This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil and this is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matter, therefore, that may be discussed is the amendments made by the Dáil. For the convenience of Senators, I have arranged for the printing and circulation to them of those amendments. Members may speak only once on Report Stage.
Education (Welfare) Bill, 1999 [ Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil ] : Report and Final Stages.
The Bill is an important and central measure of the Government's ongoing strategy to reduce disadvantage in society. Education has long been recognised as a powerful positive force to reduce disadvantage. Equally, lack of education or poor education is known to be a crucial factor in causing disadvantage to emerge in the first instance.
Senators will know that the nation has a proud record in terms of how we as a people have approach education. The people have consistently had, and continue to have, a high regard for the value of education. As individuals we appreciate its means for self-advancement; as a society we understand its power to enhance our quality of life.
Equally, in economic terms, we have appreciated the role of education in assuring our success. In 1964, the release of a ground breaking report, Investment in Education, prepared by my Department with the OECD, kick started a revolution in our understanding of the link between investing in education and reaping the returns in subsequent years. Subsequently, we moved to free second level education in 1967 and later we saw, and continue to see, rapid growth in the number of students at third level.
The Bill offers a complementary approach to that strategy because we are moving beyond simple statements of the importance of education to consider, in a detailed manner, the importance of participation in education. For too many children today, educational participation at first and second level is a patchy affair, punctuated by periods of non-attendance and ending in early school leaving.
Our schools have worked hard to retain these students in school, to bring home to them the importance of education and the long lasting effect it will have on their future careers. Yet schools themselves cannot deal with this problem. Non-attendance is a complex issue and too often we see only the symptoms and not the problems that lead to it.
The School Attendance Act, 1926, attempted to put in place a structure for school attendance and it has had some success. Today, school attendance officers work in Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Dún Laoghaire, seeking to address the problems of school attendance in these areas. Yet that Act has serious flaws. The limited geographical remit of the school attendance service established under the Act meant it could not hope to treat effectively with a nationwide issue. More importantly, that Act, prepared as it was in a different context, failed to recognise the complexity of the problem of non-attendance. It is interesting to note that in introducing that Act in December 1925, the Minister concerned, Patrick McGilligan, listed what he saw as two key virtues of the Bill. The first was that it would make it easier to bring cases of non-attendance to court for punishment and the second was that it would provide for increased penalties for non-compliance.
While these points may have been virtues in 1925, it is clear that this approach is no longer relevant to our society. In recent years school attendance officers have been among the many to raise their voices to point out the failings of this Act and to call for reform. It is my intention that this Bill, based upon support rather than punishment and prevention rather than penalisation, will meet this need for reform. Through the creation of a national educational welfare board and the deployment of educational welfare officers nationwide, we are delivering the support services to make genuine educational participation a reality in all our schools and classrooms.
The Education (Welfare) Bill returns to this House today having undergone a number of changes in the other House. Some of these changes have been significant while others have been relatively minor. All the changes have improved the goal of the Bill, namely, to replace the current approach which is focused on sanctions for truancy with the targeting of the underlying causes of non-attendance at school. With the Senators' permission, I would like to explain to the House the changes that have been effected by Members of the other House and why it is important that they have been incorporated into the Bill.
The structure of the national educational welfare board has changed significantly since the Bill was passed by this House. It is my view that the board can gain substantially from the experience and expertise of the education partners and other relevant groups in the voluntary sector. I have, therefore, provided for an amendment to provide that the board should include representation for parents, teachers, school managers, educational welfare officers and the community and voluntary sector. I have provided that the Minister will consult with each of these categories to appoint a representative to serve on the board.
It is my view that this formula will enable us to set up a board, with a guaranteed expertise in this area, of a size able to act rapidly and decisively to tackle the serious issues that lie in the remit of the board, which will draw on the accumulated knowledge and expertise of the practitioners of our education system in addressing these problems. This is an important amendment which will add to the value of the board. Following this amendment, I have made a number of consequential amendments to the Schedule reflecting these changes.
I have also taken the opportunity to clarify and expand the functions of the board. It is my intention that the board will be proactive in encouraging students' participation in schools and preventing non-attendance or early school leaving from occurring. I have based my amendments on this premise. Therefore, for example, amendment No. 9 has widened the role of the board to foster and promote an appreciation of the benefits to be derived from education to include the cultural development of children. Similarly, the board's functions now also extend to actively supporting strategies and programmes aimed at preventing non-attendance at school rather than passively monitoring them, that is amendment No. 14, supporting children as well as their parents in dealing with school attendance problems, that is amendment No. 12, and promoting not just children's attendance but also their behaviour in school, that is amendment No. 13.
I have also made a number of other technical amendments to provide that the board rather than the Minister will undertake certain technical duties in this area, for example, to determine the requirements for an annual report on school attendance by the school board of management to the local educational welfare officer, that is amendment No. 50. It is in my view right and proper that the board, as the expert in this area with its experience of dealing with school attendance issues at a local level, should be empowered to take on this role.
I have made a number of amendments to enhance communications between the board and parents and schools, that is amendments Nos. 64 and 66. All research in this area shows us that school attendance is a complex problem requiring an integrated response. It is of paramount importance that there be clear and effective communication between all parties, board, parents and schools if we are to treat this problem. These amendments will help to secure this communication.
I have provided in amendment No. 69 for a direct right for any parent, whose child is not attending school regularly to the satisfaction of the parent, to seek the aid of the board. Parents are ideally placed to see the first signs of non- attendance or educational difficulties in a child. We must be able to support these parents and children immediately these warning signs become apparent. This amendment will allow the parent to benefit directly from support and assistance from the national educational welfare board, in whatever approach is appropriate, through the intervention of an educational welfare officer or securing psychological assessment, to name but two. I see this role as an early warning system taking effect before the triggers in section 20, such as 20 days absence from school or six days suspension, would occur.
During the Bill's passage through the other House a number of amendments were made which arose out of a Supreme Court decision given in July 1999 in a school attendance case. The Supreme Court judgment in that case has established that a minimum education is not necessarily a fixed and immobile standard but may differ per child. This decision has allowed for the redrafting of this element of the Bill to provide for a more flexible and effective approach to deal with this issue. On foot of this result, I have deleted section 14 of the Bill as originally drafted. This section provided that the Minister, after consultation with the NCCA, could prescribe a minimum education for children being educated outside the recognised school system. The section was driven by the constitutional requirement that each child is entitled to a minimum education.
With the benefit of the Supreme Court judgment to hand, I have been able to restructure the Bill to take advantage of this new insight. The Bill now requires the Minister, following consultation with the NCCA, to prepare guidelines for a certain minimum education rather a prescriptive single standard. It is my view that this is a more appropriate means to treat with this serious issue. Establishing a single minimum education would have raised serious questions. How could such a standard embrace the diversity of students in the education system? Can a single standard be appropriate for all students? The Supreme Court judgment has shown us that it is not necessarily the case that a minimum education will differ from child to child. The Bill now provides for this concept.
This change is in the overall thrust of the Bill. Education for each student is a precious right which must be tailored to meet the circumstances of students to allow them to develop as fully and as holistically as they can. Simple all embracing standards, although they may have the advantage of administrative convenience, are no longer sufficient in a world which places an ever higher value on an individual's education. This change has led to number of consequential changes, in particular the replacement of "prescribed minimum education" with "certain minimum education" throughout the Bill and provision for the Minister to draw up guidelines for a certain minimum education, that is, amendment No. 38.
I have also moved to alter the system for the assessment of children receiving education outside the recognised school system, that is amendment No. 28. This amendment provides for a two-tier assessment system. Subsection (5) will allow for a less intensive scrutiny of the methods of education to be used in educating the child in question by consulting with parents engaged in educating their child and considering the materials being used, or to be used, in educating a child, the time being spent, or to be spent, on the education, and the education that is to be provided or is being provided. The authorised person may be able to satisfy himself or herself that a minimum education is being provided without the need for a more detailed and intrusive assessment. Should the authorised person not be able so to satisfy himself or herself, the more intensive process will be used. This addition, however, provides for a more flexible and balanced process in determining the educational achievement of a child who is being educated outside the recognised school system.
I have made a number of changes in regard to the structures proposed at school level for reducing non-attendance and encouraging student participation. Initially I have made a number of technical changes to allow for a streamlined and more effective means of registering students starting or transferring school – amendments Nos. 43, 44 and 45 refer. The register is a vital tool in identifying problems of non-attendance. These amendments will help to ensure that registers are operated and maintained in an effective manner.
In response to a number of representations made to me, I have increased the reporting requirement for number of days' absence from 15 to 20. This is given effect by amendment No. 47. This amendment strikes a better balance and will ensure that the welfare board is not inundated with reports of children missing school, while at the same time allowing it to be aware of, and intervene in, appropriate cases.
When the Bill was passed by this House it provided that, shortly after the end of each school year, the board of management would be required to submit a report on school attendance in the school to the educational welfare officer working with the school. Amendment No. 49 provides that this report must be made available to the local parents' association. This formal report will provide another mechanism to signal individual problems to the educational welfare officer as well as providing a comprehensive overview of school attendance in the particular school. I have also, in amendment No. 56, provided that the statement of strategy be included in the school plan, as an important part of the overall drive to improve and enhance school effectiveness.
Senators will be aware that many schools are already taking actions to try to reduce non-attendance. For example, at the present time 17 specific projects are being run under the eight to 15 early school leaver initiative, and 57 schools are participating in the stay in school initiative. My Department has already committed over £4 million to these projects since their commencement. These projects and others are showing us that schools can, with proper support and assistance, take action to reduce non-attendance and early school leaving. In the light of this evidence, I have made a number of changes designed to ensure that the Bill gives sufficient flexibility and discretion to schools to continue to take such actions in this area.
Amendment No. 41 provides that the school, rather than legislation, will decide how and when parents should inform the school of their child's absence. I am aware that most schools already have effective systems in place in this area, and I would not want to cause them to have to create new systems simply to satisfy the needs of this legislation. Where a school does not have such systems, it will not be left in a vacuum. Instead, the board will support such schools to develop appropriate measures.
Amendment No. 51 broadens school activity beyond the mere academic to embrace the extra-curricular activities such as sports, debates and other extra-curricular areas which form part of the broad education spectrum.
I have made a number of changes to the statement of strategy, again to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are both appropriate and meaningful in a school context. Amendment No. 54 clarifies the focus of the school statement of strategy. While the original intent has not changed, the wording provides a clearer reflection of our aims in this area. The statement is designed to assist students who experience difficulties in school arising from the operation of the school or the provision of the curriculum, as opposed to the curriculum itself. This amendment will clarify that the school should consider removing these aspects where it is both possible and practical. The amendment gives the strategy a broader focus to allow schools to give consideration to encourage more regular school attendance on the part of students.
Amendments Nos. 52 and 55 are designed to give schools discretion in preparing their statements of strategy, to allow them to co-operate with such other schools or community groups, as they think appropriate. The national educational welfare board will assist schools in this whole process of planning, but schools are well-positioned to consider the needs of their students and the support they might be able to enjoy from the local community to meet those needs.
Amendment No. 62 provides for the expulsion of a student from a school. This is a very serious step for the school, but even more so for the student. Expulsion must be a solution of last resort and where adopted the school should not shirk responsibility completely for the student but should join in efforts to provide for his or her continuing education. This amendment inserts an extra support to schools and students at the point of expulsion. The amendment provides that where a school intends to expel a student, the educational welfare officer shall be informed. The principal duty of the educational welfare officer shall be to find a way in which the continuing education of the student in question can be provided for. To achieve this, the educational welfare officer will rely on the co-operation of the school, the student and his or her parents. By bringing the parties together, as proposed, a further opportunity is provided to them to consider this situation and to search for mutually agreeable solutions. To allow sufficient time for this meeting, subsection (4) of the amendment provides that no student can be expelled for at least 20 days after the notification of the intent to expel to the educational welfare officer.
Although the expulsion of a student must be a solution of last resort for a school, there are situations where it is in the interests of other students in the school, or indeed the student it is proposed to expel, that he or she be removed from the school pending a resolution of the case. Subsection (5) clarifies that a school can take such measures as to ensure good order in the school and to protect the safety of the staff and students of the school.
On the role of educational welfare officers, during the course of consultations with the partners on this Bill, concerns have been expressed that the educational welfare officers should act in co-operation with a school and should carry out their functions in a reasonable manner. The educational welfare officers have an important role under the Bill. To fulfil this role properly, it is imperative that they maintain an independent and impartial role in relation to the schools to which they are assigned. However, there is also a duty on the educational welfare officers to carry out their duties in a fair and reasonable manner. In particular, each educational welfare officer must recognise the importance of working closely and co-operating with the schools to which he or she is assigned. This amendment will create the appropriate context for the work of the educational welfare officers with schools to which they are assigned.
Amendment No. 48 places an onus on an educational welfare officer, when he or she receives a notification from the principal of a school that a child is not attending regularly, to liaise with the child, his or her parents, the principal and anybody else deemed appropriate by the officer. The officer must also try to ensure that provision is made for the child's continued education.
Any situation where a child is experiencing difficulties deserves our attention and it is our duty as legislators to support such children in every way we can. I consider the educational welfare officer to be a key person in treating these children. That officer will consider individual cases where students are experiencing difficulties and will work with schools to find solutions to these difficulties. The officer will be able to pursue these cases outside the school, to consider the home environment and to provide support and assistance directly to families. The officer will be able to act as a focal point for other State services to allow for an integrated approach by health professionals, social workers or gardaí, as appropriate, to treat such cases. That officer will advise schools on their statements of strategy and will not only be able to give them the benefit of his or her experience and expertise in preparing such statements but will also be able to help them to make those statements a reality.
Section 25 originally provided for the employment of children. Its purpose was to restrict further the capacity of children of compulsory school-going age to engage in employment. This issue is already covered generally in the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1996. Representations were made to me that the Act provides sufficient protection for children. It precludes the employment of children except on licence on a case-by-case basis from the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Such licences are to be issued in respect of cultural, artistic, sporting and advertising activities and cannot be issued where the activity would interfere with the child's attendance at school. Alternatively, employers may employ children over the age of 14 on programmes of work experience of educational programmes approved by me as Minister for Education and Science, provided that those programmes do not exceed eight hours in one day, or 40 hours in one week. This section would have prevented the issuing of such licences and, on balance, this goes further than is necessary and could result in denying children some education enhancing experiences.
The primary objective of section 30, as originally drafted, was to ensure, as far as is practicable, that young people aged 16 and 17 remain within the education and training system. In particular, the provisions are aimed at ensuring that young people are not lured from education and training by the prospect of employment. Amendments Nos. 73 and 74 arise out of discussions with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. That Department was concerned that the interface between this Bill and the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1996, would create administrative difficulties. The amendments will remove the explicit link between the Education (Welfare) Bill and the 1996 Act. It will mean that in future the Bill will regulate those young people with poor educational qualifications who seek to enter employment, while the 1996 Act will regulate the employment of young persons generally.
With regard to the commencement of the Act, in terms of substantive change to the Bill, I draw the attention of Members to two further changes. As Members will be aware, the Bill will not come into force immediately after its passing by the Oireachtas, rather its provisions will become law on the making of commencement orders. The effect of amendments Nos. 1 and 2 is to ensure that the latest stage at which all provisions of the Bill become effective will be two years from its date of enactment. Amendment No. 7 places an obligation on the Minister to prepare a report to the Oireachtas on the operation of the Bill in the first and second years following its enactment. These provisions reflect an identical approach adopted in the Education Act.
With regard to the meaning of the word "child", when the Bill passed this House, section 3 provided that its provisions could be extended to cover all people up to the age of 18. Certain concerns were raised that legally this provision risked appropriating too much power to the Minister of the day – power that rightfully belongs with the Oireachtas. I have also had advice from the Attorney General's office that the use of this section in the future could carry some risk of constitutional challenge. Rather than allow this uncertainty to continue, I decided to delete the provision. The result is that any further change to the school-leaving age will be made by primary legislation as opposed to delegated legislation. This ensures that future changes to the school-leaving age will be subject to direct parliamentary supervision of this important issue. Amendment No. 4 reflects this change.
I have made a number of technical amendments throughout the Bill. The use of language in any Bill is crucial. The necessity to use clear terms is vital if the courts are to be in a position to give effect to what the Oireachtas intended. In a Bill such as this where the rights under discussion are fundamental and sometimes competing, its efficient and proper use are even more important. I accepted that the term "truancy" used when the Bill was initiated was a negative and somewhat dated term. The effect of amendments Nos. 10, 11, 15, 16 and 88 is to substitute the word "non-attendance" which is a more appropriate term. Section 10 provided that the board could arrange, with the consent of the parent or, in the absence of this, a court order, for a child to undergo a psychological examination. The point was made to me that "assessment" would be a more appropriate word and I accept this. Amendments Nos. 18, 19, 20, 22 and 23 made this change. Amendments Nos. 53 and 57 have changed the original reference to a school's code of discipline to a code of behaviour, which comprehends a much wider concept.
I hope I have set out where this Bill has changed since it left this House and the reasons for those changes. It is my view that those changes, in all aspects, have added to the Bill. I am satisfied that the revision of the membership of the board will significantly enhance the work and actions of the board to tackle non-attendance and promote educational participation. In revising the procedures for education outside recognised schools, based in large measure on the judgment of the Supreme Court, we have provided for a fairer, more appropriate and more effective means to vindicate the rights of children to education.
I do not pretend that this Bill is an end in itself; it is merely a beginning. There is a substantial body of work awaiting the national educational welfare board. We have drawn upon existing research, reports and recommendations, together with the views of practitioners of the education system and Members of both Houses, to put in place the structures to ensure the national educational welfare board undertakes its work in a targeted, effective and pro-active manner. I commend this Bill to the House.
I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for thoroughly outlining what has happened to this Bill since it left this House. I am sure we all would agree this is an important Bill. As such, it has been the subject of a great deal of debate in this House and in the other House. It is welcome that the Minister has accepted a number of amendments. We need to ensure our children participate in the education system in so far as that is possible and receive the most appropriate education to ensure we do not have a society that is divided by the type of education people received. It is important to ensure that those children who are at risk do not fall between the cracks, as happened in the past.
I welcome the new system of educational welfare officers to replace the old system of school attendance officers, which was rather punitive. It is important there should be a co-operative base to this new system.
While some of the technical amendments the Minister cited may be relatively minor, they are important in terms of the way we view education. The Minister said that the use of language is any Bill is crucial. I welcome the use of the word "non-attendance". The use of that word instead of the word "truancy" was supported by Members on all sides of the House. That is an extremely important point. Similarly, in section 10, the use of the word "assessment" rather than the words "psychological examination" is more appropriate. Anyone who is involved in education would accept that point. If one says to a child that he or she must undergo a psychological examination, the child, as well as his or her parents, will think there is something desperately wrong with him or her, but if one refers instead to the child undergoing assessment, people will have a better understanding of what means. The use of the words "code of behaviour" rather than "code of discipline" is more positive and appropriate language.
The Minister referred to the changes to the Bill since it left the Seanad. I welcome the degree of openness to accepting a number of amendments. The Minister has provided that the National Educational Welfare Board will consult with parents, teachers, school managers, educational welfare officers and the community and voluntary sector. That is an extremely important point. I made the point over a year ago that there was a need for partnership in education. That important amendment provides for recognition of that partnership. It is a wide partnership and the position of educational welfare officers is a critical part of it. I am pleased the board will be more proactive and will actively, rather than passively, monitor the strategies and support children and their parents in dealing with school attendance problems.
The Minister jumped from amendment to amendment. It may be more helpful if I keep to his script rather than go through the long list of amendments, many of which are technical. It would have been helpful if we had been given the amendments a couple of days in advance. I received them just before the debate commenced.
Amendment No. 69 provides for a direct right for any parent to seek the aid of the board. Parents are ideally placed to see the first signs of non-attendance or educational difficulties in a child. I accept and it is right that parents should be able to gain assistance from the National Educational Welfare Board. The Minister sees this as an early warning system. I am concerned about this issue even though it is too late to do anything about it now. The support for parents, as provided for in the amendment, is critical.
The provision for education other than in recognised schools was a thorny problem. As the Minister said, there was a Supreme Court judgment. We were caught between ensuring a minimum educational standard is attained by all children and the rights of parents to ensure they could provide education for their children. I do not know whether everybody is happy with this but at least the Minister has had the benefit of that judgment to restructure this part of the Bill and deletion of section 14 provides for that. There is a need for strong links with the home education body and this is provided for in the Bill. I hope the amendment will allow for a degree of flexibility.
In amendment No. 28 the Minister has moved to alter the system for the assessment of children receiving education outside the recognised school system. There is a need for a much longer debate on this matter but this is not the place for it. I said on Second Stage that I had grave misgivings about the standards that will be attained. This needs to be thoroughly examined to ensure that any child who is educated outside the recognised school system attains certain standards. There is a very delicate balance to be achieved and I hope we have got it right in the Bill.
The Minister made a number of changes in regard to tackling non-attendance at school level. He has increased the reporting requirement for number of days' absence from 15 to 20. That allows for a greater degree of flexibility and I have no problem with it.
Amendment No. 49 provides that the report on school attendance be submitted to the educational welfare officer working with the school. This formal report will provide a mechanism to signal individual problems to the educational welfare officer. Amendment No. 56 provides that the statement of strategy be included in the school plan, as an important part of the overall drive to improve and enhance school effectiveness. Having heard from people involved in education and in compiling a school plan there is a difficulty in regard to time and resources. It is important that the necessary resources are provided. Sometimes I wonder whether the school plan is compiled subsequent to the action. I am concerned that there would be resources to enable schools to incorporate the school plan. I accept schools have to take action to try to reduce non-attendance. I hope the Bill allows them some flexibility.
Amendment No. 41 provides that the school will decide how and when parents should inform the school of their child's absence. I agree with this. We must have trust in the school system. If a system is not in place one should ask why. The Minister said that where a school does not have such a system it will not be left in a vacuum. I would question any school that did not have the ability to monitor the attendance of children. The Minister said the board will support such schools to develop appropriate measures. The board should ensure that measures are developed.
The Minister has made a number of changes to the statement of strategy to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are appropriate and meaningful in a school context. That is fine. Given that much of the onus is put on the school it will need to have the resources to do it. The school statement of strategy provides a clearer reflection of the aims in that area. It is still reasonably loose and it is down to the schools and the amount of resources available to them.
Amendments Nos. 52 and 55 are designed to give schools discretion in preparing their statements of strategy, to allow them to co-operate with such other schools or community groups as they think appropriate. It all boils down to resources. Will sufficient training be provided for management and teachers to embark on this work?
Amendment No. 62 provides for the expulsion of a student from a school. Much discussion arose on this provision. On the one hand, the youth federation said the Minister's amendment would erode the Bill's impact and let schools abdicate their responsibility towards pupils, while teachers said the direct opposite. Obviously, expulsion is a last resort and the measures in the Bill are a compromise. I hope they will work.
The role of the educational welfare officer is essential. It is their duty to find a way to provide for the continuing education of the student in co-operation with the school, student and parents. This puts a huge onus on and illustrates the importance of the educational welfare officer. If it works well, it will be a good system. However, the jury is out until it is up and running. That will take a couple of years so the situation in schools in the short term will remain the same. Expulsion is the last resort and no school wants to expel a pupil unless it is absolutely necessary. I hope the role of the educational welfare officer will be successful.
Co-operation between the educational welfare officer and the school is paramount. The Minister said it is imperative that the educational welfare officer maintains an independent and impartial role. However, the primary responsibility of that officer is the welfare of the pupil. He or she will co-operate with the school but I believe their first priority is the welfare of the child and I can foresee occasional tensions in that regard. Amendment No. 48 places an onus on an educational welfare officer to liaise with the child, parents and so forth. It is amazing that it was necessary to put down such an amendment.
If there are insufficient resources for the educational welfare officers as well as the schools, this system will not work. These people are essential to the new system and their role must be given the backing it deserves. As I said on Second Stage, one of the first jobs I took after college was as a school attendance officer. I was impressed by the people in that service who saw themselves as welfare officers. That is only happening officially now, however, which is remarkable given that I was there over 20 years ago. This project has been a long time in gestation and I am anxious to see if it works.
Section 25 deals with the employment of children and young persons. The original purpose of the section was to restrict the capacity of children of compulsory schoolgoing age to engage in employment. I referred to this on Second Stage. Having been a teacher, I feel strongly about this issue. There were also newspaper headlines about it recently. Children come to school and simply fall asleep during lessons. This is not something new but it is important given our current full employment. Young children are being offered employment in bars and in the general services sector but many employers will not comply with the provisions of employment legislation. They will pretend not even to know about the legislation. There will be people, therefore, who will exploit youngsters.
Any youngster will want to make money for holidays or to buy clothes, CDs and so forth. That is far more appealing than having to listen to the teacher in the classroom. I am extremely concerned that this section should work. I accept the points made by the Minister about his discussions with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Hopefully, the two Acts, particularly 1996 Act which regulates the employment of young persons, will be effective in ensuring that young people are protected, not exploited.
It is always difficult to deal with a Seanad Bill when it is returned from the Lower House. All one can do is say whether the amendments are good, bad or indifferent. Overall, this is a good Bill. There was openness to accepting amendments, although perhaps not enough. However, as the Minister said, it is a start, not the final answer. I wish him well with the Bill. A huge amount of work awaits the National Educational Welfare Board and I hope it will be well resourced and able to do that work.
I am delighted to speak again on this important legislation. I dealt with many non- attending children and examined their backgrounds when I was a career guidance counsellor. I was well aware, therefore, of how patchy the approach was over past decades and of the importance of participation in education.
Non-attendance at school has been, and will continue to be, part of the education system. There will always be some children who, for whatever reason, cannot be contained in a school situation or maintained in a classroom. Simply expelling them is not the answer. The thrust of the Bill is to offer support rather than punishment. They are the terms in which people in the education sector should think, how best to encourage young people to stay at school and find out why some of them do not attend school.
I am pleased that the membership of the National Educational Welfare Board has been extended. It now reflects a wide range of interested groups. That is an important development. The functions of the board include supporting strategies and programmes aimed at preventing non-attendance at school rather than passively monitoring it. I welcome the fact that the functions demand a more active involvement. The provision in the Bill as drafted was quite loose.
Parents are the key people in dealing with this issue. They are the first to see signs of non-attendance and it is important that the board and the school maintain close links with parents. The Minister has tidied up this provision with amendment No. 69.
There are also changes with regard to the use of words such as "truancy". For me, the word "truancy" always had connotations of psychological weaknesses whereas there can be many reasons for non-attendance at school. I welcome that change. I never liked the word "truancy". It was old fashioned and had wider connotations. Many parents dread the words "psychological examination". I welcome the fact that it is being made easier to have an assessment which should be carried out quickly. When the school attendance officer reports the non-attendance of a student and talks to the parents, very often there is a delay between the assessment and the discovery that the child has not been attending school. There need to be closer links with the psychological department so that children who have not attended school for some time will be assessed quickly. There is a delay at that point; there should be co-operation and the psychological services should be available, if necessary.
I welcome the role of the educational welfare officer who up to now has not been readily available, even though he or she was allocated a certain number of schools. Regular attendance in schools is important when things are going well and when they are going badly. The educational welfare officer should be available to work with the principal, the local gardaí, the home/school liaison officer and the parents. He or she is the best person to ascertain why a student is not attending school. The support systems must be in place and, as the Minister said, the thrust of the legislation is not punishment but to ascertain the reasons a student is not attending school and stress the importance of education. There is a great co-ordinated plan and the teachers, principal, home/school liaison officer and the educational welfare officer have a huge role to play in working together, not when a student is not attending school but when everything is going well. This is how one keeps matters right in the school structure. I welcome the tidying up of the role of the educational welfare officer which heretofore was patchy.
The introduction of this legislation is a good day's work. As the Minister said, it will be more effective in vindicating the rights of children to education. Of course, there will be weaknesses in the system but the fact that we now have a national education welfare board will help to make school more attractive to students and find out why a particular student is not attending. I congratulate the Minister on this worthwhile legislation which, I hope, will be successful.
I hate to be the odd one out by introducing a certain dissention in thebonhomie and congratulations to the Minister in relation to the legislation. I welcome the Minister and trust he will have a long and successful period as Minister for Education and Science within the term of the present Administration.
During the Second Stage debate, I spoke strongly against the entire tone, structure and method in which we were seeking to deal with the core provisions encompassed in the Bill, that is, to deal with the problem of non-school attendance by children. An enormous number of children are dropping out and not receiving the benefits of the system. A number of OECD reports have indicated that Ireland is at the bottom of the league in relation to early childhood education, that our system of education is on automatic pilot in relation to 80% of children but that 20% are not receiving the benefits of the system. This is reflected in the fact that there are inordinately high adult illiteracy and innumeracy rates. Some 675,000 was the last figure produced by the OECD which works out at 23% of the population. Therefore, much work remains to be done in that regard.
Clearly, there are not sufficient resources or structures to ensure young people are receiving the best benefits of the education system at an early stage. These students are receiving an incomplete education. I believe this is due to a number of factors which are not addressed in the legislation. For example, there is no national pre-school system of education. This means many young children from the most disadvantaged areas of the cities and throughout the country are not receiving the benefit of an education process between the ages of two and four or five. They are getting a bad start. The Bill does not address this problem and we are still awaiting the White Paper on early childhood education.
This is the hidden problem in the education system which the Bill seeks to address. During an earlier debate on the Bill, I indicated to the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, that the intention is good but it is unlikely the delivery will be very effective. Up to now there have been initiatives to try to deal with the problem of non-attendance at school. Breaking the Cycle has been the most successful initiative which was introduced by the previous Administration. This was carried out on a pilot basis in 25 schools in urban areas and 25 schools in rural areas. Unfortunately, while that proved to be an enormous success and was welcomed by teachers and parents, it was not extended. Perhaps the Minister might look at this as a desirable complement to the various measures being introduced.
The stay at school initiative, which was introduced by the Minister's predecessor, is worthwhile but patchy. A certain amount of money is made available to schools in some disadvantaged areas and it is up to them to decide how to spend it. This is not a co-ordinated, integrated or widespread scheme. The early school leaver initiative has been a worthwhile attempt to catch people falling out of the system. The Minister might have a word with his colleague, the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, to ensure the money for books, shoes and uniforms is paid on time. Last year many parents did not receive the money for up to a month after the schools opened because of a bureaucratic mix-up. This system must be improved because it is a deterrent for children going to school if money is not available to purchase books, shoes and uniforms.
I do not intend opposing any of the amendments, many of which are worthwhile. However, my problem is that the amendments seek to enhance a structure which I do not believe will be effective. Essentially, the Minister is proposing to set up a new board which will have the function of dealing with educational welfare. It will ensure that young people go to school, do not drop out and that a system is in place which is based on educational welfare officers. That will be the core of the system.
Section 11 deals with the educational welfare officers. This section will make or break this new system. If we examine the section we can see how bureaucratic this legislation is and why it will not work.
How is the educational welfare officer presented? Section 11(1) states: ". . . the Board will appoint such persons or classes of persons as it considered appropriate. . . ". Section 11(2) states: "A person appointed . . . . . shall, on his or her appointment, be furnished by the Board with a warrant of his or her appointment. . . ". This means that they can use their warrant like a policeman or an inspector. They can show it around to identify themselves as educational wel fare officers and ask for access to deal with the problem. Section 11(2) continues: ". . . shall, if requested by any person . . . produce such warrant . . . for inspection". This is terrible language to describe the operations of the educational welfare officer. His badge is out there, he must deal with this problem and let the schools, teachers and principals know it.
Section 11(4) states: "The board of management, principal, teachers and other members of staff of a recognised school shall give all such assistance as may reasonably be required by an educational welfare officer. . . ". In other words, the educational welfare officer can enter a school and demand assistance from teachers, the principal and staff. This is very like an outside intruder entering a school and saying, "Here is my badge. I want you to co-operate with me. There is something going wrong here and I am going to sort it out." Those are the terms under which an educational welfare officer will be established.
There is one amendment to section 11. Amendment No. 24 states: "An educational welfare officer shall, where appropriate, act in co-operation with the persons referred to insubsection (4).” Surely the educational welfare officer will act in all instances with the appropriate people. The words “where appropriate” are used. Surely it is always appropriate for the educational welfare officer to act in co-operation with principals, staff, parents and everyone concerned. This legislation will fall or stand on how the educational welfare officer can carry out his or her duties.
Too much responsibility is given to a board in this Bill. The board must appoint someone and give them responsibilities. Then the educational welfare officer can go to a school and act in the fashion I described. If that happens there is not a hope in hell of the situation improving. We already have school attendance officers who have similar functions and in certain areas the Garda also have these functions. Unfortunately, these measures are not working. We may have a policing system but it is not an educational system.
There is a proposal to extend the powers of the board in other sectors. All of the board's powers are very desirable. Amendments have been introduced to extend the board membership to include educational partners. This is very desirable. No one could disagree with this move. Amendments Nos. 9 and 12 to 14, inclusive, extend the functions of the board. This is all very desirable, but is the board the proper body to instruct educational welfare officers to deal with problems? I do not believe that this provision will work.
The Minister has responded with amendments that he thinks are appropriate. He wants to set up another board whose purpose is to establish its own functions. This board will be separate from the educational system operating on the ground. Will these measures be welcomed? Will the educational welfare officer be viewed as a friend or foe if he is established under the terms outlined? He must go to schools with his warrant and demand co-operation. Amendment No. 24 then asks for everyone to co-operate.
The Bill has missed the point in terms of what is needed, an integrated structure. Schools operate on the ground. The person or persons responsible must have the confidence and trust of schools. We are not just talking about one school that is experiencing difficulties in a deprived area which has a plethora of complex problems. We are talking about a cluster of schools, primary and secondary schools, perhaps even a vocational school. We should be talking about third level institutions. The Minister also mentioned the PLC sector in terms of how the problem will be dealt with.
The complexity of the educational system has not been referred to at all in this legislation. How can an educational welfare officer, who has been appointed by a board, work with and gain the trust, loyalty and support of the personnel working in the educational sector? They can only do that if the structure if different. They will not get co-operation if they come from outside the sector.
I have always believed that we do not need a national educational welfare board. We need a series of local structures that would include primary, second level and third level schools. These structures should also include the adult and outreach services being provided in an area. These organisations should be brought together in an integrated structure. Educational welfare officers could then service this structure. It is this type of structure rather than an external board that should be put in place. This structure would be localised. We could call it a local board, not a national board. The solution provided will not respond adequately to the problem.
Amendment No. 28 is a large amendment. It outlines the type of education that will be provided and how the board will do that. Reference was made to a certain minimum education. The education that is being provided, the materials that are being used and the time spent will be assessed by the board. What is the linkage to the school? A huge paraphernalia of activities will be concentrated on each child. There will be an investigation carried out in relation to each child. The education system does not operate like that. We are not going before the courts. While it sounds wonderful that all of this paraphernalia will be put in place and children will be assessed on an individual basis, the education system does not operate on that basis. It operates on a pupil/teacher ratio and uses whatever resources are available, depending on where schools are located, and family background. We must have a structure that corresponds with this. We do not need a national bureaucracy where an examination will take place and where one person appointed by the board will carry out that work.
I could go through the amendments but Senator Keogh has gone through many of them and I do not see any benefit in doing so because they are additions to and, in many ways, enhance what is there. They improve communications between the board, parents and schools, which is very necessary in dealing with this complex issue. Parents can now seek assistance from the board as well as the other way around, which is very desirable because this is a two way process. The board of management will now be responsible for determining the annual report rather than the Minister and this is very desirable.
Although these are worthwhile recommendations, they do not advance us one iota from the core problem that 20% of our children are not receiving a complete education. They are falling by the wayside between pre-school, which does not exist on a national basis, primary school and second level. We need a different, structured response to deal with them. It is not good enough to appoint a board, an educational welfare officer or a liaison officer to deal with them. The home-school liaison officers operate already but that approach not solved the problem. There are also school attendance officers. The problem is structural and we do not have a structural response to it. The only meaningful structural response would be to bring together the local cluster of schools and have them operate an educational welfare system among themselves.
This legislation is well-intentioned and necessary. It has identified the real problem in Irish education, the hidden educational problem to which nobody referred when talking about the great young Irish as the best educated in Europe. The young Irish are the best educated if they belong to the 80% who have good motivation in the home, from a good background and have access to resources in their schools, which can privately support them. However, the other 20% have been neglected since the foundation of the State.
This is an attempt to address that problem but within existing structures rather than trying to maximise locally based structures that could deliver a service. This will be intrusive and will not respond to the needs. It will not command the respect of the principal, the board of management, the staff or the parents. Where will these models of educational complexity, propriety and understanding of the problem be found if not locally? What criteria will the board adopt for its appointments, apart from academic criteria? I would be very interested to know how the appointments will be made. Will they be drawn from people operating in those areas?
We already know that the staff who teach in virtually all the disadvantaged schools do not live in the local area. They live in different areas and have a different background. Will educational officers be selected in the same fashion? Will they be academics first, with the necessary qualifications, or will they know the community, the children, the parents, the structures and the strengths and the weaknesses as well as the importance of education? These are the people for whom we are looking. I cannot see this Bill delivering on this aspect. This is another bureaucratic measure that civil servants have devised as a way of dealing with a problem they do not understand. They do not understand the problems. The money that has been thrown at education so far, in terms of the perceived educational disadvantage, has not been effective because effective structures have not been put in place.
I welcome the intention of the Bill and the fact that the Department of Education and Science has been trying to come up with initiatives to deal with the cycle of low educational attainment in areas where it has been the norm in the past. However, I still am very suspicious and sceptical, although I am not cynical at all. The Department is trying hard but it still does not understand the problem. The Minister's predecessor did not understand the problem. The Minister understands the problem much more because he has had long experience as Minister for Social Welfare. He understands the problems at the cutting edge of disadvantaged and deprived areas. I wish him well with this legislation.
I am opposed to the Bill or any of the amendments, which are all very desirable. However, I hate to have to predict that this legislation will not fulfil the function for which it is intended. I hope that we will have a review of the effectiveness of this legislation at an early stage. I wish the Minister well.
I thank the Senators for their support for the Bill and for the questions they raised on the issues which they consider important. I assure them that I will take these into account in any consideration I have of the development of the implementation of the Bill, once it is enacted.
I welcome Senator Keogh in her new capacity. She welcomed the change on the matter of non-attendance. She put her finger on it when she said it is a major change in thinking. Senator Costello was concerned about the fact it is difficult to change the thinking in this regard. Nonetheless, a change to a more supportive, humane approach is built into this Bill. We must ensure that it happens subsequently. I accept what Senator Costello says in that regard. It is particularly important to follow through on this. We must ensure, when the board is established, that this approach is taken, which the Senators want, which is covered in the Bill and about which Senator Costello is sceptical. Nevertheless, it is our task to make sure that happens.
One of the first actions the new chief executive, whenever he or she is appointed, will have to take is to read what the Deputies and Senators said on this matter and their intentions. I will meet with the people concerned to put those points across. I appreciate the concerns of Senator Costello in that regard.
On the question about partnership, there is an attempt to bring about partnership which is written into the legislation purposely. One could say that this is how we work now and this is the way it should happen. To make sure it goes further than that, it is actually written into the Bill. After that, one cannot make certain the partnership take place. Senator Costello was concerned that some of the people might not want to co-operate with it, that there have been difficulties and it is only successful when one gets the proper co-operation, with which I agree.
Senator Ormonde raised this point too, the need for the parents, community and the school to work with and support the child. One will then achieve the best possible results. If that does not happen, the child is at risk in different respects and the full potential of the child is much less likely to be realised. I am very conscious of that. Senator Keogh also recognised the need for the partnership approach.
On the circulation of the amendments, raised by Senator Keogh, they were with the Bills Office and I understand they were circulated last week. Minimum education is a question of not being prescriptive in regard to home education. It is difficult for any of us to deal with because the Department wants children to receive the education that is most appropriate and best at present. However, the position is made clear in the Supreme Court judgment that the only requirement is a minimum education and to a certain extent my Department must stand back but it has the power to ensure that a minimum education is received. That is a delicate and difficult task which requires sensitivity and balance and we will have to see how it works in practice. Senator Keogh was concerned about standards in that case. If the examinations are taken, that sets a standard in terms of certification but beyond that the onus on the Department will be to ensure that a minimum education is received.
The question of the report on school attendance and the caution about providing the resources for the school plan was raised. The board has a specific duty to assist schools in proposing their statements of strategy and that is provided for in the legislation. Funds are being provided in that regard but will be specifically allotted to cases of disadvantage, especially in the early stages. Everybody will be happy with that.
Senator Keogh also raised the question of expulsion and referred to the measures being compromised. She also mentioned the fact that the implementation of the legislation will take place over two years. It will be implemented immediately in areas of disadvantage. The initial drive and resources will go into that area but there is a requirement to implement it completely within the two year timeframe. It will roll on from that overall. Senator Keogh welcomed it as a good legislation, wished it well and I thank her for her good wishes.
Senator Ormonde has direct involvement and experience in this area, particularly in regard to counselling. She was anxious that parents would be involved and she welcomed the partnership approach. She was also happy that the word "truancy" had been removed from the legislation and she welcomed the assessment approach. She stressed the fact that the educational welfare officers must work with principals, parents, home-school liaison officers and teachers. In so far as that can be provided under the legislation we have indicated that how a person works is a matter for the board.
Senator Costello welcomed me as Minister and I thank him. He was less enthusiastic about the Bill in its final stages but he is over concerned about that. He spoke against the Bill when it was introduced in the House. He was concerned about the extent of drop outs and problems of literacy and non-attendance. I appreciate those problems but this Bill will be a major help in tackling them. I will try to ensure that happens.
The Senator was particularly concerned that it might become too bureaucratic, but all legislation is bureaucratic. Most of our bureaucracy emanates from legislation, rules or guidelines. There is always a danger that legislation will become bureaucratic in application but we want to avoid that. This legislation is designed to be supportive and if there is a good board, chief executive and staff it could be a super Bill and could do a great deal. Senator Costello will see that in practice. He wanted an integrated structure serviced by educational welfare officers and a local board. There is power to set up committees at local level and it is important that there are links to the school and the children. The Senator repeated several times that he does not want national bureaucracy and I agree with him.
However, what does a Member do at present? Senator Costello referred to the fact that I have experience in this area on a day to day basis. As a Member, following the enactment of this legislation, I will have the support of a board and an educational welfare officer. A requirement for consultation with him or her is provided for and he or she has resources and will be available. There will be officers throughout the country, particularly in disadvantaged areas, especially in the early stages. That is where we will concentrate.
I recall addressing the problems of people with difficulties with debt. They have approached me and I ended up ringing the bank. I am amused by the tribunals because I often rang banks about people who had debt problems or problems with mortgages and so on. I almost always found them helpful in sorting out these people's problems. Usually, women approached me because they carried most of the responsibility and they were trying to get a package that would work. A package involved consultation with many people. I would ring the community welfare officer, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the credit union or the bank and the Department of Social Welfare office. In some cases the credit unions and the banks were helpful but they are also limited by legislation and rules regarding what they can do. One also dealt with the rent offices of Dublin Corporation regarding the same problem and one could end up consulting eight different sets of people about one problem. People worry about Members having a telephone allowance for their work and say it should all happen anyway but it does not. I probably did more to make the social welfare system simpler and workable than anybody in the history of the State, yet there are so many inter-relationships that somebody must pull everything together.
Research was carried out by the Combat Poverty Agency for the Department on the prevalence of loan sharks, etc., and that led us to set up the money advice system – MABS. All it comprised was having somebody available to link all these bodies, together with public representatives. That is what the legislation does. It provides somebody who has that responsibility and can follow the problem through with families, many of which are anxious and willing to help. However, somebody must visit families to tell them it is complex, sensitive and that they must be careful about certain issues but it could be helpful. I visited a school in Mayo last week and it was wonderful to see how the community helps and supports the school. There are many examples of that throughout the country but it is wonderful when ones sees it in practice because some children who are in difficulty are being helped by everybody, including other children. It is more difficult to identify the village within the city but it can be done, although it requires more help. These measures give us an opportunity to do that.
There are problems for children who drop out. One of the simple measures which has been very effective is the breakfast scheme but such schemes depend on the support of the community. There is no point saying that the Department is providing breakfasts. That is not what is needed. The community must work together and the parents must get involved. That creates a different atmosphere and it is very important.
There were a number of difficult cases whom the people involved in the scheme in my area were trying to help. There were 1,400 children in the three schools in the area but those running the scheme could not isolate the 100 difficult children and invite them for breakfast. They then offered the breakfast generally and 900 children turned up. Subsequently, we realised things which would not have been evident otherwise. The children would eat their yoghurt and fruit and think it was great but they really wanted a chance to talk about the football. It gives a chance for the lads and girls to have a chat before class. It is a warmer way of approaching the day. Attendance shot up as a result. We have a lot to learn but I look to the educational welfare board to help.
I thank the Senators for their comments on this Bill today and for the detailed consideration that they gave the Bill when passing through the Seanad last year. Their analysis and recommendations have been very useful to me, as always, and have contributed much to the final shape of the Bill before us.
Tackling educational disadvantage is a key priority of this Government. Economic success has not relieved our obligation as legislators to the most disadvantaged in society – it has, in fact, emphasised it. As we continually progress to become more prosperous as a nation, one of our greatest challenges is to make sure that all our citizens can participate in this progress, both to contribute and to benefit.
Education is a key means to tackle disadvantage. The Government has invested heavily in recent years in education – in the last three years alone resources dedicated to the education system have increased by 45%. This year the allocation for education topped £3 billion for the first time.
It is always important, however, that we focus and target our spending towards those most in need. The Education (Welfare) Bill is such a measure. For years research has shown us that irregular attendance leads to early school leaving and that early school leaving leads to disadvantage. Over time this can lead to inter-generational cycles of disadvantage. Schools have taken the lead in many instances in fighting these cycles of disadvantage, and the increased provision of funding for schools designated as disadvantaged has helped in this process.
It is clear that schools cannot handle this responsibility by themselves. They need supports, dedicated support that understands the problems that can lead to non-attendance and support that can tackle these problems, not just in school but outside school as well. They need focal points that can bring together the other State services, such as health professionals or social workers, to lend their weight to support the needs of students who are not attending school regularly. I was involved in setting up community development groups which had the same thinking. If there is someone there with the administrative and practical experience, other support can be drawn down.
The purpose of this Bill is to provide such a support. The creation of a national structure through the national educational welfare board and the deployment of local educational welfare officers is specifically designed to assist students to gain the maximum value from their education, both in personal and economic terms. I consider this to be a vital aspect of our overall strategy to combat disadvantage, in my Department and for the Government as a whole.
I am committed to the early implementation of this legislation. My Department is already giving urgent consideration to the establishment of the board, and the roll-out of its functions. I have said on many occasions and I continue to believe that this roll-out should in the first instance treat with areas of particular disadvantage where needs are the most urgent. We need to support them now to break the cycles of disadvantage that have afflicted too many areas of our country in recent years. Following that priority, I want to see the further establishment of the educational welfare officer service nationwide, to support and assist all of our schools. The Government has already committed over £4 million over the next three years to resourcing this board in its start up phase, although money is not the entire solution. If the work is good, the money will be there to support it. The ongoing resourcing of the board and its operations will be a matter of the highest priority for this Government, to ensure it can carry out its tasks in a effective and meaningful manner.
I thank Senators once again for their views on this Bill. Senators will continue to have an opportunity to revisit the progress of the Bill with the annual reporting mechanism that is built into the Bill. It is my hope that we will have made enormous progress in implementing the provisions of this Bill, before the first such report is made to this House in a year's time.
It is my intention to establish this board in July so that it will be up and running in September. For that reason I am grateful to both Houses for the support they have given and the urgency they have attached to it.
I congratulate the Minister on the Bill. In recent decades we have lost sight of how important social support is for school children. This Bill has made an important improvement. The Minister must now get the money from the Minister for Finance and get going with this. He will have the support of all Senators.
The experience the Minister had in other Departments was valuable and gives him an insight into what is needed in welfare support. I am delighted that he is determined to establish the board next month. That is very good news. I hope this will be a success and I am glad to hear resources will not be lacking.
I also congratulate the Minister and compliment the previous Minister who initiated the Bill. I welcome the decision to establish the board during the summer before the new school year. It has tidied up many loose ends concerning educational welfare officers. I congratulate the Minister on introducing the legislation.
I also congratulate the Minister and his officials on the work they have done on the Bill. As other Senators have pointed out, it makes a valuable contribution to social support for school pupils and those who have problems in attending school. Unfortunately, the need for such legislation is becoming greater. It is up to the Minister to recognise that fact and to put in place appropriate structures, such as those envisaged in the Bill. The Minister cited examples from his former brief in social welfare, which demonstrate how successful an interventionist role can be in putting together support structures. It is an investment that will pay off, both at an early stage and by saving considerable expenditure in the longer term. In that regard, the Bill is to be commended.