Yes. The vocational service has the disadvantage, of course, that it is not compulsory, and in the rural districts, owing to the emergency conditions the schools have suffered, I am afraid, rather severely. In order to maintain a system of rural continuation education we must have centres which are reasonably large to enable us to give full-time employment to staffs of teachers who will teach not only the ordinary continuation subjects, Irish, English, religious instruction, arithmetic or elementary mathematics, as well as metal work or woodwork, and domestic economy and crafts on the other hand for boys and girls, respectively. We have to have a certain attendance, a certain nucleus. Then, again, we have to be fairly certain that we are going to get a regular attendance and that we are likely to secure the interest of the people so that our rural experiment would be a success. We have to get teachers who will be enthusiastic, who will not merely regard their work as a routine job in which so many hours' duty per day, distastefully or otherwise, has to be put in but as a labour of love, something in which one goes all out to give one's best for the benefit of the pupils.
I do not think that our people realise the advantages of vocational education sufficiently, and it is quite clear from the remarks of Senator Baxter that even members of committees seem not to have a very clear idea as to what exactly is aimed at. We are not aiming at the objective that a job must be there at the end. We cannot guarantee jobs. The secondary schools or the universities cannot guarantee jobs. If we satisfy ourselves that as well as giving the pupil some adaptability, some self-reliance and some power to advance himself in the way of making himself more efficient in securing a livelihood we will be doing very well indeed. But, surely we ought not to leave out of consideration the influence on the character of the child. The ordinary traits or virtues of honesty, truthfulness, giving a good day's work for a good day's pay and the other homely virtues are of primary and fundamental importance— far more so, perhaps, than the ordinary literary subjects taught in these schools. I am afraid that we have got the idea that the vocational schools or the national schools should make up for defects in parental training and discipline. No matter how hard our teachers work, we cannot expect them to make up for the defects of bad homes, neglect of parents and children getting beyond control. The educational system ought not to be attacked if we have social evils of that character. There must be something more fundamental than weaknesses in our education to account for these evils. Senator O'Donnell referred to a child as not being able to write. I have a recollection that there was a question as to whether that child was quite normal. A certain proportion of children in our schools are not up to the average in intelligence and do not make the same progress, particularly in book learning, as the ordinary child does. It may very well happen that an employer will get a succession of those children when they become adolescent. As they are closed out from other avenues of employment, they may be driven to seek low-grade employment, if one could associate low-grade employment with our new Irish industries. Is it not possible that that is the type of youngster who would be driven to seek such employment?
Senator Baxter complains of children getting 10/- a week. Even 10/- a week in a country town was not scoffed at in pre-war days if the youngster happened to be living at home. It was regarded as a start which would lead to something better. I do not know whether the Senator, after his 20 years' experience of vocational education, has made up his mind whether our children should, in the long run, be educated to remain at home with their families or to go elsewhere for employment. There does not seem to be a very clear idea in County Cavan as to what we are driving at. Surely we cannot expect all our children to remain on the land only because it is the healthiest life and because it is most important, socially and nationally, to have a virile and intelligent population on the land. We cannot ask all our young country people to remain unless the prospects are, at least, comparable with those in other walks of life. We are not encouraging commercial work in these schools and in many of them no commercial work is being done. I think that the figure is at least 40 per cent. If local committees wish to give a special trend to vocational education in their areas, if they wish to relate it specially to agriculture or the predominant industry in the locality, they are encouraged to do so in every possible way.
It has been suggested that there is not sufficient advice. In the same speech, we are told that there is too much direction from headquarters. Senator Mulcahy complained that there was not sufficient professional advice—whatever that might mean. I have here a pamphlet of 26 pages dealing with the organisation of wholetime continuation courses in borough, urban and county areas. Every member of every vocational committee in the State got a copy of this memorandum. There is no need to quote from it. It deals with the organisation of continuation education in borough areas, first; then in urban areas and finally in county areas. It gives particulars of the type of course which ought to be provided in each case. It deals with the type of school, gives details of the programmes, deals with the teaching staff, explains how attendance should be encouraged, how school buildings should be maintained and so forth. Reference is made to religious instruction, social education, and the type of courses suitable for training for domestic work. There is also a reference to vocational guidance and advice. It is emphasised that it is the duty of the chief executive officers, the headmasters, and the committees— particularly the headmasters — to advise parents of students as to what courses are suitable for them.
Statements have been made that nothing is being done in the way of planning for the post-war period. That is not so. The matters referred to, such as the school leaving age, are under careful consideration. The questions of school buildings, remuneration of teachers, school programmes and the extension of continuation education, if possible, after the emergency, are the subject of consideration. It would be an extraordinary thing if, in planning our future development in its more material aspects, we should neglect education. That is not the position.
I do not know why Senators, including those who have been speaking with reference to particular organisations of teachers, should suggest that teachers' conditions are not as good as they should be. We constantly hear vague statements of complaint, such as the reference made by Senator O'Donnell to a particular case. When examined home, these are found to be loose generalisations which are not based on careful appreciation or understanding of, or even acquaintance with, the circumstances. When we are told by Senator Mulcahy that we are shockingly weak in our educational foundations—presumably in the primary schools—one would like to know on what evidence that statement is based. The Senator says that nearly everybody is dissatisfied with some branch or other of our education. Perhaps the explanation is that Irishmen like to have the right—whatever dictators may say—to have a grievance and a good grouse. I suppose it is just as easy, when one gets into the habit of blaming something outside for one's own defects, to hold the educational system responsible in this connection. Last year, we made, for the first time, the primary schools' certificate compulsory. Although we had not the advantage of the co-operation of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, we were able to carry out the examination fairly successfully generally throughout the country and we have now for the first time a fairly accurate picture in the results of that examination, of what the standard is. About 71 per cent. of the children passed the examination— and successes were not confined to the big schools. I am glad to say that the small rural schools did quite well. On the whole perhaps they did as well as the schools in the cities. If we have definite measures of attainment of that character, we can criticise them but we certainly are not likely to make very much progress in estimating the value of the work so long as we have only generalisations of the kind we have heard here to-day.
There is an objection, according to Senator Baxter, to the Minister's taking power. I am sufficiently long Minister now to know that there is always a body of rather vocal opinion in this Assembly which seems to object to any Minister having any powers. In what way is the business of the State, as I have asked in this House before, to be carried on or in what way is the national machinery to be kept going if the final decision— which in fact generally rests with the Minister—that will be admitted—is going to be taken away from him in such important questions as determining whether a teacher should be retained in his position, in a case, as is clear from the relevant clauses in the Bill, where the inefficiency of the teacher is of long standing, where it is incurable, where there can be no question but that everybody interested has been made fully aware of the circumstances and opportunities have been given to make representations?
At the present time, in the case of other branches of the service, inspectors of the Department of Education estimate the efficiency of the work. There may be Senators more idealistic in their views than I am who think that there is no need for inspectors, that we should leave everything to the teachers, relying, as apparently Senator Tierney would have us, on the principle that the teachers, being persons who have a proper sense of duty, will always carry out their work satisfactorily. Surely we know that no ordinary business could be maintained if there is not some control or direction, if there is not some check on the way the workers are doing their duty. The work of education, being much more technical, certainly does not require less supervision and control than such economic enterprises if they are to give efficient service. The inspectorial service, however, is not, as has been often alleged, the kind of service that exists only for the purposes of reporting weaknesses and supplying information. It should be the eyes and the ears of the Minister and should give him information as to what the actual conditions in the schools are, make recommendations where the inspectors think improvements should be made, and, where they think that defects exist, report these also. Inspectors should not take a jaundiced or a prejudiced view. They should give full credit to good work done and make all allowances, and officially are asked to make all allowances, for difficulties in the teachers' way. That is the position.
An inspector goes to a school and finds that he is not satisfied with the work of a teacher. He tells the teacher he is not satisfied, that he proposes to call at a later date and make a formal inspection of his work. When that formal inspection is made, if the inspector's original view is confirmed, that the teacher's work is unsatisfactory, he may, in the case of the vocational education service, report the matter to the committee or, if he thinks that the inefficiency or unsatisfactory nature of the teacher's work is not sufficiently grave, he may say: "Well, I propose to look at your work again", but, normally, he would mention the matter to the committee in the yearly report on the working of the scheme.
If the teacher's service continues unsatisfactory, and a position arises that over a period of time he has not been able to satisfy the inspectors that his work has been of an efficient nature, the question of his removal from office or from his post may arise. It may arise on the annual report, or it may arise through a special report of the inspector, but in any event, as I have said in the other House, if the question of whether the teacher is to remain in his post is to depend, as was suggested, on the report of an inspector, I can categorically say that the teacher would be given the opportunity of having a senior or another inspector make an independent inspection of his work. Those who have such a lack of confidence in bureaucratic control, as they call it, may say—and I would not blame them for suggesting—if the arguments about the Minister not having any mind of his own are true, that his officials express his views; that even in a case where a teacher is being removed, the Minister has so little conception of his duties as not to give the matter his personal attention and examine it carefully himself, but is content to take whatever is put up to him by his officers as sufficient—if that is the position, certainly those who spoke of administrative convenience, and so on, have some justification; but that is not the position. The Minister, as lawyers present know, in any case of this kind, is bound to examine the matter himself carefully. If a case should go to court, and it transpires that the Minister has not examined the matter for himself carefully, it may very well be that the courts will reverse his decision.
The Minister is also responsible, apart from the personal responsibility which I assume a Minister would naturally have, and which I have pointed out, to the Oireachtas. He also has the position with regard to vocational education teachers that the committee is there, and, as Senator Maguire has rightly pointed out—my experience in the two Houses so far would certainly agree with his view of the situation—the amount of criticism we have heard of the clauses affecting the vocational teachers would lead one to believe that there would be no lack of agitation and representation and organisation if the position arose that the Minister arbitrarily attempted to remove a teacher from office without good cause.
Any member of the Legislature who has seen all the representations put forward during the past few months since this measure was introduced, will feel, I think, that there is a great deal in what Senator Maguire says. If the Minister for Agriculture and myself had included in the Local Government Act, of 1941, clauses dealing with the officers who are responsible to us, then nothing whatever would have been heard of all these grievances and suggestions of penalisation and victimisation, because, presumably, when the Oireachtas accepted these clauses almost word for word as Senator O'Donovan has pointed out, with regard to the main body of local government officials, it surely could not stultify itself by taking up the position that what was sauce for the goose should not be sauce for the gander, and that the vocational education service should be taken away completely from the authority of local government and put on an entirely new footing.
It may be all right, as Senator Tierney points out, looking at the matter very cursorily, to suggest—and there may be something in it—that we should try to make the vocational education service entirely independent of local government, but how can it be done? The vocational education schemes are financed through the local rates and it is the function of the Local Government Department to come in at every stage in the budget of the local authority. The Minister for Local Government, also, is the authority with regard to superannuation, and while it is possible that you may have a difference in the treatment of different types of officers of a local authority, one can see that uniformity, however much Senator Tierney may dislike it, is desirable in regard to the treatment of all local officers. For example, on the question of superannuation, it is certainly much better to have uniformity than to have a scheme with anomalies and incongruities at every step.
The county council, in the long run, is the body which deals with superannuation. On them rests the responsibility. They may not give any superannuation whatever. But, except the usual phrases about "administrative convenience" and "bureaucratic uniformity," I think we have not had anything to substantiate the case which apparently has been made that one body of officers who are clearly and undoubtedly officers of the local authority, even though they may be members of an educational service, should be picked out for special treatment. On what basis is the claim made that they should be accorded special treatment? The Vocational Education Act, 1930, Section 99 (3) provides:—
Every officer transferred by this section shall not, in the service of the education vocational committee to which he is so transferred, receive less remuneration or, subject to the provisions of this section, be subject to less beneficial conditions of service than the remuneration to which he was entitled and the conditions of service to which he was subject in the service to which he was so transferred.
According to that clause, the legal right, it seems to me, to which these officers are entitled is that they should enjoy conditions of service and remuneration not less beneficial than those in the service from which they were transferred, that is from the local government service. The Local Government Act, 1941, has amended those conditions of service, and, therefore, I think I am fully entitled to ask the Seanad to pass into law a Bill which proposes to impose the same conditions of service upon vocational education officers as obtain for officers of local authorities generally. That is one of the objects of this Bill, and it is not merely a question of "bureaucratic uniformity".
In the case of the retiral age, as in the clause dealing with the removal from office, I maintain that in the highest interest of the service and of the children and people of this country, the Minister should be in a position first, to fix a retiral age, and secondly, to remove, in cases where the committee fails to do its duty by removing, an unsatisfactory officer from his post. The Minister should be given power to enable him to step in to do so if he finds it necessary. These provisions have already been passed in regard to local government officers and, as far as I remember, there was no great opposition to them in either House. They were passed into law and they control the servants of local authorities generally throughout the country. The committees cannot have that technical knowledge except through the inspectors' annual reports, or through special incidental reports—they cannot in the nature of things have that knowledge of the efficiency of teachers in particular that the Minister for Education will have.
The inspectors are the officers, and, as I said, are the eyes and ears of the Minister, and if he and they are doing their duty, he would be fully acquainted with the position under the different schemes. He would be acquainted with the relative efficiency and otherwise of the work under the schemes. The Act which we are amending, as regards the removal of officers by the Minister provides in Section 27:—
"The Minister may, by order, either upon or without any suggestion or complaint from a vocational education committee, remove from his office or employment any paid officer or servant of a vocational education committee (whether appointed by or transferred by this Act to such committee) whom he considers unfit or incompetent to perform his duties, or who at any time refuses or wilfully neglects his duties or any of them, and may direct that a fit and proper person be appointed in his place in accordance with the law relating to appointments to such office or employment."
Sub-section (2) of the same section says:—
"The Minister shall not remove under this section from his office an officer or servant of a vocational education committee unless and until he has caused a local inquiry to be held under this Act in relation to the performance by such officer or servant of his duties of such officer or servant and considered the report of the person who held such local inquiry."
I submit that a local inquiry is always in fact held in regard to officers where there is any question of misconduct or failure to discharge their duties properly.
In regard to officers, where there is any question of misconduct or failure to discharge their duties the Minister would certainly hold an inquiry but, unfortunately the local inquiry that is referred to in that section is later on set out in Section 105, as being of a legal character: one in which evidence is taken under oath, witnesses are summoned and counsel employed. I fail to see why the Minister for Education should be bound, in a case where he is satisfied that a teacher has been giving such unsatisfactory service over a period of time that he is clearly unfit to be retained in his position, where the information to that effect is in the hands of the committee through the inspector's report and where, if it is necessary, the report of a further or senior inspector is made—where all these facts are brought before the committee, and the committee fails to take action, I submit that the Minister should not be bound to hold a sworn local inquiry to determine that matter any further.
The facts are known; they would probably be very fully reported in the local Press, where the proceedings of the committees are so often reported, and I suggest that the provision that where the Minister is satisfied, as a result of a local inquiry that any of the statutory grounds for removal from office exists as regards the holder of an office, the Minister may by Order remove such holder from such office, should not apply in case of continued inefficiency as a teacher. An alternative to sub-section (2) of Section 8 of the Bill is provided in sub-section (3) which says:—
"Where the Minister is satisfied that the holder of an office has failed to perform satisfactorily the duties of such office and is of opinion that he is unfit to hold such office, the Minister may (a) send by registered post to such holder at the principal office of the vocational education committee under which he holds such office a notice stating the said opinion, and (b) on the day on which he sends the notice, send by registered post a copy thereof to the said vocational education committee; and if the Minister, after the expiration of 14 days from the day on which he sends the notice and the copy therof and after consideration of the representations, if any, made to him by such holder or the vocational education committee, remains of the said opinion, he may by Order remove such holder from such office."
Senator Tierney spoke of the Minister's notice as removing the teacher or officer from office. The Minister's notice conveys to the teacher that, in the Minister's opinion, he is satisfied that the teacher has failed to perform satisfactorily the duties of his office and is of opinion that he is unfit to hold such office, and I suggest that the representations that can be made either by the committee or the holder of the office, or by both, within the fortnight, and the fact that the Minister has to consider these, is quite ample safeguard and is, if the matter be considered closely, as advantageous to the holder of the office as the holding of an inquiry which, in my opinion, held publicly in the legal way I have described, is not really necessary or suitable, nor can it bring forward any fresh evidence on the technical questions as to whether the teacher's inefficiency is long-standing, whether it is beyond control, and whether it is likely to continue.
Senator Colgan objected to the provision dealing with retiral from office. One would have imagined, from the representations that Senators have received, that it was never contemplated that a retiral age should be introduced but that teachers were to be allowed to continue in the vocational service until they were unable to walk to their classrooms, contrary to what takes place in the primary or secondary branches where teachers have to retire at 65 years of age and where, in the case of women teachers in the primary schools, as Senator Mrs. Concannon has pointed out, except in cases of special hardship, we have been reluctantly compelled to ask them to retire at 60 because of the amount of unemployment among young teachers. In the case of persons who are in the category that they entered the service rather late in life and will not have, let us say, 25 years' service, which would give them a reasonable pension—the pension in the case of officers of local authorities is calculated at a yearly sum of two-thirds of the salary, so that even after 25 years' service I think that unless there are special circumstances it cannot be said that an officer who would be retired, let us say, at 65 would be doing badly —if there are special circumstances; for example, if the officer has given service as a Gaelic League teacher or organiser, he can be dealt with by giving him certain added years towards his pension, and that has been done already.