Amendments Nos. 57, 58 and 59 are related to amendment No. 56 and, therefore, amendments Nos. 56 to 59, inclusive, may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Education (Welfare) Bill, 1999: Committee Stage (Resumed). SECTION 17.
For the information of the House, in paragraph (b) the letter a in "An" should be in lower case.
For the information of the House, the word "expired" is followed by a comma instead of a full-stop.
I am a little taken aback by section 18, which states:
(1) Where a child is absent from the school at which he or she is registered during part of a school day or for a school day or more than a school day the parent of such child shall, as soon as is practicable . . . notify the principal of the school of–
(a)the reasons for the child's absence, and
(b)where the child is absent due to illness, the nature of the illness.
Is it really necessary to introduce in the law of the land a legal obligation on every parent to tell a school when a child is absent for half a day or a few hours? There seems to be a conflict between the positive, proactive, pro-child aspect of this Bill and the legal obligation on parents to contact the school on every occasion when a child is absent from school for even a hour. I think it is a desirable and worthy idea, but it is a matter which should be settled at school level between parents, boards of management and teachers, not in primary legislation. It does not make sense to me. I will not make a fuss about it but the idea that we would put something as detailed as this in primary legislation seems a little disproportionate.
I think it is desirable to incorporate this in the legislation. The key to the Bill is the registration of every child in the school so that matters will be corrected immediately if they get out of hand. I see nothing wrong with that approach. I encourage that approach where problems are nipped in the bud.
The issue which Senator Ryan has raised is whether this is too great a legal obligation on parents and I am not convinced that it is. As it stands the normal practice is that the vast majority of parents would notify a school. Increasingly nowadays both parent and teacher are at a loss as to why someone has been away from school. Sometimes a child is missing from school and a teacher may eventually contact the parents, who would not have been aware of it. In other words, we are ensuring proper communication between the parents and the schools. We must put in place this legal system to give effect to the concept of attendance, etc. and I do not consider it a bad thing. It is an extra obligation and the Bill stipulates that the parent must notify within three days the reason for the child's absence. In essence, it protects the child and places obligations on parents. There are other obligations placed on the school later in the Bill to notify the board, etc. of expulsions and suspensions. People would say that involves extra obligations but the aim of the Bill is to try to tighten up school attendance.
We can look at it again to see if there can be a minor relaxation of it. I understand the Senator's point but, as Senator Ormonde said, the purpose of this is to try to ensure good models of practice in terms of attendance. Some people have said to me that there has been a slippage in recent times in the concept of attending school and we must be careful about that.
Nobody can dispute the objective of this Bill – we want to ensure that children turn up in school when they are supposed to be there and, when they do not attend, there is a workable mechanism to find out why they are not there. That involves an obligation on the school to find out and on the parents to make it known. It is something which should be done at school level. The Bill might make this provision if a child is absent for three days in a fortnight, for example, but not for part of a day. Unless another mechanism is agreed, the Minister is providing that the parent has an obligation to let the school know in writing why the child was missing for part of a day, perhaps the only absence in a school year.
This is the law of the land now, not a desirable guideline. There does not seem to be a penalty for failing to comply with this provision. It seems peculiar to impose obligations under the law but fail to impose penalties for failure to comply with them. The school disciplinary code is the method by which to deal with these matters, many of which are already in practice in a number of schools.
If a child is absent from school for a traumatic reason, such as a sudden death in the family, the last thing a parent needs when the child – who has an otherwise impeccable attendance record – returns to school after a number of days is for some officious individual to demand a record explaining the absence. I presume the board will have some authority to ensure the regulation is complied with so one could have a third party, insensitive to the human side of the matter, becoming unnecessarily involved in a case where there is no record of bad attendance.
I fully agree that where children display a pattern of absenteeism there should be a legally enforceable mechanism which would make parents face up to reality. Modern parents sometimes need to be made aware that their little darlings are not quite the darlings they think they are. Teachers are not often thanked for pointing that out. That is different to imposing a legal obligation on parents in primary legislation to explain a child's absence every time they are absent from school. That is somewhat disproportionate.
I would like to see this provision going further. In England, children go missing on their way to school. They are picked up by strangers and may not be seen again. If a child attends school regularly, the school should be able to contact his parent and say "Johnny did not come to school this morning. Is he at home?". There is a time gap between a child going to school in the morning and returning home in the evening at the expected time. I do not see anything wrong with the Bill's provisions in this regard. I am concerned that a child may go missing on the way to school and may be missing for up to six hours before a parent discovers that he or she did not reach school. I would welcome a provision to cover that eventuality.
I can see where Senator Ryan is coming from when he says that this measure appears to be somewhat draconian. Section 18(2) indicates that notification under subsection (1) should be made in writing or by other such means as may be agreed by the principal of the school concerned. A telephone call might suffice in many cases.
However, there is a need for a legal framework to govern some of these relationships, particularly in regard to school attendance. We also impose obligations on schools. We have all heard about rolling suspensions where people are often more than happy when particular children are not in school, particularly in the last two months of the year. It is important that we nip emerging patterns of school absence in the bud.
I was referring precisely to the emergence of patterns.
Patterns have to start somewhere. A person may begin a pattern of non-attendance at a particular point and we must put mechanisms in place which would allow us to address them at an early stage. I will consider the matter in the Dáil in regard to absences for part of a day. It is also a fair point that a child could be absent for three days or more as a result of a family bereavement. I appreciate that it could be very insensitive to impose a legal obligation in those circumstances. Perhaps we can maintain the core of this provision but make its application more flexible.
I would like to see schools being given the right to require such notification from parents where they see fit. Most schools would require such notification anyway.
Some may not.
I do not believe that the inclusion of this provision will make a bad school a good one. If a principal does not want to cause himself or herself the hassle of dealing with awkward parents who do not look after their children prop erly, I do not believe we will change that. However, it would be possible to confer a clear legal right or obligation on schools to require information from parents where children display a pattern of absence. This provision will result in the unnecessary piling up of paperwork on school principals in good schools.
In a number of cases, most notably in regard to children with special educational needs, a child may be registered at, and attending, two schools simultaneously. Clearly, in these cases, a child will not be removed from the register in one school simply because he or she is registered in another school. Amendment No. 60 provides for that.
This Bill, for the best of reasons, imposes an enormous number of additional duties on people working in schools. Considerable paperwork will be involved in the preparation and compilation of reports. Is any provision being made for support staff for school principals to enable them to meet all these additional obligations? It is very easy for Members of the Oireachtas to pass legislation which imposes obligations on people. However, all these additional obligations mean that people must carry out additional work. Unless one presumes principals are not working at present, something they are currently doing may not be done or they may have to work longer hours. If that is case, we will face increasing difficulty in getting large numbers of people, particularly women, to apply for jobs as school principals.
The provisions contained in this section are already in place, although not legally. School principals are obliged to keep school rolls.
I am aware of that. I am merely taking the opportunity to make a point.
I know. The Senator will be aware that a principals' conference is due to be held next Saturday.
For the information of Members, the double quotes should appear before the words "the following,".
I move amendment No. 61:
In page 17, subsection (2), lines 1 to 6, to delete all the words from and including "the following," in line 1 down to the end of the subsection and substitute "that where a student fails to attend at the school concerned on a school day, the fact of his or her non-attendance and the reasons for such non-attendance.".
I was involved for five years with the steering committee for the leaving certificate applied programme and I met principals who fully understood the Department's needs for records and administrative work. However, every additional administrative task results in less time being allocated to teaching. For that reason, I examined section 21(2) to see whether it would be possible to remove some of the administrative work.
In normal business there is the concept of management by exception; in other words, is there another way of doing a job? If there are three choices, it may be necessary to record, every single day, the names of those who do attend who make up the vast majority but in this instance there are only two choices. Would it be possible to record the names of those who do not attend who make up a small minority? This would remove the administrative burden of having to record, every single day, the name of every pupil who attends. This is good management practice and would make much sense.
I cannot agree with the Senator. Having a school roll is essential. Record-keeping is a prerequisite and it has been done since time immemorial. There are a host of good reasons as to why a roll is needed. The Bill encourages school attendance. In areas where there are school attendance officers there are some wonderful schemes under which students who go a full year or five years without missing a day are rewarded. There is an annual ceremony in Dublin and Cork at which students are presented with certificates. I know of students who went 11 years without missing a single day at school. This is something of which they are proud and is included in their curriculum vitae.
That is exactly what I am looking for too.
The Senator only wants to have the names of those who do not attend recorded.
All the others attend.
How is the roll taken in a school? It takes the teacher about three minutes to tick off the names. All the pages are collected and handed in to the principal's office. What happens if a child goes missing during the course of the day? Senator Fitzgerald alluded to one situation where it could happen. There are a host of other reasons. It is essential that this information is available. This is not just a management issue, it is about knowing where children are, although there is scope for human error. The argument about bureaucracy is grossly overstated. Has Senator Ormonde ever taken a roll?
It is necessary to take a roll. It takes about one minute and is an acknowledgement of a student's presence in the classroom. It is a way of maintaining a rapport between student and teacher and adds the personal touch. There are many pluses in ticking off the names of students as they arrive. It is good, psychologically.
While I admire Senator Quinn for seeking to lighten the workload of teachers, it would be hard to implement as one would have to ask, "Who is absent?"
Senator Ormonde has made the best argument against the amendment. It is a sensible one and relates to the psychological effect of calling the name of a student. Many tests are done on a patient in hospital. Reams of paper were sent to patients indicating the tests which were normal. All they wanted to know was what was abnormal. It was a waste of paper and time. Saying something has been done since time immemorial is not a good reason—
That is not the reason it is done.
I know the Minister said that but it is not a good one.
The psychological effect of saying "good morning" is an important one.
I will bow to the far greater experience of Senator Ormonde in particular who highlighted the need to maintain a rapport between student and teacher. The amendment was tabled with good intentions. The purpose was to introduce the concept of management by exception and have the names of those who do not attend recorded. I accept Senator McDonagh's point that it is not easy to ask, "Who is absent?" and expect to receive an honest answer.
We now proceed to amendment No. 62. Amendments Nos. 74, 75 and 81 are related and may be discussed with amendment No. 62.
The aim of the new section to be inserted by amendment No. 81 is to ensure the expulsion of students is not taken lightly at school level and that there is capacity for intervention by the educational welfare service before an expulsion takes effect. In the case of children of compulsory schoolgoing age, expulsions cannot take place until alternative educational provision is put in place. The other amendments are related. Amendment No. 75 is not necessary.
The effect of this amendment is to increase the total number of days which a student must be absent during a school year before a school has to inform the educational welfare officer. The aim is to reduce the burden on schools without unduly affecting the needs of students. In making the amendment, I draw attention to paragraph (e) which gives a principal discretion to take action if he or she is of the opinion that a child is not attending school regularly. This section can be used to ensure the rights of children in particular circumstances are protected while at the same time the obligations of schools are not too heavy. This amendment is the result of representations made by school managements.
We now proceed to amendment No. 64. Amendments Nos. 65. 66 and 67 are related and may be discussed with amendment No. 64.
I move amendment No. 64:
In page 17, subsection (4)(d), line 17, to delete “for whatever reason” and substitute “for a reason specified in subsection (6) of section 20”.
Subsection (4)(d) reads:
a student's name is, for whatever reason, removed from the register referred to in section 20 by the principal of the school concerned
To be more precise I am seeking to have the words "for a reason specified in subsection (6) of section 20" inserted in the Bill.
The purpose of amendment No. 65 is to ensure any notification by the principal to the educational welfare officer of a difficulty with school attendance is a notification in writing. This is essential to ensure all parties are kept fully informed where there is a problem with school attendance.
The effect of amendment No. 67 is to ensure an educational welfare officer may not look at a school register only but may take an extract from it. This was always the intention but I am happy, in response to representations made, to clarify the matter by means of this amendment. the only reasons why a child's name can justifiably be removed from a register are those set out in section 26. However, a school could remove a child's name for some other reason. In such instances, the educational welfare officer should be aware of the position so that the child's right to an education can be assured. I do not propose to accept amendment No. 64.
Similarly, I do not propose to accept amendment No. 66 which would have the effect of permitting an educational welfare officer to enter a school at any time to examine the register. This would be unreasonable and, if implemented, could result in difficulties for boards of management or school principals, for instance someone could ring at 2 a.m. and ask to inspect the register. This could cause obvious difficulties and we must tidy up those matters.
Amendment No. 68 is a Government amendment. Amendments Nos. 70 and 72 and 76 to 80, inclusive, are related and may be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
These amendments seek to refocus the emphasis from discipline policies to codes of behaviour. The intention is to focus on the positive rather than the negative, as advocated by many Senators. Amendment No. 70 makes it clear that the statement of strategy does not have to be a separate statement from the school plan but may be prepared as part of the plan, which is what we would prefer. This allows for the review of the code from time to time and, as the Bill already makes provision for the code to be given to parents of students on request, and as the school plan will be disseminated to the school community, Senator Quinn's amendment was deemed unnecessary.
Amendment No. 76 seeks to strengthen the role of the board in the matter of codes of behaviour by providing that schools must act in accordance with guidelines issued. The guidelines will be prepared following consultation with the education partners.
Amendment No. 78 provides that parents must be given the code of behaviour before registration and that the schools may require parents to confirm their acceptance of the code and to state that they will do all they can to ensure that their child abides by the code. Amendment No. 77 in the name of Senator Quinn covers the same material and, accordingly, is unnecessary.
These are very good amendments. Nothing is better than positive reinforcement of good behaviour rather than emphasising bad behaviour – mol an óige agus tiocfaidh siad. This is the emphasis in the amendments.
The Minister emphasised the positive rather than the negative on Second Stage, which was the tenor of the whole debate. I support this move. I am not sure that I understand the explanation of the code being published ahead of time. My amendment seeks to ensure that the code is a contract between parents and schools beforehand. Perhaps the Minister would explain this again.
Is the Senator referring to amendment No. 80?
Amendment No. 80 seeks to ensure that the principal should provide the code of discipline to the student and to each parent.
Yes, before the child enrols. This should be a contract between the parents and the school.
Is the Senator referring to amendment No. 77?
Amendment No. 77 states "The principal of a recognised school shall ensure that, as far as is practicable, parents considering the entry of a child to that school shall be provided with a copy of the code of discipline in respect of the school concerned."
A Chathaoirligh, are we debating amendment No. 77?
Amendment No. 78 is the same as amendment No. 77. I think the Senator is referring to amendment No. 80. Amendment No. 78 covers amendment No. 77. Amendment No. 78 states "The principal of a recognised school shall, before registering a child as a student at that school in accordance with section 20, provide the parents of such child with a copy of the code of behaviour. . . ”.
I thank the Minister and I accept that point.
This is the most important set of amendments to the Bill and their subject matter is crucial in terms of the operation of schools. On Second Stage I said that the Bill lacked a commitment by parents as a body to the code of discipline, or the code of behaviour as it is now called, with everyone's agreement. The problem was that school authorities, particularly boards of management and principals, did not have any sense of authority. The Bill did not include any devolved authority.
This is similar to an earlier amendment. If someone said "No, I do not want my child to be assessed psychologically", that was the end of the matter. As originally drafted, the Bill allowed parents to reject the code of discipline and that was the end of the matter. Only one parent out of 200 would have to do so to create problems at school level. Two hundred parents, the staff and the board of management might agree that this was a reasonable way of introducing a code of behaviour and discipline, and a positive and acceptable way to reinforce the positive, respond to the negative and enforce discipline. However, one or two parents out of 200 could usurp and undermine the entire process for everyone. Such a scenario created problems for parents, in the first instance. If something went wrong, the first measure in terms of positive reinforcement, would be that the principal or the teacher would try to discuss the position with the child's parents in order to suggest that things need to be done differently and try to do deal simply with the sit uation. However, the parents might not co-operate or refuse to meet the school authorities. I am talking about a tiny minority of parents – perhaps 1 per cent – who would say "No, we are not going to talk to you about this, we are not going to get involved in our child's behaviour as that is the school's problem." Schools could not do anything about such situations.
The Minister's amendment involves a commitment to the effect that, when parents enrol their child, the principal can indicate to them the school plan, the general school policy and philosophy, what the school tries to do, its code of behaviour and discipline and what is expected of teachers, parents, pupils and the school community. This is a socialisation process. School principals can ask parents to commit themselves to this code before enrolling children.
This is very important. As it stands, the Bill provides that parents can be given a copy of the code and do not need to make a commitment to it. Under this amendment everyone in the school community is committed to the code, thus allowing it to be enforced. This will make everyone, including teachers, take the code more seriously as it is binding on everyone and is part of the school plan and philosophy and a part of what must be done to make schools run well. In effect, parents are signing up to the code if they so wish, and this gives boards of management a new authority.
Many principals will claim that this means more work, a sentiment which they will overcome. The reality is that this measure is a positive reinforcement for school boards of management who are trying to get things done. It is an important step forward. Ninety eight per cent of parents and teachers will regard this as a great development. It is very important as it moves matters forward.
There are some aspects, such as expulsions, to which I will return. However, this is an important measure. Problems arose in cases where one or two pupils in a class of 35 were utterly disruptive and constantly causing problems. That disruptive child has a right to be educated and a right to a minimum standard of education. However, the problem for the State, school authorities and the class teacher in particular, is that the 29 or 34 other children also have an entitlement to a minimum standard of education and how to balance one against the other. They have come to the conclusion that, despite the biblical exhortatory instruction to do otherwise, one cannot leave the 34 and deal with the one. One must deal with the 34 and try to include the one. The amendment allows schools to do this. It strengthens immeasurably the Bill and makes it much more acceptable to school communities.
Is it the intention to produce a model code of practice? This is not in any way to force it on schools, but it seems that in general terms it would be a great help to schools to have a model code of practice. They can adjust and change it and include their own code, but a code of behaviour in that regard would be useful. Will the Minister put my mind at rest regarding the ability to change this? Nothing should be written in stone. How can a school board change the code of behaviour without being told these are not the conditions under which the student entered the school? This is the reason I tabled amendment No. 80.
The code of behaviour is covered under the school plan concept. The school plan is not organic, it keeps evolving and will have to be reviewed within a fixed period. In accordance with the change in the school plan, the code of behaviour will change also. This is an inbuilt flexibility. Amendment No. 76 facilitates this in that a code of behaviour shall be prepared in accordance with such guidelines as may, following consultation by the board with national associations of parents, recognised school management organisations and trade unions and staff associations representing teachers, be issued by the board. Guidelines will be issued, therefore, the model will be issued. We have already issued guidelines for second level schools called school discipline guidelines. These were issued in consultation with the two teacher unions. It is normal practice to issue national guidelines to which people will have regard. Invariably they represent the drawing up of a code of best practice.
Do schools which already deal effectively with school attendance problems need to write reports to show how they are dealing with these problems?
If one does not require this, bad practice develops. The act of having to prepare the report is more important than the final delivery of the document. This does not mean that submitting the document is irrelevant, it is like preparing a school plan. The exercise of preparing a school plan is the critical exercise for the school community in terms of sorting out what the school is about and how it intends to achieve and implement its mission statement.
The Senator mentioned on Second Stage that he is concerned about over-bureaucratisation, overload in terms of administration and the consequential need for resources which the new board will require. This will not be a detailed policing operation by the board of every school. Nonetheless, the legal requirement is important because it ensures that schools take this matter seriously and prepare such codes, statements and policies on school attendance and that this is done proactively at local level. There is no problem with the schools the Senator mentioned. These schools will have no problem submitting their report to the board. However, this may challenge schools that have problems.
I am still not happy. If this applies to schools that have a pattern of non-attendance – 1 per cent or 0.5 per cent might be regarded as an unacceptable level of non-attendance – the Minister could concentrate the resources on these schools. However, as things stand, approximately 3,000 primary and secondary schools will have to make a statement to the board. Will the board go through all of them to find out which are not doing the job properly? Should the fact that schools are not doing the job properly be the first indicator for the board to say that, because there is evidence of a non-attendance problem, they will now be required to put together a strategy?
I was a member of the board of management of a boys' national school in Cork which is classified as a disadvantaged school. Many of the things referred to in the Bill were being done in that school because it had a particularly good principal. What concerns me is that the principal of a good school such as this is being asked to do more work than he needs to prove he is doing what he already knows he is doing from his own attendance records. Some 3,000 of these strategies will be reviewed by whom or to what purpose?
The other side of the coin is that this very good principal would have no difficulty with this measure. He would have the policy prepared and this could benefit the entire nation. One cannot pick nuggets from the different plans. Unfortunately, primary education and the information being received is very patchy at the moment. I spoke earlier about the lack of databases and so on in primary school education. This does not refer merely to school performance. Let us bring this Bill back to the student or child. One child who does not attend school on a regular basis is as important as the other 99 per cent of students. It is important for schools to have strategies to deal with that one child. Some schools we call the good schools have suspensions and expulsions, in other words, there needs to be clear strategies to deal with all situations.
Some of the best schools in the country had terrible ways of dealing with children who did not fit the norm. Everyone acknowledges that there were problems and that this was not always the school's fault. Sometimes school principals and teachers had to scratch their heads to think what to do with or how to help a young person because there was no place to refer the young person. It is important that schools, when preparing policy statements, do not merely focus on the general issue of the pattern of attendance in the school, but on how it deals with individual cases that come before it in terms of individual students and how problems may emerge and develop. Every school must be challenged in this regard.
On Second Stage I referred to two issues that caused me problems. One was the strategy statement referred to by Senator Ryan and the fact that I felt this was increasing the workload of principals and so on and the other related to section 22(2)(f) to which I will refer later. Section 22(1) creates an additional work burden which seems to be utterly unnecessary if a school is run well. I suggested that part of a well organised school plan should be to effectively sell the school to the school community.
I strongly believe that. The words used in the section are "fostering an appreciation of learning among students". I agree with the Minister that this has not been done by schools and it has tended to create a slight gap.
The schools have worked extremely hard to develop pupils and they have done that job well. However, the job of selling to the community the importance of what the schools are doing is introduced in this section. I objected to that on Second Stage because I thought it was something which could continue indefinitely. I proposed that it could appropriately be encompassed as part of the school plan. Amendment No. 70, which introduces a new subsection, provides that:
The statement of strategy prepared by the board of management of a recognised school may, if such board of management considers it appropriate, be included in the plan prepared by it under section 21 of the Act of 1998.
I have no difficulties with that. Schools have the option of including it as part of their mission statement or philosophy. It is hard to disagree on that point. I agree with Senator Ryan that it is something that should be prepared at the beginning of each year.
I am not taken with a later subsection which obliges the schools to compile a report at the end of each year on attendance, the statistics on which are already returned to the Department anyway. I will advise the schools to send a copy of what they already send to the Department. There are ways around that. I do not have a difficulty with this part of the provision.
However, I believe section 22(2)(f) will create a problem. It refers to "the identification of aspects of the operation and management of the school and of the curriculum at the school that may contribute to truancy on the part of certain students and the removal of those aspects in so far as they are not necessary or expedient for the proper and effective running of the school." That provision will create many problems in the future.
Let us refer back to the example of Gaeilge. Many children in many parts of Ireland do not relate well to Gaeilge in the classroom and they would enjoy school a great deal more if they did not have to learn it every morning. We have had to deal with this already. In certain areas or neighbourhoods it is suggested that school could be made more attractive to children if teachers were not obliged to teach Irish. I get letters to that effect every month. This provision opens the door to these suggestions, as I pointed out on Second Stage.
The Minister has obviously considered the provision carefully and believes it—
Should we not be challenged by that? Is that not what the Bill is about?
I do not object to the point made by the Minister. It is good that schools be challenged but that is not the point I was making.
We could arrive at a stage, having decided on an appropriate prescribed curriculum for the schools, where schools in a certain type of neighbourhood do not like the Irish language and we decide not to teach Irish in those schools in order to make them more attractive and to encourage the children to attend them. That is an easier option than trying to make Irish more attractive, which we have failed to do for 70 years. That means that children who are disadvantaged in other ways will be further disadvantaged. I am worried about that.
I made my point about this provision on Second Stage. It might work well but I am still worried. However, I am happy with how the strategy statement has been dealt with. It is included as part of the mission statement or philosophy of the school as articulated in the school plan. I have no difficulty with that but there will be difficulties with paragraph (f). At some stage, smart people will try to manipulate that provision for purposes for which it was never intended.
As I am obliged to read reports all the time, I am interested in the logistics of what is proposed. One would require 45 minutes to give any type of attention to a report. That means only 15 reports can be dealt with per day. However, as one wishes to focus on the bad ones, that number could probably be reduced to 12. There will be approximately 3,000 reports, which means about 120 days will be involved. That amounts to three months of work for one person or four months if one allows for meetings and coffee breaks.
It will be half way through the school year before the reports are read and the schools which will benefit are selected. Presumably, a senior official will be required to do that work to ensure the system can benefit from analysing the content of the reports. That is a mammoth task.
In a way, it is not. I got rid of some of this in the Education Bill, when it was debureaucratised to a significant extent. I am not as accommodating in terms of school attendance because it is extremely important.
Additional education welfare officers will be appointed as a result of this legislation. They will be appointed for clusters of schools or for areas. The strategy statements will come through the education welfare officer who will work on behalf of the board. It is not a case of 4,000 statements arriving at head office in one fell swoop. Education officers will be appointed throughout the country.
Senator O'Toole made a good point about what situations might be created. However, all legislation has the potential to create such situations. Often legislation becomes a catalyst for further change down the line. I want this Bill to create challenges. We must shake ourselves out of our complacency. Maybe the curriculum at primary level should be changed. If I receive 50 reports from schools which state that school attendance is bad because of the curriculum, I and the board must think about that. If 50 schools claim in their strategy statements that there is something fundamentally wrong in the curriculum which is an obstacle to school attendance, there is an obligation on the board and the Minister to reflect on it.
After all, as Senator Quinn can confirm, it is the diversification of the leaving certicate in the senior cycle programme which has had a significant impact on the retention of pupils at school. It is now 83 per cent at second level. The fact that there are three separate strands in the leaving certificate examination, ranging from the leaving certificate, the leaving certificate vocational and the leaving certificate applied, is part of that. It is the concept of different curriculum models and different provision. I believe we will have to take that route at primary level where significant school attendance problems arise and it will be through the preparation of strategy plans such as this that it will emerge.
The next Minister might not appreciate it, but that is tough. The Department might not appreciate it; that is also tough. Even future Ministers for Finance might not appreciate it – tough. This board must be resourced and more welfare officers will have to be appointed to give effect to the legislation.
I do not often agree with the Minister but I agree with him on this issue. Section 22 is extremely important. It challenges the status quo. The reason the Bill is before the House is that the status quo is not working for a significant number of children who are falling out of the system.
We must examine this and make hard decisions. Every board of management must prepare a statement on the strategies and measures it proposes to adopt to foster appreciation of learning and to ensure young people are not lost to the education system. That is essential. There is no way of getting around it. I have no problem with its incorporation into the school plan but that unit must be dealt with. If there is an education welfare officer for clusters of schools to deal with it, it will be manageable and can be implemented effectively and in a functional fashion.
In that context, could the Minister clarify the term "board of management"? The vocational system does not have boards of management; it has advisory committees or sub-committees. Each school has an advisory sub-committee which is not a management structure in the sense of a secondary school board of management which has strong managerial functions. How does the Minister envisage these advisory committees operating? Will the vocational education committees constitute clusters of schools or will the various schemes in existence throughout the country operate this legislation as schemes or as individual schools? They are the issues in relation to section 22(1).
The requirement in section 22(2)(d) for "the fostering, promotion and establishing of contacts by the school with other schools that provide primary or post-primary education" is particularly valuable. This is extraordinarily important but there is no mechanism to do it at present. Such a structure is essential. It would be very valuable for the educational welfare officers to be able to liaise with such a structure. All schools outside the VEC sectors are stand-alone schools. They have relationships with the Department of Education and Science but not with each other. The relationships are not horizontal, they are only vertical. That is extremely important.
Senator O'Toole believes section 22(2)(f) will cause problems. From the point of view of trade unions, management and industrial relations, it could. It refers to "the identification of aspects of the operation and management of the school and the curriculum that may contribute to truancy" and in some cases that is fact. We must recognise the facts both in terms of the curriculum and management structures. The curriculum taught in some schools has not been adjusted to suit student requirements as schools have not been provided with the flexibility. This must be dealt with, particularly at second level.
Also management has a tremendous proclivity to deal with problem pupils in a harsh and rigid fashion. Suspensions are often effectively expulsions and the students are left on their own in limbo with no way to get an education after that. While we recognise the problems, surely the function of this legislation is to put a structure in place to deal with them. Management which operates in this fashion must take this legislation in its totality.
Will the Minister clarify section 22(5)? This states the board of management will "appoint such and so many teachers employed by it, as it considers appropriate, to liaise with the parents of students registered at the school concerned and to give such assistance to the families of these students as the board of management concerned considers appropriate." Presumably this is different from the school liaison service. Is the idea that teachers would be taken from their teaching duties and seconded to this work, which would be additional to the work done by educational welfare officers? The numbers of educational welfare officers are not currently clear, nor are the clusters to be established, how they will relate to the VEC, secondary and primary sectors and the role of the liaison people within the school. The welfare officers will presumably come from outside the school while the liaison people will come from inside. Presumably this is a redistribution of resources. How does the Minister envisage it will take place?
On the last point, section 22(5) essentially represents statutory recognition of the home-school liaison scheme. The principal will, where the post exists, appoint the home-school liaison teacher to liaise with the educational welfare officers. I was anxious to try to involve the home-school liaison teacher in the process because there is a link, particularly in schools designated as disadvantaged where a home-school liaison teacher works with the parents, community and students. I was unhappy the Bill did not recognise their existence and the obvious role they play. That said, it is still open to schools which do not have a home-school liaison teacher to nominate a teacher – for example, through a post of responsibility – to take on this role and liaise with the welfare officer. In many cases the work-load would not be huge.
As of next September every primary and post-primary school which is designated as disadvantaged will have a home-school liaison service and we envisage that person will liaise with the educational welfare officer. In schools in areas outside the designated disadvantaged areas, a teacher on the existing staff could take on that responsibility, pending the extension of the home-school liaison service generally.
On the Senator's first point regarding the boards of management, the board of management is defined in section 2 as in accordance with the definition contained in the Education Act, 1998. A further amendment is being tabled regarding lay voluntary secondary schools where there may still be an issue in terms of the boards of management of a few of them.
They have no boards of management.
Exactly. We will provide for them in an amendment.
On VEC schools, I understand – and I will examine the point raised by the Senator in more detail – that, while boards of management of community colleges which are under vocational education committees are also subcommittees of vocational education committees, they are both relevant. I served on the board of management of a VEC college in Cork and as far as I was concerned it was a board of management which made decisions and reported back to a central VEC. However the Senator has described them as advisory committees.
They are advisory committees under the 1960 Act.
We will have to check that. It is a fair point which we must look into. In Cork we never called ourselves an advisory committee, we were a board of management which made decisions on all these issues but there was a report every month in the VEC minutes.
They do things differently in Cork.
We do. We are very forward thinking in Cork.
I am merely making recommendations.
The Senator's point is valid and must be considered before the Bill goes to the Dáil. I agree with his comments on the other parts of the Bill.
I move amendment No. 75:
In page 19, subsection (2)(e), line 13, after "taken" to insert "in particular by the Board and the Minister".
On amendment No. 81, a full stop should appear after the side heading and double quotation marks at the end of the text. They were omitted on the list of amendments.
That is very thorough.
Before calling Senator Costello to move amendment No. 82, I understand there is a misprint in section 24(3) and that the Minister wishes to move an additional amendment to section 24 to correct it.
I move amendment No. 81a:
In page 19, subsection (3), line 37, to delete "subsection (3)” and substitute “subsection (2)”.
Amendments Nos. 82 and 83 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 82:
In page 19, after line 45, to insert the following new subsection:
"(5) Where an employer of a person under the age of 18 refuses to modify a contract of employment so as to conform with this section, the employee or his or her parent may seek redress from the Employment Appeals Tribunal which shall have the same powers as under the Unfair Dismissals Acts, 1977 to 1993.".
This is to strengthen the section which makes provision for not employing young people under a contract of employment or for a child up to the age of 18 not being engaged under a contract for services, if that would interfere with the education of the child or young people. The amendment provides that, where an employer refuses to modify a contract of employment, the parents will have recourse to the Employment Appeals Tribunal, so that a statutory recourse is provided. The intention is to ensure a fair system is in operation to ensure the matter is dealt with properly.
This is an important section and one on which I have laid great emphasis. I am anxious to strengthen the section, but there are many constitutional implications. Senator Costello's amendment No. 82 has such constitutional implications because it effectively endeavours to deal with rights which existed prior to the commencement of the Bill. That is one issue which we must refer to the Attorney General to obtain advice.
The employment of young people and children in circumstances which are threatening is a matter which concerns us all. I have been heartened by the co-operation we have received from IBEC and employers generally on this issue. The bottom line is that we must ensure we have a high skill, high value economy. The only way we can do that is to ensure every young person has the opportunity to complete their education and to obtain good qualifications or certification. We are anxious that there should be a facility for working with employers whereby young people who leave school at 16 and 17 can, possibly in a part-time capacity in modular courses, complete their education while at work. That is a two-way process which will require the co-operation and help of employers, the Department and the Government which will provide the resources to facilitate part-time provision, during the day if necessary, for young people over 16.
I have a great deal of sympathy for what Senator Costello seeks to achieve with amend ment No. 82. There is a risk that children under 16 who are at work on the commencement of the Act may be displaced as a result of this provision being included in the Bill. Significant constitutional issues arise in the amendments and there may be practical circumstances where a child cannot continue to be employed without breaching the provisions of the section. I would like to consider the provisions further and I will seek the advice of the Attorney General. I am also examining further ways in which we can strengthen section 24 to ensure people over the minimum school leaving age – 17 and 18 year olds – are not encouraged to sacrifice their education for low paying jobs.
This issue is complex from a constitutional point of view and we continue to pursue it and will have it resolved before the Bill enters the other House. My amendment No. 83 provides that the enforcement structures set up under the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1996, will apply to this more stringent provision.
Is the amendment being pressed?
No, I am satisfied by what the Minister said. This is an important section because its thrust is to ensure young people stay in education and are not drawn away by the carrot of casual dead-end employment which would result in them losing out on their education. The section also provides that employers cannot discriminate against young people and, if they do, there is a recourse. The Minister said he will examine this again to see if it can be strengthened. I am satisfied with that.
I move amendment No. 84:
In page 20, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following new subsection:
"(2) A school so named shall comply with the school attendance notice and shall admit the child named therein.".
I support the thrust of the amendment. I would like an opportunity to have it considered by the parliamentary draftsman after which I will return to it in the Dáil and take it on board.
I move amendment No. 85:
In page 21, subsection (8), line 14, to delete ", who".
I will reconsider the amendment before the Bill reaches the other House. There may be problems with it in the context of the subsection. We take on board what the Senator intends but we may have to redraft the entire subsection.
Amendments Nos. 88 and 89 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 88:
In page 24, subsection (2), line 15, to delete "30th day of April" and substitute "31st day of March".
My purpose here is twofold. One is to speed things up a little. Three months is plenty of time for preparing accounts for audit. The other is to bring it in line with the submission of the annual report. I do not see how an annual report can be produced if the accounts have not been produced. Large companies in Ireland and elsewhere do not take three months to produce their accounts anymore. They have them done in a matter of weeks. In summary, the purpose is to bring the audit date back to 31 March deadline for accounts to tie the two together.
Amendment No. 89 is tabled to ensure consistency with the requirements of section 32(1) which deals with the annual report. The same imperative should be on the Minister in both cases in laying both the annual report and the accounts before both Houses of the Oireachtas. If the term "as soon as may be" is to be applied to the annual report, it should also apply to the accounts and there should be no difference in treatment. I fear that, on occasions, one may be laid before the Houses but the other may not. The amendment seeks to synchronise the two which makes sense.
I thank Senator Quinn for his improvements and I accept both amendments.
I move amendment No. 89:
In page 24, subsection (2), line 23, after "shall" to insert "as soon as may be".
I move amendment No. 90:
In page 24, subsection (1), line 27, after "year" to insert "and may prepare and submit to the Minister a report on other matters from time to time,".
This amendment is designed to complement what the Minister is trying to achieve in the section, namely, that the board will make a report for the year immediately preceding in respect of its activities. The amendment is intended to ensure that the board will not be confined merely to making an annual report on its activities but that it might also submit to the Minister a report on other pertinent matters. Rather than implementing a strict, limited focus, we should allow the board to be more generous in terms of the matters it may bring to the Minister's attention which might be relevant to its work and functions under the terms of the Act.
I understand what the Senator is trying to achieve. I would like to consider the matter further for amendment in the Dáil, particularly in terms of making the wording more accurate.
Amendments Nos. 91 and 93 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 91:
In page 25, subsection (4), line 4, to delete "given with the approval of" and substitute "and".
This amendment is seeking consistency and simplicity. It suggests that the word "and" be substituted for the term "given with the approval of" and I do not understand why we cannot do so in both cases. I am concerned that the language used in legislation is becoming too verbose. There may be a purpose for this but I do not understand the need for such verbosity. It would be more suitable if we used the word "and" instead of the alternative on offer.
Do I understand the Senator wants the section to read "with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance"?
I am seeking to delete the term "given with the approval of" and substitute "and".
I am informed it would involve a slight change in emphasis. The current provisions are more usual drafting conventions and we would commit a cardinal sin if we accepted the amendment. However, we will break with convention and accede to the Senator's request.
The purpose of this amendment is to show that there is no doubt that members of the Garda Síochána will not be transferred to the education and welfare service.
The person who spotted that should be promoted.
At present, every member of the Garda Síochána who carries out functions under the School Attendance Act is deemed to be a school attendance officer. The amendment is essentially technical in nature.
I move amendment No. 93:
In page, 26, paragraph 1(I), lines 39 and 40, to delete "given with the approval of" and substitute "and".
I move amendment No. 94:
In page 27, paragraph 2(6), line 25, after "Board" to insert "on one occasion and one occasion only."
This amendment is concerned with corporate governance. I believe strongly that members of boards should not be allowed to become fixtures or become set in their ways to such an extent that it is difficult to move them. For that reason I believe it is wrong not to set a limit on the number of occasions on which a board member can be reappointed. People sometimes become set in their ways and it is often the case that those inside and outside an organisation begin to think of the body in their terms rather than those of the body itself. There is a need to change the membership of the board to ensure that it does not seize up and that there is a constant injection of new blood to invigorate it.
It seems that it will be difficult for a Minister at some point in the future to remove someone from the board after they have served for a long period. The advantage of limiting the term of service will mean that no one will feel slighted when the Minister informs them that their statutory term of office is over and that it is time to move. The amendment makes it possible for board members to serve only two terms. This represents six years for an ordinary member and ten for a chairperson. To my mind, these are adequate terms of service.
I would like to go even further and establish a system where the membership of the different boards does not change at the same time. A number of organisations have made arrangements in this regard but I am not sure how it could be achieved in respect of the new board. The idea behind the amendment is to place a limit on the length of time members should serve on the board. I believe it represents good corporate governance and makes sense.
The Senator is suggesting that members should only be reappointed once which would mean they would serve for six years. I would like to reconsider this issue. I understand the principle behind the amendment. My officials formed the view that the amendment could be interpreted as confining members to serving one term, while the Senator envisages that they should serve at least two terms.
Not at least, at most two terms.
I apologise. I would like to reconsider this matter because there are other sides to the argument. We had some experience of this in respect of a number of posts where a time limit was imposed. It may not be best to do that in certain situations. Perhaps we should consider applying a time limit to a certain proportion of the membership of the board. I am familiar with one individual in the Department who does phenomenal work in the areas of special education etc. and I would not like to see them being removed from the equation.
We must recognise the fact that a person with tremendous expertise, enthusiasm and vision could be appointed to the board and he or she might be responsible for driving its work forward. However, he or she would be lost to us if a six year time limit was imposed. I would like to take on board the principle of the amendment and alter the subsection on Committee Stage in the Lower House in order to accommodate the Senator's belief that the membership of the board should change and that new blood should be introduced.
I thank the Minister. The objective of the amendment is to ensure that people do not remain in office so long that a Minister will be embarrassed when he is obliged to remove them.
This matter involves a double edged sword. I agree with the Minister because I have witnessed similar debates in a number of organisations. I accept the point made by Senator Quinn – I have made the same point on many occasions – but I am not sure his amendment is the answer for precisely the reasons outlined by the Minister. If the provision was amended, it would ensure that good people would be removed from office. It is designed to avoid embarrassment by removing everyone from office at the same time.
With regard to good practice, you will not see such action being taken in the private sector. I know of no private sector boards where, after a certain period, people can no longer seek re-election. The organisation I represent, the INTO, has debated this matter for 15 years. On two occasions rule changes were introduced to our constitution and the arguments put forward were the same as those outlined during this debate, namely, people either felt officials should be moved on or they believed that those with experience and expertise would be lost. This prompted me, following my election as general secretary of the INTO, to state that I would serve for ten years and no longer.
The Senator will have served three terms when he leaves office.
For how many years has he served as general secretary?
I am serving my seventh year. I believe in the concept of limited terms of office but it is better if people make a decision in that regard themselves. As soon as flexibility is introduced the best people are the first to avail of it. When a determined period of office is introduced the people you do not want to lose leave along with everyone else. I do not have the answer. It is important that people move on and that each organisation has that belief. In my own office we say that people should look at the appointments section every Friday if they are alive. This schedule is not the answer but I agree with its concept.
Perhaps the Minister will introduce a scrappage scheme like the one introduced for county councillors.
Senator O'Toole would be a great loss to the Irish National Teachers' Organisation.
I can embrace both concepts in terms of examining the collective membership. Perhaps one-third or two-thirds of the board should change over time. There should be some flexibility with regard to who should remain longest on the board.
Amendment No. 96 has already been discussed with amendment No. 34.
I move amendment No. 96:
In page 30, paragraph 10, line 32, to delete "A" and substitute "Subject to the Freedom of Information Act, 1997, a".
We discussed this amendment earlier when Senator Ryan was here. At that time I said I accepted the thrust of this amendment with a view to ensuring the wording is correct before it reaches the Dáil. I did not accept the verbatim wording of the amendment. Senator Ryan's amendment was withdrawn and he accepted my bona fides.
Senator Ryan is also a Corkman.
It was agreed that the Freedom of Information Act and the Ombudsman would be incorporated into a new amendment.
Section 2(3) refers to the composition of the National Education Welfare Board. It is important to reflect on the functions of the board outlined in Part II, section 10(2). The board will have clear areas of responsibility listed in paragraphs (a) to (j) of section 10(1). In the published Bill we are asking people to promote and foster, in recognised schools, ”.. an environment that encourages children to attend school . . . ”. That is a credible and important objective and something we all support. Paragraph (a) refers to cultivating in families an appreciation of the benefits to be derived from education. Paragraph (i) deals with training and guidance provided to teachers. Paragraph (j) lists as one of its functions advising the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment on aspects of the curriculum. Other issues are also covered in the Bill. Every one of these issues concerns the partners in education. They concern parents, management and teachers.
The problem I have with the Bill is the make up of the board as outlined in section 2(3) of the Schedule, which states:
The ordinary members of the Board shall be appointed by the Minister, after consultation with the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, from among persons who, in his or her opinion, have a special interest and expertise in matters relating to the functions of the Board.
The board must encompass, reflect or include the partners in education because of Partnership 2000, the provisions the Minister has inserted into the Education Act and because of the way we are conducting business at present. Further on in the section a number of advisory committees are to be established to allow the board to take advice from representatives of partnership in education. That measure demeans the level of partnership. Advisory committees are important and I do not object to them. The board's original role is advisory in many ways because it advises the Minister on how things should be done and in various other aspects. Its aim is "to promote, foster and advise the Minister on any matter to which this Act relates".
The board should reflect the partners in education. We have already discussed this issue somewhere else. The Minister pointed out that he does not want the board to be made up of a large membership. It would tie itself up in knots if it had to get 25 people to agree on issues. The Minister also pointed out that if he accepted my proposal then he would have to talk to three or four teachers' unions, two or three national associations of parents and four or five management bodies. That is not what I am suggesting. I suggest that the Minister hold the board membership at six. It is clear why the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs would have an interest. However, it is unclear why the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation would have an interest. I could make an argument for it. I could also make a case for the inclusion of the Minister for Finance on the board.
This is an important sector.
I could make a case for any Minister. I want to get to the core of the issue mentioned in the section 2(3) which refers to ". . . persons who, in his or her opinion, have a special interest and expertise in matters relating to the functions of the Board.". None of the Departments mentioned in this subsection has a core interest in those issues. They have only a peripheral interest in parts of the board. Why is the Minister's Department not mentioned in the list? Why would the Minister not consult with his own Department? Obviously he would.
It is the Minister for Education and Science who has to do the business.
I know that. I am only making a point about where the core of interest lies. People can consult as widely as they wish. In terms of consulting with Ministers, is it implied that the Minister for Education and Science would consult with ministries separately and then appoint members on an individual basis? Five ministries were mentioned and I presume the Department of Education and Science would appoint the sixth board member. It should read that three people will be appointed by the Minister for Education and Science following consultation with the first three Ministers. There should also be consultation with the partners in education after which the Minister would appoint a further three people. He would still have a committee of six which would carry out its business.
This is an important issue. Perhaps this is totally irrelevant but people like me are trying to sell the concept of partnership to workers and IBEC is trying to do the same with people at different levels. I cannot go in two different directions at the one time. This is good legislation and I want people to believe their views are part of the decision-making process at the highest possible level, which is the level before the Department of Education and Science. I ask the Minister to consider an amendment. I have not tabled an amendment on Committee Stage, but will do so on Report Stage if this is an issue with which the Minister cannot deal now.
The Minister knows my views on this issue as we have discussed it on a number of occasions. I have also discussed it with his officials. This is a matter which will not inhibit in any way what the Minister seeks to do. It has been done before. For instance, the early retirement committee in the Department comprises four people, including a representative from management, parents and the teacher unions. A decision had to be made on who would be appointed and that committee does its business on that basis.
I support the Minister's idea not to have a large committee – I detest them because I find they are counterproductive and inhibit progress. If we are talking about people who will look at aspects of the development of the curriculum, training teachers and selling education to the education community, it is important that consumers or service providers are part of that process. This view is shared by the management authorities in schools. I did not have the opportunity to discuss it with the parents' associations but I discussed it with the management associations which have asked me to make this point. It is fine for matters to be included in legislation but it is at school level where people will ask who makes decisions and who makes up the board.
The Minister, parents, management, teachers and teacher unions are about to publish a new curriculum for primary education which nobody has seen. The Minister, parents, management and I know that every line will be accepted because there has been such consultation in putting it together. The Minister has done something which no Minister for Education elsewhere in Europe has managed to do. I have looked at every country in Europe and there has been a row each time they have tried to do this. We have set models of good practice by tying people in and giving them ownership of the decisions. Nobody can run away; they must take the decisions, hard or easy, and live with them. By giving this level of representation, we can put the icing on the cake, so to speak.
I cannot improve on what Senator O'Toole said. Clearly, it is an issue he knows well and about which he feels very strongly. If the Minister is planning to use these three partners as advisers at a lower level, the real strength would be to put them at this level as well. It could not help but improve the board and it is an amendment to which the Minister might give serious consideration.
Senator O'Toole's argument is very cogent. The arrangement seemed too top heavy with Cabinet consultation. I am sure the Minister will make most of the decisions himself and that somebody would be nominated. I would go a step further. I do not see a role for a representative from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. That is how it was in the past and we should move away from that approach. This is an Education (Welfare) Bill and the further we move from the courts and the criminal justice system, the better.
The three Departments which should be involved are the Departments of Education and Science, Health and Children and Social, Community and Family Affairs. The others are peripheral to what is essentially an education and welfare matter. The Minister should appoint his own chairperson and another member from his Department, two others and three from the partners in education.
I would not like the Minister to forget about the pre-school level, a sector which has been neglected. The education partners refer to primary and second levels but pre-school is the one remaining level in education which has not been addressed. Adult education, disadvantage and truancy are being addressed in this Bill. We have not yet devised a structure—
It is on the way.
I am delighted. That is all the more reason we should not have that extra partner in education, and I would like the Minister to respond to that.
Section 3(1) of the Schedule provides that the Minister may, at any time, remove from office a member of the board. Is that not a little high-handed? It is a blunt provision – one could wake up in the morning, read the newspaper and find that somebody has been removed.
Standard and democratic provisions.
Perhaps in the republic of Munster, but not in the rest of the country. I thought the Minister might have expressed that in a more democratic fashion.
Moving on to my old hobby horse, section 6 of the Schedule states that Members of Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann are specifically prohibited from membership of the board.
We are at it again.
Is it necessary to include these prohibitions? It is not likely that too many people would be involved. Senator O'Toole might find himself being invited on to a board of this nature.
No thank you.
He is somebody with vast experience in education. He will have plenty of time when he gives up the post of general secretary of INTO. He only has two more years to serve and he will still be a Senator. I do not understand why the prohibition needs to be included.
It is something the draftspeople have on their word processors.
It is included each time. Will the Minister buck the system at some stage? After all, this deals with education and anybody involved is there because of their interest and particular abilities in the field. Many Senators are elected from the university sector and, naturally enough, they have a very substantial interest in and knowledge of education which could be very beneficial to these boards.
I will look at the last point in the context of the Dáil debate on the Bill. I thank Senators for their contributions, particularly Senator O'Toole for a very passionate presentation. Many issues need to be considered. The efficacy of the board and its efficiency in terms of numbers are important, as is the expert nature of it. We want a board made up of people who have a certain expertise in the field.
One of the issues which has bedevilled Irish life, the public service in particular, is the lack of co-ordination between relevant Departments and national agencies. Much more needs to be done in that regard. This is one of the few Bills which lays down a statutory liaison procedure between the different agencies and Departments. It obliges people to liaise on the welfare of the child and school attendance. From my limited experience over the past two yeas, I know that great progress needs to be made to ensure proper co-ordination between Departments and that people need to pull together with regard to the welfare of children, in particular.
The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not peripheral and the Probation and Welfare Service, for example, has a considerable and important role to play in terms of the welfare of children. Probation officers and school attendance officers invariably work hand in hand in relation to children in difficulty. I want the probation service involved.
I want to consult with the Department of Health and Children to find a person who fits the bill with regard to health issues so that we can have real co-operation with health boards and between the board and the health authorities on the ground, something which will be vital in terms of the board's effective operation.
Similarly, if the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs is to mean anything it must be involved. Its growing involvement in education through VTOS, second level allowances and in supporting families in education and organisations such as family resource centres in disadvantaged communities puts it at the centre of much of what we are concerned with and, therefore, it should be involved.
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment was mentioned in the context of the section dealing with employment and the need to encourage young people to complete their education before taking up employment or, in the case of those taking up employment, to provide access to either part-time education or training. There is a role for FÁS. It a very large training organisation which is involved in training young people and it has been involved in traveller training centres up to quite recently. FÁS is also involved with vocational education committees through Youthreach, etc. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment also has a critical role in the context of its contact with employers.
We must ensure the Bill has some degree of coherence and that we do not provide for a cocooned existence for the education sector. Everybody is responsible when it comes to welfare and the other agencies must be involved in the board and the liaison process. We envisaged that the advisory committee to the board would include all the partners. That said, I will examine seriously the suggestions which have been made by Senator O'Toole, before further debate on the Bill in the other House. Perhaps we can work on the matter in more detail. I do not want to create a board which is too large, but neither do I want to leave out people. For example, it would make sense to have a person from the national education psychological service on the board. It is necessary to have people on the board who have some involvement on the ground. This must be balanced with the issue of partnership, and in this regard I take on board what was said by the Senator. Achieving a balance is important, as is ensuring the effectiveness of the board. I think we can achieve this and the Senator has suggested that reducing the board to three would be effective – it would certainly represent an advance on what could be the case.
At second level alone there is a range of management bodies, representatives of principals, two teacher unions, etc. Sometimes boards such as this need not be simply representative – on occasion boards which are totally representative have no sense of cohesion or movement. We must have a balance in terms of partnership. I accept the point made by the Senator that if we had one teacher, one representative of management and one parent people would come on board. However, there would be an obligation to ensure that we were not engaged in tokenism, but that the people on the board would actually work, have a interest or expertise in the field and have been anxious to be part of such a board to make an impact.
We will give serious consideration to taking on board Senator O'Toole's suggestion concerning the membership of the board and trying to bring on board the idea of partnership, something which was supported by other Senators.
This is a good and important Bill. However, I am always worried about legislation passed by the House which has many good intentions but the provisions of which are not enacted. The Minister spoke about the importance of involving the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform through the probation officers. There must be a significant lack of liaison between that Department and the Department of Education and Science because the Minister must know that there are no probation officers to do the work which should be done by them in the context of independent reports for the courts on children involved in divorce and separation procedures and in the context of large sections of the child care legislation.
The 200 probation officers are on a work to rule because they can only deal with prisoners. In fact they have a gross overload of work. They are now to be asked to be involved in this service, in which they should be involved. The appointment of 17 extra officers which was recommended as a matter of urgency last autumn has not happened – I am sure Senator Costello is aware of this. Therefore, greater liaison is necessary as the Minister's good intentions will go nowhere if the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will not appoint the necessary people.
I am sorry to be so pessimistic, but over six years I have seen legislation concerning children being introduced, with all of us wringing our hands over what we must do, while what we say we will do is not done. I fear the same will happen with this Bill. Probation officers should have an input, but I bet this will not happen.
I am glad at the Minister's positive response to what I suggested. I take it that he intends to re-examine the Bill with a view to taking on board the points I raised. I cannot over-stress the importance of what I suggested.
The INTO nominated perhaps 20 or 30 people to various committees of the NCCA. On my instructions each of them was given the same instruction, namely, that they were being put forward as people who were experts in a particular area, that they were not appointed to push INTO policy and that their job was to be aware of what teachers wanted. Representation is not about delegation but involves making a judgment on what is best for the system. This is what I have in mind in the context of the Bill. I have no interest in people talking to each other or in the partners in education getting yet another forum in which they can introspectively examine what is happening. I want outside people included on the board.
The Minister will note that my proposal was not to keep membership of the board within the education sector. If somebody from management, the INTO, the ASTI or the National Parents Council sits on the committee, they will discuss the arguments and return to the group from which they come. They will then inform that group about serious issues for which they need support. They make their case and there is a commitment that people who have been put forward to represent, for example, the viewpoint of teachers will return to their group and inform it of what is happening. This kind of positive synergy is hugely important and can make the board work.
As I said on Second Stage, my worry is that if the board does not have the trust and confidence of the partners in education they will say it is not that important and a decision will be taken to ignore it, to have minimum dealings with it or not to get involved. However, the board can be greatly important and can change education in many ways in the context of the functions we have given it.
Anything which sells education to the community is very important because this is greatly lacking at present. For example, great teachers can do a good day's work without telling anybody about it or ever explaining to parents or the community what they are doing, what their philosophy is, what guides them and what their objectives are. They have never had to do so, but the Bill changes this. It is important that the changes are introduced in many ways and are professionally informed at different levels.
I am happy to trust the Minister when he says he will consider how my suggestions can be taken on board. There is no point in my tabling an amendment on Report Stage given his positive response here. I appreciate that.
If people come forward, it is important that they are not actually representatives—
—because the Bill challenges all the various interests also. What we do not want is someone from management on the board saying "We will not wear that". That is not the spirit and I think that is understood.
I completely agree.
I move amendment No. 98:
In page 5, line 12, after "OF" to insert "AN BORD NÁISIÚNTA UM LEAS OIDEACHAIS OR IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE".
The Minister agreed to take on board the spirit, if not the wording, of the amendment.
Yes. We will look at it in the Dáil.
I move amendment No. 99:
In page 5, line 17, to delete "TRUANCY" and substitute "NON-ATTENDANCE".
I thank the Minister and his officials for a Bill which will be a fine Act. It is necessary. We should have had something like this decades ago to deal with truancy and non-attendance and young people not getting the full benefit of the education system which was available to others.
The Minister has efficiently dealt with Committee Stage. He has taken on board many proposals which were made here in an open and generous fashion. The structure proposed here would not be my preferred structure. As I said before, I would have preferred if it could have been dealt with in the context of local education bodies. Be that as it may, the powers and the functions of the proposed National Educational Welfare Board are excellent. What is required now are the determination and resources to ensure that it works. If that happens, we will have done an extremely good day's work here. I am convinced that the Minister is determined that it will work.
I thank the Minister for bringing forward this important legislation and steering it so clearly through the Seanad. I recall that on Second Stage I thought there were quite a number of loopholes and the Minister acknowledged that there was a lot of tidying up to do on Committee Stage. The fact that the Minister had such a grasp of it and was able to take on board many of the amendments tabled from all sides clearly indicates how knowledgeable he is about the welfare of children and truancy – if I, too, may use that word which I am pleased to see in the Bill.
As I said, this is important legislation which will have a great impact on parents and communities at large. Once it filters through to the schools it will relieve the pressure in this area so that we may track down children who are not going to school. I hope there will be fewer instances of truancy in years to come.
I congratulate the Minister for being so clear about what he must do and for introducing the Bill in the Seanad.
I too congratulate the Minister and compliment his officials on the Bill. The Bill, as I would expect from the Minister, shows a real concern for children. After all, we could have the best education system in the world but if we cannot get our children involved in it, there is really little point to it.
The difficult areas which the Minister covered will certainly encourage the attendance of children at school and that is one of the most important things we can do. The compliments the Minister has received on the Bill are well deserved because obviously a great deal of time, effort and thought has gone into it. I will certainly urge my friends in the probation service to look at another area where they may be of assistance.
This is a complex, detailed Bill. It is not a Bill which will receive much mention on "Oireachtas Report" tonight or tomorrow morning or in the newspapers, but it is vitally important. I compliment the Minister for his extensive knowledge and expertise. I also compliment his back-up staff and the draftsman's office.
If implemented, as I am sure it will be, this Bill will have a farreaching effect on the education of children. It will add greatly to the development of the education system. I compli ment the Minister and all concerned with this excellent legislation.
I add my congratulations to the Minister and the officials who put the Bill together. It seems to me that, as Senator Ormonde said, the Minister's grasp of the matter helped the Bill a great deal, as did his willingness to listen and allow us to improve the Bill. Anything which manages to keep youngsters in mainstream education and away from what might happen to them if they leave school early and which prevents them from taking up employment too early is worthy of all the effort, commitment and dedication which has been put into it. I thank the Minister for readily responding to amendments and proposals which may not necessarily have been accepted here but on which efforts will be made to improve the Bill in the Dáil.
I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, and all the Members for their kind comments. I enjoyed the debate immensely; perhaps at times I contributed to its length. I also thank my officials for their wonderful contribution to the Bill.
The Bill is dear to my heart. It is a fundamental pillar of what we are trying to do to eliminate educational disadvantage and to ensure every young child benefits from his or her constitutional entitlement to an education.
The Bill has been improved as a result of the debate in this House and I thank Members for tabling amendments. Some of the improvements will manifest themselves in the draft of the Bill and the amendments which will go before the other House.