Education (Welfare) Bill, 1999: Committee Stage (Resumed).
Before resuming our deliberations on Committee Stage of the Education (Welfare) Bill, 1999, I wish to announce for the information of the committee that Deputy Fleming has been appointed, by order of the Dáil today, as a member of the committee in substitution for Deputy Hanafin. Deputy Moloney has replaced Deputy Hanafin as Whip on the Government side.
The purpose of today's meeting is to resume our consideration of Committee Stage of the Education (Welfare) Bill, 1999. I welcome the Minister and his officials. It is proposed to adjourn today's meeting at 7 p.m. Is that agreed? Agreed. When we adjourned on the last occasion we met we were in the course of considering amendment No. 133 and amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 thereto. The Minister was in possession when we adjourned, so I call on him to continue.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 133:
In page 20, before section 24, to insert the following new section:
"24.—(1) Where the board of management of a recognised school or a person acting on its behalf is of the opinion that a student should be expelled from that school it shall, before so expelling the student, notify the educational welfare officer to whom functions under this Act have been assigned, in writing, of its opinion and the reasons therefor.
(2) The educational welfare officer concerned shall, as soon as may be after receiving a notification undersubsection (1), make all reasonable efforts to ensure that provision is made for the continued education of the student to whom the notification relates.
(3) For the purposes ofsubsection (2), the educational welfare officer concerned shall, as soon as may be after receiving the said notification—
(a) make all reasonable efforts to consult with the principal of the school concerned or a person nominated by him, the student concerned and his or her parents, and such other persons as the educational welfare officer considers appropriate, and
(b) convene a meeting attended by him or her of such of those persons as agree to attend such meeting.
(4) A student shall not be expelled from a school before the passing of 20 school days following the receipt of a notification under this section by an educational welfare officer.
(5)Subsection (4) is without prejudice to the right of a board of management to take such other reasonable measures as it considers appropriate to ensure that good order and discipline is maintained in the school concerned and that the safety of students is secured.”.
—(Minister for Education and Science).
I had gone some distance in explaining this amendment but I should reiterate what I said because it is quite complex. It is unusual in that a series of amendments have been tabled to the amendment. I will first discuss the rationale for my amendment and then proceed to discuss the Deputies amendments.
The expulsion of a student from a school is a serious step for a school, but even more so for a student. Expulsion must be a solution of last resort and, where adopted, a 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 additional support to schools and students at the point of expulsion. It provides that, where a school intends to expel a student, the educational welfare officer will 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 for them to consider the situation and 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 might be a solution of last resort for a school, there are cases where it is in the interests of other students in the school or 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.
Deputy Bruton's amendments are related and propose that my amendment provide that the educational welfare officer in question should also prepare an education plan for the student in question and ensure it is available before expulsion takes place. Deputy Bruton has also proposed a similar idea in amendments Nos. 144 and 148. I agree that the educational welfare officer must have a role to intervene where a child's educational welfare is at risk. This is why I am making specific provision in section 24 for their involvement in issues of expulsion.
However, I am concerned that the measure proposed by the Deputy will not always be the appropriate response to the issue at hand. For example, in many instances the educational welfare officer may become involved as a facilitator between the school and the parents. In such instances it may be possible to resolve the issue in question within the school without the requirement of a new education plan. Alternatively, the issues causing the particular problem of non-school attendance might be purely school related and the solution to these problems might lie inside the school.
Immediately resorting to a new education plan would ignore these issues and would not be wise. Where, however, it is clear that a pupil cannot be accommodated within his or her existing school or despite the efforts of the educational welfare officer in any neighbouring school, the duty to ensure the child receives a certain minimum education rests with the National Educational Welfare Board. This is provided for in section 28. In those cases it will be necessary that the board should provide for some form of plan, schedule or scheme to ensure that the child in question receives a minimum education. I agree, in broad measure, with Deputy Higgins's amendment but much of what he has proposed is contained in my amendment. The requirement of a 20-day breathing space and the duty on the educational welfare officer to make all reasonable efforts to consult interested parties are both features of my amendment.
The proposed section 24(1)(c) touches on the same issue raised by Deputy Bruton, namely, the provision of a minimum education to the child in question. As I explained, this section is not designed to deal with this scenario but rather foresees one where people might move between schools. Section 28, however, makes explicit provision that where a school is not available the board will take the steps to ensure that a child receives a minimum education. In that sense I am in agreement with most of Deputy Higgins’s proposals. Nevertheless, if he has a different view or if I have missed some points I will consider them for Report Stage.
We do not have the additional amendments.
I will have them circulated.
Essentially, section 24(1)(a), (b) and (c) of Deputy Higgins’s amendment are covered by my amendment. I only disagree with the Deputy in regard to his proposed section 24(1)(d). Schools, as autonomous institutions, the majority, and soon all, of which will be governed by representative boards of management, must have the right to manage their own affairs. The right to expel students remains at the end of the day a school decision. The section regulates that decision and supports school teachers and parents in such instances.
Section 28 makes provision for the child where no school can be found to take him or her. However, I do not agree that this legislation should explicitly eliminate the right of schools to expel students without the consent of the educational welfare officer. The process is that the school must give notice to the officer before the expulsion takes place.
I am grateful for the Minister's careful consideration of my amendment. I wish to tease out two points. The section, as drafted, and my amendment were designed to ensure that no student could be expelled until another school had been found for him or her.
The Minister agrees with section 24(1)(a), (b) and (c) but has a difficulty with section 24(1)(d) of my amendment. He stated: “schools soon to have representative boards of management”.
All will have them shortly; most have at present.
The reason the legislation is before us and is being given such attention is precisely that they are not representative very often. Should it have been the case that all schools had representative boards of management, the Minister's logic would have a compelling force in so far as we are referring to scenarios where this does not prevail. We are discussing, therefore, what maximum assurance can be provided so that the student will receive a minimum adequate education. If the welfare officer concludes that he or she is in difficulty in the school and it is in everybody's interest that an alternative placement is found, all that section 24(1)(d) requires is that the officer delivers his conclusion such that everything has been reviewed and he consents to the procedure. However, the Minister is saying that schools must be allowed to decide, which is different. That is what has created the difficulties that have been reported. There is a difference between saying “schools must be allowed to decide” and “schools in the event of them all having representative bodies”. I am anxious to come down strongly in favour of the right of the student to have the protection of the welfare officer.
The student will have the protection of the welfare officer in that the school cannot proceed with the expulsion without giving notice to the officer, thereby giving him time to intervene.
The dispute is between "notice to the welfare officer" and "consent of the welfare officer".
Section 14 of the Education Act, 1998, covers the establishment of the boards of management.
The Minister has accepted the principle of Deputy Bruton's amendment in order to make all reasonable efforts to develop an education plan for the student. Where is that covered in his amendment? He is making a provision of 20 days before the report of the educational welfare officer is made. Is it realistic that "a student shall not be expelled from a school before the passing of 20 school days following the receipt of a notification under this section by an educational welfare officer" given that there are so few officers on the ground? There will not be a dramatic increase in the immediate future because funding in this area is paltry. I do not mean to sound cynical but that is the reality. The Minister is placing another burden on educational welfare officers who will act as gods in many cases.
If the welfare officer cannot find a place for the student, is he or she left at home? I am aware of a student who was kept at home for six weeks recently. Will funding be allocated by the Department to provide for these students other than in conventional schools?
Subsection (2) of the new section states that the educational welfare officer concerned shall, as soon as may be after receiving a notification under subsection (1), make all reasonable efforts to ensure that provision is made for the continued education of the student to whom notification relates. Section 24 states that a child shall not be expelled from school unless he or she is registered with another recognised school or arrangements have been made to ensure the child otherwise receives the prescribed minimum education. The new section waters down the original section 24 which provides that a child must have another avenue of education open to him or her before he or she can be expelled from school. This is a fundamental issue. Children are being turfed out of school and are left at home. They become part of the statistic that 25% of our adult population is illiterate. The watering down of the provision means the onus is not put on the school or the welfare officer to ensure the child receives a minimum standard of education. The interpretation in this amendment differs from the original ethos of the Bill. Will the Minister clarify this matter?
Deputy Bruton has tabled amendments regarding the education plan. A fundamental part of the Bill is that we try as far as possible to develop such a plan for children. Many of these children have specific challenges, whatever they may be, and many of them relate back to social problems. Deputy Bruton's amendment No. 3 to amendment No. 133 proposes to change the 20 days in the Minister's amendment to a period "until the educational welfare officer has made all reasonable efforts to put in place elements of the education plan". There will be a glut of such cases coming before the educational welfare officer who will have a day or two, if he is lucky, to make a decision in relation to a particular child before the guillotine is brought down. The officer must make a decision within 20 days or the child will be thrown out of school.
It is necessary to structure the new section in a better way than simply including a provision for 20 days. Take, for example, a child who needs a resource teacher. Before he or she can have access to a resource teacher he or she will need a psychological assessment by an educational psychologist. Currently, however, there are huge waiting lists for educational psychologists. The Minister's predecessor is talking about appointing one for each county, but currently within the health services there is a shortage of psychologists in terms of recruitment. In Roscommon there are two vacancies for psychologists and I wonder how the Department of Education and Science will recruit them. If we do not have psychologists to carry out assessments we will be back at square one again. Yet the clock will be ticking in terms of the 20 days and the child will be out on the street. Under the new section it is not necessary to provide another place of education for them or to guarantee the minimum prescribed education. To a certain extent the amendment in the name of the Minister waters down the original section 24.
I am confused by the various statements being made. I would approach the matter from an altogether different view. Perhaps the Chairman will have a certain empathy with what I say, being a former national teacher and school principal. From time to time there are disruptive students whom it is very difficult to contain in schools. Unfortunately, there is an increasing number of disruptive students. This section deals with how to manage such students in the school context.
The Bill states that the school must provide a minimum level of education for such students and safeguards are put in place so that a school cannot just throw out a student which it cannot manage. I agree that one cannot throw somebody out on the street. To a great extent the Bill will put the onus on the school to provide a certain minimum standard of education and facilities for such students who may perhaps be very disruptive. I wonder what will be done with the student during the 20 days when the welfare officer is making a decision etc. If the student needs much care and attention, where will the additional staff be found to look after him or her? Will staff be provided directly by the Department? It would be ironic if the Minister put the responsibility on schools.
In my area in the past few days a 14 year old, an adolescent who cannot be contained — it takes three gardaí to look after this person — and who has been sentenced by the courts to a stay in an institution, which comes under the control of the Department of Education and Science, has come to my attention. There is no space in the institution and the student is somewhere else where he is receiving no education. Because there is no space for him he is touring the courts of the country on a weekly basis. The final irony is that last week when he was in a District Court in a town in the midlands he was put into a cell, he claims, for two hours. His companions in the cell were a 40 year-old man who boasted about his exploits in the IRA and the number of gardaí he had shot and injured etc. and an armed robber. This person is under the direct care of the Department of Education and Science.
Thankfully, there are not too many disruptive students, but if the Department cannot contain such people in high support units, how can the Minister pass the responsibility for caring for somebody like this, perhaps for 20 days, to the schools? The young man I referred to attended school and was expelled. The State institutions failed to come to the rescue and are still failing to do something.
It is ironic that the Bill may well put the responsibility on principals to deal with such students with no resources whatever, while at the same time the Department cannot look after its own house. I would like the Minister to tell us how he will put his own house in order and how he will deal with such cases. Will additional resources be made available? The Minister is presenting teachers with a terrible problem.
We are also forgetting that a teacher of a class of 20 or 30 can spend most of his or her time looking after one disruptive student to the neglect of others. Should these be neglected for the sake of one?
We should bear in mind what we are providing for. I am fairly familiar with children being expelled and trying to find other places for them. Currently, Deputies are very much involved in trying to find an alternative place and in talking to principals from another school etc. for such students. The Bill provides for an entirely new system. We are establishing a board and welfare officers who will be paid. Funding will be provided for the board and for educational welfare officers. Intervention will occur at an early stage. On the question of allowing the process to run on beyond 20 days, that would make it very protracted. We must find a balance. When this issue was discussed previously we were asked to tease it out more, but this discussion is going in the opposite direction although I understand the reasons behind that. An appeal system is in place under the Education Act which can be availed of by someone who has been expelled. The provisions of the 1998 Act have been almost fully implemented at this stage and that Act goes hand in hand with this Bill.
Deputy Farrelly asked where responsibility would lie in regard to children who face expulsion. The difference between this legislation and others which have preceded it is that, for the first time, the educational welfare board will have statutory responsibility to look after the child, discuss any problems which exist and find an alternative method of supporting the child if he or she is eventually expelled.
Will the board have the resources to do that?
Yes, a sum of £4.5 million has been provided to the board although it is difficult to accurately predict the costs which may arise. When the Bill becomes law, that system will go into operation. At present, a school can expel a child willy nilly without reference to the Minister or anyone else. When this Bill becomes law, there will be an obligation on schools to follow the process outlined in the legislation. A school will have to approach the educational welfare board and allow 20 days for arrangements to be made. That is a reasonable length of time. I do not have that much time to deal with cases presented to me. It is usually possible for the parents and the schools to agree that a child may return to school under certain conditions. Alternatively, an arrangement may be made for another school to take the child or the child may have to receive some kind of treatment before returning to school. The educational welfare board will represent quite a gain for public representatives in so far as it will be able to deal with these situations and follow through on them.
In reply to Deputy Naughten, we were asked to provide more detail and we have done that. The education plan has a part to play but the priority is to get a child back into school. We do not want to tie the welfare officer to developing an education plan in any event. The purpose of the educational welfare board system is that students will be supported.
Deputy McGrath referred to a 14 year old who could not be contained, possibly someone sentenced by the courts. Under the terms of this legislation, students can be suspended but they cannot be expelled without undergoing the welfare board process. Suspension would be an interim measure for a child with the type of problems to which Deputy McGrath referred.
Will the Minister respond to the point I made? I concede that the new section 24 provides additional detail but, as I see it, the provisions outlined in (a) and (b) are still being watered down. The Minister has said that the welfare board will be the responsible body but it will not be obliged, under section 24, to make arrangements for a student to attend another recognised school or to put in place a prescribed minimum education for the student in question. I continually see cases in which it is recognised that children require particular services but the necessary funding is not available. The Minister’s amendment removes responsibility from the educational welfare board. Public representatives throughout Ireland will be driven demented because parents will not be able to obtain funding from the Department.
That is covered in section 28. Section 28(1) states that where a decision to which paragraph (a) or (c) of section 29 of the Act of 1998 applies is upheld by an appeal committee appointed under that section or where no appeal is brought against such a decision the board shall make all reasonable efforts to have the child to whom the decision concerned relates enrolled in another recognised school. In other words, the onus will be on the board if the efforts made during the 20 day period are unsuccessful.
There are essentially three positions here. There is the original section 24 position which, put simply, meant that before an expulsion could be effected, it was necessary for the student to have an alternative. The second position is that set out in amendment No. 133; section 24(b) states that an educational welfare officer must be notified and that there must be a 20 day waiting period before an expulsion can be effected. The third position is represented by my amendment to amendment No. 133. My amendment stops short of the original section 24 position and states that the welfare officer must consent. The difference in the matter for decision is that the Minister’s amendment requires notification and a 20 day waiting period whereas mine only requires the welfare officer’s consent and does not leave him or her with a burden as heavy as that which the original section 24 would have imposed.
The case for my amendment is that it goes beyond notification. The board may issue a statement stating that the welfare officer has been notified and that the 20 day waiting period is commencing. To some extent, that is not helped by the situation to which Deputy McGrath referred in which an open clause is given to the board of management. My amendment would mean that the burden placed on the welfare officer would not be as heavy as that imposed by the original section 24 but it would require consent. One might take the position that at the end of the day this is an issue about which the board must have discretion and I sympathise with that up to a point. However, I also think that the only way of linking the new mechanism of the welfare officer is to go beyond the principle of notification to a principle of consent.
As far as the Deputy's amendment is concerned, he recognises that we are in agreement on paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) and that our differences relate to paragraph (d). There is a problem with paragraph (d) because under the main Act the boards of management of schools must have the authority to run schools. If this is changed, the welfare officer will run the schools. This will not work because the school must show it has 20 days in which to carry out investigations and attempt to resolve the problems. If school management is not prepared to keep the child, and there are serious reasons for not doing so, this will be known and stated. At that stage the decision will be with the school and the board of management, otherwise the State would be making the decisions.
The original section 24 states they shall not be expelled from the school unless as specified under (a) or (b), so there is a dilution of that.
It was with some reluctance I tabled my amendment which is a substitute for the original amendment. This was an attempt to recognise that one might encounter cases where it might not be easy to find an alternative. I want to guarantee the inclusion of the welfare officer. I listened to the Minister's case about what is possible when there are autonomous boards of management. There is also the scenario where someone is being got rid of, the welfare officer is informed, it is suggested the problem will be solved in three weeks and the welfare officer does not draw a conclusion. My amendment proposes that the welfare officer concludes the process by agreeing or disagreeing. I do not see this as challenging the authority. I have a problem with the working of section 133(5) which reads: ". . . to take such other reasonable measures [reasonable measures are not defined] as it considers appropriate to ensure that good order and discipline is maintained in the school concerned and that the safety of students is secured". I am not clear on the distinction between good order and discipline. Good order may be sufficient but seeking the consent of the welfare officer is just ensuring the presence of the new procedure. If this is not done, we must think of the other awful scenario whereby a decision is made that the welfare officer must be informed before any decision is taken, and one may have to wait for three weeks. This situation may not prevail but it is possible. If (d) is accepted, the new process in schools would be ensured.
The Minister quoted section 28 which relates to when the appeal committee has made its decision. Section 24 relates to the child being expelled from the school. Will the Minister clarify if the new section will water down the old section?
How many welfare officers will be appointed and how long will it take to put them in place? Will there be one welfare officer per county or one for a certain number of schools?
The Minister is prescribing certain actions for the new welfare officers while not knowing to how many schools each education welfare officer will be assigned. It is not stated in the legislation that it is the intention that X number of educational welfare officers will be assigned to Y number of schools and if distinctions will be made for areas of social disadvantage, where school attendance problems are greatest. Therefore, we do not know what powers are being given to the welfare officers or for how many schools they will be responsible.
Let us be clear about this, it is a nationwide service.
Will welfare officers be available?
There are approximately 3,200 primary schools and 800 second level schools throughout the country. Problems arise from time to time in some schools. Deputy Hayes's question is valid if one is to operate a nationwide service. Will there be eight regional boards to correspond with the health boards and will education officers operate within them? We could easily identify three or four difficult situations in the Mullingar area, plus three or four in Athlone and perhaps one in Longford. How will a welfare officer design an education programme for these schools and how will it be implemented? Will he establish one centre for these students or will the work be farmed out to other agencies or organisations? Must the welfare officer find an alternative school for a student who is expelled because some principals may not want to take in these students? Will there be an alternative system for these disruptive students and, if so, how does the Minister envisage it will work?
The purpose of the Bill is to introduce a new system whereby students will not be expelled because there is nothing in place at the moment. Members are very worried about how many welfare officers will be appointed but until this service is in place, there will be nothing in place. The purpose of the Bill is to provide a nationwide service which will be phased in, beginning in disadvantaged areas where there are real problems. We either accept this or we do not. We are not here to talk about implementing the service, we are here to discuss providing statutory support for such a scheme. The administration of the scheme is another matter. Money is provided for this nationwide service and it is then a question of examining how the scheme will be developed. Nothing will be developed until the legislation is passed. Given the progress we are making, it could be Christmas before this happens.
There have been many representations from schools and principals who do not want the democratic rights of the schools taken away. If a child is expelled, as well as having a welfare officer to work with the pupil, there is an appeals system if this is considered necessary. Such a welfare officer will resolve many of the present difficulties. I agree with Deputy McGrath that it is not possible to resolve them all and I can introduce people to more than one or two such cases. It was not enough to contain them in a central psychiatric location in Dundrum. I have experience of such things happening. Not all problems can be overcome easily, but this will overcome many of them and will make everyone focus their attention.
There is only one issue separating us, that is paragraph (d). I cannot say anymore about it. I have told the committee what the principals and the boards of management have said, and I will go with them on that. I think this is reasonable and right and I have nothing more to say about it.
I wish to give notice that I may submit an amendment to this on Report Stage. The Minister has not given me the clarification I sought.
Amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 133 not moved.
I move amendment No. 2 to amendment No. 133:
To delete the new subsection (4) and substitute the following:
"(4) A student shall not be expelled from school until the board of management of that school has received from the educational welfare officer concerned a notice confirming that—
(a) 20 school days have passed since the receipt by him or her of a notification under subsection (1),
(b) he or she has made all reasonable efforts to consult with the persons referred to in subsection (3)(a) and to convene a meeting attended by those persons,
(c) he or she has made all reasonable efforts to ensure that arrangements are in place for the provision to that student of a prescribed minimum education otherwise than at that school, and
(d) he or she consents to the expulsion of that student from the school.”.
The Minister has made a significant concession to one side of the argument and I will stand by my amendment.
Amendment No. 2 to amendment No. 133 put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 3 to amendment No. 133 not moved.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 24 deleted.
I move amendment No. 134:
In page 21, before section 25, to insert the following new section:
"25.—(1) Where the board of management or the principal of a recognised school fails to comply with their duties under this Act or with other reasonable requests for co-operation by the Board, the Board shall serve a notice on the school requiring it to take such actions, as specified in the notice and within a time period specified in the notice, which are in accordance with the obligations of the Act or the functions of the Board.
(2) If the board of management or the principal fails to comply with the terms of the notice, the Board shall inform the Minister accordingly.
(3) All such notices shall be maintained by the Board in the register, which shall be open to public inspection.".
Deputy Bruton tabled this amendment to ensure greater clarity and control of boards of management. There is no subsection of this section which makes accountable boards of management or principals who fail to comply with their duties under the Act. The amendment proposes that accountability of the board must be clear. It also states that if the board of management or principal fails to comply with the terms of notice, the board should inform the Minister and he should act accordingly. This is an important guarantee to ensure that all the sections of the Bill are adequately adhered to in a school environment.
The general framework for the operation of boards of management is set out in the Education Act. This provides the mechanism to address the issue of boards which fail to fulfil their functions. It is not necessary to establish a second mechanism in this Bill as it could lead to confusion between the two Acts.
I am concerned that this amendment displays a degree of suspicion of schools and an excessive involvement in and regulation of their affairs. Schools can overwhelmingly be relied upon to fulfil their statutory functions. If they do not, the situation would require more radical action than mere publication of that fact. Overall, the relationship between a school and the board should be one of co-operation. This is the only way in which the objectives of the Bill can be met. The provision which the Deputy proposes would introduce friction and suspicion from the beginning. In the long run, this would do more harm than good and that would not be the Deputy's intention.
That is a disappointing reply. The reality is that, when it comes to children who get into difficulties at school and who might have to be suspended or, ultimately, expelled, their case study is sometimes at the very bottom of the school's agenda. There must be a mechanism in place to ensure that all the provisions are enforced. I remind the Minister that the amendment includes "other reasonable requests for co-operation by the board". This is not a stick with which to beat the school management. These are reasonable requests for co-operation with the board.
This is unnecessary for the running of schools. Boards of management, by their very nature, are established for the betterment of the school and its pupils. The amendment contains elements which are covered by the Freedom of Information Act which entitles a parent to see the correspondence which might go on between the board of management and the board which will be established. I do not see why it would be necessary to include this provision. It is too much stick and not enough carrot.
We need to be careful that we do not confuse the general situation with an exceptional situation. Deputy Bruton's amendment deals with an exceptional situation where the board of management or principal of a recognised school fails to comply with their duties under this Act. Let us assume that the principal of a school and board of management want to facilitate the Act. The amendment seeks to deal with those rare occasions when there is non-compliance. If there is non-compliance the Minister is saying we can fall back on another general assumption. I welcome the Minister's idealism but, in the cases which have come to me over the years, not all boards of management are perfect. I know students and parents who have been in dispute with not only principals but boards of management. I also know of cases where parents have approached boards of management expecting fair play and have been disappointed. A staff member or school is permanent while a student is transient and that fact can load the dice against the student or parents being given equal treatment.
The amendment does not make a general statement about all boards of management. We all agree on the need for this new service but there must be allowance for a situation in which there is non-compliance; that is prudent. The amendment may not be needed but it is prudent for it to be included. It offers transparency when the procedure is not manifest. What is wrong with that?
This deals with a board of management or principal failing to comply with their duties. The Education Act deals with the duties and if they fail to comply the Minister can dissolve the board and reappoint it in whatever way he or she chooses. Section 17 states that where the Minister is satisfied that the functions of the board are not being effectively discharged, the Minister may, by notice in writing, require the patron to dissolve the board for the reasons stated. The power exists under the main Act to deal with those exceptional circumstances.
All the amendment states is that the Minister will be informed and the notice will be available for public inspection.
More work needs to be done on this.
I will look at the matter between now and Report Stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 135:
In page 21, subsection (1)(a), line 5, after “day” to insert “or at such other times as are likely to interfere with the child’s ability to receive a prescribed minimum education”.
This deals with the employment of children. It is a very good amendment. I have come across many instances where children are working who should not be doing so. This not only interferes with their studies but with their education. Under the amendment Deputy Bruton wishes to extend section 25(1) (a) which states “during a school day, or” to include other times such as are likely to interfere with the child’s ability to receive a prescribed minimum education. The fact that he has tabled this amendment reflects the modern school and work environment. I urge the Minister to accept it.
I support the amendment. Section 25(1)(b) deals with children who are outside the mainstream education system and are registered under section 15 and states “. . . where the employment interferes with or is likely to interfere with the child’s ability to receive a prescribed minimum education”. However, subsection (1)(a) only deals with “during a school day”. Take the case of a child who works on a Sunday. Under current legislation the child cannot work after a certain hour but the nature of the work could be such that the child would be exhausted the next day. That would interfere with the child’s education. The amendment would copperfasten subsection (1)(a). Because of present economic demands employers are looking for more staff. The introduction of the minimum wage means that it will be more cost effective to employ children under 18 years who are supposed to be still within the education system. There will be unscrupulous employers who will abuse the system.
I will respond to this amendment and amendment No. 136 in the context of my later amendment to delete section 25. It might be appropriate to explain why I have taken this step at this point. The purpose of section 25 was to further restrict 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 have been made to me that the Act provides sufficient protection for children. It precludes the employment of children except by licence on a case by case basis from the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Such licences are to be issued in the case of cultural, artistic, sport or advertising activities and cannot be issued where the activity would interfere with the child's attendance at school. Alternatively, employers may employ children over 14 years on programmes of work experience of educational programmes approved by me as Minister for Education and Science provided these 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 education enhancing experiences. Representations have also recently been made to my Department that enforcement problems could arise from the definition of "child" in this Bill and in the Protection of Children (Employment) Act. My Department is consulting with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and if any amendment is necessary I will propose it on Report Stage.
We are dealing with amendment No. 135.
On a point of order, it seems more than logical in an effort to make progress, to try to take the issues together. I agree with the Minister that amendments Nos. 133,135, 136 and the Minister's proposal are related.
I must deal with the amendments in order.
I accept that. If amendment No. 135 is accepted section 25(1)(a) will read:
A person shall not employ under a contract of employment or engage under a contract for services a child—
(a) during a school day, or at such other times as are likely to interfere with the child’s ability to receive a prescribed minimum education.
There is an important point here and that is the school day is not coterminous with the child's education. The distinction between schooling, which is defined by the terminals of the school day, and the child's education, which is a welfare category, includes the school day but is not confined by it. It is a most important distinction in relation to the circumstances that both precede and succeed the formal learning of the schooling in the school day.
On amendment No. 136, I am sympathetic to what the Minister is trying to do but the Protection of Young People (Employment) Act to which he refers deals with a child when in a place of employment. There is a position that arises on the extraction of the child from education that is not covered by that legislation. The Act deals with the conditions that may prevail in the place of employment but there is a bigger issue involved in regard to the employer's potential to disrupt the education of the child and, in a narrower sense, the schooling in a school day. The child may be working in appropriate conditions but may want to make contact again with eduation. The Minister said he is deleting section 25 but perhaps between now and Report Stage he will consider these issues both in terms of Deputy Bruton's amendment and this one. We are talking about the margins between school and work and work and education.
I made exactly the same point in respect of the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1996. As Deputy Higgins said, there is a grey area where a child is in part-time employment while still at school. Will the Minister clarify the position? While I am aware that there is a reference to this matter in the 1996 Act, the Minister may have to introduce a new section on Report Stage. If that is the case I wish to lay down a marker. There is an anomaly in the wording of section 25(1) in that paragraphs(a) and (b) may be interpreted differently. There is a need to strike a balance. We should proceed along the lines of paragraph (b). If the terms of that paragraph are not copperfastened in the 1996 Act the Minister should table an amendment to that effect on Report Stage.
Section 30 amends the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1996. Does it affect what the Minister is saying?
That section, about which I will have much to say, generally affects those over the age of 16 years. Section 25(1)(b) deals with children being educated at home. One has to state that they should receive a prescribed minimum education.
I agree. There is no dispute about paragraph(b). Children covered by paragraph (a) are also at home after school. It is being specified that such children may not be employed during a school day as it would interfere with their education. A completely different interpretation could be applied to paragraph (b) in cases where a child is kept up late at night. It seems greater protection is being provided for a child being educated outside rather than inside the mainstream education system.
In the Bill as it stands a prescribed minimum education is asine qua non. I accept what the Deputies said and will look at the issue again before Report Stage. The Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1996, will act as regulator. If we start to insert clauses into the Bill there is a danger that we will fall between two legal stools. That is part of the difficulty.
Section 25(1) reads "A person shall not employ under a contract of employment or engage under a contract for services a child. . . " There is no dilution of the offence, for the unscrupulous employer for example. There is a need for sticks in legislation to take on such people if they are abusing children.
They are included in the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1996.
I presume there is no dilution.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 136 not moved.
Question, that section 25 be deleted, put and agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 137 to 143, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 137:
In page 22, subsection (1), to delete lines 1 to 5 and substitute the following:
"(1) Subject tosection 17(2) , the Board shall, if of opinion that a parent is failing or neglecting to cause his or her child to attend a recognised school in accordance with this Act, serve a notice (hereafter in this section referred to as a ’school attendance notice’) on such parent— ”.
This group of related amendments concerns the making of school attendance notices. I am proposing amendments Nos. 137, 139 and 142. Amendment No. 137 which is of a technical nature provides for a rewording of subsection (1) and a clearer reading of the provision.
Amendment No. 139 provides for a change in procedures in relation to the making of school attendance notices. It provides that, prior to the making of the notice, the board shall consult the principal of the school proposed to be named in the notice. This will provide a statutory channel of communication between the board and the school before a notice is made. It is important that these cases be treated sensitively and that all concerned parties, particularly the school to which a student may be sent, are consulted in advance of the making of a decision.
Amendment No. 142 is also of a technical nature reflecting a drafting error in the Bill. The Bill provides that where a parent makes all reasonable efforts to cause a child to attend a school, he or she cannot be found guilty under subsection (6). Subsection (8) however implies that such a parent could be found guilty. This is not the intention. The amendment will remove this inconsistency and ensure parents who make reasonable efforts to cause their child to attend a school cannot be found guilty under this section.
I would be concerned that amendment No. 138 might be seen to be somewhat stern in its approach. While I appreciate the Deputy's concern that the child in question should not be unreasonably denied access to education, I propose an alternative, amendment No. 139, which deals with the issue in a more sensitive way. It will ensure that in these situations the board consults the school concerned allowing any potential difficulties to be ironed out before the school attendance notice is served.
On amendments Nos. 140 and 141, it remains necessary in certain limited circumstances to have the deterrent of imprisonment in order to ensure the right of the child to a minimum education is protected. I do not see it being used often and I am aware that members of the Judiciary will exercise their judgment in administering the penalty. For such an important area as a child's education it is both appropriate and reasonable to provide for this penalty, albeit as a sanction of last resort.
Amendment No. 142 in my name covers amendment No. 143 in the name of Deputy Higgins. Accordingly I do not believe it is necessary to accept it.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response to amendment No. 139 in particular which purports to deal with the matter raised by me in amendment No. 138. I might have had an entirely different view however if amendment No. 139 had been included in the Bill. I would have fixed amendment No. 138 to the end of amendment No. 139 which would have the effect of making it seem perfectly logical. Amendment No. 139 reads:
(3) Before making a school attendance notice the Board shall, in such manner as it considers appropriate, make all reasonable efforts to consult with—
(a) the parents of the child concerned, and
(b) the principal of the recognised school that the Board proposes to specify in such notice, [I am putting myself in the benign frame of mind of the Minister and all those who advise him and others who say that people will be falling over each other to co-operate but there will be the odd case which may not fall into that model] and shall, when so specifying a recognised school, have regard, as far as is practicable, to the preference (if any) expressed by the said parents.".
To this amendment I would like to add the words, "A school so named shall comply with the school attendance notice and shall admit the child named therein.". I will not move amendment No. 138 if the Minister is willing to consider including the spirit of the amendment between now and Report Stage. I accept the Minister's approach to amendment No. 143.
Is the Deputy withdrawing the amendment?
The Minister has to respond.
I know, but the Deputy will be withdrawing it?
I agree to look at it for Report Stage.
Amendments Nos. 140 and 141 are similar in that they both seek to delete from the legislation the imprisonment stick. The notion that we would imprison parents, however much they have strayed from the spirit of this Bill, is nonsensical. That we would lock people up, albeit in the exceptional circumstance, for one month is just laughable. I understand there has to be some form of sanction. We all accept that. However, sanctions should be financial. This is not a criminal offence, and to introduce a prison sanction would be ridiculous.
I have said it is serious and would merit a strong reaction. I will look at it for Report Stage.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 138 not moved.
I move amendment No. 139:
In page 22, lines 17 to 22, to delete subsection (3) and substitute the following:
"(3) Before making a school attendance notice the Board shall, in such manner as it considers appropriate, make all reasonable efforts to consult with—
(a) the parents of the child concerned, and
(b) the principal of the recognised school that the Board proposes to specify in such notice,
and shall, when so specifying a recognised school, have regard, as far as is practicable, to the preference (if any) expressed by the said parents.".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 140 and 141 not moved.
I move amendment No. 142:
In page 22, lines 48 to 50, and in page 23, lines 1 to 4, to delete subsection (8) and substitute the following:
"(8) Where, a parent—
(a) is convicted of an offence under this section, or
(b) in proceedings for such an offence, shows, in accordance withsubsection (6), that he or she has made all such efforts as are referred to in that subsection,
the Board shall forthwith so inform in writing the health board of the area in which that parent resides.".
Amendment agreed to
Amendment No. 143 not moved.
Section 26, as amended, agreed to.
Section 27 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 144:
In page 23, subsection (1), line 17, after "Where" to insert "a school has made a decision undersection 23 or has imposed suspensions which in aggregate exceed 15 days and a report furnished by the education welfare officer indicates that he or she believes that a change from the school is in the child’s best interest or where”.
Under amendments Nos. 144 to 148 to section 28 the duty boards have to make reasonable efforts to ensure certain children receive a prescribed minimum education. Amendment No. 144 seeks to ensure that another option is open to the board and to the educational welfare officer which does not seem to exist in section 28. I would like to hear the Minister's response.
I see the Deputy's point. At a general level I would agree with him. Protection of the rights of children to an education is, after all, the core focus of the Bill. We may, however, differ on how this is to be achieved. The Deputy is proposing specifically a dedicated legislative provision for the educational welfare officer to intervene where problems are being experienced by students. This intervention should be followed by action on the part of the board to provide for an alternative education for the student. I agree that the educational welfare officer must have a role to intervene where a child's education welfare is at risk. That is the general rationale behind section 21 which provides both specific instances for the educational welfare officer to become involved and a general provision that the educational welfare officer be informed where a student is, in the opinion of the principal, displaying irregular attendance patterns. The open nature of section 21 would allow for the sort of activity the Deputy has in mind at that point where the circumstances are appropriate.
In some instances, the measures the Deputy is proposing in his amendment may very well be carried out. However, my concern is that this will not always be the case. For example, in many instances the educational welfare officer may become involved as a facilitator between school and parents. In such instances there will be no need for the National Education Welfare Board to be involved. Alternatively, the issues causing the problem of non-school attendance might be purely school related and the solution to these problems might lie within the school. Involving the National Education Welfare Board at this stage would be premature.
While I appreciate the Deputy's points, my argument essentially is that we must, in framing this legislation, be flexible, recognising the multiplicity of circumstances where school attendance issues arise and accepting that the educational welfare officer, as a trained professional, is best placed to deal with them as they arise.
I understand the Minister's point. He is not trying to make the legislation so prescriptive as to make it unworkable. However, it would be fair to put in law that where the aggregate exceeds 15 days a report be furnished by the educational welfare officer involving himself in the welfare of the child. Deputy Bruton has asked what happens where a school does not adhere to the legislation, what happens when a child falls out of the system. There is merit in putting in limited prescriptions where legislation kicks in after a period of time to ensure the welfare of the child is paramount. I understand what the Minister is saying, particularly in relation to section 21 which involves school attendance records. However, there is a need to make some kind of prescription, and 15 days in a given school year is fair.
Section 21(4) provides that where (a) a student is suspended from a recognised school for a period of not less than six days, (b) the aggregate number of school days on which a student is absent from a recognised school during a school year is not less than 15, (c) a student's name is, for whatever reason, removed from the register by the principal, or (d) a student is, in the opinion of the principal of the recognised school at which he or she is registered, not attending school regularly, the principal of the school concerned shall forthwith so inform, by notice in writing, an educational welfare officer who becomes involved at that stage.
If the Minister is telling me that the educational welfare officer can tell the school that a change from the school is in the child's best interests, I am prepared to accept that.
He can, but it depends then on whether he can get agreement with the parents. The parents are involved at that stage as well.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 145:
In page 23, subsection (2), line 25, after "of" to insert "the parents of the child and".
Amendment agreed to.
I move amendment No. 146:
In page 23, subsection (2), line, 27, to delete "prescribed" and substitute "certain".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 147 and 148 not moved.
Section 28, as amended, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 149:
In page 23, before section 29, to insert the following new section:
"29.—The Minister shall make provision within existing resources for the development of a range of education and training opportunities either within the education system or with mixed periods in education, training and employment as appropriate which would meet the needs of young persons who have difficulty in succeeding in recognised schools.".
This is really putting in law what should already be there. It seems strange that this is not included in legislation which deals primarily with the welfare of children. As was said on Second Stage and throughout Committee Stage, we need to have guarantees that the child who is falling out of the system is given education and training through a myriad of opportunities. This new section proposed by Deputy Bruton would provide that. It would mandate the Minister to make provision not just from existing resources but from new resources in the interests in the child. It is strange that it has not been included before. I would like to hear the Minister's views on it.
The guarantee the Deputy seeks is in the Education Act. I agree with the Deputy on the importance of providing a wide range of education and training mechanisms for students. The recent advances in areas such as the leaving certificate applied and the leaving certificate vocational programmes have demonstrated precisely the demand for and value of these courses in our schools. We will continue with the assistance of the NCCA and others to develop new models and methods of training and education. At a broader level there is already a range of alternative educational courses available to people who are experiencing difficulties in school, such as Youthreach, senior Traveller centres and Youthstart These will continue to be available to meet the needs of young persons.
At a more general level the amendment the Deputy has in mind is already covered in the Education Act. Section 7(1)(a) provides as a general function of the Minister “to make available a level and quality of education that is appropriate to the needs and abilities of that person”. This function is, of course, an overriding one applying to recognised schools and other prescribed forms of training. This would cover the thrust of the Deputy’s amendment. The general provision is more appropriate than considering an individual provision or circumstance. The details of individual programmes are an executive function. A specific legislative requirement for types of training would be inappropriate now and, given the pace of change today, they quickly become obsolete. Basically what the amendment seeks is covered in the guarantee in the Education Act, section 7(1)(a).
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 150:
In page 23, before section 29, to insert the following new section:
"29.—Where a young person or his or her parents are unhappy with the provision made for the young person outside of a recognised school, they may lodge an appeal with the Secretary-General of the Department who shall make arrangements to have the appeal heard by the appeal committee outlined insection 16(4).”.
This amendment seeks to put in place an appeals mechanism. Where a young person or his or her parents are dissatisfied with the provision made for the young person they may lodge an appeal with the Secretary-General of the Department who shall make arrangements to have the appeal heard by the appeal committee outlined in section 16(4). It reinforces the rights of the parents and the rights of the child who has a difficulty in school to be upheld. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.
I broadly agree with the thrust of the amendment. The issue is the extent to which parents may have an involvement in decisions on their children's education. In general, I am of the view that they should be fully involved. This section deals with an exceptional situation where no school can be found which can or will accommodate a particular child. The State continues in such a case to have a duty to ensure the child receives a minimum education. Parents clearly have a role in determining how this difficult and unusual situation can be remedied. I have already made provision for this in my amendment No. 145. This will place a duty on the board to obtain the consent of the parents of such a child before any decision is taken. Furthermore, the appeals process provided in the Education Act contains a mechanism to allow the Minister with the partners to expand the remit of the appeals process where, on the basis of experience, it is considered desirable. On this basis the effect of Deputy Bruton's amendment is taken on board. Nonetheless, if the Deputy considers a further amendment is required I would look at it for Report Stage.
The Minister's comments are helpful. When it comes to children in difficulty in schools — there are other examples of this — for weeks, we as politicians and parents, try to find out who is directly responsible. One of the advantages of specifying the Secretary General's role is that in a sense the buck stops there. It is clear to whom one has to go. There is a useful purpose in ascribing in the Bill a specific role for the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science. I am pleased the Minister has agreed to look at the amendment for Report Stage and on that basis I will withdraw it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 151 and 152 not moved.
I move amendment No. 153:
In page 24, subsection (3)(b)(i), line 3, to delete “prescribed” and substitute “certain”.
Amendment agreed to.
I move amendment No. 154:
In page 24, subsection (3)(b)(i), line 5, to delete “into”.
Amendment agreed to.
I move amendment No. 155:
In page 24, subsection (3)(b)(ii), lines 7 and 8, to delete “prescribed” and substitute “certain”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 29, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment No. 156 and amendments Nos. 157, 158, 160, 166 and 167 are related and may be taken together by agreement.
With the permission of the committee I do not wish to move the amendments I have proposed to section 30, that is, amendments Nos. 156, 158, 159, 161 to 166, inclusive. It is my intention instead to introduce a revised section 30 on Report Stage which will incorporate much of the amendments I had earlier proposed to the section as well as changing the focus of the section to a purely educational focus. I also avail of this opportunity to explain to the committee my thinking in this area.
My objective in section 30 is to provide a mechanism whereby young people who are prone to or at risk of early school leaving may be encouraged to stay within the education system for some longer period where their chances of achieving useful skills and qualifications will be enhanced. In view of the fact that the Education (Welfare) Bill raises the compulsory age to 16, the young people who are of concern in the present proposal are 16 and 17 year olds. It is widely acknowledged that a significant factor in the decision of young people to leave school before they have completed senior cycle is the availability of work. This is not the only reason such children and young people leave school. Other influences operate, such as an environment in the home which is not supportive of education, personal problems or problems at school. Nevertheless, I believe the attraction of a job and the money it provides is a significant inducement to children. This situation is exacerbated in an economy where jobs of the kind young people can do are plentiful. The link between educational disadvantage, subsequent poor employment prospects and poor life chances is widely acknowledged.
In a major analysis of school leavers and unemployment published in 1997, the National Economic and Social Forum concluded that the characteristics of early leavers were those who leave school with primary qualifications are most at risk of unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment; around 90% of poor households are headed by early leavers and the earnings differential between those with no qualifications compared with those with qualifications are large and remain so over time. The difficulty being experienced by educationally disadvantaged people is likely to become still more pronounced in the future as the needs of the labour market become more specialised, marginalising unskilled workers.
Educational disadvantage is a major public policy concern. It is of significant importance to the welfare of the individuals concerned and is also of significant concern as regards the welfare and common good of society generally. I propose in my amendment for Report Stage to incorporate amendment No. 156, that is, to ensure that unless a young person has a plan for further education or training in place and makes all reasonable efforts to carry out the plan, he or she cannot be lawfully employed. I also propose in my amendment for Report Stage to sharpen the focus of the National Educational Welfare Board in relation to education provision of young persons. The present wording provides that the role of the National Educational Welfare Board will be located within the ambit of the Protection of Young Person's Employment Act, 1996.
Following consultations with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment I am concerned that this approach may cause a certain blurring of the role of the National Educational Welfare Board and education welfare officers. The role of the board must primarily be to consider, support and assist the education of young persons not the regulation of the employment. This amendment will ensure consistency of focus. I would expect considerable and ongoing liaison between the National Educational Welfare Board and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Section 13 makes specific provision for that liaison.
In relation to the amendments put forward by Deputies to section 30, in the case of amendment No. 157, I appreciate the Deputy's concern that a young person with an education plan may not be able to avail of it if an employer refuses to release him or her to participate in the plan. I propose to provide for this through my amendment on Report Stage by providing that the young person will now have his or her plan before they commence work. The employer will now be in a position to know exactly the requirements of the young person in terms of release for training before employing the young person in question. More generally, subsection (9) provides for the Minister to consult with concerned persons, including representatives of the industry and employees, before bringing these provisions into operation. It is my intention that this period of consultation offers an appropriate means to raise these issues and provide for mutually acceptable solutions.
Amendment No. 160 is not necessary as the Minister is obliged to consult as set out in respect of central elements of the operation of the section. It would not be possible to commence the provision without those elements being in place so consultation with the bodies concerned is already well covered.
In relation to amendment No. 167, I agree with the Deputy that opportunities for further training should be available to young persons. The objective of the section is to provide for a comprehensive system of education and training for young people who leave school early. I should point out, however, that the primary provider of the education and training programmes concerned will not be the Education and Welfare Board but such existing agencies as FÁS or Youthreach. Indeed, I envisage that the board will only have a marginal involvement as a provider. In the circumstances, placing the kind of statutory duty on the board the amendment has in mind would be impractical. More generally, I see the board having a crucial role in acting as a facilitator between the young person and a range of training and education bodies. Much of that system is already in place but more will be needed if we are to fully accommodate the needs of all concerned. In practice, the implementation of this section will have to be phased in over time as resources and personnel become available.
In the course of drafting his new section 30, will the Minister examine the proposal in my amendment No. 169? I have tabled only one amendment. Deputy Bruton has a number and I am perfectly happy to wait until the Minister comes back with the new section 30 and agree to the deletion on that basis.
We will withdraw amendments Nos. 157, 158, 160, 161 and 167. We are grateful that the Minister intends to deal with amendment No. 157, which was an anomaly whereby the plan was not produced before the person was employed, in the course of his amendments.
Amendments Nos. 156 to 169, inclusive, not moved.
Section 30 agreed to.
Amendment No. 170 is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.
This amendment actually gives more strength to the Minister for Education and Science in his interminable disputes with the Minister for Finance to get money for the board. We are trying to help the Minister. For instance, what will happen if the board states in its annual report that it does not have enough money to do its job? Deputy Bruton's amendment is important because it recasts responsibility on the board to perform its functions and if it has not got the resources to perform its functions, someone needs to know about that.
I am indulging the Deputy. My advice is that amendment No. 170 in the name of Deputy Bruton seeks to insert in section 31, which deals with grants to the board, the words "as adequate within the constraints of available resources to fulfil the functions of the Board set out in this Act". This amendment removes the element of ministerial discretion in relation to the funding of the Education and Welfare Board and effectively requires the Minister to fund it to fulfil all its functions, thereby giving rise to possible additional charges on the Revenue. Accordingly, the amendment has been disallowed pursuant to Standing Order 142.3.
The board cannot function without grants from the State.
Amendment No. 170 not moved.
Section 31 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 171:
In page 26, subsection (2), line 3, after "other" to insert "earlier".
I propose to accept this amendment which will ensure that in all circumstances the accounts for the board are prepared for the Minister in a timely manner. This is an important accountability measure and I thank the Deputy for the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 32, as amended, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 172:
In page 26, subsection (1), line 14, after "year" to insert "and may prepare and submit to the Minister a report on other matters from time to time,",
This seeks to enable the board to make reports from time to time, other than the annual report, should it wish to address a particular topic.
Rather than tell the Deputy all the reasons, we have consulted the draftsman to make sure the board can do that. The power exists but we will consult the draftsman for Report Stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 33 agreed to.
Section 34 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 173:
In page 26, lines 36 and 37, to delete subsection (5).
This amendment provides that the chief executive officer of the board will not be anex officio member. This is an unnecessary provision as it is already covered in the Schedule. Accordingly, I am proposing to delete this reference.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 35, as amended, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 174:
In page 26, between lines 41 and 42, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) The Board shall ensure that an adequate number of staff are competent in the Irish language so as to be able to provide a service through Irish as well as English.".
The purpose of this amendment is obvious. It is important that people are competent to work in Irish or in English. I would be interested to hear the Minister's response.
It is imperative that the education and welfare officers should be able to meet the needs of the local communities in which they will operate. A whole range of operational issues arises here relating to the training qualifications of education and welfare officers in areas such as socio-economic disadvantage and special needs, including linguistic diversity. The board will have to give careful consideration to these issues. In the circumstances, rather than highlight any particular issue, I am happy to let the welfare board develop its own plans and strategies.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 36 agreed to.
Sections 37 and 38 agreed to.
Amendment No. 175 is in the name of the Minister.
I move amendment No. 175:
In page 27, subsection 3, lines 33 and 34, to delete "the Holidays (Employees) Acts, 1973 and 1991"
I move an oral amendment to this amendment:
To add the following words:
and substitute "the Worker Protection (Regular Part-Time) Employees Act, 1991, and the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997".
This is a technical amendment. The Holidays (Employees) Acts, 1973 and 1991, have been superseded by the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997.
Amendment to amendment No. 175 agreed to.
Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
Section 39, as amended, agreed to.
Section 40 agreed to.
Amendment No. 177 is related to amendment No. 176 and they may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 176:
In page 28, paragraph 2, lines 48 to 51, and in page 29, lines 1 to 4, to delete subparagraph (3) and substitute the following:
"(3) (a) The ordinary member of the Board shall be appointed by the Minister, after consultation with the following bodies and groups:
(i) the National Association of Parents,
(ii) Teacher Trade Union and Staff Associations,
(iii) Planet, the Association of Partnership Companies,
(iv) Home Schooling Associations,
(v) The Irish Vocational Education Association,
(vi) Recognised School Management Organisations, and
(vii) such other groups as the Board or Minister deems appropriate,
and each of these bodies and groups may nominate at least two candidates for appointment by the Minister to the Board, who have a special interest and expertise in matters relating to the functions of the Board.
(b) The method of nomination by such bodies and groups in this subparagraph shall be determined by the Minister.".
There is a glaring omission in the Schedule in terms of the composition of the board. The Minister's predecessor, Deputy Martin, in reply to Second Stage, conceded to a point I made in my contribution — that very few national boards established in any on-line Department have not set out the various groups the Minister should consult and that should be represented on them. I put that point to the Home Schooling Associations and asked them if they would like to serve on the board to which they replied they would be delighted as it would be a way in which they could contribute to the debate on education. I will not go down through the range of organisations I selected.
I accept the point that the board should have a broader representation and that, in particular, it should include representation by the community and voluntary pillar. I will consider those amendments for Report Stage.
Planet is the Association of Partnership Companies. Partnership companies have produced all the innovation in terms of early intervention to tackle the problem of early school leavers. Planet should be represented on the board. I am grateful for the Minister's reponse. I will withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 177 not moved.
I move amendment No. 178:
In page 29, paragraph 2(5), lines 7 and 8, to delete "(other than the Chief Executive)".
With the agreement of the committee I would like to withdraw this amendment. It is a technical one which, on further reflection, is not considered to be necessary.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 180 is related to amendment No. 179 and the two may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 179:
In page 29, paragraph 2(5), line 8, before "period" to insert "minimum".
Amendment No. 179 proposes a minimum period rather than simply a period. Amendment No. 180 proposes that the two longest serving members shall cease to hold office and, in the event that more than two people have served equal periods of service, those to cease office shall be chosen by lot. This amendment seeks to achieve a throughput of members and to ensure that members other than the two longest serving members get an adequate opportunity to contribute. Some board members tend to hog their positions on boards. It is important that the board should have a variety of members and that members would not remain on it for an exceedingly long period.
I appreciate the principle behind amendment No. 180 and I propose to table an appropriate amendment on Report Stage.
I appreciate the intent of amendment No. 179 but it is not practical in the circumstances. I hope each member of the board will serve for a least a single term, although many unforeseen events, such as illness, will prevent them doing so.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 180 not moved.
I move amendment No. 181:
In page 29, paragraph 4(1), line 38, after "occasioned" to insert "in the same manner as the member of the Board who occasioned the casual vacancy was appointed".
This amendment relates to the filling of casual vacancies. It will ensure that where a vacancy arises a vacancy can be filled in a like manner to the initial appointment.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment 182 not moved.
I move amendment No. 183:
In page 32, paragraph 11(1), line 32, after "functions" to insert "generally or in respect of a particular area".
This amendment relates to the establishment of committees of the board. It proposes that committees could be established on a nationwide basis or in respect of particular areas. It is a useful amendment.
We have examined this matter carefully and I am advised that in legal terms the current wording of the section is broad enough to allow the board to establish committees for any and all the functions it needs.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 184 to189, inclusive, not moved.
Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment No. 190 not moved.
Amendment No. 192 is related to amendment No. 191 and they may be discussed together.
I move amendment No . 191:
In page 5, line 17, to delete "TRUANCY" and substitute "ABSENTEEISM".
This amendment appears to mark the end of the use of the word "truancy" in legislation. There seems to be a consensus that the word "truancy" has served us badly and that we should omit it from the Bill. The Minister suggested the word "absenteeism", which has a 19th century resonance. I prefer the word "non-attendance" proposed in my amendment No. 192.
I will consider it in the context of the use of the word "absenteeism" for Report Stage.
The word "non-attendance" is a better formulation. We could consider an even more appropriate word.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 192 not moved.
I move amendment No. 193:
In page 5, line 18, to delete "CHILDREN" and substitute "STUDENTS".
Amendment agreed to.
Title, as amended, agreed to.
I thank the Chairman, the Clerk and the Deputies for the enormous amount of work they put into this substantial and important Bill. We have thoroughly teased out the issues on this Stage and I will examine the points I undertook to investigate further for Report Stage.
I thank the Minister and his officials.