Teaching Council Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The establishment of a teaching council was recommended in the White Paper on Education and the report of the National Education Convention. Ireland is not the first country to establish a teaching council. Such councils are already established in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Ontario and Newfoundland. I am glad the Minister placed emphasis on future co-operation between North and South in this context. There was a difficulty involving teachers from the North who taught in the South. Agreement on this issue between the relevant Departments and Ministers North and South resolved this difficulty. The teaching councils North and South should work closely together in the future in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

It is envisaged that the Teaching Council will fulfil a role for teachers in the same way as the Medical Council does for doctors and the Bar Council does for the legal profession. It is proposed that the council will include 22 teachers, who must be in the majority, as well as representatives from the colleges of education, parents' groups, the social partners and the business sec tor. It is fair to say that, unlike the Bar Council and the Medical Council, teachers have been very generous in terms of the number of representatives on the council from bodies outside the teaching profession. Teachers and teachers' unions must be given recognition for their magnanimous attitude on this issue.

I envisage the business sector and other sectors playing a future role in the Teaching Council in terms of the type of training teachers are given. At all times the education system must reflect what is happening in the workplace. As far back as the 1960s the strength of the economy has been based on the strength of the education system and innovations in education. A dynamic Teaching Council which advocates new approaches in regard to education and teacher preparation, training and qualifications will be very important in the future.

The INTO is anxious that the section dealing with teacher supply be amended and strengthened. There are 1,000 unqualified teachers in our schools. While that might solve a local problem at a particular time and the people involved may mean well, it is not right that unqualified individuals should be teaching our young people. One could not envisage, for example, somebody who is not a solicitor dealing with legal issues or going into court representing clients or somebody who is not a doctor performing a medical function. The same applies to teaching and it should be carefully considered. Supply panels should be set up nationwide to eliminate the need for unqualified teachers. That section should be strengthened to ensure the council will have a bigger say on teacher supply.

Another issue relates to the qualifications of people returning from other countries. I recently met a highly qualified individual who had returned from Australia but could not teach here. I sent the details of the case to the Department to seek clarification and I hope it may be resolved. In future the Teaching Council could suggest additional training and courses to accommodate people who may not have the appropriate qualifications to teach in Ireland but who could do so if they undertook a course set down by the council in co-operation with the Department.

This is an important issue given the current shortages. A number of Irish people and foreigners are prepared to come to Ireland to teach for many reasons but cannot because their qualifications are not recognised, yet they are more qualified than some of the 1,000 unqualified teachers who are filling in as substitutes and so forth in our schools. Perhaps the Minister of State will refer to this when he replies.

The Bill has been welcomed by the three teachers' unions. John Carr, treasurer of the INTO, stated that the organisation has been seeking such a body since 1974 and that the council would help to enhance the professional image of teachers and give them a greater input into teacher education and professional development. He expressed the hope that it would help to eliminate what he termed "the scourge of untrained personnel in the classroom", which concurs with my comments.

John White, Deputy Secretary of the ASTI, welcomed the legislation and said it will enhance the professionalism of teachers and will help to assure the wider community that high standards will be maintained in teaching, which also concurs with my comments. The TUI was not as enthusiastic in accepting the Bill as the other two unions. When it was published, Jim Dorney said his union had a number of concerns about the Teaching Council. His union wanted to be certain that the provisions of the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977, would be invoked before any teacher was struck off the register. It would be no harm if those concerns were addressed.

I would also like to refer to education and training in Part IV. I have always advocated that the education and training of teachers and the standards required for entry into the profession should be under continuous review. Economies demand change and are in continuous flux. The people who take up teaching should be continuously examined to ensure that the right people enter the profession. In the past people of the highest calibre have been attracted and we must try to maintain that in future.

Irish teachers are the most effective in Europe. They work in the largest classes in the EU and in a State that invests on average less per pupil in first and second level education that its European partners. Teaching has traditionally attracted its members from among the best and brightest of its cohorts and must continue to do so. I acknowledge that teachers have always been professional and this is manifested in the manner in which they have taken on information and communication technology in every primary school over the past few years.

I welcome the legislation. It is a step in the right direction, which has received universal approval. The teaching profession is being treated shabbily by the Government. However, to implement the aspirations of the legislation the Minister will have to come to terms with the current strike.

I welcome the Bill which has been introduced, not before time. Circumstances for the teaching profession, similar to many other professions, have become more difficult over recent years. I heard the Minister of State on radio yesterday saying he would make himself available as a mediator in the ASTI dispute.

Not that dispute, another one.

The Minister of State would be better off if he was a mediator in this dispute. I have not always been supportive of teachers but having sat on a board of management and a parents' council I recognise the difficult job they have to do. The profession has changed. Only 20 years ago many qualified teachers worked in other professions because they could not get jobs in schools. Nobody ever thought the day would come when 1,000 unqualified people would teach children in our schools because there was not enough qualified teachers.

Why do people not want to take up teaching? Money, pressure and the fact that the job is becoming more difficult are some of the reasons, but much of the legislation that was introduced over the years was anti-teacher. The worst legislation ever introduced in the House dealt with unruly pupils. There have been many bullies and people who abused their powers, but there was nothing wrong with a little law and order in any classroom or school and an odd slap of the hand.

Zero tolerance.

However, we have gone to the other extreme. A teacher only has to look at a pupil, and not even touch him or her, before he or she is informed of the pupil's rights. It has gone from one extreme to the other and I hope that issue can be examined under this legislation. I received a letter from a constituent who told me that an expelled pupil will now have legal representation in the form of a barrister and solicitor. Where are we going? This is about educating our young people and preparing them for the world and it is about teaching young children right from wrong.

We were always proud of the way our people were educated and always said they were the best educated group in Europe and that our students could be sent to any part of the world. There is no doubt that any of them who have left to go to Britain, America or wherever have succeeded because the education system was good and they were well trained and educated. They were able to go abroad and do what had to be done and many of them have done very well. Some of them have returned and are creating employment or bringing the experience they gained in other countries back to Ireland. That is all because of the education they received here.

Under the Bill, I understand that teachers will be registered, that there will be an appeals system and that they will be able to adjudicate on each other. The one problem with that profession is that, while there have been very good teachers, there have also been very poor teachers who taught nothing but received the same credits as everyone else. There was no way parents' groups or boards of management could do anything with them because, in that profession, the minute a person qualified, they were protected for life.

I would love a situation where I was elected once and allowed to stay here for my lifetime, but that is not the way it works. We have an interview process which can take place after six months, 12 months, two years or three years. It is difficult and it is becoming more so. If one steps out of line and makes a few mistakes in this job, one will soon find oneself signing for social welfare and not back in this House. If a teacher is not doing the job, he or she should be dealt with by the profession and it should not be ashamed to do that. It would be like the Law Society where, if a person steps out of line and misappropriates a person's money—

That is an unfortunate choice.

At least there is someone to whom one can complain. It can be investigated and if the person under suspicion is found guilty, he or she will be excluded from the profession and will no longer be allowed practice in Ireland. What happens in larger schools is that if a teacher is not good at a certain subject, parents must provide grinds, and that is the parents who can afford it. Those who cannot must suffer on and their children are at a disadvantage because their parents cannot afford grinds. That is wrong.

What will happen with the education system now that everything is geared to third level? Every mother and father want their son or daughter to be either a doctor or lawyer. We must put some initiatives in place, otherwise, what will happen to the skilled people, the plumbers, carpenters and block layers? If we continue as we are, in ten years' time we will not have enough carpenters, plumbers or whatever. It is time the Government encouraged young people into the skills area rather than trying to push them into third level. Some people are not happy entering third level but they are forced to do so by their parents and by the pressure of the points system. While I may sound hypocritical in that my daughter sat her leaving certificate this year and another child sat it last year and both went to university, that is not the point. There is no encouragement for people to train. FÁS does not have enough initiatives or schemes to advertise at primary and second level before people make their decisions. There is not enough support for people to make the correct decision and to encourage more people towards skills so that not all of them will go on to be doctors or whatever.

Perhaps the Minister of State will respond to two points when summing up. A recent situation occurred in my constituency about which I have written to the Minister and tabled parliamentary questions. Last week an inspectorate visited Carnacon national school, a two teacher school which has and will have the numbers for three teachers. I hope the Minister of State or the Minister will make a positive decision in that regard. While I know there is a regulation in this area and that regulations are made to keep the rule of law, sometimes they can be wrong, and there is nothing wrong with changing them if that is the case. Will the Minister of State make the correct decision as quickly as possible?

Gaelscoil na Cruaithe in Westport has sufficient numbers for a new school. I know the Department is actively seeking a site and it is important it is obtained because more than 130 students in that school are working in prefabs. I hope the Department and the Office of Public Works are prepared to pay the going rate for a site and I hope that can be announced soon. I am anxious that that school would be up and running in the next year. It is wrong that students must be taught in prefabs.

I have raised the issue of Carrowkennedy national school on the Adjournment twice in the past two years. An extension was sought to the school but some students are now being taught in a community hall. That is terrible in the new millennium. It was decided to build an extension but it was then decided to build a new school. Will the Minister of State in reply or in written form to me state the up-to-date position on that as it has been ongoing for some time? People from the Department have visited the school to speak with those involved. I attended a meeting on this recently and it was stated that the parents had raised their contribution within three weeks through a major effort on their part. To this day, we still do not know what is happening. Will a new school or an extension be built? Will we see action soon? The commitment given has not been fulfilled.

We are great at lecturing others on how to deal with their problems but responding to the requirements of children with special needs is a serious problem for us. I know additional funding has been put in place and I do not believe that anyone in the House or in the country would object to whatever spare cash is available being invested in people with special needs. I was recently in St. Anthony's school in Castlebar and parents were crying out for help, services and support. They believe they are not in place and that the resources and commitment do not exist. We cannot obtain help and support for similar cases in Mayo. These people are frustrated with the political system.

There was a time one could say at a meeting that it was not easy for the Minister for Education and Science or the Minister for Finance because the resources did not exist. Now spin doctors state on an hourly basis how well the country is doing and what resources and money we have. The Minister for Finance tells us on a weekly basis that the coppers are piling up. Listening to him, one would think there were not enough banks in the country to hold all the money being taken in through Revenue. Despite this, people in the area of special needs, such as speech therapists, cannot be employed and people with special needs cannot have their needs met. That is outrageous. When I hear these stories at public meetings, I ask myself why I am in this business. If we cannot deal with the weak and needy in society, with whom can we deal and who can we help?

We are not helping them. We see with the taxi drivers protesting on the streets of Dublin that the stronger a person is and the more support he or she has, the better he or she will be catered for by Government. There are not many of these people with special needs. They are not sufficiently organised and they have enough troubles themselves. They may have trouble in looking after a child at home, and in some cases mothers and fathers are providing 24-hour care. It is wrong that we are not providing the necessary services for them. It is time to make a commitment to such people who have children with special needs. Nobody could fault that point. The Minister is responsible for the education of children, but he has a particular responsibility for children in rural areas where school transport facilities are needed. The ruling on that matter was outrageous.

I give credit to the Minister who has investigated particular cases and has done his best to examine the matter, but he is afraid to concede in certain cases because it would set a precedent. I can understand the costs involved, but some needy cases must be dealt with, even though it may mean breaking the Department's rules. New school bus pick-up points should be selected to cater for children who have no transport service at present due to a lack of numbers. We have seen how Bus Éireann runs its operation and the Minister should not be afraid to overrule it if an injustice is being done.

A common complaint made to public representatives in rural areas concerns the distances young children have to walk to school bus pick-up points. Some of them have to get up a 7.30 a.m. with parents bringing them three or four miles to the pick-up point. In other cases where transport is not available, they may have to walk to school in the rain and arrive there wet and miserable. It is not like England or America where facilities are in place to dry students' clothes and provide tea and lunch for them. Some of these children are wet for the day and return home in the evening carrying big heavy school bags.

Why should pupils have to bring home all their books every night? The teaching profession should examine this issue so that pupils only have to bring home the books they need for homework. It is terrible to see young children, aged from four to seven years, carrying big school bags in the morning and evening. It is dangerous and cannot be good for them. I hope the Minister will investigate that matter.

Over the years we have had a good return from the teaching profession. Their hour of need has now arrived and there should be some negotiations on what they are looking for. There should be some support for them to find a middle ground. We should not hang them out to dry. Teachers have done a good job in difficult circumstances but at this stage they are somewhat frustrated. Teachers have more influence on young pupils aged five, six or seven, than their fathers or mothers, because they spend more time at school than they do with their parents who are out working. Because of this busy parental work load, teachers now have a major role to play in the children's upbringing.

We do not want to lose the goodwill or support of the teachers. Neither do we want to put pressure on them which could lead them to stop doing tasks they currently do in a voluntary capacity. The time has come for the Minister to sit down with the teachers for discussions. If necessary, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, could mediate between them and the Minister, Deputy Woods. The Minister should try to reach some common ground whereby the teachers could be brought back on board.

We are going through difficult times as regards law and order which has much to do with this legislation. Teachers are faced each day with situations with which, 20 years ago, they did not think they would ever have to deal. They are dealing with students who come into school drunk or under the influence of drugs, and who think the law is on their side. The country is becoming more violent and teachers' lives are at risk. Recently, in my county, a teacher took the wrong action outside school hours and he paid the penalty for it. There was another reason for that, however. We are in a different society, living in dangerous times. We see what is happening all over the world, including in America where students have been shooting all around them. Teachers have a difficult job. The Minister should sit down with them for talks to see how the problem can be dealt with. I hope he will be able to do that soon because the disturbance is affecting students who are preparing for the junior and leaving certificate examinations. The leaving certificate is probably the most difficult exam any student will have to sit and, therefore, students need all the support and help they can get. There should not be any interruptions to their studies for the leaving certificate, the results of which will determine their future. There is no hope for today's students if they are not well educated. With the increased pressures involved, the world of work is becoming more difficult and more demanding.

Last Saturday, as I attended to my constituency advice centres, I was confronted at every turn by parents who were concerned about the current industrial action by ASTI members. A truism rang through what they said, which was that the dispute would not be resolved by megaphone diplomacy or stand-offs, but by dialogue. The question is, however, how long will it be before one side blinks and negotiations commence? The withdrawal of pay is an inflammatory action by the Minister and has not contributed to resolving the dispute or to facilitating dialogue. The losers in this industrial action, apart from the teachers themselves, are the students, and in particular those in exam classes. The Bill is welcome and puts in place the kind of structural changes and professional bodies to deal with teaching, which are long overdue. I urge the Minister, however, to grasp the nettle and intervene to resolve the teachers' strike. I accept that there are difficulties, particularly in the context of the partnership programme, such as negotiating with a group that is outside the partnership. That effectively invites all others to conduct nego tiations outside the programme. At the end of the day, however, a mechanism will be found so that dialogue can resolve the dispute.

The message of the parents I spoke to on Saturday was simple but true – that dialogue should commence now, before positions harden, rather than later. The Minister's action in withdrawing pay when teachers are available was unwise, although the joint managerial body has advised schools to close for insurance purposes. The Minister's action will undermine the voluntary element whereby, year after year, teachers have looked after sports teams, the school drama club and school bands.

Last Friday evening I was fortunate to be invited to Coachford College in my constituency to present annual awards. I was bowled over by the unity of purpose within the school among parents, teachers and students, and by what had been achieved in a very user friendly school environment. This holistic approach to education was reflected in the range of academic success stories in practical studies, the arts and sporting endeavours.

We can learn many lessons from what is occurring in the nursing profession. By and large, the teaching compliment in Coachford College is young, but the danger is that we will fail to attract highly motivated young people into the teaching profession. One concession that could be considered by the Department of Education and Science is the establishment of a commission on teaching, similar to the one that paved the way for resolving many problems in the nursing profession. We are now recruiting nurses from various parts of the world to work here. The same indications are there in the teaching profession; we are not getting the same type of people to pursue teaching as we did in the past. For example, this year in UCC there is only one student pursuing the higher diploma in education who has a science degree. Within a number of years this will have a knock-on effect in the recruitment of teachers in certain subject areas, which will prove difficult and manifest itself in the careers students will, ultimately, be able to pursue because of subject choice.

We would do well, therefore, to recognise the structural deficiencies, which are primarily salary related. The concession of a commission on teaching may be a useful starting point and might tempt the ASTI off the perch on which it has, unwisely, become impaled. While there would be difficulties for the partnership programme in negotiating directly with it, it is necessary to make a concession. At the end of the day, the issue will be resolved through dialogue, not megaphone diplomacy or by shouting at one another.

The Bill, which is welcome, has teeth. For example, one of the objects of the Teaching Council will be to encourage the ongoing education and training of teachers throughout their careers. It also deals with the nitty-gritty such as fitness to teach and professional misconduct. In such instances it provides for certain actions such as removal or suspension from the teachers' register, all of which are necessary. In bygone days when the economy did not roar as loudly, the permanent pensionable job in the Civil Service, teaching and nursing was much sought after; as a career, it is not as attractive today. There was also a view that no matter what one did one could remain as a teacher despite one's unfitness to teach. These are provisions which parents generally will welcome.

It is welcome that the Bill, by and large, has the imprimatur of the teaching organisations. We would do well, however, to reflect on the fact that the ASTI has not been known as the most militant of trade unions. If one includes the TUI and the INTO, the majority of teachers are against the partnership programme. We would be foolish to ignore this and would do so at our peril. While the education of the current generation is not at stake, although those in examination classes find themselves in a very difficult situation, given that young people are not joining the teaching profession in the same numbers as in the past, we may well reap the rewards in three, four or five years time.

Reading, writing and arithmetic – the three Rs – have long been held to be the basis of our education system. Any person deficient in these skills is seriously disadvantaged. A recent report which highlighted the fact that a large number of people leave school without being able to read or write has placed the focus on literacy, a matter in which the Minister of State is particularly interested, with particular reference to adult education. This should be one of the most fundamental objectives of the education system. It has also helped to focus attention on why the State invests in education in the first instance.

Historically, education was the preserve of an elite groups which, as a consequence, was the source of all knowledge. An 18th century peasant farmer did not have to know how to read and write in order to survive. His life was dominated by trying to put a roof over the heads of his family and provide them with food and clothing. He did not have to know how to read a set of instructions in order to use a spade or milk a cow. Education was a luxury he could not afford.

With the onset of the industrial revolution men suddenly had to know how to read instructions to operate new machines coming with the steam engine. People had to be taught how to read and Governments began to invest in primary education, not out of any altruistic interest, but purely out of self-interest. They were doing so out of economic necessity. The economy needed workers who could read.

We are now going through a technological revolution which, at a phenomenal speed, is changing not only the way we work, but the places in which we work and way in which we lead our lives. Literacy can no longer be defined in terms of reading, writing and arithmetic. To these must be added computer literacy. Wherever we turn, computers are part of our lives. Yet, we have been snail-like in putting in place policies which recognise this fact. There is as yet no comprehensive programme which outlines what first and second level students should learn about information technology and which tests their computer literacy.

Six hundred points in the leaving certificate is often regarded as the pinnacle of achievement for a second level student. It is a significant achievement. Yet, there is no guarantee that this 600 point student is in any way computer literate. He or she may not even know how to turn on a computer because the leaving certificate, with the exception of the leaving certificate applied, does not demand competency in the use or understanding of computers.

Because the three Rs are seen as essential we have wisely decided that mathematics and English are compulsory subjects for all students who sit the leaving certificate. Yet, we do not demand any level of computer competency. The main benchmark of competency is a privately operated certificate, the ECDL, the European computer driving licence, but even this depends on the enthusiasm of a school's computer teachers and the vagaries of the school timetable. We must tackle this problem immediately and ensure that at leaving and junior certificate level the competency of every student in the use of computers is assessed. It is not sufficient to provide computers for schools; we have to make space in the curriculum for a national programme which will ensure computer literacy for all students. Points could be awarded at leaving certificate level on the same basis as points are currently awarded in the leaving certificate vocational programme modules.

It is possible for a student to leave school with little or no knowledge of computers or computer applications. It is also possible for a teacher to qualify with the minimum knowledge of computers. In the context of teacher registration provided for in the Bill, surely the time has to come to make a certain level of computer competency a mandatory requirement for all new teachers who wish to register.

Many teachers at primary and second level have undertaken various kinds of computer courses to upskill themselves in new technologies. The type and quality of the courses, however, varies considerably. It is critical for the future of the economy that not only should all teachers have a high degree of competence in computer applications, they should also feel comfortable and motivated in the computer environment. Accordingly, a special diploma in computer applications for teachers should be introduced. All teachers who acquire this diploma should be given an allowance for this qualification. This should be looked at in the context of section 6 which provides for the encouragement of the ongoing education and training of teachers throughout their careers.

The addition of computers to the curriculum raises another problem, that is, overcrowding of the curriculum. For example, at second level most students take a minimum of seven academic subjects to leaving certificate. These are the subjects for which CAO points are awarded. School subjects and activities for which points are not awarded in the leaving certificate tend to lose out in the final two years leading to examination.

Students in the 16 to 18 year age bracket are increasingly becoming unfit and often reluctant to take part in physical education classes. Highly motivated students, academically, will often see PE as an unnecessary burden which will not help them towards their chosen third level course. Accordingly, if we believe that physical education and fitness are important objectives for the education system, we must ensure that not only are they allocated time on the weekly curriculum, but that they also receive recognition in whatever certification a student receives on completion of his or her schooling. It must also receive recognition in the allocation of places in third level institutions.

One of the great strengths of the education system is that it is widely focused. The fact that all students take English, Irish and mathematics with at least four other subjects from a wide range means that most of those who complete their second level education have developed a much wider range of skills and competencies than, say, their counterparts in England where, at this early stage of their educational lives, all students will have narrowed their options to three subjects. If we want to widen our educational objectives, we should keep this wide range of subjects, but reduce their content.

I am not as familiar with the curriculum as those who have taught in recent years. I remember my leaving certificate Irish. The scourge of our lives wasBullaí Mháirtin, Toraíocht Dhiarmada agus Gráinne and book after book of Irish poetry. I accept that, if you want to encompass a wide range of curriculum objectives, such as PE and computer literacy, it is not possible to maintain content level of many subjects. The curriculum board should look at this aspect.

I tabled a number of questions to the Minister and I was surprised at the reply I received on computer literacy and curriculum content. We have handed this over and are not getting a sufficient response in a rapidly changing environment. We should reduce the content in certain subjects and broaden the scope of computer literacy which is as important in today's school environment as is reading, writing and arithmetic. PE is also important because there are increasing signs that we are following the American example of lack of exercise and obesity. The education system and curriculum content has a role to play in that area. Reduced subject content would provide space in the weekly timetable for students to take part in those activities that help their personal, social and physical development.

One of the functions outlined for the new Teaching Council is to promote teaching as a profession. Clearly, this function will be critical for the new council as the recent overwhelming vote for industrial action by the ASTI would indicate a very demoralised profession. At second level, the difficulty of getting a full-time job, low salary levels on entry, the length of time it takes to reach the maximum point on the salary scale and poor mobility, means fewer people are inclined to take up the profession in the first instance. This will reach a critical stage in the near future. Mathematics and science graduates are few and far between in higher diploma classes while the cost of housing, particularly in the greater Dublin region, is leading to a rapidly diminishing supply of teachers in this area. Many of these factors also affect primary level where qualified cover for teachers absent through illness or otherwise is almost a thing of the past. We will have a crisis in teacher supply if the Minister does not have as a priority the promotion of teaching as a profession.

I was interested to see a provision in the miscellaneous section of the Bill that makes it an offence, punishable by a fine not exceeding £1,500 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both, for a person falsely to represent that he or she is a registered teacher. There are people standing before classes every morning whom the students are under the impression are qualified teachers but because qualified cover cannot be found the choice is between leaving classes unattended or having them attended by unqualified teachers. The powers that be know they are not qualified. This goes back to the structural problems in the profession which the council will identify and take remedial action on to ensure we do not reap the same reward as we did in the case of the nursing profession.

This need is accentuated by the fact that, just as society is becoming more complex, so is the classroom in which teachers operate. Family breakdown, the prevalence of drugs, particularly alcohol in younger and younger age groups, and the easy availability of unsuitable material on video and the Internet means the role of the teacher must change. Many teachers I know would argue that they are often as much counsellors and social workers as they are teachers. One teacher asked me recently how he could teach maths on a Monday morning to students who have been working for 20 hours over the weekend in part-time jobs to fund what is effectively an adult social life, which had also been fitted into the same weekend.

There is a positive side to schooling. Schools are generally much happier and safer places than they were in the past when tales of horrific beatings were commonplace. While we will often hear of young people who do not like going to school, we do not hear of many who are afraid to go to school. Schools teach a much wider curriculum and the methodologies used are more in common with students' levels of ability. Programmes such as leaving certificate applied, transition year and leaving certificate vocational programmes are a welcome addition. However, if we do not take a long and serious look at what is happening we may find that, in the not too distant future, the castle we thought we had built on a secure foundation will have collapsed. That would be regrettable.

The Joint Managerial Body made a pre-budget submission to the Department that highlights a long running grievance in this sector. The Minister should take this on board. The Department has commissioned its own study but has not published its report on funding for the voluntary education sector. These schools are discriminated against. Vocational education committees, community colleges and comprehensive schools that are funded directly through the Department get funding for caretakers, insurance and secretarial services yet theper capita grant that the voluntary schools receive must cover all that expense. That is blatantly unfair and means that parents and schools must engage in fund-raising to buy furniture or computers, make up the shortfall to pay the secretary or caretaker and so on. That is not acceptable. If there is a report on this issue the Minister should publish it so that we can have a meaningful debate. I am sure it would confirm what has been conveyed to me by teachers and principals in my constituency who are not in the VEC system or funded directly by the Department but who depend on their per capita allocation. This matter should be resolved.

Perhaps the Minister, in his reply, will refer to rapidly growing suburbs and the provision of new schools. The system of enrolment the previous September being the sole basis for determining how many teachers a school may take on the next year is archaic. Some other mechanism should be put in place that would anticipate, taking into account local development plans and local authority planning permissions, a surge in demand for primary or secondary school places and circumvent the necessity for prefabricated classrooms and a continuous stream of representations made by Members regarding school extensions at primary and second level. In an ideal world a decentralised system to local governance bodies for education would usefully serve that purpose.

It is appropriate that we should debate education at present. Uppermost in most people's minds is the industrial dispute that is affecting second level. Like other speakers, I ask the Minister of State to intercede with his senior colleague and influence him in a positive way to deal with the matter to ensure that full facilities are restored. The Government is acting tough and being impervious to the needs presented by the teaching profession or anyone else. I do not extol the virtues of pursuing wage demands that are in excess of what is required and deemed advisable, keeping in mind the need to reduce inflation levels. They have increased what was anticipated two or three years ago. It was never envisaged that inflation would rise from 1.5% to almost 9%. It is incredible that the Government allowed that to happen and did nothing about it. It can whinge about the various strikes that are taking place but responsibility rests with the Government for allowing the economic situation to develop to such an extent that these people have no option but to increase their wage demands.

A young teacher who hopes to buy a house has no chance of doing so. A medium quality secondhand local authority house in my constituency costs £120,000 at present. The Minister should address the underlying issues which are driving the wage demands in the teaching and other professions. Failure to do something about them will leave this country in a serious situation in a couple of years. Undoubtedly, there will be leapfrogging and our competitiveness will suffer dramatically.

There was no need for this. The housing crisis caused it and the Government did nothing about it. I am sorry to introduce an issue that is not particularly relevant to this Minister's Department but it impinges seriously on the services which the Department of Education and Science supply to the public. If the Minister consulted with parents and teachers, he would find differing views as to who is right and wrong. Ultimately, however, they will come down to the delivery of educational services to families. If I were the Minister, I would take serious cognisance of where that responsibility falls and how to deal with it.

Ireland's investment in education in the past is seen, nationally and internationally, as a major impetus in the creation of the so-called Celtic tiger economy. I do not doubt it was. However, it took a long time for that investment to have a direct impact. It took a long time to be able to keep our educated young people at home and before we encouraged them to return to this country with investment proposals. For many years the fathers and mothers of this country had to bid farewell to sons and daughters who had gone through the education system and achieved their qualifications but were faced with the prospect of emigrating and, in many cases, spending the rest of their lives abroad.

Previous speakers referred to the industrial revolution and the need for an educational revolution. That is an accurate assessment. Even though we made an adequate investment in education in the 1960s which dealt with the issues presenting then and in the immediate future, nobody could have anticipated that changes would be forced upon us by the requirements of the changing world economy. What was excellent five or six years ago is no longer sufficient to meet current demand and what is adequate now will not be sufficient in two or three years.

The need for ongoing review of the educational process is more pressing than ever for two reasons. Technological advances are dramatic but have a short lifespan so there is a need for ongoing education in that regard. Despite opinions to the contrary, we have a growing young population. There is an increase in the population and more people will require ongoing education. In that regard, one can draw on the past experiences of our emigrants. Many of them had to leave home before their education was completed. In many instances they were lucky enough to be able to avail of second and third level educational opportunities in other countries. They did so satisfactorily and achieved their professional qualifications because the opportunities were there. There were no such opportunities in this country at that time.

There have been substantial improvements in the meantime. However, what was sufficient to meet requirements a couple of years ago might be insufficient a couple of years hence. As has been pointed out by other speakers, it is attractive for many young people to take up employment at an early age. It is also not possible for various businesses in this country to function without taking on people who are young and still at school. The tendency among some young people, however, is to remain at work and neglect their schooling because work is a ready means to financial independence which they otherwise would not have. It is imperative that the education system keys in these two elements.

Employment should be only the practical element of education. If that can be done effectively, it could be beneficial for the students. If that cannot be done, that generation will have moved on in ten or 12 years. By then the tiger economy might not be so rampant and it might be necessary for those young people to return to school. I have no doubt the facilities will be available but it might not be economically possible for them to do so at that stage. They might have other pressing demands and be obliged to forego again the opportunity for education, which would be a disaster. The first opportunity is during their formative years and the second opportunity would be in the event of there being a necessity to further their education and improve their employment potential. If they do not succeed at one of those points, they will never do so and the economy will be the poorer for it.

Another area of education which must be examined is the education of immigrants. A large number of the immigrants legitimately seeking work in this country – we need them to work here – do not have great command of the English language. It must also be said that we do not have a great command of the languages of the immigrants' native countries; if we had to emigrate to those countries, we would be in dire straits. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, these immigrants have had to come here and schools in many areas are doing great work addressing the issue of their education. However, there is need for improvement. It would be a great help to the people concerned if they were able to avail of English classes as early as possible and it is our duty to make that possible.

The more people there are available to work, the better it will be for our economy. Obviously, we cannot as a nation put in place sufficient per sonnel for manufacturing and the delivery of goods and services at present. Where the personnel come from is immaterial, the important thing is that they are able to do the job. Our education system can enhance their ability to do those jobs and communicate with people.

The other issue is the ongoing needs of the teaching profession. There are procedures in place to deal with them but it can do no harm to improve and enhance these procedures. Reviews of procedures that are tried and true and have been adopted over the years can enable us to respond to changes and carry out an ongoing critical analysis of the process to ensure the teachers are in the best position to tackle the job they face. The voluntary contribution of teachers was mentioned by many speakers. That is central to the current ASTI dispute. It should be borne in mind that a great many in the teaching profession voluntarily give of their time liberally and, compared to other countries, unnecessarily. That voluntary effort should not be accepted gratefully and graciously and then ignored. Teachers throughout the country make a voluntary effort above and beyond the call of duty. That practice has become established over the years and it is happening to a far greater extent than it did many years ago. Teachers make a voluntary effort because they have a social conscience, a responsibility towards their students, and consider such activity is a contribution to the potential achievement of the student in the classroom. I ask the Minister of State to bear in mind that voluntary effort should be recognised.

The adequacy of life skills is central to a revision of educational needs. Improvements have been made in that area, but there is a need for ongoing improvement. When jobs were difficult to obtain, young people on leaving school, reasonably well qualified and full of hope about their ability to obtain employment, were often disappointed and even more disappointed about their basic life skills. They thought they had it all, but when they went into the workplace it was a different story. The life skills required there were often different from those they had become accustomed to believe were required in the classroom. When students enter the workplace, their level of confidence will be based on their educational abilities and achievements in the classroom and although they might be great, the workplace is a different world where vastly different life skills are required.

In a recent discussion with a businessman, he was quick to point out that the finished product of our education system does not necessarily measure up to what industry requires. Other speakers referred to changes in the computer industry and the necessity not only to be computer literate but to be extremely good in that area. That opens up a vista of new opportunities to the young qualified professional, but a lack of those skills leaves the young professional in a different category. While all young people believe they have it all, it is only when they enter the workplace that reality dawns and the link between the education system and the needs of the workplace are most accentuated.

I compliment the regional colleges and second and third level institutions on their work in this area over the years. A great deal of work has been done, but a great deal more needs to be done. I emphasise that particularly in the event of there being a decline in our economy. I am not a preacher of doom and gloom, as this economy could develop dramatically for the next 20 years. There is a need for that and an ability to ensure that, but that may not transpire, as one has to manage an economy in such a way as to ensure a certain degree of consistency and stability prevail. If we do not do that, we will miss out.

Various speakers referred to school accommodation and the quality, standard and degree of facilities available in the classroom at whatever level. In the 1980s and early 1990s a substantial proportion of our student population received almost all their secondary education and often their primary education in prefabricated classrooms with, in some cases, plastic buckets catching water spillage from the ceilings. To say the least, they were less than ideal conditions. We have an opportunity now to remedy those deficiencies. We are working on that, but we have not resolved them by a long shot. Given the current economic climate, the Government is morally obliged to address those needs and the Opposition is morally obliged to ensure the Government provides the necessary resources to bring about that revolution in accommodation that is required.

Other jurisdictions have developed facilities above and beyond the standards of our classroom accommodation over the years. It is a miracle some of our students were as good as they were coming out of that system and did not develop strange illnesses as a result of being confined to substandard accommodation for such a long time. It is unfair that students should have been expected to spend their educational years in substandard accommodation where they were cold, wet and miserable. It is a credit to the teaching profession, their parents who allowed them to continue their education and to themselves that they stuck with it and achieved their ultimate goals.

While we boast about how successful we have been, about our tiger economy and that at last we can keep our population at home, all that will be to no avail unless we can continue to expand and provide an enhanced level of education and educational facilities in the future to ensure we will have an investment in education in the future that will prevent the necessity for our population to emigrate and in the event of their having to do so, that they will be able to command employment at the top of the scale in their fields.

I compliment the Minister on introducing this legislation. I ask him to note the points made by the various speakers and to try to bring about change when it is deemed not to be necessary but when the necessity becomes visible, which is often a long time before it becomes necessary.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Bill. I declare an interest in this area in that I was a professional teacher before I was elected to this House and I am still a member of a teaching union. More importantly, I am a parent with a number of children in the education system, which means I have a real interest in this Bill.

I welcome the Bill. The need for a teaching council has been long discussed and spoken about in academia over the years. I am perplexed because any teacher I have asked about this Bill in recent weeks knows nothing about it. I do not know whether that is the fault of the union or the Department, but teachers know very little about a Bill with the potential to become the most far-reaching legislation to affect them in a long time. I ask the Minister of State and the Department to publicise the fact that we are discussing this Bill. Teachers should be informed of what is in the Bill and what it aims to achieve. It is amazing that teachers know nothing about this and perhaps the Minister of State will tell us in his reply what has been done to inform teachers about this legislation. I know that the unions and certain parent bodies are involved but individual teachers are not.

The general aim of the Bill is to promote teaching as a profession, which is a laudable aim to which we can all aspire. That is also the case with the professional development of teachers and aiming to maintain and improve the quality of teaching in the State. The Bill provides for the establishment of standards for education and training of teachers, to provide for the registration and regulation of teachers, to enhance professional standards and competence and to establish a teaching council. Nobody could find fault with those general aims of the Bill. However, when one gets into the detail of the Bill one can make points that may be recognised by those who read the account of these debates later.

We seem to be setting up a lot of councils. In years to come if a Deputy wants to raise a matter relating to an individual teacher will he be told by the Chair that the Minister has no responsibility in this area as it is the responsibility of the council? This is happening more and more. Are we giving powers to different bodies to the extent that questions may arise about accountability and democracy? The council could be called before an Oireachtas Committee to discuss what it is doing, as happens with other State agencies, but if a Deputy seeks information about this council, for instance, there should be a provision in the Bill allowing the Deputy access to that information by way of a parliamentary question. I have made the same point about other Bills. The Chair will have an interest in this matter; we must be careful not to distance ourselves too much from what is happening in society.

The Bill seeks to establish, review and maintain codes of professional conduct for teachers which will include standards of teaching, knowledge, skills and competence. That is very welcome. Charging teachers with misconduct is also discussed in the Bill without being specific as to what misconduct might be. The Minister might expand on this on Committee Stage. Section 40 states that professional misconduct refers to a teacher engaged in any improper conduct in his or her professional capacity. Therefore, professional misconduct is improper conduct, which may be fair enough, but we do not know what it is. We should have examples because it could mean anything.

A teacher must know what to teach and how to teach. All Members will acknowledge that a teacher's influence never stops. We can all remember the teacher we admired and looked up to, the teacher who inspired us. We can also remember the teacher who struggled in the classroom. There is a lot of talk at present about monitoring and evaluating teachers but there are terrible examples from the past of teachers being victimised by inspectors. That has changed totally but the fear is still there and such stories of victimisation are told by older teachers in every staff room in Ireland. That has changed and the inspectorate is fantastic nowadays. If a teacher is struggling and finding it difficult to teach, this council should work to assist, support and help that teacher rather than seek punitive measures. It is important that is done and I ask the Minister of State to take it on board.

The Bill refers to retraining teachers, which is crucially important. A teacher qualifies with a higher diploma in education after a basic degree but may not take part in any serious in-service training for years afterwards. The quality of such training was not very good until recently – it was one day here and one day there. That is no good and serves to disrupt the school because while the teacher is away his or her class is covered by someone else and loses a full day's instruction. Those students are losing out because the teacher is away. We need to arrange a system whereby teachers may have a block of in-service days each year, outside school time if necessary. It should be organised so that they can be substituted by someone with similar qualifications while they are out. That teacher could then spend a month or two weeks retraining. One must have such blocks of time because single days are a waste of time. It will be expensive but it will be worth it.

We must not only look at what is taught and how the subject matter is presented by the teacher, we must also look at how the teacher relates to his or her students in the classroom. That is very important. Unfortunately, it is not covered adequately in many training courses for teachers and is not covered later by in-service training.

Teachers are often asked to solve the problems of society. Society has a problem with drug abuse, for example, and the schools are asked to deal with it. An information pack is produced and the school is told to deal with it. Producing a pack does not work; it is not as simple as that. If there is a problem with suicide in society teachers are told to deal with the problem in the classroom. These are serious issues and teachers must be highly trained to deal with them. There have been criticisms of various programmes relating to sexuality. We must be careful not to expect too much from schools and teachers without providing them with support, back-up and resources. I would challenge the Minister of State to talk about sexuality to a classroom of 30 teenagers on an ongoing basis. One is better off with a small group of six to eight students where one can relate to them one to one but that will take resources and different management styles in schools.

There has been much talk recently about the need to introduce league tables or something similar. That may come up in the course of the debate on this Bill because we are discussing ways to review teacher performance. The argument has been made that if a highly skilled teacher is working with a class that is highly motivated, with good home support, that teacher will achieve very good results. Even if the teacher is not highly skilled, he or she will still achieve good results with that class. However, if a highly skilled teacher is working with a large class that is not motivated, with no home support or encouragement, he or she will find it difficult to achieve good results. I am talking about A's and B's in honour subjects; that is how these matters are measured. That teacher might actually be working harder and achieving much more than a teacher with a so-called good class, so we have to be careful when we talk about evaluating teachers.

If I read it correctly the thrust of the Bill, which I agree with, is to positively support the teachers and to put in place support mechanisms and incentives for retraining teachers. I hope the Teaching Council does that. A teacher who is not performing, and I am speaking as a teacher, does terrible damage not only to the students but also to the school as a whole because of the ripple effect in other classrooms. We have to find ways of supporting those teachers. Up to now they were encouraged to leave the profession but perhaps it would be better to find other ways in which that teacher's skills and experience could be employed in the educational system because we are finding it difficult to attract people into the profession.

I want to talk about the ongoing strike. A number of school days have been lost and unless something is done soon, we will lose a lot more. These days are being lost to secondary schools only. The other schools are carrying on as normal. These secondary school students are facing a leaving certificate examination in which they will compete with each other for points. That is not the best system but it is the only one we have. I put it to the Minister of State that if we have one set of students who will lose out on their schooling while another will not, the examination will be a little unbalanced. That is unfair on the students who lose out. I plead with the Minister of State, on behalf of parents, to engage with the ASTI and try to reach a resolution. That is important. The Government has said ASTI is not in the partnership programme so it will not talk to it but that is not good enough. We have to try to resolve this dispute for the sake of the students, the parents and the teachers. Teachers do not want to be on strike. It is not a decision they have taken lightly.

I mentioned earlier the issue of in-service training. Part of the problem of in-service training is that it breaks the sustained period of instruction. It is important that students have a sustained period of instruction over the period. Sustained periods of instruction in classrooms are also broken by sporting activities. I am putting this forward as an issue and not because I am against sport in any way. As my colleague, Deputy Creed, mentioned earlier, it is vitally important that we expand and develop sport and physical fitness in schools and in society generally, but if half a class are at a football match every Friday, one can see how that can develop because teachers have to attend these matches. We need to examine other ways of recognising the importance of sport and activities that occur during school time and try to build those into the school year so that more people can take part in them.

I am told that the pupil-teacher ratio in secondary schools in Ireland is the highest in Europe. That should not be the case and it is a problem we should move to address. I tabled a question on the pupil-teacher ratio yesterday in terms of the psychological service. I knew the position was bad but I did not know it was as bad as it is. From looking at the figures I received from the Minister for Education and Science yesterday, and I thank him for his comprehensive reply, it seems that some work is being done but much more needs to be done in this area. Again, we are talking about the professional conduct of teachers and teaching as a profession but if only one child in a classroom is disruptive, for whatever reason, he or she can disrupt the entire school, and it is extraordinarily difficult to deal with that problem. Teachers need training on how to deal with that but they also need the services of professional psychologists to assist them.

I understand that the average number of schools per psychologist is 39. Each psychologist has 39 schools to deal with. The average number of second level students per psychologist is 89. That means they are working flat out. I know many of the educational psychologists are drafted into other areas as well but the number of such psychologists in our schools needs to be increased dramatically. Some psychologists have 54 schools to visit and some of those schools would have 300, 400 or 500 students. How can they help teachers in any way? We should not establish a Teaching Council to monitor teaching without putting in the other supports that teachers need.

We have recognised over recent years the many other challenges that are faced in the classroom – attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia – and they all need to be addressed and supported. I know of a parent in Cork who has been waiting months to have a child assessed in the clinic in St. Finbarr's. What will the school do? Expel the child? It is not the child's fault. The child has a condition that needs to be treated in some way.

I could go on at length about the Bill. The question of agricultural education needs to be examined. The pressure on principals, caretakers and secretarial staff is enormous. Principals have a huge role to play in the development of teachers but they cannot do it because they are too busy pushing paper. They need more support.

The ancient Greeks had a very low view of teachers. They said, "Lo, there goes another pedagogue". I do not want that to be the case here. I want our teachers to be held in high esteem but to do that we must support and reward them. I ask the Minister of State to intervene and get this dispute sorted out.

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. I compliment the Minister and the Government on bringing this legislation forward. It is worthwhile and it will play a pivotal role in the future of education. It is the type of legislation of which all political parties should be proud. It will bring about a situation whereby people can feel there is a mechanism they can use to deal with any type of complaints. This will bring order to the education sector, particularly regarding the teaching profession. A number of Members who contributed to this debate are also teachers. Perhaps we should prevent them running for the Dáil as it would provide a large number of additional teachers.

Section 6 is fundamental to the Bill and provides that the objects of the council shall be to regulate the teaching profession and the professional conduct of teachers, to establish and promote the maintenance and improvement of standards and to encourage the on-going education and training of teachers throughout their careers. These are worthwhile objectives to which we should all aspire, particularly teachers.

I am not a teacher but friends of mine are members of the profession. These people complain about the lack of in-service and on-going training and feel the Department is failing to place emphasis on these areas. Many changes have taken place in teaching over the past ten or 15 years as a result of which on-going education and training of teachers is extremely important.

Teachers are also concerned about the cost of this provision for which they will have to pay. When established, I hope the Teaching Council will have the financial wherewithal to provide proper on-going education and training for teachers. It is imperative that teachers are able to deal with whatever arises in the classroom over the coming years as there will be significant changes in the way children are taught as a result of the Internet, computerisation and such developments. It is difficult for older teachers to keep up to date with these new ideas and systems and it would be unfair on pupils and teachers if they were unable to avail of modern facilities because teachers did not receive proper training. I agree with the Bill's objectives but funding must be made available so that proper on-going education can be provided for teachers who consider it necessary.

The availability of teachers has been a serious difficulty over recent years and I have raised this issue on numerous occasions in the House. Fewer people, particularly men, are entering the profession. It is difficult to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio if there are not enough teachers. The biggest difficulty in attracting people to the profession is the perception that teachers' pay is not as good as in the private sector. I will not go into this issue now but it will have to be examined.

I am a former member of a VEC and was a member of an interview board for science teachers. A number of well qualified teachers interviewed by that board did not have the ceard teastas and so were prohibited from taking up the post. I do not understand why it is necessary to have this Irish qualification to teach science, English, mathematics or any subject, apart from Irish. I hope the Department will consider this anomaly which should be removed as it is unnecessary for second level teachers to have the ceard teastas unless they are teaching Irish. This qualification is prohibiting some very good teachers from entering the profession.

A number of primary school teachers in Northern Ireland are willing to teach in the Republic but the difficulty with Irish is causing problems. I mentioned this issue to Deputy Browne who was an eminent primary school headmaster and produced many excellent students in Carlow. The Deputy told me that Irish is an important part of the primary school system, both in terms of learning the language and other cultural aspects. As a result it would not be easy to introduce a system which would allow people who did not have Irish into the primary sector. I spoke to Senator O'Toole about this issue and the INTO has stated it does not have a great difficulty taking teachers from Northern Ireland, even if they are not proficient in Irish. I hope the Teaching Council will deal with that issue.

I am a little concerned about the size of the council as outlined in section 10. There is a difficulty in that there are so many teaching bodies and primary, second level and third level institutions which wish to be involved in the council. However, the idea of 37 individuals sitting on the council sends shivers down my spine. One has to limit the number of members if one is to have a chance of reaching decisions and preventing the council from becoming a talking shop. There is no way of achieving this objective in a democratic way as all sectors of education wish to be represented on the board. However, 37 is a large and unwieldy number. I hope I am proved wrong but I am concerned the council could become a talking shop which will find it difficult to make decisions. That would be an appalling vista as the fundamental rationale behind this legislation is to provide help for the teaching profession, parents and pupils. I am concerned that the size of the council will prevent it from making decisions.

Section 40 defines professional misconduct by a registered teacher and section 43 provides for the removal or suspension of a teacher from the register. These are important sections as there are teachers who are not teaching properly and who should not be in the profession. One of the negative aspects of the teaching profession is that it is difficult to remove teachers who are not performing. Fitness to teach, as covered in Part V of the Bill, will play a very important role.

My only concern relates to the complaints made to us as Members of the Oireachtas about instances that have taken place in a classroom, be they very serious or not so serious. Parents are often afraid to make a complaint to a school because they feel their child could subsequently find it very difficult in the school and the other teachers might decide the child is a troublemaker and support the teacher. The Teaching Council has an extremely important role to play in that regard. It would be good if the Teaching Council could convey to parents that they can make complaints in confidence and that their children will not be affected. At the same time there has to be a balance. I am not suggesting all pupils and parents are correct. Some may, for whatever reason, dislike a teacher and make a complaint for the sake of it which will not stand up. People must feel confident that they can make a complaint which will be dealt with fairly from the point of view of the pupil and the teacher. That should be emphasised strongly in the Bill.

Primary education should be given as much funding as possible. If we want to achieve social equality and rid our society of social injustice, it is important that all children have the opportunity to receive a decent primary education. If I ever had the opportunity to be in Cabinet I would fight very hard for funding for the primary sector and work from there up. Education played an important role in the 1940s and 1950s. If one does not receive a good grounding in primary education one does not have a chance of going on to second level and certainly not to third level. If we really want to get rid of social exclusion, which is much more prevalent in large cities and urban areas than in my constituency, we must focus on education methods in primary education. If children drop out of school before they finish primary education or shortly afterwards they will find it very difficult to go back into the system. I would like more emphasis to be placed on primary education.

I come from a small rural community in County Leitrim. Several parents have contacted me about a school where the first class has had six different teachers in the past two years, none of whom were trained and all of whom were substitute teachers. It is difficult enough for a child in first class to have to deal with one or two teachers in a year but to have to deal with six is mindboggling. I have no idea how one resolves the problem but it is countrywide. I hope the Government will try to put something in place to bring extra teachers into the system as quickly as possible.

There are also complaints about the methods used in remedial teaching. Several parents who have approached me believe those teaching their children in remedial classes are not properly trained and that, apart from fewer numbers in the class, they are dealing with the children in the same way as they would deal with them in a general class. Such classes may have only two or three children compared with 20 in other classes. Parents complain that these teachers do not know the role of a remedial teacher and that they put pressure on the children. I am not an expert, I am merely stating what I have heard in my clinics over several years. Is there ongoing education and training for remedial teachers? Do remedial teachers take courses before starting to teach children who are regarded as being educationally a little slow.

Several of my colleagues have raised the issue of accommodation in second level education and at primary level. The Department of Education and Science must play a role in this. My colleague, Deputy Creed, said the Minister has to decide in September on the number of children that will be on the school roll the following September. Perhaps there is some way that system could be changed.

Carrick-on-Shannon community school was built four years ago to take 500 pupils and there are 850 pupils in it. It has eight prefab buildings; it previously had 20. This is awful in this day and age, and I do not know who is to blame. I was a member of Leitrim VEC at the time and we banged heads with the Department of Education in Athlone to try to convince it to build a school to take 650 pupils. The school now has severe problems and I have no doubt the same applies countrywide. Whatever can be done to evolve that should be done. The same is happening in primary schools, but not to the same extent.

Several teachers have complained to me about the increased amount of administration entering the system. I do not want the Department of Education and Science to end up like the health boards where most of the money is going on administration. If that happens in education, God help us. Whatever legislation is introduced, I ask the Minister to minimise the amount of administration necessary. It is important the money is spent on the first rung of the ladder, on students, teachers and facilities – capital expenditure. If the administrators get their hands on it, it will go all over the place and there will be meetings about meetings. I want the Minister to ensure that does not happen.

Most people spoke about the teachers' strike. I ask the Minister to enter serious negotiations with the teachers tomorrow because the current situation is unfair on the students. I do not know who is right or wrong—

We discourage Members from becoming too involved in the issue. We are debating this legislation.

That is fair enough. I do not know who is right or who is wrong, but eventually the Minister will have sit down and talk to them so he should talk sooner rather than later.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bille mar tá sé thar am dó. Tá Bille den chaighdeán céanna ag na dochtúirí agus ag na h-altraí leis na blianta agus is ag na múinteoirí atá an t-eolas faoi na deacrachtaí, na fadhbanna agus na riachtanais sa chóras oideachais. Le cabhair na múinteoirí a bheidh ar an gComhairle agus le cabhair na ndaoine nach múinteoirí iad ba chóir go mbeadh toradh maith don chóras oideachais ar fad.

I am a member of the ethics committee and I should declare that I have a slight interest in the teaching profession, lest anything I say be held against me later. I welcome the Bill for a specific reason to which I have referred on a number of occasions. I have always defended teachers who do what is becoming a more difficult job. However, I have never defended bad teachers. People fall into the latter category for several reasons and until now there has never been a system for removing a bad teacher. It was grossly unfair to children, parents and schools that teachers who were not doing their jobs could continue to work for their entire careers.

The people to whom I refer often pulled the wool over inspectors' eyes by using diplomacy, soft talk and plámás. Good teachers often became flustered or excited when inspectors visited schools because they felt that no matter how good a job they were doing it was not good enough.

I hope the Bill will provide the opportunity to deal with teachers who, perhaps for health reasons or other considerations, are not able to do the job they are paid to do. In my opinion the teaching profession will gain from the fact that, like doctors, solicitors, etc., if a person is struck off the roll because of incompetence, misconduct or whatever, it will show that teachers want certain standards to apply and that they are prepared to deal with matters that affect them. That is a welcome development.

The Bill also deals with teacher training. Because my words of wisdom often go unheard in the Dáil, I reiterate that teacher training courses should focus much more on teaching skills. When I was in teacher training college many years ago we were hammered if we did something wrong. When we left training college, however, we had a good idea of what was involved when one stood in front of a class. The main aim was to impart knowledge and try to get children to understand it.

Many people who become teachers now have already pursued academic careers and they have majored in history, French or some other subject. I do not believe that adequate emphasis is placed on teaching skills. It is a complete waste of time if students cannot understand the subjects that one is trying to teach. That is what makes teaching different from most other jobs. I accept that I am prejudiced in favour of teachers but in the past people had a ridiculous perception of them and believed that all they did was go to work at 9 a.m., write a few sums on the board and leave again at 3 p.m.

If a carpenter works hard he will fit a number of windows or doors in the course of any given day and a typist will type so many letters. However, at the end of any day I spent teaching I could not quantify what I had achieved because I was never sure how much of the information I had imparted had been taken on board by the children. Teachers must go out of their way and work hard to ensure that their students are taking on board what they are saying.

In recent days I have seen interviews with many third level academics and those who claim to be experts on the strike and on teaching. However, those people deal with adults who may or may not choose to attend lectures. There is no pressure on these people because if students fail their examinations it is simply because they did not do the work during the year. Some of the worst lecturers I encountered during my career taught at third level. I recall one old lady who was nearly 90 years old talking to herself at a blackboard. One of her students, who since completed a doctorate in old Irish, used to give lectures in the local hotel afterwards. I should not have referred to old Irish because someone might recognise the lecturer. However, I am sure she is in Heaven talking to the angels in old Irish at this stage.

I saw a third level lecturer on television recently who purported to be an expert on teaching. However, that person does nothing other than having information and imparting it to his students. At primary and secondary level, having the information is only half the job. One must be sure that the students one is teaching can give back that information, often in reply to a rather twisted question. Depending on how well they understood the information they will obtain a grade A, B or C. Teachers must deal with a great deal of pressure.

Things have changed since the days when one was faced with four rows of desks in a classroom and if anybody moved their desk one would ask them what they were doing. Under the new regime classrooms are filled with a constant bab ble. This drove older teachers mad because they could not cope with a child-centred education system in which children are supposed to experiment and discover things. Is there any point in children trying to discover an item of information that has been known for the past 1,000 years when it could be imparted to them directly?

The higher diploma in education focuses on the philosophy of education, the teachings of Aristotle, etc. That is fine but such philosophies are not worth a damn when one is trying to impart information in a classroom. In my opinion, the colleges which offer the higher diploma in education and the teacher training colleges for primary teachers should place special emphasis on the skill or art of teaching.

Previous speakers referred to teachers from Northern Ireland and England and Deputy Reynolds mentioned my views on that subject. If we are i ndáiríre about the restoration of the Irish language and if Irish is supposed to permeate primary school classrooms, how can a person from Northern Ireland with no knowledge of Irish be expected to teach here? In theory and, in many cases, in practice, many teachers do not treat Irish as a subject,per se. The language is supposed to permeate children's consciousness by encouraging them to use terms such as “An bhfuil cead agam dul amach” etc. I cannot see how a person without a knowledge of Irish could do justice to a primary school class.

Irish is an important subject. Leaving aside its cultural and patriotic importance, one must take note of the fact that it is an integral part of the examinations process. It is unfair to children to miss a year of learning Irish in school because their teacher might not be proficient in the language. That is why I am worried about the employment of teachers from outside the State in primary schools.

At post-primary level, there are several subjects where Irish is an unnecessary barrier. If one is teaching science, mathematics or history, one need not teach them through Irish in most instances. There should be no barrier to employing teachers from outside the jurisdiction. However, there is a distinction between primary and post-primary education in respect of the teaching of Irish.

Section 15 states that Deputies and other elected representatives shall be disqualified from employment in any capacity by the council.

Debate adjourned.