I am very interested in what Deputy Birmingham has had to say and I am glad to address this Bill. I was quite fascinated, particularly after the excitement of this afternoon, to come into somewhat quieter waters tonight and to hear a fascinating lecture by Deputy Birmingham. I compliment him on his research into Arthur Griffith, F. S. L. Lyons and the various other people he mentioned. He left off in 1930 at the point where my history lesson will begin.
The Bill before the House is one which, if passed into law, would have the effect of removing from vocational education committees the power of appointing teachers and vesting this power in the Commissioners for Local Appointments.
This power is vested in vocational education committees under section 23 of the Vocational Education Act, 1930. Section 23 of the Act states:
(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, every vocational education committee shall appoint a chief executive officer and such other officers and servants as it shall from time to time think necessary for the due performance of its powers and duties under this Act.
(2) The numbers, qualifications, salaries or remuneration, and appointment of all officers shall be subject to the approval of the Minister.
(3) Every vocational education committee shall take from its chief executive officer and any other of its officers who receives or pays money on its behalf such security as may be directed by the Minister.
(4) A vocational education committee may dismiss any servant of such committee and, with the approval of the Minister, remove any officer of such committee.
(5) A vocational education committee shall be deemed to be a local authority within the meaning of the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act, 1926 (No. 39 of 1926), and for that purpose the expression "the Minister" in that Act shall in relation to a vocational education committee mean the Minister for Education.
Since the passing of the Vocational Education Act, which has served us so well, the practice has been that the chief executive officer appointed to each vocational education committee is a person recommended by the Commissioners for Local Appointments. The committees may appoint one of their officers in an acting capacity — several are in such a capacity at present — while the office of chief executive officer is vacant, but the permanent filling of such office requires the recommendation of a person by the Commissioners for Local Appointments.
Aside from chief executive officers, vocational education committees appoint teachers, including principals of schools, education officers including adult education organisers, administrative and clerical staff, and caretakers and maintenance personnel for their various schools and premises. In addition they appoint teachers to posts of responsibility and to posts as vice-principal in schools.
Vocational education committees which have, within their committee's area, a regional technical or other vocational education college, appoint to such colleges, principals, teaching staff of various grades including supervisory grades, administrative and office staff, technical support staff and such maintenance and other staff as are required.
Teaching posts under vocational education committees, from the time of passing of the Act were filled directly by the vocational education committees concerned, subject to the rules and procedures set out by the Minister for Education in Memorandum V7. While there was a number of exceptions, the normal process of filling a teaching post was by direct application to the committee which then decided through their normal voting procedures which of the candidates was to be appointed. The appointment was subject to ministerial sanction, but such sanction was withheld only in the event of the candidate not being fully qualified for the post or otherwise where there was evident administrative irregularity in the making of an appointment.
This position continued until 1967, when the then Minister for Education, Donagh O'Malley, following consultation, issued personally a letter to the chairman of each vocational education committee outlining a procedure which was to be followed in the appointment of vocational teachers. This procedure envisaged the establishment of two selection boards, one for the whole time class III appointments and for teaching posts carrying allowances of less than £280 per annum, the second for posts carrying allowances of over £280 per annum and for all posts as higher technological teacher grade III and for all appointments to posts carrying inclusive salaries above that level.
The first or general selection board consisted of five members, four named members of the committee and one officer of the Department of Education to be nominated by the Minister. The board was to act for one year from 1 April 1967 and was to be assisted by the chief executive officer as a non-voting adviser and by such other non-voting advisers as it might desire in particular cases.
The second or central selection board was one of seven members, four nominated members of the vocational education committee, one representative of the Irish Vocational Education Association and two officers of the Department nominated by the Minister for Education.
In outlining the proposed procedure in his letter, the Minister stated:
It is envisaged that Vocational Education Committees, having adopted the procedure outlined above, should not find it necessary to proceed in full committee to duplicate the work of the selction boards and that in the normal way they should make their appointments in accordance with the selection of the Boards.
The Minister further stated that it was his intention "that this procedure be adopted by all Vocational Education Committees and that proposed appointments, after its adoption, will be approved only in accordance with its provisions".
The foregoing procedure was adopted by the VECs and put into effect. It was continued beyond the trial period and incorporated into Memorandum V7 as an appendix to that document. Selection boards generally adopted the practice of interviewing all qualified candidates as an aid to selection, except where excessive numbers of candidates were involved. In this latter case selection boards met to implement short-listing procedures on the basis of information contained in application forms. The procedure outlined in Minister O'Malley's letter of 7 March, 1967 continued without change until March 1979 when circular No. 16/79 was issued to VECs advising them of "Revised Selection Procedures for Appointment of Teachers in second-level Vocational Schools". This circular stated the Minister's belief "that short of a completely radical alteration in the method of selection which is not practicable at the present time, the existing procedures have functioned with reasonable success".
While not departing fundamentally from the lines on which selection boards had hitherto discharged their functions, the circular went on to propose some practical amendments as a means of removing difficulties and providing for a desirable degree of uniformity. The principal changes amounted to: (i) reduction of the number of members in the central selection board from seven to five — giving a revised board of three VEC members, one IVEA and one officer of the Department; (ii) provision for a minimum composition of each board — two VEC members and one officer of the Department; (iii) various provisions with regard to non-voting advisers and substitute VEC and IVEA members; and (iv) some procedural matters of board operation and definiton of function with regard to general and central selection boards.
The system of selection and proposal for appointment outlined in C.L. 16/79 is that currently in operation for second level vocational schools and for colleges, other than regional technical colleges, operated under vocational education committees. In the case of regional technical colleges, under the provisions of C.L. 29/69 each parent VEC appointed a board of management, as a sub-committe of the VEC, under section 21 (1) of the Vocational Education Act, 1930. The board are responsible for running the regional technical college and report back to the parent VEC for confirmation of its acts. The original boards of management consisted of seven members comprising: One member of the VEC of the area in which the college is situated; one selection from agricultural interests; one CEO of the VEC of area in which the college is situated; one principal of the RTC; one nominee of ICTU; one nominee of local chamber of commerce; and one nominee of the Minister who will be an official of the Department of Education.
In 1979 the boards of management were extended to incorporate nominees of neighbouring vocational education committees and, subject to a maximum of 12 members, were advised where possible to provide for representation of the industrial sector, an elected representative of the teachers in each college and a representative of ICTU. Up to 1979 boards of management generally also acted as selection boards for teaching posts in the RTCs. In October 1979, the Department, in a letter to the then President of the I.V.E.A., stated:
In the matter of the composition of the Selection Board for teaching appointments in each Regional Technical College, other than in an appointment to the post of Principal, the Minister is of the view that the total number of members of the Board of Management nominated for this purpose should not exceed five. The Minister would see the Selection Board consisting of the Chief Executive Officer of the “parent” Committee, three other members of the Board of Management, at least one of whom should be a member of a V.E.C. and the Minister's nominee.
As in the case of all other actions by the board of management the appointment of teachers is referred back to the "parent" VEC for ratification and though there is an "understanding" that this process should be automatic, the position is not in any way as explicit as that stated in the historic letter of 7 March 1967.
Apart from teachers and teacher-related appointments (e.g. education officer, adult education organiser etc.) other appointments to administrative and office staff, technical support staff, maintenance staff, and the appointment of "servants" generally are made by VECs directly in accordance with general agreements to cover section 23 of the Act and the Department have not been involved in the setting out, or in the operation, of selection procedures.
A consideration governing the appointment of teachers to VECs is the number of appointments to be made. In the second level sector there are approximately 5,000 teachers and the number of appointments made annually is in the order of 350. I am coming to Deputy Birmingham's point. Appointments of existing staff to posts of responsibility would be additional to the above. In the RTCs and VEC colleges sector there are approximately 2,000 full-time teachers and an allocation of some 300,000 part-time hours. Some 200 appointments were made for the year 1984-85 but are being made at a rate of about 30 to 40 per annum at present due to financial and other circumstances. As the RTCs are of recent establishment staff generally are about mid-career and the replacement requirement is not very high.
While these numbers are not excessive it must be remembered that the posts cover very broad ranges of study with hundreds of different post specifications and qualifications requirements.
It will be seen from the foregoing that explicit selection systems exist for vocational teachers both in schools and in regional and other colleges under the control of VECs. While any selection system is open to abuse the presence of the Minister's nominee on all selection boards gives a transparency to their work and on the whole the impression is that the system works satisfactorily. While there is a selection system outlined for posts in primary schools, it does not provide for involvement by a nominee of the Minister. Secondary schools are free to select their own teachers with or without a selection procedure. In community and comprehensive schools selection of teachers is a responsibility of the boards of management.
The centralisation of selection procedures for VEC teachers under the Commissioners for Local Appointments would be contrary to the devolution of authority to the appropriate operational level. Furthermore, the number and variety of appointments could, if centralised, cause undue delay.
While certain types of appointments — notably of a planning, advisory or administrative kind — can generally await "due process", it is essential that teaching appointments are filled quickly as pupils cannot be left unattended or without instruction.
The selection procedures and appointment processes outlined are a component of the general management procedures of VEC schools and colleges and of the interaction of the Department of Education with these procedures. The isolation of selection procedures from the general management functions and the centralisation of these procedures is likely to add to the administrative costs of the system although it would not be possible, without a detailed analysis, to say by how much they would be increased.
The selection-appointment process is seen nowadays more as an interactive process, where the selection board, in addition to assessing a candidate's suitability for the job, are also involved in supplying the candidate with information regarding the post and its demands. The matter of "mutual suitability", that is, candidate to job and job to candidate, is frequently in question. Selection of this nature requires detailed knowledge of the post, its duties and the environment in which they are performed. The further removed the selection is from the operation of the system, the more difficult it is to carry out on the above basis.
My Department are now preparing legislation which would reorganise vocational education committees in respect of a number of such committees, their composition and their functional area. Preparations are also in train for legislative proposals which would give greater autonomy to the boards of regional technical colleges and would review the governing structures of other VEC colleges while maintaining them under the general aegis of VECs. The question of selection and appointments procedures as outlined in this Bill could, therefore, fall for review in the course of preparation of these proposals. I should like to say to Deputy Birmingham that, in the formulation of the legislation, I would certainly be prepared to consider the very important and relevant question which he raised tonight.
It is assumed that these objectives are to ensure that the selection of teachers for posts under vocational education committees is fair and is seen to be fair and that it results in the selection of the best candidates for the post. It is also important that the background which I outlined has shown that Ministers for Education and vocational education committees and their representatives have been working together over the years to bring about these objectives. The major breakthrough was in the O'Malley letter of 7 March 1967 and actions since then have been based on that pioneering initiative. VECs have been co-operative in adopting and putting into effect revised selection arrangements. However, we must consider whether these are now as good as they can be, whether improvements are necessary and, if so, how best they may be put into effect or whether the shift of authority proposed in the draft Bill under consideration is warranted or likely to lead to a more equitable and effective selection procedure. I welcome Deputy Birmingham's points and they will appeal to anyone who has an interest in educational matters. The proposals in the draft Bill will be considered rigorously and actively by me in the preparation of the legislation.
In so far as the regional technical colleges and the colleges forming the Dublin Institute of Technology are concerned, I am at present having legislation prepared to give them a clearly defined basis. They are at present operating under the 1930 Vocational Education Act which, because of its origins in and orientation towards second level education, is inappropriate to third level colleges in the way they must operate today.
First, as I have said on a number of occasions, the colleges have a vital role to play in economic development at regional level, not only by supplying required skilled manpower but through linkages with industry in research and development. I intend to make specific enabling provision in the proposed legislation for such activities from which the colleges are effectively precluded in their present status. They carry out research and development with great enthusiasm and vigour often not knowing how far they can push out the parameters of the Act or how soundly based are their operations in these fields.
I referred earlier to 1969 and recalled the set up of regional colleges. Having served for a number of years on a board of management, I was chairperson of the board of management in my home town for so many years, I am aware of the innovative nature of the regional colleges. From the very beginning they took the bit between their teeth, and here I speak of all the regional colleges around the country. While it was intended originally that they would serve their regions, they do so and will continue to do so in a personal and intimate way, they galloped ahead and have gone from offering certificate to diploma to university courses in many cases. They have taken to research and development in a very broad and active way and have seen fit to participate in all of the various programmes being promoted by Europe at third level, such as the Erasmus, Comett and Sprite programmes and all the other quaintly and I suppose aptly titled programmes.
The regional colleges and the DIT colleges have been to the fore in seizing opportunities to take advantage of available funding to carry out further infrastructural development and they have done so, as I said, in a very active way within their communities in the process interacting with industry, agriculture and the social partners and in a wider way with all of the professional interests. The debate tonight and in the nights ahead of us will help to focus our minds on the very important developments which are needed in these areas.
The recent report on the provision of technological education in Ireland, produced by a committee chaired by the very eminent Mr. Hardiman, led to the proposal by the Government that the two NIHEs be given independent university status. Little reference has been made to the other provisions contained in that report relating to the regional technical colleges and the DIT. That is for another day. As I said, we are presently in the process of preparing legislative proposals in two areas: first, the Vocational Education Act aimed at amalgamating various VECs and, second, legislation to give regional technical colleges and the DIT the right to use their research and development to put themselves on a very firm footing and to enable them to fulfil their very fine potential for increasing economic development throughout the country given that we are now approaching 1992 and the need for regions to establish development agencies of their own. The regional colleges can certainly fulfil the role of development agencies to an enormous extent. Let me add that much has already been achieved in this area despite the constraints. I wish to ensure, however, that the colleges have the authority and the encouragement, correctly and legislatively based, to intensify and expand their efforts.
Secondly, the colleges as with any institution at this level, need greater scope and autonomy to manage their own affairs. What I have in mind is to encourage a partnership between the colleges, the vocational education committees and the Department of Education under which, within agreed budgets and operational plans and policies, the colleges would manage and be accountable for their own day to day affairs, free from undue restraints. I see this as very important if colleges are to in a position to respond effectively to new and varied demands but equally they will need such scope as they will be responsible for ensuring that agreed operational plans are implemented within the agreed budgets. The approval process, therefore, operating through the vocational education committees and the Department would stress strategies, plans and budgets to provide the framework within which the colleges would be permitted and required to operate. I would anticipate then a more dynamic and effective relationship to develop between all parties concerned under these new arrangements.
Deputy Birmingham raised some points which I would like briefly to refer to. At the outset he stressed that it was not his intention to point the finger at the VEC selection process or at any VEC who had engaged in their rightful task of teacher selection. He later, advertently or inadvertently, referred to the need for public accountability in such appointments. I am sure he would agree as would all Members of the House that the VECs are held publicly accountable in that their meetings are open to the press. It is their own business as to whether they attend but certainly these meetings are open to the press. Outside of Dublin the activities of the various VECs are reported very extensively. Appointments come up for ratification at a monthly meeting or at least at a statutory meeting and the proceedings are publicly recorded and noted. In this way the issue of public accountability is very much evident.
I am aware of the point Deputy Birmingham is getting at in referring to the professional appointees but I should point out that all of us in this House have come through the democratic process. We put ourselves up for election and the people saw fit to send us here. It should be far from any of us to decry the democratic process through which people are appointed to the VEC committees which are subcommittees of county councils. Some committees have appointed teacher, parent or student representatives or representatives of other outside interests. These are non-elective. In the main most of the men and women who are members of the vocational education committees have come through a public voting procedure, the ballot box. This certainly amounts to public accountability and is the democratic process at work.
I just want to put my own thoughts on the record. I have always thought that anyone who goes for election, be it to a local urban council right up to the highest office in the land, is exercising a very noble option. When teaching young people and at political meetings I have often said that it is very easy to decry the democratic process. As we all know various pressures combine to denigrate the work of elected persons. At the same time a person who goes forward for election puts himself or herself in front of the population at large. They knock on doors and invite responses. They go to the ballot box and are vulnerable. Therefore I think we should espouse and guard the democratic process in all of our doings.
The Bill as presented to us tonight is an interesting one which will lead to very wide debate on the whole procedures as outlined by Deputy Birmingham and myself. Such a debate is to be welcomed. We have very little occasion for what one might call proper full debate on relevant subjects, and this is one. I intend to be here tonight, tomorrow and next Tuesday and Wednesday listening to all the points put forward relevant to the Bill and to the wider issues which can be expanded throughout the debate. I will be taking careful notes and in the preparation of our own legislation within the Department of Education we will be reviewing and paying particular attention to the points which have been put before the House here tonight.