrum on which the economy's growth potential has been levered upwards.

Against the background of an education system which has operated without any statutory basis and which is by any measure an outstanding success, the most obvious question is why the Oireachtas should now seek to legislate for it. The answer lies in the increasing complexity of the education system against the background of constantly changing economic and social circumstances. The structural administration of the current education system at first level derives from a letter written in 1831 by the then Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Stanley, to the Duke of Leinster who was to become the chairman of a new board of commissioners for national education. The second level system, outside the vocational education sector, has its origins in legislation enacted in the latter part of the last century.

Much has changed since then. The partners in education, and particularly parents, wish to see their role in the education system and their involvement with the education of their children given formal recognition. More generally, they wish to have a clear statement of their rights, roles and responsibilities in the education system. I welcome this development, as I welcome the increased request by other members of the education community to have their inputs into the system formally recognised.

It is no longer acceptable to me as Minister or to the partners in education that, faced with such complexity and change, the education system should continue to operate without the benefit of statutory underpinning or without a clear statement of the rights, roles and responsibilities of all those involved in the system. This Bill will provide both of these. It will fill the legislative vacuum and complement the constitutional provisions relating to education.

Anybody who has observed the process leading to this Bill will be aware that it has grown not out of the view of any one individual or small group, but from a consideration and distillation of the views of many. The consultation process leading up to the production of the Bill began with the publication of a Green Paper by my predecessor, Deputy O'Rourke. This marked the beginning of a process of widespread consultation leading to the publication of a White Paper and much discussion on how the education system should be reformed to meet modern challenges and the demands placed upon it.

I have continued this process of consolation since taking office in the middle of 1997. Indeed, it would be fair to say that the consultation process carried out by my Department at that time was the most extensive undertaken in the Department, both in advance of the publication of a Bill and following its publication. During this consultation process I sought to address the many issues raised over the last six years in a spirit of inclusive dialogue informed by a simple overriding premise. We need legislation that ensures that the education system is as responsive, effective, efficient and accountable as possible in meeting and responding to the rapidly changing demands for high quality education into the next millennium. At that time the partners in education expressed a wide range of views and a number of concerns to me. I have taken them on board in drafting and amending the Bill now before the House.

As I mentioned, one of the central objectives of the Bill is to promote and give statutory recognition to partnership as a principle which under-pins the operation of the education system. That system cannot be one managed and administered by a small elite. It must be one whose management is open to all stakeholders and which is operated for the benefit of the students.

The principle of partnership is underlined early in the Bill in the long title. It is reinforced in section 6(f), which sets out the objects of the Bill and is to be found repeatedly in the many provisions of the Bill which required the consent of consultation with the education partners. The principle has its loudest resonance in section 14, which established the principle of partnership as a basic principle underpinning the establishment the boards of management in schools.

Partnership implies that the partners act together through seeking common ground and consensus rather than any one of them seeking to impose a particular view. It implies a process of discussion and negotiation rather than coercion and it encompasses a tolerance, even encouragement, of diversity rather than uniformity. The letter and spirit of this Bill is entirely consistent with the principle of a partnership among equals in matters central to the governance and management of our schools, and indeed of our education system.

One of the most important features of our education system has always been the degree of autonomy enjoyed by schools at first and second levels. Concerns have been expressed to me that any proposals to legislate for the system should not sacrifice this autonomy in the interests of legal certainty and uniformity. I am happy to inform this House that the autonomy of schools is not lessened but rather is enhanced by the Bill.

The Bill gives statutory recognition to the patrons of schools who normally establish schools out of a desire to educate students in a particular tradition and environment. The Bill uses the term "characteristic spirit" to capture these concepts, which may encompass cultural, educational, moral, religious, social, linguistic and spiritual values and traditions and which inform and are characteristic of the objectives and conduct of the school. It gives statutory support to the right of anyone to establish a school according to a particular characteristic spirit and to receive public funds, subject only to meeting certain requirement relating primarily to viability and educational criteria.

Schools must, of course, be entitled to manage their own affairs in accordance with their establishing charters or other similar instruments, some of which represent agreements entered into with parents and teachers, and many of which have served the education system well in the past. The Bill recognises the importance and status of these instruments in sections 7 and 15. Section 7 also requires the Minister to have regard to the practices and traditions related to the organisation of schools or groups of schools which already exist, a further acknowledgement of the traditional autonomy of schools.

I mentioned earlier that section 14 underscores the importance of partnership and consultation in the establishment of boards of management of schools. My objective in this, and in all parts of the Bill, is to avoid prescriptive provisions which limit the autonomy of schools and which rely on coercion rather than consensus for their operation. A fundamental difference between this and the previous Bill is that we have deleted the element of compulsion and of taking grants from schools if they fail to conform to a central uniform norm.

Section 14 provides for patrons to establish boards of management in all schools. There may, of course, be a small number circumstances where it is not possible for patrons to establish boards immediately. In these cases the Bill provides specifically that the patron must inform the Minister and the local partners in education why establishment of a board is not practicable.

It is my intention that every school will have a board of management and that this will be brought about in consultation with the partners in education by consensus, not by coercion. Already at primary level there is clear evidence of the potential for consensus in this matter. Parents, patrons and teachers at primary level have already agreed a model for boards of management which will apply to primary schools without any legislative compulsion or obligation. This took over two years of discussion, arbitration and facilitation, but it is a far better model than endeavouring to force something down people's throats. I was pleased to have been able to help in reaching that consensus late last year and I am happy that the entire process has been successfully implemented on the ground in primary schools.

The position at second level may be more complex because of the diversity of school types. However, I know that the model of co-operation, which works so well at primary level, will work again at second level while retaining the diversity which is a hallmark of those schools. I and my Department will do all we can to assist the partners to reach appropriate agreements. Such is the widespread recognition of the benefits of the involvement of all the stakeholders in the management of schools, I am confident that, within a short time of the enactment of the Bill, the majority of our schools at all levels will voluntarily implement the provisions of section 14.

Those who pay for public services and those who use them are increasingly demanding that the providers of such services be accountable for their actions and that their operations be transparent so that meaningful accountability is ensured. This is a relatively recent development and is probably due in part to the success of the education system in producing more aware and proactive members of society.

The Bill addresses issues of accountability on a number of levels. Schools are required to be accountable to parents, they must keep proper accounts, establish procedures for informing parents of matters relating to the performance of the school, must prepare and circulate the school's plan to parents, must ensure that parents have access to records on their children and they must facilitate and give all reasonable assistance to parents associations. Each board of management is required to be accountable to the patron, on whose behalf it manages the school.

Schools through their boards are accountable to the Minster in respect of financial matters and adherence to the Act and regulations. The Minister in turn must ensure that criteria for funding of schools are transparent. The Minister is accountable to the community through the Oireachtas for the execution of his or her functions under the Act.

Catering for children with special needs has rightly become a major focus of education policy since the establishment of the special education review committee by my predecessor, Deputy O'Rourke. Most of the core principles are clear and I am very conscious of the level of need and the fact that resources will continue to be the major issue. However, I have already made considerable progress in this area. Most recently, I announced that in future any child with an assessed special need will have his or her educational needs met as a matter of right or automatic entitlement. That was not the position up to now. This is a very significant change which will go a long towards meeting the needs of these children.

The Education Bill provides a statutory framework to underpin the range of services to children with special needs. The Bill includes extensive definitions of disability and special educational needs. Senators might like to note in particular that the definition of disability includes "a condition or malfunction which results in a person learning differently from a person without the condition or malfunction and a condition, illness or disease which affects a person's thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment or which results in disturbed behaviour".

The needs of children with disabilities or special needs find expression throughout the Bill. For example, section 7 provides that the Minister will ensure that each child with a special need or disability will have appropriate education and support services. Section 9, in expressing the functions of a school, refers in particular to children with special needs. Section 13, which deals with the inspectorate, provides that members of the inspectorate will include persons with expertise in the education of children with special needs. Section 15, which covers the functions of boards of management, provides for the needs of children with disabilities or special needs to be recognised in each school's admissions policy.

I was very happy to be able to respond positively to representations from groups representing students communicating through Irish sign language or other sign language by including in the Bill for the first time a reference to sign language. There are many other references to children with disabilities or special needs throughout the remainder of the Bill and a key provision is that the obligation in respect of the provision of resources to children with special needs will rest with the Minister of the day and not with the schools. The ultimate responsibility for the provision of resources and the statutory obligation will rest with the Minister.

I outlined earlier the contribution the education system has made to society and the economy. However, notwithstanding the many achievements of our society, and especially the economic achievements of recent years, there remain significant numbers of our citizens who, because of disadvantage, are marginalised in society or are at risk of being marginalised. There is, therefore, no room for complacency. I am very conscious of the important role which education has to play in tackling disadvantage and, in particular, in breaking the cycle of inter-generational disadvantage. Indeed, my Department currently provides a wide range of programmes targeted across the continuum of educational provision to meet the needs of the educationally and socially disadvantaged.

The Education Bill will, when enacted, provide a statutory framework which will complement the many initiatives already in place in this area. In particular, it provides two very specific measures aimed at disadvantage. Section 12 provides that criteria for funding of schools may allow for the payment of additional moneys to schools having regard to their levels of educational disadvantage. Section 32 provides for the establishment of a committee, the remit of which will be to advise on strategies to be adopted in tackling disadvantage.

The Bill makes it clear that this committee will not be merely an intellectual talk shop. Up to half the members of the committee will be drawn from bodies involved in work relevant to the work of the committee. In this way, the marginalised and those who work closely with them can have a direct input into policy formulation in this crucial area. It is my earnest hope that this disadvantage committee, which underscores the commitment of the Bill generally to tackling disadvantage, will advise me on innovative strategies to tackle educational disadvantage and will oversee their effectiveness.

Given the central importance of State examinations, it is essential that they should be given protection by being placed on a sound statutory basis. Indeed, it is surprising that State examinations do not have statutory underpinning. The examinations involved include, in addition to the junior and leaving certificates, such examinations as the ceard teasteas and technical examinations. Essentially, the Bill provides for the Minister to make regulations in relation to the operation of the examinations for offences in connection with the examinations system and for refusals to access certain information which might lead to the generation of school league tables. This is a very important provision and it is a definitive statement of policy that we do not want the publication of league tables in Irish education. The publication of such tables would be detrimental to education policy generally and certainly to many schools. We will not allow people to access informationvia examination data and so forth to enable them in a roundabout way to develop league tables which run contrary to our education philosophy and policy.

As far as offences are concerned, given the importance of the State examination system, it is my strong contention that there should be statutory provision for prosecutions for deliberate offences committed against the system. I emphasise that it is not the intention to pursue more minor offences which can often be the unintended consequence of the pressure of the examinations process. Existing procedures in these cases will continue and sanctions will be proportionate and appropriate. As far as the refusal of information is concerned, again I am strongly of the view that the Minister must be in a position to refuse access to information which could lead to the production of school league tables. I emphasise that parents' existing rights to information about their own children or school are not affected by this provision.

Part IX provides a framework for the establishment of bodies corporate which would carry out functions in respect of the provision of support services. My intention in including this provision is to allow the Minister to establish bodies to carry out executive functions which could more effectively and efficiently be carried out by such bodies than by a Department. The establishment of executive bodies is consistent with the policy approach set out my predecessor, Deputy O'Rourke, in the Green Paper on Education of 1992 which notes that the most efficient way by which these tasks would be performed, while enabling the Department to focus on its broader policy role, would be through a series of executive agencies which would have designated powers and responsibilities within given policy and budgetary frameworks.

The establishment of these executive bodies will offer us a unique opportunity to improve immeasurably the administration of our education system. To give an illustration of the type of bodies about which we are talking, we recently published the steering committee report on the establishment of a national education psychological agency. Through this section we can give effect to the establishment of such an agency to provide a national education psychological service. In keeping with the spirit of the Public Service Management Act and the strategic management initiative, their establishment will enable the Department of Education and Science to maintain a clear focus on the needs and demands of the various partners in the education system in the most efficient and effective manner possible. I emphasise that the development of and decisions on policy will remain the prerogative of the Minister. The agencies established in accordance with Part IX will be accountable to the Minister for carrying out their functions and the Minister will be accountable to the Oireachtas.

A very important aspect of the Education (No. 2) Bill is that it places the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment on a statutory basis for the first time. The NCCA has operated for many years on anad hoc basis and has done much valuable work in the area of curriculum development. However, its ad hoc nature gave the wrong signal both to the council itself and the education partners. The NCCA has made a considerable contribution to the fundamental area of what we are teaching in our schools. The council is in no sense an optional extra to be retained or removed at the whim of a Minister. Rather it has a vital role to play in ensuring appropriate expertise and objectivity are brought to bear in matters relating to the curriculum in schools. The council can best carry out that mission if placed on a proper statutory footing.

Following the debate in the Dáil I have now included early childhood education in the remit of the NCCA. Development of a curriculum would be an important aspect of the future development of early childhood education and it is clear the NCCA will play an important role in this area. I also provided for the council to advise the Minister on the curriculum and syllabuses for students with a disability or other special educational need.

The Bill provides a statutory basis for education support centres, currently known as education centres, and sets out a framework for the operation of these centres. Education centres have become an important and accepted part of the education landscape, providing valuable support in the area of in-career development, and involvement in the co-ordination of such national programmes as the transition year project, civic, social and political education and relationships and sexuality education. The centres also act as resource centres for teachers and others in the education system. However, in common with much of our education system, these centres have developed without any specific statutory backing. The Bill will redress this issue.

The success of our education system depends fundamentally on the skills and dedication of the more than 40,000 teachers who work in our schools. I believe that we should not only recognise but also celebrate their role. I have, therefore, included specific provisions in the Bill in relation to the roles of principals and teachers: section 22 recognises that teachers are responsible generally for the instruction provided to students and that they contribute to their education and personal development.

The rights of teachers also find expression throughout the Bill: representatives of teachers are entitled to be consulted on a range of issues including, for example, procedures for appointments and appeals procedures, at both school and national levels.

The Bill also recognises the pivotal role of principals and outlines their various areas of responsibility. As Senators may be aware, I have established a working group to consider the role of the primary school principal; the Bill provides a solid framework within which the group will complete its work.

The place of the Irish language in our schools' curricula, its role in our education system and its place in the cultural and social life of our country is often the subject of debate. Although a small minority may fail to see the relevance of the language in modern Ireland, there is, in general, widespread support for the language.

In more recent times there has developed, largely through the gaelscoileanna movement, a more confident and proactive approach on the part of parents and teachers to the teaching of Irish. The level of commitment shown by many parents and teachers is highly commendable and holds the key to the increasing use of the language and its revival as a language in common use.

The Irish language is an essential part of Irish culture and tradition. It is an essential part of what we are as a people. Education is primarily about helping people to develop and grow to the best of their abilities so that they can be fully part of society. As far as education is concerned, the Irish language is of great importance to the personal development of Irish people. For this reason, it holds a special place in the education system.

The Education Bill contains a number of provisions which are designed to contribute to the realisation of national goals relating to the Irish language.

Schools in general will have a duty to promote the development of the Irish language and Irish traditions, literature, arts and Irish culture generally.

I look forward to resolving one issue during the course of the debate in this House, that is, the establishment of a body to provide resources and materials for those involved in the teaching of Irish. Until now the gaelscoileanna and schools in the Gaeltacht have argued that they lacked curriculum and general research resources in terms of teaching through the medium of Irish. With that in mind we agreed to set up a body to organise that for all who teach through Irish. In addition bodies involved in the Irish language movement, but not directly with gaelscoileanna, believe that such a body should have a relevance to the teaching of Irish generally. We have to reconcile that issue in the course of this Bill and I will bring forward amendments to reflect both strands of opinion on Committee Stage. It is a matter of regret to me that there is not unanimity in the language movement on this issue. It is in the interests of the language that all those involved endeavour to arrive at a consensus. If that does not happen I will make a recommendation to the House as to the best route to follow. No one, however, should doubt our commitment or the motivation behind this section — the enhancement of the Irish language and its teaching in gaelscoileanna and throughout the system.

Because of the level of debate over the last few years on the establishmentof regional education boards, I would like at this stage to refer briefly to them.

This Education Bill does not provide for the establishment of regional boards, a move which has been welcomed by most groups. Many inflated claims were made for the boards, about how they would solve problems in a range of areas and would somehow bring education closer to communities. I believe that the concept of these boards was fundamentally flawed on a number of levels, but most importantly, educationally and financially.

We should get very clear what these boards would have done: they would have been the vehicle for the massive extension of State control of schools and would have greatly increased levels of bureaucracy. Rather than devolving power from the Minister, they represented a vehicle for making it more comprehensive. In nearly every area, the proposal made clear that decisions would be made centrally by the Minister, with the boards acting merely as clearing houses. This model has been discredited in country after country and it would be extraordinary if we were to move towards it at the very time others are trying to discard it.

Some of the great stereotypes of departmental control are out of date. In recent years, the Department has been proactive in devolving functions to local level. An important example of this is the boards of management which provide for local management of schools. Another example is found in the primary capital area, where primary schools arrange for expenditure on minor capital projects at their own discretion, subject to proper accounting.

I accept the need for reforms and am committed to further practical action, but this must build on, and not undermine, the strengths of our system.

I am not interested in extending my control of the system. I am interested in working in partnership with all those involved in education. As a result I have not included in the Bill a range of new powers which it was proposed, in the Bill proposed by the previous Government, should be given to the Minister.

Leaving aside the fact that the proposed boards would have extended bureaucracy and have made little or no educational contribution, their cost would have been unjustifiable. I spent many months in Opposition attempting to get the last Government to tell the House what the boards would cost, but to no avail. I have since discovered that a 1995 estimate stated that they could cost up to £40 million a year to run and that there was no credible plan drawn up for their establishment. I can think of no circumstance where the expenditure of £40 million on creating a new layer of bureaucracy should take precedence over using scarce resources where they are needed — in the classroom.

The approach outlined in this Bill directly fulfils promises contained in both our election manifesto and the Programme for Government. The matter was discussed at length in the Dáil and I hope we can now move on and spend the time available in more fruitful discussion of other aspects of the Bill.

As I said at the outset, we have an education system of which we can be proud, an education system that has made a huge contribution to the development of our society and our economy. This Bill seeks to copperfasten those achievements, protect the integrity of the system and provide a framework for its future development based on the idea of partnership. This Bill will not of itself remove the deficiencies from our system of education but it is a crucial element in its development.

As we now undertake Second Stage of the Bill, I look forward to hearing the contributions of all Senators. During the Dáil debate I accepted a considerable number of Opposition amendments. I hope this will be a constructive debate which focuses on how to provide for the future development of our education system for the good of its students and our society. For my part, I assure the House that I will constructively respond to the points raised.

This is an important Bill, which deserves widespread support. I commend it to the House.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. Tá súil agam go mbeidh Acht níos láidre againn tar éis díospóireacht speisiúil agus leathan agus go dtabharfaidh sé tairbhe dona daoine is tábhachtaí sa tír seo — na daltaí scoile.

In welcoming the Minister to the House, I am pleased to be in a position to comment on the Education Bill. We have waited with great expectancy for this Bill for a long time. When I say "we", I am referring to the education providers throughout the State.

Education has always been very special to the Irish people. We pride ourselves on being a nation of saints and scholars. The saints may not be as plentiful as heretofore but we are still proud to be a nation of scholars. Accordingly it is important that we have a streamlined system which suits the needs of all. However, in this regard I am disappointed with the Education Bill as I feel it falls short of what was expected from the Green Paper, the national convention, the White Paper and the extraordinary level of debate over the past few years on this document. So much has been said, one could say it has been verbiage. Now eventually the Bill has arrived in this House and the outcome is an anaemic attempt at reforming the education system.

The Bill is timed to make valid retrospectively many of the regulations on which the education system is based rather than being a blueprint for the future. One may ask why we need a blueprint for the future. We need it because, in the context of the new millennium, it fails to respond to all the changes happening in society and the global changes, particularly in communications.

The most noticeable change in this Bill is that the regional boards are being dropped. The Minister referred to this in detail in his initial speech. There are arguments for and against the regional boards. However, irrespective of these arguments, I feel that many of the functions intended to be within the remit of regional boards should now be decentralised. There was much good in the proposals for the regional boards and that is not evident in this Bill; in fact it will not happen now.

I refer to the psychological service which is so badly organised it is in chaos. I speak as a member of a board of management of a number of schools. I know of a school which requested a psychologist to visit it and assess pupils with specific learning disabilities. After four months the school is still waiting for a response. That is an example of students with the greatest needs being disadvantaged. The structure and service — or should I say lack of service — leave a lot to be desired in this area.

The Bill will not solve this unless the Minister intervenes directly. Let us concentrate on people with disabilities for a moment. The number of people with disabilities in education is estimated to be at least 4 per cent of the school going population; I believe this is approximately 33,000 pupils. This is a frightening statistic. It is broken down by the Special Education Review Committee report which states there are 8,000 such pupils in special schools, 3,800 pupils in special primary classes, 8,000 pupil with specific disabilities in ordinary primary classes, 2,300 in special post-primary classes and 100 pupils in special post-primary schools. Thus at least two out of every three children with a disability are attending mainstream schools.

The sort of disability varies widely — approximately 20 per cent have a physical disability, a further 20 per cent have some degree of intellectual disability, approximately 30 per cent have a specific speech or learning disability and almost 40 per cent are emotionally disturbed or have behavioural problems.

While physical disability occurs almost equally in boys and girls, the ratio of boys to girls is at least 2:1 in respect of the other forms of disability. This is an area of huge concern and it would appear from section 15(2)(d) that the Minister places the onus on boards of management in absolute terms for the provision of education for students with special needs. This would be a most unfair burden indeed without putting in place structure supports for providing a system to identify people with special needs and having identified students putting in place a system that would provide both material and human resources to help them either in special schools or in integrated schools.

There needs to be a clearer definition of the phrase "disadvantaged" as it is currently used. I welcome the Minister's decision in section 32 to set up an educational disadvantaged committee. I hope that committee will comprehensively and in the widest possible way address the many forms of disadvantage that exist today.

Mr. Damien Hannon from the ESRI speaking at the launch of the Fine Gael Party document on disadvantage stated that our education system was too rigid and selective; in other words, it was particularly suitable to 85 per cent of students but highly unsuitable to 15 per cent who have difficulty with schools and the programmes contained therein. It would appear from his statement that there are 15 to 20 per cent who would need another route. I suggest that under section 30, where the Minister assumes responsibility for the curriculum, he might look at a programme in junior certificate similar to the very successful LCA programme at leaving certificate. While I am on section 30, I see the potential for conflict between the Minister determining the curriculum and part VII of the Bill which establishes the NCCA as a statutory body with responsibility for curriculum and curriculum reform.

Section 25 deals with the school year and the length of the school year. Parents have expressed great concern at the number of teaching days lost to the system with subsequent loss of tuition time to students. This is giving great cause for concern. Parents are wont to lay the blame for this at the door of both the Minister and Department for failing to tackle the disruption caused in running public examinations. I suggest that it is time to set up a working party made up of all the partners with the specific purpose of streamlining public examinations, especially oral, aural and practical examinations and assessments. Consequently the loss of tuition time to students could be reduced considerably.

The Minister is aware that the appeal system in the previous Bill gave cause for concern. I am of the opinion that everybody has the right to a fair hearing in the context of a grievance including an appeal system. However, I see an inherent contradiction between section 29, paragraph 30, subsection (3) and paragraph 40, subsection (80). I was always of the opinion that once we had an inspector, the public interest was well served. I would ask the Minister to reconsider. I speak as someone who has worked with inspectors and various boards and found them to be people of experience, wisdom and integrity. The presence of a barrister raises the ante and could have the latent effect of paralysing boards and inhibiting them from making tough decisions.

Is the Minister aware of the extraordinary growth of gaelscoileanna throughout the country and what are his plans to ensure that students in these schools can continue their preference to be taught through Irish? I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he will address the problem with regard to gaelscoileanna. I hope this will happen now because there is a major lacuna at present.

With regard to gaelscoileanna at primary level, the accommodation where many of these schools are housed is disgraceful. These schools can be found in semi-detached houses in urban areas and in run down parish halls. I am a fair minded person and will give credit where credit is due, but the current situation seems strange coming from a party that purports to have as one of its primary objectives the restoration of the Irish language. Gaelscoileanna are growing in stature, strength and popularity. In my capacity as a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Arts, Heritage, Culture and the Irish Language, I have been given the task of drawing up a report on gaelscoileanna. Therefore, I am fairly familiar with the situation as it prevails at present. Gaelscoileanna are an integral part of the education system. This will continue to be the case in the future and as such they must be looked after. I look forward to the Minister addressing this problem on Committee Stage.

I am very disappointed at the scant reference to vocational education committees in the Bill considering their extraordinary contribution to the education system over the years. I pointed out earlier that in the absence of regional education boards other functions envisaged for these boards should be transferred to the vocational education committees. I am disappointed this Bill does not deal with the hugely successful programmes taking place under the vocational education committees and adult education boards. I say this as an adult education organiser and as somone who is involved on a daily basis with various aspects of adult education, the fastest growing sector in the education process. I am referring to the VTOS and Youthreach programmes in particular. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the current long drawn out saga with regard to salary scales and conditions for Youthreach directors and resource persons within that particular area is addressed and brought to a positive conclusion.

Often in the most difficult circumstances in second rate buildings these people make a great contribution by looking after students who are not easy to look after, students who have dropped out of mainstream education and are often lured back from the streets and crime. These students are brought back into the training and education sphere by dedicated people who work in these centres throughout the country. I hope the Minister will respond positively to bring this dispute to a successful conclusion. One must work in the system to realise the good work these people do and the circumstances under which they operate. I am sure this will be discussed when the Green Paper and the White Paper on adult education come on stream.

I, like other adult education organisers, am disappointed there is no reference in the Bill to adult education. We are told that the reason for this is that a Green Paper on adult education is about to come on stream, possibly this week. It is hoped this will be followed by further discussion documents, including a White Paper and ultimately legislation. Adult education is the fastest growing sector in the adult education process and there are enormous problems with regard to literacy.

I appeal to the Minister to give a timeframe for the enactment of adequate and full legislation for the streamlining of adult education. There is too muchad hocery in this area and I believe the time has come for real action. An adult education authority must now be a priority to bring all the adult education providers under the one banner and streamline the system. Then we could have something wonderful because education is for life and adult education grows in stature every day. I say this sincerely because I am involved in these programmes on a daily basis and I appreciate the work being done and the amount of work that needs to be done in this area. I know the Minister is aware of the situation and I have confidence he will address the problem and set up an adult education authority.

We are all aware of the problems in the area of school transport. Suffice to say that we still have a situation where three 18 year olds occupy one seat on many school buses. There are 45 seater buses carrying upwards of 65 students on a regular basis, together with those famous school bags which were the subject of a recent major examination. Buses are continuously breaking down because we have an aging fleet of buses, many of which should be consigned to the scrappage deal.

The Bill in its current format will not solve the concerns of children, parents and teachers.

Finally, I want to refer to Gaeltacht schools. Coming as I do from County Galway where Gaeltacht schools are still an tabhachtach, these schools are the cradles of the purity of the Irish language. We must continue to positively discriminate towards the provision of resources for these schools given their geographic location — they are often great distances from large urban centres where decisions are made on their behalf. I know the Minister is aware of the feelings of people in the Gaeltacht. Representations are ongoing with regard to the protection of these schools and I hope he will respond in a positive vein and take cognisance of the concerns of education providers in Gaeltacht areas.

Very great problems exist in the national school area. I can speak with authority in this area because I have two children attending national school and I am a member of a national school board of management. I must emphasise that were it not for the contribution of teachers and parents to fund raising in a majority of primary schools, the provision of education resources, equipment and the quality of school service would be far from adequate. By comparison with the primary school capitation grant of £50 per pupil per annum, post-primary schools receive £177 per student per annum. The difference in funding is in the order of £127. This is illogical and places a most unfair burden on the primary school community in their efforts to ensure the provision of compulsory and supposedly free education.

The 1997 OECD review of primary education in EU countries in terms of spending per pupil at primary level was referred to. We are given to understand that extra resources for primary schools will be included in the budget. I welcome this decision and I hope it lives up to our expectations in this area. We cannot be expected to sustain the child's right to free primary education on the whims and indignity of door to door collections, cake sales, draws and duck derbies.

I would also like to highlight the inflexible and inadequate staffing provisions for primary schools. Irish primary school classes are among the largest in Europe. Another area of huge concern is substitute cover. Schools must be able to operate as normal in the event of a teacher's absence. There are several occasions of absence for which substitution will not be provided, such as three day courses, marriage, compassionate leave and various in-service courses. The doubling of class groups in these circumstances is a poor presentation of Irish schooling.

I call on the Minister to provide substitution for all primary school principals for one day per month to allow them to respond to their duties in school during a school day. The quality of school life and schooling would be improved immensely if a panel of substitute supply teachers were provided and established in every region. The current provision of secretaries and caretakers in primary schools is also far from adequate and I am sure the Minister will address this area.

There are many difficulties in the primary school system. If they are redressed by the Government in the context of legislation, the welfare of the nation's children will be provided for adequately in their most vulnerable years. I know the Minister's task is not the easiest as I have spent a lifetime involved in the area of education, both as a teacher and currently as an adult education organiser. However, it is an area of huge importance and no effort should be spared and no stone left unturned to give us an education system second to none in this world of competitiveness where education and training are of the essence.

This Bill leaves a great deal to be desired. However, I am confident that it will have more flesh when it is enacted after a constructive debate in the Seanad.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for moving so swiftly and efficiently with this Bill. Over the past year he has engaged in extensive consultations on this matter. Despite the unhelpful interventions of the Labour Party, in particular, when the Bill was going through the Dáil, he has managed to bring it this far.

I am particularly struck by the Minster's proposals to establish a true and meaningful partnership between all those involved in education. For far too long education has been perceived as the province of teachers only. This has been repeated in the ways in which our policy makers and civil servants have approached this vital area. This Bill is a radical measure because it moves away from that approach and recognises the balance between teachers, students, parents, administrators, the inspectorate, the Department of Education and Science and the Minister. That long litany of interested people underlines how complex our system has become over the years.

It also underlines the necessity for new structures. However, these structures should not be developed at the expense of teachers, parents and pupils. They must incorporate the principle of partnership in fact as well as in theory. When the rainbow coalition was in power the then Minister for Education proposed the opposite. She proposed an unwieldy and costly system of regional education boards which reasserted the power of the Minister, introduced a new bureaucracy into the system and would have cost an additional £40 million a year to run. I am glad the Minister has abandoned these proposals. This was his view when he served as Opposition spokesperson on education and I am glad it is reflected in this Bill. Our new structures must recognise the partnership between all those who are mentioned in the long title of the Bill and not merely assert the power of the Minister.

The Bill also recognises the integrity of each individual school and those within it — the patrons, boards of management, teachers and students. The functions of principals and teachers are specified in Part V. It is interesting that these roles have been specified in a Bill of this sort, all the more so because it includes the many different roles which teachers assume within our schools. These days teachers do not merely instruct and teach; they are mentors, advisers and supervisors in many areas outside and inside the classroom. They often get, and seek, very little recognition for these activities. However, when a Bill of this sort is being drafted, it is important that these wider activities are not ignored and I commend the Minister for acknowledging them. The associated point is the recognition that teachers and principals have the right to be consulted on issues which touch the wider culture of the schools.

We must get away from seeing education in narrow and simple terms. School life is the sum total of its many parts and each part has its own integrity and importance. I am glad the Bill recognises this diversity and provides for it.

The development of the curriculum in recent years has brought us into new areas and introduced us to new methodologies and approaches.

It has also highlighted the central importance of remedial teaching, counselling, career guidance and psychological services. I congratulate the Minister for being aware of the lack of support services in our education system over the years. I know first hand about the increased expertise which can be provided by remedial teachers, home-school links and our psychological service because I deal with it on the ground. I have seen the improvement in our schools over the past 12 months. I know the Minister is aware of this improvement and I congratulate him on it.

It makes sense that if students, at whatever level, have difficulties they should be helped. These difficulties are often neither obvious nor easily detectable unless expert assessors are at hand. The ordinary teacher cannot be all things to all people. He or she needs the complementary support of others. I want to underline the word "complementary" because it is only with the combined efforts of different teachers and parents that students can experience their education as a creative and enjoyable time.

Not every student can benefit equally and profitably from a system which targets the common denominator. We must make provisions for those who need additional support. Some people would call that cherishing the nation's children equally, which it is. However, it is more than that — it ensures our education system is not only focused on classes, books, examinations and results, but is also concerned with the great and basic mission of educating for life. I compliment the Minister on his initiatives in this area. While there is still need for improvement, the current Minister has moved very quickly in a short period. We all accept that the demand in these support areas has grown dramatically in recent years. Psychologists, sociologists and educationalists all have their own view as to why this is so.

When I was a young person, a school was not simply regarded as a building with four walls and a roof but as an agency in the sociological sense which served the community at large and on which many of society's problems and challenges impinged. The current Bill reflects this broader view and I commend the Minister on that.

Most parents, teachers and students accept that the narrower structures of the curriculum bring with them new strains and pressures. This is especially so as a result of the points system and its impact on second level education. I know the Minister has appointed a high level commission to examine the points system and I understand it will report in the near future. I have read analyses of documents and reports which the commission has prepared in conjunction with its work in the newspapers. Dr. Tuohy has compiled statistics which suggest that repeat students are at the top of the class in the faculties of medicine and dentistry.

The obsession with high points and the manner in which students proceed from second to third level cannot be good for them or their families. It can also lead to situations where students are inadvertently driven towards courses in which they are not necessarily interested and to which they are not suitable. I make the point in view of my own experience as a guidance counsellor. Some students are attracted to courses on the basis of their prestige value rather than on the attraction they hold for career possibilities. Students compete with each other for these courses whose prestige is defined by the high number of points required to gain entry into them. That kind of approach has very obvious limitations. On the points system and the progression from second to third level the focus must be detracted from the accumulation of points and placed on something which will recognise students in a broader and more rounded way. I am aware the Minister is thinking along those lines and I await the commission's findings with interest.

Section 7 of the Bill refers to special education needs. Evaluation of this area of education is ongoing; a former Minister for Education, Deputy O'Rourke, established a special review committee on it. It has always amazed me that the Education Bill, when introduced by the previous Minister, did not contain a special section on disadvantage or a definition of "special needs". I commend the Minister for redressing this blatant omission and for further amending this section on Committee Stage in the Dáil to tighten its provisions to ensure people with a disability or other special education needs would, in the words of the Bill's title, have a level and quality of education appropriate to meeting their needs and abilities available to them as well as access to the relevant support services. This is another instance of the difference between the Education (No. 1) Bill and the current Bill. This Bill not only states the aspiration and commitment to educational opportunities, it specifies tangible and practical ways in which these provisions can be presented and structured.

Over the past six months, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science has examined the area of disadvantage. As the rapporteur for a report on the matter, I had occasion to interview a wide number of people involved in this sector. Real problems exist in this regard and, in spite of what some people might like to think, they no longer exist only at the periphery of the education system. I am heartened by the provisions the Minister has introduced in this Bill. I know that over the months and years ahead, he will ensure they are developed and implemented in a practical manner.

The Bill also contains a section on the promotion of teaching through Irish. Section 31(1) proposes the establishment of a body which would advise the Minister in this area, particularly on the provision of appropriate textbooks. That appropriate textbooks and teaching aids are essential to good teaching is a simple point, but simple points are often the most important. A recent conversation I had with a 70 year old Dublin man told its own story about the way Irish was taught in the past. The man had been educated through Irish and the textbooks used in his classroom described saving the hay, cutting the turf and other aspects of farming life which were as far removed from his community as Democratic Left and the Labour Party were from each other this time last year. The basic message of this anecdote is that textbooks must reflect the cultural and social conversations of students' communities.

I hope that when the Minister is appointing his advisory board, he will ensure it will be representative not just of urban and rural Ireland, Gaeltacht and non-Gaeltacht areas, but of the different types of urban environment in which gaelscoileanna have developed in recent years. We have undergone a period of neglect in regard to the teaching of Irish and the development of our Gaeltacht areas. This Minister is a listener and has taken on board views from all quarters in regard to the teaching of the Irish language. I hope he can come up with an amendment which might suit all interest groups. The number of Gaeltacht schools in south Dublin has increased dramatically in recent years and I welcome the fact the Minister is well disposed towards them.

I welcome the Bill which represents a major initiative on the part of the Government and the Minister to put our educational system on a new footing and reform it where necessary. I studied the entire Bill and, having served in the education system for many years, there are many aspects of it on which I would like to comment further had I time to do so. This is the first time I have seen such a comprehensive Bill coming before the House, one which acknowledges all the various interest groups within the education system. The Minister has grasped the nettle and displayed that he knows what he is doing. I compliment him and his staff and I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House. The level of consultation and the Minister's openness to accept changes to the Bill before and during its passage through the other House have been beyond criticism. I do not mind saying that on the record, so to speak, although the Minister often embarrasses me when I go on the record by telling me that he does things that I would waive. This Bill has been handled well.

Before the Minister leaves the House I wish to address the issue of múineadh na Gaeilge because a mistake is being made. Chuir sé an-athás orm a chloisint ón Aire ar maidin go raibh sé i gceist aige an rud seo a phlé arís agus athmhacnamh a dhéanamh air. Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach anois i mbliana. I ndáirire, tá géarghá le tacaíocht a thabhairt do mhúineadh na Gaeilge. There can be no doubt about that. In 95 per cent of primary schools the Irish language is taught as a subject and the other 5 per cent of schools are either Gaeltacht schools or gaelscoileanna. The three categories of school deserve support.

I scoileanna na Gaeltachta tá sé le rá agam le fada that many of the children coming to Gaeltacht schools come from homes where Gaeilge is no longer the language used. Sin mar a tharlaíonn. Bhí mé i scoil le déanaí agus dúrathas liom nach raibh Gaeilge ón gcliamhán ag caoga faoin gcéad de na leanaí i rang na naonán. Ní raibh focal Gaeilge acu ag teacht isteach sa scoil. They have a problem. Those Gaeltacht schools should, at least, have the same level of resources as other schools. As a step towards whatever may have to be done about primary school staffing it is no longer acceptable that Gaeltacht schools should have fewer teachers than gaelscoileanna. They deal with the same issues and the same system of teaching.

The gaelscoileanna are also deserving of support. I make that point strongly because a different point of view is often attributed to me because I have spent the past ten years engaged with different Administrations North and South seeking the same final objectives but with different fights in the two areas. There have been great advances in Northern Ireland and I would like to see advances in the South. The gaelscoileanna operate a system of teaching through Irish using a methodology of total immersion in the language. It is an acceptable method of teaching which has been tried in many countries and which works. There are no absolutes in education and all types need support.

The ordinary primary schools comprise about 95 per cent of the total. A former Minister for Education, John Wilson, produced a White Paper on Education in 1981 which gave great support for teaching Irish. However, it did not become legislation because there was a change of Government soon afterwards. In 1984 the INTO made a series of recommendations to the Department of Education about support for teaching Irish but they were not acted upon. When this Bill was being developed we made representations to the Minister and the Department, as we had done to his predecessor, about the need for a foras áiseanna do mhúineadh na Gaeilge, a resource centre for the teaching of Irish which would be available to all schools. That will not be set up as the Bill is written at present because it provides for a resource centre for teaching through Irish. It will mean that 5 per cent rather than 100 per cent of schools will get support. The Bill's provisions on support for Gaeltacht schools and gaelscoileanna are important and should be followed through but we should not stop at that.

There is a great demotivation with regard to the Irish language in schools — people may not like to hear that but it is the case. Many parents who are motivated towards the Irish language will move their children to gaelscoileanna and there is a demotivation among certain pupils and parents in the ordinary primary schools. It is becoming increasingly difficult for teachers to teach Irish. It is particularly difficult where there is a lack of resources, such as films, videos or text books.

When I went to school d'fhoghlaimíos Laidin tré Ghaeilge ó théacsleabhar Béarla. Is fíor san. In Dingle school we learned Latin through Irish from an English textbook. That still goes on. Ní féidir an teanga a chur ar aghaidh mar sin. We must have reasonable support. The Minister should keep the provisions in the Bill and add to them. Let us not create a division on the matter. I have discussed this issue with Bord na Gaeilge and it shares the view that the support should be for Irish, whether it is teaching through Irish or the teaching of Irish. They deserve equal support.

We are on a slippery slope towards marginalising and ghettoising the language to the point that in five or six years time Irish will be taught in the gaelscoileanna or in the Gaeltacht if one is lucky. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Gaeltacht schools and if we do not extend support to all schools we will not make progress. I intend to table an amendment on this matter but I would prefer if the Minister took on board the views of Bord na Gaeilge, the body which is advising the Government. I thank the Minister for waiting in the House to listen to my argument on this issue. I also thank him for including teachers in the long title to the Bill. I had asked this of the previous Minister but I failed to have it included. It is an important recognition of the teachers to have them so included.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Treacy, to the House. He might otherwise be known as the Minister for Connaught-Ulster.

The Senator was always futuristic in his thinking.

This Bill deals with schools which are more democratic given the board of management structure. It is important to note that for the first time the enactment of the Bill will give parents a choice about the type of school to which they can send their children. Under current regulations all schools must be denominational, attaching to one or more religions. Therefore, all our schools are either of one denomination or are multidenominational. However, the new arrangements for patrons and patronage in the Bill will allow for the establishment of non-denominational schools in Ireland. It allows patrons to be recognised without having a particular attachment to a religion or group of religions. A pluralist and multicultural society welcomes such a provision. In his reply on Second Stage perhaps the Minister will indicate whether he will shortly change the rules for national schools to accommodate this new provision.

The Minister's openness to change on the question of teacher resource centres is welcome. It is important that they will be established in legislation. The role of the principal is outlined in detail in legislation for the first time which is also a welcome step. It will put more work on principals in putting more responsibility on them. Nonetheless, it will be welcomed that there is a clear definition of their role.

With regard to the appeals and complaints structure the proper approach has been adopted in the Bill. I was worried about the system which was proposed in the previous Bill because I did not believe it would stand the test of court. The Minister makes provision for a revised system which will be included in a Schedule to this Bill. As the general secretary of the INTO, I am of the view that parents have an entitlement to have their complaints against schools and teachers processed properly. There should be a system in which teachers, parents, boards of management and the Department have confidence. The Bill allows that to take place and people will feel that their complaints are treated seriously.

One of the main issues I plan to speak about, which as been anticipated by the Minister, concerns the NCCA. I was going to say it is great the NCCA will be enshrined in legislation and has its own identity. The inclusion by the Minister of early childhood education in the curricular work of the NCCA is a most progressive and welcome move which is badly needed. Primary teachers were quite terrified that the issue of curriculum for early childhood education would slide around the place in all directions. The Bill gives a clear mandate to the NCCA to examine the curricular needs of children upwards of three years of age who are sometimes referred to as pre-school children, allowing them to pass seamlessly to the mainstream primary curriculum and onwards from there. This is hugely important. It also means the issue need not be part of the developing debate on child care as it is properly dealt with in this Bill. Instead we can focus on the political, economic and other issues concerning child care.

The legislation will in general be welcomed. However, I wish to deal with regionalisation, the political source of many rows when the Bill was published and during debate in the Dáil. I communicated my view on this to the Minister as a member of the Government and when he was in Opposition. I also communicated my view to the previous Minister. The debate on regionalisation has become political rather than educational in nature. If I had to come down on one side, I would probably favour regionalisation, but I could also make a very strong case against it. I gave an assurance to all parties before the last election that as far as we were concerned the administration of education could be done in a number of ways, namely, regionally, as under the previous Bill, in a national central manner as under this Bill or in a categorised way with special structures for special education, educational disadvantage, teaching through Irish, etc. It is not the approach which is important but the recognition that the administration of education cannot be done without resources.

The Minister has objected to regionalisation on the basis that it involves much unnecessary money and establishes a structure which is not required. That may well be, but there is no argument about the fact that the Department of Education and Science needs more money to carry out its administration, processing, examination and all the other work it is required to do, including keeping in contact with the partners in education. I am not talking about putting teachers in schools or giving grants to boards of management, but rather the actual administration of a Department which has grown significantly over recent years with many new and emerging responsibilities, including early childhood education, information technology, educational disadvantage and special education. These areas have grown out of all proportion in comparison to ten years ago while the staffing level in the Department of Education and Science has not grown in parallel.

I am worried about the arguments against regionalisation as put forward by the Minister, namely, that it costs a lot of money and establishes unnecessary structures. Perhaps I could listen to an argument based on unnecessary structures, but education cannot be administered on the shoestring the Department receives to carry out its functions. It cannot be done and nobody knows this better than the INTO which deals with the Department every day of the week and which sees hard stretched officials and sections of the Department not receiving the resources they require.

What is being demanded of officials and sections is unfair. They are constantly getting the short end of the stick. On the one hand they are getting hassle from us and I have no doubt they are also getting hassle from higher officials in the Department. The issue must be addressed, not just on the basis of proper administration but on the basis of concern for employees of the State. I feel very strongly about the issue which I think is being ignored. The Minister should put the boot in to get the resources from the Department of Finance that are necessary to run the Department. We support the proper staffing of sections and I ask the Minister to take the matter on board. The best laid plans require resources.

There are a number of provisions in the Bill which I welcome. It is a pity the Minister for Education and Science is not present — I am not commenting on his absence as I know he is up to his eyes with groups such as the INTO making life difficult for him — as I would like to remind him that in Opposition the plank of his speech on the other version of the Bill was the missing chapter dealing with resources. This gap has not been filled in the current Bill. Nonetheless the Minister has made certain attempts in this regard. I was particularly pleased with section 31(4) which states:

In each financial year the Minister, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance, out of monies provided by the Oireachtas, may make to the body appointed in accordance with subsection (1) a grant or grants for the purposes of expenditure by that body in the performance of its functions.

This relates to the Irish language resource centre, but the point I am making is that it is good to see the inclusion of such a provision.

I am not too taken with the words "may" or "concurrence", a word which I presume must be included. Given the changing methods of funding education and the changing approach of the Department of Finance which requires Departments to work from their budgets, why is the concurrence of the Minister for Finance necessary for the Department of Education and Science to spend its budget? Does this relate to a budget which is additional to the normal Education budget, the only reason the concurrence of the Minister for Finance would be necessary? The same provision is included in section 32(7) concerning educational disadvantage. It states:

In each financial year the Minister, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance, out of monies provided by the Oireachtas, may make to the educational disadvantage committee a grant or grants for the purposes of expenditure by that committee in the performance of its functions.

I wish to say two things about educational disadvantage: first, the establishment of the committee is very important and second, the idea of it being a separate Vote and budget line is hugely important. I welcome both provisions and would like their inclusion in every section. I presume the provisions I have quoted from will mean two new budget lines in the Department's annual Estimates Vote — I would like the Minister to clarify this.

On a number of occasions we have raised with the Minister the need to have a separate fund for disadvantage. People are aware that the Government saw a problem with the development of information and communication technology in our schools and that in order to deal with it, it established a particular and separate fund outside the normal accounting processes and Estimates. Is the Minister prepared to do the same for educational disadvantage? The Bill includes provision for a separate budget line which to me suggests a separate fund. This is the way to move forward. The Government is very restricted in terms of current expenditure, but has room to move in terms of capital expenditure. The establishment of a separate fund to address educational disadvantage, similar to the fund for information and communication technology and the provision in the current Estimates for material for the introduction of science in schools, would allow the Government deal with the issue under capital expenditure. These issues are important and can be dealt with.

This morning a debate on teacher staffing was requested on the Order of Business by Senator Burke, and the Leader gave a commitment to allow such a debate. We are short of teachers at present, and there are fully qualified teachers to spare in Northern Ireland. There are many areas of Irish primary education where teachers do not require Irish, such as home-school liaison outside the Gaeltacht, some areas of remedial education, almost the entire special education field and other significant areas. Teachers are appointed to posts in these areas and do not need the Irish language qualification. Properly qualified and experienced teachers from the North and the United Kingdom should be allowed to take up full-time permanent positions for the moment to relieve the pressure of the teacher shortage. I made this point about six months ago and there was predictable nonsense from Irish language groups such as Conradh na Gaeilge, which normally takes things up the wrong way. They made a predictable complaint, and I argued back with them in Béarla nó i nGaeilge. I know the Minister did not feel that he could deal with this politically, but now the proposal has support, and it could solve the teaching shortage problem.

I commend the Bill. I recognise the extraordinary work done by the Minister and the Department of Education and Science. They can take a bow on this matter given the work they have done. There will be problems with it, but the situation has moved forward immensely. It has been the subject of years of consultation, and I hope it is passed with some minor amendments — my only amendment will be on the matter of Gaeilge.

It gives me great pleasure to commend this Bill to the House. I welcome the Minister of State, and I would have welcomed the Minister of State even more warmly as we laboured together in Opposition on the education portfolio when the previous Education Bill was being debated. I admit to a certain degree of satisfaction as we opposed that Bill vehemently because it was so badly flawed. One of the Bill's major flaws, the regional educational boards, has already been referred to. I hope I am forgiven for referring to that, as I felt strongly that that was an ill-conceived idea. The Minister said that he was given a figure of £40 million for those boards. I congratulate him, as he had to become Minister in order to find that figure. We questioned the then Minister for Education for three to four years for that figure, and no figure was given by that Minister or the Department of Finance.

It was thought of as a good idea from the Labour Party at the time. The Minister said in the Dáil that the idea was Stateist and imposed a huge bureaucratic structure on the education system. It would not have worked because it was a bad idea, but some bad ideas can be thought through, and it was not thought through properly. The response of most of the partners in education at the time was highly critical as it would have directed resources into administration and bureaucracy and not into where it is needed. Resources for education are always short; even if the Minister's budget was doubled many people feel it would still be short.

The Minister has also dropped the aspect of ministerial control of every facet of education imaginable. In the previous Bill the Minister's name was mentioned in relation to control 225 times. I commend the Minister for not including that feature in this Bill, just as I commend him for being so open to the many partners in education who know what they are talking about, who are dedicated to education and who know what works. The Minister said he is open to amending the Bill further, and every Minister should adopt this approach with legislation.

I welcome the fact that this Bill provides a statutory framework for the education system, as that has been sadly lacking for some years. There has been a long lead up to this Bill, going back to the Green Paper on Education in 1992. There was considerable debate over the years on this matter which made a great contribution to this Bill. That was the irony of the previous Bill; it ignored a great deal of the discussion and debate on the issues.

We often hear that the Irish education system is one of the best in the world, and there is no doubt that we have a lot to be proud of. The Minister said today that society owes a debt to our education system, particularly in view of the great strides our economy has made. Investment in education, going back to the so-called free education scheme introduced by Donagh O'Malley, has underpinned our economic performance. We are all glad to hear people say that our young people are so well educated, and this is one of the main reasons that information technology companies in particular set up operation in Ireland.

The issue of patrons is another that this Bill addresses in a much more inclusive way than its predecessor. We know that the patron has always played an important role in the education system, and this Bill recognises that importance. It provides in some detail for the role of the patron, and the emphasis is far more open, as Senator O'Toole said.

Regarding boards of management, under the old system there was compulsion and the threat of withholding grants for non-compliance, but this Bill's provisions are much better. We will learn from what has happened at primary school level in setting up boards of management. It was not an easy solution to arrive at, but schools were managed by people talking to each other rather than by imposition. That is what works in education. Compulsion does not work because openmindedness is required of people in the education system. If polarisation is created at any level within the partnership involved in education, the system cannot work. The old concept was badly flawed and the Minister's solution is a much better one.

I was also appalled with the rigid appeals system that operated in the past. The Minister's system is much more workable and again, there must be consultation with the partners in education. It is critical to the development of education. People working together in the development of young people and assisting them in the best way possible is critical to the development of education.

There are other issues but I wish to refer to areas where more work is needed and, fortunately, the Minister has brought forward new initiatives. There may be gaps in the Bill but overall it addresses most issues. I never speak about education without referring to educational disadvantage. There are still thousands of children, mainly in more deprived urban communities, whose needs are not yet met by the system. Some drop out in their early teens and others, if they persevere longer, eventually leave school without formal qualifications. Many have not succeeded in mastering basic skills in literacy and numeracy. They are part of what can be termed a self-perpetuating underclass. Their parents got nothing out of the education system, while their grandparents got even less and they are locked into a cycle that will take them from school to the dole. They graduate from short-term to long-term unemployment and then to unemployability.

That is a tragedy not only for them and their families, but for all of us. Social exclusion can lead to anti-social behaviour in many cases and there is also the prospect of the drop-outs of today becoming the criminals of tomorrow because they do not have a stake in society and feel abandoned by it. There is no easy solution to the problem and early intervention is the key. By the time a typical child from a seriously disadvantaged background enters the school system at the age of four it is probably too late. The child is deficient in basic language and communication skills and will have spent its early years in a home where educational values were not regarded as important. Those years are vital and if they are lost it is asking a great deal of our schools to make up for them.

A national education strategy of early intervention is needed with proper support for disadvantaged families to cope with the education of their children during the critical pre-school period. I am glad the Bill refers to early childhood education and that the Minister decided to set up a forum on it. Voluntary and statutory bodies and parents have had many initiatives from which experiences can be drawn and models can be developed that will work. It is important that we discover best practice which will help our children most and do not impose solutions.

The Minister also decided that he would set up a special committee to examine disadvantage. Many children fit all the criteria of disadvantage but attend schools outside the disadvantaged area. That means they will not have access to remedial or resource teachers or home-school liaison unless the schools can fund raise. The size of capitation grants, etc. was referred to earlier but it is still not good enough. A school should not be resourced by cake sales. I support voluntary effort and the involvement of parents, etc., but they should be used as optional extras and not for what is needed for the education of children. I look forward to the budget in this regard and I hope that the Minster, as he has shown before, is strong on those issues. The committee on disadvantage gives us a unique opportunity to deal with this area.

Academic bias is another major issue that should be confronted in the education system. Schools do a good job in preparing students for the leaving certificate and are geared towards preparing them for third level. I commend the Minister for setting up the commission to deal with the points system and look forward to its findings because currently it involves a supply and demand system of education. Despite developments such as the leaving certificate applied, etc., a huge cultural leap is still to be made by parents, students and employers.

The system does not serve the needs of students equally despite the more recent acknowledgement of that. Not enough is done to help those who want to move straight from school into the workplace. That should be looked at in more detail given the number of factories opening up in the computer industry and the skills required. FÁS should not be asked to second guess the education system to see what are the needs in terms of skills for this industry. Many of those skills should be taught within the education system while children are at school and not as an add on later. Modern languages should be addressed and while there have been advancements, curriculum needs constant evaluation which leads me to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

Setting that body up on a statutory basis is absolutely critical. Obviously, it will enhance the role of the NCCA and it will have a greater role in development which will not be done on anad hoc basis. I hope that will result in a much more integrated approach using all the skills and knowledge available in order to have a properly developed curriculum that suits the needs of our students. The role of the NCCA in the education system will be enormous. It will also have a role in terms of early childhood needs and those with special needs. The council will have a much greater effect on the education system than heretofore and it will be debated further on Committee Stage to see exactly how it will operate in future.

The transition from primary to post primary education is another hobby horse of mine and the Bill loosely links them. It needs development and I call on the Minister to pursue this to ensure that the difficulties of transition for pupils are minimised. Many years ago I worked as a career guidance counsellor. All those who spoke earlier have been involved in the education sector at one level or another and have experience of what are the needs and what works. We can learn from all sides in the House in regard to that and the Minister is open to that.

Issues need to be addressed and school psychological services needs to be trashed out separately because it is such a vital area. I welcome the Minister's remarks on the Irish language and his openness about the body that would support the teaching of Irish, etc. Senator O'Toole referred to difficulties in that area and made an impassioned plea. It is very difficult to reconcile the different issues involved and the Minister wisely said that we will have an opportunity to discuss them on Committee Stage. He is open to suggestion but he would need to be like Solomon to arrive at the right result.

Many people are pleased about the automatic entitlement of those with special needs or a disability to appropriate education. This area has been subject to legal action and no politician ever felt comfortable that appropriate education should have been denied to anyone and particularly to people who are the most vulnerable and the least able to look after themselves.

I listened carefully to the points made about adult education and the need for legislation in that regard. This is a huge growth area and the better educated the vast majority of students are, the more it highlights the difficulties for those who slipped through the net and did not have the opportunity to finish their education for various reasons and find they have problems with literacy and numeracy. It behoves us to address this issue. I look forward to the legislation promised in this area; perhaps the Minister could give us more information in that regard. Many people involved in this area are concerned and they would appreciate a definite indication from the Minister. I am pleased to welcome the Bill. It does what it sets out to do and I am proud to commend it to the House.

The debate up to now has been dominated by teachers. This is because we never leave the classroom. I am pleased the Bill has been introduced. During my previous term in the Seanad from 1989 to 1992 we debated the Green Paper on Education and there were further developments in the White Paper. It has take some time for the Bill to be introduced, but I acknowledge the tremendous efforts of all Governments since then to ensure widespread consultation with all the partners in education. People who may not have been formal partners had an input to the debate and the Bill received a tremendous airing. Sessions were held in every town and it cannot be said that the public was not aware of the Bill.

Teachers have always been dominated by administrative circulars and, as the Minister said, it is important to have a statutory underpinning of the education system. We talk much about the quality of the system which is linked to the Scottish system. This still enjoys great international standing. Teachers still have status in Ireland and I hope the Bill will prioritise it. Our counterparts in the UK do not have the same status or acknowledgement within the state and the entire system of local education councils. I did not agree with the idea of regional boards because I am aware of what happened in the British system. I will deal with this aspect later.

In the United States, teaching is a long way down the economic ladder. However, teachers in Ireland have managed to retain their status. This is because of the tremendous store that the people place on education. If one asked a parent, regardless of where they live, what he or she wanted for their children, they would say they want them to have the opportunity to go to third level. They may not reach third level but they aspire to it from an early stage. When I was growing up, free education at second level was introduced by a Minister from Limerick. This area is now sorted out to a degree, although I will deal later with the position in blackspots of social exclusion and disadvantage.

My problem with education today relates to the fact that when Ireland was relatively poor in 1971, the teacher-pupil ratio was 15:1 but now that it is perceived to be relatively rich, the appointment ratio is 19:1. There is a problem in that regard at second level but also at primary level. All second level teachers realise that primary level should be prioritised while maintaining sufficient resources for second level. It is much more difficult to address the needs of students who come to second level without the benefit of remedial support, resource and additional home-school liaison teachers.

Since I qualified as a teacher, I have been in a school which caters for disadvantaged students from blackspot areas such as Southill where there are high levels of long-term unemployment, despite the Celtic tiger. The Bill does not address the changing needs of the education system. Welcome changes to the existing structures have been made, but second level teachers must cope with 30 students who have varying abilities and they need new and innovative ways of teaching.

It is does not involve the traditional teaching methods mentioned in "Hard Times" of numbers and facts with the teacher in control. Teachers are always in control, or should be always in control, but the changing nature of society is not reflected in the Bill. Disadvantage is reflected but the idea of team teaching and responding to the needs of students who otherwise will leave school is not covered. Statistics show that some students leave the education system without reaching junior certificate level. I am particularly concerned about this area because these children will return to the cycle of poverty and disadvantage. They will become unemployed and be a much bigger drain on Exchequer resources in terms of long-term unemployment benefit. This aspect is linked to the aim of the education system to address the needs of every student which is mentioned in the Constitution. I am particularly concerned about this and more scope should be given in the Bill for innovation in this area.

Each student in a class of 30 pupils may need a different approach such as team teaching. More resources are needed for this area and for projects such as the innovatory programme which was introduced in my school. It started with experience based learning which was brought in from an educational establishment in the United States and has been developed up to senior level and the leaving certificate applied cycle. I am glad to note that students in my school and elsewhere in the mid-west region are now fulfilled in a way that was not possible five years ago. It has been accepted as a legitimate course for students and I hoped the Bill would contain a reference to the point that the academic route is not the only one for the well being of students.

Ireland is producing wonderful graduates from third level institutions, such as the University of Limerick. The links between industry and education are being developed for the benefit of the mid-west region and certain elements of the hi-tech computer industry are regarded as first or second in the world. However, the skills area is not developing as rapidly as it should despite the existence of the institutes of technology. While the pathway for leaving certificate applied and leaving certificate vocational students through the PLCs to the institutes of technology and possibly on to the universities is aspirational, developments in this area are not happening as quickly as they should.

There should be an emphasis on students who take courses in applied technology. They are not reaching their full potential because the system is very slow to take them on board. For example, there are not enough people with skills to provide home improvement services because of the overwhelming emphasis in the system on the academic student. Post-graduate studies and degrees are accorded too much status. The country has a greater need for people with less academic and more practical skills. While it may be argued this is not within the scope of the Bill, there should be an emphasis on this area.

The Minister appears to have been remiss in providing sufficient consultation for the review of leaving certificate scripts. Following the introduction of the review there was initial chaos. The partners concerned, including my union, the ASTI, were then consulted and advised that the organisation of superintendents in charge was an essential component. I would have preferred more consultation in this area. Indeed, is there sufficient provision for consultation in the Bill?

Following a recent decision it appears that boards of management can pay the fees of members of the NAPD — the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals — who join. Will the Department reimburse boards in such instances? What is the position regarding councillors and members of the Remedial Teachers Association? Will boards of management pay their fees to join?

Teachers need to be able to constantly upgrade their skills, especially in the IT area where they are now dealing with second level students who are computer literate. Children are dabbling with computers almost from birth. This does not apply only to affluent areas; all children are computer mad and, in consequence, teachers need regular induction in this area.

While I was not in favour of the establishment of regional boards proposed in the previous Bill, there needs to be a loosening of central control. Although it has worked in the past — we are a small population — there could be significant devolution of powers within certain areas, such as the psychological services and disadvantage. For example, the VEC did excellent work in the area of adult education, which was never properly acknowledged until the debate on their abolition when everybody realised the extent of their work. It appears it is only when they fight to save systems or bodies from disbandment that people acknowledge the positive work they do.

The area of disadvantage must be included in the Bill. Some 14,000 students, or 21 per cent of the cohort, leave school without attempting their leaving certificate. That is a huge number. The position is twice as bad in disadvantaged urban areas, such as the Southill area of my city of Limerick. However, despite the concentration of disadvantage in urban blackspots, Deputy Richard Bruton produced a statistic which indicates that 60 per cent of children who are educationally disadvantaged are in rural areas or small towns. Many, including myself, were amazed at that because we have always thought of disadvantage in terms of cities.

My area of interest is ADHD, attention deficit hyper activity disorder. The Minister spoke of his interest in helping children with learning difficulties. This is the most important aspect of the education system for disadvantage today. The children concerned are at risk. I will not elaborate on what can happen to them because it is frightening. The ADHD area means the Minister will have to liaise with the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure there is a proper, co-ordinated approach to solving and addressing the needs of attention deficit hyper activity children. While they are attended to by concerned teachers, they do not have the specific educational training to deal with ADHD.

This is the most detrimental factor within the education system. The children affected are in first and second level. If they do not stay in second level they are to be found in the courts or on drugs and they become the most disadvantaged of the disadvantaged. I ask the Minister to address this issue and provide resources for the training of teachers to deal with this group.

I feel like the proverbial sore thumb, being the only non-teacher to make a contribution to the debate this morning. I welcome the Minister of State, who is also not a teacher. I already feel more secure.

I welcome the publication of the Bill and commend the Minister for its introduction. Many will recall that in the recent past teachers were guided by the rules and regulations for national schools that were in the sole ownership of the principal and handed down by way of circular letter. The Vocational Education Act, 1930, was the last significant legislation to be enacted.

I pay tribute to the educators who built up the education system, of which we are all justly proud. The introduction of free second level education and other initiatives was visionary. Individuals in the Department of Education and Science should take a bow for their enlightened and creative approach in bringing to the education system a diversity which reflects well on us all.

I welcome the setting up of the special committee to look after the disadvantaged. It is by targeted initiatives only that we can address the issues discussed some time ago at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science. It is important that necessary provisions are made available to tackle early school leavers, disruptive behaviour and low levels of educational attainment. The breaking the cycle initiative is important but it needs to be more focused. Yesterday I was delighted to read in a briefing note that measures are being taken to deal with and target children dropping out of school. There is a series of initiatives to identify and help children between the ages of eight and 15 years, which is very welcome.

There is a relatively small number of severely disadvantaged areas. These areas need a range of resources targeted at parents, teachers or the school buildings. We may have failed in recent times by allowing the ripples of disadvantaged status to extend outwards so that everyone got a small amount of resources but no area was targeted sufficiently.

The Bill refers to admissions policy, to which a Senator referred. Over the years many of us have seen great difficulty in trying to ensure smooth progress from primary to post-primary school without an entrance examination. The assessment process at primary and post-primary levels needs to be linked. Children who transfer from the primary sector, which is basically a child centred education system, to the post-primary sector, which is a more examination based system, should be able to do so more easily through a specially devised system.

I welcome the section dealing with the inspectorate; recently we developed a more enlightened inspectorate. The functions of the inspectorate, as outlined in the Bill, are encouraging. It states that an inspector shall visit recognised schools and centres for education, evaluate their management and the quality and effectiveness of the education provided in them, including the quality of teaching, the effectiveness of individual teachers, evaluate the education standards, assess the implementation of regulations made by the Minister and report to the Minister on those matters. They will also advise teachers and boards of management on the performance of their duties and, in particular, assist teachers in improving methods and teaching standards when conducting classes. They are all significant and positive developments.

The policy on children with special needs which has been in place for some is, I am told, presenting difficulties for teachers and parents. There is a need to provide extra resources. The special needs of gifted children should also be looked at. I was delighted to hear the Minister reiterate his commitment to children with disabilities because these are the children in greatest need. His commitment to date has been commendable with a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio and the provision of carers.

Senator McDonagh referred to transport needs and the replacement of vehicles. There is a further need in this regard which probably comes under the heading of health and safety. We are looking at the safety needs in terms of transport which are rapidly emerging. There will be an ongoing need for resources in this area. Good transport is needed but we must also ensure children are properly strapped in and catered for in terms of seating under the health and safety regulations.

The establishment of student councils in post-primary schools is a progressive move. This gives students an opportunity to understand the democratic process. It may, however, cause many problems for school management and principals. I am delighted with the provision on parental involvement. This is in keeping with the equal partnership concept.

The aim of section 31, which has the support of the gaelscoileanna, is to establish a support body with responsibility for providing support services and teaching resources to schools which teach through the medium of Irish. I understand there are 300 such schools. This would include, for example, providing teaching aids for Irish subjects such as history, science and technology. I understand, however, that the Minister is coming under pressure to broaden the remit of section 31 to include the teaching of Irish in English medium schools as part of the remit of the proposed body. Gaelscoileanna will argue that this will seriously delete the effectiveness of the body in dealing with the needs of Gaeltacht and Irish medium schools. Senator O'Toole, however, argued for balance in this area and, I think, quoted a 90 to 95 per cent ratio. To preserve the effectiveness of section 31, gaelscoileanna believe it is imperative that it is left as it stands, that is, as amended on Report Stage in the Dáil.

The teaching of Irish is well catered for in the sections dealing with the objects of the Act, the functions of the Minister, the functions of the school, the inspectorate and the objects and functions of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. It is the Minister's intention to establish an education centre for Irish under section 37. It is proposed that the Minister should go ahead with the establishment of a review committee on the teaching of Irish as proposed in the Programme for Government.

I welcome the recognition given to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment which is involved in curricular development. In recent years, we have witnessed the introduction of a number of new courses, each of which is worthy and welcome. Unfortunately, there are not enough hours in the school day to teach all of them. I would like to see better co-ordination of the range of courses offered in schools. Transition year, for instance, seems to be a tremendous success. However, it is left to individual schools and the talents of individual teachers to provide the service. Perhaps we should examine the possibility of giving a national certificate for different courses because it appears that some students who thrive in transition year may not do well in the traditional examination system.

All in all, I commend the Minister on his innovative approach and imagination in pushing our education system into the future and on building on what we have already achieved.

This Bill underlines the continued commitment of the Fianna Fáil Government to education. We have a marvellous education system, much of which is due to those men and women who teach the syllabuses outlined. They show great personal commitment and I commend each and every person who has been involved in the education system on their contribution.

A number of Senators said our economy is what it is today because of the introduction of free education in 1967. That was without a doubt the great move which laid the foundations for the future. It is because of free education that we have the highly educated and skilled workforce which is a crucial element in our economic success and in the continuation of that success.

For that reason, the Minister saw the need to formally recognise the role of all the partners in education, in particular the parents, which is very welcome. One of the good things which has come from the American model of education is the considerable involvement of parents. Parents' associations work in close co-operation with teachers in areas such as fund raising, management and supporting after school activities which are vitally important to help children grow and develop.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, to the House.

I spoke earlier about the American model of participation in the education system. While I would not like to see many things from the United States replicated in Ireland, some of the participation at the lower end of education in the United States would be welcome. There is a high level of parental involvement in primary education. Parents are involved in out of school activities, the managing of schools and fundraising. This Bill is a step in this direction which acknowledges the right of parents to do that and the value that gives to the education system.

Society is changing and we are seeing more involvement of both mothers and fathers in children's education. It is not unusual to see both parents at parent teacher meetings now. That is a change which is welcome. Because this Bill has come from a long and comprehensive consultation process, it recognises the important contribution and value which parents can offer.

The Bill recognises and enhances the autonomy of schools. With autonomy we also have the concept of accountability. In days gone by people said that whoever was in charge of a school could do whatever they wanted. That has changed. Schools are now accountable to parents in preparing proper accounts and procedures for informing them of the culture and ethos of the school. If we allow our schools the opportunity to use their initiative, we can enhance the education system further.

It is vital that people understand that they will have the right to view the school records of each child. People think something is kept from them. We tend to think that the headmaster or mistress has total charge. Those days are gone and I look forward to the future.

In the Minister's most recent initiative, he recognised that children with special needs should have those needs met as a right. He stated that the Government has introduced a radical initiative which gives children with special needs, particularly those with autism, the automatic right to the support they need to benefit from education. Costing £4 million next year, this initiative is important in establishing the automatic right to child care assistance to help with toileting and mobility. I welcome that move. Of all the measures this Government has introduced since entering office, that is one of its greatest initiatives. I commend the Minister for introducing this policy. His commitment to the area is second to none. Children with autism previously had to have their rights vindicated in the courts. That will no longer happen. We have recognised that in this initiative.

It must be recognised that there are many barriers to children with special needs being involved in integrated and special education. One such barrier is school transport. It is vital that children going to school on a special bus receive assistance other than from the bus driver. Some children with special needs in rural areas spend many long hours travelling to and from school. They should be properly looked after so that they do not have an opportunity to misbehave. The Minister, Deputy Martin, has stated that he will do something about this presently to ensure that children on buses have escorts.

I would like to see more integration in education for children with special needs and physical or mental disability. There should be children with ordinary needs alongside those with special needs. Children with disabilities grow up in a world very different from that of other children. They are not invited to birthday parties or special events and that takes away from their development and that of the other children. If there is no integration and co-operation between children as they grow up we will continue to have a divide in society between the able and the disabled who do not know how to cope with it on a day to day basis. If we are to work toward the total integration of people with disabilities we need to start with education. Fianna Fáil is committed to doing that. The Government has made a start and I hope that during this term of office it will continue with it and will be able to say at the end that this is one radical change it has brought to education.

We must recognise the role of the teacher in education. We should ensure that teachers are able to participate fully in the education model. We could then have a fully committed workforce which would facilitate teachers in providing after-school and extra-curricular activity.

There are many school halls throughout the State which could be better used by the community.

I would like to see them better integrated into society and better use made of them so that at 4 o'clock the lights are not switched out and they are left empty for the rest of the evening. Those halls are a valuable resource in many communities and they should be used as such. There is need for intergovernmental and interdepartmental co-operation on this issue.

This Bill and the way the Minister has worked on it in recognising that the £40 million that could be spent on needless bureaucracy should go into education takes courage. It takes courage to stop putting additional layers of bureaucracy in place when there is no added value. I commend him for having the courage to do that. This Bill is a clear statement and a clear statutory basis for education in Ireland. I hope it is a blueprint for the way forward. Many things need to change and much improvement is needed but all these take time. We continue to build on the foundations set in 1967 with the introduction of free education and the future looks rosy for all.

I welcome the Minister and I wish him well on his work on the Green Paper on adult literacy. Perhaps he will give us an idea when it will be available for perusal.

I cannot give the same welcome to this legislation. I can give it a qualified welcome, but I regard it as a missed opportunity. Admittedly, something is better than nothing, but I would not go beyond that. It is very important that we have consolidation legislation. In this century we have had no significant legislation other than the Vocational Education Act, 1930. Everything else was passed in the previous century. It is important that we consolidate everything in statutory form.

Interestingly, the origins of this Bill go back to 1989 when the teachers' unions put down a motion to the ICTU conference in Bundoran that a Green Paper on education would be drawn up, followed by a White Paper, followed by consolidation legislation as part of the then PCW. All this was to be done by 1992 but six years on we are still at it. The only real work on the legislation was done from 1993 to 1997 after the previous Government came into office. There was maximum consultation and discussion. There was a convention in Dublin Castle and the input was extremely valuable. Out of this came the previous Bill, which was jettisoned to a considerable extent, and now we have the Education (No. 2) Bill.

It has been a very long gestation and I am afraid the baby delivered is not very robust. There is little more than a whimper in the Bill compared to what could be there. I approve of most of the contents of the Bill. It is acceptable that we have boards of management. However, why should we have boards of management only in so far as is practicable? This is to be discussed between the patrons and the other interests. We are putting it on a statutory basis and making it a basic principle in terms of partnership in education but then we have the proviso that it is only in so far as is practicable. I do not understand that.

Part III relates to the inspectorate, Part V relates to the principal and the teachers and Part VI relates to miscellaneous. I note that educational disadvantage is dealt with under "Miscellaneous." Surely a core fundamental principle of a consolidation of an education Bill is that educational disadvantage should be put to the fore and given a separate heading of its own. How could the Minister present such a Bill to the Houses when approximately 20 per cent of our students slip out of the education system without getting full value?

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is very welcome and I am delighted it is being put on a statutory basis. I served on it for a number of years and I know the good work it has done in the past few years and under its previous heading in the 1980s before its re-establishment in 1987 as the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. I am delighted to see it going into the future on a statutory basis. However I am afraid educational disadvantage, which is a subheading under Part VI, "Miscellaneous", compares very poorly with this.

Part VIII deals with examinations and Part IX with bodies corporate. All these provisions are worthwhile and necessary. It is important that we deal with these matters which are central to the education system on primary and second level bases, that we present them on a statutory basis and that everybody is included.

Pre-school education is excluded. It is not mentioned at all. The Preamble states:

An Act to make provision in the interests of the common good for the education of every person in the State, including any person with a disability or who has other special educational needs, and to provide generally for primary, post-primary, adult and continuing education and vocational education and training; I regard pre-school education as primary education. I believe the Constitution would bear me out on this. The State is obliged to provide a free service of education to its children at the earliest point of entry to education. The earliest point is pre-school or pre-primary. Simply because it is called primary education does not mean it is the first stage of education. At every level of educational progress, pre-school education is an integral part of any approach to education. That is sadly lacking here. I am not happy that it has not been included in this legislation.

We are talking about the earliest education of children up to adult and continuing education. Where is the adult and continuing education? Where is the vocational education referred to in the Preamble? They are missing, they are not in the Bill. Why are there two short provisions in relation to vocational education that really need not be there? This is not an accurate description of the contents of the Bill. We have been told it is a consolidation Bill. If it is a consolidation Bill it should be comprehensive. It is not.

The Minister knows that the area of adult literacy and continuing education is not included because he will deal with it separately. He will provide a Green Paper on the matter. The area is missing from this Bill and I would like to know the Minister's plans to incorporate it in the consolidation legislation. I want to see it dealt with at an earlier rather than a later stage. We are talking about part of the education system, the primary and post-primary sectors and what is in the Bill is not adequate. It is 19th century designation, not the 20th century holistic approach. The Minister should be thinking in terms of his Green Paper followed by a White Paper and then a Bill. Continuing education, adult education and literacy should be put on a proper footing and incorporated into legislation of this nature. This is not the case at present.

The Minister said that the rights of people with disability were enshrined in the legislation. Section 7 states that the Minister will provide funding for students who have a disability or who have other special educational needs as the Minister considers appropriate and in accordance with this Act. In other words, it is left to the Minister; there is no structure or section in the Bill to cover special needs education.

If a section is included to cover curriculum and assessment, surely a section to cover special needs in education should be included in a consolidation education Bill. It is not good enough for the Minister to make anad hoc statement on the provision of £4 million in relation to autistic needs in education. We cannot have a system of education that operates on a shoestring. It is not a holistic or integrated approach to the problem if the Minister decides to throw a certain amount of money at a particular aspect of education.

While the Minister is focusing on the needs of primary and post-primary education, he is not providing a structure to deal with problems in education and he is leaving it to the Minister on anad hoc basis to set up committees or corporate bodies or to take individual ministerial initiatives in areas he considers appropriate. That is a poor excuse for a properly structured system of education that can work within its own terms of reference. A deus ex machina approach with a few million pounds to be gratefully accepted every now and then is not the way to deal with this important issue.

I regard this Bill as a missed opportunity which lacks vision and scope in its application. It enshrines in the legislation what was established in the nineteenth century and has only gone beyond that in a couple of areas. There is no concept of a holistic system of education with sufficient mechanisms and structures to deliver education to all the children and young people in society. It omits pre-school and further education and offers no help in tackling educational disadvantage. All the sacred cows in Irish society and Irish education at present are nicely patted on the head and told they are doing a good job while 20 per cent of children are being failed by the education system in one form or another.

I believe the Minister has thrown out the baby with the bath water by rejecting regional boards and not replacing them with any other structure. A locally based integrated structure is the only way to deal with educational disadvantage. The Minister had a glorious opportunity to usher in the new millennium with a fresh educational philosophy and structure but he decided to remain in the nineteenth century.

I want to turn now to educational disadvantage. It is an insult that this area is consigned to a subsection under a miscellaneous heading.

What the Minister is proposing is less than helpful. He is proposing to set up a committee to look at educational disadvantage. We do not need a committee to look at this issue. The committee will comprise of people with relevant information and knowledge and it will sit over a three year period. We should provide a structure that will deliver where the present education system is not. We know what the education system is like. We know it is a tiered system with pre-school on one tier, second level, which is divided into two tiers, and third level on another. We must devise a model that will combine communication and relationship between those levels so that young people who are falling through the system at present can be monitored. The resources or mechanisms required should be put in place to prevent this from happening. We do not have a problem with the remaining 80 per cent of young people who are getting through the education system and doing very well. That is what has underpinned our successful society and economy at present.

There is an excellent system of education for the 80 per cent of young people who have well motivated parents, sufficient resources and for whom the stand alone school is delivering. However, what are we to do where the standalone school is not delivering? The Bill says nothing about this problem other than that the Minister will set up a committee to look at the question of educational disadvantage. The Minister must deal with this problem in a structured manner and on a statutory basis. Otherwise we will meander on as we are doing at present. I will continue to live in a constituency where there is multiple disadvantage and where the inability of the education system to address the needs of the children in the area will continue to hold these children back.

We talked about the fact that some primary schools have lost teachers due to the perception that numbers in schools have decreased and withdrawing a teacher was not breaking the cycle. Teachers have been withdrawn from disadvantaged areas in the north inner city where they were previously appointed by the former Minister, Niamh Bhreathnach, under the exciting Breaking the Cycle scheme. This was done because the numbers in schools had decreased to some degree but they are now increasing. The teacher was withdrawn from the beginning of September which means the flexibility clause was not utilised. That is an example of how the system operates in a non-holistic fashion.

In setting up a community college in the north inner city the VEC has been endeavouring to bring all the interested parties together in planning the college for the last 18 months. This involves business interests, parents, primary schools, the few pre-school facilities in the area and the voluntary after school study provision. The Department of Health and Children is underpinning the provision of after school homework facilities, not the Department of Education and Science. It is about time the Department of Education and Science went into after school clubs in disadvantaged areas so that young people who cannot do their homework in their flats or housing estates could be helped. The Department of Health and Children took the initiative in this regard.

Having got all the interested parties together, including the business community, the third level sector and so on, one is still trying to link up with the primary and pre-school sector to pull it all together so that a new college can be put in place. No model exists for this. Efforts are being made to establish a model where the pre-school, primary school, second and third level sectors, business community and the community itself are brought together and kept informed of developments. This should motivate parents that if a pathway in education is pursued their children can break out of the cycle of disadvantage.

There is no structure or model in the Bill to deal with the 20 per cent of young people from disadvantaged urban and rural areas who cannot successfully access the education system at present. The Bill falls far short of what is required to provide the statutory basis for a good education system for all the children of the nation into the next millennium.

I welcome this Bill which will consolidate the position of all those involved in the education system — parents, teachers and boards of management. It gives us a good idea of where we intend to go in the coming years.

Contrary to what Senator Costello said, I believe we can be extremely proud of our education system, especially since the introduction of the free education scheme in 1967. Various aspects of the education system have been changed to suit developing needs. Recent initiatives announced by the Minister consolidate this position. Our education system is superior to that of some of our European counterparts, which is one of the reasons multinationals choose to locate in Ireland.

This Bill deals with the whole concept of partnership between principals, teachers, parents and boards of management. What I welcome most is the participation of parents in the education of their children. I am disappointed Senator Costello has left the Chamber. I wish to point out to him that parents must have some responsibility for the early education of their children. Children go to school at five years of age and it is not too much to expect parents to take some part in their education; after all, they are the primary educators.

Some parents undoubtedly feel left out, especially when the school takes over when their children are five years old. However, a number of parents view school as a babysitting as well as an educational service. Some parents hand over responsibility for their children and expect an 18 year old genius to emerge. Children in my area who do well in their examinations are regarded as geniuses by their parents, but if a child does poorly the teachers are blamed. It is important for parents to be involved, to take some responsibility and have an input into the education of their children.

Senators have referred to children with special needs. I acknowledge the work done by the Minister to date in this regard, especially the initiatives he announced last week which will provide £4 million for children with special needs in mainstream primary education. Senator Costello said the £4 million would be useless; however, that is something of a contradiction because he was in favour of the introduction of the education boards, which would have cost £40 million. At least this Minister has identified the aspects of the education system which need addressing, including children with special needs who have been ignored for many years. The Minister has made a start in that regard. If Senator Costello had read the announcement last week he would have realised it is only the beginning. The Minister has taken the bull by the horns and started on that road. I hope we will improve on that in the coming years.

I wish to refer to the social services for children with special needs which are mentioned in the Bill, including psychological assessment. While it is important to look after children with special needs, a large number of children do not fall into that category but do require psychological assessment. That is one aspect of the education system on which we are falling down and it must be addressed. The Bill is going in the right direction but we must push forward, particularly in the area of psychological assessment.

I do not know whether more children have problems nowadays or whether it is that we are better at identifying them, but there seems to be a greater need for resource and remedial teachers now. I often wonder how I got through the education system because, unfortunately, I am not an Einstein. However, it appears nowadays that if one is not an Einstein one must need remedial teaching.

The Senator is very frank — perhaps she is a "frank Einstein".

That has been said to me in the past; how did the Senator know?

A tiny line in the Bill refers to the responsibility of the schools which, it states, is to ensure the moral, spiritual, social and personal development of our students. We sometimes forget about the aspect of personal development, perhaps because of society's need for good students. We have got caught up in the academic aspect of education and we sometimes forget the other aspects. Academic education is only a very small part of an individual's development.

I am delighted that line is in the Bill but this issue must be addressed further because, while not every child is an Einstein, there is a place for every child in the education system and in life. We cannot all have great jobs. I spoke to a leaving certificate student last week about what he hopes to do when he leaves school. He said he wanted to be a personnel manager. When I asked him if there were any particular personnel he wanted to manage he said, no, that he just wanted to be a personnel manager.

Will there be any place for ordinary people, in which category I include myself? We cannot all be Einsteins. I would like to think that our future education system will cater for ordinary children and not just the 3 or 4 per cent who are high academic achievers.

I fully support this Bill. This is an era of partnership and parents must become more involved, especially given that children in our society are often passed into the care of others very early in their lives. I welcome this Bill because it means parents will be much more involved.

I do not think Senator Leonard is quite as ordinary as she suggests because it takes certain talents to get into this House. I also welcome this Bill, although it is, perhaps, not as visionary as some would have wished. I was impressed by what Senator Costello had to say on that subject. However, there is no question that the Bill is a progressive move in the right direction and, as such, must be welcomed. I seek clarification of some areas and to amplify some of the remarks made by the Minister.

I note with great interest that the Minister suggested the present structure derives from an exchange of correspondence in 1831 between the Chief Secretary, Lord Stanley, and the Duke of Leinster who, at that stage, was living in this House. In a way it has come full circle as we are now discussing this in Leinster House. This prompts a digression on my part which has some educational element.

I would like the Minister to investigate the possibility of organising some small commemoration of Lord Edward Fitzgerald who knew this House well, whose seaside home at Frascati was demolished and over whose country residence, Carton House, hangs a considerable question mark. Perhaps the Minister could organise some commemoration for this great patriot of 1798; that would be particularly welcome this year. One of his descendants contacted me to inquire whether that would be possible. I welcome the establishment of a comprehensive statutory framework for education and am astonished that none has existed since 1831.

I did not notice anything in the Minister's speech about adult literacy although reference was perhaps made to it. This is a very important issue. Some of us will have seen the filmPrimary Colours in which the Clinton character empathises with a black man from a disadvantaged area. The man, who is part of an educational programme, speaks movingly of the manner in which he has been released into full adult life for the first time through learning to read. There are adults in our society who, for one reason or another, do not have basic literacy skills. I recall the first occasion on which I visited Israel. It is astonishing how mutilated one can be through not being able to read bus signs, advertisements, hoardings, the price of vegetables and so on. Ordinary Irish citizens are disadvantaged in this way. I know a certain amount is being done in this regard. I salute people who, having come from a disadvantaged educational background in their childhood, have taken the responsibility to seek further education as mature students. I met with two people from the Crumlin/Drimnagh area this morning who are part of a FÁS scheme. The woman informed me that she completed her leaving certificate last year and got a couple of Bs. There should be some provision in the Bill to assist, as far as possible, those citizens who, at a mature age, take on the responsibility to educate themselves and sit State examinations.

Is there any further movement with regard to the establishment of the Rudolf Steiner School? Some difficulties were being experienced in that regard. The Minister speaks quite lyrically about the multiplicity of choice and variety which is essential to education and the necessity for people to be allowed to establish their own characteristic defining qualities. I would like to think that the school would be given whatever encouragement and assistance it required. I wrote to the Minister at one stage because representatives of the school had contacted me and were threatening legal action. I felt it would be preferable if this matter could be resolved without recourse to the courts. I gather the case did eventually go to court but I hope the matter can be resolved, even at this stage.

I welcome the variety provided for in this Bill and the possibility of people establishing multidenominational or non-denominational schools. I was involved in a very small way in supporting these kind of schools. There is an excellent one in Bray and another on the northside, the principal of which was Sally Shields who currently holds a senior position in the INTO.

Senator Costello spoke very effectively about the issue of disadvantage. Like him, I live in the Dublin 1 area, the north inner city, and am aware of the disadvantage which exists. The Breaking the Cycle programme was introduced by one of the Minister's predecessors, Deputy O'Rourke. The idea behind the scheme was an excellent one which was intended to assist the most vulnerable people in society. The programme is only two years in operation and has a further three years to run. It is a pity that in an area such as mine, a school like the Central Model School has had one of its special extra teachers withdrawn due to a fall in numbers. That is a faulty philosophy because disadvantage does not disappear with a small reduction below an arbitrary limit in the number of pupils attending a school. Withdrawing a teacher because numbers fall seems to go completely against the spirit of the Breaking the Cycle scheme. If real disadvantage exists in an area, it continues for the remaining students. I would like the Minister to address that issue.

Special pressures pertain to the north inner city. We have a concentration of refugees and asylum seekers in the area; the House will be aware that I am not opposed to that and that I feel we should be as generous as possible in this area — indeed, we have a moral obligation in that regard. However, we must recognise the additional pressures this places on schools which are already disadvantaged. If there is an influx into a school of even a small number of pupils whose first language is not English and who do not share the same cultural background, all kinds of difficulties may arise in terms of teaching and the supervision of behaviour. Those schools require special assistance and investment in this area would be worthwhile.

The proof of that was tragically revealed in the case of the Costina family who were arrested and threatened with deportation some weeks ago. Fortunately, they were not deported but we had an opportunity to see that the children were doing very well in our education system and have, in a way, become Irish. I heard the young boy who is sitting his leaving certificate speaking on the radio; he had a glorious Dublin accent and a fluent command of English.

I heard the Minister on the radio this morning and was very impressed by what he had to say. He had an able opponent in Deputy Richard Bruton but was a match for him. The Minister referred to computers and said that when he took office, only the trolleys on which computers stand were funded by the State. Provision is now being made for the acquisition of computers. I am glad to hear that; it is high time they were.

Some weeks ago I visited the well heeled suburb of Howth to do a Joyce show to raise money to buy computers for pupils in a disadvantaged working class area not far from Howth. As recently as two or three weeks ago parents had to raise money to purchase computers for schools. In an age where it is vital people are computer literate, such disadvantage should not be allowed to continue. Middle class parents can afford to provide computers for their children's schools but disadvantaged schools require investment in this area. The Celtic tiger depends on the continuous flow of well educated, literate, sophisticated graduates who possess the kind of skills industry requires; investment in the area will pay off.

I welcome the notion of partnership with parents and management. The Minister uses the term ‘characteristic spirit' to capture concepts which may encompass the cultural, educational, moral, religious, social, linguistic and spiritual values and traditions which inform, and are characteristic of, the objectives and conduct of schools. That may be partly a result of the huge battles we had in this House to tease out the meaning of the word ‘ethos', particularly when we considered the issue of employment equality and non-discrimination of which the Eileen Flynn case in Wexford was a case in point. I was also concerned about people being discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. I was reassured by various Ministers that would not happen and I would like the current Minister to bear that in mind.

I would like the dismissals of teachers monitored over a period of a few years and reported to the House so that I would know the reassurances given by the Minister about possible dismissals because of a clash between the personal ethos and identity of a teacher and the characteristic spirit of a school, posed no danger.

I welcome the funding of an Islamic school in Clonskeagh. I was delighted to see the pupils playing hurling which I thought was wonderful. We need such richness. I look to the day when there will be Christian schools in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan where people are being executed because they dare to convert to Christianity. I do not intend an attack on the good and civic spirited Muslim community in Ireland. We are ahead of the posse, so to speak, in Ireland and I welcome that. I wish other countries would follow our example.

With regard to children with disabilities I welcome the Minister's reference in his speech and I hope his words will have force. We all know that the provisions in the Bill came into being because of the courageous action of parents who sued the State in the courts. They had to do so to establish their children's rights. The State was worried about expense but we must bear that expense. We must give accessibility to disabled children because it is so much better for them to be educated in ordinary schools than corralled into other schools.

Something should also be done for super achievers or gifted children who are often disadvantaged. They can appear to be slow because they may be too intelligent for their class and are bored senseless.

I am worried about the lack of a substantial monitoring system to deal with attendance. I did not see a reference to such a system in the Bill or in the Minister's speech. It is essential, particularly in areas of deprivation, that we know at an early stage of those students who fall through the net because once that has happened they tend to face great difficulty.

I welcome the Minister's indication that he does not intend to pursue minor offences of examination cheating. I know that the matter caused great consternation to young people who are under pressure in exams. I was afraid that young people might have thought that by glancing around in an exam they might be arrested for cogging from their neighbour. It seems an unreal fear to us but it is very real to those in school.

I hope that sexual orientation will be included in relationships and sexuality education — it must be. I have just returned from America where I picked up a book entitledOut in the Fraternities, which is about educated college people joining the fraternity system. I was horrified to read of the number of people in third level colleges in America in the 1990s who, because of pressure, lack of knowledge about their own sexuality and discrimination, committed suicide.

With regard to the removal of the regional education boards, I do not share Senator Costello's grief. I am glad they are gone. The Minister said ".they would have been the vehicle for the massive extension of State control of schools and would have greatly increased levels of bureaucracy." Now he knows why we did not want them to nominate somebody to the board of Trinity College.

Mr. Ryan

Oh God.

"Oh God" says my provincial colleague Senator Ryan — I use the word "provincial" advisedly.

Mr. Ryan

The poor folk in Dublin University.

We are practical politicians unlike some idealists who float in the clouds. We knew full well that the boards would be removed and that is why we did not try to amend the Bill when it was being debated. That would only have given the provinces the opportunity to make hay out of the matter and we cheated them of the opportunity by letting it pass. We knew full well it would never come into play.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. This is an important Bill. I wonder about education when I see two educated people having a go at one another.

It is all good clean fun.

As someone who only had the pleasure of going to colleges to sell products and make some money, who left national school and spent two years in the local technical school, I am proud of my education. It was an education for life.

On 29 March 1967 at the INTO conference in Bundoran, the then Minister for Education, Donogh O'Malley, was applauded numerous times during his speech and received a standing ovation at the end because he introduced free education and free transport to national schools. According to the INTO speakers and teachers who spoke at that conference there would never be illiteracy in Ireland again. They argued that since there would be a proper bus service to take children to school and guaranteed secondary education our problems would be solved. I wonder what Donogh O'Malley would say given that billions of pounds have been spent yet there is more illiteracy in Ireland now than in 1967.

If there is illiteracy the teachers cannot wash their hands of responsibility. Something is wrong if the children have gone through the system. However, I wonder if illiteracy is more of a myth than a fact. I have spent 30 years in public life and I have been dealing with people since I was 16 years old, yet I have never met somebody who made an X when asked to sign their name.

Is illiteracy a myth? If the previous speaker and I were compared I could be considered relatively illiterate. Where can we draw the line between being illiterate and being educated? It may be that some people who are not really illiterate are being made out to be illiterate. There is an inclination to believe that illiteracy only exists in the ghettos and poor areas. When I said in the past that there was as serious a drug problem in the Dublin 4 area as in any other area, I was laughed at, but I have been proved right. The same applies to education — there is illiteracy in all areas.

One would think that if everybody had an education there would be no problems. However, there are as many university graduates and other well educated people dossing about as there are those who might be called illiterate. Consider some of those who are considered illiterate, men in their early 20s who had little schooling yet who make large sums of money because they knew how to do business in the fields of crime or drugs. They are intelligent but may be referred to by some as illiterate. Any person who becomes a multi-millionaire at 18 or 20 years of age is no daw. He has more brains than many of the smart people. When we talk about education we must come to grips with such issues.

What is education? It was an awful mistake to do away with the "three Rs" and it is time we brought them back. We also did away with attendance inspectors, something Senator Norris referred to. When I was going to school the local garda visited each school and would go to the houses of children who missed a certain number of days in a term. If there was not a damned good excuse they were brought before the courts. Why did this stop? Why do we allow people drop through the net? Why are there no school attendance inspectors? The reason is that while Donogh O'Malley did good work in 1967, the day we abolished small schools we destroyed something that had been dear to the hearts of Irish people and which gave good service. It was easy to control small groups and teachers knew who attended their school. I wonder if a roll is called nowadays. If it is, what purpose does it serve if it does not record who is in attendance? What is the point in having it? The first thing the Minister must do to come to grips with the issue is to ensure everybody gets a good national school education. Children will only get this if there are attendance officers to ensure they attend school.

I am glad a real effort is being made to integrate and give a good education to the disabled. This is very important as many people who are physically disabled have quite a good brain. With computerisation and modern facilities such people could give useful service to society and inclusion is a great stimulus for them. I am delighted the Bill addresses this issue.

When the technical schools were done away with practical subjects to a large extent were done away with. Yesterday morning I listened to two young people being interviewed on a radio talk show. They have started their own business in Dublin making stone bricks. The man who is the brains behind the project left school at 13 years of age and went to serve his time as a plasterer, something at which he became very proficient. His wife worked as a clerk in an office. Today they are both running a very good business in the city. The man is in business because he got a good educational grounding in the national school and on the building site where he became proficient at the job in which he took an interest.

We are not doing enough to promote trades. Much work is being done by FÁS and various bodies, but I regard such schemes as hot house training. There should be more on-site practical work in the workplace if we want to give people a good training. Here they can be part of what I call the university of reality. They will meet problems which can be solved not on the blackboard but only by using their head and their initiative. I would like to see a greater emphasis on training in the workplace rather than in the hot house environment.

I would like a survey of the unemployed to be carried out to see how many are out of work because they are uneducated or because they cannot read or write. The results of such a survey would be very interesting. I would like to see a breakdown of the results showing how many of those who are unemployed went to national school, secondary school and university. In my opinion new age travellers and eco-warriors are not doing very useful work, but they are not uneducated, many having attended university. While we say education is the be all and end all and that it will solve all our problems, I assure the House that is not the case. Education is very necessary but it is not the full answer. I would like such a survey to be undertaken as the idea being propagated is that the unemployed would have a job if they had a particularly good education.

I have already given two examples of what people who are brainy but not formally educated can do, including those in the criminal world who become millionaires. Such criminals are brainy and we should be trying to channel their brains into a productive end for the community. We saw an example of a poacher turned gamekeeper during the week. I refer to the man who set up a boxing club in the city and who is training young people he is bringing in off the street. He is pointing out to them how to go down the right rather than the wrong road. It is very important to get such people into the education system. We would be doing a very good job if we could get those who have gone down the wrong road to share their experience with youths who may be going in the same direction. Some of those people would make great teachers. Twelve months ago I went to a show in Mountjoy put on by the inmates who were brilliant performers. Unfortunately, they were serving custodial sentences in Mountjoy, but on leaving that night I said that if such people could be sent to a school or some other place where they could develop their interest in acting and be provided with an education we could take many people out of the ghettos and jails and place them in useful employment where they would be of great help to the community.

I thank the Minister for bringing forward the Bill. The provisions which provide opportunities for disabled people please me most.

Another issue is that of remedial teachers. Why do we need so many? What is wrong that the youth of Ireland have become so stupid they need special teachers? When I was at school in the 1930s one teacher had responsibility for 40 children and there was no illiteracy. We were all run of the mill children. Before we left third class each of us had to write a letter and address an envelope, the reason being that those who left the country would be able to write a letter home. Much talk of remedial teachers might simply be hype. We could end up with the class behind the door syndrome, something I would not like to return to. I would like to see a greater emphasis on reducing class sizes rather than special classes for educationally dull students.

I welcome this Bill which arrives after a long journey. It has been much modified, which is proper for legislation that is so fundamental. Having reared five children I assumed I knew something about education, but my eyes were opened five years ago when the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment asked me to become chairman of the Leaving Certificate Applied Committee. I stepped down last Wednesday, but the experience opened my eyes. I had not realised the extent to which we can be proud of Irish education as well as the distance we have to go before we can say we are achieving close to what we need to achieve. The Minister has set an objective of having 90 per cent of students finish their education and is taking steps towards achieving that. I learnt a great deal when dealing with the leaving certificate applied about the problems facing us, but I also learnt of the talent, determination and enthusiasm of the teachers and schools to meet those challenges. The systems that will be required in the next few years will entail much change and new tasks for all of us as citizens.

I wish to concentrate on one topic in the hope that it will stand out from the myriad of other issues involved. Education is, by its nature, a highly complex activity, and this legislation reflects that. There is a danger in dealing with these matters that we may lose sight of the one or two issues that stand head and shoulders over the others. I believe that the crux issue for Irish education for the next 20 years will be disadvantage, which has been spoken of eloquently by Senators Costello, Norris and other speakers. Future generations will judge us on the legacy that we leave them in the area of disadvantage. Small wonder if they do, as our response to this challenge will determine what kind of Ireland will exist for those future generations. I want to focus on disadvantage, to bring it in from the periphery to the very centre of the education system.

Up to now we have tended to regard disadvantage as a fringe issue. Maybe it was at one point, but now it is a staggering challenge of immense proportions that will take a major national effort to tackle properly. If there was a small minority, say 1 or 2 per cent, disadvantaged in or by the education system, we would be concerned about it, and rightly so. We pride ourselves on our concern for minorities, and we rightly believe that we should pay attention to the special needs of minorities as small as 1 or 2 per cent of the population or smaller. However, suppose as many as 5 per cent of the population were disadvantaged by and in a system, one is starting to talk of a very substantial number of people indeed. It is still a minority, of course, but a sizeable one. One would start to sit up, take notice and say we must do something about this.

However, the situation today is not that we have a disadvantage problem extending to 5 per cent of the school population. The truth is that it is much worse than that. If it were 5 per cent that would be bad, and 10 per cent would be alarming. Yet even 10 per cent greatly understates the problem of disadvantage in our educational system. The reality is that the number of disadvantaged students in the education system is at least 15 per cent of the total and probably more. We are talking of a total that is between one in six and one in five of the entire schoolgoing population.

The reality for a large slice of our population is that they enter the education system at a disadvantage. They start at a disadvantage because, for instance, most of them lack exposure to pre-schooling, which is virtually universal for better off children. They start at a disadvantage because, in contrast to middle class homes, they may come from a background where there are no books in the house and no exposure to role models of success in today's Ireland.

My company has playhouses in each of our supermarkets, and this matter did not dawn on me until well after we had started our playhouses. Many parents were saying that taking their children to school at four or five years of age was easier because they had been left in a playhouse for an hour or two every week. It dawned on me that this was not said by better off parents but those in a lower income bracket who had no opportunity for pre-schooling. These children may be growing up in homes which have no books or tradition of learning or higher education. In spite of what Senator Farrell said earlier, there is clearly no tradition of education even in previous generations in many homes.

It may be even worse than that. These children may come from a home where nobody has ever worked. In some cases, there are families that are into their third generation of unemployment, where grandparents and parents have not worked. Picture what happens in a home of that sort. These factors add up to create a cultural gap in the starting classes between the well off low babies and the disadvantaged low babies. Therefore, one in six of our children, perhaps even one in five, start off disadvantaged in the education system.

If that were the whole problem, it would provide us with a major challenge in itself, but it is not by a long shot. An even more upsetting fact is that children who enter the system disadvantaged become more and more disadvantaged the longer they stay in the system. When they leave it — and part of the problem is that they are likely to leave the system prematurely — they are highly likely to be more disadvantaged than when they went into it at four or five years. One reason for this is that the cultural gap continues and widens throughout school going years.

Senator O'Toole would be the first to admit that not all education takes place within the four walls of the school. At least as important to the overall outcome is what happens in the child's home. The family and backgrounds of well off children are always supporting their educational efforts. In addition, as I pointed out earlier, our education system is geared very much to getting things right first time. If for any reason one falls behind, you have a problem from then on in that subject. This happened to me with calculus. I missed the point with calculus in fifth or sixth year and did not have the nerve to ask the teacher to go back and explain it to me again. I was too shy even in a class of 24 or 25, and I never caught up with calculus again. I am declaring in all honesty that I do not understand calculus. If that happens to youngsters and they do not have the nerve to put their hands up they never catch up again. It seems that we punish those who do not get it right the first time. If for any reason one falls behind, one has a problem with that subject, or if one has a general problem, the difficulty may be with reading or writing.

Again, the well off child can often get extra tuition. It is clear that parents can send their child for a grind and give their child another chance. The less well off child is dependent on what the school can offer whereas the well off child is not because he can get outside help. Remedial teaching is more the exception than the rule for the less well off. Many people are familiar with the problems involved and are beginning to make the connection between disadvantage and failure at school and the further connection between failure in school and adult life afterwards.

Drugs, delinquency and crime are directly connected with educational disadvantage. Apart from the morality of the issue, society should be apprehensive of allowing a sizeable underclass of disadvantaged people to grow. These disadvantaged and disaffected people are a threat to everybody else in society and to society itself. I refer, in particular, to the morality of a nation that allows this to happen. A way must be found to do something about it because these people will have nothing to lose as adults and their lives will be shaped accordingly. However, disadvantage is a moral issue above all and that aspect of it cannot be disregarded. The onus is on us as legislators to grab hold of this problem and do something about it.

Ireland claims to be a democracy, a republic and a State that values egalitarianism in its core and yet it has an entrenched system that makes it impossible for all children to get a fair crack of the whip. It seems that by perpetuating educational disadvantage people are denied the opportunity to realise their full potential as individuals and play their part in society. Education has been hotly debated since the publication of the Green Paper in 1989, but most issues which have been discussed pale into insignificance compared to the challenge of facing up to disadvantage. I still do not see a national consensus emerging about the seriousness of the problem or, even worse, a national determination to do something about it.

However, there is a growing awareness of the problem and the Minister is to be commended for what he included in the Bill on disadvantage, much of it in response to representations made to him along the way. He is determined to do something and I applaud the openness and flexibility which he has demonstrated on this issue. He said that it is close to his own heart and wants to do something about it. Despite that, there is still a need to get out on the rooftops and remind everybody that this is the big educational challenge faced by the nation. If we do not get this right, the other issues to be discussed will not matter. If we fail on disadvantage, our educational system and society will be swamped by its effects.

There are two stages to what must be done. The nation must realise the extent of the problem and just how massive is the task of doing something effective about it. There are many worthy initiatives on disadvantage in operation, but they are only pilot schemes and, therefore, only a drop in the bucket. The totality of the problem is not being tackled and never has been. It will be tackled because the scale of the problem is one reason it must be brought in from the fringe I referred to earlier. On the fringe it will never get any more resources than just crumbs falling off the table.

Ending educational disadvantage will entail a massive deployment of resources. This is the crux of the matter because everybody is in favour of spending money on education provided it is spent on their children's education. Effectively, we need to spend massive resources on other people's children. The question arises as to whether we are yet mature enough to face up to that but we do not have the time to agonise about it because at the beginning of each school year thousands of disadvantaged children get onto this very treadmill. It is terrifying that of the children that started in September 1998 it can be forecasted as a matter of statistical certainty that a large number will fail in school and end up in the dustheap of society. The current ratio is one in every five or six. It is inevitable given the framework that is in place.

I welcome the Bill, particularly the provisions on disadvantage which were added on its way to this House, but not even the Minister could argue that what is provided in it is adequate to respond to the size and importance of the problem. Disadvantage must be moved higher up the education agenda, not just from where it is but to the very top.

Mr. Ryan

The fundamental achievement of our education system is the quality of teachers. We have good quality teachers because there is an abstract but, nevertheless, real national commitment to education and they are relatively well paid. They are among the best paid in Europe proportionate to GDP. If teachers are paid well, that is a statement of appreciation of their work. The irony, of course, is that they are represented by strong teacher unions.

The Minister at the beginning of his contribution quoted an economist who identified the education system as one of the reasons the economy has done so well. Ironically, the same individual was particularly adept in the 1980s at demanding cutbacks in educational expenditure, particularly in third level education, on the grounds that the country could not afford it. It is ironic that the economist in question, Mr. Paul Tansey, is now enthusiastic about our education system, having done his best to persuade us to invest less in it over the past 15 years.

Although our education system has expanded, we are still a long way from real equality in all sectors. I draw the Minister's attention to the report of the Irish Council on Science, Technology and Innovation. The council has 24 members of whom ten are working in the university sector. Only two are from the technological sector; one person is from the Dublin Institute of Technology which will shortly become a university and the other person is on leave from the technological sector. Nobody on the Irish Council on Science, Technology and Innovation is working in what is supposed to be an equal partner in third level education. This is an interesting commentary.

A certain Member of the House appears to feel obliged whenever education is discussed to mention a university in a particular city. However, the Member never appears to remember that there is an institute of technology in the same city which is doing an extremely good job. The city in question is not Cork, but I will not be too personal about it.

The Bill contains an enormous number of welcome measures. I am tempted to take the route of the debate about regionalisation. However, I will only say that I do not agree with the Minister and that the costs are exaggerated because they should involve a considerable transfer of resources from his Department to regional education authorities. It is not necessarily all additional money which would have to be spent. However, I agree that in the climate of centralisation, particularly the Department of Finance which will not allow a penny to be spent without its approval, regional education authorities would be no more than extra bureaucracy and not necessarily good. Until there is proper devolution of authority and power to the regions, perhaps it is best to put regional education authorities on the long finger.

There has been, correctly, much talk about disadvantage. One could not disagree with the contents of the Bill, but we should consider the reality of disadvantage in Ireland. We have created inequality in Ireland in the past ten years. Unenviably, we have moved to the top of the table as the country with the most uneven income distribution in the OECD. If one takes the ratio of the top 10 per cent to the bottom 10 per cent, Ireland is now the worst in Europe. No amount of investment in programmes to deal with educational disadvantage will remedy that until we ensure that people at the bottom of the income heap have a decent income on which they can live with some dignity.

Before the Department of Finance gets at the Minister, perhaps he could tell it that there is an increasing body of literature produced by some reputable economists which suggests that inequality is bad for economic growth and the greater the degree of income equality in a country, the better its economic performance. A commitment to redistribution, far from being a disincentive to economic growth, is an incentive. There can be short-term surges in economic growth but there will not be long-term economic growth without a considerable degree of reduction of inequality of income.

I have received vigorous representations from people who are parents of severely and profoundly mentally handicapped children who believe that section 6 as it stands, notwithstanding its statement, is an attempt to rewrite the decision of the High Court which was endorsed by the Supreme Court. The Minister is aware of this matter. The people involved, including the mother of the child who took the case, are convinced that the Minister and the Department of Education and Science are tragically trying to at least restrict, if not roll back, the decision.

They are wrong.

Mr. Ryan

It is a great pity that parents who have suffered that much should feel that an attempt is being made to outmanoeuvre them. I greatly regret that.

A number of aspects of the Bill intrigue me. In the time available, unfortunately, one must mention the aspects one does not like rather than the measures of which one approves. Section 10 which deals with recognition of schools intrigues me. Section 10(3)(b) states that a school can be recognised if, at the commencement of this action, it is in receipt of funds provided by the Oireachtas in respect of the remuneration of teachers in the school. I assume this includes private fee paying schools because the Department pays the salaries of secondary school teachers in such schools.

I am intrigued as to how the Minister intends to operate section 21(2) which requires schools which are recognised by his Department to show a school plan for equality of access if all the pupils in the school must pay fees. I hope an interesting confrontation will develop between elitist second level education and the egalitarian instincts of the Minister. I shall do my best to encourage such a confrontation because I am on record as stating that not a penny of State money should go to schools which charge fees. I have held this view for many years. If schools want to provide private education, they should do what is done in primary schools and pay the real cost. They should not be able to top it up. It is disgraceful that people imagine they are paying for their children's education when they are actually paying a subsidy for it.

There is a reference in section 28 to dealing with grievances. I have experience of somebody who attempted to pursue a complaint against a teacher in a girls' primary school whose behaviour was disgraceful. It did not involve physical violence but noise, shouting, threats and unpleasantness at an intense and continuing level. The people involved were professionals who were comfortable and resourceful. Their child was fine but they considered that they would be more capable of making a complaint in the interests of the other children. However, they discovered that the first level of the complaints procedure was a one to one meeting between a parent and the teacher. At this meeting, the teacher managed to suggest that there was a problem at home which was upsetting the child.

This was upsetting enough for parents who were confident, resourceful and well educated, but I cannot imagine the consequences for unconfident, uneducated and poorly resourced parents. There is a need to be fair to everybody in a grievance procedure. This means that not only the rights of teachers must be protected. It should not be necessary for a poor and badly educated mother or father who is lacking in confidence to go in unsupported to deal with a teacher on a one to one basis where there is fear of intimidation and victimisation. There must be a better and fairer way and the current arrangement which is agreed between the INTO and the CPSMA is not fair to parents who lack confidence and capacity. I ask the Minister to investigate this area further because it is a serious grievance.

I welcome the prohibition on the publication of examination results and league tables. I agree with the Minister but if second level private, public or grind schools use claims about results to entice pupils, they should be required to publish all their results and not only a selective sample to impress the public. This happens particularly with regard to some of the grind schools. They quote selectively from their results and give a clear impression of performance that is perhaps not consistent with the facts. They should either publish nothing or they should be required to publish the full details of their performance. Otherwise, other schools which do well but for a variety of reasons choose not to publish their results are at a disadvantage.

I am not entirely sure it is right not to ensure that the parents of children in a particular school are aware as a right of the overall examination results of the school. Perhaps this should not be on a year in, year out basis, but there should be some way for parents to know the results in public examinations at the school their children attend. Perhaps they should not know these details before the children go there, but they should be aware of them after the children start to attend the school. However, the other issue is of greater concern to me.

I have been a member of a board of management and while it was an enjoyable and interesting experience, I was always perturbed by the capacity of the patron to dismiss a member of the board where the patron believed that person had been in breach of the duty of confidentiality. According to the guidelines I obtained from the Catholic Primary School Managers Association, confidentiality was something that could be enjoined upon me on any issue that was considered to be confidential.

I am in favour of confidentiality for sensitive matters about pupils, parents and recruitment. However, what about instances where a board of management manages its funds not corruptly but incompetently? What happens if one is told this is confidential and cannot be disclosed? The Bill does not make it clear that this kind of information must be made public by a board of management, yet it should be. A statement of school accounts, income and expenditure should be a part of any reporting system.

Mar fhocail scoir, caithfidh mé alt 31 sa Bhille a lua. There appears to be two schools of thought on this issue. I do not believe that establishing a separate body to look after the needs of education through Irish marginalises the Irish language. It may well be appropriate to establish another body to look at the teaching of Irish, indeed that is probably 50 years overdue. However, that is not the same function as looking after the resources.

I state an interest here. I have a son in an allIrish secondary school and I am perhaps more aware of the problem now than I was three months ago. However, I do not believe the two things are the same, nor should they overlap. The establishment of a separate body to look at the needs of gaelscoileanna will not marginalise the Irish language. It is a separate matter. Teaching through a language is different from teaching a language. It is fundamentally different in terms of what one wants from children.

I am not keen on having alt 31 fundamentally altered to deal with the teaching of Irish, although I would be happy if a separate section was introduced in this regard. The gaelscoileanna movement regards the singular value of alt 31 as almost a charter for some kind of progress in the context of the many long-standing problems it has had with téacsleabhair. Watching my poor son perform, I am intimately aware of the absence of good textbooks, as many others have been in the past.

I apologise to Members for being somewhat late in returning to the House. Unfortunately I had to attend a function which had been arranged in advance of this debate — one is not in charge of such functions. I was the last to speak and had to make the awards to the school children at the end. It went on longer than expected and there were traffic delays in returning. I thank my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, for representing me during the debate and I thank Senators for their contributions. We can proceed to Committee Stage and work on various amendments and ideas that Senators are proposing.

As I mentioned in my introductory statement, the essential purpose of the Bill is to provide a statutory underpinning for the education system at first and second levels and at the same time set out clearly the rights, roles and responsibilities of all of those involved in the education system. There has been general agreement first, that such a statutory underpinning is necessary at this stage, and, second, that the Bill provides for this underpinning. We are all agreed that the education system is one of which we can be proud, but there is now a need to formalise the system in legislation and at the same time provide for a number of areas, most especially the areas of special needs and disadvantage.

I have noted Senators' views on the need to maintain autonomy in the system and I assure the House that I do not propose to do anything in this legislation which would interfere with or lessen this autonomy, rather my intention is to enhance the level of autonomy within the system. I have also heard what Senators have said about the need to respect in the Bill the rights of all of those who have contributed to the education system over the years and whose contributions have been key to the success of the system. Let me reassure them it is not my intention to interfere with any existing rights in the system, rather it is my intention to give statutory expression to these rights and, where necessary, to strengthen them.

Members will no doubt be aware that this is one of the most sensitive issues in legislation of this kind. I have sought to balance the rights of all the partners in education. I am confident that the Bill as currently drafted does this and I hesitate to make any changes which might have the effect of disturbing the balance.

I am aware there are conflicting views about the mandatory establishment of boards of management. At this stage I can only reiterate my personal view that the establishment of boards of management must be on the basis of consensus and not coercion. Experience to date at primary sector indicates that my confidence is not misplaced and that we will be successful in terms of establishing boards of management at second level. We are already working, for example, on comprehensive schools in advance of the legislation going through the House. There is a historic anomaly here in that comprehensive schools do not have representative boards of management. While second level presents more complexities in terms of different school types than primary level, I am confident we can establish boards of management in all the diversity of second level.

It is clear the House agrees that accountability must be a central part of the Bill. There also appears to be general agreement that accountability procedures provided for should not be overly onerous on any party, schools, board of management, teachers or parents. I believe I have struck the right balance in the Bill in this regard, which is important, especially in terms of financial accountability. While I do not have the detail of the Bill before me I understand schools will be obliged to produce school accounts and make them available to the parents' associations and to the general school community.

The Bill provides that any public funds a school receives and spends must be certified. My Department has a clear role in terms of inspecting the accounts if it wishes and in intervening if anybody believes that funds have been mismanaged or misappropriated. With regard to the funds the school itself generates, there is also an obligation for the school accounts to be certified and also for full accounts to be made known to the school community in general.

The Bill does not undermine the constitutional rights of any child to an education, especially a child with special needs. I have met with a group referred to by Senator Ryan. Their views are misplaced and inaccurate. I could not introduce legislation that would seek to undermine the constitutional right to an education. Such a Bill would not stand the test of constitutionality. In response to representations made by that group and by other special needs interests, we inserted an additional clause to the Bill confirming that the legislation and the Minister are obliged to provide for the constitutional rights of children. This reinforced the constitutional integrity of the Bill and the constitutional right of children to an education.

In addition, we passed amendments in the Dáil to place the obligation in terms of the provision of resources not on individual schools but on the Minister and the State. That is a significant shift. When it was published the Bill placed an obligation on individual schools to provide resources and facilities. This was also the case in the Education (No. 1) Bill. That changed as the Bill progressed through the Dáil and the obligation is now on the State.

With regard to the O'Donoghue judgment, I have secured Government agreement, which was not there before, that every child with a special need is automatically entitled to a staffing schedule. It is unfortunate this was not the position hitherto. As per the O'Donoghue judgment, children with severe and profound handicap are entitled to one teacher and two child care assistants for every six children. That was not implemented in its entirety throughout the country. Some special schools with children with severe and profound handicap did not have these facilities. That has now ended and I have provided the resources to ensure that from here on it is an automatic entitlement. It is not provided by grace or favour and those concerned do not have to await the crumbs of a demographic dividend to see if a child care assistant can be moved from one area to another, which is what happened in the past.

Likewise we have, for the first time, formally recognised the rights of children with autism to an education. Up to now they were not recognised as a category requiring an education pupil-teacher ratio and a staffing schedule of its own. There will be one teacher and one child care assistant for every six children with autism. Furthermore, if there is a group of children in mainstream education and in an integrated setting — 12 children in a cluster — we will provide a resource teacher as an automatic entitlement. For the first time, we are providing child care assistants in national schools for children with special needs as an automatic entitlement. It will not be a question of having to hunt for resources or whatever. We estimate the cost of that at £4 million in 1999. That puts flesh to the concepts in the Bill. As we all know, legislation on its own is not the guarantor we would like it to be for the immediate provision of resources. I do not want parents to feel they must resort to the courts to vindicate their child's right to proper education services which has, unfortunately, been the situation for far too long.

Legislation will not solve all the problems of educational disadvantage. The establishment of the educational disadvantage committee will be an important step in bringing a new focus to any Minister and ensuring that all policies will be disadvantaged proof. It is something which should run through the entire Department and all the programmes we operate. In fairness, there is a general predisposition within the Department towards schools designated as disadvantaged and to children in economically and socially disadvantaged areas. We are constantly seeking ways to improve the situation for all disadvantaged children. There is a danger when we initiate particular schemes that we exclude many children who are disadvantaged but who may be in a school which was not designated.

The House agrees that the examinations function should be given statutory underpinning and protection in the Bill. On the league tables and information leading to the production of league tables, I have strong views and do not countenance the release of such information for the purposes of compiling league tables. League tables are a discredited method of comparison of schools. They have serious unintended effects on the curriculum provided by schools and on how it is taught. They undervalue the important work done by many schools operating in areas facing disadvantage or other difficulties. They very much ignore the important non-academic work done by schools and extra curricular and personal development work in which schools engage. In short, they do more harm than good and run counter to our education philosophy and to what we want to achieve in terms of strategic education objectives within the system.

Parents' rights to information on their children will not be affected by this provision. I am conscious of the point Senator Ryan made on parents having access to the entire school's performance in an examination. It is something of which we must be careful because if we allow it to happen everywhere, we will get a cumulative impact and we will be back to the situation we are trying to avoid. With a little flexibility at local level and a little cop on all round, parents' rights can be vindicated.

As far as bodies corporate are concerned, Senators should have no concerns that these bodies will take over the policy function of the Minister or that they will not be accountable to the Oireachtas. I accepted an Opposition amendment in the Dáil so that the Bill expressly states that these bodies will have to be accountable to the Oireachtas because many public representatives regret that many such agencies which developed in the past are not accountable to the Oireachtas. It is essential that these bodies, which will have important functions, will remain accountable to the Oireachtas for their actions.

On the Irish language, there is clearly division in this House as well on how to proceed with section 31. Senator O'Toole articulated his view on this issue. I met with gaelscoileanna and schools in the Gaeltacht when in Opposition. I understood and empathised strongly with their concerns and needs in terms of teaching through Irish and the implications that has on texts, materials, teaching methodology, resourcing the school and the process of teaching through Irishvia an education centre, which will be part of this process. There are few texts available for many subjects other than Irish which are taught through Irish in Irish medium schools. Little research has been done on this and we need to do something.

It seems odd that the results of that activity should not be shared with teachers in national schools who teach the Irish language and who may have a great commitment to it. It has been very strongly presented to me by groups and by Members of both Houses that if we leave section 31 as it stands — I am being very frank and open with the House — we are somehow sending the wrong signal to 95 per cent of schools where Irish is taught. I would be concerned if that was the case. The establishment of two bodies suggests duplication, particularly if one has a sufficient degree of expertise. I have a problem saying that the fruits of its work cannot be applied to the teaching of Irish. There are many primary schools which are not gaelscoileanna but in which there is a strong Irish ethos in terms of the utilisation of the language and in which a core group of teachers have a strong commitment to the language.

I am working on this issue at the moment and will meet the various groups again for one last effort before I come back to the House on Committee Stage. There must be a way forward which can accommodate the two strands of opinion without diluting the essence of section 31, the motivation behind which was to help gaelscoileanna and schools in the Gaeltacht which have identified and articulated particular needs and concerns. That is my view and we will see if we can come up with a resolution which is acceptable to all.

Members articulated views on regional education boards on which my view remains more or less the same. I will deal with that issue again on Committee Stage. I am not sure people saw the process through in terms of implementation and the timeframe involved in that. There would also be talk about the transfer of staff and so on. My perspective from looking at plans, of which I did not see too many, was that it would take a good few years to establish regional education boards.

Another worry I had when in Opposition was that the replies to a range of issues were to the effect that we must await the establishment of the regional education boards before we could talk about the psychological service and school attendance; everything was being considered in the context of the REBs. For example, school attendance legislation would be based on REBs which had not been set up.

Nobody should underestimate the degree of work involved in the physical establishment of boards and in dealing with staff associations and the implications of transfers down the country. They are real, practical and logistical difficulties which must be taken into account. I do not want to spend my term in the Department of Education and Science working out the logistics or the mechanics of setting up structures. I am not one to set up structures and would much prefer to do what I have been doing for the past 15 months, that is, getting to the heart of the matter and setting up an educational psychological agency. There is no point setting up regional education boards to co-ordinate the psychological service at regional level when there is no such service to co-ordinate in the first place — likewise with school attendance. It is far more important to get these services up and running and to make provisions.

Those are just a number of thoughts on the debate so far and I thank Members for their contributions and look forward to discussing the issues in further detail on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 24 November 1998.
Sitting suspended at 4.30 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.