I wish to refer to another part of the debate on 3 July because it is fundamentally relevant to this debate. I moved amendment No. 33 which states:
.special educational needs means the educational needs (a) of students who have a disability or a learning difficulty, (b) of exceptionally able students, and (c) of students who, by reason of social or economic circumstances or familial dysfunction, are liable to experience educational disadvantage
During the debate, the Minister for Education and Science said:
There is a danger that if I accepted Deputy O'Shea's amendment, the focus would be diluted and consequently the provision in terms of resources for special needs children. If the special education review committee which was established ten years ago had adopted that formula we would not have witnessed such a degree of improvement in relation to special needs children.
On foot of that statement the Minister appears to misunderstand or be unaware of the following extract from page 18 of the report of the special education review committee published in October 1993 which sets out the rationale underlying the report. It states:
In this report the description "pupils with special education needs" is used to include all those whose disabilities and/or circumstances prevent or hinder them from benefiting adequately from the education which is normally provided for pupils of the same age and for whom the education which can generally be provided in the ordinary classroom is not sufficiently challenging.
In the introduction to the report, on pages 19 and 20, the review committee proposes the following seven principles which should serve as basic guidelines for the future development of the system. The first principle states that all children, including those with special educational needs, have a right to an appropriate education. The committee was in agreement with the principles put forward in part 13 of the primary school teachers' handbook which states that each child deserves to be provided with the kind and variety of opportunities which will enable him or her to develop natural powers at his or her own rate to the fullest capacity.
The second principle states that the needs of the individual child should be the paramount consideration when decisions are being made on the provision of special education for that child.
The third principle states that the parents of a child with special education needs are entitled to, and should be enabled to play, an active part in the decision making process. Their wishes should be taken into consideration when recommendations on special educational provision are being made.
The fourth principle states that a continuum of services should be provided for children with special educational needs, ranging from full time education in ordinary classes, with additional supports as may be necessary, to full time education in special schools.
The fifth principle states that except where individual circumstances make this impracticable, appropriate education for all children with special educational needs should be provided in ordinary schools.
The sixth principle states that only in the most exceptional circumstances should it be necessary for a child to live away from home to avail of an appropriate education.
The seventh principle provides that the State should provide adequate resources to ensure children with special education needs can have an education appropriate to those needs.
The review committee recommended that due account be taken of the principles in framing an Education Act. The House should note that the definition used by the review committee included disadvantage as well as the other issues, such as disability. What the Minister said here did not reflect that.
It should be further noted that one of the recommendations for general education arrangements regarding the lack of local education administrative structures is that, following consultation with interested parties, the Government should establish local education administrative structures without delay throughout the country and these should have responsibility for co-ordinating services to students with disabilities and special needs in their areas. This recommendation has fallen on deaf ears as far as this Minister is concerned. He has steadfastly and stubbornly refused to countenance any devolution of functions to either local or regional education authorities comprising the partners in education.
Looking at where the legislation has gone so far, the Minister unintentionally gave us a misleading steer during the debate. Special education needs for the purposes of the Bill are defined in its interpretation section as the education needs of students with a disability and of exceptionally able students. That excludes others who have other circumstances giving rise to their special needs. The legislation is all over the place. The amendment I seek to add will strengthen the Bill and get it back in line with what was proposed by the review group on special education. I complimented the Minister on the fact that he has been open and receptive to other amendments. However, this legislation is flawed and it is the basic flaw which presents the major difficulty for the Labour Party. The Bill is not about partnership in any real sense. Neither does it single out disadvantage for particular attention, an area singled out by the special review group.
Whether the Minister wishes to admit it, there is a steadily worsening situation in schools. It manifests itself in many ways, not least of which is deteriorating discipline. There are children in schools who are making no progress and are making it difficult for teachers to provide the level of education they wish. The resources provided for the education system are not applied as effectively as they could be. There is a major problem in the system in that schools and teachers are not stating publicly the problems they have in their schools, usually for very good reasons. If schools say they have major discipline problems, that they have students with whom they cannot cope and that it is having a devastating effect, parents will lose confidence in the schools. If other schools with similar problems do not go public, they are at an advantage. One of the major difficulties with the Bill is that it still promotes competition between schools in the numbers game. That is something that is neither healthy nor good. If the regional or local structures sought in the previous Education Bill by the then Minister for Education were in place, there would be a more regulated situation for schools.
I ask the Minister to accept this amendment. He should remember that, while the Celtic tiger helps many people, there is a growing number of people who are outside its scope. This first manifests itself in the education system. This progresses to anti-social behaviour visited on the community, causing a huge reduction in the quality of life for many people. One of the objectives of the Bill is to identify people who have inherited educational disadvantage. We know of children who come from families where unemployment has been a feature for a number of generations. Families such as this may be clustered in some areas but they are spread throughout the country. Research has repeatedly shown that, where there is little experience of education in a family and no high or reasonable level of ambition, especially as regards the mother's ambition, children find it extremely difficult to make progress. I am seeking, in the context of the section outlining the objectives of the Bill, a full, clear and comprehensive announcement of the State's recognition of educational disadvantage.
The Minister also must perform a further task, which is to put the Bill back into Committee Stage on the interpretation section and tidy up the ineffective and inappropriate definition of special education needs.