As amendment No. 2 is an alternative to amendment No. 1, they may be discussed together.
Vocational Educational (Amendment) Bill, 2000: Committee and Remaining Stages.
This is a technical amendment to allow for the complete citation of the Education Acts, 1878 to 1998 and section 36 of this Bill. Senators O'Meara, Jackman and Costello raised this point and I thank them for bringing the matter to my attention.
I am delighted that the Minister has agreed to this idea as the Government amendment is an alternative to that tabled by the Labour Party. The amendment is a legislative technicality necessary to ensure the reference to the Education Acts is right and the Bill covers all it should. I am pleased that this matter is being dealt with.
Section 1(3) states the "Act shall come into operation on such day or days as the Minister may, by order or orders, appoint either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision." That is a wide interpretation of the Bill in terms of the powers delegated to the Minister for Education and Science and requires clarification. We are talking about vocational education committees and, therefore, local authorities, which means we must consider local authority elections. As members of vocational education committees were appointed for a five year period after the last local authority elections, I wonder when the main sections of the Bill will be implemented. Will we have to wait until after new local authority elections, when a new set of VEC members have been appointed? The structures in the Bill differ from existing structures and VEC membership will change. Without getting into a long debate on this matter, how is the timescale for the implementation of the legislation envisaged by the Minister? It is different from almost any other type of legislation we have had before the House as it deals with the structures of other bodies. A Minister could not simply wake up one morning any say, "Everything is in place, so I will sign the order and get this moving." Will the Minister give us some idea of when he envisages the different aspects of the legislation will be implemented?
On Second Stage I raised the matter of the continuity of VEC members' service. How will the composition of vocational education committees be affected if the legislation is to be implemented immediately? Will the composition stay in line with local authority elections or will it be reviewed? Will this legislation change the composition of the committees already in place?
Senator Costello answered the questions he asked as the provisions of this legislation will be brought forward on a phased basis for the reasons he mentioned. Various financial arrangements can be brought forward at different stages between phases. We plan to have all sections ready in time for the next local authority elections.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 8, before section 7 but in part 2, to insert the following new section:
7.–Where a member of a committee holds office immediately prior to the commencement of this Part in a capacity corresponding to a capacity provided for by a provision of this Part, he or she shall upon such commencement be deemed to have been elected to the said office pursuant to such provision until the date on which, but for this Act, his or her term of office would have expired.
Is the enactment of the legislation where it relates to vocational education committees consequent on the next local elections? Will the members of the committees, school boards and the companies and sub-committees envisaged under the legislation be appointed after those elections? Certain provisions in the legislation are consequent on the next local authority elections while other provisions are not, such as the establishment of companies, the five year education plans and the service plan. The membership of vocational education committees has a major bearing on local elections. However, the intent of my amendment is to ensure people who have been appointed to vocational education committees and so on are not disadvantaged as various sections of the legislation are enacted over time. I seek a wider explanation from the Minister.
My thinking on this issue is similar to Senator Costello's. Many members of vocational education committees and boards of management expressed concern that the legislation could impact on their positions and they were unsure where they would stand if the legislation was implemented immediately. However, the Minister has reiterated that there will be continuity. Councillors and members of the public who represent the community on boards of management would like to feel their positions will not be threatened in any way.
The amendment provides for the continuation in office of serving VEC members until such time as their term of office would have ordinarily expired, which would allow current members to hold office. The amendment is designed to facilitate a smooth transition between existing vocational education committees and those due to take up office under the newly constituted vocational education committees provided for in the legislation.
However, I have already made provision for such a transition. Section 8 provides for the continuation in office of serving VEC members until such time as the Minister commences section 7 and new committees are established and constituted in accordance with its terms. This provision will achieve the same result as the Senator's amendment.
The Department will enter discussions with the vocational education committees regarding the companies, special sub-committees and service plans, and both groups will work together on when they want to establish them. The power will be available to the vocational education committees to bring them in as they wish.
Is it envisaged that the membership of existing sub-committees will remain in situ similar to the members of vocational education committees or will that be subject to negotiation with departmental officials when they negotiate with the vocational education committees?
Sub-committees will also remain in situ, except where there is a desire to establish another committee for which the enabling power is provided in the legislation.
Amendment No. 8 is related to amendment No. 4 and both may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 8, to delete lines 34 and 35 and substitute the following:
"(d) 2 members elected by members of the staff of the committee, one of whom shall be a member of the teaching staff and one a member of the non-teaching staff, and”.
I have noted the concerns expressed regarding representation on the VEC for groups of staff which are not represented by staff representatives elected to the committee. This matter was discussed in detail in the other House. Typically, administrative staff comprise 10% of the total VEC staff. Senators will appreciate I have provided a relatively complex formula for appropriate and balanced representation of all the partners on each VEC and I am reluctant to disturb such a formula.
However, I appreciate the point made by the Senator. Accordingly, when the matter was raised in the other House I made an amendment to the section, which requires that where a group of staff is not represented on the VEC following the staff elections, local authorities must, in appointing the four wider representatives to the committee, consider the appointment of a representative of such staff. There is no guarantee that such a person will be appointed. The overall composition of the VEC derives from a careful formula, which I am reluctant to reopen. However, the section now places a statutory duty on the local authority to consider the claims of these staff should they not be directly elected to the VEC. It provides a reasonable means to ensure all staff will have representation on vocational education committees.
I thank the Minister for amending the section but no guarantee is provided that all staff will be represented. I accept in principle what he has done but, at the same time, categories of staff, other than teaching staff, may not be represented on vocational education committees. There is an onus on the local authority to take all categories of staff into account but some could be left out. Our amendment would cover such an anomaly and I urge the Minister to accept it.
I am not sure what Senator Burke is trying to achieve. Staff will be represented on all vocational education committees. I do not understand how he believes that is not copperfastened in the legislation. I would like to hear the Minister's view but the provision stands up.
Clarification is needed regarding whether administrative staff, as well as teaching staff, will be represented. The words "administrative" and "teaching" are not used in the legislation. Section 7C states, "Two members elected by members of the staff of the Committee", while section 7E(3) states, "Members of the staff of the VEC other than members of staff belonging to the same class of members". It is an option but not a requirement. Two members of staff could be elected but they could be from the same stream. The legislation does not provide that the two major categories of staff should be represented on the committee. Clarification is required because it would be worthwhile to know if both administrative and teaching staff will be represented.
There are two members. The staff as a body will decide on the two members. This comes from the proposals from the steering group and lengthy discussions with the social partners. This is the package that was agreed. I am reluctant to start unravelling the package because that could lead to many other possibilities. I made a provision that the administrative staff must be taken into account and considered. That gives it a status above not being mentioned. It is a matter for each VEC to decide.
The Minister said he consulted with the relevant interests but he seems to provide a caveat in section 7(e)(iii) where the two members of staff selected under paragraph (d) will be teaching staff.
The Minister said the decisions will be made by the staff in total, but this paragraph suggests there will be another category. The presumption is that the first two will be from the same category. Paragraph (e)(iii) states that “members of the staff of the vocational education committee (other than members of staff belonging to the same class of members of staff as either of the members elected under paragraph (d))”. What categories is the Minister talking about? I thought there were only two categories of staff, teaching and administrative staff. How many categories are we talking about? How does it conform to the Minister's desire to have staff representation on the VEC?
Senator Costello has put his finger on it. He is saying there could be more than two categories of staff. It might help if the Minister accepted the amendment.
There are only two categories, the administrative and teaching staff. The point was expressed here, and it was also expressed in the other House, that since teachers will be in the majority, they might repeatedly appoint teachers. However, that is not necessarily the case. They may appoint an administrative representative and a teacher. It is a matter for the staff and they are all members of the staff. I tabled an amendment because of the points made in that regard. It could be that two administrative people could be appointed by the staff, particularly if administrative staff account for approximately 10% of the staff. The amendment requires that where a group of staff is not represented on the VEC following staff elections, local authorities must, in appointing the four wider representatives to the committee, consider the appointment of a representative of such staff. One cannot make law for how each committee will operate within the country. The steering committee and the social partners spent a long time discussing this issue. That is the formula they came up with and I am sticking to it because I do not want to open it all up again.
Paragraph (d) states: “2 members elected by members of the staff of the committee”. Does that mean that under paragraph (e)(iii) one would have to be selected again from each category?
It would not apply then. It only applies in the case where it did not happen.
Amendment No. 5 is related to amendment No. 9 and both may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 8, to delete lines 36 to 43 and substitute the following:
"(e) 4 members appointed by those elected at paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) after consultation with the council of the county borough, being a borough vocational education area, or with the council of the county, being or including a county vocational education area as may be appropriate, from among those persons nominated by such bodies as in the opinion of those elected pursuant to paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) above are representatives of–”.
I would like to hear the Minister's response.
These amendments relate to the role of the local authority in appointing the four additional members to the VEC. This matter was discussed in some detail when the Bill was before the other House. As I said at that time, this goes to the issue of the place of local government in this legislation and in the VEC sector as a whole. In revising the composition of vocational education committees in this Bill, I have provided for a major enhancement of the role of the vocational education committees through, for the first time, the inclusion on a statutory basis of the partners in education on vocational education committees, in addition to a wide range of local interests. The VEC must, however, remain the servant of the local community and not necessarily that of any particular interest group. I am mindful of the long and distinguished contribution local government has made to the VEC sector and believe we have a unique opportunity to give direct expression to the voice of the local community by means of the judgment of the democratically elected representatives. This opportunity will be utilised to the full. Accordingly, it is my view that responsibility for the appointment of the community interests to the VEC should remain with the representatives of the local community, that is, the local authority members.
I ask the Minister to accept the amendment. It would be better in the long run for vocational education committees if communities were allowed to advertise and the council was allowed to decide.
Senator Burke has a point. Under this structure, 13 of the 17 members will be selected by the council of the county borough. While that is clear-cut and simple in many ways, it ensures that whoever runs the local council in political terms has an enormous say in the membership of the vocational education committee for that five year period. I am concerned about that, particularly in light of the Standards in Public Office Bill we discussed earlier. If parents and teaching staff also have a role, that would provide a better balance and ensure more transparency in how the business is conducted. It would not be seen by the public as a political appointment. That is why there is considerable merit in Senator Burke's proposal.
The fundamental issue is that the people elect the local representatives to the vocational education committees and it does not matter which mix of representatives they elect. They are democratically elected and the power must rest with them. That is the basis of the democratic involvement and that is why they work, as councillors do, for a long time to become involved and to serve the people locally. That has been a fundamental aspect of the vocational education committees and their operation. There are groups in Dublin, for instance, which come to agreements on what they will do for a number of years. That is democracy in operation, and it is fair. The alternative is to say that some particular interest should decide.
I am conscious of the long and distinguished contribution local government has made to the VEC sector. The position of local authorities was enshrined in the original VEC legislation, and there were sound reasons for so doing. At that time, the local authority sector provided the bedrock for the development of what was then a relatively new and untried experiment in Irish education. Its inclusion provided the VEC sector with a direct link to its local communities, a link constantly reinforced and revitalised by local elections. That direct link in turn created the moral authority of the vocational education committees to continue to undertake their pioneering work in the field of local education, which was ignored to an extent over the years. Much of that work is now coming to fruition, not least the development of adult education as well as the institute of technology structures, which are playing a major part.
When Senator Costello mentioned the word "corruption", he retracted it fairly quickly. He meant to say that the power is with certain people. The power will be with the elected people. That is the position.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 8, to delete lines 45 to 47.
This amendment is in response to the problem in section 7(d) with which Senator Burke attempted to deal. We propose that four members would be appointed from five categories. If we appoint four members from five categories, obviously some category will lose out and there is no guarantee that the four members will be appointed from each of four or five categories. I want to eliminate a category which I thought was somewhat redundant, namely, any class of trustees of community colleges, because there will be a variety of educational establishments. Currently we have VEC schools, community colleges, Youthreach centres and various educational establishments and centres in terms of adult and lifelong learning. Why not include one category and have somebody elected from that? Many vocational education committees do not have community colleges. I am trying to simplify the situation in that the four members specified in section 7(e) would be chosen from each of four categories and the fifth category would be deleted. That would ensure that the students have representation.
There is no guarantee in this legislation that the students will have representation. There is no guarantee that the administrative or teaching staff will have representation. One or other category could be omitted, and there will be a great deal of annoyance if that transpires. The other category, voluntary and community organisations, is very important because all our schools are based in the community and the more community involvement and development, the better. The last one refers to persons carrying on a trade or a profession, all of which was part and parcel of membership of the vocational education committees and the boards in the past.
We have a problem in this section and, from what the Minister said, this legislation is not tight enough in terms of getting the people he wants represented on the VEC. Would it not simplify the position if he accepted my amendment and allowed community colleges to be dealt with, not as a separate category but recognised as one of the multiplicity of institutions that make up the VEC and which reflect the diversity of educational institutions which deliver an education service within the VEC framework?
I do not see where Senator Costello is coming from in relation to this amendment. The hallmark of vocational education committees is that their spread was a reflection of the community at large. Regardless of whether there is a community college, the responsibility lies with the composition of the members of the VEC to reflect that accordingly. If we were to start classifying, we might splinter the vocational education committees in terms of interests representation. It is a global responsibility on the committee rather than a particular trade within the composition.
The point Senator Ormonde made is very relevant. It is a question of a national agreement and balance in coming to the terms of the new legislation. If a community group is not involved in a particular instance, there will only be four categories to work to, which is not a problem. In other words, instead of having five categories there would be four.
The amendment would provide that the religious trustees of community colleges under the remit of a VEC would no longer have a right to nominate a representative to be appointed as one of the four extra appointees to the VEC. I would be reluctant to accept this amendment which seems to counter the spirit of partnership.
Community colleges under the remit of vocational education committees are schools which have resulted from the amalgamation of a voluntary secondary school with a VEC school. Following such amalgamations, religious trustees of the relevant secondary school are represented on the boards of management of the newly formed community colleges. It is a logical development that they should also have an opportunity to be represented on the committee of the VEC under which their school operates.
Their inclusion in the provisions of section 7 is a direct expression of the principle of partnership. Not only are these trustees directly affected by VEC policy, they also have a wealth of experience and knowledge in second level education to bring to a VEC. Accordingly, it would not be right to remove this section from the Bill.
I am dealing with a number of colleges throughout the country where we have this exact situation. The vocational education committees are anxious that the religious trustees, who have been there for a long time, would agree to come under the mantle of the VEC. They are doing that in many cases but they have recognition on a national basis and there is representation in this legislation. That is important for vocational education committees in particular areas. The alternative is to go ahead with a different format outside the VEC structure. That is the reason it is so important to the VEC.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 10 are cognate and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 9, line 6, after "organisations" to insert "including those involved in the promotion of the arts and culture".
The promotion of the arts, the Irish language and such activities is very important and experiencing growth. Many local authorities have established sections dealing with the arts, an area in which there is significant growth. Vocational education committees would benefit from representation by organisations which promote the arts and culture. The Minister will recognise that the arts play a significant role. This area is experiencing growth and should be recognised in the composition of vocational education committees.
I empathise with the Senator's comments about the mushrooming of interest in the arts. However, if we were to adopt the approach suggested by the amendment, other organisations would also seek representation. Many local authorities have established strategic policy committees dealing with the arts, culture and the Irish language. Members of local authorities will reflect, and be aware of, arts and cultural activities at local level. The phrase "voluntary organisations" in paragraph 7(e)(iv) would include arts and cultural interests. Members of local authorities appointed to vocational education committees would also be representative of arts and cultural activities.
I support the amendment. How long is a piece of string in terms of organisations and bodies which can be represented? I do not understand the reason the Minister increased the categories of organisations which can be represented from four to five. Why should there be five categories if only four members are to be selected? If one has five categories, then why not six, seven or eight?
My amendment No. 6 was specific to a community college which, for a particular reason, decides to come under the ambit of a VEC. Such a course of action is often due to declining numbers or some other reason which would benefit the college. Once this has happened, the community college is part of the VEC and should be treated equally.
If a member of the trustees of one community college is appointed to a VEC while no one is appointed from a second such college, both community colleges will have a different level of involvement with the relevant VEC. I do not accept the Minister's argument in this regard.
There is every reason arts and cultural organisations should be represented as a category on the board of vocational education committees. I would also like to see other areas represented. Much of the work done at community level is carried out by partnerships or task forces and such organisations should be involved. The statutory organisations have also become involved at community level. There is considerable arts and cultural activity in all communities. This is a vibrant area. I do not see the reason the Minister cannot accept this amendment. He is suggesting that we will choose four members from six, as opposed to five, categories. He should reduce the number of categories to four or increase the choice of categories stipulated.
The phrase "voluntary organisations" covers a wide range of activities and would include organisations involved in the promotion of the arts and culture. If such organisations are community organisations, they are also included. Commercial organisations involved in this area are also included separately. I appreciate the objective of the amendment. It is important that, through their membership, vocational education committees are able to draw on the full breadth of talent and expertise in their local communities.
However, the provisions of the amendment are covered in the open and flexible wording of the section. Local authorities must have regard to the nominees of voluntary and community organisations in making their four additional appointments to vocational education committees. This gives the authority concerned sufficient scope to select from among all voluntary groups in the community, including those involved in the arts and culture. On balance, I am satisfied that the provisions of section 7, as drafted, accommodate the inclusion of these interests.
Senator Costello raised a good point regarding the five categories. Would it not be preferable to amalgamate these categories under one heading rather than five? The four appointees might come from one category as the onus will be on local authority members to come up with four names from the five categories. Students will not be represented as their representatives will be cast aside. I would be concerned that the four members may come from the other four categories.
The Minister has an opportunity to specify arts and cultural organisations as a separate category. By accepting this amendment he would make it easier for elected members of local authorities as they would know they have to appoint a representative from this category. We are seeking to make matters easier for the Minister and local authority members who will make the final decision regarding the selection of committees.
Members of local authorities will ultimately decide. The categories are broad enough to include groups involved in arts and cultural activities, but the decision is left to the members.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 10, line 22, before "recognised" to insert "the Irish Vocational Education Association,".
This amendment would require the Minister to consult the IVEA in the preparation of regulations governing the election of staff to a committee. The Senator will note that section 7(3)(a) provides for a general right of consultation for the IVEA on every category of the regulations to be drawn up under the section. Therefore, he will agree that his amendment is unnecessary as I have provided for such consultation as part of the wider process envisaged in the provisions of the section.
The Minister and I are at variance as regards the manner in which the composition of vocational education committees will be determined. There will be problems regarding staff as it is unclear how the two major categories of staff will be represented. I understand it is the Minister's intention that both the administrative and teaching staff will be represented, but that may not be the case because clear provision is not made for it. Any effort on our part to clarify the matter has failed.
Section 7(4) states:
Regulations under subsection (3) may provide that both sexes shall be represented on a vocational education committee in such proportions as are specified in the regulations and, for that purpose, may include provisions for the establishment, in respect of elections to which this section applies, panels of candidates comprising women only and panels of candidates comprising men only from which persons shall be elected in accordance with those regulations.
May I have some idea of the Minister's thinking on this matter? Subsection (3) states: "Elections held pursuant to this section, shall be conducted in accordance with regulations made by the Minister, after [various levels of] consultation with." No gender quota is specified, although there is a suggestion that there may be panels of both sexes for some of the elections. Subsection (5) states: "The Minister may make regulations providing that members of both sexes shall be appointed to." The Minister, however, might never go back to any of these bodies for consultative purposes. The Bill states that the Minister may or may not do such a thing. There is, therefore, no compul sion on him to provide for any element of gender equality.
The purpose of that subsection is, in the event of the VEC not recognising the need for a gender balance, to enable the Minister to intervene. That is the intention. In most cases nowadays that balance will be respected and has been highlighted at various stages.
There are many vocational education committees throughout the country, including rural areas, where it is not evident.
The Minister would then be free to enter into the situation. That is the reason, essentially, it is an enabling provision.
But there is no compulsion on the Minster.
There is no compulsion on the Minister but he is compelled by the overall regulation. For instance, the Senator might remember a time when his party was in government and a 40% requirement was introduced.
On boards of public bodies.
Yes, but it is a provision used fairly generally now. It does not mean that it is always possible.
It disappeared from the legislation as soon as we left Government.
I am not saying that it is always possible but this provision does leave an opening for the Minister to intervene if he or she is not happy with what is happening.
Various sections and community groups elect and put people forward at different stages. Where does the responsibility lie for deciding gender balance and that X amount of people should be men or women? As each group will put forward its own people, one could end up with an all male or all female membership. Ultimately, the Minister will have to decide if a committee is up and running, but in establishing such a committee the buck does not seem to stop with anybody. Who says that one must have A, B or C?
As a member of the opposite sex, I would have been very cross had the Minister felt it necessary to insert in the legislation a compulsory provision for female or male representation on any board. I have spoken out strongly against such tokenism. It would be seen as tokenism to make sure we had equal representation. We have free education and want everybody to be highly educated. In the broad sense, there is equal opportunity for men and women. To suggest that women are not able to stand up for themselves and be as good as, or better than men, or vice versa—
We do not want to do that.
Inserting it in the legislation, in writing, means we are forcing the issue. I would hate that to happen. We should allow it to evolve in a natural way and one will find that there will be as many representatives—
There is a habit of it not evolving in a natural way.
It will happen and, as the Senator well knows, is happening. That is the way life is today. The Senator does not have to make the case for women, in any shape or form, because they are well able to stand up for themselves.
We are not making the case for them.
They are doing their work beautifully. There are equal opportunities for all of us.
There are two genders. Think of the poor men.
I do not want any Minister saying we need to be looked after. I am glad the Minister did not make that decision. He should leave it open in order that, should it occur, he would be in a position to act. I can assure him, however, that it will not happen, given the way that women feel about the matter. There are more than enough of us to fight for ourselves. We do not need the soft tone of people telling us that we need the regulation to be inserted to reflect our position.
I do not really think that I have anything more to say on the matter.
Stand up for men.
I surrender. The enabling provision will be available in the event of difficulties.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 11, subsection (1)(c), line 41, after “plan” to insert “which should inter alia contribute to the realisation of national objectives in relation to the promotion of the Irish language”.
I am strongly of the view that the Irish language should be mentioned in the vocational education plan. I am moving this amendment in order to have that provision stitched into the plan.
Senators may be aware that the same matter was raised in the Lower House. I considered the issues raised at that time regarding the inclusion of references to the Irish language and Irish language policy in the Bill. I have made provision in section 7 for Irish language interests to be consulted by local authorities when deciding their appointments to vocational education committees. While I am concerned that vocational education committees should be guided by Government policy in relation to the maintenance and promotion of the Irish language, on balance, it is not appropriate to include such references in the Bill. All vocational education committees are, and will continue to be, bound by national policy decisions in relation to the Irish language.
The Education Act, 1998, provides a clear framework for the formulation of national policy in respect of the place of the Irish language in schools and education generally. That Act explicitly provides, in section 9(d), that each school must ensure the education provided by it meets the requirements of education policy as determined from time to time by the Minister. Section 9(f) provides that each school must also promote the development of the Irish language and traditions, Irish literature, the arts and other cultural matters. VEC schools are bound by these provisions in the same way as all other schools are bound by them.
The Education Act also provides for a specific body to consider and investigate all issues relating to the teaching and learning of the Irish language. This body, which is being established under section 31 of the Act, has a duty to report directly to me on the best means of promoting the use of Irish in all recognised schools. It is my intention that it should provide the basis for the informed development of strategies to maintain, develop and promote the use of the Irish language in a structured way. It will be my role as Minister, following consideration of the advice of that body, to direct the implementation of its advice and strategy in each school. Repetition of the provisions in the Education Act in relation to the Irish language in this Bill is, therefore, not necessary.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 11, subsection (1), lines 47 to 48, to delete subparagraph (e)(i).
One of the concerns which I have with this legislation is that the whole area of boards of management is not covered. It is referred to in terms of the Education Act, 1998. As we all know, the vocational education committees and other primary and post-primary schools operate in a different manner. Primary and post-primary schools are very much individual, stand-alone schools, whereas the VEC schools are part of a scheme and are linked to the parent VEC.
Section 9(1)(e) is very weak in how it deals with boards of management. I have tabled a further amendment with the intention of strengthening the amendment. Section 9(1)(e) reads:
where it considers appropriate, make all reasonable efforts to consult, in relation to the performance by it of its functions, with–
(i) boards of management of schools established or maintained by that vocational education committee,
It should be much more proactive than that and should be put in the strongest manner so that it is not just a question that it may "make all reasonable efforts to consult" with boards of management. There must be a strong link and good communications and accountability between boards of management and vocational education committees. We need to spell out the relationship between the boards and the vocational education committees. We know the relationship between the sub-committees and the parent VEC, yet there seems to be a total lack of clarity as to how the new boards of management will operate in the new structure.
Having been a member of a board of management, I know how boards of management operate in post-primary schools. The functions of the board of management relate solely to the individual school. How will a school, whether it is a community college with trustees and entitlement to a representative on the vocational education committee or a vocational education school, link to the VEC in conducting its business? How will it operate in terms of accountability to the VEC itself when it holds its meetings? We have a report from the sub-committees of each school. Will there now be a report to the parent body? Will there be accountability between the board and the main body?
It is extraordinarily weak for the Bill to provide that one of the functions of the VEC will be, "where it considers appropriate, make all reasonable efforts to consult, in relation to the performance by it of its functions with boards of management of schools". That is not good enough. We need to spell out what the relationship will be. There is incredible confusion about how boards of management will work vis-à-vis the parent body. I am not satisfied the Minister has made even the slightest attempt to elaborate on or clarify the matter. Something stronger than that single reference is needed. I think that is the only reference to boards of management in the Bill. It is not good enough. It is not clear and will leave everybody confused as to how it operates in the future.
I am amazed that an educationalist like Senator Costello is so inflexible in his thinking. He is suggesting that there should be a straitjacket syndrome within the board of management in that it must have accountability to such an extent that it would not function. The section stands up very well. From experience in dealing with boards of management I have found that there are no difficulties. The principal and chairman have clear terms of reference which set out the precise links and operations between the VEC and the board of management.
I cannot understand what would be more appropriate than to have a policy of consulting if necessary. It allows the flexibility for them to develop their policies and vision for the future and to work closely with the VEC. That has always been there and it stands perfectly well. I do not see how it would be changed unless a regime which demanded that every breath taken by the board of management had to be reported to the VEC was put in place. I am totally against that. It would rule against the broad vision and the educational plan of a principal for his school. If, as Senator Costello is suggesting, a strait-jacket is put in place, thinking will be stultified and everyone will be looking over their shoulders as to how they run their schools. It would be inappropriate to suggest such an inflexible approach.
Senator Costello has raised a very important point. Some boards of management have worked extremely well while some are extremely poor. One can see how good or bad a school is by how a board of management conducts its business. The link between the boards and the vocational education committee is not spelled out strongly enough. There should be a mechanism where boards of management report to the VEC. That does not seem to be in the Bill and that may be the point that Senator Costello is making. If some boards of management are not carrying out their functions well, this may not be communicated to the VEC because it did not consult that board.
The board of management is a very important element of the VEC and I would like the Minister to spell out the link between the board and the committee and how they interact.
Amendment No. 13 provides for the removal of the obligation on vocational education committees to consult boards of management of schools under their remit in relation to the performance by the VEC of its functions. Section 9(1)(e) provides for an extensive consultation process whereby each VEC will endeavour to consider the views of all those who have an interest in, or are affected by, its work. It is vital that when framing policy each VEC draws on the experience of boards of management. After all, these boards are in the front line in dealing with pupils, parents and teachers.
It is not advisable to weaken this provision by excluding boards of management. Neither does it seem appropriate to require a VEC to consult with all interested parties except school management. It is not my intention to support the amendment. There is a related section in amendment No. 16. The current position is that the question of boards of management for schools has been addressed by the Education Act, 1998. That Act provided for a model for the establishment of such boards in all first and second level schools, subject to the agreement of the relevant partners, parents, teachers, patrons and school managers. At first level such agreement has been reached. My Department is currently considering the question of developing a similar model, or models, for second level schools. Any such model will only be implemented with the agreement of the partners concerned.
In relation to the direct link Senator Burke asked about, there is of course direct membership of the VEC as a continuing link with the board of management. They are concerned with changes and new procedures, not with everything that happens.
I do not suggest there should be a straitjacket and I do not know what Senator Ormonde is talking about. What I refer to is the existing procedure in the vocational education committees. I am disappointed with Senator Ormonde because she has been a VEC teacher and should have realised the great importance of the sub-committee connection with the parent body. Reports of all the meetings of the sub-committees taking place in each school have to be made on a regular basis. The VEC then inspects these reports and recommendations can come from the schools on matters which need to be dealt with. The vocational education committees remain in place and unless the umbilical cord between the boards of management and the school is re-established – it exists at present through the sub-committees – what is the sense of having a scheme at all? You might as well have stand-alone schools. There has to be a relationship and communication. We are not talking about a straitjacket, we are talking about the requirement to have a reporting mechanism work both ways, whereby vocational education committees can give directions to the schools because they are VEC schools. There are policy matters and all sorts of other things involved. The schools, in the carrying out of their functions, must make regular reports to the vocational education committees and that is not provided for in this legislation. Until it is provided for we are getting a model for school boards that is pertinent to the primary and secondary schools but not to the vocational education committees because it is a different structure. That is the reason I put down this amendment.
I see that the Minister has wandered to a discussion of amendment No. 16. I thought the two amendments would be taken together as they are related. I want to strengthen the connection between the parent body and the boards of management, as I propose in amendment No. 16.
It is important to recognise that the scheme will include provision for suitable links. The existing procedures will be continued in the meantime and anything that happens beyond that is a matter for consultation and discussion in the partnership arrangement.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 12, subsection (1)(iv), lines 7 and 8, to delete " and who have not reached the age of 18 years".
Now that we have a six year secondary cycle, consisting of five years and a transition year, there is no need to include these words. There could be people over the age of 18 years attending school and it would mean their parents would not be consulted. I ask that the words be taken out.
If accepted, this amendment would provide that parents of students who are over 18 may also stand as candidates for election to a VEC. That might seem reasonable when considering the case of a 19 year old leaving certificate student; however, a student over 18 years of age is an adult by law. It seems inappropriate to ask young adults to accept that their right of representation should remain with their parents. Instead, Senators will note that I have made separate provision under section 7 for the local authority to directly consider the position of student representatives when appointing the extra four members representing the wider community to the VEC. Accordingly, the amendment will not be of benefit to parents or students.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 12, subsection (2)(f), to delete from “schools and” in line 20 down to and including “committee concerned “ in line 22 and substitute “pre-schools, primary and secondary schools and third-level institutions and other persons providing educational services”.
This amendment seeks to spell out the range of consultation and co-operation that should take place. One of the flaws at present is that there is very little co-operation among the various educational establishments. The primary school does not know what the secondary school is doing, and vice versa, and within second level the secondary school does not know what the vocational school is up to. None of them has much to do with third level other than through the exam system.
There is a plethora of schools and educational bodies that need to co-operate with each other, some on a tiered system – from primary to second level – and on a diverse system if it is adult education or life-long learning. There is a need to have an educational link and in the absence of structures we should provide for it in the legislation. It is little more than an aspiration that vocational education committees would co-operate with other vocational education committees and the whole range of educational bodies, but it is desirable.
I understand the thrust of what Senator Costello talks about. From my own experience I know it is important to reinforce this consultation and co-ordination process within the schools in a given area. Very often you find you have wasted resources where there is a duplication of subjects or not enough pupils in one school. There should be more consultation and co-ordination in all services within a locality, including education, because of the potential for duplication of resources and I would like to hear the Minister's views.
I concur. There is a need for more consultation given the expansion of institutes of technology, all third level institutions – they are in nearly every county now – and outreach courses. There is also the whole area of adult education and I therefore agree with the thrust of this amendment.
Section 9(1)(f) provides that a vocational education committee shall:
in the performance of its functions and in so far as is practicable, cooperate with other vocational educational committees, schools and such persons providing services similar to or connected with those provided by the vocational education committee concerned in relation to the vocational education area of that committee as the vocational education committee considers appropriate.
The amendment is not necessary as the organisations outlined by Senators are already comprehended by the terms of section 9. Furthermore, the restriction provided by the Senators might have unwelcome implications. I am aware that most, if not all, vocational education committees have extensive collaboration with local sports groups, youth work groups and other services which, while not directly educational services, have some bearing on education provision. It is appropriate that the vocational education committees be able to co-operate with such groups where such co-operation can be of benefit to their students.
The Minister needs to spell out co-operation at grassroots level because it is not happening in education. It is as if every educational unit thinks it is a law unto itself. It does its own thing and does not have the slightest consideration for any other school system. Every primary, secondary and vocational school is like a little independent republic. The Minister says they are encompassed by the provision he outlined but this issue is one of the big failures in the system. It is the reason so many youngsters fall out of education. There is no pick up because there is no liaison network, co-operation or consultation worth talking about. I feel obliged to put this amendment to a vote unless the Minister can do something more.
The Minister can, where he or she considers it necessary, issue a direction under section 14. He or she, therefore, has the power to intervene where necessary. With regard to the general questions raised by the Senator, it is important that schools should be in contact and communication with each other. There should be understandings among them. From my Department's point of view, the inspectors are important in this regard. The Senator must look at where we have come from. The schools have come from different positions.
One must also be careful about too much rationalisation. One is looking for a balance where there is freedom to innovate and work with the students in the school while at the same time providing a good range of services within an area or district. The Department can help through the regional organisations for which I now have Government approval. We are beginning the negotiations and consultations for that. There is an extensive consultation process in these types of arrangements, although preliminary consultations were conducted by Cromien. The more definitive consultations are now under way. That will help to bring people together within a region and to secure better understanding.
The Minister has the power to issue directions under the later section, if that is considered necessary.
I know the Minister has that power. This is still a modest proposal. In the performance of its functions the VEC, in so far as it is practicable, shall co-operate with other vocational education committees. We are extending the list and pinpointing areas where co-operation should take place. It does not cut across anything the Minister might have power to do but is asserting, in a strong fashion, that there has been a lacuna or lapse in the past. It is time to get co-operation moving in terms of the other schools operating in the area and to point it out so the vocational education committees can get working on it.
The organisations outlined by the Senator are already comprehended by the terms of section 9.
I am happy with the Minister's reply. He referred to the regional organisations which are due to be introduced. That might overcome the problem. The legislation should not be too tight, compelling principals of schools to liaise, co-ordinate and consult. Goodwill is what we are seeking. It would be preferable to ensure that the Minister is made aware of where it is not happening rather than integrate it into the legislation.
Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Dardis, John.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Gibbons, Jim.Hayes, Maurice.Kett, Tony.
Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.
Burke, Paddy.Coghlan, Paul.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Cregan, Denis (Dino).
Doyle, Joe.Henry, Mary.Jackman, Mary.Keogh, Helen.O'Dowd, Fergus.Ross, Shane.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 12, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following new subsection:
"(2) Each school established or maintained by a committee shall have a board of management in accordance with the Education Act, 1998, which notwithstanding that Act shall be accountable to the committee in respect of such functions of the board as are determined by the committee.".
This is one of the most important amendments I have tabled in connection with the Bill. It relates to an area which has been neglected in the legislation, namely, the establishment of a link between parent vocational education committees and schools. The Education Act, 1998, makes provision for the composition of school boards and the amendment states that, notwithstanding anything in that Act, the school boards "shall be accountable to the committee in respect of such functions of the board as are determined by the committee". The amendment is designed to put in place a level of accountability, establish the link between the committees and the schools and allow the committees to decide the levels of monitoring and supervision they wish to impose on school boards.
The amendment is not intended as a straitjacket and I do not want to hear that word used again. We have a democratic system that incorporates a body of schools which come under the umbrella of vocational education committees. For the most part, local authorities and locally elected individuals will be involved with the boards which will make them the only democratic institutions within the educational system. I want to ensure that, where they are established, school boards retain their link and remain accountable to the parent body and that said body can decide the functions it may wish, from time to time, boards to carry out. In other words, boards will have to conduct school operations in a manner which is accountable to their members. That is reasonable and correct because it will help create cohesion in the system.
We do not want a stand-alone school system. There are between 3,000 and 4,000 primary schools and 800 secondary schools operating on a stand-alone basis at present, which are only linked to the Department of Education and Science in terms of the need for co-operation with State-sponsored examinations or in respect of their need for building improvements, maintenance etc. It is important that the units of the VEC structure should be properly accountable and linked to the parent body.
The Senator's suggestion that I cannot use the word "straitjacket" will only encourage me to use it again. In using the term, I meant that the workings of the boards of management are inflexible. Such boards are already accountable, particularly in terms of the requirement that they submit reports, oversee financial budgets, cater for the upkeep of schools and co-operate with vocational education committees in dealing with major disciplinary problems. In addition, parents are granted access to vocational education committees without having to deal with boards of management. I cannot understand how Senator Costello can state that we must tighten the procedures to ensure there is a greater level of accountability. In my opinion, his amendment would destroy the boards of management and lead to members of vocational education committees looking over their shoulders. I could not stand over a position where boards would not be able to operate without first consulting their parent committees.
As the Minister indicated, this matter is already dealt with in the legislation. In that context, power is granted to the Minister and any VEC to intervene, if necessary, where they are of the opinion that a particular board of management is not doing its job. Principals will also have a major responsibility in this area. I do not believe amendment is necessary and it would inhibit the way we want the boards of management to work. As already stated, it would essentially act as a straitjacket and I could not agree to that.
We dealt briefly with this matter on section 8 and I concur with Senator Costello in respect of it. If the amendment was accepted, it would firmly place boards of management in a legislative context. There must be a link between vocational education committees and boards of management, and Senator Costello's amendment facilitates this. As already stated, some boards of management have worked extremely well while others have not. We can judge the performance of some schools in terms of how their boards of management function. I support Senator Costello in relation to this matter because a link between any good board of management and its parent vocational committee is a must. If a school is not performing well, there is an onus on the relevant vocational education committee to request that either the board of management or one of its own units ensures that matters are put right. Senator Costello's amendment will allow this to happen.
This is an important amendment and the Minister should give it careful consideration because the Bill does not appear to contain a framework for the creation of strong links between vocational education committees and the schools in their jurisdictions. The amendment provides such a framework and should be accepted.
We discussed this issue in the context of amendment No. 13. The question of providing boards of management for schools was addressed in the Education Act, 1998. That Act provides for a model for the establishment of such boards in all first and second level schools, subject to the agreement of the relevant partners, namely, parents, teachers, patrons and school managers. At first level, such agreement has been reached. The Department is currently considering the question of the development of a similar model or models for the second level sector. Any such model that may arise will only be implemented with the agreement of the partners concerned.
I appreciate the concerns that have been raised. However, the model for vocational education committees will be developed in conjunction with the vocational education committees and will be agreed with them before being introduced. In that context, I do not believe the amendment is necessary.
I accept what the Minister is saying, but it is not provided for in the legislation. Section 14 of the Education Act makes provision for the establishment of boards of management and outlines the composition thereof. It does not say that it will happen in consultation with the vocational education committees, which is why the relationship should be in this Bill. How can a vocational education Bill, which updates the 1930 Act, make only a passing reference to school boards of management? There should be an explicit assertion of the relationship. It is neither in the 1998 Act nor here. The section in the 1998 Act dealing with boards of management does not make the relationship clear and it is not referred to in this Bill. It ought to state clearly that there shall be a communication line and accountability to the parent committee in respect of the board's functions determined by the committee.
The Act provides that this should be so regarding what might be determined by the Minister, but this is a school board under the committee's umbrella and it should have a say in how the school operates. If it has no role, then the schools should be released from the VEC. He says it will take place in consultation with the Minister, but that is not stated in either piece of legislation. We rely on the Minister's goodwill that the boards of management will be established in consultation with the vocational education committees. That means that these boards will be different from the other boards, which should be made clear in the legislation.
The 1998 Act explicitly stresses that it be done in agreement with the patrons of schools. The VEC is a patron of the schools. The partners repeatedly stated clearly that this was not prescriptive but by agreement and in consultation with them. That issue came out repeatedly, as the Senator may remember. The provision is in the 1998 Act.
What is established by the "patrons" is the composition of the body, not the relationship with the body. I refer to accountability and communication.
The relationship is that they have to be accountable and they are. There must be agreement about the model which is consultation with the partners. There will be no progress without agreement and that will not be prescribed. The provisions are there and the task is to ensure that the model is agreed.
The Minister gives authority to the committee to establish companies. I am not concerned if that is good or bad, but with the circumstances in which a VEC can form a company. Can it form one in conjunction with another body to carry out its functions? Local authorities were given the power to form private companies and others with outside bodies to conduct business. What type of business would a company formed by a VEC conduct?
Senator Burke raises an important matter. This is a straitjacket stating that a private company shall be wholly owned by the VEC. This is provision only for establishing private companies as if that is the way a committee would conduct its business. Most work will be co-operative involving partnerships, such as the local area partnership, drugs taskforce or even the new sports structures proposed by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. These are excluded by this legislation. They are not encompassed in its terms. We may have to amend this legislation sooner rather than later.
This provides the flexibility to the vocational education committees, which ITs and universities have. It could arise in sporting events or English language services. They will still be represented on partnerships and work with them. Ownership is the issue and the VEC must have complete ownership. There will be no part ownership.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 15, subsection (5), line 29, after "staff." to insert "The performance by the chief executive officer of the functions outlined in this section may be the subject of an appeal to the vocational education committee by an interested party or their representative.".
This amendment provides that the performance of the chief executive officer of the functions in this section may be the subject of an appeal to the vocational education committee by an interested party or their representative. An interested party's right in this ought to be in the legislation.
I appreciate what the Senator says. I have had difficulty with chief executive officers, their role and relationship to the committee. Indeed, some of them overstepped it and monopolised and dictated to it. That has been well established. The power must rest with the committee and the chief executive officer must be answerable to it and not the other way round. That point should be clear – the chief executive officer is accountable to the committee and he carries out the decisions made by it. We have had many cases in the past where it has not been so.
I have considered the points raised by the Senators in relation to the role of the VEC in staffing matters. As the Senators are aware, I have provided in this Bill that the management of staff will henceforth be an executive function. As such it will be the responsibility of the chief executive officer of each VEC to ensure that all staff functions are carried out in an efficient, effective and fair manner. I would also like to clarify that those existing protections for staff already contained in the body of VEC legislation, in particular those in the 1944 Act, remain and will be unaffected by this legislation.
Teachers in VEC schools are in the main represented by the TUI, the Teachers' Union of Ireland, which is a party to the teachers' conciliation and arbitration scheme through which national agreements in relation to the terms and conditions of employment of teachers are negotiated. Well-established protections are therefore already in place in most instances for staff. Where strict provisions do not exist, or need to be reviewed, this Bill creates an obligation on chief executive officers to develop and implement appropriate appeals procedures. When considering the need for local appeals procedures, chief executive officers must have regard to their duty to ensure that the staff are treated in an equitable and fair manner at all times.
It would not be helpful to prescribe a particular form of process in this legislation. It is my view that such procedures should emerge after consultation and, ideally, agreement with all the partners concerned.
I seek a point of clarification. Will it be mandatory on all vocational education committees to have an appeals mechanism or procedure in place? When a VEC is set up, will an appeals mechanism be put in place before an issue arises so that if anybody has a problem the mechanism will kick in and the appellant will not be isolated?
I welcome the concept of a local appeals procedure that will prescribe a formula as to how to handle problems as they arise. Speaking from experience I wish to add something in relation to interview boards. Chief executive officers have in the past influenced, not so much the composition of the VEC, but interview boards as to whom they want to be appointed. I hope regulations will be incorporated in the legislation in such a way that the chief executive officer's job will not have anything to do with appointments, other than as part of his role. They should not dictate to vocational education committees as has been the case. I hope this will not happen in the future. Local appeals procedures would be able to deal with any incidences of this.
Where provisions do not exist or need to be reviewed the Bill creates an obligation on chief executive officers to develop and implement appropriate appeal procedures.
I would be happier if it was mandatory on each committee to set it up from the start. More than likely there will be situations where somebody will have a problem and the mechanism the Minister talks of will then have to be put in place. The appellant will then stand out as the bad person creating the problem. It may only be something small but he or she will be seen as an outcast within the system. It would be much better if a system was in place and then people could use the system if they wished.
All the provisions are there to have the mechanism in place. In view of the points made by the Senators I will certainly give instructions to proceed with them at an early stage.
Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 are related and will be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 23, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following new subsection:
"(2) In exercising its functions pursuant to subsection (1) a vocational education committee shall have regard to the desirability of including members nominated from the various constituent groups of the committee on any sub-committee.”.
The issue of sub-committees takes on a certain amount of importance in the legislation because a VEC can now establish sub-committees to perform one or more of its functions. If a sub-com mittee is to carry out the function that would normally be carried out by the main committee itself then it is important that it should be done by a representative composition that would reflect the representation on the committee. My amendment seeks to ensure that in exercising the functions herein, that is the sub-committee established, we should look at including members nominated from the various constituent groups of the committee on any sub-committee. I ask that it should have regard to the desirability – it is not an absolute compellability. It is desirable and should be brought to the attention of all the vocational education committees. In the composition of sub-committees that will carry out functions that are functions of the VEC itself, it is desirable that there be a full representation of the VEC on the new committee.
I have carefully considered the question of composition of sub-committees of vocational education committees. The establishment of a sub-committee has been and will principally be a means to assist the vocational education committees to carry out their business in a more effective manner. I have made a number of changes to the existing structures for sub-committees in this Bill to provide more flexibility for vocational education committees in establishing such sub-committees. Generally, therefore, the establishment of a sub-committee will be at the discretion of the VEC and in response to perceived needs. Such needs will be of their nature diverse. There may well be occasions when it will not only be desirable but also effective to limit the number of members of a sub-committee to two or three – for instance, a sub-committee exploring a proposal and reporting back to the VEC.
In such circumstances this amendment, though well intentioned, might actually hinder the work of the VEC by requiring unnecessary bureaucracy in establishing a sub-committee, perhaps resulting in its being overly large for the task it faces. I appreciate that in amendment No. 19 Senator Burke has provided that VEC members may waive their right to be included on a sub-committee. However, I consider the alternative of simply leaving it to the discretion of the VEC itself to be preferable.
I have examined the possibility of including a reference in this section to the need for vocational education committees to have regard to the principle of partnership in the formation of sub-committees. The key focus of the Bill should remain the statutory establishment of the principle of partnership in vocational education committees, the first time this principle has been made explicit. It will be a matter for a VEC, taking account of the principle, to decide how to conduct its own affairs. I strongly support the principle of partnership that now underpins the educational sector and it has been and remains my view that the VEC should organise its own business. Rather than restricting the capacity of vocational education committees to manage their affairs, this legislation should accommodate them to do so.
The Minister is quite right when he says that a spirit of partnership underpins this legislation and the educational sector. It depends to what degree vocational education committees decide to establish sub-committees and how much of the work of vocational education committees will be conducted by sub-committees. Parents or staff may feel left out if they are not represented on sub-committees. There is no requirement that membership of sub-committees be decided by proportional representation. While everything will be quite satisfactory in the vast majority of cases, under this legislation a VEC can exclude from representation any category it wishes. The amendment tries to obviate the potential problems I have outlined.
I would prefer to leave it to the vocational education committees, although Senator Costello seems very suspicious of them.
The Senator does not trust them.
I am not suspicious, although there are other bodies which are.
I would rather allow vocational education committees to arrange their own affairs within the parameters I have outlined.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 24, subsection (11), lines 26 and 27, to delete ", save where the Minister otherwise directs".
I want to delete this phrase from the Bill, as if sub-committees have been established by vocational education committees, there is no need to provide for the Minister to direct otherwise.
I note the point made by the Senator, but concerns that there may be an imbalance, favouring the Minister, between the role of the VEC and that of the Minister are misplaced. This provision was originally contained in the Vocational Education Act, 1930, and has therefore successfully stood the test of time. This is also an opportunity for vocational education committees to decide how to structure their own affairs. If it decides that a particular function could be more effectively carried out by a sub-committee, the VEC can use this provision to make such a case to the Minister. There may be occasions when it will be necessary to provide that certain sub-committees, such as those established by the VEC on the direction of the Minister, should be accountable to the Minister or another body specified by the Minister rather than to the VEC.
These matters are especially relevant in the context of the implementation of the recent White Paper on adult education, Learning for Life, which recommended the establishment of adult learning boards. Regional boards will form part of an integrated national structure and report annually to a national adult learning council, also provided for in the White Paper, on the delivery of adult education services in the regions. The White Paper provides that boards will be established as autonomous sub-committees of vocational education committees, thereby linking them into a well-established regional structure. This Bill is designed to facilitate both their establishment and the granting to them of necessary autonomy once established. The boards form an integral part of a comprehensive strategy for the development of adult education and will play a vital role in helping to ensure a co-ordinated and integrated approach to the implementation of the White Paper's proposals. The provisions of the Bill are vital if the vision of the White Paper is to be given full expression.
I thank Senators for their contributions and consideration of the Bill.
I thank the Minister for introducing this legislation, for which we have waited some time. The previous Minister for Education and Science promised it would be put on the Statute Book and I am glad that is finally about to happen. I compliment the Minister's staff on their good work. Although we have been critical of different aspects of the Bill and would have liked to have seen certain amendments accepted, it is a good Bill. I thank the Minister for the courtesy he has shown and the open manner in which he has discussed the various amendments.
I also thank the Minister for the way in which he has dealt with this important legislation in the House. The vocational educational system has worked very well and given great service. The Bill is undoubtedly a big improvement on what we had. In years to come this legislation will be considered as important to this country as the 1930s legislation which established the VEC system. I compliment the Minister and his staff on the manner in which they have pursued this good legislation.
I thank the Minister for this Bill which updates the 1930 Vocational Education Act. I compliment his staff on their co-operation on all Stages of the Bill. It is a great Bill and if it stands the test of time as the 1930 Act has done, we will have done very well and feel we have made a significant contribution to the history of our education system.
On behalf of the Cathaoirleach, I join in thanking the Minister for Education and Science.
When is it proposed to sit again?
It is proposed to sit at 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 July 2001.