Before we commence, I remind the House that Senators may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to discussion of an amendment. On Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded.
Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997: Report and Final Stages.
This amendment ensures that the Minister will make a formal report to the Houses of the Oireachtas on an annual basis in regard to the implementation of the Act. This is to provide assurance, in accordance with my firm intention, that the Department and I will work to implement the provisions of the Act without unnecessary delay.
Amendments Nos. 5, 18, 37 and 51 are related and shall be taken together by agreement.
Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 8 are related and shall be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 9, line 43, after "give" to insert "every".
Senator McDonagh has moved amendment No. 7 but the amendment has not been seconded and is therefore lost.
The purpose of this amendment is to respond to a concern expressed on Committee Stage that the educational needs of refugees and similar groups should be acknowledged in the Bill. I am advised by the Attorney General's office that this is the most appropriate formulation. As a result of this amendment, amendment No. 15 is not necessary. We have used the phrase "having regard to the choices of their parents;". That covers all the groups referred to.
As I said on Committee Stage, people from other cultures are settling in this country and we have a responsibility to cater for their needs. Other countries do it, why not Ireland? In London there are various schools to cater for these people. The Bill had no provision for this area until now. It is important that responsibility for this area should fall on the State rather than on schools which would not have the resources to deal with it. I accept that there are some ad hoc cases but stronger provision must be made and the situation must be structured in light of current events. In many cases there is a major linguistic and cultural barrier which can lead to educational problems. I asked the Minister to outline the plans for a legislative framework to deal with the needs of minority groups and he has responded in a satisfactory manner.
The language in the amendment covers all situations such as the cultural and language needs of refugees, asylum-seekers and other minority groups. The amendment covers the provisions of amendment No. 15 on Committee Stage in terms of the broader issues to be announced shortly. Provision is made both constitutionally and in accordance with the UN charter for every child, regardless of his or her background, to be accepted into classrooms throughout the country.
Amendment No. 10 is in the name of Senator Costello. The Government has also tabled this amendment but due to a printing error the asterisk was omitted.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 11, line 7, after "the" to insert "quality,".
I second the amendment. Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are related and will be taken together.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 11, line 31, to delete "shall" and substitute "may".
The impact of these amendments would be to delete the phrase "have regard to resources". Any Minister must have regard to the resources available in carrying out his or her functions. This is a standard provision in legislation of this type. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendments.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 12, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
"(5) The Minister may direct each local authority to establish an education welfare committee with such number of education welfare officers as may be prescribed, to co-ordinate the statutory and other agencies concerned with the welfare of children in their functional area.".
I hope the Minister will take on board this amendment. Local authorities have an educational responsibility in a number of areas. They are responsible for the vocational education committees, school attendance in some areas and school meals. Perhaps the Minister might use his influence with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to ensure the forthcoming legislation on local government specifies areas where local authorities could be more proactive than heretofore. Responsibility for the welfare of children should be devolved to local authorities or taken from them and given to the Department of Education and Science. In the absence of structures, the Minister should take advantage of what is already in place and try to develop the remit of local authorities in this area. I am concentrating on educational welfare matters because, by and large, local authorities deal with welfare aspects such as school meals, vocational education committees and school attendance. I know the Minister will deal with some of these matters in the school attendance Bill.
A number of statutory and voluntary agencies could be brought together under the remit of the local authorities. This is already taking place in Dublin where there are five integrated plans. An essential part of these plans is the educational aspect. Where there are black spots in city or rural areas, the Minister should consider how local authorities could develop the housing, maintenance and business needs of these areas. They could also deliver an education service where education facilities might be required. The local authority should be in a position to provide a local educational structure. While my amendment specifically refers to educational welfare, I consider it in terms of what could be done if an initiative was forthcoming from the Ministers for Education and Science and the Environment and Local Government.
I support the amendment. The local authority has a role to play because we all aspire to the integration of travellers into the community. In the case of Galway VEC, Galway County Council provided a building, FÁS developed it and the VEC took over the running of it as a training centre. The three-tier partnership proved extremely successful in getting the local authority involved with the VEC, FÁS and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is all about partnership and I understand where Senator Costello is coming from. It would be helpful if the Minister would accept the amendment because local authorities have a part to play. This would be advantageous to everyone involved in partnership programmes in the future.
It would not be appropriate for me to direct local authorities to establish committees. That is a matter for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. I may consult with him about the issues raised by Senators.
The school attendance Bill will cover the area of welfare officers and so on. It will also deal with the establishment of an education welfare board. This will be a national body and will have welfare officers throughout the country.
In line with Senator McDonagh's remarks, I will promote partnership between local authorities and education bodies. This is taking place at present in area partnerships whereby local authorities, vocational education committees and other interest groups work together for the regeneration of areas in respect of employment initiatives and so on. Invariably, education ranks centre stage in such partnerships and many of these partnerships have education sub-committees. This type of co-ordination is welcome, focused and area-based. It often relates to areas that are designated as economically disadvantaged and having high unemployment figures. I am impressed with the degree of co-ordination taking place between all the statutory and voluntary agencies in area-partnership areas.
Section 7(1)(c) provides for the co-ordination of education and support services and section 7(4)(a)(ii) refers to services provided by other State agencies and more generally in the State. Provisions are also included in section 33(j). I do not propose to establish another layer of planning co-ordination. The Minister is being given powers to activate co-ordination.
I am glad to hear the Minister's views on this matter. I can see where both Senators are coming from. I am aware that local authorities are involved in education matters. This should come under the aegis of the Department of the Environment and Local Government. All of us, including the Departments of Education and Science and the Environment and Local Government, are guilty of a lack of co-ordination in this regard.
While I support the Minister on this, I empathise with the Senators. The thrust of what they are saying is good and worthwhile. However, I hope it will come from the Department of the Environment and Local Government and, as the Minister said, under the partnerships. Once we can approach it from the right direction it will not matter. The Department has too large a role in that area and I would prefer to see it coming from the other end. I listened to the Minister but I felt that was not the appropriate way to go with that concept.
This amendment results from the discussion on Committee Stage. We are making it clear that students over the age of 18 years have a right to access their educational records. This is entirely consistent with the provisions in relation to appeals and curriculum issues elsewhere in the Bill, where that right was already there.
Amendment No. 15 was discussed with amendment No. 9.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 13, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:
"(g) ensure, where practicable, that the language/cultural needs of minority groups such as refugees are identified and provided for,".
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 13, line 36, after "policy" to insert "which may not involve entrance examinations and".
I thought the Minister might take this amendment on board, given that section 9(m) states that schools shall "establish and maintain an admissions policy which provides for maximum accessibility to the school". How can a school provide for maximum accessibility if it has an entrance examination? Such an examination is a hurdle which must be overcome and has tended in the past, according to well recorded evidence, to be discriminatory. Certain schools insist on this admissions policy and will continue to do so. The Minister cannot guarantee maximum accessibility if he is going to allow admissions to be based on entrance examinations. He should take this amendment on board, which would indicate he is allowing every school to operate on a non-discriminatory basis where every student, irrespective of aptitude, has access to an education in the school of their choice.
We discussed this on Committee Stage when I made the point that we do not propose for the legislation to set out in detail the admission policies of schools. The Bill is an enabling framework within which the existing diversity of education provision in this country can operate. Schools have different admission policies and entrance methods. It would not be possible, in legislation of this kind, to state specific admission policies for all the different kinds of schools which exist. I do not agree with the principle of an entrance examination but the vast majority of schools do not have examinations which determine the entrance of students to the school.
The only issue which tends to act as an obstacle to access to education in certain areas is the population of a given area and the availability of places in a given school in such an area. Existing second level schools in certain areas of Dublin, Cork and Galway, where the population is booming, are finding it difficult to provide places and there is a huge demand for certain schools. These schools do not have entrance examinations.
Enrolments in some second level schools in rural Ireland have been declining steadily, so there are no difficulties there in terms of gaining access. The only difficulty I perceive is in some areas of urban Ireland where the population is on the increase.
Entrance examinations are a hobby horse. Some private, fee paying schools, which are recognised schools, have entrance examinations, but not everyone wants to go to those schools either. These examinations were held long before I came along. One must take cognisance of what is in the system because we cannot change it overnight. We are endeavouring to create a legislative framework which allows the situation to grow and evolve over time, and which takes due cognisance of the rights of the various patrons and partners in education.
A fundamental point about the Irish education system is that is it essentially still State aided rather than State controlled. We do not own all the schools in Ireland and we never did, which has an important implication for legislation.
It is proposed to state in the Bill that the functions of the inspector shall include ensuring "that the needs of people with disabilities involved in or seeking access to the education system are addressed" and "that the needs of the educationally disadvantaged are addressed". How will "inspector" be defined? Is the Minister happy he will have available to him the type of people who can define what is needed to ensure the needs of people with disabilities are properly catered for by the right type of inspector? In other words, Departments other than the Department of Education and Science might have a better structure set up for this, such as the Department of Health and Children. The sad part of this is that we are admitting we are not able to say we are solidly on top of the problems of those with disabilities. Is the Minister happy that the right type of people will be appointed, or that the right type of people exist within the teaching system?
Yes. Under this legislation, there is strong recognition that we will appoint inspectors who have expertise in relation to children with special needs. However, there will have to be closer co-ordination with the health services in terms of assessments and so on. I am satisfied that we can appoint the right people, which is what we have to do.
The teacher training colleges are now developing special modules which deal specifically with children with disabilities and special needs. Therefore, new teachers coming into the system will have had access and exposure to the full range of learning disabilities and difficulties.
The Senator may not speak a second time on Report Stage.
Will the Minister clarify his comment that in principle he is not in favour of entrance examinations? We are either discriminatory or not. He either accepts that entrance examinations are good or bad: they are not neutral. They exist to specifically select students and in the past the practice has been that selection has not been for the best reasons but rather to select people a school wants. A school might have a certain cache, reputation and ethos which is not the characteristic ethos we have been talking about in terms of the good things which make it up. I do not understand how, on the one hand, the Minister says in principle he is not in favour of entrance examinations while, on the other, he says that introduction of something as discriminatory as entrance examinations can be left to the patron or the board of management.
Entrance examinations exist to discriminate against a particular type of student. How can such a level of discretion be left to a patron if the entrance examinations are not good in themselves? What purpose do entrance examinations serve? I know a sprinkling of schools throughout Dublin city which insist on entrance examinations, not for the purpose of to see if pupils can pass an aptitude or to put them in the most appropriate classes but to determine who does and does not get a place in the school. This is the only reason entrance examinations exist. If the Minister is satisfied that the only function of entrance examinations is purely to allocate pupils to classes on an aptitude basis, then there is no problem. However, aptitude testing can take place subsequent to enrolment.
Aptitude tests or tests which endeavour to find out the various levels of students entering a school can take place either before or after enrolment. A case can be made to have them before enrolment so that assessments are available to teachers.
We are dealing with something which is part and parcel of the education system. Many years ago the Department issued a circular discouraging entrance examinations which had a significant impact. We are now dealing with legislation and we must decide whether to legally oblige every school not to have entrance examinations. We cannot legally do this; if we could we would have to dismantle certain systems and ways of doing things.
We could take the example of fee paying schools which are recognised by the Department. For four years the previous Government included provisions in this regard in its Programme for Government but did not even attempt to implement it. I am not making a political point in this regard — perhaps that Government saw existing realities. However, no attempt was made to discontinue the practice of fee paying schools. The direct cost to the Exchequer if we were to do this would be £5 million. It could also be argued that doing so would be killing a certain tradition which people pursue for whatever reason. The difference between Ireland and other countries is that we have a diversity in almost every town, with different types of second level schools, thereby providing for students across the board. Personally I do not see the value or need for fee paying schools. However, they exist and people pay fees to attend them. This is where the majority of entrance examinations exist.
According to most admission policies which we have examined, entrance to a school depends on whether one's parents were past pupils, whether one's brothers or sisters are attending the school and whether one is living in the parish or attended the primary school which is a feeder school to the secondary school. These tend to be the main criteria which determine entrance to second level schools. However, despite these criteria, there can still be difficulties in areas of high urban growth.
We took a decision in terms of the legislation not to be too prescriptive in terms of including in the Bill the detailed admission policies of schools, as somebody else could ask why, being the son or daughter of a past pupil, gives precedence over somebody who is living in the parish where the school is located.
It is happening.
It is, but should we include a provision in the Bill saying it should not happen? Somebody could equally say that inclusion of such a provision is discrimination while somebody else could say they consider a particular provision in a school's admission policy to be discriminatory. We took the wise view that we cannot be prescriptive in legislating for every detail in terms of schools' admission policies. However, we do work with schools and change policy, practices, etc., outside the legislative process on an ongoing basis. We also introduce new curricular programmes which have an impact on participation, etc. I do not think it is a huge issue on the ground.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 15, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following:
"(3) The functions of the Chief Inspector shall include—
(a) to manage and co-ordinate the activities of Inspectors so as to maximise output,
(b) to assist and support Inspectors in the discharge of their functions,
(c) to take direction from the Minister in relation to policy matters,
(d) to report to and advise the Minister,
(e) to prepare and present to the Minister by November 1st each year, an annual report on the Inspectorate and the Minister shall, with or without amendment, lay the Annual Report of the Chief Inspector before both Houses of the Oireachtas on the first sitting day of the following year,
(f) to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities involved in or seeking access to the education system are addressed, and
(g) to ensure that the needs of the educationally disadvantaged are addressed".
I do not intend rehearsing everything that was said in regards to this amendment on Committee Stage. I am trying to give the chief inspector some overriding and leadership function in terms of the rest of the inspectorate. While here and there there are references to the chief inspector in relation to examinations, there is no coherent role for him or her. I know the Minister will say this is what is intended, that the inspectorate will work collectively and that all inspectors, including the chief inspector, are equal. I do not know why he is called the chief inspector if we are to strictly operate on the basis of collectivity — it is primis inter pares. There should be some description of the leadership role of the chief inspector and I am suggesting it be in terms of his or her function to manage and co-ordinate the activities of inspectors so as to maximise output, assist and support the inspectorate and take direction and give advice to the Minister. A chief inspector should have a level of responsibility given to them without separating him or her from the other inspectors who make up the inspectorate in the Department. All inspectors would have access to the Minister as he requires. It is important that legislation indicates who is responsible if a person is given responsibility and a salary which is commensurate with it and I think that should be indicated in this Bill.
The amendment is very constructive in many areas. Section (e) says "to prepare and present to the Minister by November 1st each year, an annual report on the Inspectorate and the Minister shall, with or without amendment, lay the Annual Report of the Chief Inspector before both Houses of the Oireachtas". The very constructive point contained in the amendment is that if we have a chief inspector, responsibility should lie with him. Senator Costello has made a very strong point that if he is paid enough, he could be responsible to the Minister and he would also ensure the needs of people with disabilities who are seeking access to the education system are addressed. We have an opportunity here to protect these people but the sad part is that there is a general impression in the Bill that we are talking about the education system and people who are disadvantaged.
I acknowledge there is strong recognition of the 20 per cent of people who are left behind; I know that better than anyone else. However, I am worried about giving responsibility to a chief inspector, a matter I debated with the Minister on Committee Stage. Is there any chance of promoting the idea of having one chief inspector responsible for the disabled? If a chief inspector was responsible for this area it would be an advantage for the disabled rather than those who are educationally disadvantaged. Those who are educationally disadvantaged make up one group and, for many groups in the primary area, opportunities are not opening up but if we had one chief inspector who reported to the Minister on this matter it would consolidate this area. There is an opportunity here that can be availed of.
I do not propose to accept the broad amendment as I said on Committee Stage. The inspectorate and chief inspectorate are integral parts of the overall team in the Department of Education and Science. It would be wrong to create a situation where one separates the chief inspector from the remainder of the Department, which would be the inevitable result of adopting this amendment. That would not be a good development.
The chief inspector enjoys the rank of assistant secretary in the Department, although the Public Service Management Act will define the respective roles and responsibilities of staff within the Department. The chief inspector and inspectors are doing a good job, particularly in the school evaluation project as well as with other developments, such as the psychological service; the chief inspector has developed an initiative on the latter project with me.
Regarding Senator Cregan's point, there is a special education section in the Department. I strengthened that recently when I added additional staff and we are amalgamating it into one special unit responsible for children with special needs throughout the system. We have inspectors who have particular expertise, interest and commitment to children with special needs who co-ordinate the various activities for the Department and the Minister. That is the position at the moment.
The Minister said that the chief inspector is really a civil servant in the sense that he is answerable to the Secretary General rather than the other way round, in other words, there is a layer of hierarchy there, whereas the ordinary inspector reports to the chief inspector——
That is what we are getting at.
No, I see what the Minister is saying. It is under——
Senator Ormonde will have to be brief; I should not have allowed her to speak after the Minister. Only the proposer of the amendment can speak. My apologies.
I do not see what point the Minister is making here. We are not suggesting the separation of the chief inspector from the rest of the inspectorate. The chief inspector is, by virtue of being chief inspector, in a position of responsibility which carries authority and duties. The rest of the inspectorate also have duties as outlined in the legislation. Giving a leadership and co-ordinating role to the chief inspector is surely inherent in the job description. To say that he or she will provide an annual report to the Minister and deal with the needs of people with disabilities and educational disadvantage only reflects what we are saying about other areas. That is also the responsibility of the school, the board of management and the Minister. Why should we not make the chief inspector and the inspectorate responsible in the same fashion? I think it is not right to refer to the chief inspector as having a responsibility in the examinations area and then not to refer to his or her responsibilities in a much more important area of leadership of the inspectorate. I do not see how the Minister is saying that my amendment is trying to drive a wedge between the chief inspector and the rest of the inspectorate. I am trying to glue them together and to ensure that the chief inspector has his or her leadership role determined in the context of the collectivity of the responsibilities of the inspectorate.
- Caffrey, Ernie.
- Costello, Joe.
- Cregan, Denis (Dino).
- Hayes, Tom.
- Henry, Mary.
- McDonagh, Jarlath.
- Ridge, Thére se.
- Bohan, Eddie.
- Bonner, Enda.
- Callanan, Peter.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Cox, Margaret.
- Cregan, John.
- Gibbons, Jim.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Kett, Tony.
- Kiely, Daniel.
- Kiely, Rory.
- Lanigan, Mick.
- Leonard, Ann.
- Dardis, John.
- Farrell, Willie.
- Finneran, Michael.
- Fitzgerald, Liam.
- Fitzgerald, Tom.
- Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Moylan, Pat.
- O'Brien, Francis.
- O'Donovan, Denis.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- Ormonde, Ann.
Amendment No. 18 and amendments Nos. 37 and 51 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 16, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:
"(iv) evaluate the policies and strategies for the correction of educational disadvantage;".
This amendment proposes the inspectorate be involved in evaluating "the policies and strategies for the correction of educational disadvantage". Educational disadvantage has not received adequate recognition or treatment in this legislation. The Minister so far has rejected all my amendments in this area on the basis that there is a miscellaneous section dealing with the establishment of an educational disadvantage committee. We all know what can happen when educational disadvantage committees or any other committees are established. They will report but there is no guarantee recommendations in the report will be implemented. There is nothing in the section that pressurises or makes it compulsory or mandatory for the Minister to implement the report. I would prefer if there was a provision in the Bill which would place an onus on the school, the Minister, the inspectorate and the board of management to provide policies and strategies for the correction of educational disadvantage.
Now that the Leader of the House has kindly agreed to a debate on literacy and educational disadvantage next Thursday, we will discover just how serious it is and the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, who recently produced a report on the Green Paper on adult education, will also see how extensive is our problem of educational disadvantage. As his report states, if we continue as we are, it will be 2015 before we reach the average of our OECD counterparts, not to mention our European Union counterparts, in terms of educational levels throughout the community.
We are severely handicapped in the upper secondary levels; we are well down the scale. We need interventionist policies and strategies. I am disappointed the Minister has not agreed to take this on board. I do not accept that a miscellaneous subheading establishing a committee to deal with educational disadvantage is the answer to our problem. Responsibilities must be placed on each person and unit involved in the delivery of education to deal with and address areas where there is educational disadvantage.
We all know it exists in pockets and blackspots in urban areas, and to some extent in rural areas. In particular in large urban areas we need special measures to address this problem. Our work force requires it. We will soon find we have a labour shortage and we need people with skills and training. We particularly need to have measures, policies, strategies and structures as a safety net for youngsters falling out of the education system so we can bring them back on board and deal with them. That is the reason I am suggesting we put an onus on the units of the education system to provide those policies and strategies.
I wish to restate the point Senator Costello made strongly about the special needs of particular students. There are blackspots and, given the current structure and the Bill, there is obviously a recognition of the 20 per cent of students who do not make it through the primary sector. Section 13 covers the inspectorate and I am worried about why we are not assessing and stressing the effectiveness of the inspectorate, particularly its effectiveness in particular areas of primary education. Senator Costello made this point strongly. There is no reason we cannot emphasise that more strongly in this section.
On the proposed amendment to insert "evaluate the policies and strategies for the correction of educational disadvantage", "educational disadvantage" is very broad. I asked the Minister, Deputy Martin, earlier why he is not defining a particular inspectorate for a particular area. He replied that he is in the process of establishing a section for the disadvantaged in the primary sector. If that is being done, why is it not stated in the Bill that there must be recognition for blackspots?
While on the subject of blackspots I wish to mention the disabled. We are insulting the disabled by saying they should be in the education sector at all. We do not consider them as people who deserve defined education but they have a constitutional right to it. The Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that we had not recognised that until then. I know the Minister is now committed to saying that we are recognising it but we are not recognising it strongly enough.
We could amend this section by giving a chief inspector responsibility for the disadvantaged handicapped people as opposed to educationally disadvantaged people. Reference is made to "individual students who have a disability or other special education needs". The definition of "disability" does not cover a profoundly handicapped person who has a constitutional right to education and is not getting it. I wish to make this point very strongly.
We could protect them by giving a chief inspector the sole responsibility for the handicapped in the primary sector and ensure he or she reports back to the Minister. The Minister can then come before the Houses of the Oireachtas with the report stating what is or is not happening and what he is or is not happy about. I would appreciate if we gave a particular inspector responsibility for this deprived education sector for the disabled. Should the chief inspectorate not have responsibility for this area? He or she does not need to have sole responsibility. Some people may not think this is a massive problem but it has been a serious matter for the disabled because they received no education. We should give the chief inspectorate responsibility for these people because they are entitled to receive their constitutional rights.
Amendment No. 18 concerns the evaluation of policies and strategies for the correction of educational disadvantage. On Committee Stage we spoke at length about the new committee which would identify and correct this problem. It would not make sense to insert an amendment at this point because section 32 goes into detail on the matter; it states that one of the committee's roles will be to assess the implementation and effectiveness of any programmes of education which have been devised in respect of individual students who have a disability or other special education needs. That covers it and I have no doubt educational disadvantage will be tackled. The Minister has made a strong commitment to dealing with this area in conjunction with special education needs in section 13(3). I am sure he empathises with the points raised. I know where Senator Cregan's heart lies on this matter, and we must ensure special educational needs are met. I am happy the Minister will do so. The inspectorate will be integrated and will be able to assess psychological and other needs.
I understand Senator Cregan's point but I agree with my colleague, Senator Ormonde.
I am not a rubber stamp for anyone, as Senator Costello knows. Local schools inspectors have a number of functions — we could not have one or a number of local inspectors specifically mandated to deal with educational disadvantage, important though it may be. Section 13(2), which deals with the inspectorate, puts an obligation on the Minister when appointing inspectors to include persons who hold qualifications as psychologists or who have other expertise, such as in the education of students with special educational needs. That is new and, as far as I know, it is the first time a legal obligation has been put on the Minister to include people with such expertise when appointing inspectors.
As to the amendment, anyone looking at the Bill or the report of these debates would know the Government is committed to tackling educational disadvantage. For the first time in the history of the State there is specific legislative provision, in section 32, for a committee on educational disadvantage. Such a provision was absent from the Bill published in 1997 by the Senator's Administration. I am confident the committee would play an important role in advising on policy to tackle this issue, particularly because the Minister has specifically provided that up to half the members of the committee will be appointed from nominees of voluntary or other bodies working in the area. Also, under section 12, the Minister may provide additional money to recognised schools having regard to the level of educational disadvantage of their students.
Since becoming Minister, Deputy Martin has taken a number of initiatives to address educational disadvantage, including the eight to 15 year old initiative and the abolition of examination fees for medical card holders. Other measures he has initiated which will be particularly relevant to those facing educational disadvantage include his proposed education and welfare legislation, which will tackle school attendance not through sanctions but through positive intervention. Because the Minister is convinced of the need to focus on educational disadvantage, he has made provision in section 32 for a committee on the subject.
I therefore do not think it necessary to accept this amendment because the evaluation process Senator Costello has in mind will be a matter for the committee — a mechanism will be put in place to monitor the Government's performance in this area and it will issue regular reports. I think that is the best way to do it. One can give the inspectorate a role in this regard but the best way to keep the Government on track and to put in place a constant monitoring mechanism is the measure proposed in section 32. Time will prove it the most effective approach.
Amendments Nos. 19 to 22, inclusive, are related and, with the agreement of the House, may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 18, line 31, to delete ", except in the case of a school established or maintained by vocational education committee,".
I would like the Minister's views on including the vocational education sector because the Bill does not apply to that sector and he is reviewing the 1930 Act to make provision for it on a further extended statutory basis. Amendment No. 20 would require regulations to make provision for parents and teachers on all vocational education committees. It has been requested by the TUI that each VEC should have full partnership on the board of management and advisory committees, and the parents and teaching staff should be represented. Less than 50 per cent of vocational education committees have such representation, and it makes a mockery of an education system if we propose a partnership of all the interests involved and all those concerned, particularly the parents and teaching staff, without giving them a forum in which their views can be expressed. The danger is that the 1930 Act is unlikely to be reviewed until before the local elections next year, so it would be appropriate for the Minister to indicate in this legislation how he wants the vocational education committees to be composed, and that should include parental and staff representation.
Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 are similar and the Minister's amendment, No. 21, has taken on board most of what is in my amendment — directions are included as to what is an appropriate gender balance, and I am happy with that.
I second amendment No. 19. It is incumbent on the Minister to make a statement on the future legislation with regard to vocational education committees because I foresee that problems will arise. To date, the Minister said that the legislation relating to vocational education committees will not be in place before the next local elections and current members will be re-elected en bloc as heretofore. A number of months later, certain members of the vocational education committees will be asked to resign and they will be replaced by other people. This will cause much disharmony and tension.
Everybody recognises the enormous contribution the VEC sector has made to education since 1930. When the new VEC structure is in place, people who are elected at next year's local elections and appointed to vocational education committees should retain their positions. I support the move to appoint parents and teachers to vocational education committees. I hope they will be brought on committees in addition to the people appointed next June if the new legislation is not in place by then.
I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, who has responsibility for adult education, is in the House. It is important that people involved in the adult education sector and on adult education boards have a place at the table in relation to vocational education committees. I am sure this area will be debated at a later date. I commend the Minister of State on his Green Paper. I attended the Aontas discussion on it. It is incumbent on the Minister of State who has direct responsibility for this area to ensure at Cabinet level that adult education providers and organisers and those involved in adult education boards have a place at the table at VEC level. They have been left out up to now and the Minister of State has a responsibility to ensure that they are included in the future.
This is most important because this is the fastest growing sector in education. It is getting larger every day and the Minister of State's remit is also growing. I commend him on his work to date and he would do a great service to the system if he ensured that adult education was represented on vocational education committees. I ask him to make a clear statement on this matter because many people involved in vocational education committees, the IVEA and adult education boards want to know where the vocational education committees stand with regard to this Bill and what type of vocational education committees will be established next June. A statement would clear up many of the current suggestions and rumours.
I second the amendments tabled by Senator Costello and I look forward to the Minister of State's clarification on this important issue. I appeal to him to ensure that adult education is represented on VEC boards when they are established.
I come from the vocational sector and I have great empathy with the points made by Senator McDonagh in relation to the role of vocational education committees. It is important that the Minister of State makes a statement on this matter because adult education representatives should be part of the new committees. However, that is a matter for another day. It is not part of this debate. I hope the legislation to amend the 1930 Act in relation to the vocational sector will come on stream before June, but the issues raised by the Senators are a matter for that debate. The amendments are a little premature.
I have great difficulty with amendments such as amendment No. 22 which states that in making appointments to the board, the patron shall ensure a gender balance of at least 40 per cent of each gender. It is a great concept but I am aware from interview boards that one must chase around trying to find somebody to give the board a gender balance. It is becoming a nightmare.
Women are missing.
I am a member of the County Dublin VEC and it happens all the time.
It is always women who are missing.
I want good people, men or women, on boards. It has not been necessary for me to find men because there were too many women on a board. However, it should not be the case that one must find a woman for a board because there are too many men. Boards should have good people who reflect the terms of reference of the board in an intelligent and proper manner. There should not be a fixation on the idea that women must be part of boards. Women who are good will come through the system. That is our nature. If such women are part of the vocational education committees, they will come through onto the boards. There are fine women but I do not support the idea that they should be chased to become part of boards.
I thank Senator McDonagh for his kind remarks. The difficulty which has been brought to my attention is that the providers of adult education are not represented on adult education boards, which are subcommittees of vocational education committees and deal specifically with adult education. In particular, it has been represented to me that they do not usually include somebody who specifically represents literacy interests. I wrote to all the vocational education committees and directed them to correct that deficiency.
In relation to the general shape of the final legislation regarding vocational education committees, I do not know what the position will be before and after the local elections next June. Regarding the Green Paper, the issue of whether the vocational education committees will still be in control of the adult education system at local level has been left open to debate. The difficulty is that there are a large number of providers in the adult education area. The vocational education committees are no longer the only providers; they are not even the main provider now. We must consider whether this area should be under the aegis of a particular player in the field who is no longer the main player. However, that is a matter for discussion. We welcome observations from the Opposition parties on the Green Paper.
In relation to amendment No. 19, as the House is aware VEC schools already have their own distinctive representative management structures. Accordingly, it would not be appropriate to force them to also take on the representative management structures envisaged in the Bill. It is for this reason also that I do not intend to accept amendment No. 22. Vocational education committees are not covered by the Bill and the Senators are aware that the Minister intends to publish legislation to amend the VEC Acts in 1999.
I agree with the spirit of amendment No. 22. As Senator Costello said, the substance of it has been taken on board by the Minister in amendment No. 21. I wish to bring to the attention of the House that it is proposed to amend Government amendment No. 21 by the addition of the following words: "and the Minister, before giving any such directions, shall consult with patrons, national associations of parents, recognised school management organisations and recognised trade unions and staff associations representing teachers". This means that before the Minister gives a direction in relation to gender balance, he or she will be obliged to consult those particular groups. I thank Senator Costello and Deputy O'Shea in the other House for bringing this matter to our attention. The substance of their points is effectively included in the Government amendment No. 21, which I hope the House will agree to.
The distinctive structure of the vocational education committees is about to be overhauled. There will be radical changes in the VEC system under the new legislation. We should await amending legislation specifically in regard to vocational education committees. A question was asked in regard to this issue on the Order of Business in the Dáil recently and I believe it is intended to publish the legislation early in the new year. A great deal of work has been done in this area and every effort is being made to process the legislation as quickly as possible.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 18, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:
"(3) The Minister shall within 5 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. 23:
In page 19, line 31, after "with" to insert "the patron".
The Attorney General has strongly advised us not to accept the amendment although I cannot see anything wrong with it personally.
Amendment No. 24 has been ruled out of order as it is the same as an amendment negatived on Committee Stage.
Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 21, line 28, to delete "or" and substitute "and".
These amendments deal with the accounts, their content and the persons who should see them. They suggest that the accounts should be broadly available and should be audited and certified to the fullest degree in order that reliable information would be available to parents, the Minister and boards of management.
Government amendment No. 26 will meet the Senator's concerns in regard to parents having access to school accounts. Accordingly, amendment No. 27 is not necessary. I do not propose to accept amendment No. 25 which would require that schools would be obliged to have their accounts audited and certified. This would impose substantial costs on schools, particularly small schools. The provision that schools may have their accounts either audited or certified was intended to reduce the financial burden on schools while at the same time retaining a degree of accountability and transparency in the system. I do not propose to alter the position at this stage.
The effect of Senator Costello's amendment would be to require schools to certify and audit accounts. That would impose a financial burden on smaller schools which already have sufficient difficulty finding necessary funding. I do not think that is the Senator's intention. The present position is that the accounts have to be audited or certified.
I thank the Minister for incorporating the thrust of amendment No. 27 in Government amendment No. 26.
I move amendment No. 28: In page 25, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:
"(d) the availability of the school for community use.".
I am proposing that the availability of schools for community use should be the norm. There are 3,000 primary schools and 800 or 900 second-level schools throughout the country. The school buildings are quite large and multi-functional. The vast majority of schools are not open in the evenings or at weekends. It is time we emphasised the importance of such community facilities. That is what the amendment seeks to do.
The Minister should ensure pressure is brought to bear on school authorities, patrons and boards of management to allow maximum accessibility to school buildings for community use. The Minister may say the buildings do not belong to him but the Department pays for the vast majority of their capital and current running costs and it pays teachers' salaries. We have been deficient in failing to emphasise community uses and failing to put mechanisms in place through the Department to ensure school buildings are made available under reasonable circumstances and conditions.
I second the amendment. I concur with Senator Costello's comments. It is important, particularly in the context of impending adult education legislation and lifelong learning, that all schools and community centres be made available for programmes and courses. As it stands, many schools are available at night for classes and so on. Senator Costello is seeking to ensure all schools would be available for community use.
I can appreciate the Senators' points of view. However, I would not like to compel schools to be available for community use. If needs arise in a particular area, they can be met by boards of management. I would not like to compel schools through legislation in this regard. It would make the Department out to be a bully and I would be concerned by such an approach.
As Senator McDonagh has said, schools are being made available. I strongly support the spirit of this amendment and I confess that I would be tabling it if I were in Opposition. However, we are advised by the Office of the Attorney General that, prescribing matters relating to such use, such regulations would be very difficult to draft in a manner which would be consistent with the constitutional rights of the school owner because, as Senator Ormonde correctly pointed out, the schools are privately owned even though they are publicly funded.
It must be borne in mind that the primary purpose for which schools in private ownership have been funded from public funds is to provide education to students enrolled in the school. To go beyond that could result in what would be regarded as undue interference with the property rights of schools owners. That is the legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General and we have to adhere to it.
From a personal point of view, I would prefer to see this done by local agreement because it creates goodwill and harmony in a community rather than by the use of legal machinery and saying that people are entitled to demand the use of a school for one day a week or more because of regulations drafted by the Minister for Education and Science. That is not the way to win friends and influence people. My heart is with the amendment but I cannot accept it because I am advised that it could contravene Article 43 of the Constitution which deals with private property.
Is the amendment being pressed?
Will the Minister of State take it on board with some variation on the amendment that would be able to bypass the constitutional aspect and fulfil the spirit of it?
I will see if that can be done.
Amendments Nos. 29, 30 and 31 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 26, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
"(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.".
These amendments deal with the appeals in relation to a student and a school. My amendment suggests that when internal procedures are exhausted there should be scope for an independent person to be appointed to see if conciliation can resolve the matter rather than setting up a committee and appointing people to it. We should, so far as possible, resolve matters amicably by reconciliation rather than by a more formal pattern.
Amendment No. 31 states that "the Ombudsman may investigate any actions of the appeals committee under this section". Considering parents and students are consumers of educational services they are proper entities who can avail of the Ombudsman to investigate a complaint or an appeal. It would be appropriate for us to extend the role of the Ombudsman as much as possible when dealing with serious matters of grievance.
As amendment No. 29 is not seconded it falls.
Amendments Nos. 32 and 33 are related and may be discussed together by leave of the House.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 29, line 24, after "attend" to insert "religious instruction or".
As far as this amendment is concerned I would prefer not to make any changes here which would disturb the delicate balance that has been achieved.
In relation to amendment No. 33 my legal advice is that this amendment should not be accepted. All legislation is presumed to be constitutional and this provision is no exception.
Amendments Nos. 34 to 36, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 29, line 40, to delete "of persons".
If amendment No. 34 is accepted section 31(1) would read: "The Minister shall establish a body". The Minister of State has been informed that the required wording is "a body of persons". What else can it be? It is not going to be a body of animals. I do not understand why the draftsman has to use such an unwholesome phrase to describe "a body".
Amendment No. 35 is a Government amendment. With regard amendment No. 36, I thought we had agreed to substitute "The" for "A" the last day.
I understand what Senator Costello is trying to do in amendment No. 34 but I am advised that it has been examined again and that the existing drafting in subsection (1) is correct.
Amendment No. 35 responds to a concern that the body should be responsible for planning and co-ordinating the provision of textbooks and aids to the learning and teaching of Irish.
I accept amendment No. 36.
I move amendment No. 36:
In page 30, in the first line of the text inserted by Government amendment No. 67 in Committee to delete "A" and substitute "The.".
I move amendment No. 38:
In page 32, lines 41 and 42, to delete "and available for inspection by members of the public during normal working hours".
I tabled this amendment because I do not see anything wrong with an educational support centre which is recognised by the Minister nor do I see anything wrong with the name and address of the centre being included on a register maintained by the Minister, available for inspection by members of the public during normal working hours. I am surprised that that practice is applied only in educational support centres. That information should be provided in a register, maintained and open to the public in normal hours. There is no access to such information under the Freedom of Information Act. While it would appear to be provided, it will not be made accessible in the normal fashion under that Act.
In the interests of openness and transparency it is acceptable to have the names and addresses of the education support centres — information which could be gleaned from a telephone directory — available for inspection by members of the public during normal working hours. I, therefore, do not propose to accept the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 40 and 41 are related to amendment No. 39 and all may be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 39:
In page 34, lines 5 and 6, to delete "early childhood and primary and post-primary" and substitute "all".
I am unable to accept amendment No. 39. The provision as currently drafted deals adequately with each of the levels of education which fall within the remit of the NCCA, therefore, no change is needed here. Nor can I accept amendments Nos. 40 and 41. References to resources and to the practicalities of implementation are a standard part of all legislation. Accordingly, I am not in a position to delete them.
Amendment No. 43 is related to amendment No. 42 and both may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 42:
In page 43, line 21, after "time," to insert "for stated reasons".
This refers to the reason somebody should be removed from the proposed National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Under paragraph 5(1) to the First Schedule, the Minister "may, at any time, remove a member of the council from office." The amendment proposes that the Minister "may, at any time, for stated reasons, remove a member of the council from office." It is one thing to provide that removal may take place if the person concerned "has committed stated misbehaviour or if his or her removal appears necessary to the Minister for the effective performance by the Council of its functions." However, no criteria are laid down for "necessary performance" or for what "appears necessary". The Minister accepted a similar provision in previous legislation establishing the new enterprise board. It is an accepted phrase that would strengthen the legislation. It would also clarify matters because it would provide for a formal statement of the reasons somebody might be removed.
Amendment No. 43 seeks to add the words "but no member shall serve more than two terms of office" at the end of paragraph 4(5) to the First Schedule. Given that the proposed term of office is five years it is reasonable that a statutory body dealing with education, curriculum development, assessment and such matters is not self-perpetuating but would have a regular turnover of practitioners and competent people. We should be clear that no sinecure will be established, therefore, two terms of office is adequate in this instance.
I have no difficulty reappointing people to the council a second or third time if they are competent and make a substantial contribution.
I take a similar view and for that reason I am unable to accept the amendment. We may be delighted to reappoint outstanding members of the council after more than two terms of office.
With regard to amendment No. 42, I am informed that paragraph 5(1) to the First Schedule contains standard provisions in legislation of this kind for which there is a long line of precedent. The present thinking in the Department is that there should be no change.
Amendments Nos. 45 to 50, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 44 and all may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 44:
In page 43, to delete line 46.
Most recent legislation contains a standard set of clauses of the kind set out here. Any State board to be established shall delete from its membership Members of the Oireachtas. This conflicts with the view of Senator Ormonde that if a member of a board or body is good enough to do the job there is no reason he or she should not be appointed and reappointed.
Should elected representatives not also be considered fit to be members of an educational body? As its general secretary, Senator O'Toole is deemed fit to run the INTO, which is not a small body like the proposed National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, yet, this legislation forbids him from membership of the council. That is outrageous. None of the University Senators, all of whom have a strong educational background, will be allowed sit on an educational body such as the proposed council.
There is a difference between the two Houses of the Oireachtas in this regard. The Seanad is a vocational body and some of its Members are elected from the Cultural and Educational Panel. If they must adhere to the professional requirements of that panel before they become a Member of this House is it proper for legislation to provide that they cannot practice in an educational forum established by the State under statute? There is an anomaly here.
We should not disbar all Members of the Oireachtas in this regard. It may be more difficult for Members of the Dáil to be appointed to such bodies, although many of its Members are teachers and members of educational professions. Similarly, other Members of the Dáil who are interested in education could also be considered. However, given the vocational nature of the Seanad it is anomalous and contradictory to eliminate Members of that House from membership of bodies such as the proposed National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Specifically, if they accept a nomination to Seanad Éireann, they must vacate any position they might have.
Members of the Oireachtas are then grouped with debtors, felons and people who have been in prison. The people disbarred from membership of this committee make up a mixed bag. There are several Members of the Oireachtas and of local authorities who have served periods in prison for various reasons. On one occasion I spent a week in prison so I would be disbarred by this legislation from sitting on the NCCA. Thankfully I was able to sit on the body before it became a statutory body and found it to be very worthwhile. Now that it has been underpinned with legislation, I would not have much chance of getting on it even though my sentence was subsequently overturned because the legislation does not say that. It states that "anyone who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment by a court of competent jurisdiction" will be disbarred. I was released subsequently under habeas corpus but the legislation is not broad enough to consider that. My colleague, Deputy Gregory, suffered the same judicial embarrassment of spending some time inside and, although he would not be disbarred from continuing as a teacher, he would be disbarred by this legislation from sitting on the NCCA. I wonder what the situation would be when someone receives a term of imprisonment which is suspended. Are they disbarred under this legislation?
We are now entering a situation where it seems to be essential to throw out this mixsome gathering of people who are not allowed to sit on any State body. That is unsatisfactory, particularly in relation to a matter of education. We should not disbar Members of Seanad Éireann, many of whom are elected specifically because of their educational expertise.
I support what Senator Costello has said, particularly with regard to the vocational element of the Seanad because many Senators are elected to a panel with a remit in this area. Looking at the panel system which exists for election to the Seanad and the vocational nature of it, there is a case to be made for Senators. I support the amendment.
When we dealt with the harbour board legislation, we argued that Senators should be able to sit on those boards. I empathise with what the Senators say. I will wait to see what the Minister of State has to say about the thinking behind this.
Senator Costello raised the technical point about someone sentenced to a term of imprisonment where that sentence is subsequently suspended. It would seem on a strict reading that category of person is excluded but I have asked the officials in the Department to seek legal opinion on that matter and we will communicate with the Senator on it. I too, as a Member of the Oireachtas, resent being lumped with felons and undischarged bankrupts, not to mention members of the European Parliament.
A particularly nasty bunch.
This is not the only area in which Members of the Oireachtas are discriminated against. There are very few people in this State, in the public or private sector, who have to declare the size of their overdraft for the publication of every newspaper and journal. Discrimination against Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas is not new. It has existed for some time but is being perpetuated and increased by recent legislative developments.
I concede the amendments in the names of Senator Costello and his colleagues. My direction from the Government is that it is traditional practice to keep Members of the Oireachtas off these bodies because the Government of the day would not want to think these bodies had become overtly political, or that people would bring their political viewpoints to bear on the proceedings of these important committees which deal with matters above and beyond party politics. I assume that is the logic behind this. It may be that some Government will change that and allow Members of the Oireachtas to sit on those bodies but it will not be this Government.
I move amendment No. 45:
In page 43, line 47, to delete "either House of the Oireachtas" and substitute "Dáil Éireann".
I move amendment No. 46:
In page 44, line 6, to delete "or".
I move amendment No. 47:
In page 44, to delete lines 7 and 8.
I move amendment No. 48:
In page 44, line 13, to delete "either House of the Oireachtas" and substitute "Dáil Éireann".
I move amendment No. 49:
In page 44, line 19, to delete "or".
I move amendment No. 51:
In page 5, line 7, after "PERSON" to insert "WHO IS EDUCATIONALLY DISADVANTAGED OR".
I move amendment No. 52:
In page 5, lines 10 and 11, to delete "PRIMARY, POST-PRIMARY, ADULT AND CONTINUING EDUCATION AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING;" and substitute "PRIMARY AND POST-PRIMARY EDUCATION;".
The purpose of my amendment is to tease out what is covered by this legislation. I ask that the broader description be deleted and restricted to what the legislation applies to which is primary and post-primary education. It does not apply to adult and continuing education and vocational education and training. The Minister of State knows it is likely he is the person who will introduce legislation to deal with adult and continuing education. Therefore, it is presumptuous of this legislation to state that it provides generally for adult and continuing education. It does not provide generally, nor does it provide specifically, for adult and continuing education.
The title of the Bill is inaccurate to that extent and I do not see the value of trying to stretch the remit of the Bill beyond the parameters and provisions in the Bill. The Minister will appreciate that the Bill deals essentially with primary and post-primary education and only in passing mentions adult and continuing education and vocational education and training. When we sought to amend the Bill to provide for parents and staff in relation to the vocational education committees, we were told that that is for another day, that it will be dealt with when the 1930 VEC legislation is reviewed. From that point of view, the Title of the Bill is inaccurate.
It behoves the Minister to get this right and state to what the Bill applies. The Bill applies to primary and post-primary education and this should be stated in the Bill. If the Minister wishes, he should include a passing reference to adult and continuing education and vocational education and training but he should not treat it in the same way as primary and post-primary education. The Bill does not refer to all in the same way but the introduction to the Bill gives that impression. In other words, it is an inaccurate description of the contents of the Bill.
I second the amendment. The Minister should accept it. When issues regarding vocational education and adult education were raised during previous discussions, we were informed that that was for another day, that different legislation would be introduced to deal with vocational education committees and adult education. This Bill now seems to embrace vocational education and adult education. However, throughout the discussions the Minister kept telling us that that was for another day, that we could not talk about the VEC system, vocational education or adult education because a Green Paper, White Paper and legislation would be introduced to deal with the matter. The Minister must admit that the Title to the Bill is flawed in the sense that it is all-embracing. In fairness to all concerned, it is incumbent on him to accept the amendment. I support Senator Costello's comments and the amendment.
Senator Costello said that the long Title and the Schedule to the Bill are misleading. If someone wishes to find out what is contained in the Bill, they will not confine themselves to reading the long Title. Much of what the Senators said is correct. However, aspects of adult education such as vocational education committees and so on are dealt with in the legislation. I am advised that because there are references to other sectors, even though specific legislation will be required to deal comprehensively with them, they must be included in the long Title.
Is the amendment being pressed?
The Bill underpins in legislation the present situation relating to the main functions of the educational system, the responsibility of the Minister, schools, patrons, boards of management and the inspectorate. It puts in place the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.
I expressed dissatisfaction throughout the debate that the Bill does not deal adequately with educational disadvantage. It provides for a sub-committee under a miscellaneous heading but does not provide mechanisms or structures for implementing the findings of that educational committee. The previous education Bill put in place a regional structure. This has not been replaced in terms of a local structure or a structure to deal with educational disadvantage. This is the biggest problem facing the education system.
I would remind the Senator that the Bill is now passed.
For that reason the Bill is flawed. Does the Bill give the Minister scope to designate certain schools and pedagogues?
I ask the Senator to conclude as he is aware adequate time was allotted to debate the Bill.
Is the Bill broad enough to include the Steiner system of education?
I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for their co-operation and courtesy. This is a fine Bill, many parts of which I am happy to support. I had empathy with other Senators on one or two points, but on the whole it is good legislation. I want to put on record my appreciation of the Minister, Deputy Martin, and the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, for their help.
I thank the Minister for his presence throughout the debate. I also pay tribute to his officials who were present throughout three days. The discussion was very educational which, of course, is the remit of this House. I am not satisfied with all aspects of the Bill. However, I look forward to the introduction of legislation in the new year to deal with vocational education committees and adult education, as promised by the Minister. I hope the Bill will strengthen and develop education and help our most prized possession, the children of the nation, and help us return to the era of saints and scholars.
On Senator Costello's question, I understand the matter is before the courts currently so I am precluded from comment. As a result of the passage of this Bill, the education system now has a statutory basis for the first time in our history. Other legislation is necessary to deal more comprehensively with the vocational education sector and the adult education sector. However, I think we have made a very sound beginning.
I thank Senators, particularly the spokespersons — Senators Costello and McDonagh and Deputies O'Shea and Richard Bruton in the other House — for their contribution. They brought not only their expertise and experience to bear on the Bill, but also their very sound common sense. If one compared the Bill as amended to the Bill as it was initiated, one would find it has changed substantially as a result of the contribution, thought, effort and work of Senators and Deputies, particularly those on the Opposition benches, for which I thank them. We all owe them a debt of gratitude because it is a better Bill as a result of their contributions. This is proof positive that our parliamentary system, one of the main functions of which is to scrutinise legislation introduced by the Government, works.
When is it proposed to sit again?
At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.