Before the debate adjourned last evening we had a long discussion on amendments Nos. 29, 31 and 32. Does Senator Costello wish to add any comments before I put the question on amendment No. 29?
Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997: Committee Stage (Resumed).
The point I made in respect of amendment No. 29 is that the role of the chief inspector should be outlined. I accept that the chief inspector is referred to in section 13 in collective terms and that he or she is also referred to in a sporadic and patchy fashion throughout the Bill as having certain responsibilities in respect of examinations, other procedures and inspections. However, the major role of a chief inspector, namely, as co-ordinator for the team of inspectors, is not referred to in the legislation. If we are determined to give the chief inspector a specific role within the section, this should be done in a more organised fashion. A separate subsection should be included in the section to recognise the collectivity of the inspectorate and state that there should be specific duties, particularly those of a co-ordinating and managerial nature, which relate to the remainder of the body. It should be stated that the chief inspector is the leader of the team and his or her functions should be outlined.
Sections 4 and 9 of the Public Service Management Act give authority for the assignment of responsibilities within the Department to the Secretary General. At present, therefore, the grade of chief inspector is equivalent to that of assistant secretary.
Section 13 of the Bill deals with the inspectorate and it must be noted that the chief inspector has a strong role to play in a range of areas. The purpose of the amendment — similar amendments were tabled in the other House — is to create an office for the chief inspector which would be separate from the Department and which would proceed in a different direction in the future. We must be careful to avoid that because the inspectorate, particularly the chief inspectorate, is part of an overall management team which works collectively and in harmony. Otherwise we could argue for a specific role for the assistant secretaries for primary education, third level education, buildings, youth affairs, adult education etc.
I am not looking for that. There are some specific references to the chief inspector — either it is a full collective operation or it is not. I do not necessarily want the totality of what is there, I have just given that as a guideline. I want a provision included to the effect that the functions of the chief inspector shall be to co-ordinate the activities of the inspectorate and report to the Minister so that all the other collective functions can be included within the inspectorate as a whole. That would define the leadership role of the chief inspector.
I wish to refer to the Government amendment No. 32. To whom will these recommendations to the Minister be available? Will they be private to the Minister or will the school be aware of them?
The school will be very much aware.
Recommendations would not be made without consultation.
The whole school evaluation process involves the school working with the inspector and is much different to the traditional process where the inspector went into a school to find out if everything was being done right. The school evaluation pilot project is based on the concept of the inspector helping the school in evaluating its progress and discovering how it can improve.
This is a good amendment but is in many ways against the Minister of the day because it provides that the inspector may tell a Minister following a school evaluation that it needs additional IT facilities or whatever. The Minister should then provide for those resources. This means the exercise is not just a whitewash — it can look at teaching and methodologies but also resources available to the school. The evaluation report must be made available to all the school community, including the staff and the board of management.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 16, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:
"(IV) evaluate the policies, structure and strategies for the correction of educational disadvantage;".
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 16, paragraph (a)(iv), line 36, after "associations" to insert "following consultation with school management".
I wish to refer to section 13(3)(a)(i)(V) which states that an inspector in visiting recognised schools and centres and following consultation with partners, shall
report to the Minister, or to the board, patron, parents of students and teachers, as appropriate and as prescribed, on these matters or on any other matter relating to the activities of those schools or centres.
I am surprised at the use of the word "or" in that provision. It appears there are circumstances, despite what the Minister said, where the report could be made to the Minister alone. There appears to be a choice.
That is a catch-all clause which endeavours to give maximum flexibility. Circumstances occasionally arise where an inspector may have to give a confidential report to a Minister. For example, if there is a breakdown in the board of management of a school and there are serious personality conflicts, the Minister may need to be told what is happening in straightforward language,vis-a-vis the interaction between the partners on the board. A patron may not be getting on with a parent or someone may not be getting on with a manager — I have come across one or two examples of that since I entered office — in order for a Minister to make a good assessment of the situation, an unvarnished report is sometimes needed. The inspector may not want other people to know what he is saying about them. Sometimes it is necessary for the inspector to report to the partners on the board — I do not want them to be excluded from accessing the Minister either. We are trying to give maximum flexibility to how an inspector carries out his or her duties.
This is an issue of principle. The problem with alternates such as this is that which bedevils freedom of information generally — how one writes the detail. No one would dispute the example given by the Minister; of course there are circumstances under which an inspector should be entitled to make reports which are not public. All principles of freedom of information exclude personal information so third parties cannot access information which is confidential for explicitly stated reasons. What concerns me is that the criteria under which or the procedures by which the inspector would report to the Minister are not included in the legislation.
There is a tendency among public servants and elected representatives to bolt for confidentiality just because an issue is difficult. However, we are talking about specific areas which are correctly kept confidential. There has always been a tendency in our society to claim confidentiality when life gets difficult.
The Freedom of Information Act offers significant protections. If a Department wishes to prevent the release of a report, it must give good cause for doing so under the Act and the Information Commissioner can make an adjudication. I do not envisage any significant difficulty with this provision in that regard. It allows for the inspector to report to the Minister or the board, patron, parents, students and teachers, as appropriate.
It is important to note that this is the first time in the history of the State that inspectors have a legislative and statutory base. This is important in terms of their self-esteem and their job. Relations between inspectors and teachers at primary level are probably the best they have ever been. There is a sense, which is continued in this legislation, that inspectors are the professional colleagues of teachers in the Department of Education and Science.
Teachers must have trust and confidence in the inspectorate. Many people do not understand that the rules for national schools are careful in the way they give authority. They are drawn up on the basis that authority derives from respect, which must be gained. A principal must run a school on the basis of the respect he or she wins from staff. The rules governing the inspectorate require the inspector to win the co-operation of the teaching staff in the schools. This is very important. This section is a big step forward towards ensuring a group of people who are somewhat demoralised and whose professionalism is not adequately acknowledged. I agree with the section in terms of the functions of the inspector which should not include counting desks and rubbish such as that. Very often the Department finds it easy to make a messenger of the inspector. The inspector's valuable professional time should be used in supporting staff and ensuring the functions outlined in the section are carried out rather than carrying out functions that do not require professional qualifications or training.
Strand II of the British-Irish Agreement deals with the issue of harmonisation and cross-Border co-operation. Section 13 can only be interpreted to mean that inspectors must be qualified professional people of a certain standard. Unfortunately, the position in Great Britain and Northern Ireland is different where the function of the inspector has been somewhat diluted by the quality of people being appointed. For the record, I would like the Minister to state that the professional qualifications required of inspectors and which are essential in order to retain the trust and confidence of the Minister and the teaching profession will not be diluted in any sense in the future. Any cross-Border discussions relating to interaction, mobility and so on should be used to put pressure on our Northern colleagues to increase the standard of qualifications required of inspectors in Northern Ireland in order that there is greater harmonisation of the two systems. That is the heartfelt view of many teachers in Northern Ireland.
I agree with the Senator in terms of his outlining of the role of the inspector and the need not to dilute his or her professional role in helping and working with schools as opposed to doing messenger boy activities. There has been significant recruitment in the past few months. The chief inspector has an exciting programme ahead of him in pushing out the boat in terms of old schools evaluation and a range of other issues. There will be no dilution of qualifications in this area.
I accept that.
We will not go down the route of contracting out the inspectorate or in any way reducing the qualifications base of those recruited to our inspectorate. That would be detrimental not only at primary level but at all levels. I have been briefed by many inspectors in terms of the curriculum. The depth of their knowledge is refreshing, not just in terms of what is taking place in this country but in terms of international developments and trends. Very often inspectors drive initiatives such as the pilot language project at primary level and they give valuable advice in terms of the content of such programmes and how they are organised.
On the North-South issue, there have been a number of meetings in this regard. We are interested in facilitating exchange programmes between the inspectorates from both jurisdictions.
Now I am worried.
There is no need to worry. We should have enough self-confidence that our system will win out and that we will be able to convince and persuade people of the strength of our position. It is better that this be allowed to develop rather than lecturing people as to how they should go about their business. There is evidence this week of a review which is taking place in the UK of reform of the education system in terms of inspecting and measuring performance in schools.
I thank the Minister for his comments. This is something teachers will welcome. The way things have gone in the UK has been appalling. I agree that the chief inspector is a very progressive man who has a vision of where he wants to go.
The question of exchange is very important. This week the Department issued a circular allowing for transfer between Ontario, Canada and Ireland on the basis that there will be a continuation of salary but a transfer of work. I attended a meeting in Belfast last night on the same issue. A similar exchange arrangement should be introduced on this island. This would have nothing to do with the long-running argument about qualifications; it would simply be an exchange programme whereby teachers from the North could work in the South.
Inspectors should be involved way beyond their involvement at schools level. The INTO in-service training programme insists that a departmental inspector visits all the courses. I am always impressed when coming down the stairs of my office if I meet an inspector whom I know is working with the in-service section on developing courses. That type of close co-operation is the way the confidence of teachers is won. The days of the inspector visiting schools and hiding behind the wall to see if he would catch a teacher coming in five minutes late are long gone because teachers are not five minutes late anymore and inspectors' attitudes have changed. Now there is a very open inspectorate and their talent is not being utilised enough. While moving responsibility for the curriculum away from the Department was not a bad idea, it meant that inspectors' involvement in the curriculum was diluted for a period. However, this policy is now being reversed. The introduction of in-service training programmes should not be a reason for not involving inspectors. This allows the Department to be more involved in retaining standards. They have been very involved in the area of IT where there are people of great talent. The strengths of these people are often smothered and they need space to develop. I am glad the recruitment campaign for inspectors has been extended. This is particularly welcome at primary school level. My post-primary colleagues have a somewhat different view but we look forward to the expansion of the self-esteem of our professional colleagues in the Department of Education and Science.
Amendments Nos. 33 to 36, inclusive, and 38 and 39 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 18, subsection (1), line 24, to delete "where practicable".
Perhaps we can move away from the love-in between the INTO and the Minister.
It is a partnership.
We are moving into the area of partnership with boards of management and perhaps that is the appropriate point to start my statement on this issue. In his Second Stage address, the Minister indicated that the essence of this Bill was partnership between those providing and those participating in education. Boards of management are a key area where this partnership can be reflected. Thus my first amendment is intent on ensuring that a board of management is established in every school.
We cannot have a partnership unless those participating in the partnership have a structure for representation. If the Bill simply states that the patron shall establish a board of management "where practicable", questions arise regarding what is practicable, who determines what is practicable, when is it practicable and when is it not practicable.
With regard to amendment No. 39, it is clear in paragraph (7) that the patron determines whether appointment of a board shall be made or shall not be made. The patron shall inform the Minister but the Minister cannot take action. There is no recommendation in that section as to what the Minister should do or how the Minister shall assess whether it is practicable or regarding consultation of any other interests on the practicality of establishing a board of management. It is left to the patron. The Bill only requires the patron from time to time to inform the parents, teachers, other staff and the Minister of the fact that it is not practicable and the reason therefor. What steps will be taken to respond to that? There is no onus on the Minister to say to the patron or the parents that they have no right to determine the practicality. The practicality should be determined in consultation. However the patron only has to tell them that it is not practicable. I am very unhappy with this section and I would have thought that the Minister would have provided something stronger.
I see Senator McDonagh has proposed an amendment on this so that it would state the "patron shall report each year". We could end up with a large number of schools with no board of management.
On amendment No. 35, I would like the Minister to explain the vocational side. Amendment No. 36 is important. It proposes that "The Minister shall within 3 months from the passing of this Act provide for regulations for the registration of parents and teachers on all vocational education committees." That request has been made by parents' bodies and the TUI so that there would be a structure in place whereby the vocational education committees would appoint parents and teachers to the committees. Approximately two-thirds of vocational education committees have no parent or teacher representation. The committee in Dublin has representation as a decision was taken by councillors in 1991. That is obviously not a statutory decision. It was a decision of intent and the new council may decide the opposite and have no parents or teachers represented.
The Murray report recommends that three parents or guardians of students and three teaching staff be represented on the recommended new boards of management and that the boards be extended to 20 members. I would like to hear from the Minister on this. If we are now establishing boards of management and stating they are the anchor of the partnership in education, then it is unacceptable not to make provision for parent and teacher representation on vocational education committees for a further five years. Unless it is done between now and June, it will not be possible to do it after that as selection will have taken place at that stage. Normal selection is of 14 members, of these there are six to eight councillors and the others are from the various bodies being represented.
The Minister must find a mechanism to provide for parent and teacher representation, otherwise we are not talking about partnership in the vocational education sector being on a statutory basis. The Minister stated that he is reviewing the Vocational Education Act, 1930, but I understand that will not be in place until after the local elections. Therefore it cannot be operational in terms of the appointments to be made. Appointment of people for vocational education committees must take place shortly after the local elections; it will have taken place before mid-July.
On amendment No. 38, it is now common practice that all State boards have gender representation with a threshold of approximately 40 per cent. Obviously a board of management is not a State board but schools are funded by the State. The primary schools are in the voluntary sector and secondary schools other than fee paying schools are funded exclusively by the State. The Minister should make it a statutory rule in that sector that boards of management have a gender threshold of 40 per cent.
I have already referred to amendment No. 39. It concerns the paragraph where the patron determines if the board will not be established. The only responsibility on the patron in that respect is to inform the other partners and the Minister. That should not be the prerogative of the patron. Any decisions in that respect should be taken by consultation and the Minister should have a proactive role in responding if the patron decides not to establish a board, whatever the reason.
Senator Costello has nearly made my case. A board of management is an integral part of a school. I commend them for the work they have done. It is the essence of transparency to have a board. It is important to go through all the proper channels and to exhaust all the options before ordaining that a board cannot be established. A new effort must be made annually.
There are reasons a board of management may not be established. I see one of the reasons where I come from. On an island with a small and dwinling population it can be difficult to get enough people from the different units to make up a board. There can also be a problem in relation to gender balance to which Senator Costello referred. I know of a recent case in a school where there was great apathy from the male population. Someone was taken from a fireside late at night to make up the board. I know him well. That can be problem, as can local disputes and apathy from member groups. Also the patron may not want a board, but that is a rare occurrence. A board is now an essential part of every school. They do tremendous work. Where a board does not exist, there should be an annual effort to establish one.
Returning to the vocational education committees, it is vital that parent and teacher representatives are brought on stream, if that can be done. Perhaps it cannot be done until after the next local elections. I read reports on the Green Paper on adult education today. Given the important role vocational education committees will play in this area in the future, places should be reserved on vocational education committees for people directly involved in the provision of adult education. Up to now this has not been the case. I ask the Minister, as he is involved in the area of adult education, to look at that because this will become more and more important. A new report emerged today — I have not seen it yet but I presume it will be issued within the day or so. However, this is an important area also. These are integral parts of boards of management and, indeed, of the next VEC provision when it comes on stream next June or July.
Senator McDonagh outlined the functions and roles of boards of management and the integral part they have in the overall scheme of things. I do not want to go into that part of it now.
On first reading of the amendment tabled by Senator Costello to delete the words "where practicable" one would be inclined to go along with him for many of the reasons he stated. However, when we go further into what the Bill is all about and realise that the Bill is underpinned by the spirit and statements of partnership, then what we are doing when we do not like something going wrong, is simply telling one of the partners that they do not have any discretion in the matter and the partner must comply. If that is the case, we are starting the very bullying to which the Bill is opposed. If one accepts that the Bill is underpinned by partnership and that all the partners must play their role in a voluntary but encouraged way, and motivate them to do it, then if, at one point, because one does not like that there is the slightest possibility that one of the partners, for whatever reasons, could opt out and one would, therefore, delete "where practicable", one would potentially do huge damage to the partnership with which the Bill is imbued. That is not to take from many of the merits of the case made by Senator Costello.
Is it not true that if one was to delete those two words, one would be making it mandatory without exception? In such circumstances, would the Minister not be obliged to set down a set of penalty provisions to take account of different situations? If that is the logical extension to what I am saying, then we would further damage the fabric of partnership in the Bill.
Senator Fitzgerald just summed it up. My approach differs significantly from the Education Bill, 1997, which stated that at some stage the Minister would arrive at a model of boards of management which then would be imposed on every single school and if a school did not conform to that model, then funds could be withdrawn by the Minister from that school. In my view, that approach would lead us into a range of difficulties not least of which would be constitutional difficulties in terms of contravening the rights to private property and ownership. There is considered legal opinion on this. It is arguable, but it would lead one down that road. There is no question about that.
Second, it would unquestionably lead one on to the road to conflict with certain schools. I discovered during my days in Opposition when discussing the Education Bill, 1997, that many different sectors and school types have different approaches to management. Whereas broadly speaking we, in the Department and the Oireachtas, would want a representative approach to boards of management, the Church of Ireland approach, for example, is very much one of selecting people who have a specific interest and commitment to education and they tend to elect boards on that basis. This even came from the parents association who represent parents of children who attend Church of Ireland schools. We must be careful that we do not go in with a sledgehammer.
On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that the route of persuasion is the way to go and can generate good results. I have already outlined to the House how successful was the exercise at primary level although it took some time. In other words, we have achieved agreement on the establishment of boards of management in every primary school in the country without any legislation or compulsion. It has been agreed by all the partners. That is the best way to do it because they are all on board. Nobody on board is sulking, and nobody on board is in conflict with thestatus quo; they are on board because they have agreed to do so. There would have been a great deal of jostling and discussions before they came on board but they are now all on board. That is particularly important.
If we delete "where practicable" we are making it mandatory. The issue then arises if somebody does not do it, then what does the State do? It must either impose penalties or withdraw funds. Can we withdraw funds from a particular school given that we are obliged under the Constitution to provide primary education to children in such a school? That is going down the wrong road and I have strong views on it.
I am confident that we will establish boards of management in all second level schools. To be practical, if Members are wondering which areas pose some difficulties, the lay voluntary secondary schools is one sector where the owners have particular views. We must enlighten some of them about the value of a board of management. Parents still vote with their feet. These are not fee paying schools; these are in the free secondary system. The parents value these schools highly in given areas where they have grown up over time and have a good status, etc.
Some comprehensive schools still do not have representative boards of management. I have already initiated talks with all the partners involved in respect of comprehensive schools and I hope we will be in a position to have boards established there shortly.
In respect of community schools there are no difficulties. The community schools deal with trusts, etc., which will be reflected in this Bill. They have boards of management which are representative of staff, parents, the trustees, etc.
We need to put a model in place for the voluntary secondary schools but we do not anticipate any great difficulty because many of them already have boards of management which are representative and, indeed, many of the religious orders who are now moving out of second level education are preparing the ground for boards of management to take over. There are other issues at which we need to look down the road in terms of what happens to the trusteeship in voluntary sector schools. We will engage in discussions with the partners to work that one out.
I do not intend to accept any of the amendments pertaining to vocational education committees because we will be introducing a comprehensive vocational education amendment Bill which will deal with the issue of representation of parents and teachers. It will also admit the representation of learners on boards of management of VEC colleges because in 60 per cent of colleges one is not really talking about parents of students but students. Some vocational education committees, for example, would have a preponderance of PLC students as opposed to second level students. In some instances the numbers of second level students could be only 20 or 30 per cent. There is the issue there of the learner. Senator McDonagh referred to that when he mentioned the adult side. I am talking about the PLC student side plus the adult side. We need to look at that properly and in the correct context and that will be in the vocational education amendment Bill.
We are not overly worried about the prospect of the local elections in June because there are two approaches to that. First, we can provide in the legislation that as and from the date of the legislation the composition of vocational education committees must change. Then we would go back to the councils and they would have to revisit the matter. That has happened in a number of areas. It happened in the Harbour Boards Act, for example, where the representation of councils on harbour boards changed mid-stream during the life of the local authorities which were elected in 1991. We do not worry about that.
The other angle is that we will have the legislation ready before the June elections. The local authorities will be very conscious of what is in the legislation and one would expect them in all normality to take cognisance of it. If they do not do so, we can provide that they do so as and from the enactment of the Vocational Education (Amendment) Bill.
That Bill will also deal with reserve powers of chief executive officers. It will deal with the division of responsibility within vocational education committees, representation to which I referred, and other issues.
In the context of the gender balance, there are 3,200 national schools and more than 800 post-primary schools. In many instances when people talk about gender balance they are talking about the need for women to be on various boards. This is not a huge issue with regard to boards of management of primary schools. If anything, we are looking for men to go on these boards. That would be the gender issue in primary schools.
There are 800 two teacher schools and 500 or 600 three teacher schools in rural communities. Is it not better that we get people who are committed to this in the first instance and see how it works rather than have somebody running around looking for the spare man who should be on the board or whatever? In addition, there are many single sex schools where there are all-women teaching staff. The boards of management structure is representative of parents, teachers and management. If the two teachers must inevitably be women if it is an all women staff and the two trustees are women in the event of it being an order of nuns, it is left to the parents to decide on the appointment of one male and one female to the board. There would be a great number of logistical difficulties in this.
I have stayed away from a gender quota on boards of management because I want to see if we can encourage a number of community people, who are committed to the process, to become members of them. That is the first step in this process. We have not had huge representations about all male or female boards. We tend to have more women than men on boards at all levels.
As regards Senator McDonagh's amendment, section 14(7) is stronger because it gives the Minister the power to intervene from time to time. If a board of management is not appointed, the patron must give reasons. My legal advice is that the phrase "where practicable" is a strong legal provision. A patron must give good reasons it is not practicable to establish a board of management. My legal advice is that a patron cannot say they do not want to do it; there must be good solid reasons they think it is not practicable to establish a board of management.
I am not happy with the Minister's response to any of the points I raised. The phrase "where practicable" is the standard phrase used in legislation, so I do not know how strong the argument must be in this case.
We are talking about partnership. However, where is the partnership if the Minister decides that only one partner will make the decisions? The patron will determine whether it is practicable to establish a board of management and if they decide not to, they must inform the other partners. What will be the response if the reasons given are not valid? Section 14(7) states that the patron "shall, from time to time or as requested by the Minister, inform the parents" of the reasons. Those reasons may be good or bad.
If we want partnership in education there should be a board of management in every school. There are boards of management in a large number of voluntary secondary schools and primary schools; there is no reason there should not be boards of management in comprehensive schools, yet there are none.
They cannot get their act together.
Exactly. We do not need legislation to make it compulsory.
Senator Costello, without interruption.
Parents and teachers deserve representation on boards of management yet, because patrons cannot get their act together, there is no such representation. I cannot understand why the Minister is leaving the decision exclusively to the patron.
I am not.
The Minister is. The only role for the other partners is in relation to the composition of the board.
I want to clarify a point.
Senator Costello is in possession. The Minister will have an opportunity to reply.
The Minister said he did not want to cause conflict. However, there is no better way to cause conflict than to allow one partner to decide whether it is practicable to appoint a board of management. This matter should be agreed by all the partners. When is it impracticable to appoint a board of management which will involve all the partners? It is always practicable to have a board of management which involves all the partners, whether it is a single, comprehensive, voluntary secondary or fee paying school. Parents send their children to school and teachers teach them, so surely it is practicable to allow them to be represented on the board of management. The Minister said he cannot put a gun to the head of the patron and say a board must be appointed. However, if we want partnership in education, he must do that because it is the right thing to do.
As regards vocational education committees, am I correct that the review of the 1930 legislation and any changes therein will not happen before the local elections?
We are not making a commitment on it, but we are hopeful.
We can take it for granted it will not be done.
I will make every effort.
After local authority elections, councillors are appointed to various committees and boards. The last thing local authority members will be thinking about as they strive for positions on special policy committees, area committees, vocational education committees, health boards, etc., is what the Minister for Education and Science has in mind. They will want to maximise their representation on these boards. Six to eight councillors, a little more than 50 per cent, are entitled to be represented on vocational education committees. Does the Minister think they will consider the Murray report which states there should be three staff members and three parents representatives on the vocational education committees? They will not because that would reduce their representation. When the Minister reviews the 1930 legislation and accepts the Murray report, VEC representation will be determined by law and we will not be able to change it as representatives will bein situ. What will happen over the next five years?
Of course we can change it.
We can change the law.
One cannot change it retrospectively.
The harbour boards were changed.
The harbour boards are ongoing authorities.
Local authorities had a right of representation on harbour boards. The Harbours Act changed the makeup of port companies and the representation of local authorities was reduced. Local authorities had to take councillors off the board and re-elect others to it.
Nobody disputes that. However, there would be a case to be answered if someone was appointed to a board for a term of office and legislation was introduced to remove them from it. I would like to hear legal advice on who could be taken off a board and how it could be done. It is not a credible situation unless extra people are appointed to it. The Teachers Union of Ireland believes this matter should be addressed before the local elections take place so that the two-thirds of vocational education committees which do not have representatives on boards can appoint them.
The Minister argued there could be difficulties ensuring gender balance. He has given us a package where there will not be boards of management in all schools, vocational education committees will not have a board representative of the partners and there is no commitment to gender balance on the boards. I would have thought the Minister would be able to take some of these things on board. There may be a problem in one gender schools although I do not understand why because such students have a father and a mother so there are still two parents involved.
There are only two on the board.
But one can still have representation.
You cannot have 40 per cent.
We can strive to have 40 per cent. If the Minister feels there would be a difficulty in providing for this in all cases I am sure his advisers could come up with a form of words that would provide for gender representation on all boards, be they vocational education committees, fee paying schools or otherwise. I am not happy with the Minister's overall response to the important amendments I have tabled.
I draw the Minister's attention to page 19, line 10 which states ".. the patron shall, from time to time or as requested by the Minister..". Would he be prepared to substitute "on an annual basis" or "on a yearly basis" for "from time to time"? I would be happy with that.
Is the Minister telling us the VEC legislation may not be ready in time for the local elections and that thestatus quo will prevail, that we will have a restructuring of vocational education committees in the context of the harbour boards, which I am familiar with in my capacity as a councillor, that new legislation will be introduced and people will return to the vocational education committees after a year?
That is one potential scenario but there are others. I will come back on Report Stage with an amendment in relation to the word "annual". That is a fair point.
There are three scenarios in relation to the VEC Act. We must try to get the legislation through both Houses of the Oireachtas before June. Several difficulties arise. We are dealing now with the Education (No. 2) Bill which is taking considerable time to go through both Houses. The Qualifications Bill and the School Attendance Bill will be before us in the next session. Senators can see we have a busy schedule. The next session commences at the end of January and we will then rise for the Easter break. I do not want to be too optimistic and say we will get the VEC Bill through. We have committed ourselves to the production of a discussion paper on the VEC legislation so that the partners can have a chance to reflect on it and come back to us with submissions. We must go through a process which will take time. That being said, it is still possible we will get the Bill through before the June election — it will certainly be published prior to the local elections.
By July, everybody will have a very clear idea in forming the new committees etc. of what is envisaged for the Bill. I am of the view that councillors and councils will take due cognisance of the Bill because it would be irresponsible for them to go off and ignore it. If they do not there is nothing stopping us putting a provision in the Bill that it come into force immediately on passing both Houses of the Oireachtas. At best, if people wanted to behave irresponsibly they could have vocational education committees based on the old system for about six months, which would be a rather silly thing to do.
I welcome the concept that patrons should report to the Minister. The patron very often is the school principal. There are principals who play the blaggard and it is nice to know that controls are in place if problems arise. I have no difficulty with that part of section 14 or subsection (7). The Minister has agreed to come back on Report Stage with an amendment in relation to annual reporting and that is to be welcomed.
There was long discussion in this House on the harbour board Bill and the possibility of our Members being taken off the board. I have no difficulty in believing that when the VEC legislation comes before us we will find our role as councillors useful as we did on that occasion. I welcome the idea that we should amend the VEC Act. We should discuss all aspects of vocational education committees, their role in terms of boards of management and their composition on local authorities. Such a debate is long overdue. Having been involved in the debate on the harbour board legislation I have no fear that the powers of Senators and councillors will be eroded. It does not matter whether the VEC legislation comes to us before or after June, we will all have an opportunity to discuss it at length.
I welcome the role which the Minister will have in this area. Many teachers are restless about the composition of some boards. We should have a system in place whereby we can reach beyond the board without fear of reprimand from the patron.
I understand the practicalities raised by the Minister in relation to amendment No. 38 and gender balance. It is a great pity that there is no specific reference to the need to attempt to achieve some form of gender balance. I understand the problems which could arise in small schools that have specific rigid targets. It comes as a surprise to me that we cannot introduce this principle in legislation. It is essentially a universal principle. It is accepted that public bodies supported by public funds should aspire to some form of gender balance. I am surprised it is missing from this Bill.
I have no problem coming back on Report Stage with a general principle but not with specific targets.
Is the amendment being pressed?
Yes. I am not satisfied with the arguments put forward by the Minister. We are leaving it to the patron exclusively to make the decision. That is not good enough if we are creating a partnership.
The Minister said, in relation to the amendment of the VEC legislation, that he intends to incorporate in that a structure in terms of boards of management — not advisory committees — and that such boards of management will have teacher and parent representation.
He said that as soon as that is passed it will override whatever decisions have been taken arising out of the local elections in terms of the composition of vocational education committees and that new VEC members will be appointed or a new VEC composition will be put in place.
I respectfully suggest that I am probably the first Minister to put the issue of parent and teacher representation to the fore. The agenda over recent years appeared to be to abolish as many vocational education committees as we could. I have gone against that and set about trying to give the vocational education committees a basis from which to work. I assure Senator Costello that I am absolutely committed to the idea that all VEC school boards of management will have parent and teacher representation. Obviously the best vehicle to do that is the VEC Act. There is no point in trying to do it in this legislation.
I have no problem with that. When will this happen and will the new legislation change the compositions established in June or July?
My legal advice is that it will do so.
Is that the Minister's intention?
Yes. Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment No. 35 has been discussed. Is the amendment being pressed?
It has not been discussed. Will the Minister outline his thinking on this amendment.
This amendment has been discussed. Is it being pressed?
It was not discussed. It was included but the Minister gave no response.
This amendment has been discussed as was indicated by the Cathaoirleach. Is the amendment being pressed?
No. Amendment No. 35 not moved.
I move amendment No. 36:
In page 18, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following new subsection:
"(3) The Minister shall within 3 months from the passing of this Act provide by regulations for the registration of parents and teachers on all vocational education committees.".
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 18, subsection (5), line 47, after "teachers" to insert "and adult education providers".
The Minister will say I am on my hobby horse again. Yesterday I was like John the Baptist in the wilderness. Today I am talking about adult education providers. I feel more confident having read excerpts from the Green Paper. We are all committed to lifelong learning and adult education continues to grow in stature. Adult education providers must be given a place at the organising table. This amendment seeks a reference to adult education providers in this section. This is the fastest growing sector in education and it will become more important. However, it has not been given recognition. The real providers of adult education are not being brought to the forefront. They are battling in the wilderness and they should be given a place in the forefront where they belong. If given that place they will make a great contribution. I hope the Minister will accept this simple amendment.
I am not sure this is the right section in which to deal with this issue. Subsection (5) deals with the Minister prescribing matters relating to the appointment of boards. It states:
The Minister, with the agreement of the patron, national associations of parents, recognised school management organisations and recognised trade unions and staff associations representing teachers, shall prescribe matters relating to the appointment of a board.
Who are the adult education providers? There are quite a number of them. It would be a different matter if the intention was to have someone from the adult education board on a board of management. Perhaps it should be allowed for in the section dealing with the appointment of the board. In the deed of variation and agreements for primary schools there are two teachers, two parents and two representatives of the trustees. These six people nominate two people from outside. There is no reason this could not involve someone from adult education. This issue does not fit in this section.
I understand Senator McDonagh's concern, and recognition should be given to the role and service provided by adult education providers. However, I agree that we should not insert this issue in this legislation. Perhaps it is more appropriate to VEC legislation and the Green Paper which will eventually become a Bill, giving rise to further discussion.
Being a reasonable person, I accept what the Minister is saying. I am sure he is saying it in good faith. There is no reason to believe otherwise. I will withdraw the amendment if he is prepared to consider the suggestion that adult education providers and members of the board should be included in the board of management structure, and that this will be considered in forthcoming legislation.
Amendment No. 38 has already been discussed with amendment No. 33. Is the amendment being pressed?
No. The Minister indicated that he will look at this amendment before Report Stage in terms of the principle underlying the gender balance.
I move amendment No. 39:
In page 19, lines 5 and 12, to delete paragraph (7).
I move amendment No. 40:
In page 19, paragraph (2)(c), line 31, after "with" to insert "the patron".
This is a technical amendment to ensure that there will be consultation with the patron and that the patron will be kept informed of decisions. This is a grammatical adjustment so that the section will be accurate.
The legal advice from the Attorney General's office is that there is no need to make this change. The drafting is sound.
As a teacher of English I would not have thought it was sound. However, I cannot disagree if the legal advice is that it is sound.
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 20, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following new paragraph:
"(h) implement policies and strategies for the correction of educational disadvantage."
I am sure the Minister hoped we would move on from the spirit and characteristics of the school. As regards the characteristic spirit of the school, if I was a member of the board of management of my children's school, I would ensure that this Act imposed a duty to uphold the characteristic spirit of the school. That is reasonable, except no one can tell me what the characteristic spirit of the school is. How do I know what that spirit is if I have to uphold it?
One of the fundamental reasons the Senator might have sent his children to the school is because of its characteristic spirit.
We will have to get at this point more thoroughly.
We have gone through this issue before in terms of how one defines the characteristic spirit.
Why does the Minister continue to avoid even the suggestion that the patrons of a school should write down what they believe to be the characteristic spirit of the school? That is what I want. I do not want a legal definition. This is a good attempt and is better than the absence of any definition of ethos in the Employment Equality Bill. However, if people believe that a school has a characteristic spirit, it is reasonable to expect them to have to subject themselves to the discipline of writing it down. Otherwise, it will vary with circumstances. That is a problem. People are entitled to have some statement as to how the patron, or whoever defines the characteristics, proposes to achieve those objectives. It is like a mission statement for the school.
Most schools write it down. Most schools have a statement on what they are about and their ethos. Others prefer to use the phrase "characteristic spirit". We have broadened the issue in this Bill to use "characteristic spirit". I am happy that what we have is sufficient. I am not sure where it will lead if we oblige schools to rewrite their characteristic spirit. I am not sure where that would lead us. I have no objection to the proposal and I will look at it again on Report Stage. Most schools set out their ethos very clearly and parents know exactly what it is. The Senator makes the point that the ethos of a school should be set out and that we should place an obligation on the patron to do so. I do not think patrons would have any objection to that but one would like to think there is a degree of collegiality in our school system and that we have an understanding of what is the ethos of each school.
Let me give a good example. My son attends an all Irish secondary school in Cork. The Minister will have no difficulty identifying it. After he had been accepted, I discovered that the school is not a Catholic school and is, in fact, non-denominational. This is despite the fact that the school has compulsory Mass attendance and religious instruction for pupils. Confusion such as this should be avoided. This school is non-denominational but for a long time kept this fact secret because it was non-denominational only for tactical reasons. The bishop did not agree with co-educational schools and so a meanscoil lánGhaelach had to be theoretically non-denominational although actually Catholic. That sort of fuzziness is a recipe for confusion and the simplest solution is to encourage schools to make a statement of their characteristic spirit. If a school is under the patronage of a Catholic bishop it should have a standard characteristic spirit shared by all Catholic schools so that the characteristic spirit is not applied at the whim of an individual parish priest. This matter was pursued by Senator O'Toole when we debated the Employment Equality Bill and I hope it will be a matter for agreement and not prescription. However, the issue of characteristic spirit should not be used by parish priests to make life awkward when it suits them. That can happen.
Standardisation could lead one down a more difficult route. In certain dioceses standardisation might be less desirable than local interpretation.
The resolution of the issue of characteristic spirit involved all the partners. I do not pretend it did not present difficulties but the perceived wisdom of all involved has brought us to this stage. We are moving step by step with all the partners to a situation which will be acceptable to all the stake holders in school communities. Insistence on a unilateral view can upset the overall and delicate balance of that partnership. Some partners do not like everything in the Bill but they have agreed to work with, for example, the deeds of variation for the establishment of boards of management. This was a significant step forward in the representation on school boards of management and in the actual management of schools. The term "characteristic spirit" is included there.
On Report Stage I will look at the Senator's suggestion either to oblige or suggest——
I do not wish to oblige.
We could then encourage schools to define their characteristic spirit.
The Minister has done a good job in dealing with the thorny question of characteristic spirit. If a function of a board is to uphold the characteristic spirit of the school, the board needs some direction in the form of a tangible statement of what that spirit is. Legislation should at least encourage patrons to set out a written statement giving guidelines regarding the school's characteristic spirit so that the board can fulfil its duties.
I have given up trying to understand this section. When this Bill was drafted by the previous Government the word "ethos" was not included The "e" word is also missing from the Minister's own version of the Bill. If I had drafted the Bill I would not have included it either. The word is included but not defined in the Employment Equality Bill. This Bill uses the term "characteristic spirit" which must mean the same thing but neither is that term defined. We are told in the interpretation that "characteristic spirit" means the characteristic spirit referred to in section 15 (2) (b) but Senator Ryan has failed to discover what it means. I have listened with great attention for the past ten minutes and I am no wiser now and I suspect neither is Senator Ryan.
Some issues need to be examined carefully. It is likely in the future that some action by a person in a school will be legally challenged. When that happens these words, which have been chosen in an attempt to satisfy all sides of the question and probably will satisfy none, will be scrutinised in a court. In section 15 (2) (b), we read that the board of management must uphold "the characteristic spirit of the school as determined by the cultural, educational, moral, religious, social, linguistic and spiritual values and traditions which inform and are characteristic of the objectives and conduct of the school. ." If a member of a board of management asks how to implement this directive what possible answer can one give? The characteristics listed in section 15(2)(b) are not necessarily clear and understood. If a parent, pupil, teacher or member of the board of management from a completely different tradition joins the school community that person's set of beliefs and traditions must presumably be incorporated into the characteristic spirit of the school and will, in some incremental way, impact on it. I do not understand how this is to happen. If one individual or group of people define the characteristic spirit of a school there is nothing to prevent another individual or group redefining or reinterpreting it a year later. Such a difficulty will probably not arise for 90 per cent of boards but a litigious parent or board member might demand to know what this phrase means. The matter might then be taken to court to be argued over by lawyers.
Section 15(2)(e) states that the board shall "have regard to the principles and requirements of a democratic society and have respect and promote respect for the diversity of values, beliefs, traditions, languages and ways of life in a society". That cannot be done. If a school community is joined by a person who does not share the accepted beliefs and traditions the board must include the new member's values in the characteristic spirit of the school. This cannot be done.
It can be done.
I have spoken to members of boards of management and asked them what their job was. They replied that it was their job to run the school. Some day someone will be asked how did they promote respect for the values, beliefs, traditions and languages of the student who comes from a Buddhist or Baha'i family. The parents would have to send their children to the local national school in the peninsula. The child has to be enrolled in that school unless, as mentioned in subsection (d), it has published, as is required, its policy regarding admissions and the school writes down that it will not admit anybody from the following religions; this it would not be entitled to do. If a school cannot stipulate that, then it must accept people from different religions because that is State policy. A child cannot be prohibited from attending a school because of their religious beliefs. This issue is also dealt with in the Employment Equality Bill.
When a school admits a child who has a different religious belief and the board of management has to promote respect for the diversity of values, beliefs, traditions, etc., of that child and its family — which we would all agree is the correct thing to do — at the same time they have to be informed by the traditions and spiritual values of the school. The board of management cannot perform these dual roles. I am just rehearsing an argument that will be put in far more elegant terms at far greater length by senior and junior counsel and teams of lawyers and will eventually be brought to the European Court of Appeal. There will be money for lawyers in this legislation.
I am not saying that I could have done any better if I had to deal with the churches on one side and the teachers' unions on the other while bearing in mind the needs of teachers, parents and difficult parents like Senator Ryan and the views of the Department and the Government. I am not sure if I could have come up with a better wording but I can assure you that this provision will cause trouble. It will provide money for lawyers and we are in muddy waters.
Can the Minister tell me what is the difference between a spiritual value and a religious value?
It is important to note that Senator O'Toole, as a former legislator, said that he could not come up with a better wording. I think this is a classic piece of legislation that manages to deal with the complexity of diversity within our education system. We do have different provisions and a variety of characteristic spirits. I would argue that it is possible to hold a particular characteristic spirit and at the same time promote respect for diversity. One could be a fundamentalist in some respects but still accept the right of others to differ. Many of the submissions the Department received came from Church of Ireland schools in rural areas and they admit children who are not of the Church of Ireland faith. They would almost defend to the death their right to have a Church of Ireland or denominational school but they would nonetheless create a culture, a framework and characteristic spirit within that school that would be genuinely tolerant of other beliefs, that would facilitate students of other beliefs and that would facilitate their education within such a school. There is no reason a Catholic school cannot do likewise.
Senator O'Toole raised the issue that schools situated in the Gaeltachts now have to admit children from multicultural backgrounds whose parents have decided to set up home in Gaeltacht areas. Are we saying that because a Gaeltacht school teaches through Irish that it does not have the wherewithal, desire or the inclination to facilitate diversity and promote respect for diversity?
When I visited a school in Killnamatra in the west Cork Gaeltacht I was welcomed by students of seven different languages. The school has a good board of management and a very progressive principal who is a member of the INTO. This example proves my point that you can have schools with a characteristic spirit that promotes diversity and respect.
Yesterday we had a very good debate on this issue. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, was here before I arrived and he elaborated on this issue to some degree. A characteric spirit can be defined by a number of factors. It can be defined by the religious denomination of a school. A school could specialise in drama, sport and a whole range of things which give a characteristic spirit. We all know that certain schools are strong in certain areas and certain areas of the country are strong in particular areas of the curriculum, etc., and all this develops over time.
I accept Senator O'Toole's point that all legislation is open to barristers making money. If one were to take that route we would have no legislation and no Constitution. The Constitution and the interpretation of it by the Supreme Court in terms of how it defends the rights of our people to have certain basic rights, has annoyed successive Governments. I would defend our right to have a written Constitution even though it can be controversial. One cannot take a utilitarian approach to legislation because all of it is subject to interpretation at a future date. I am not a lawyer or a barrister but I can tell you that this is an enabling Bill and is one that creates a framework. It is not a specific Bill that defines everything in the system, it cannot be because if it did we would be debating it until the cows come home.
Senator Ryan asked me to explain the difference between spiritual and religious. I believe one can be spiritual without being religious. I would argue that a person could have strong spiritual values and not be a member of an organised religion or be an atheist. A person could also be religious and not spiritual. Many religious people are also very spiritual.
I agree with the Minister's views on spirituality. I regard myself as being very spiritual but not religious and I have no difficulty knowing the difference between them. I think I realised the difference when I started to study the romantic poets of the last century.
I agree with the Minister's views on ethos and a characteristic spirit but I think there is an impossible and paradoxical responsibility put on boards of management between the sections of this Bill and the appropriate sections of the Employment Equality Bill. It is unfair that boards of management have to deal with this provision and I think they will be caught out somewhere. I also agree with the view expressed that we should allow the provision find its own level in the courts, and that will happen.
Finally, I want to deal with section 15(d) which stated that the board shall publish their policy regarding the admission and participation by students with disabilities. I would like to have it confirmed and reinforced that boards of management will publish their policy of the basis on which participation by students with disabilities will take place in their schools. I think this provision is very important. The INTO has been advising boards for the past three years that until now we believed that children with disabilities and their parents were being "whitemailed" by the system. Parents and their children with a disability would arrive at a local school and the principal in charge of admissions is faced with the dilemma of doing what is best for the child in the knowledge that it will not receive the appropriate support from the school unless a lot of things are done. This situation has led to major rows in some cases.
In recent times the INTO has been advising boards to make it very clear that children are entitled to participate and that the person in charge of admissions should make a professional and practical judgment. In some cases practical things would have to be done — widening doors to accommodate a wheelchair, employing a child care assistant, providing ramps, lifts and technological equipment, etc. We have been pressurising the Department to do this for a long time.
We also felt we could end up in court at some stage. We have not so far because the Department has examined each case carefully and has given support. I welcome the fact that it is now in legislation that boards are required to do that. I am also conscious of the Minister's recent circular on support for those participating. I cannot say whether that circular will do the business in terms of dealing with it but it is a step in the right direction. Will the Minister confirm that boards will put the admission policy in writing so that children, be they Down's Syndrome or children with mobility or learning problems, can participate?
There was a major debate among teachers in recent years on whether there should be integration of children with disabilities. More teachers are coming to that view. The view was always held that integration, if it could be done, was a better system, but it was always held that there was no support. Now that is coming on stream and the programme is beginning to work. It means that the consequences of the provision in the Bill — that boards of management must say it is their policy that children or students with disabilities should be able to participate in school — will be that certain levels of support will be required to allow them participate fully, develop holistically and perform better than in a special class or school. The Minister knows that will happen. Perhaps he could confirm he expects that and that he will support it.
Not only do I know it, it is in the Bill. More importantly, it places an obligation on the Minister to provide the resources to make it happen. That is the key point. We do not suggest schools publish their policy and find their own way to do it, which was the provision in the original Bill. That was changed as the Bill went through the Dáil and the obligation is now on the State and the Minister to provide resources. What we announced four weeks ago was the definition of automatic rights of entitlement for children with special needs to an education. We discussed yesterday evening specific staffing schedules for children with severe, profound, mild or moderate autism. Child care is being brought into national schools for the first time on a proper entitlement basis.
The reason boards of management should publish, and the Deputy is correct in saying this, is that the Department was sometimes the last to hear of the need for physical alterations to buildings. The building unit would have received no applications from boards of management for physical alterations to schools to facilitate the enrolment of children with disabilities. Often it was parents complaining to a public representative or someone else which raised the issue, and I have experience of that. Publishing makes the system more transparent. Since the capital money for primary buildings has been almost doubled in the past 15 months, there is no excuse for any school to say it cannot accept a child with disabilities because of physical obstacles or barriers. I have instructed the Department, in the case of any application received relating to a child with a disability who needs access to a school, that those physical alterations must be made quickly.
Some movement forward was made on the characteristic spirit of the school by the Minister agreeing to press upon patrons the need to have some written version of what characteristic spirit means. I presume the Minister will return on Report Stage with an amendment to this effect.
I will examine it. It is a complex area but, from what Senator Ryan suggested, I believe a wording can be formulated.
I presume the responsibility would be on the patron. If there is no board of management presumably the onus would be on the patron to specify some description of characteristic spirit.
I am disappointed that, with a number of areas having been covered — characteristic spirit, special needs, etc. — there is no specific onus on the board of management to have structures, policies or measures to address educational disadvantage. That is as important as characteristic spirit. There should be a specific onus listed within the functions of the board of management to address educational disadvantage. There is no reference to it in the section. With approximately 20 per cent of youngsters dropping out of the education system and not getting the best from it, there should be some specific reference to the correction of educational disadvantage and an onus placed on the board of management to address it.
I dealt with that issue yesterday evening.
It is not included in the section.
Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 42:
In page 21, subsection (1), line 28, to delete "or" and substitute "and".
The subsection states "all such accounts are properly audited or certified". Would the proper wording not be "properly audited and certified"? I do not see why it should be one or the other. Surely audited accounts should also be certified?
Amendment No. 43 requests that such accounts should be included in any report or information made available under section 20, which is concerned with reports made available to parents, especially those informing them on matters relating to the operation of the school. It is just as important to provide information to parents about schools as to provide information about school accounts and how the school is run financially. I believe amendment No. 43 is valuable in this regard.
This was discussed extensively on Committee Stage in the Dáil and it was agreed that the financial burden on small schools should be reduced as auditing involved considerable expense. It was agreed on Committee Stage also that certification, while still being transparent and upfront, would be less onerous on smaller schools. People then had second thoughts on Report Stage but some level of agreement was reached. Therefore, I do not propose to accept amendment No. 42. The word "or" was used to allow smaller schools be certified as opposed to hiring a firm of auditors. A two teacher school does not need a firm of auditors to examine its accounts.
Who would carry out the certification?
Accountants could do it and at a lower cost.
Regarding amendment No. 43, I have not placed an obligation on schools to publish annual reports, but I accept the need for some reporting mechanism.
I am probably at one with the Minister more often than Senator Costello. I do not believe it is desirable to impose excessive regulations on schools, especially considering we are dealing with two and three teacher schools. However, by whatever possible mechanism, the accounts of a national school should be available as a matter of public record. There can be nothing confidential or secret about the accounts of a school, particularly a national school. Any school using public money should be under a legal obligation to make public in comprehensive detail information about how it uses that money. It is a self-evident principle.
I have no difficulty with the amendment. It was always intended that would be the case. I accept the amendment subject to drafting for Report Stage.
The Minister will table an amendment to that effect on Report Stage?
That is fine.
I move amendment No. 43:
In page 21, subsection (2), line 33, after "section 12" to insert "and those accounts shall be included in any report or information made available under section 20".
I take it that amendment No. 43 is not acceptable, but that the Minister will come back to it on Report Stage. Is that correct?
Subject to drafting.
This is basically a drafting amendment.
I move amendment No. 45:
In page 22, subsection (2), line 23, after
"school" to insert "with particular reference to educational disadvantage".
This amendment has already been discussed with amendment No. 6. Is amendment No. 45 being pressed?
Amendments Nos. 46 and 47 are related and both may be discussed together.
Amendment No. 46 has the effect of including in the school plan a particular reference to the measures which a school proposes to take to achieve the objectives of equality of access to and participation in the school by students with disabilities or other special educational needs. While this is implicit in the Bill as currently drafted, this issue was raised on Report Stage in the Lower House. I am happy to make it explicit through this amendment.
This is essentially a drafting amendment.
I suspect the Minister knows what I am going to ask. If fee paying secondary schools are recognised schools and have to produce a plan, can somebody explain how a school which is fee paying can have a policy for equality of access?
That is a good point. Obviously we are dealing with all schools under the Bill, but to a certain extent there are competing rights, roles and responsibilities. One could argue, and I would take the point, that by virtue of being fee paying, many schools do not have equality of access. Between now and Report Stage I will look at this matter, but one does not want to dilute the generality of the principle of facilitating equality which is enshrined in the Bill.
There is a bigger issue of whether the State statutorily or legally wishes to get rid of fee paying schools. I do not particularly want to go down that road and no Government has done so, irrespective of its political hue. Our view is that, in any event, given what has happened over the last ten or 20 years — where teachers' salaries have been paid and even some buildings around the country have received capital finance — I do not think it would be legally possible to do it.
Maybe I can say things the Minister cannot. I find it outrageous that schools which are heavily subsidised by the State are allowed to charge fees. I have no problem with the principle of private education if people want to pay for it. I have a huge problem, however, with State subsidised private education. This essentially gives people 80 or 90 per cent of the school's running costs, which are paid for by the State, and then they can top it up with varying levels of fees depending on what parents are prepared to pay. I find that extraordinary.
I also find it extraordinary that when schools with a denominational characteristic run fund raising efforts, they can use deeds of covenant to maximise the donations because they are seen as fostering religious works. Maybe the situation has changed but when one of the best known of the private secondary schools in Cork, where both I and the Minister live, was fund raising for a new school, people were able to covenant money at the top rate of income tax at the time — about 58p in the pound. So, for every pound wealthy donors gave, the school effectively got another 60p in funds from the taxpayer on top of the capital they had already received directly from the taxpayer. That degree of generosity is out of proportion to the contribution they make to society.
I would not want the Minister to dilute what is in subsection (2) but he should explore with the schools how they propose to meet their legal obligations when the Bill becomes law. I am glad he has identified the fact that they will have a problem because they should have a very big one.
I will do that.
This is a drafting amendment.
Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 49:
In page 25, paragraph (a), line 9, after "instruction" to insert "free from any interruption".
Loss of tuition time for students is giving great cause for concern. There is a feeling that the greatest disruption is caused in the running of public examinations. Students are entitled to instruction free from interruption. At this stage there is a huge need for a working party to be set up to streamline the public examination system and look at the loss of tuition time. It is our duty to recognise the students' right to have instruction free of interruption. There is huge interruption in schools at the moment and students are losing out as a result. There is great concern about this among parents and boards of management, hence my amendment which asks the Minister to insert "free from any interruption" after the word "instruction". The case is nearly self-explanatory at this point.
I see the Senator's point. We have had many experiences during examinations of students being interrupted. Apart from interruptions during exams, students can also be interrupted during class periods by administrative aspects of teaching, including duties that must be performed by teachers who may have to leave the classroom for a while.
There is some essence in what the Senator said, but whether it can be incorporated in the section is another matter.
The only difficulty with that is that it would be impossible within the legislation to guarantee instruction free from interruption. First, how does one define that? The traditional view is that the holding of oral examinations constitutes interruption but I do not agree. In my view, examinations are an integral part of the whole educational experience. It is an assessment procedure and so are the orals. They do involve disruption because we have to move teachers from one school to another.
I am quite worried about a trend that is developing where school managements, and even principals to a certain extent, see examinations — particularly the leaving certificate — as something completely divorced from the school. They feel that somehow it is only the Department's job to organise and manage examinations. We have a good healthy examination system and I have established a points commission concerning it. By and large, however, State examinations have always been inextricably bound up with schools and that has been a good thing in terms of the health of students.
I believe it is better for students to return to their school to receive examination results so that they can be with their friends. There is an immediate point of social contact and a teacher can talk to students about their results. Some people say we should post the results directly to a student's home, but I am not sure that is a good idea in the sense that it may lead to health difficulties if a student receives such results on their own. I am digressing to a certain extent, but it comes back to what is disruption or interruption.
We should see examinations as part of the school year, the education experience and educational reality. The impact of this proposal in Cork city would be that the Lord Mayor could not give a half day off school any more. That would be fairly catastrophic in the city by the Lee where it is an age old tradition.
We will have to bring back Senator Cregan.
Exactly. Senator McDonagh had better consult with Senator Cregan before he zealously pushes this amendment through. We cannot guarantee the weather or acts of God. I cannot give that guarantee in legislation although I empathise with the point made.
With the introduction of leaving certificate applied, leaving certificate vocational and practical subjects, a raft of assessment procedures have been introduced at second level which have led to complaints about curriculum overload and in-service training. However, in-service training should be viewed as part of the education experience as well. I am sometimes annoyed that people consider it an interruption.
There must be in-service training. The system, the teachers and the students will ultimately be better off if more teachers undertake in-service training than if there is no such training. These debates must be more up front but we should not view in-service training as disruptive. Of course it causes dislocation but it does not undermine the quality of the system. If anything, it enhances it.
There is a legal difficulty with regard to the availability of the school for community use. The Department does not own the schools so I cannot accept the amendment. However, I agree that schools should be used for community purposes. Increasingly they are and I hope to be in a position to announce measures shortly which will mark a significant change in the ownership of some schoolsvis-a -vis State investment.
I agree with the Minister's comments on interruption. Examinations now put greater emphasis on continuous assessment and will necessarily be part of school instruction. However, there is a problem with in-service training. There was no such training in the bad old days and I agree that it is necessary. Nevertheless, there is little provision for substitute teachers although large numbers of teachers might be away from their schools on in-service training courses. Something should be done to improve substitution levels and to improve organisation. At present, in-service appears to be organised on anad hoc basis within the school year.
The Minister argues that most school buildings do not belong to the Department. That is largely true of the voluntary secondary sector. However, they are almost entirely funded by the Department. It is strange that it is not possible to put a mechanism in place to extend the use of the school from the provision of instruction during normal school hours to providing for the broader educational needs of the students and parents.
Schools could be put to many community uses. The buildings lie idle for many hours every evening and, while some schools are put to alternative use during the summer, the vast majority are unused. The schools could certainly be used for homework by the students, particularly in disadvantaged areas where children find it difficult to do their homework in their local authority flat or house. Schools could be used for that purpose and the community could be responsible for its supervision.
Already the communities provide anad hoc homework system in disadvantaged areas for pupils in primary and second level education. The Department of Education and Science assists that process, as does the Department of Health and Children. The latter is desperately searching for buildings which can be used as homework clubs but the schools are unused from 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. In any case, the onus should not be thrust on the Department of Health and Children since it can only fulfil this function in a limited fashion.
The uses of the school building should be broadened considerably. The Department provides the lion's share of the funding for its construction and pays its running costs and so forth. I hope the Minister will accept the spirit of the amendment and attempt to incorporate the principle of community use of the school in the legislation. That is the direction we must take.
The Senator might have misunderstood me. I have no disagreement with what was said by Senator McDonagh and Senator Costello on the use of school facilities. I merely pointed out that the Minister and the State do not legally own the schools. One can argue about that until the cows come home but it will not change the legal reality.
The Department owns some schools and many schools are actively encouraged to facilitate community use of the premises. I propose bringing an amendment forward on Report Stage which would incorporate the principle that schools should be available for community use and encourage boards of management to utilise their schools for community purposes.
I share Senator Costello's views on this matter but I am also aware of the Minister's legal difficulty. I welcome his proposal to put down an amendment on Report Stage.
I have been outraged by empty schools in summer since, as a student, I lived in Rathmines 30 years ago. On one side of my accommodation was Mountpleasant Buildings and its many problems while on the other side was located an eminent secondary school whose beautiful playing pitches lay idle throughout June, July, August and much of September. The children around the corner had nowhere to play even though the school was substantially funded, directly or indirectly, by taxpayers.
The Minister is being positive about this issue. In future, however, when capital funding is sought by a school, regardless of whether it is a voluntary or State owned school, it should not be difficult to tie some commitment to community access to the provision of the funding. Most schools are willing to provide such access but their problem is insurance cover. Perhaps the Department, in partnership with the school management, could sort out the cost of insurance and work out a form of indemnification.
Given the capital budget the Minister has at his disposal and the fact that many schools will benefit from it, it should be possible to link future allocations of capital funding with community usage.
As a teacher, I am a strong advocate of in-service training. However, its provision could be more streamlined and take place throughout the year. There is a tendency at present — perhaps there is money left at the end of the year — to conduct a great deal of in-service training in the month of December. That puts tremendous strain on principals and school administrators. It should be more streamlined.
I did not realise there was so much training in December. I thought there would be too much partying.
I do not know if that is the case but there appears to be a great deal of in-service training at this time.
There is a headline for next Sunday'sSunday Independent.
I accept the Minister's comments on the amendment.
I move amendment No. 51:
In page 25, subsection (1), line 18, after "school" to insert "and shall conduct its affairs according to rules guaranteeing openness and democratic operation".
This amendment calls for the use of a structured approach in view of the fact that too manyad hoc situations obtain in respect of organisations and institutions operating within the education system. It also suggests that rules of procedure should be laid down and that democracy should prevail at all times. This is not a major amendment, it merely requests that a structure be applied to what is proposed in the section.
I am conscious of what the Senator is trying to achieve but I must inform him that, in accordance with section 26(1), parents' associations must be open to all parents in a school which, in itself, will guarantee openness. Section 26(4) provides that all parents' associations must make rules governing their meetings, business and conduct of affairs. These rules must be made following consultation with members. In my view this will guarantee democratic operation and even though the amendment is well intentioned it is not necessary.
Is the amendment being pressed?
In light of the Minister of State's indication that the Bill provides structures which guarantee openness, transparency and democratic operation and that these must be adhered to, I will withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 52:
In page 26, subsection (2), line 37, after "concerned" to insert "and in a manner which is fair to all parties concerned, by allowing such parties to be assisted by persons of their own choice in the making of and response to such appeals."
Section 28 deals with grievance and other procedures. I do not expect the Minister to accept the amendment but I introduced it with a view to raising my long standing concern that the process of dealing with grievances in the education system is loaded against parents. In primary schools, regardless of their nature, complaints must always be made by the parent or parents to the teacher before it can be dealt with by anyone else. Under the procedure as it was explained to me, a parent cannot be represented by someone else at a meeting with a teacher.
Teachers are entitled to protection, particularly if a serious allegation is made against them, but it is unfair to oblige parents to meet teachers if a serious complaint is being made. In my opinion the same applies where people make complaints against individual gardaí. It is relatively easy for those who are educated, self-assured and confident, who are well versed in their rights and entitlements to make a complaint. However, the school through which I became familiar with this issue is classified as disadvantaged and a considerable number of the children who attend it come from disadvantaged backgrounds which, by definition, means that their parents are also disadvantaged.
Inevitably, the person charged with making complaints on behalf of children from disadvantaged families will be the mother. By and large, these women are poorly educated, hard up, harassed and lacking in personal confidence. To expect them to approach people they perceive as authority figures and be confident enough to make complaints is to load the dice against them. The outcome of a case with which I am familiar where the complaint was made by an educated, confident mother, was that the teacher suggested that the child had been upset by problems in the home rather than by any action he or she may have taken.
As grievance and appeals procedures develop, we ought to allow teachers, parents or people making appeals to have with them a representative of their choice. I do not suggest that people should be permitted to involve their solicitors in matters of this sort. However, in social welfare appeals, appellants are allowed to bring with them a friend, trade union official or someone else to assist them in making their appeal. We should make it clear that a mechanism cannot be created which requires a parent, in all circumstances, to make their first complaint directly to a teacher without assistance from a friend or a member of the parents' association.
I understand the basis for Senator Ryan's concerns because some parents may be vulnerable and may not be able to adequately state their case. However, such matters are dealt with quite well under the section. The issue to which the Senator referred could be resolved if parents make their complaints to school principals, not teachers. If a parent brought with them a friend or someone else to make a complaint, they would have to be confident about that person's personality because they might be aggressive and might not understand matters relating to the school. That would leave matters wide open and I would be slow to encourage the Minister to take that route.
I understand the Senator's concerns. I hope a school would have enough empathy with a parent who did not articulate very well. It would be rare for that not to exist. This Bill caters substantially for grievance procedures.
I support Senator Ryan. Considering that in section 28(a) provision is made for a student who has reached 18 years of age to represent himself or herself, is it permitted for a parent to accompany them as regards any complaint? If that is the case presumably the same principle should apply to a parent, in other words, the parent could be assisted by another responsible person in lodging and presenting a complaint. As we saw from the figures outlined by the Minister yesterday, 47 per cent of Irish people between 25 and 64 years of age have not reached upper secondary education. A large number of parents have not gone through the full education system and they could easily be daunted by meeting people who might make them feel out of their depth. I am not talking about legal representation but perhaps a member of a parents' association.
On a point of clarification, can it be assumed that, if a student reaches the age of 18 years, all reporting and accountability relating to academic, pastoral and disciplinary records in a school passes to the student? Will the school then be accountable to the parents?
Senator McDonagh is dealing with the section rather than the amendment; we must dispose with the amendment first.
I wish to draw the attention of the House to section 28(1) which provides that the Minister, following consultation with the partners in education, will prescribe grievance procedures. I have no doubt that these will cover issues such as those raised by Senator Ryan. I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions by providing any detail about that procedure in primary legislation. However, I assure the House that the procedures proposed will be carried out following consultation with the corpus in education and they will be fair to all parties. I am sure those discussing procedures will ensure that. We are prescribing for a grievance procedure to be introduced following discussion with the relevant partners. From that point of view the amendment is unnecessary.
Can it be assumed that, when a student reaches 18 years of age, all reporting and accountability relating to their academic, pastoral and disciplinary records passes to him or her or will the school still be accountable to parents? This would be of interest to principals and boards of management; perhaps the Minister could come back to me on Report Stage.
I am advised that it is for each school to decide how it wishes to deal with that.
Will the 18 year old have a statutory right or can the school decide for him or her?
I am not clear what Senator McDonagh is saying. Is he saying that an 18 year old should have access to all their reports?
Up to that time the school authority deal with the parents but now it may have to deal directly with the child. Will the parents be removed from the equation?
It is only in the context of grievances and appeals that the age distinction appears.
Senator McDonagh raised an interesting question. Under present law, would we be able to insist that parents are entitled to have information about someone over 18 years old without their consent, in any circumstances? They are adults in legal terms and I am not sure whether schools would be entitled to withhold information from someone who is 18 years old and supply it only to their parents.
I would rather not write it down and assume that traditional roles would be maintained, at least until they leave secondary school. I am concerned about this as regards third level education when parents ring up and ask how their children are doing. I am doubtful whether I would be entitled to give information to parents without a student's permission. They are not children any more — they are adults and their rights are as explicit as mine.
I do not know what is the legal position, it probably remains to be tested. If the Senator wishes, I will ask the legal section of the Department to clarify it and to communicate the advice to him.
Amendments Nos. 53, 54 and 55 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 53:
In page 26, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following new subsection:
"(1) Where a board makes a decision which materially affects the education of a student and a dispute arises in relation thereto and internal procedures are exhausted, either party to the dispute may apply to the Secretary General who may appoint an independent person to attempt conciliation and to afford a hearing to both sides.".
This amendment proposes to introduce an interim mechanism for appeals procedures so, instead of going straight to a committee established by the Secretary General, there would be an interim phase whereby a procedure of conciliation would be established rather than following jurisprudence and formally setting up a committee. When the internal procedures are exhausted, the Secretary General may appoint an independent person to attempt conciliation and afford a hearing to both sides. The problem can then be resolved without the formality of setting up a committee, appointing people to it and it reporting back to the Secretary General who would, in turn, report to the Minister.
Under section 29(2) the Minister is obliged to appoint an appeals committee each of which shall include in its membership an inspector and such other persons as the Minister considers appropriate. The establishment of that committee is formal and would follow the conciliation procedure. The committee would have an inspector but would also have an independent person from outside the Department of Education and Science, which would be appropriate if the first conciliation approach was not satisfactory.
My third amendment relates to the old chestnut, "practicable". "As soon as practicable", as the Minister of State knows, covers a multitude. It is always nice to have "as soon as practicable" tied down to a specific timescale. Because there are complaints it would be better to deal with the matter reasonably swiftly to avoid things turning sour and bitterness being created. "As soon as practicable" should mean the General Secretary should act on the report within a period of 14 days.
Section 29(4)(a) attempts to provide for a conciliation procedure. Section 29(4)(b) provides for hearings to be conducted with the minimum of formality consistent with giving all parties a fair hearing. Section 29(4)(c) states that appeals are to be dealt with within a period of 30 days from the date of the receipt of the appeal by the Secretary General, except where there is an application in writing and the Secretary General consents. Even in that instance the appeal cannot be extended by more than 14 days. Therefore, I do not propose to accept amendment No. 53 which would provide a channel of appeal in respect of decisions which materially affect the education of a student. This form of wording was considered earlier during the preparation of the Bill. I am strongly advised this would give rise to major substantive and procedural difficulties.
Similarly, I cannot accept amendment No. 54. It is not clear how "independent" would be defined in this instance. Independent of what or whom? However, I assure the Senator that the Minister will endeavour to ensure, in appointing members to appeals committees, that they will bring with them expertise in the area and an open and objective mindset.
On amendment No. 55, I am pleased to inform Senator Costello that the Minister proposed an amendment in the other House which will have the effect of introducing very strict time limits on the complete appeals process. These limits are set out in section 29(4).
I am sure the considerable detail given to the procedures for appeals is done with the best of intentions. We are talking about serious complaints such as permanent exclusion of students from school, suspension from school, refusal to enrol a student or any other decisions that might be taken by a board. One could be talking about the educational future of children. Many children are being indefinitely suspended from schools at the moment. The end result is that these children are not getting into other schools but are dropping out of the system. This problem needs to be addressed.
The Minister said that section 29(4) provides that procedures be of an informal nature. I do not know how they can be of an informal nature if one sets up a committee which has the function of sitting in judgment on the appeal. One may say that it will be of an informal nature but, in effect, it will have to follow very strict procedures. On the other hand, a troubleshooter or reconciliation officer could bring the two parties together and in almost all cases achieve a resolution.
The Labour Relations Commission was set up on the same principle to avoid going to the Labour Court which was a cumbersome and bureaucratic approach to dealing with matters. The Labour Relations Commission is essentially a reconciliation body which brings both sides together, talks things through and in the vast majority of cases arrives at a resolution to industrial disputes. The Minister said he does not think this could be done effectively. It would resolve the vast majority of grievances and complaints if there was a well-trained reconciliation officer whose function it was to achieve a happy outcome to serious matters of dispute between the board and parents. A reconciliation officer could come up with an agreed resolution, whereas a committee would be more likely to come up with a decision in favour of one side or the other that is not agreed and that would leave bitterness, sourness and antipathy towards the school and the people responsible for the suspension or exclusion of the student.
That is provided for in the legislation.
I am suggesting an interim mechanism. The legislation provides for a committee. Amendment No. 53 suggests making provision for a reconciliation officer as an interim measure before going down the road of a formal committee.
It was agreed on Committee Stage in the other House that conciliation would be allowed and facilitated at the board of management stage. Section 29(4)(a) reads: "shall ensure that the parties to the appeal are assisted to reach agreement on the matters the subject of the appeal where the appeals committee is of the opinion that reaching such agreement is practicable in the circumstances".
The Secretary General cannot be involved in adjudicating on the matter before it arrives on his desk. He or she should be free from that, otherwise they would be contaminated by the process and would not be able to make an impartial assessment of the situation. The appeals committee will, in essence, handle all appeals. However, if the appeals committee feels that conciliation is a better way to proceed it can recommend and appoint a conciliator.
Does section 29(4)(a) provide that while the matter goes to an independent committee, that committee can then decide to appoint a reconciliation officer who would be a troubleshooter and bring the two sides together if it is felt there is an opportunity to achieve a resolution?
I move amendment No. 54:
In page 27, subsection (2), line 19, after "other" to insert "independent".
Amendment No. 56 is to section 29. It is incorrectly listed.
Senator Ryan is working from an old list. There is a new list.
I am working from this morning's list which begins with section 13. Amendment No. 56, which is listed on page 4 under section 30, is an amendment to section 29.
On the list I have, amendment No. 56 is an amendment to section 30.
If one reads the text of the amendment, one sees it is actually an amendment to section 29.
I am advised it is an amendment to section 30.
May I be of help? It is an amendment to section 29. A mistake could have been made on our side.
I am advised that Senator Ryan is correct. Amendment No. 56 is to section 29.
I was only trying to be helpful.
I move amendment No. 56:
In page 28, between lines 46 and 47, to insert the following new subsection:
"(13) The Ombudsman may investigate any actions of the appeals committee under this section.".
I have no doubt the procedures outlined will be effective but I am unhappy there is no provision for an independent person on the committee being set up by the Secretary General. My amendment suggests that we allow the Ombudsman to "investigate any actions of the appeals committee under this section". The Ombudsman is the great defender of the consumer, client and, in this case, the student and the parents. It would seem appropriate to have that external person whose brief is to ensure the consumer of services, in this case the education service, gets a fair hearing. As there is no suggestion that there will an independent person — I am not sure how the Minister will select persons for the committee — could the Ombudsman play a role? In any circumstances, it is appropriate to provide as widely as possible for the Ombudsman to have the right of further appeal and to investigate a matter should somebody be unhappy with the appeals mechanism being established under this Bill and the outcome of the decision by this mechanism.
I made clear on Report Stage in the other House that I have no objection to the Ombudsman overseeing and being a defender of last resort for the consumer. However the Office of the Attorney General strongly advised me that there is no need to do this. The advice was very much against the inclusion of such a provision in this Bill. This is because Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Ombudsman Act, 1980, explicitly provides that any action taken by or on behalf of the Department of Education and Science may be subject to investigation under section 4 of the Act.
In their opinion it is not only unnecessary to restate this but also extremely unwise. This stems from the accepted legal practice of never legislating more than once for the same action where it is not required. To do otherwise could result in a conflict between the two pieces of legislation, in other words, it exists already.
Amendments Nos. 57, 58 and 59 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 57:
In page 29, subsection (1), line 2, to delete "curriculum for" and substitute "curricula for all students attending."
There is a school of thought that recognises that the easiest time to learn a continental language is during the tender formative years between seven and nine. We are now part of the European Union and there is much coming and going. However when it comes to continental languages we are at the bottom of the ladder.
Finland is a model in this area. At times in Finland children have total immersion in a continental language taught in their schools. We seem to be shying away from that idea. The Bill should show initiative and if it does not, it is a lost opportunity. I speak as a parent of national school children. I firmly believe in this. I know there are conflicting views but there is a school of thought which feels there should be a continental language on the national school curriculum as a statutory provision.
Senator McDonagh is right. There are many schools of thought and whether this is a good idea has been discussed in many staff rooms. The concept is good but I am not convinced every young child is able to learn a language. I know where young children were forced into taking a continental language, found they did not like it or were unable to grasp it and were put off learning another language. I am not convinced it is a good time to force that into their lives. The concept is broad and it would not be correct to include it in this legislation at this time.
Amendment No. 58 concerns "the provision in primary schools of the study of at least one continental language". The Bill is an enabling measure creating a framework. It does not go into detail regarding specific subjects or areas that should be covered in the curriculum. That matter is dealt with by regulation and agreement with the partners in education and also by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. It would be unwise to include that amendment, although I sympathise with what the Senator is endeavouring to achieve.
We have just commenced a pilot project regarding continental languages in primary schools. Approximately 270 of 3,200 primary schools are now involved in that pilot project. It would be excessively onerous at this stage to put a legislative obligation on every primary school to teach a continental language.
I also think it would be wrong as it raises the question, where do we stop? If we include this, somebody else may reasonably say he thinks science should be in the curriculum. We will be bringing in the new primary curriculum shortly. That will be the result of a long process of consultation between all the partners involved. That is the best approach as opposed to the legislative approach. We do not want a heavily prescriptive approach where we state what must be done. It is far better to work it out with all the partners in education.
Amendment No. 57 is very similar to Government amendment No. 59 which proposes that the Minister "may give directions to schools, where he or she considers it appropriate, to ensure that the subjects and syllabuses pursued in these schools are appropriate and relevant to the educational and vocational needs of the students in those schools,".
This amendment arose from an amendment tabled or a point articulated by Deputy Bruton in the other House that perhaps a Minister may want to do this, particularly at second level, or at primary level in areas of disadvantage. The amendment only proposes that he may issue directions. For example, he may want to say to a school that it should have the leaving certificate applied, the leaving certificate vocational or the foundation provision at junior certificate and that having assessed the needs of its pupils, it is not serving them well if it does not.
I was persuaded of this as we are currently embarking on a new retention initiative for second level to try to keep children on at school. This has curriculum implications and there should be a provision whereby the Minister can issue guidelines to schools on the programmes that should be on offer to meet the needs of particular students in given situations.
I support amendment No. 57. I wonder if we could assist the Minister to get this idea across. Amendment No. 58 proposes to include "the provision in primary schools of the study of at least one continental language". If the Minister has difficulty making it obligatory in relation to every school because there are small schools, etc., perhaps we can resort to his use of "as far as is practicable" and instead of "the provision" state "the availability in so far as is practicable in primary schools of the study of at least one continental language" if it is educationally desirable. I am not an expert on primary education. Senator O'Toole might have something to say about that but in many countries languages are taught at primary level. The argument is that one can learn a language more quickly at second level when it is not learned from the cradle. If there is an educational advantage in introducing another language at the upper primary level from the ages of eight or nine to 12 or 13, perhaps it would be appropriate that we could make it available subject to and in so far as it is practicable which, as we all know, covers a multitude for the Minister in any case.
Second, I compliment the Minister on his amendment No. 59. That is desirable. It particularly pertains to areas of educational disadvantage where the onus would be to have programmes and syllabi which would help in that respect, whether it is the vocational leaving certificate, the leaving certificate applied or a focus on sport and leisure for certain students, the remedial area and work experience in the general school context. There is a great deal of merit in amendment No. 59 and I wholeheartedly accept it.
In relation to the amendment No. 58, the matter needs further discussion. I speak as somebody who supports and who, for many years, has supported the introduction of a continental language in primary schools. I fully agree with the Senator.
I have also probably studied the matter more than most people in the Chamber and I have looked at the difficulties. There are a number of things at which we should look. First, we have been through this debate before in the 1920s. At that stage, we introduced a new language to primary schools. I will come back to that in a moment.
There is a general view among public representatives that schools in other European countries are all teaching huge numbers of languages. That is not the case. The percentage of European countries whose primary schools introduce a second language is quite small. There was a major step in France in recent years to introduce a major pilot programme where one in every ten schools introduced another continental language which, in the main as it happened, was English. That is something we should do here. The Minister has introduced a programme to see how this would work at primary level and we are all watching it carefully. I pressed the Minister for a much wider programme. We have tried to do it in a non-prescriptive way and in all sorts of ways — in an integrated way, as a separate subject, as an after school subject, in the form of the characteristic spirit of the school, etc. — to see how it might work. We will only get a clear view when we implement a larger programme.
What they did in France — involving one in ten schools — gives a clearer view. However, one must remember that that programme involved the introduction of a second language. Senator McDonagh's proposal is to introduce a third language into the primary schools.
The OECD report of this week will show the number of teaching hours in Irish primary schools is significantly above the average. Therefore, they receive a fair number of hours per school day. I wanted to deal with that first.
What is not there but which should be remembered also is that 39 per cent of primary school time is used on languages. That effectively breaks down as 20 per cent or 19 per cent to Irish and English. If one compares that with 20 per cent for mathematics, it puts it in a worrying perspective. How we came to that 39 per cent involves returning to the founder of the party of the Minister and Senator Ormonde and the time when they did not have the people with the qualifications to teach Irish and we had to introduce Irish. When de Valera and people of that time were faced with the challenge of introducing a second language to primary schools in the 1920s they had to find space — I am being simplistic and generalising here but this is effectively what happened — by removing another subject and reducing time on others. The subject which they removed was science.
The Minister has just mentioned the new curriculum which is coming into place in the next couple of years. The new curriculum is purporting with the support of all of us to reintroduce science next year.
There will be a grant next year which the Senator can add to his £10 capitation.
It would be money to buy the odd test tube. Therefore, we are back to where we were in the 1920s. I commend what Senator McDonagh is attempting to do. The issue of a third language is hugely important. It would be dishonest of me to sit here and say nothing, even though I am taken with the idea of introducing a language but there would be subsequent decisions. For instance, is it to be a third language? Is it in substitution for another language? That is an issue to which I will return in a moment on another matter. Is it something which we want to do by increasing the time devoted to languages in primary schools? If it is, something else must suffer. Alternatively, do we simply reduce the amount of time spent on languages?
Theoretically, we spend 20 per cent of the teaching time on Irish and 19 per cent on English. Ireland is the only European country where in the prescribed curriculum more time is given to the language which, for the majority of students, is not the language of the home.
There are huge issues attaching to this language issue. If Senator McDonagh asked the Minister to ensure that the curriculum would provide the option of introducing a continental language or some such thing, that would be one thing. However, to prescribe it will not involve its implementation overnight. I am in favour of it and I have been looking at it for years. We are piloting the new programme at the moment and we are trying to move it forward but problems will be created down the line.
I am not predisposed. I am totally in sympathy with the issue; in fact, I have introduced the pilot project to which I referred. I cannot amend this section to deal with individual items of the curriculum. That is the point I am making. There is a process in place and the Bill facilitates that process of curriculum formulation involving all the partners. For example, one could argue that maybe we are looking too narrowly at language. Why do we always state that it should be a European language? One could legitimately argue that we should allow schools the facility to teach Japanese or a language of the Far East. There are as many arguments for that as for any other language. French and German were the norm. The numbers learning Spanish are ridiculously low, yet Spanish is spoken by half the people of the world.
One could equally have the business teachers' association stating that it is a disgrace that business is not taught in the primary school curriculum and then I would be in the business of inserting sections stating that science, language, etc., should be catered for. In other words, the Bill is not the vehicle for writing the curriculum. The Bill gives us the framework in which the curriculum is developed over time involving all the partners.
Senator Costello mentioned adding the words "where practicable" to my amendment. I do not wish to be awkward but I am very keen on the matter. In fact, I would rather see a continental language taught even in place of science. I feel that strongly about it.
I discussed this at many levels with various groups around the country and there is a strong feeling about it. I listened to what Senator O'Toole had to say and I respect his view because he is an authority like many other people. I do not mean to take from the Minister who I accept is the supreme authority.
I would not say that.
Will the Minister accept the phrase, "where practicable"; if not, will he ensure that a working committee takes cognisance of what many people, including parents, are saying?
For the first time a pilot project in Spanish, French, Italian or German was initiated with State support in 270 primary schools in September. I assure the Deputy we will watch how that project works and expand it significantly. Some 1,000 schools applied to take part in the pilot project which shows the high level of enthusiasm. We do not need to take the prescriptive legislative route to force schools to do this. We need to expand it through the voluntary co-operation of schools. I assure the Senator we will do that.
This is a welcome initiative which I will monitor in my capacity as Education spokesperson. I have been involved in education all my life and I hope something happens in this area in the future. I accept what the Minister said and I will not press the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 60, 61 and 62 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 60:
In page 29, lines 18 to 23, to delete paragraph (c).
Section 30(2)(c) reads:
[The Minister] shall ensure that the amount of instruction time to be allotted to subjects on the curriculum as determined by the Minister in each school day shall be such as to allow for such reasonable instruction time, as the board with the consent of the patron determines, for subjects relating to or arising from the characteristic spirit of the school.
We had a debate on what is the characteristic spirit of the school but we did not agree that it should be written down; we agreed that the Minister should seek to encourage the patrons to provide it in a written format. We are taking a step further in this legislation by presuming we know the characteristic spirit of the school and, therefore, allotting time for subjects relating to it.
It will be more difficult to draw up the curriculum unless the characteristic spirit of the school is known. Are we talking about arts, drama and sport which are part of the characteristic spirit of the school or about religion and religious instruction? For what subjects will the patron and the board allocate time? I always thought the Department of Education and Science prescribed the curriculum.
We do it in consultation with all the partners.
The characteristic spirit of the school does not determine the curriculum. It is dependent on the requirements of the education system as determined by the Department. I do not understand how the characteristic spirit of the school can determine the subjects on the curriculum. What will be the subjects? I would have expected the religious ethos of a school rather than its subjects to have some bearing on the time allotted by the board with the consent of the patron. This paragraph is unnecessary and confusing and it does not add to the Bill.
The Minister can determine what time should be given to subjects and the inspectorate will ensure that is done. However, how will he determine which subjects relate to or arise from the characteristic spirit of the school if he does not know what they are? Each school is now supposed to have a different individual characteristic spirit. This paragraph is confusing so it would be better to delete it.
Amendment No. 61 relates to section 30(2)(d) which states that the Minister "shall not require any student to attend instruction in any subject which is contrary to the conscience of the parent ..". I presume that only religious instruction is "contrary to the conscience of the parent" as the rest are secular subjects.
RSE and social, personal and health.
The Minister should specify that. I presume all other subjects are not included. Amendment No. 62 refers to the constitutional rights of the student.
We had a good philosophical discussion on what a characteristic spirit means. We can overdo this discussion and say nothing is possible and total confusion will be the norm. This Bill is the result of considerable work and discussions between all the partners in education. There is a delicate balance enshrined in the Bill. To amend it in any way would undermine that balance and could create fresh difficulties in terms of the agreements we have reached at primary and secondary levels and with boards of management and the various deeds of trust.
As regards subjects, religious instruction would clearly arise out of the characteristic spirit of a school. If we delete paragraph (c), time could not be allotted for the delivery of religious instruction in a school with a particular religious ethos.
Paragraph (c) refers to "subjects relating to or arising from the characteristic spirit of the school".
Religious instruction is one classic example. Many schools around the country would have great difficulty if we did not put in a mechanism to allocate time for the teaching of religious instruction, which is what this paragraph seeks to do. It could be another form of instruction in other schools. Some multi-denominational schools may have developed their own curriculum packages relating to their particular characteristic spirit and they may, from time to time, want to allocate an hour every two or six weeks to talk to and instruct their children in the terms of the ethos that informs their school.
I do not agree with amendment No. 61 which seeks to insert "religious instruction" because there could be a number of subjects. When the relationships and sexuality programme was introduced, an opt out clause for parents was included. If parents wish to take their children out of the classroom or elect not to have their children instructed in RSE, they can do so. The same applied to the Stay Safe programme. The idea is that we would have social, personal and health on the curriculum which would embrace many of the subjects of that overall curriculum provision.
Some parents, for example, would not want their children instructed in substance abuse. It is amazing how parents can have hang ups about certain things. Some people of certain religious beliefs do not believe one should be active in politics. What will happen if somebody has a conscientious objection to taking the CSB course? I am trying to be helpful. We cannot second-guess how a subject could offend certain people. The phraseology used in the Bill is broad enough to allow people to opt out if it offends them. I do not wish to be specific, but the facility to deal with that exists in the Bill and should remain there. We do not want to narrow it by simply stating it relates to religious instruction.
Amendment No. 62 is not necessary because the Bill guarantees the constitutional rights of the students and cannot in anyway undermine them.
Has the Minister given any thought to encouraging schools, in light of this legislation to introduce civics to the curriculum? This matter has not received sufficient priority. I would like to hear the Minister's general views on it. I do not wish to put him on the spot, but Members and all those involved in politics are aware there is gross ignorance about the institutions of State and the functioning of Government at local and national level. It is left to individual teachers in certain schools to introduce it rather than being a centrepiece in the curriculum. While the section does not deal specifically with the Minister's hands-on approach in this area — it deals only with the general functioning of the curriculum — it is a matter that needs to be put on public record because of the concern both inside and outside this House.
I agree. This Bill does not deal with writing the curriculum. We have introduced a junior certificate syllabus on political education. It is very comprehensive and is compulsory for all second level schools. We will also address this in the context of new curricula.
I move amendment No. 63:
In page 29, subsection (1), line 40, to delete "of persons".
This is merely a technical amendment. To say "the Minister shall establish a body of persons" seems somewhat tautologous. It is not likely to be a body of anything besides persons. I am merely proposing that we delete the words "of persons".
I am assured the drafting is correct and the formulation is standard in legislation. I bow to the superiority of an English teacher who might look at this from a stylistic approach.
What does the historian say?
He is anxious not to introduce too many technical amendments on Report Stage. Perhaps we could organise a seminar between the draftsman's office and the legislators.
We would be guaranteed a full House for that debate.
Whatever about the draftsman's office saying the wording is legally correct, I think it is literally incorrect. However, I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment No. 64 is a Government amendment; amendments Nos. 65 and 66 are alternates and amendments Nos. 67 and 68 are related. Amendments Nos. 64 to 68, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement? Agreed.
Fáiltím roimh an leasú seo ón Aire agus tréaslaím leis freisin de bharr an chinneadh atá déanta aige i leith na Gaeilge sa chóras oideachais. Tá sé dearfach, tá sé praiticiúil agus tá sé fad-radharcach. An tuairim phearsanta atá agam ná go mbeidh gach duine sa tír seo atá báúil don Ghaeilge, agus sin tromlach de mhuintir na hÉireann, go mór faoi chomaoin ag an Aire toisc go raibh sé de mhisneach aige an struchtúr nua anseo a chur chun tosaigh. Seo ceann de na rudaí is raidiciúla a tháinig le fada an lá ó thaobh chur chun cinn na Gaeilge. I slí baineann sé seo leis an dul chun cinn a bhí déanta ag na gaelscoileanna mar chruthaigh siad siúd freisin go raibh dea-thoil ann don Ghaeilge, go raibh sí ag teastáil ó thuismitheoirí, go mór-mhór go mbeadh seans ag a bpáistí oideachas a fháil tré Ghaeilge. Tá sin ag fás gach lá agus molaim an tAire go mór de bharr an mhisneach a bhí aige.
I welcome this amendment and compliment the Minister on the new structure he has proposed. This amendment and the provision he has put forward suggest that he has his ear close to the ground. He has come up with a Solomon-like solution to the debate which has been raging, in the best sense, among those interested in the promotion of Irish.
I would not worry about the divergence of opinions as it is a healthy state of affairs. We must bear in mind that those who have lobbied us individually often come from compartmentalised expertise and experiences. Many view the language one way, others have a broader view. In most cases, the debate has grown out of enthusiasm for, a commitment to and sincerity about the language.
This is a radical and positive measure because, to the best of my knowledge, it is the first time we have had a reaction from a Minister to something which has been in the marketplace for some time, particularly in relation to Irish. Unfortunately, over the years, the debate on Irish has often been emotional. Sometimes it took place in the political arena and at other times it concerned educational disadvantage. However, all that has changed and there is a new goodwill for the language. The credit for this may not go to us as a people, but to our interaction with the rest of the world and Europe in particular. A young, highly educated generation travelled abroad and saw a broader landscape as regards languages and tended to view Irish differently. As a result, many of the cobwebs which had gathered on the language were swept away and we were able to view it in a more mature and clear manner. I have not met anyone who travelled to a country where English was not the first language, who did not come back rejuvenated about Irish. They see the language as a distinctive badge of national identity. Perhaps the language I am using is wrong, but that is the language which was used in the past. The language has been put on a new plane. It would be disingenuous of us not to respond to and reflect this reality, particularly in the context of a discussion on education.
This provision and the amendment are about more than teaching aids. They are important in the teaching of any language, including Irish. It is regrettable that Irish did not figure in discussions about continental and other languages, and modern approaches to teaching languages. The Irish language can benefit as much from progress and improvements in teaching methods and aids as any other language. That is why I would be glad to see this form part of what is before the House.
In the larger sense, this is a reflection of what has happened with gaelscoileanna and scoileanna trí Ghaeilge sa Ghaeltacht. The emergence of gaelscoileanna has been one of the most encouraging developments for the Irish language. This took place against all odds. It was not easy. Gaelscoileanna often met a wall of officialdom and did not always get the encouragement to which they were entitled. Strangely, this took place against the background of a debate which suggested that, in years gone by, compulsory Irish did not help the promotion of the language. To put it more crudely, Irish was pushed down our throats. I am not getting into that debate now but gaelscoileanna developed against that background.
I would have thought that a demand from parents for education through Irish was long awaited and would have been greeted enthusiastically by the Government. Gaelscoileanna have benefited from the challenge with which they were faced. Their determination has shown results and goodwill towards them is evident.
While we focus on gaelscoileanna and the Gaeltacht we must look also at young children generally who learn Irish at school. The Minister has given a vote of confidence to the Irish language and to the Irish people giving statutory recognition to the Irish language.
Ní dóigh liom gur chóir go mbéadh easaontas idir dhaoine ar an gceist seo. Chuir mé an-suim ina raibh le rá ag an Seanadóir Ó Murchú go háirithe nuair a rinne sé tagairt don dearcadh atá ag daoine i gcoitinne ar an dteanga agus chomh báúil is atá daoine léi, tar éis dóibh bheith thar lear agus teagmháil a dhéanamh le teangacha eile, ach go háirithe. Is é an deacracht a bhaineann le Alt 31(1)(a) nach bhfuil sé dírithe ach ar pháistí atá ag freastal ar ghaelscoileanna nó a bhfuil cónaí orthu sa Ghaeltacht.
I have long felt that teaching through Irish has lacked official support and I am happy to see gaelscoileanna and Gaeltacht schools receive that. Gaelscoileanna are part of the diversity of primary education and deserve support. They are ploughing a different furrow and are to be applauded for that. D'fhéadfaí "tumaíocht iomlán" nó "total immersion" a thabhairt ar an módh múinte atá acu. Úsáidtear an módh múinte seo ina lán tír ar fud an domhain for the purpose of teaching various languages. It is a perfectly acceptable method of teaching. I know the Minister agrees that there is no single correct way to teach anything. There are six or seven methods of teaching reading which work in different ways for different pupils and teachers and in different schools. The teaching method used in gaelscoileanna has worked successfully.
The position of Gaeltacht schools is different. Bliain i ndiaidh bliana glacann scoileanna Gaeltachta páistí isteach ins na ranganna naíonán nach bhfuil Gaeilge acu in aon chor. There is a perception in the east of the country that all pupils in Gaeltacht schools have fluent Irish at the age of four. That is not true. I know this because I have visited Gaeltacht schools and have spoken to the teachers. Eagraíodh comhdháil bliain ó shoin do mhúinteoirí bunscoile as gach craobh Gaeltachta de Chumann Múinteoirí Éireann agus Ráth Cairn ina measc. We discussed this question in detail and there is no doubt that they feel the Irish language is suffering severe erosion in Gaeltacht schools. Chuaigh mé isteach i rang naíonán sóisear i gConamara le déanaí áit a dúirt an múinteoir liom nach raibh Gaeilge ach ag 50 fán gcéad de na leanaí ar theacht isteach sa scoil dóibh an chéad lá. In other words, that teacher was expected to develop the Irish language when only half the class spoke Irish. Bhí an scoil sin suite i gceartlár na Gaeltachta. This reality deserves to be noted. The matter of supporting Gaeltacht schools and gaelscoileanna is beyond contradiction. I have been calling for support for them and they deserve it.
Nuair a bhí an chéad leagan den Bhille seo á phlé san Oireachtas mhol mé leasú go mbéadh an Ghaeltacht ar cheann de na réigiúin a bhí le bunadh ag an Aire ag an am sin. The Fianna Fáil Party opposed the regionalisation of education but my concern was that support for regional structures would be inadequate. I proposed the establishment of a region which would correspond to the area covered by Údarás na Gaeltachta. Its board would have given the sort of supports to Gaeltacht schools which are proposed in this Bill. Gaeltacht schools have a less advantageous pupil-teacher ratio than gaelscoileanna. There are historic reasons for this ach má tá cúnamh á thabhairt do ghaelscoileann a ba chóir go dtabharfaí an cúnamh céanna do scoileanna Gaeltachta. I make that point strenuously because I do not wish what I am about to say to be misinterpreted as a recommendation that support should be removed from gaelscoileanna or from scoileanna Gaeltachta.
There are fewer than 100 gaelscoileanna out of approximately 3,000 primary schools. The number of pupils in gaelscoileanna and Gaeltacht schools is fewer than 10 per cent of the total in the primary school system. Section 31 is directed at helping the learning of Irish by that small section of the school population. I do not accept that. The Minister has spoken of the gulf between the two points of view on this section. Tá na heagraíochtaí Gaeilge deighilte ar an gceist seo chomh maith. Tá cuid acu i bhfábhar an mholadh a bhí sa Bhille ó thús agus cuid eile ag moladh go ndéanfaí leasú air. Deir an t-Aire gur trua leis nach bhfuil siad ar aon aigne. I do not agree with the Minister. I spend most of my time arguing with Irish language organisations and I am glad to have some of them on my side for once.
In 1980 the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Wilson, produced a White Paper on the teaching of Irish which spoke of the need to support ordinary schools in the teaching of Irish. Because of the vagaries of the democratic system the proposals in that White Paper were never implemented. The recommendations included measures such as taking teachers to the Gaeltacht for a number of months to improve their Irish. In the early 1980s the INTO produced a policy document which pointed out the need for more support for the teaching of Irish in ordinary schools. We recommended that teaching methods and support structures had to be examined and a proposal to that effect was made to the Department of Education.
In our discussions with some of the eagraíochtaí Gaeilge le cúpla bliain anuas and with Bord na Gaeilge in particular, the INTO came to the conclusion that a structure for the support of the Irish language in schools must be put in place. That structure would support teaching Gaeilge and teaching tré Ghaeilge. The Bill focuses on the 10 per cent who are learning through Irish. The Minister then drew up a set of proposals but they have simply made matters worse and changed what seemed like a gulf into a ravine.
Amendment No. 64, paragraph (a)(ii), reads:
to advise the Minister on policies relating to the provision and promotion of education through the medium of Irish in recognised schools generally and in schools located in a Gaeltacht area.
Teaching "through the medium of Irish in recognised schools" can be interpreted in a number of ways.
Some schools teach Irish as a subject and other schools teach through Irish but there are also schools which integrate Irish into other subject areas, go mór mór i ranganna naíonán, mar shampla. Ta sé de nós ag a lán scoileanna go mbeadh an Ghaeilge mar theanga positive i ranganna naíonán.
In other words the teacher would say "dún an doras", nó "téigh amach go dtí an leithreas" nó "tá sé in am lóin" agus rudaí mar sin. Irish would be integrated into the normal day-to-day activities of the school. It could also be used as part of the teaching of a subject.
The Senator knows that this provision would not cover that. It recognises the role of teachers.
Therefore we are left with the Minister's proposal. He is now adding to the support for the 10 per cent where we will get support services and the planning and co-ordination of textbooks and teaching aids for learning and teaching. Under this Bill these services will be made available to gaelscoileanna and schools in the Gaeltacht area.
I also welcome the Government amendment No. 64, paragraph (b), which states:
to conduct research into and to advise the Minister on strategies which have as their objective the enhancement of the effectiveness in the teaching of Irish in recognised schools and centres for education.
a This provision has to be seen as a move to try to respond to some of the issues raised on Second Stage. The Minister's problem with this issue was about creating two bodies. Some of the people opposed to change were afraid it would dilute its effectiveness if it was doing something else. Therefore, the Minister came up with a provision that this body could set up a subcommittee to advise, etc. His provision does not pose a threat to the people who opposed it and it also meets a need.
I would ask the Minister to take a further step and provide that the subcommittee could also plan and co-ordinate the provision of teaching and learning of Irish in ordinary schools. In other words, he should leave his proposals and add a little more. If he inserted an additional sentence he would balance the two issues. I propose that paragraph (b) become paragraph (b)(i) and read as follows:
to conduct research into and to advise the Minister on strategies which have as their objective the enhancement of the effectiveness in the teaching of Irish in recognised schools and centres for education,
Then paragraph (b)(ii) would read:
to plan and co-ordinate the provision of textbooks and aids to learning and teaching of Irish in recognised schools and centres for education.
If the Minister included these provisions it would move things forward quite significantly. Some people will say my provision does not go far enough but if the Minister could take it on board on Report Stage, I will not push the other issues.
I will be happy to accommodate the Senator on Report Stage.
I thank the Minister for his generous approach. He has been very generous in the way he has dealt with this legislation from the beginning.
I congratulate the Minister on how he has dealt with this Bill. He has done very well even though he was under huge pressure over the past ten days. The Members have also coped very well where we came under pressure from both sides of the argument, those who teach through the medium of Irish and those who teach Irish. I feel that this provision is a great step forward and the Minister has grasped it and listened to all sides. I have no doubt that a subcommittee will satisfy everyone.
Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeachas a ghabháil leis an Aire as ucht an méid atá déanta aige sa sliocht seo maidir leis an deacracht idir na gaelscoileanna agus scoileanna sa Ghaeltacht agus na scoileanna atá ag múineadh Gaeilge.
The Minister made a very good job dealing with both sides of the argument. It would take the wisdom of Solomon to get it right considering the difference of opinion that exists between various sections in the Irish language movement.
Amendment No. 64, paragraph (a)(i), states ".. learning and teaching through Irish," but paragraphs (ii) and (iii) refer to ".. through the medium of Irish.". Is there any reason the term "through the medium of Irish" is not included in paragraph (a)(i)?
Aids can be for the student and the teacher, in other words, we may need materials to enable children to learn through the medium of Irish. One can also argue that teachers need resource packs and resource materials and textbooks to enable them to teach through Irish. Paragraph (a)(ii) covers policies relating to the provision of education through the medium of Irish. One could insert learning again but it relates to teaching.
My query relates to the propriety of the language used.
I want to refer to the policy of dealing with the medium of Irish and the teaching of it. The main body the Minister is establishing will have responsibility for aids, support services, advice, etc., through the medium of Irish. Unfortunately, the schools teaching through Irish will be relegated to a subcommittee in terms of the work that will be done. Will a parent body be responsible for the gaelscoileanna and schools in the Gaeltacht which make up 3 per cent of schools? Will a subcommittee be responsible for all the other schools, provide support services as mentioned by Senator O'Toole and make recommendations to the Minister? Will we find ourselves in the old position that gave rise to this situation in the first instance?
What about amendment No. 68?
I accept amendment No. 68.
I thank the Minister. Perhaps the standard of English used by the draftsman has improved.
It is a victory over the draftsman.
Like my colleague, Senator Ormonde, I welcome the initiative by the Minister. The wider general public may not have been aware of all the angst that had been created as a result of the original section. This issue has been rustling in the undergrowth among all the various language organisations and those who are charged with promoting the Irish language, both inside and out of school. The Minister correctly pointed out that there will not be 100 per cent acceptance of this provision but he has a little less than 100 per cent. That is as much as any Minister can hope to achieve. The fact he has done that with the controversial issue of the Irish language and the associated matters of how and where it should be taught and how it should be resourced, is some achievement. I echo Senator Ormonde's congratulations in that regard.
However, my query is whether it applies to pre-school education. A commission was established to examine the role of the Irish language and voluntary organisations and its report was published by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. It specifically refers to the pre-school area. I have an interest in this because I have children in pre-school. The report makes the point forcefully that people understand, some for the first time, that young children can acquire Irish easily and naturally and that this can be a pleasant experience. It also makes the point that learning a second language at an early stage benefits children and prepares them for acquiring another language later on.
The report contains a number of recommendations of which I am sure the Minister is aware but I draw his attention to one. It recommends that an Irish language teaching resource centre be established to cater for all levels from playschool to leaving certificate and also to cater for the needs of An Comhchoiste Réamhscolaíochta, which has been involved in this area since 1978.
I hope the pre-school area is not neglected because of the more pressing needs of resourcing gaelscoileanna and recognising schools teaching through Irish. That does not address the issue about which many of us have been lobbied — the concern that an elitist approach was being perpetuated in the original section and that teachers of Irish in the general mass of schools would be seen as lesser beings in the new world brought in by the legislation. The Minister has allayed those fears to a large extent and I compliment him on that. I am interested in hearing his views on pre-school as it applies to encouraging people of a young age to learn Irish.
B'fhéidir gur tharla an díospóireacht taobh istigh den rud ar a thugtar gluaiseacht na Gaeilge ná go bhfuil an ghluaiseacht féin ag athrú ó bhun go barr. Tá sé ag cailliúint an leagan amach a bhí air ós rud é go bhfuil daoine gníomhach i ngluaiseacht na ngaelscoileanna mar shampla, nach mbeadh mórán ceangal acu le seanghluaiseacht na Gaeilge. Tá bearna cultúrtha, polaitiúil agus aoise idir iadsan agus lucht an tseanghluaiseachta. B'fhéidir gurb é seo an chéad uair le blianta go raibh díospóireacht ann faoi thodhchaí na Gaoluinne i measc daoine atá ar an dtaobh céanna maidir leis an nGaoluinn agus faoin mbealach isteach sa todhchaí ach go bhfuil difríochtaí acu. Bhí an díospóireacht seo bunaithe ar réalachas maidir le todhchaí na Gaoluinne. Comhartha í seo go bhfuil suim an phobail sa Ghaoluinn níos láidre anois ná mar a bhí sé fiche bliain ó shin agus go bhfuil daoine ag argóint le teannas agus le teas faoi conas is fearr is féidir ceist na Gaeilge a láimhseáil taobh istigh de reachtaíocht mar seo.
Tá daoine ann a bhfuil difríochtaí eatarthu, cuid acu atá tar éis saol fada a chaitheamh ag múineadh na Gaoluinne sa ghnáthchóras oideachais agus a chíonn daoine atá tagtha chun tosaigh le déanaí agus atá ag iarraidh an rud go léir a athrú, nó b'fhéidir é a ghoid uathu. Tá sé go maith go raibh an teannas agus an teas ann mar taispeánann sé go bhfuil an ghluaiseacht beo fós.
I never fully understood the intensity of argument on this issue but I am glad it happened because it educated me about many matters. Whenever the Minister says in future he is advised by the parliamentary draftspersons about how something should or should not be phrased, I will remind him that he showed considerable drafting skills of his own in section 31 without such assistance. The Attorney General's office did not think of this, rather the Minister and his capacity to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable. In future, when the Minister quotes the draftsman, I will not accept he was overwhelmed by him because the draftsman could never have thought of this.
It is fantastic that, for probably the first time in 30 years, a serious debate by people committed to the same area has taken place. There have been a number of statements of fact, for example, that the geographic Gaeltacht is in a perilous position. One of the issues which must be addressed is how to rescue what is left of it, not necessarily in the purist way it was before. I remember the west Kerry Gaeltacht in 1970 when I first visited it. It was a wonderful place with not a word of English spoken except that the average age of people was about 65 and no one would have been alive after another 20 years. It was a wonderful, spectacular place in which to reminisce about what used to be. It is now more vibrant but less purist in terms of language, although a vast amount of Irish is still spoken by the people. It is not nearly as perfect or pristine but a million times more vital. There is a better future for the Irish language in a less perfect setting like that than there ever was in the romantic mist of the late sixties and early seventies when nothing was left in the Gaeltachtaí but old men and women and young children. It would have resulted in there being no Gaeltachtaí at all. Whatever we have now is alive and vital. What we had then was about to die.
Issues arise from that and a number of points need to be made. We have not yet found a way of ensuring a satisfactory standard of teaching of Irish in all primary schools. My experience is that a vast number of teachers of Irish find it difficult to conduct a conversation for more than five or ten minutes as Gaeilge. Perhaps I am meeting the wrong teachers, but a considerable number will say they are not good enough at Irish to be able to carry on a conversation. I do not blame them. However, it is a prerequisite for the teaching of a language that teachers be at ease speaking it.
That is something which could be remedied. It would cost money but it should be done.
We should recognise the extraordinary achievement of the gaelscoileanna. The fact that people have mixed motives when they send their children to these schools is not to deny the end result. I read in a survey that one-third of people sending their children to gaelscoileanna do so because they are the nearest schools, one-third because of the language and one-third because they believe the facilities are better. The truth is that they all end up with their children leaving school with a competence to speak and understand Irish on an easygoing basis. Many teachers will say the children speak pretty bad Irish in most cases but it is usable and workable. It is better to have children of 12 and 13 speaking less than perfect Irish than being able to write elegant Irish of a high grammatical standard but incapable of conducting a conversation.
The real difficulty with Irish in the general education system is not the standard of what they do formally, but the fact that — and, although I am talking from experience, I do not have any figures or surveys on it — we have not yet solved the question of how to teach this language to the 90 per cent of our children who do not attend gaelscoileanna, in such a way that when they leave primary school they can carry on an ordinary conversation as Gaeilge with reasonable confidence.
Sin an deacracht is mó agus an dara aidhm a bheidh ag an choiste nua seo ná tabhairt faoi sin. Ba chóir dó a bheith réadúil agus réabhlóidedach faoi seo. Caithfimid an sprioc a aimsiú go mbeadh cumas i labhairt na Gaeilge ag gach leanbh ag fágáil na bunscoile, idir ghaelscoileanna agus scoileanna eile. An dara sprioc ná an chabhair a bheadh ag treastáil a thabhairt do mhúinteoirí Gaeltachta a bhfuil orthu deileáil le rudaí nach raibh riamh sa Ghaeltacht roimhe seo.
Is cuimhin liom scéal amháin a chuala mé faoi scoil Dhún Chaoin, gur tháinig leanbh amháin isteach ann agus ní amháin nach raibh Gaeilge ag an leanbh seo ach ní raibh Bearla aici ach oiread. Ní raibh ach Gearmáinis aici. Sin atá ag tárlú ins na Gaeltachtaí anois, tá an oiread sin imirce isteach sa Ghaeltacht. Má tá dea-thoil na dtuismitheoirí ann níl an scéal ró-dheacair ach tá tuismitheoirí sa Ghaeltacht anois agus ní amháin nach bhfuil Gaeilge acu ach níl dea-thoil acu don Ghaeilge. Sin ceist go gcaithfear deileáil leis agus caithfimid cabhrú leis na múinteoirí Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht chun sin a dhéanamh.
É sin ráite tá job cumasach déanta ag an Aire faoin cheist seo.
I am quite happy with the Minister's endeavours and with Senator O'Toole's further suggestion. I would like to hear from him informally sometime what life is like with the various gluaiseachtaí Gaeilge when they hear what he has done.
I move amendment No. 68:
In page 30, subsection (3), line 10, to delete "A" and substitute "The".
This amendment has already been discussed with amendment No. 64.
I am accepting the amendment.
I thank the Minister.
Amendment No. 69 is out of order as it is merely descriptive.
I move amendment No. 70:
In page 30, subsection (1) line 38, after "policies" to insert ", structures".
I move amendment No. 71:
In page 31, paragraph (5)(a), line 7, after "policies" to insert ", structures".
I move amendment No. 72:
In page 31, lines 11 to 16, to delete subsection (6).
I move amendment No. 73:
In page 31, subsection (9) line 25, to delete "section" and substitute "Act".
I move amendment No. 74:
In page 31, subsection (9) line 26, after "social" to insert ", cultural".
I move amendment No. 75:
In page 31, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following subsection:
"(10) Whenever the committee reports to the Minister under this Act, the Minister shall prepare a detailed response and proposals for action within one month of the report.".
I move amendment No. 76:
In page 31, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:
Further Miscellaneous Provisions".
This section deals with educational disadvantage and is the one I focused on most. The Minister is proposing to set up an educational disadvantage committee. My proposal was that we should move that out of the Miscellaneous Part and establish it as Part VII of the Bill. It would be headed "Educational disadvantage" and would be given what I consider to be its rightful place in the sun, rather than being relegated to a miscellaneous heading. Amendment No. 69 has been ruled out of order so we cannot pursue it, but I am disappointed that could not have been taken on board and emphasised by at least being promoted to a Part of the Bill rather than a miscellaneous section.
I felt this section should have been considerably boosted because educational disadvantage is the biggest problem facing our education system. Virtually all other parts of the system are functioning fairly smoothly and, by and large, all we are doing is to statutorily underpin them. We have not come to grips with this major problem. While the country is experiencing a considerable economic boom, many people come into the workplace without the required skills. Long-term unemployment has largely been caused by the lack of an education basis at the early part of an individual's career. The problem is stubbornly difficult to deal with. Many young people are still slipping out of the educational system and are not being catered for. We have educational disadvantage black spots in the same way as we have employment black spots and I have no doubt that both categories are interrelated.
We need to place an onus on the education system at all levels — whether it is the Minister with overall responsibility, the board of management, the schools or the inspectorate — to deliver a particular structure, strategy and policy. It must be done at school level as well but, unfortunately, that is not in the Bill. Instead the Minister is proposing a committee to sit and make recommendations to him. He has already introduced a major caveat in that where financial resources are specifically laid out they must be taken into consideration in implementing the findings of the educational disadvantage committee.
I tabled an amendment to delete that section because that is where resources should be deployed over and above the normal level. However, we cannot deal with it unless we target it. We cannot target a particular area where there is still a deficit unless we put extra resources into it. I had hoped for a better response in terms of financial resources.
There is no onus on the Minister to act on recommendations from the committee. That is the intention of the committee, but we do not have a statement or procedure whereby the Minister must act on the recommendations, establish structures, find resources or do anything on foot of recommendations forthcoming. The section is inadequate. I had hoped we could have it elevated to a more central part of the Bill in order to give it the target and focus that is required if we are to deal with educational disadvantage in a structured fashion. I still hope that on Report Stage the Minister will be able to find means whereby section 32 could be lifted out of the Miscellaneous Part and given some other designation.
The establishment of an educational disadvantage committee will open a new vista for all interested bodies dealing with blackspot areas in the education system. For the first time, it will be possible to co-ordinate their activities. That will give educational disadvantage a new importance and will assist in bringing children back into the system.
I commend the Minister for acknowledging the importance of this area. There are huge black-spots. The creation of the committee will give everybody an opportunity to feed into the consultative process. The Minister will provide resources because the legislation provides that resources, including financial resources, will be available. It is also in the public interest to make the resources available.
This is the first time I have seen a co-ordinated attempt to tackle this problem once and for all. I have worked in this area. I have dealt with educational disadvantage at all levels — primary, transition and second levels — up to the stage where I could get a pupil into employment. I have dealt with attendance and guiding these pupils into the education system. If I were still working in that area, I would shout from the rooftops with satisfaction at this proposal. At last there will be a committee with which workers in this area can link to tackle the problem of educational disadvantage.
I commented at length on the issues raised by Senator Costello. I acknowledge the sincerity of his commitment to educational disadvantage.
The Department and I are also committed to tackling this issue. The establishment of the educational disadvantage committee is a significant step forward when one considers the earlier education Bill. It is a legislative recognition of the importance of the issue. The critical element will always be resources and Governments will ultimately be judged on the amount of resources they allocate to disadvantage.
I would not underestimate the importance of the educational disadvantage committee and its impact on future Government policy on educational disadvantage. I have a comprehensive approach to this issue, about which more will be heard in due course.
I move amendment No. 78:
In page 32, subsection (2), lines 41 and 42, to delete "and available for inspection by members of the public during normal working hours".
This subsection states, "The Minister may recognise a place as an education support centre and where the Minister so recognises a place he or she shall cause the name and address of that centre to be entered in a register maintained by the Minister and available for inspection by members of the public during normal working hours". Does the Senator wish to delete that?
Yes, although I wish to comment on it first.
The subsection refers only to education support centres. Why will a register of education support centres be maintained by the Minister and available for inspection by members of the public during normal working hours? There is no such provision with regard to education centres. Once the register is made available to members of the public in that form it is not accessible through the Freedom of Information Act. Any information that is available in a public format is not accessible under the Freedom of Information Act, although that does not mean it is readily available to the public. In one way, the Minister is providing freedom of information while in another it is being removed.
The Department will fund these centres to a significant extent. I do not wish to hide them. We will promote their existence and where they are located because we want people to avail of them.
I was concerned about the vagueness of some of the proposals and I had intended to oppose the section pending clarification. The Minister has clarified a great deal in the course of this discussion. I oppose sections 54 and 55 for the same reason. However, although the proposals are somewhat vague, I do not intend to oppose this section.
Curriculum development is a wonderful idea, but one of its consequences is an increasing weight on the backs of school children. The Minister is attempting to do something about this. What progress has been made? I declare an interest in this because two of my children are burdened with enormous second level books. It is a serious problem which must be solved. The weight of school books will eventually cause harm to children.
I agree. I established a working party, which includes physiotherapists and medical personnel, as opposed to just academics and publishers. The steering committee has reported and I will arrange for a copy of the report to be circulated to Senators.
The Department hopes to launch a public awareness campaign in early January. A pack will be sent to every school detailing best practice, as it has been garnered from schools around the country. Some primary schools have done good work in dealing with the problem of heavy school bags.
The problem appears to be concentrated on students following the junior certificate course. In recent years, it has been the practice of publishers to include the three year course in the first year book. First year pupils, who tend to be smaller than third year pupils, are obliged to carry huge sacks of books. Even I find them difficult to carry. They are about 1.5 stone in weight and some 13 year olds are obliged to walk one and a half miles with that weight on their backs. It cannot be good for their health.
The Department also intends to initiate discussions with the publishers and the teaching associations because there is evidence that teachers like the three year course to be included in a single book. It tends to be more convenient for revision when the pupil is in third year. It is incumbent on us to deal with this issue. Should we revert to separate texts for first, second and third years, even though it might result in additional cost? What is better and what should take precedence? In my view, the health of the child should take precedence.
I am glad Senator Ryan raised this point because action must also be taken in respect of homework. Is there anything to prevent teachers co-ordinating the days on which homework is given so that students will not be obliged to take all their books home? If this could be done children would not have to continually bring books home and bring them into school the following day.
There is a need to provide students with lockers. I accept that this will be difficult to do in certain schools because they may not have been designed to accommodate the provision of lockers. However, where appropriate, lockers should be provided so that students can leave their books at school. Homework cannot be staggered unless students are given a place to leave their books overnight.
These two areas must be considered in addition to investigating the matter of books containing texts for the first three years of secondary school. Those books are extremely heavy, particularly for those students who must carry them long distances. In the future, lawyers will initiate court proceedings in respect of damage caused to people's health while attending second level schools.
On Report Stage I intend to table amendments to section 41, the purpose of which will be to address the situation relating to differently abled or disabled people. The Minister is aware of this problem and has travelled some small distance to take action in respect of it, particularly in the aftermath of the O'Donoghue judgment. Section 41(3) states that the council shall have regard to the implications of its advice regarding financial resources, etc., which suggests that financial considerations will become paramount. That seems to fly in the face of the judgment handed down by Justice O'Hanlon.
That would not apply here because the section refers to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the body responsible for formulating the school curriculum.
I thought we were dealing with section 41.
We are and it deals with the objects and functions of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. The provision to which the Senator referred merely stipulates that if the council gives advice on a new English syllabus it should also recommend the number of days in service the Minister should provide.
I thank the Minister for his timely advice and I apologise for my mistake. I was attending a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs at which the two of the monitors in the room were showing the proceedings in the Dáil while the other was showing the proceedings of the committee itself. When I became aware of the stage the debate on the Bill had reached, I thought the House was discussing a section in respect of which I should make a contribution. I also asked a number of my colleagues to comment on the matter to which I referred at the outset.
They did so last evening when a good debate on the issue took place.
In that event it will be possible to table amendments and debate the matter further on Report Stage. I thank the Minister for his advice.
Does Senator Ryan wish to comment further on the section?
Yes. This is an extremely serious problem. The Department of Education and Science has indicated that students cannot avail of free travel unless they live more than three miles from the school they attend. Theoretically, therefore, children should be able to carry heavy schoolbags for up to three miles. A possible solution to this problem lies with the book rental scheme which is successfully used in many primary schools. Perhaps secondary schools could duplicate books on a once-off basis, particularly if they are determined to retain large texts to cover the first three years of second level, so that students could keep one copy in school and the other at home. If action is not taken, someone will take court proceedings in respect of this issue which would be an unwelcome development.
What is the difference between the terms "with the concurrence of the Minister" and "with the consent of the Minister"? The Minister need not supply me with an answer, I merely wish to point out that the parliamentary draftsman fascinates me.
I move amendment No. 81:
In page 38, line 43, to delete paragraph (e).
This amendment proposes to delete the provision in the section relating to the Minister making regulations in respect of the charging and collection of fees for examinations. We are concerned here with the primary and post-primary sectors. There are no fees for examinations in the primary sector because a State examination is no longer held in that sector. However, fees are charged in the post-primary sector in respect of the junior and leaving certificates.
If there is free primary, second and third level education in respect of tuition, and given that assessments, examinations and tuition are being incorporated into the education system as a whole, could we not remove fees for State examinations? Perhaps I am wrong but I understand that approximately £2 million is collected in fees, which is a comparatively small amount when one considers the amount of work which goes into collecting those fees. Would it not be better if the Minister took the initiative, approached the Minister for Finance, if necessary, and stated that this aspect of the free education system should be removed?
Fees are not charged for tuition and maintenance grants are made available to third level students. However, concessions, other than those which apply to unemployed people, are not made in respect of examinations fees. Why not remove the need to pay such fees entirely, given that they lead to a reasonable amount of hardship and make it necessary to have in place a bureaucratic system to collect them from every school where the examinations are held? In the spirit of generosity which obtains as a result of our booming economy, we should be prepared to abolish examination fees. I am sure kudos would be due to the Minister if he could achieve this.
In an ideal world I would love to remove examination fees. However, as stated in the debate on educational disadvantage, one must target available resources at the areas of most need. Last year, for the first time ever, examination fees were abolished for those who hold medical cards; this cost the Department an additional £1.5 million. I accept that there are people whose incomes are above the threshold to qualify for medical cards but who face financial difficulties. However, the Department and schools tend to be quite reasonable in that regard.
Approximately £4 million is still collected in examination fees. We have been bringing about a number of significant and costly improvements to the examination system in recent years. We probably have the most sophisticated examination system around, it beats some third level institutions. Second level institutions do not often get credit for this. It would be wrong to remove a revenue base from schools which could be needed in the future. We are discussing legislation and it is open to any Minister to abolish examination fees as a budgetary measure, if he or she wishes. However, when I go to the Minister for Finance looking for money, I generally have a clear idea for what I want it and it is in line with a particular strategy. What informs my strategy at present is how I can best improve circumstances for those who are economically disadvantaged? I could use that £4 million in better ways to abolish the remainder of fees.
I am sure the Minister could. However, it is a small part of the Department's income, which is more than £2 billion. There is hassle in dealing with it and difficulty is experienced. The Minister could recoup it from the fee-paying sector if he is really concerned about getting money for the areas which need it most. Perhaps he could start by abolishing examination fees for the junior certificate so that a burden is not put on youngsters when sitting their first examination. This Bill is not about budgetary matters. Nevertheless, I am sure the Minister of Finance would not regard £4 million as peanuts. I cannot see it presenting a financial problem for a future Minister.
In a community school, fees are usually collected by the secretary of the board of management, who is the principal. This is a thorny issue at present as they are not remunerated for doing that or for being the secretary. I am sure the Minister is familiar with this issue. As secretary to the board of management in certain schools, chief executive officers are paid, but principals in community schools who service the boards of management and collect the fees are not. There is inequity in the system and the issue is being discussed at executive level of the Association of Community Schools. There is an anomaly and I am sure the Minister will hear more about it. What is happening is wrong and the matter should be redressed.
I have worked for a long time in a disadvantaged area and the Department of Education and Science has always dealt with problems arising from students being unable to pay their fees. This is not an issue as the Department has always looked on such cases sympathetically.
Perhaps if Senator Ormonde spoke to the chief executive officer of CDVEC, who deals with the school to which she refers he would have some concerns.
I move amendment No. 82:
In page 40, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following paragraphs:
"(c) require that only overall results of all students in a particular school be published by a school, whether that school be recognised or otherwise, whether such publication is intended to induce students to attend that school or otherwise, and
(d) take such steps as he deems necessary to encourage each school to make information on overall examination performance available to parents of children attending that school.".
This section deals with the Minister's correct decision to ensure we do not have ridiculous league tables for schools. They are meaningless and serve only to add to the impression that some schools, which have enormous advantages in terms of parental income, are better than schools which probably do far better with limited resources.
I am concerned that recognised schools selectively publish leaving certificate results which are calculated to persuade parents to send their children there. They do not publish the full results, but rather the results of the five, six or ten pupils who get four or five As. They give no indication to most parents of how average students fare.
Schools which are not recognised, such as grind schools, spend a considerable amount of money advertising their leaving certificate performance. In the interests of the consumer, they should not be allowed to make only selective information available. If they choose to publicise their results, it should be possible for anyone to get the full results of how all students did in all subjects. Otherwise information can be leaked and this can be misleading to consumers.
I empathise with Senator Ryan as many parents have spoken to me about this issue. Certain schools publish results selectively to give the impression parents should send their children there to do the leaving certificate. It is another way of luring a second level student to a grind school, of which we often do not get an overall picture.
I also have a great deal of sympathy with Senator Ryan's sentiments. However, legal advice must ascertain whether I have the power to prevent a school from publishing its results, selectively or otherwise, particularly a school which is not recognised — many grind colleges are not recognised. I am still not happy with the advice I am receiving.
Section 53 proposes to prevent the publication of league tables which is why I have difficulty with the second part of the amendment. If we allow the parents of children in one school to have the overall information on that school, there is nothing to stop that happening in every school. By accident or otherwise, we couldde facto have a league table scenario. However, I hope the board of management will use its common sense, which can be achieved without the amendment.
As regards paragraph (c), I can go back to the Attorney General's office to see if we can achieve what the Senator is endeavouring to do. I will check the raft of consumer legislation because if a service is being provided a consumer should have access to information pertaining to the entire operation.
I tabled the amendment to encourage some thought on the subject. If consumer legislation was introduced and I endeavoured to introduce such an amendment, I would be told it was a matter for the Minister for Education and Science. I accept the Minister's goodwill. Perhaps he could find out what the Director of Consumer Affairs thinks. It is misleading to produce a picture that includes the five or six students who got six As in school X and omit the 25 or so who got six D3s in ordinary level papers. Beyond that I do not propose to press the amendment.
I understand that sections 54 and 55 were added to the Bill on 17 June following amendments to the revised Bill. There seems to be no clearly defined limits and the proposals in the sections are somewhat vague. I oppose the sections dealing with corporate bodies pending clarification from the Minister because I believe they are a little vague.
The Bill gives the Minister the power to set up national bodies to provide a service to the education world. The best example would be the proposed national education and psychological agency. I set up a steering group approximately eight months ago and it reported within six months. The steering group's remit was to establish a national education and psychological service. It reported back that it agreed with the setting up of such an agency at some remove from the Deparetment, with its own chief executive and which would aim to establish national coverage, etc. The Bill proposes that if staff are redeployed within the Department to an agency such as the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. their remuneration and conditions of service should not be undermined following their transfer to such corporate bodies. Section 55 deals with the protection of workers and section 54 deals with the establishment of these bodies. Staff cannot be relocated without advance consultation with all the parties concerned.
I am glad this body corporate has been included in the Bill. I received many phone calls concerning this matter and I was able to talk at will in relation to the national education and psychological agency. This service should have been introduced long before now because of the clumsiness of dealing with the psychological services through the Department of Education and Science. This agency will make it easy to work through the system of the schools. The concept of streamlining pay and conditions is good. Concern was expressed as to whether these bodies would be outside the remit of the Department of Education and Science and that there would be no accountability.
Do these proposals give the Minister the power to set up corporate bodies without Dáil approval?
No, the Minister can set them up, but the bodies will be accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas through the Minister.
But they can be set up without the approval of the Dáil?
Section 54(8) reads as follows:
Without prejudice to the generality of section 5, the Minister shall not make an order under this section unless he or she has first caused to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas a draft of the proposed order and a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by both Houses.
I accept the Minister's explanation and thank him for elaborating on the matter.
Amendments Nos. 85 and 86 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 85:
In page 43, paragraph 5(1), line 21, after "time," to insert "for stated reasons".
It is standard practice, where a person has to be removed, to include the phrase "for stated reasons" which is missing in this case. Amendment No. 86 puts a limit on the number of terms of office people can serve on various public bodies. Amendment No. 85 requires the Minister to give reasons for removing a member from the council and amendment No. 86 imposes a limit of two terms in office for any member of the council. Both are sensible amendments that will achieve a degree of openness and flexibility.
Schedule 1 5(1) is a relatively standard provision in the Bill. It reads "The Minister may, at any time, remove a member of the Council from office if he or she has committed stated misbehaviour..". Schedule 1 5(5) states "A member (including the chairperson) whose term of office expires by effluxion of time shall be eligible for re-appointment.". No member shall serve more than two terms of office. I can see the argument in favour of this. It is the trend nowadays that one should serve only seven years. I am not convinced this is a good idea in the sense that someone with considerable expertise in a given language may be needed to serve for a third term. I am speaking now in terms of a member of the council in office. The emphasis in the council is on the partnership model. The partners nominate people for the council.
Senator O'Toole will not be eligible anyway.
He has his minions to serve.
Amendments Nos. 87, 88, 89 and 92 are related and may be discussed together.
Amendments Nos. 90 and 91 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is Senator Ryan moving amendment No. 90?
No. Amendments Nos. 90 to 94, inclusive, not moved.
I say this on all Bills and I say it vigorously. I resent the way a single section is used to categorise Members of the Oireachtas, criminals and bankrupts as three categories of people who cannot be members of bodies such as this.
On a point of order, where are the criminals and bankrupts mentioned here?
Paragraph 7(1) states:
Where a member of the Council (including the chairperson)—
(a) accepts a nomination as a member of Seanad Éireann, or
(b) is elected as a member of either House of the Oireachtas or as a representative in the European Parliament, or
(c) is regarded pursuant to section 19 of the European Parliament Elections Act, 1997, as having been elected to the European Parliament to fill a vacancy, or
(d) is adjudged bankrupt or makes, under the protection or procedure of a court, a composition or arrangement with creditors, or
(e) is sentenced to a term of imprisonment by a court of competent jurisdiction, that member shall thereupon cease to be a member of the Council.
I resent that, I really do. It is not the Minister's fault. It comes up in all legislation. I genuinely believe the two things should be separate. Parliamentary draftsmen should be told once and for all to put in separate sections about these matters.
I will come back to Senator Ryan on Report Stage about this. I have sympathy with what he is saying.
Amendment No. 95 in the name of Senator Costello has already been discussed with amendment No. 6.
I move amendment No. 95:
In page 5, line 7 after "PERSON" to insert "WHO IS EDUCATIONALLY DISADVANTAGED OR".