Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 10 Feb 1994

Vol. 139 No. 4

National Education Convention Report: Motion.

I move:

"That Seanad Éireann notes the Report on the National Education Convention."

I welcome the Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach, to the House.

I thank the Senators for allowing me to share with them the next stage in the movement towards the White Paper on education and the legislation which will follow.

The Programme for a Partnership Government indicates the strong commitment of this Government to fundamental reform of our education system through a process of open and democratic consultation. The programme further indicates that in order to be relevant all parties in the educational process need to have a meaningful say in the direction and detail of the reform measures. As the Members of this House are aware, the Government intends to produce a White Paper by the end of the summer, followed by the first comprehensive education Bill in the history of the State.

The intense debate on the reform of the education system began in earnest in June 1992 with the publication of the Green Paper, "Education for a Changing World". This was followed by written responses from nearly 1,000 interested parties, a series of major public meetings throughout the country organised by my Department, and countless conferences, seminars and symposia on the theme of education reform.

This is an exciting and challenging time in Irish education. The system has never been subjected to such rigorous review, sustained discussion and extensive debate. This unprecedented dialogue laid a secure foundation for the National Education Convention. Traditionally, the approach to policy making in Irish education has been characterised by bilateral negotiations between the Department of Education and major interest groups.

Prior to the preparation of the White Paper on education, I felt the time was opportune to provide the partners in education with a multilateral forum to deliberate further on key issues in the area of educational reform. I was convinced that such a forum would be of enormous benefit to the partners in providing them with an opportunity to analyse the major issues involved, taking account of their varying positions. My overall objective in launching the convention was to provide the participants with a major opportunity to influence the Government in formulating future educational policy and in making final decisions on the White Paper.

The National Education Convention was held last October and it proved to be a democratic event unprecedented in the history of Irish education. The convention and its subsequent report marked a significant milestone in the process of reflection and debate concerning the place of education in an ever-changing world. It brought together representatives from 42 organisations covering the whole spectrum of education. It provided the participants with an opportunity to clarify viewpoints, to question, probe and analyse varying perspectives. It fostered multilateral dialogue and improved mutual understanding between the partners in education. The convention will contribute a lot to shaping the future structures of Irish education. It gave education a centre stage position in Irish public life at a vital time during the ongoing debate. It also generated constructive dialogue on the issues and challenges facing all of us who are concerned with providing the best possible education for our people.

As the first Labour Party Minister for Education in the history of the State, I welcome this dialogue, participation and recognition of the importance of education. The Labour Party has long recognised the importance of education for our young people, our community and our society. As long ago as 1925 the Labour Party published "Labour Policy on Education", which was the report of a special committee set up in May 1924 to advise the party on the reorganisation of the educational system. The foresight of the authors of this report is striking today, almost 70 years after the committee's work. Local education authorities were recommended in the 1925 report. Adult education was addressed at length and the section on the medical care, feeding and attendance of pupils laid stress on alleviating disadvantage in our schools.

It is tempting to draw parallels between the 1925 report and current issues and to speculate on what would have been the effect if the enlightened recommendations of the 1925 report had been put into effect. As a Labour Minister for Education almost 70 years after the publication of the report, I feel privileged to be able to encourage the debate which it attempted to stimulate so long ago.

My invitation to all the partners in education to participate in the convention showed my recognition of the importance of this debate and openness in the policy making process. I was delighted that the convention debate showed a real and genuine regard for the pupil and student and how they could benefit from our educational provision. I was also delighted that the convention debate marked a major change in the way education policy is to be formulated for the next generation of pupils in Ireland.

I attended all sessions and had the opportunity to listen in a public way to the views and concerns of all the partners in education. During the nine days of the convention I listened with great interest to debate and discussion on issues ranging from pre-school to adult education. A wide range of major issues was discussed, as well as many precise and specific topics.

I was delighted to note that the convention aroused intense interest throughout Europe and further afield. The acclaimed national and international reputation and academic standing of the chairperson, the secretary general and the secretariat of the convention signalled quite clearly the importance which I attached to the convention process. From the outset, I emphasised the independence of the chairperson, the secretary general and secretariat. In the public forum I would like to pay special tribute to their dedicated commitment and formidable expertise for which the people owe them a great debt of gratitude.

The final task of the secretariat was to draw up an independent report on the work of the convention with a view to helping the policy making process and the preparation of the White Paper on education. The report, which was published in January, reports succinctly on the presentations, debates and discussions at the convention. It analyses, interprets and evaluates the perspectives put forward. I welcome the report and I congratulate the secretariat of the convention on the clarity and frankness with which they addressed the issues.

The report has 17 sections, containing subdivisions. It covers a wide spectrum of educational issues. It also provides an analytical overview of the debate. The report states clearly that an evolutionary process of change is required, working to a plan based on clear principles and involving ongoing consultation. It advises policy makers to think through problems of implementation before decisions are finally made.

In keeping with the spirit of openness and democracy, I have ensured that the convention report has been given the widest distribution possible. My Department has forwarded copies of the report to all schools, educational institutions and to all those who participated in the convention. Copies have been sent to every public library in the country and I have arranged for the publication of the report in Irish in the near future.

I now propose to address a number of issues of fundamental importance which were considered at the convention and highlighted in the convention report.

The people have always seen education as a priority. They have had immense faith in the power of education to improve the welfare and well-being of the individual and of society. Without doubt, education will play an even more crucial role in the social, intellectual, cultural, economic and political life of our country as we face into a new century. Any society which hopes to develop and improve the quality of life of its citizens needs to plan for their future education in a sophisticated and sustained way. As Minister for Education, I note with satisfaction that the convention report addresses how we can advance this planning process.

Irish society sets its sights high in relation to the quality of its education system. We realise that education in Ireland has a major influence in ensuring that the potential of each individual is achieved for their own well-being and for that of society. At present over one third of our population is directly involved in education on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, every member of our society is directly or indirectly affected by our education and training systems. Relative to our wealth as a nation, Ireland devotes a considerable proportion of its resources to education. We devote 20 per cent of total Government expenditure to education and 6 per cent of GDP.

Many changes are happening in Irish society which necessitate the planning of new policies, structures and procedures. The convention report stresses that changes such as increased participation in education, demographic trends and changing patterns of employment have major implications for future educational policy and procedures. It notes that curricular review and provision to meet the varied needs of our students also necessitate changing many aspects of our education system. In addition, it emphasises that equality of opportunity and improvement of access for the disadvantaged and those with special needs have further implications for change.

Quality assurance, accountability, teacher pre-service and in-service training, assessment and the decentralisation of authority are all matters which will inform educational thinking and modify educational objectives for the future. Irish education has a proud heritage, and great thought needs to be given to changing an education system which incorporates the values and ideals of such a rich heritage. We have much to be proud of in Irish education. We have very firm foundations on which to build. We need not and will not jettison what has served us well as we now plan how to serve the country even better in the future.

The greatest challenge facing all of us is to accept the necessity for change. At the best of times, educational change is complex and slow. Therefore, a sustained effort is required from all of the partners in education to move the system in a new direction and to restructure it in the light of new needs, circumstances and conditions. The convention report reflects a general consensus that the time is now opportune for progress in changing the system. There is a special obligation on all of us to get the planning right since the decisions we make will shape the future of our education system well into the next century.

Professor John Coolahan, in his authoritative volume Irish Education: Its History and Structure, states:

Decisions on education tend to have long term effects and it behoves Irish society to ensure that the policy decisions taken in the last two decades of this century are those that will best serve our increasing youth population and the needs of our society generally.

If change is to be successfully followed through, then sustained attention needs to be paid to the strategy for change, as was noted in the report of the convention. The strategy for successful education change is a highly complex and sensitive undertaking. We must make every effort to ensure that planned educational changes on paper are fully implemented in the classroom. The convention report provides a sophisticated analysis of this change process in education.

It is crucially important also to remember that education is an integrated part of the wider political, social, economic and cultural framework of our country's development. The Programme for a Partnership Government states that we regard education as the key to our future prosperity and to equality and equal opportunities for all our citizens.

This clearly affirms this Government's belief in the value of education and its confidence about the ability of the education system to contribute to a more just, socially progressive and economically successful society in Ireland.

In recent months the publication of two important and influential reports by the National Economic and Social Council further highlighted this view. These reports, entitled Education and Training Policies for Economic and Social Development and A Strategy for Competitiveness, Growth and Employment, emphasised the close connection between education and employment opportunities in Ireland. No education system is perfect. Far too many of our young people leave school without any qualification. In some disadvantaged areas an unacceptably high percentage of pupils leave school with serious literacy and numeracy problems, while very few go on to third level. This has been highlighted by NESC and by the report on the National Education Convention.

As Minister for Education I am determined to improve our young people's life chances through promoting equity in education, through ensuring the retention of our young people in the system, and through ensuring access to educational qualifications by all our people. I am determined to bring about these measures of social and educational improvement in a manner which will be stable and lasting.

The National Development Plan, which by coincidence was published on the opening day of the convention, gives concrete expression to this Government's commitment to acknowledging education as the key to our future prosperity, and to equality and equal opportunities for all our citizens. It is against this philosophical background that the Government has committed £1,545 million over a six-year period to education. This is, of course, in addition to annual national budget funding.

The Programme for a Partnership Government states:

The structures of education will be made more democratic, with an emphasis on devolution. This will involve the development of democratic intermediate structures for the management of first and second level education.

The convention report raises key issues with regard to local education authorities. As Minister for Education I believe that the development of the local education authorities is of paramount importance to the reform of the education system. I will issue a paper, which I promised at the convention, which will set out broadly my thinking on local education authorities in terms of their underpinning principles and values, and the particular powers, duties and functions which they might have. Quite obviously, many aspects of the powers and duties of local education authorities will require significant further refinement at the implementation stage. I will give the fullest consideration to the comments and proposals of the partners, and indeed to those Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, in framing the final White Paper.

The National Education Convention represented a distinctive landmark in relation to parents. Their impressive public presentation and interactions with the secretariat emphasised their centre stage place in the education system. I share the convention's view of the critical importance of the role of parents in improving our young people's life chances. The school can only supplement and extend the education given formally and informally by the parents before the child comes to school and, indeed, throughout the child's school career. I fully acknowledge the primacy of the home in the education of the child.

The convention report emphasised that we in Ireland are particularly fortunate in our teachers. The NESC reports support the view that the most important resource in formal education is the teaching force and I am convinced of this. Down through the years our teachers have given unstinting and devoted service to many generations of young people. They have shown themselves to be both adaptable and forward-looking and have helped to pioneer many new developments in the curriculum, methodology and school organisation. The fact that the quality of education depends more on our teachers than on any other aspect of the system is a statement worth repeating.

In order to maintain a high quality teaching force, I am committed to ensuring that teachers, at all levels of the system, receive the most thorough and comprehensive pre-service training. They will also have access throughout their careers to locally delivered in-service training of the highest calibre. The quality and morale of the teaching force are of fundamental importance to the implementation of change. In recognition of this the National Development Plan provides £39 million for in-service training at primary and post-primary level, and £10 million at third level, over a six-year period.

The comprehensive range of proposals for educational change envisaged in the report on the National Education Convention involves significant increases in financial resources. No society has sufficient resources available to deliver all its educational aspirations. We naturally have conflicting claims for resources. As issues were explored at the convention, it became clear that many reforms were being recommended by participants which would have significant cost implications. High expectations of improvements were also in evidence.

In particular, the convention report stated that serious and sustained action is needed to remedy education inequalities and that pre-school and primary education need greater investment. The report also highlighted the need for an appropriate infrastructure to be put in place for third level expansion and for more investment in research within higher education. In addition, it sought increased resources for curricular improvements. It also sought support for parents through a variety of schemes and resourcing for adult and community education.

The overall cost of the reforms being discussed would be formidable. It is generally accepted that it would be impossible to undertake all the proposed improvements at the same time and that a planned prioritisation policy will be necessary. With regard to expenditure, the Programme for a Partnership Government sets out a four-year plan for increasing the level of the Government's financial commitment to education.

In my first year of office — the first year of the four-year plan of the Programme for Government — I succeeded in substantially increasing the Government's allocation to education to £1,612 million, an increase of 10 per cent on 1992. I have also secured a substantial increase in the 1994 budget allocation for education which is £1,792 million, an increase of 11 per cent on 1993. It is my clear intention to plan the resourcing of the education system for the future in a targeted way as finances are made available and in accordance with policy priorities. The convention report will assist me greatly in this regard.

As Minister for Education, it is my duty to determine policy in the forthcoming White Paper. Decisions which will have long term consequences will need to be taken. Without doubt the challenge ahead is significant but it also represents a great opportunity. We should set our sights high and explore all the possible ways forward at this crucial stage.

The achievement of major educational change is a very difficult process in any society. The degree of change envisaged for Irish education is very extensive. It is vital for the future of Ireland that its greatest resource, education, is planned for with wisdom, vision and courage. At the best of times educational change is complex and slow. Sustained effort is required to move the system in a new direction and to restructure it in the light of new needs, circumstances and conditions. There is an obligation on us to get the planning right. It is a time for self-examination, self-criticism and for innovative and creative thinking.

It is my intention to forge ahead with the preparation of the White Paper on the basis of the comprehensive consultation which has taken place. The White Paper, which I intend to publish before the end of the summer, will outline the Government's vision of the future of Irish education.

In conclusion, I wish to assure you of my commitment to work to the limits of my energy in the interests of maintaining and developing the quality of our education system. I have every confidence that together we can take further significant steps forward in educational progress. We can set the pattern for educational provision well into the next century. We can set this pattern in a manner which will be stable and lasting rather than transient and fleeting. The National Education Convention has moved us closer to these goals.

I welcome the Minister and I hope she will visit the House on many future occasions. The publication of the White Paper will be another milestone which will lead to further discussion. These are interesting times for education and we must have more discussion on the issue.

One could say that education is always at a crossroads. The Green Paper — Education for a Changing World — was published in June 1992 and we have been awaiting since then the White Paper which will clarify the issues and decide what direction we will take. The Minister for Education was correct to wait some time before publishing a White Paper because she needed time to settle into her Department. People involved in education also needed time to examine the concepts and proposals for change in the Green Paper. It is now time to proceed to the next stage and I am glad that the Minister has acknowledged that she will do so. We expect the White Paper to be published by next summer and many people await its publication with great interest.

This Minister and previous Ministers will proclaim that the education system is basically solid and has served us well. Others occasionally take a different view. I wish to discuss some aspects of education which have not served us well. Although it is easy to make value judgments in hindsight, we can pinpoint certain deficiencies which have retarded our development as a nation. The emphasis placed by universities on teaching, for example, to the detriment of research was a huge loss to the State. The absence of serious social and economic research undermined our ability to take well-informed decisions. Political debate was therefore arid and, while there never was and never is a shortage of opinions in this country, the empirical social and economic information which should underpin good decision making did not exist. We had to rely on ideas from outside, generally from English-speaking countries such as England and America. Therefore it is likely that many of the decisions made were not appropriate to a small economy like ours.

Our standard of living in the early part of this century was the same as that which existed in the rest of Europe yet, by 1960, we had fallen very far behind those countries. While other nations developed, we stagnated. I put part of the blame on the universities for our failure to exploit our natural resources, particularly in the agricultural sector, which would have lifted the economy during that period. Eventually we had to rely almost entirely on foreign investment before we finally decided to change gear.

The 1930 Education Act made provision for the establishment of vocational education committees. There is general agreement that for the next 38 years we refused to give the system scope to evolve. The inevitable result was that post-primary education was almost entirely academic and our ability to develop indigenous private sector industries was retarded. It is good to be aware of our mistakes so that we will plan better for the future.

The future evolution of education concerns us in this debate. The report on the National Education Convention is a useful document that will greatly assist debate, help to form opinions and contribute to decisions. It is incredible how long it takes for an idea to take root. I will cite an example of this which is somewhat out of context in this debate but illustrates my point. Throughout my adult life it has been common currency that an Irish person found it almost impossible to get a grant to set up an enterprise. We have all heard it a million times. One had to be a foreigner; if one spoke with a foreign accent one was guaranteed support. If one was Irish one got the bum's rush. While that was not the full story there was a degree of truth in it and it is only recently that we have come to realise the value of trying to develop our own native industries.

In the world of education I have listened to the same kind of complaint for many years. The Department, we are told, has a death grip on education. That is part of our folklore and I am glad to see that it is now widely accepted by Department officials and opinion formers as being detrimental to the proper development of our education system.

Government in Ireland is incredibly centralised and this has undoubtedly promoted an attitude whereby we look to Government for everything. We have become a cravenly dependent people. A good example of this centralism is the way in which the Department of the Environment sets the planning fees to be charged by each local authority in the performance of its planning function. It has being doing that intermittently since the State was founded. A local authority must charge £52 from 1 February to an individual who wants to seek planning permission for the erection of a dwelling. They may not charge £49 or £51 or £55, but must charge £52. That is a uniform charge and the Minister keeps unto himself the power to make that decision.

Local bureaucrats and local politicians should rebel against such paternalism. In matters such as this the local authorities should be allowed to exercise a decision making role. This is only a small illustration, but surely the local authority child should be allowed to grow to maturity. The same should apply to education. All administrative functions which could be handled at a lower level should be divested by the Department of Education. The local or regional authority should be responsible for administering the payroll and the various grants to schools and the other day to day tasks which the Department now handles. That would allow the Department to free itself to concentrate on policy formation, strategic planning and research. Given our past history, research would be an extremely important element of the Department's work. We cannot make informed decisions unless they are based on empirical information and that can only be gathered by proper research.

The board of management is a nominal structure at present. It should be allowed to exercise a maximum amount of administrative power. The devolution of powers and functions will be a major task and there will be serious difficulties to be overcome. The Department officials have given an indication that their vested interest is up for grabs. I welcome that. In Irish administration the vested interest at the top tends to hold on to everything. We often hear of demands from lower down, but seldom do we see those at the top in the administrative structure asking for devolution. It is a good starting point that the Department of Education and those involved in education at all levels accept that devolution is good and necessary.

I know the Minister is aware that there will be resistance to democratisation. It is widely recognised that political patronage is rampant in the appointment of teachers in the vocational system. Many of us do not like to talk about it, but it exists and is embedded in the system. It has been part of the system since 1930. Teachers resent it and the Minister will have to root that out, particularly if she wants to bring in teachers who are working in the voluntary sector. They will have no truck with such business. They want fairness and equity and they want appointments made on an equitable basis, with the best candidates being chosen for the positions. That is not the case at present. It is incredible that in 1994 we still have such corruption in the system. I use the word corruption advisedly because that is the case. If democratisation and public accountability is to be introduced teachers will need to be reassured that they will not be slaves of patronage.

The voluntary sector, which is mainly denominational, will be anxious to see if there will be any ideological bias against their position in the White Paper. Vocational schools and voluntary schools, or non-denominational and denominational schools, have existed side by side in most towns. Parental choice is important and should be protected. An element of competition is a good motivator toward good performance and where there are problems to be ironed out, such as how to achieve gender balance, the quality of the educational experience coupled with parental satisfaction must be paramount. Many people would probably disagree with me on that point.

In towns where there is a single second level school it has been my experience that children are bussed to centres outside the catchment area. The information I have is that this happens in every place where there is a single post primary school. That underlines what I said about parental choice — we have to provide parents with a choice in education or they will seek it in another area. Of course, this creates its own inequity in that only those who can afford to travel will be able to do so.

From time to time one reads in the press details of a complaint from an industrialist that the products of the education system do not suit their requirements. Complaints about new recruits being unable to spell properly, being poor communicators or lacking some other skill are regularly made. I reject this lopsided utilitarian view that first and second level education should eventually prepare students for specific jobs. That is not the task that education is supposed to carry out. The education system should produce students who are capable of coping with adult life in all its intricacies and difficulties. It should assist individuals to recognise their own attributes and deficiencies. It should assist them in developing their intellectual and physical powers to the maximum of their capabilities, and the employers who want an electrician or a bookkeeper will have to train one themselves.

The convention spent a good deal of time discussing educational philosophy and the aims and objectives of education have been dealt with in detail. The report is interesting to read because it is the most comprehensive treatment the subject has had. It is complete and was produced by the convention where all the participants in education were present and from that point of view it has a legitimacy. The report recognises "the legitimate plurality of educational purposes and evidence of a mature commitment to the achievement of balance in educational aims." The word balance is important because in these times, when society is finding it difficult to provide, spurious claims could be made for education. Education could be required to do tasks which are not part of its remit. This utilitarian approach manifested itself in parts of the Green Paper.

The report says:

...the achievement of balance in educational aims: to the pursuit of a harmony between academic achievements and spiritual qualities, between liberal learning and vocational aptitude, between artistic capabilities and technical endeavours, between personal accomplishments and social responsibilities. Within such a balance, the key concern would be to enable each pupil to discover the nature and scope of his or her particular potentials and limitations; to enable each and every pupil to make the most of these potentials; to overcome limitations wherever this is possible; to mitigate their effects wherever it is not. In short educational policy and endeavour would be concerned to enable each pupil appropriately from moral and spiritual tradition, and from the plenitude of human learning, something of an abiding and sustaining sense of identity, amid the ubiquity of change in contemporary society.

That paragraph forms a good basis for discussion and an almost complete philosophical base for the future evolution of education. All the various players were represented at the convention. It was excellent that they could agree on such a statement.

Post-primary education is dominated by the examination system which has always had a disorienting effect on teaching and learning. My impression is that this matter did not lead to much discussion at the convention, although I may have missed mention of it when I read the report. Parents, students and teachers are all well aware the points rating based on the leaving certificate will open and close gates of opportunity for students. This system has always placed enormous pressure on teachers and students and has led to an unfair bias towards cramming for examinations. It has always been and continues to be a terrible intrusion into the classroom.

Continuous assessment throughout a pupil's life is a far more desirable option. In the modern world, accumulation of information and facts is of secondary importance; learning how to access and deal with information is far more important. As children progress through the system they should be given ample opportunity to research subject matter. A move towards project work has assisted this process but examinations and all they represent still cast a dark shadow over the system.

Moves towards continuous assessment will be difficult. It will change utterly the terms of reference and work practices in schools but it must be done. The current system places too much emphasis on cramming and teaching to the detriment of learning, research and personal development. It also produces people with an ability over a short stretch, who can cram the information they want for exam purposes. It tends to unbalance education. The final year in post-primary school is terribly busy. Students are ill at ease and are forced to carry a heavy load because of the importance attached to the final exam. One of the most important aims to be achieved during this discussion process is the freeing of the system from this dreadful burden.

In the short time we have today we will not be able to deal with all aspects of the system. I selected the matters most important to myself. I wanted to discuss the evolution of teacher training and in-service training, which has always been intermittent and only used to bring about a certain change. It should be institutionalised as a continuing process. We will have adequate opportunities over the next 12 months to two years to discuss these matters further.

I welcome the opportunity to listen to different views on this topic. It has been interesting to listen to the Minister, but she has not revealed very much. Perhaps it is appropriate that she should keep her views to herself at this stage and listen to others, rather than give her views too early and cause a clash of ideas which might lead to the system of consultation breaking down. I look forward to the evolution of ideas leading to the White Paper.

I welcome the report on the National Education Convention and it is timely that we have the opportunity to discuss it. At a time when education in Ireland is in a state of transition, the decision to hold the convention was wise and I commend the Minister for her foresight. The convention provides us with the most accurate picture to date of the state of education in Ireland as we move towards the next century. It is a snapshot of contemporary Irish education which provides us with a framework for debate on the reforms necessary to give this State the best possible education system.

The reform must not be rushed or hurried; it must respect the intrinsic value of the present system. We must also acknowledge and respect the commitment of those involved in the system. The convention was especially valuable in that it included submissions from all those groups and organisations directly and centrally involved in the education process and also from representatives of the social partners and other bodies.

Education is an issue which concerns us all, not only educational groups. It is vital that the debate on education is carried out in the most transparent and open manner possible. The convention was conducted in such a fashion. This should remain the case in the future as it is the only way to ensure the public is fully involved in this debate. We cannot take an atmosphere for change for granted. Many people are yet to be convinced of the value of reform. An open debate will convince them of this necessity.

I was impressed with many aspects of the report, especially in relation to the apprehension about where the new structures might lead us. The National Education Convention was concerned with change in the structure of education in the context of the present centralised system. Centralised education meant the Department of Education dictated what was to happen and therefore often did not reflect the local needs of schools.

I am anxious about the new structures the Department of Education is establishing. The Department's new role will be as a policy maker, concerned with formal planning. The day to day running of schools will be left to a new tier, called the intermediate tier. I read the report carefully on this subject and I welcome the Minister's declaration today that she will have another debate on this part of the structure. I am concerned about the composition of the new local educational authority, its powers and its accountability to the Department and to the local boards of management. The geographical boundaries of the local education authorities are not clear. We may give them too much power and the form of accountability may need to be examined again.

The Minister spoke about the structure of the new boards of management. This also concerns me. Will the religious ethos of the particular school be reflected? What type of changes will be made in the composition of the board? It appears that the board will have too much power in relation to the quality of education and that the Minister has decided to divide the roles of the inspectorate and the board of management. I worry about that because the traditional style worked well. The role of the inspectorate is a good concept and I like the way the inspectorate gets involved with the teachers and the subject range in each type of school. I worry about the expertise of the board of management. Will it be capable of monitoring the quality of education? This seems to be the thrust of the new thinking and I am not too happy about that. I would like the Minister to have another look at this area.

When I knew that this report was to be discussed I spoke to many teachers. They do not know enough about the composition of the new board of management. They want further debate. They will ask us to tread carefully if it impinges on the role of the inspectorate. We have no difficulty with a vocational education committee system because that is already in place and community schools also have boards of management. However, in trustee-owned schools I worry about how the composition of the board will be reflected. There is concern about the religious ethos and that may have to be examined.

Regarding the new role of principals, we discussed the promotion of middle management to help the principal. I am not the devil's advocate in this because I am pleased with all aspects of this educational reform but I am putting down markers that we must talk again about the role of the principal. Some principals are excellent at their job but there are others who are not suited to their role in terms of the management of the school, future planning, a vision for the school, their relationship with staff and in-service courses. The Minister may have given too great a role to the principal without enough pre-planning as to what that role involves. We need to examine this carefully. From my experience, I know that principals can make or break a school. The principal is the manager and must ensure the school meets the needs of students. I would like the Minister to study carefully the procedure for the selection of principals and the composition of the interview boards. I am not happy that we have it right.

The vocational education committee system, has been criticised, but it was not such a bad system. I often sat on an interview board, and while I may not have had the expertise in relation to a particular teacher going for interview, I was able to assess personality. A person may have all the academic qualifications possible but they may not be suitable for a particular job. The academic element may not pick that up and there is a need for a cross section of people to assess all aspects of a person in terms of the specifications for a job. We should not throw out the baby with the bath water. The vocational education committee system has served this country well. If we introduce the new concept of the board of management, which would take over the employment of teachers, a cross section of interested groups is needed to carry out interviews.

The psychological and guidance services have not been adequately explored in this report. We are facing a complex system in the context of educational guidance. From November to February, guidance personnel have to deal with CAO and CAS forms and this is taking up much of their time. This has not been touched on in the report. I would like to explore what can be done to answer the needs of pupils. I refer in particular to the assessment of children, the diagnosis of learning difficulties, support services for teachers and special needs education. The list is endless. The psychological and guidance services have a large role to play.

Part of the report deals with educational psychological services for all schools. Some schools do well, such as vocational education committee schools, and the City of Dublin vocational education committee is a prize example in that it has its own psychological service. Perhaps this is the way forward and the new regional tiers should have a rationalised psychological service so that the needs of all the schools in each area will be met. Some schools have no educational guidance because they are small and have an insufficient number of students to qualify for such a service. They might get a visit from a psychologist or help in relation to counselling only once a year. Given the demands of every day living, it is important that there is a full time counsellor in every school who would liaise with the juvenile liaison officer, the home school link, the health centres and the social services in the area. The rationalisation of all of these agencies, in a co-ordinated way, would be of assistance in the disadvantaged areas. I welcome the statement in the report that the Minister intends to have this co-ordinated concept. We must seriously consider this if we are to give every child in need of help a chance to develop to his or her full potential.

I welcome the fact that every possible subject will be included in the second level curriculum. I am a little concerned about the new transition year which will replace the vocational preparation and training programme. I do not fully understand its purpose as it appears to be more of the same. Why must it be changed when it was working well? Confusion arises if the goal posts continue to be changed every two or three years. What is required is to create the right concept and the fundamental vision of what education is about at all levels, from primary through post primary, which is the level I am involved with, and on into third level.

There is talk now of a new leaving certificate programme, termed the LCAP, the leaving certificate applied programme. In addition, there is the LCVP, the leaving certificate vocational programme and the ordinary leaving certificate programme. There should be one programme, with perhaps higher, intermediate and lower level papers. The different names I have outlined create confusion among those outside the classroom, such as employers.

There was a concept similar to these programmes in the 1970s known as the foundation year. This was a preparation year for those who wished to work. It was not successful because once the employers decided that this was not an adequate leaving certificate programme, it designated students taking the programme as being less bright than others. There should be one leaving certificate programme but with higher, intermediate and lower level papers.

I believe strongly that this is the correct approach because I am working within the system and I find the present proposal confusing. Some reconsideration by the Minister would be desirable.

Teachers want more information and greater involvement. They are not clear about all aspects of the report. It is only now being placed in the public arena and this is our opportunity to have it debated. I worry as to whether there is enough time between now and next June to disseminate the report, particularly in the educational world. There are many chiefs and few Indians among teachers and they like to feel they are making an input to the deliberations on the report. We are not yet at that stage and I would like to pursue this issue further before proceeding with the White Paper.

I am disappointed that the Minister proposes to introduce the White Paper next June. I would welcome more time as I have many questions which have not been answered. I do not believe that I will receive these answers in the short run.

Regarding the new adult programmes which are being introduced, and especially the chance being afforded to those who are long term unemployed to get back to school or to be retrained for the workplace, there is a need to address how we can help those who require second chance education and how we can help with regard to a psychological input in this area. A substantial amount of in-service training is required for teachers. It is one thing to teach second level students but it is quite another to teach the long term unemployed who come back into the education system. The Department is expecting teachers to take over a class of students under the VTOS programme without the in-service training that is required. I put it to the Minister that there is a huge lack in that area and it is important that this in-service training be put in place immediately. It should include psychological training. Guidance counsellors have a substantial role to play in helping people back into the education system. Such transitions can be traumatic. The kinds of problems that are encountered in this area are different from the problems at adolescent level.

I welcome this report. Education is at a crossroads and the direction we take now will have crucial bearing on the future of society. The Minister has made a good start and I wish her well in her endeavours. I ask her to take note of my comments and not to rush the White Paper. It would be worthwhile to give all those partners who want to become involved in education time to give full consideration to the report.

I appreciate the Minister's devoting a full day for discussion on this report and her generosity in being prepared to take questions in this House. This is a progressive move and it is one which other Ministers might well take as an example.

I agree with the Minster's remarks regarding the commitment of the secretariat of the National Education Convention and the work it has put into producing this report. Its publication in January was a huge effort in itself.

The Minster spoke of the need to provide a catalyst for discussion, change and movement. There has been a huge debate in education over the past year and credit must be given to the Minister, who has shown her support in all areas for the unprecedented level of discussion.

In its report the National Education Convention has achieved an impossible task. It has pulled together all the aspects and views that the different bodies submitted to it. I understood from the Minster's statement in the House today that she spoke of the White Paper being published in late summer as opposed to June. I believe that is a sufficient time for discussion.

I appreciate the movement that has taken place since the publication of the Green Paper, as evidenced from the presentation made by the Department of Education and the report of the National Education Convention. I wish to make reference to certain elements of the report as it is not possible to address every aspect of it. I also want to relate the report to the reality in Irish primary schools and the difficulties that would be experienced in trying to achieve the ideal objectives encapsulated both in the Green Paper and in the report.

Several reports on the curriculum have been produced in recent years. There was the report of the Primary Education Review Body approximately three or four years ago. This was followed by the Curriculum report, the Green Paper on education, the NESC report, the report of the Special Education Committee and later this year there is to be a White Paper. In addition a large section is devoted to education in the Programme for a Partnership Government, and similarly in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress and the new programme, the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. There is a huge body of activity in all of this. There is also an additional report, the OECD paper, Education at a Glance.

I compliment the Minister in that the submission by the Department of Education to the National Education Convention presented Irish education warts and all, and referred liberally to underfunding in aspects of education. I do not disagree with the figures given by the Minister about the about the proportion of Government expenditure and the percentage of GDP. In terms of making a connection between it and reality, the Minister will appreciate — this is confirmed by the presentation to the National Education Convention and in its report — the need to push resources towards primary level. I listened to Senator Ormonde discuss what is good about the vocational education system, but that relates to funding. Primary education is underfunded in comparison to second and third level. We have the lowest level of funding per pupil at primary level in the OECD.

According to the OECD report, infant classes in primary schools have approximately 28 or 29 pupils, three times the number in Belgium. These figures create a huge problem at primary level. The Minister is aware of this and it is clarified in the Programme for a Partnership Government. As long as primary education receives less funding than other primary education systems in the OECD, I will continue to press for change in that area. I recognise it is a problem for the Minister. Although she obtained a further 10 per cent from the Exchequer this year and that is to be welcomed, given the demands this year, it has done nothing to improve the relative position of primary as distinct from post primary and third level education.

I draw the Minister's attention to problems in the implementation of the curriculum. Yesterday I received a telephone call from teachers in County Cavan who were worried about the condition of their school. As I was in Cavan last night, I called to meet the parents and teachers in this school. Although I compliment the Minister on her announcement regarding the improvement in basic resources at primary level, the teachers in this school in Ballinagh must shovel coal into a pot-belly stove in order to heat the classroom. Teachers there cannot implement the curriculum the way they want.

The Minister has increased the allocation for primary education building this year from £18 million to £26 million, the largest increase since I have been involved in education. Although this increase is welcome, it will take a number of years before it is implemented. The Government should be more supportive of the Minister for Education by making more money available to sort out serious problems. The Department must accept that new schools are needed in places like Ballinagh where two prefabricated buildings set up in the year I began teaching are used.

When the INTO initiates a debate on such matters, it always centres on difficulties in implementing the curriculum. I appeal to the Minister, and I know she agrees, that pressure must be kept on the Government to ensure action is taken and these difficulties are wiped out. The local school is the focal point of the community and this must be addressed from that point of view.

The Minister in her speech referred to the prime position of parents in education. This is something I support. I also welcome the reference in recent documentation from the Department of Education to the constitutional prerogative of parents. It represents a change in the Department because in many cases it objected to parental choice being a factor in, for example, children progressing from one school to another. The choice of parents will now be a factor.

I disagree with Senator Ormonde in relation to the intermediate structure. The National Education Convention report did a significant job in explaining the various strands of opinion in that area. In doing so, it left this open for further discussion. It regarded this as a political decision. I often wonder if we allow enough time to discuss the political input into education at all levels, including the curriculum, and the need for those involved, including teachers, parents and students, to be answerable to the political system which the people devised in order to make decisions.

There has been a lot of consultation about the new local structure or intermediate tier. This is a good idea, but I have conditions which are important. Certain matters require a national approach, while others require a local one. In between this we have the intermediate sector and I agree that a psychological service, for example, could be administered through that tier. At national level, the Minister and the Department should determine class size, the staffing structure and how many teachers are appointed to a school of a particular size, but this should be monitored or implemented at local level. In addition, teacher salaries, allowances and budgeting for education should be decided at national level.

At local level — this is where I disagree with a number of Members — more authority should be given to boards of management. Boards of management, rather than an intermediate structure or tier should appoint teachers. I have no difficulty with the intermediate structure being represented as part of the appointment process, but it should be done locally. The monitoring and delivery of in-service education, psychological services and, indeed, the building programme should be carried out locally.

The National Education Convention report has left it open for the Minister to make decisions. I have no doubt that there will be many rows in that regard. However, consultation has taken place and the Minister will now put forward proposals and present a White Paper. People should respond to that and put forward opposing points of view if necessary. Many groups have come together on this issue. The INTO was uncertain about an intermediate tier in education, but during the course of debate it came around and the same may be said about other organisations. It must be defined before people are asked to support or oppose it.

Boards of management must have authority. I listened to what previous speakers said about the expertise of boards of management in making decisions. There must be an understanding between the partners in education — school authorities, teachers, parents and the Department. Usually the Department is left out of that equation because it is seen as a facilitator in bringing the other groups together. However, I do not accept that. I believe the Department represents the political input into education which is part of the democratic structure, but it is also part of a partnership. They all have roles to play. They can be equal in terms of their partnership if people decide to take this approach. However, their roles are not identical. They do not all have expertise in the same area. Parents are not teachers and teachers, very often, are not parents. Their expertise lies in different directions. Problems are being created by a lack of understanding about the inputs made by different people. If a parent enrols a child in the local school he or she is exercising a constitutional prerogative, which is to either educate the child at home or ask the State school system to take over the child's education. The latter is a vote of confidence in the teacher but cannot be followed by telling the teacher how to educate the child. I am always clear on this matter. It is easier if people are clear about it.

I spend a great deal of time arguing with the Minister about various aspects and points of education, but I recognise that political decisions have to be made. The Minister mentioned that teachers form a huge resource and I am delighted with this. If they are a resource and have something to say to the Minister, it is said from a professional base. They may need to be overruled for political reasons. This is the way the system must work. As long as things are done clearly and openly, each one has a different role. This also applies to school authorities. Their role has been examined under the microscope in recent times. They have their own role, pressures and objectives. As long as they are part of the system, their input must be considered. For a number of years we in the INTO have been trying to define the roles of patrons and owners of schools as opposed to the managers of schools. This would help to clarify the involvement of the Churches in education.

The approach taken in the education convention to school rationalisation and smaller schools, and the fact that such rationalisation would be done through consultation, gave me great heart. No one can make a decision about the size of a school better than the people who live in the local area, whether they be parents, teachers or the local community. This is the way forward. It is not a matter of being for or against closing schools but of looking at the needs of all of them and ensuring the best possible use of resources.

The report was careful not to go too far into the curricular area because it has been dealt with in great detail by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. I wish to refer to a topical issue. On the radio this morning the Minister referred to the need for a sex education programme in schools. The impression was given in the course of the interview, which set my phone hopping for the last few hours, that the Stay Safe programme was a sex education one. The Minister and I know it is a safety programme and does not include any sex education module. Many people who are opposed to the programme have tried to present it as a sex education one and have opposed it for that reason. We have been asking for a long time for movement in the area of a sex education programme at primary level.

Over the last two weeks the sympathy and concern of the nation has been focused and transfixed on the vision of two young mothers with their children on the banks of a river, feeling abandoned and deserted. I listened to the Minister and compliment her on saying we all have to share responsibility for this. As general secretary of the largest teachers organisation in the primary education area, I also feel a sense of responsibility, and so do my members. I know this is a tricky area. Both the Minister and I agree, as do parents and everybody else, on the need for a sex education programme.

I said earlier that the partners in education have expertise in different areas. I see the definition of a curriculum as being the role of the professional area, with a small input from parents and management. A sex education programme bridges the grey area between the parental role, family responsibility and the responsibility of the school. It is the primary responsibility of the parents and family. If they do not take on this responsibility, we must ensure it is done somewhere else. On behalf of my own members, I say to the Minister that we will give her whatever support she needs in pushing this forward. We supported the development of the Stay Stafe programme, which took five years.

I ask the Minister to look at the need for such a programme. I say to her — and I hope she takes it in the way it is being offered — that I greatly resent that the Department of Health has responsibility for health and sex education. We do not ask the Department of the Environment to teach environmental studies and the Department of Equality and Law Reform to teach equality studies. This is an education matter and is for teaching and teachers. The Minister should establish a working party as soon as possible, representing the interests of parents, management, the Church, teachers and the Department. We can move forward, conscious of everybody's sensibilities.

I support the points made about a strong and vibrant inspectorate. I am worried about this issue. It is very much in the interests of teachers and parents that there be a vibrant, comprehensive inspectorate and advisory teachers.

The secretariat deserves all our congratulations. Through their report they have mightily pushed forward the discussion on education. The Minister can take credit for pointing the way and moving forward the debate on education. I hope it continues and look forward to a debate on another day on the White Paper and to dealing with other aspects and questions this afternoon.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach seo agus an comhrá atá romhainn inniu. Is antábhachtach an abhár seo, an t-oideachas. I welcome the Minister to the House and to the discussion of the report on the National Education Convention. This report is very long, it has 17 chapters. Therefore, our debate on it can only be a hit and miss one. The report is large enough to merit 17 debates, but I do not think the Minister has time to listen to us for 17 days in a row. I hope today she will get a flavour of our views on the report.

It makes two overriding points. The first is that the scale of change needed is dramatic. The second is that this change needs to be financed and resourced. I thank the Minister for giving a voice to all the participants and partners in education in the form of the National Education Convention. I know from personal experience that while the convention was in progress, groups that were not included in the original invitation were given an opportunity to air their views in a closed session.

John Coolahan, the editor of the report, indicated the value of the exercise. He stated in the report that "the Convention was a very significant dimension of the wide-ranging consultative process on the Green Paper. "He also called it "a forum for mature reflection and focused, debate". He stated that:

It set out to encourage participants to clarify viewpoints; to question, probe and analyse varying perspectives; to foster multilateral dialogue and improve mutual understanding between sectoral interests; to explore possibilities of new ways of doing things and to identify areas of actual or potential agreement between different interest groups.

As the Minister said, this was a departure by the Department of Education from the normal way of progressing. It was a departure from bilateral to multilateral dialogue, where everybody was expected to listen and view their own contributions in the light of those made by others. Education is important. We regard it as the key to future prosperity, equality and equal opportunity for all our citizens. The Minister referred to this when she quoted from the Programme for a Partnership Government.

Chapter 1 of this report states that "the State has a responsibility to set out educational principles and rights within which educational institutions may set out their philosophical approach, while respecting such rights". One of the chief defects of the Green Paper was the absence of such philosophy. This gave it a commercial and utilitarian overtone which caused great concern to many people, particularly members of the Labour Party. Therefore, I welcome the discussion on the whole philosophy of education and what we want from education.

Education has always been important to Irish people. Anecdotes abound of the sacrifices made by generations of Irish people, both here and abroad, to ensure success through education. The demands on the educational system are even greater today than in the past. The decisions which we have been asked to consider are potentially of historical importance. Great care is needed to ensure that as many of these demands as possible are met and that the foundations which we set in place now in the White Paper are secure and will last into the next century.

Before any foundations are laid we need to look at the structures which are already there and identify those which need to be retained, altered or completely dismantled. In many ways the Minister will need the prayer of St. Francis: "Oh Lord, grant me the grace to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference". Her task will be like that of Solomon trying to decide between conflicting interests.

There has been much discussion today of the new intermediate tier and what geographic, demographic or political form it will take. However, it is vitally important for education to become more democratic. The public needs to have a say in the type of education which it is funding. If the changes which are identified as necessary and cited in this report are to come about they will have to be funded. According to this report £478 million is required. I know that we can call on the EU to fund part of it but many of the necessary changes will have to be resourced within our own society. That means, whether we like it or not, taxation. Somebody somewhere is going to have to give part of their income to the Government to provide for education. It must be spelled out quite clearly that somebody has to pay, the money will not come down from heaven. Therefore, if people are being asked to pay for a system it is important that they should have a say in that system.

People should also be warned that those who pay most need not necessarily be the ones who will benefit most. We must ensure that there is a transfer of resources from those who can afford it to those who cannot. Every report on education emphasises the need to target education at the lowest possible level, as Senator O'Toole would agree. Primary and pre-school education needs to be targeted and funded. Those in disadvantaged areas or with disadvantages should be helped. Few people will disagree with that in principle. However, when it comes down to reality one finds resistance to change. Many people pay lip service to ridding inequality from our society but when it comes to putting their hands into their pockets their cries and screams can be heard from Wexford to Belmullet.

I am wary at the moment. I continuously hear people praising our education system. It is not bad but there is a complacency that our education system is the best in the world and that we produce the most educated people. If that is the case, how come 10 per cent of our school going population have difficulty with literacy and numeracy, as quoted in page 69 of this report? In international tests in those areas we rate average at best and in the area of science we rate considerably below average. Although our expenditure per pupil is 6 per cent of GNP, it is nevertheless low by international standards.

If we want to improve those statistics we need to invest heavily in our education system, which I cannot emphasise strongly enough. We need to co-ordinate the services which are provided to our schools. I have no doubt that closer liaison between the Departments of Health, Social Welfare and Education and the local authorities would contribute toward helping many of the people who fall behind in school and out of the system.

It is easy enough to target disadvantaged areas. Even in rural areas we can point out towns which are in need of pre-schooling for disadvantaged children, for example. Nevertheless, throughout the community we have pockets of children who are disadvantaged but live in areas which might not be regarded as disadvantaged. These children need to be identified early. There is no point in waiting until a child is eight or nine years old. As a child of three or four years does not go to school, perhaps a liaison with the community nurse is needed — improving that system also needs resources — to spot children who need help.

It is important to provide regular health checks for children at school to spot hearing, sight and other health problems which might otherwise not be noticed, particularly if the level of parenting is not great. Parents will sometimes not notice these things. Health, sight or general learning defects are often not really identified until they become obvious, at which stage remedial action is required. Earlier identification would be much easier and less costly.

The role of teachers is vital and must be resourced. They need as much and as good a training as can be afforded and there should be ample opportunity for them to avail of in-service courses. The idea of teachers giving up five days holidays to get three days' occasional leave for in-service courses is a hit and miss affair and rarely tackles the area. Teachers would need to go back to school for a few months at a time to learn more about the subjects that either interest them or that they feel they need to upgrade.

There needs to be more flexibility with teachers. There should be a greater pool of specialist teachers and the report on the National Education Convention specifies this. It is impossible for one person to be an expert in sports, arts and crafts, music, the Irish language, history and geography. Some teachers will have a natural inclination towards art or music, for example, and their speciality should be recognised and allowances made for that teacher to use and impart their skills to as wide a number of children as possible.

There is also the need to phase out underachieving teachers in our system. Perhaps it would be unfair to remove them from the system completely. Maybe it is the stresses of teaching that has caused them to underperform. Reducing the number of hours of teaching may be the solution to the problem. It is the same for teachers about to retire. It is difficult to tell teachers that one day they are teaching and another day they are not. Their experience over many years could be used, even for a few hours a week, to help new teachers. They could monitor young teachers and work in tandem with them.

The role of the inspectorate is discussed at great length in this report. I am especially taken with the suggestion that their role should be two tiered. The inspectorate should ensure that the school is maintaining the educational standards laid down by the Department of Education, but it should also act as a consultant to help in any areas of difficulty that may exist. A policy making inspectorate, which could be called in to consult on areas of difficulty if a programme is to be implemented, should be user-friendly. At the moment some teachers feel that they, like the children, are being subjected to tests when an inspector comes into their classroom. Teachers will often criticise the inspector as someone who has moved away from the profession and not being aware of the day to day problems experienced by the teacher. In some cases the inspectors are resented by the teachers and this should not be the case. There should be a greater flow of information between them.

At second level, I welcome the idea of a head of a department — an English or Irish language teacher, for example — putting their knowledge of their subject forward to the extent that they would become the implementors of school policy in matters such as choosing textbooks, etc. There is little consultation between teachers of the same subjects in many schools. One teacher may use textbook A while another may use textbook B, resulting in enormous confusion and cost to the parents.

Both the primary and secondary sectors of education need to have an adequate provision of secretarial, caretaker and technical services. No teacher should be expected to be a nurse or a caretaker. Senator O'Toole said that teachers in some schools often had to shovel in coal or to clean up after sick children. It disturbs the class. I am glad the Minister, since coming into office, has made provision for extra caretaking and secretarial staff for disadvantaged schools. Up to now most of the caretaking and secretarial staff have been recruited from FÁS, which, while good, is not a long term solution to the problem.

I will conclude by stressing the importance of ensuring greater access for children from lower income groups to third level institutions. It is a glaring fault in our system that few children from working class backgrounds make it to university. We should look again at the payments of grants to enable these children to get to university.

First, I welcome the ongoing debate on the future of education in Ireland. Many challenges are being presented to teachers, the managers of schools and politicians to participate in this important reform process. The TUI perspective on education, as presented in their response to the Green Paper, sees education "as a public service, open to all on the basis of their needs and ability to benefit. There must be accountability and it must be freely co-educational, multi-denominational and non selective at point of entry, so that it serves all of the people of the State without distinction." This is a noble aspiration. I welcome the statement by the Minister that before publishing the White Paper, she published an official position paper on intermediate educational structures which was called for at the National Education Convention.

The proposals for change, as set out in the Green Paper and the educational commitments of the Programme for a Partnership Government, 1993-97, will involve significant additional expenditure on education if they are to be realised. It must be emphasised that the process now underway cannot hope to be successful without significant extra resources being made available for educational expenditure. We are given to understand there will be an extra amount of structural and cohesion funds available from the EU over the next six years. However, these will need to be supplemented by increased national investment in education. I hope that the Government will back up the ideas and provide the funds that will chart the way forward to a new era in Irish education.

One of the most pleasing aspects to come out of the convention was the degree of agreement evident among the various parties. It was shown that the participants were willing to share in the task of contributing to formulating a philosophy of education. It is important that there is consensus because our future prosperity will rest on a highly educated and skilled workforce with continued growth in productivity. The decisions taken now will be of historic importance and great care is needed to ensure the best foundations are put in place, which will be durable and supportive of educational success in a new era.

On the intermediate educational tier, it is recommended that the authorities should incorporate responsibility for primary and post-primary schools in their areas and have responsibilities ranging from pre-school to adult education. There has been discussion of a gradual transitional approach facilitating the growth of such trust and new forms of partnership. It is envisaged that the new structure would subsume the existing vocational education committees but be influenced by their commitment to the disadvantaged, promoting technical education, the provision of adult education and curriculum development initiatives. It is suggested these should be seen as a new beginning with a much broader mix than the vocational sector holds currently.

If all sectors were to be expected to participate wholeheartedly in the new structures and form new partnership arrangements, it would seem necessary that a new start, albeit influenced by older traditions, should be undertaken. As one who has been involved in the vocational sector for all my working life and a member of County Galway Vocational Education Committee since 1985, it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to the vocational education committees for the marvellous work done in the promotion of education since 1930. I sincerely hope that any intermediate tier will be modelled on the current vocational education committee structure. I also hope that the vocational education committee will be strongly involved and represented on such tiers.

Over the years, the vocational education committee has made an enormous contribution to Irish education and the various vocational education committees have served the nation well. One of the great success stories of the vocational education committees over the years was the emergence, through the vocational education committee initiatives, of the regional technical colleges. It is sad that when these colleges became established — and they were the jewel in the vocational education committee's crown — they were removed from the control of the various vocational education committees and are now separate entities in education. I hope the vocational education committee will be given a pivotal role if there is any change in the education structure.

I have to voice my resentment at the maligning of appointments boards in the vocational education committee system. As Chairman of the Appointments Board of County Galway Vocational Education Committee, it is my duty to put on record that as far as I am concerned, the vocational education committee appointments boards are beyond reproach. During my time as chairman I have never seen a political appointment. I am sorry to have to disagree with my colleague but the discretion of the members of these boards who give their service voluntarily should not be called into question. My board is beyond reproach and has always acted impartially. I speak from experience, as somebody who has been on the inside. The appointments system is local, democratic, clear and open and I defy anybody with experience to say there is a better system.

The present boards of management in vocational education committee schools and in the community schools are running smoothly. The new boards of management in community schools which are given their own budgets are effectively the masters of their own destiny. They could provide a model for any future developments in the education sphere. Any new structures should learn from the good ideas in the vocational education committees, they could usefully look at the structures operating successfully in the vocational schools.

The area of adult education is also important and those involved in the National Education Convention agree that this is a growing area. Adult education has developed its own methods which are distinct from day time education. A vital area within the remit of the adult education sphere is that of adult literacy and early intervention here lessens the problems. It is vitally important that in the context of any developments in education a proper quota of remedial teachers be made available to schools.

In my parish of Lackagh, a rural parish in County Galway, there are four national schools with up to 500 students but there is not even one remedial teacher between the four schools. Where there are more than 400 students the services of a remedial teacher should be made available. I ask the Minister to address this problem.

The vocational education committee is the only group with statutory responsibility for adult education. There are many other providers of adult education and the diversity of these providers is both a strength and a weakness. The strength is the flexibility but the weakness is the duplication and lack of planning. The Department has commissioned a national survey to ascertain the exact number of those in need of literacy help. It is regrettable that there is no adult guidance service available. Women have major difficulties in the new VTOS courses which are coming on stream. The only people taken on are those on the live register.

I welcome the initiative and the statement that adult education boards are identified as having potential for development but should be more widely representative to include groups providing services. They should also have a separate budget within the local structure. The adult education organisers who have done trojan work with limited resources over the years should also be given a more important role. A teacher should be designated to deal with adult education in every school and there should also be a programme for the training of tutors. Adult education boards will become a very important section in the education structure in the future.

Another area which regretfully does not seem to have been addressed at the national convention are the highly successful outdoor education centres. This is a growing area which is providing much employment and giving people an opportunity to spend their time in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, no statutory recognition is given to those adult education centres. It is incumbent on the Minister to give statutory recognition which would allow the centres to form boards as they are becoming more important in the education world of today.

Part-time teachers have a more important role to play in Ireland today. There is a Labour Court decision of 17 July 1987, citation LCRI 1328 from which I would like to quote. It states:

The court recommends that if there is provision within the existing pension scheme for the inclusion of part-time workers, then teachers should be included in those terms.

The precedent has now been set with teachers who are job sharing — the majority of whom will never return to full-time job status — having pension entitlements. Conditions have generally been improved for part-time workers and it would seem only natural to make part-time teachers pensionable. I hope the Minister will have this matter examined immediately with a view to introducing pension entitlements in the first instance for all eligible part-time teachers.

I believe that the Minister is now legally bound to implement this pension entitlement since a precedent has been set by the Labour Court recommendation. The court recommended that if there is provision within the existing pension scheme for the inclusion of part-time workers, teachers should be included on those terms. This may come within the remit of the proposed teaching council which I welcome.

This is a very interesting time to be involved in education and I hope a consensus will be found that will help to improve the our education system. I also hope the Government will support this report and provide the finance necessary to enable the Minister to implement its proposals.

I commend the Minister for initiatives in education. So far she has been a breath of fresh air to the system. I wish her well. However, to implement these proposals finance must be an integral part of the package. I hope the Government has the commitment to provide that finance so that the policies outlined in the report can be implemented.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire agus comhghairdeas ar an dtuarascáil atá ós ár gcomhair.

I am delighted with this report. I was particularly delighted when I saw that, as long ago as 1925, the Minister's party carried out a survey and prepared a report on education. The section on medical care, feeding and attendance of pupils emphasised the necessity to alleviate disadvantage in schools. That was a problem in those days. I would love to read that report sometime, because it would be very different to any of the reports we read today.

We spend 20 per cent of total Government expenditure and 6 per cent of gross national product on education. When we first provided free education and set up the modern education system we were told that if we provided a good education there would be no unemployment, that people would create jobs for themselves and industry would grow. Unfortunately that has not happened and one of the reasons was that for too long we educated our children for the Civil Service or other safe jobs. We did not educate them for life; we did not educate them to create jobs. Those who went into business were referred to as speculators, manipulators and exploiters of labour. That was sad because it is the people in the private sector pay our wages.

I am delighted that Professor John Coolahan said that decisions on education tend to have long term effects and that it behoves Irish society to ensure that the policy decisions taken in the last two decades of this century will best serve our increasing youth population and the needs of society generally. I agree with Professor Coolahan but unfortunately, I do not think we will have an increasing population. The sad thing is that our population is dropping. Goldsmith said:

Ill fares the land to hast'ning ills a prey,

Where wealth accumulates and men decay;

I am afraid we are heading in that direction.

The report states that there will always be some small schools in the country given the distribution of the population and the need to serve minority religious groups. I am delighted to see that because one of the worst things that happened in this country was the abolition of small schools. This policy was initiated in the 1950s. I took grave exception to it and was nearly thrown out of my party because I opposed it. I still maintain that the closure of small rural schools was the first wrong step we took in education. I had big debates with very senior officials. They came to north Sligo and closed small schools against the wishes of the people. However, we put up such a fight that the system was changed. I am delighted this Minister does not intend to close small schools against the wishes of the people.

It is said that bringing children to those small schools has a great impact on community life. A survey was carried out in Scotland and they compared vertical and horizontal schooling. The vertical method was what we had, with infants, first, second and third classes in one room and fourth, fifth and sixth class in the other. It was discovered that where children were together in that formation with one teacher over three or four years, they made greater progress. When they moved to the new class it was not a new environment. They knew the teacher and they knew what was ahead of them because they had learned from watching the teacher dealing with the classes ahead of them. When they went into the master's school — as it was known — they went into fourth, fifth and sixth class. For the first year they were in a new environment but after that everything was familiar.

We all know that where there were many changes of teachers the pupils did not make so much progress. When a small Church of Ireland school with only 15 or 20 pupils was closed the pupils who went into a big school in Sligo were at least two years ahead of the children in that class.

Long ago, when children walked a mile or so to school they made friends. Their journeys home were like nature study walks. Maybe they would rob a bird's nest, an orchard or use a catapult to shoot for the insulators on telegraph poles, but it was all great education. They would be reprimanded by some old man or woman on the road if they stepped out of line, and this kept them under control. There were always philosophers to whom the children could talk on their way to and from school. They learned without realising it. When we closed the small schools, opened big schools and put the children on buses we lost a lot.

Now we have another system. If a child puts up their hand to ask the meaning of a word the teacher asks the class if anyone knows how to find out what the word means. Some other child might say the word can be found in the library and the teacher sends both children to the library to find the meaning of the word. That is a retrograde step, because children were spending half an hour searching for a word when the teacher could have written the meaning of the word on the blackboard, as they did in days of old. They explained the meaning of the word and the children stayed in the class.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

Before lunch I spoke about the vertical and horizontal groupings in national schools in the 1950s. I would like such groupings to be reintroduced. We had the vertical grouping in the old schools where first, second and third classes were in one room, and third, fourth and fifth classes were in another room. We now have horizontal groupings in schools. This is not good because children are changing teachers every year and going into a new environment. This means the teacher does not know the children and the children do not know the teacher. Small schools have an advantage over larger schools. It would be beneficial, both socially and educationally, to break the schools into small units, regardless of the cost.

One hears a lot about peer pressure. However, in the small group there is no support for the leader who is isolated. The larger schools are now experiencing this problem on a different scale. I would like to see a change in that regard.

My own vocational school published a book called, Time Cannot Dim, and it shows what was done in a rural technical school. We should have two streams of education, and the Culliton report agrees with me on that. We should have the academics, whom we always had and must continue to have. They should attend the colleges while our vocational schools should cater for people like myself who are good with their hands — I at least, when I had them because I made my living that way. The technical school was a great place and, as a graduate, I know it gave an education for life. The big mistake the vocational education committees made was when vocational teachers decided to become secondary teachers. This created a vacuum, which was filled by FÁS. The technical schools were the FÁS of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Those schools should have continued and we should return to such education.

At present our education system is geared towards failure. I compare it to pony jumping where there is one trophy and in order to win that trophy one keeps riding the jumps and eliminating people. This is the same as the educational points system where we are also eliminating people. We should have a certain standard and if that standard is reached, the student should qualify for third level education. The entry to third level colleges should be by interview or lottery.

Long ago people who did not get into colleges said it was bad luck, but they did not consider themselves a failure. Today, however, people feel they have failed if they do not get into a college. We are geared towards failure, but we must gear our education system towards success. Pressure to attain the one trophy and elimination through the points system could be responsible for many suicides among our youth today. We are putting too much pressure on them and that is unfair. We should set standards which need to be reached. Like pony jumping, if the same people do an examination a week later, different students will pass and this is what happens with an elimination and points system. It is not fair to students.

In the technical schools children were educated for life, not only for the day. Some 97 per cent of students who attended my school in Grange, County Sligo, are working today. Many of them are good entrepreneurs because they were good with their hands. In their last year the teacher allowed them to work at whatever they were good at and sent them out two or three days a week on work experience.

It is important for students to get work experience. Perhaps it would be a good idea to send children at the age of 16 into the university of reality, the workforce, to work and earn their living for a year, although many may remain dependent on the State. Many people worked in England and elsewhere for a year to make money. In my day a person had to work to get money and that is the way it is in Hong Kong today. One must work in order to live. Perhaps it might be too harsh to return to that, but we want to give young people work experience. If they got work experience for a year there would be fewer dropouts from colleges because they would go back to college after working on a building site, in a supermarket or in some other business. They would know what they wanted to do and they would know their real vocation in life.

Career guidance counsellors cannot look into crystal balls and see what people are capable of doing. However, if students were allowed to work for themselves and find their own level they would return to colleges. We would then have a better education system when those children had experienced a taste of what it was like to work in the open world. They would be able to do a course in discipline and public relations.

If we are to succeed, and if young people are to get work, they must learn to create their own work. The day of the secure job in the Civil Service or the Garda Síochána is gone. In my day a person had to learn how to get a job. We must return to this method. Education is at the crossroads and I appeal to the Minister to realise this. The following is what the Minister should do:

There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.

The range of issues raised by this report is so wide that we must be cryptic in our comments. I congratulate the Minister for her courage in summoning this convention and the Department for its courage in agreeing to be cross-examined in public, instead of relying on the combination of furtiveness and self-righteousness which characterises too much of our administrative culture. Its willingness to do so can only enhance public confidence in the calibre of the Department, which has already gained from its participation in this exercise. I also congratulate the secretariat for this excellent report which is far above the quality of the average report normally acceptable, unfortunately, in this State.

There is cause for genuine satisfaction with the proceedings and outcome of the convention. My main reservation is that relatively little of the report concerns itself with the curriculum. I appreciate there are other bodies whose main task focuses on that; but the curriculum, together with the quality of the teacher, is the main mechanism we have for ensuring quality of education. Structures are important and, obviously, politically they are of the highest significance; but structures are meant to facilitate the delivery of the product in the end and the quality of the product depends on the quality of both the curriculum and the teacher. Therefore, I would like to see more attention paid, certainly in the White Paper, to the curriculum than is the case in the report.

The issue I want to focus on for just a moment is that of equality and how it is treated in the report and the education system. In her submission this morning, the Minister quoted the Programme for a Partnership Government, saying:

We regard education as the key to our future prosperity and to equality and equal opportunities for all our citizens.

I simply want to reiterate that while the educational system has a crucial role to play in reinforcing a thrust towards genuine equality in this society if society wants it, the educational system cannot deliver that on its own. Teachers cannot be turned into substitute social workers as well as everything else. That is not, and ought not to be, their prime function, however indispensable a supporting role they play. Inequality is built into the structures of our society. We have structural inequality embedded in this society and unless it is tackled at the structural level before kids come into school, unless the concentration of poverty and deprivation in what would in Latin American terms be called shanty towns — except that the houses are reasonably well built — around our main cities is tackled at source, the education system cannot compensate on its own for inequality of that intensity sustained generationally from parents down through their children and further on. Let us not demand from the educational system what it cannot deliver alone. It has to be co-ordinated with a committed drive elsewhere against poverty and lack of opportunity, starting well before children come into school at all.

While we are concerned with that, it seems to me that the allocation of resources to pre-school and early school is probably the most fruitful potential area of investment in education from the point of view of trying to cope with the challenge of inequality. It will be interesting to see how far that is implemented in the White Paper and the Education Act. Therefore, while we must be ambitious for the role of education in our society, we must also not try to hide behind it as an excuse for not confronting the challenge of inequality throughout the society.

That will apply likewise in the area of adult and continuing education, about which we hear a great deal of rhetoric, and which is sustainedly neglected in terms of educational policy — although I would have higher hopes of this Minister in that area than of her predecessors. As of now adult and continuing education remains largely rhetorical in terms of public commitment to it. It would require a major conceptualisation of a programme to do something effective in that area.

I want to turn briefly to the higher education area, where, of course, I have some personal direct interest. It is symptomatic of the difficulties of planning in higher education that even between the Green Paper and this report, the estimated enrolment at third level in the year 2000 — now only six years away — has already been raised from 100,000 to 115,000. In the space of little more than a year the Department has revised upwards by 15 per cent the expected or required number of places at third level. I am not complaining about that, but what I am drawing attention to is the difficulty for the third level sector of trying to plan in any systematic way when the projections can shift so sharply over so short a period. One hears quite an amount of criticism of third level; and there are fair criticisms that can be made of the sector, although on the whole they are not the ones that are being made. Most of the criticisms being made are not fair because they are based on ignorance.

The basic requirement of any level is good teaching and the quality of Irish teaching at third level in international terms is very good despite the paucity of resources by comparative criteria. I am not advancing a special case but am simply going on the responses that the university sector has had from Erasmus students, who come to us from every other country in the European Union — and some outside too — in addition to the responses of our own students who go abroad under the Erasmus and Lingua programmes. The impression that our students bring back is that teaching at home is surprisingly good in the context of their experiences abroad; and I am told the reports we get from the continental students who come to Ireland are remarkably good. I sometimes have difficulty believing them myself, but they do tend to sustain the impression that whatever it is we do right, we do something right in terms of teaching. I would like to enter that on the record because we are much more accustomed to brickbats than bouquets in terms of public comment, at least that is our perception.

There is an area, however, that I think is grossly underdeveloped, inadequately supported in universities, and that is not playing its role from a national point of view in the way it should. That is, of course, the postgraduate level which is adverted to in the report. Postgraduate numbers are increasing rapidly at present and I am told there is a view in some higher education quarters that that is a bad thing. It is seen as being driven mainly by lack of jobs in the market and therefore students are staying on longer in order not to join the unemployed or to emigrate. Doubtless there is an element of that in it but the underlying trend is a far more fundamental one. We send students to third level at the earliest age of any European country. Many of them come in at the age of 17. When the transition year comes in it will leave most of them entering university at 18, which is still the youngest age by the standards of any EU member state.

The other extreme would be Germany, which has a formidable higher education system. In Germany you take your Abitur at 19, then spend a year doing military service or some equivalent civilian service before entering university usually at 20. German students have a minimum five year degree, not three years as in Ireland; so German graduates come out at the age of 25, not 20 as in many cases here. The average age of first graduate employment in Germany is 28, which would be regarded as extraordinary in our country. If a graduate did not have a permanent job by the age of 28 in this country, historically, one would be regarded as a failure.

We really have to sit back and ask ourselves what the implications are of sending students to university so young and keeping them there for so short a time. It means that what is now done at postgraduate level here is, in many respects, done at undergraduate level internationally. We expect our graduates to compete on the basis of a much shorter and, generally, inevitably less intensive type of degree than is the case with most of our competitors. We need to ask what the purpose of postgraduate education is. Are we historically exceptional and self-defeating by the lack of attention we have paid to this area? Just as I would suggest that the leaving certificate is no longer the avenue of entry to the type of job it once was, so the primary degree is rapidly losing its cachet as the avenue of entry to the type of job it was deemed normal to have as a bachelor graduate even ten years ago.

So, instead of regarding the influx of postgraduate students as somehow artificial and a problem, we should be asking ourselves if this is not the way we ought to be going. Is it not a lack of foresight on our part not to have thought of the implications of this earlier and not to be developing it more systematically?

The area of post-graduate education, which is potentially important for the quality of thinking and the quantity of policy formulation in this country, must be more systematically addressed. It should be regarded as an opportunity rather than a problem as it is currently regarded by many. We are often criticised — in some ways correctly — for being excessively academic because there is not the necessary conflict between academic and practical which much of our public debate assumes. The irony of the academic approach is that we have gone for breadth rather than depth. That is a potential misallocation of resources. Academic education has not produced the quality of thinking about public affairs and social analysis that we require in a rapidly changing world.

We must look carefully at that issue and at the area of research. Despite the high proportion of public expenditure devoted to education, the report states that we have the worst record of OECD member states in financing research. I am not familiar with figures but I believe the report on the basis of casual observation. Research costs money and must be planned. Anybody who has read the letters from Professor Harvey in Cork, Professor Butler in Galway, Professor McBrierty in Trinity, and the responses from the relevant departments, in The Irish Times recently will be aware of the great unease in the scientific community about the current situation with regard to research. I will not make special pleadings beyond saying, in as detached and clinical a manner as is possible for somebody in my position, that the funding of research in both the natural and the social and humanistic sciences is a major cause for legitimate concern.

The role of the Department of Education is changing. It is planned to change. How will it change? It must think more about policy. Where will it get its ideas? Will it be entirely dependent on imported ideas? Will it evaluate them effectively? The time has come when we need not be as deferential towards ideas emanating from the EU, the UN, the World Bank or the OECD.

The quality of the convention's secretariat suggests that we should be more confident about the quality of our thinking and that we should be more selfreliant. Of course, we should import good ideas. However, we should evaluate them stringently in the context of our requirements. I hope that the secretariat will be maintained in its operations, at least for occasional reviews of Department of Education thinking and as a sounding board for policy proposals. It must have achieved a sort of chemistry among its members to have produced so effective a report so quickly. I hope it will not be regarded as a once-off thing, with the energies and talents which were brought together being disbanded.

The Department of Education must have in-house economic expertise. The main problem with the Green Paper was not that it advocated an enterprise culture — we must have an enterprise culture — nor that it was arguably neglectful of other areas but that it did not understand the nature of enterprise. It did not understand the trends of economic development. It tried to project an educational system for a type of economy that was already disappearing. Senator Quinn, in his motion on the role of services in the economy which was discussed some time ago, drew attention to the changes that are occurring, while the Green Paper seemed to assume the primacy of manufacturing industry as the creator of jobs for the foreseeable future.

The Minister in her concluding remarks in the report said:

Chuir an díospóireacht faoin nGaeilge an córas oideachais ina suíomh sa phobal i gcoitinne. Mothaítear práinn ar leith le ceist na Gaeilge go bhfuil an t-am ag sleamhnú thart agus go bhfuil uair na cinniúna ann. Tháinig moltaí praiticiúla os ár gcomhair a bhfuil tacaíocht láidir leo, moltaí gur féidir linn a chur i gcrích gan mhoill.

I hope the Minister will act on that.

Finally, I hope she acts on her concluding sentiment that "This Convention is a landmark in the policy making process not only in Ireland but in the international context." I share that hope, but it will only be a landmark if the Minister acts on it. If she does not it will become a mausoleum of blighted hopes and will lead to even greater cynicism than currently pervades much observation of public policy formulation.

Before calling Senator O'Sullivan I welcome to the Public Gallery Professor John Coolahan, Secretary General of the National Education Convention, who wrote the report and Mr. Eddie Bruton, an old friend of mine from Mullingar, who is president of the INTO.

I wish to share my time with Senator Magner.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome this discussion. I welcome the fact that the National Education Convention was held after publication of the Green Paper and that there has been such widespread debate on educational policy and direction. I particularly welcome the fact that 42 organisations took part in the convention. A wide range of knowledge, expertise and interest was represented in the report.

I am happy to welcome Professor Coolahan also. He stated in the report:

There was a new awareness of the legitimate plurality of educational purposes and evidence of a mature commitment to the achievement of balance in educational aims: to the pursuit of a harmony between academic achievements and spiritual qualities, between liberal learning and vocational aptitude, between artistic capabilities and technical endeavours, between personal accomplishments and social responsibilities.

I welcome that aspect of the debate as a change of emphasis from the Green Paper, which appeared to be weighted, as Senator Lee said, in one direction. I agree with him that the educational system alone cannot redress imbalances in society. Nevertheless, it is probably the most important force for change and for either reinforcing the status quo in terms of inequality or for changing it in terms of achieving greater equality. It is, therefore, crucial to the question of equality in society. We can either preserve the status quo or we can attempt to change it by achieving more access, flexibility and equality in Irish life through our education system.

I also support Senator Lee's remarks with regard to pre-schooling. We must have radical change in that area if we are to achieve radical change in education generally. In saying that I could quote many different studies from Tussing to Rachman to Patrick Clancy's Who Goes to College? which show that opportunities must be available at the early stages of education in order that people redress imbalances and counteract lack of opportunity in other aspects of their lives whether it be inferior housing, inferior job opportunities and so forth. It is essential that the pre-schooling issue is addressed. I welcome the fact that the Minister, in her budget speech, referred to her planned initiation of a report on pre-school education. I hope she acts on that as it is in the Programme for a Partnership Government also. I agree with Senator O'Toole's comments about the importance of primary education. Reports have proven that if children do not get equal opportunities before they reach the age of 11 or 12, their chances of progressing to third level education are very slight.

The report contains a chapter on multi-denominational schools, a subject which other contributors to the debate have not referred to. The report states that "The great majority of parents would seem to retain a preference for denominational education". That is probably true, although I believe that many more parents would select multi-denominational education if it were available. Since there are at present only multi-denominational schools in a number of urban areas, it is not a choice available to many parents. Even for parents in the areas with such schools those schools would not have been there when their children were beginning their primary education and many parents would not want to move their children from the school they are in already.

The concerns of multi-denominational schools must be taken on board, particularly their concerns with regard to acquiring sites and school premises. We do not have publicly owned school buildings as in all other EU states and it is difficult, therefore, for parents who wish to set up a multi-denominational school to get premises. I know the Minister has given attention to this matter but it needs greater attention. The majority of school buildings are 80 per cent to 90 per cent funded by the State, although they tend to be privately owned by one or other religious denominations.

I would like to refer to the debate on the boards of management and how they should operate, and the question of preserving the ethos of the school. I would incline toward Senator O'Toole's view in that regard — that it is probably better to preserve the ethos through the deeds of trust and the background information regarding the boards of management than try to do so by majority control by the trustees. I would also favour equality for the teachers and the parents in relation to the boards of management.

I have not addressed many of the aspects of the debate but in the time available to me I wanted to touch on those few. The question of education as a life long process is also an informing principle in the area. While I have mentioned pre-schools, I have not had much time to talk about adult and third level education, but I welcome that there was in the budget a 19 per cent increase in the day to day funding of regional technical colleges, Dublin Institute of Technology and some vocational education committee third level colleges. We need to fund that aspect of education adequately. The universities have their case to make, but it is important that the regional technical colleges and other third level colleges are also adequately funded.

I welcome this debate and I hope it will continue until the White Paper is published. There is a widespread deep interest in education in Ireland and that has been reflected in the amount of interest in the convention. I trust that the present Minister for Education is dedicated to equality and that she will take on the radical issues incorporated in this debate.

I thank my colleague for sharing her limited time with me. It is fitting, Sir, that you should extend a welcome to Professor Coolahan, who is here this afternoon, because I had the pleasure of taking part in the convention in Dublin Castle and of being involved in a committee on structures, which Professor Coolahan chaired. The success of the convention and the comprehensive and detailed report which emanated from it is in no small measure due to the expertise and wisdom of Professor Coolahan and his secretariat. I would like to put that on the record of this House.

It is an interesting phenomenon that for as long as I can remember there has been a lot of talk about open Government and the involvement of the public. This is one area where for the first time public policy has been hammered out in public. It seems a contradiction in terms, but public policy is usually formulated in smoke filled rooms and given to the public as a fait accompli. This was an unusual event. A Government Minister, with the blessing of the Cabinet, decided on and conceived a convention as a way to develop the debate on important issues — many of them contentious — and as a way of achieving as much consensus as possible without fudging important issues.

It is true to say that there were no punches pulled at that bout in Dublin Castle by any group, including the group that I had the honour to represent, the IVEA. I am proud to say that the IVEA, under Seán Conway and Joe Rooney, took the decision with the standing council that if one held a position it ought to be good enough a position to be hammered out on a public anvil. If it was not good enough for public debate, then one should not hold the position. We were happy to go to the convention and state the policy of the IVEA. I do not want to make this into a special pleading session, but in any future intermediate structures the vocational education committee system will have to be prominent. It has served this country extremely well since the 1930s and has seen developments such as the regional technical colleges, which in many ways have changed the face of Irish education.

I have heard various rumours — and it is a pity that Professor Coolahan cannot intervene — in relation to regional structures. I would not be happy with regional structures. The idea of LECs is to make them as local and as close to the people as possible. That was one of the more important aspects of the discussions in Dublin Castle — the importance of the public and the local community. That is where the decisions ought to be made, because ultimately that is where the impact will be made. Therefore, regional authorities would not occupy a great space in my heart. The authority must be local. We have to look at boundaries, and that is an argument to be made in the future, but the emphasis must be local.

The strategy of the Labour Party in Government, shared by our colleagues in Fianna Fáil, is for a better resourced, publicly funded educational system. This has been reflected in the last two budgets. We also believe in establishing an educational system with a proper legal basis — that is, through an Education Act — and with local democratic management through local democratic structures. It must also be a system open to those who are both academically disadvantaged and economically disadvantaged. It must be an educational system for all, but, unfortunately, that has not been the case in the past.

The report on the National Education Convention which we are debating contains 17 individual sections, some of which have been subdivided. It covers a comprehensive range of educational issues, including the philosophy of education; the administration and changes in the educational system; how schools will be governed; the relationship between trustees and managers; and how to achieve quality assurance. It also deals with the subjects raised by Senator O'Sullivan, the sensitive issues of multi-denominational schools, minority interests and the teaching profession.

It has always been accepted as the acid test of a democratic state that it places great emphasis on the way it protects and defends minorities. Any educational system that would not take into account the rights, obligations and aspirations of minorities does not deserve to be called an educational system. I have no doubt that this Government will in every way possible ensure that the final restructuring of education will have as one of its central tenets the rights and position of minorities in the State.

Of particular interest is the manner in which the report confronts the need for change. A powerful argument is advanced in favour of Government policy to create an intermediate tier for the management of primary and post primary education. It is a fact of life that in this small State the Government is centred in so few hands. In other states, such as Switzerland, power is devolved to the people. Devolving power from Marlborough Street to the local level can only enhance the process of educating Irish people.

In the past this has happened in all Government Departments. One had to apply to the Phoenix Park depot to draw a line in one's local village. One had to apply to the Garda Commissioner to get a no parking sign moved. It was stupid to assume that those who ran local communities were incapable of making such a simple decision. We are changing that policy and I hope that the final report setting up the structure will recognise the people to decide what is best for their children, their locality or their region are those who live, work and educate their children in the area.

The Green Paper issued by the former Minister, Deputy Brennan, started this process. We have made much progress since. As the debate on that document wore on, it became clear that schools standing alone were not viable. In Britain stand alone hospitals are being set up and they are proving costly and ineffective. Back-up is needed for communities and teachers. The intermediate tier, accepted by this Minister and this Government, is a crucial element in any educational policy emanating from the convention.

The best one can do in the short time available is to look at the report globally. One of my few criticisms is that it attempts to deal with the composition in geographical boundaries of such an authority. The time for that debate has yet to come and it is not necessary to discuss that issue now. When we decide the powers and authorities to be ceded at local level we can then discuss the composition of the boards, who should be on them and the geographical boundaries.

Your time is up, Senator Magner.

I am an obedient pupil of yours, a Chathaoirligh, and when you say stop I stop. I simply place on record my appreciation of those who ran the convention, Professor Coolahan and his secretariat. I also commend the courage of the Minister, because this is one of the few occasions when public policy was debated in public.

I wish to share my time with Senator Quinn.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I also welcome this debate. I commend the Minister for organising the convention and congratulate Professor Coolahan and all of those involved, especially the professor for drafting the report. It is an excellent, detailed and thought provoking document.

Many Senators have spoken on areas of the report they felt were important. All areas addressed in the report are important, but I have fears about the implementation of many of its recommendations. For far too long we have seen the established pattern of how the Department operates and it seems to be again acting as a parent. There are highly publicised reports and initiatives, consultants are employed, White Papers and Green Papers are produced which provoke responses, but nothing happens. The long promised White Paper, stimulated by the national convention, perpetuates the treadmill of inactivity. The perceived momentum of consultative deliberation masks the lack of action in the Department. I hope the report is not doomed to be another exercise "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". It should not be allowed to lie on the shelf. The Minister should take on board its recommendations and implement them as quickly as possible.

The report is in no way binding on the Minister for Education. Nonetheless, since more than 40 groups made submissions to the forum it was a huge exercise in people power in education, as someone remarked. Therefore the report carries considerable clout. After listening intently to it and flattering the contributors, the Minister must not allow the Department to prevent the boat being unduly rocked. Great changes are needed and I believe this Minister will have the courage to rock the boat and implement many of the strong recommendations.

The role of the Department is one of the key issues. The report calls for a radical restructuring of the powers of the Department, with a greater emphasis on policy making and the devolution of responsibility to local educational authorities. The Department is unlikely to welcome this because it will see this as an erosion of its power.

The longer the publication of the White Paper is deferred, the more likely it is that the momentum of the report will be lost and that no action will be taken. Several of the report's recommendations could be enforced now and do not need to wait for the publication of the White Paper. We are justified in calling for action on these issues in the short term because they can be put off no longer. One such area is the reform of the governance of schools. There is a strong public desire for new partnerships in the running of schools, yet no action has been taken to date in securing a more equal representation for parents, teachers and school trustees on the board of management. Action on this issue could be taken by the Minister and does not require detailed specifications from the White Paper.

On the curricular issues, the report stressed the need for greater emphasis on science. This is widely accepted and it is implausible to claim no action can be taken until the White Paper is produced. Detailed proposals as to how this could be done already exist. We now need implementation, not more consideration.

The report also mentioned standards of literacy, especially those of disadvantaged students. This is a pressing priority and while the Minister is aware of this, action is needed. Implementation would require that the Minister find the resources. Waiting for the White Paper in no way excuses the lack of action on this issue.

The report says immediate attention is required to allay public concern on the minority of teachers who are under-performing. This issue is of huge concern to many parents and was totally ignored by the Green Paper. Evidence suggests that the White Paper will also avoid the issue. However, the matter cannot be skirted and I ask the Minister what action is being taken in this area.

The report is a thought-provoking and excellent document which has put all the current ideas on education to the fore. 20 per cent of our annual spending goes to education and we all accept its importance in our lives. I agree with Senator O'Sullivan about pre-school and primary education. This has been identified as a most important area, especially for equality in education. I also agree with most of what other Senators have said. I urge the Minister to take action as quickly as possible.

I thank Senator Honan for allowing me to share her time. I welcome this report enthusiastically and congratulate Professor Coolahan for his great work. I see this as a significant milestone on the most important journey we as a community have taken for many years. In my remarks I will discuss three areas — philosophy, resources and the education process. I am watching my time——

You have about nine minutes, Senator, slightly more than I thought.

Thank you. The first chapter of the report deals with a philosophy for education. This is the most important area and we need to build a consensus on this subject. If we are not all agreed on the overall aim of education we are likely to disagree on the details.

Perhaps we could establish what I call, in terms of business, a mission statement which could say briefly that the central aim of Irish education is to develop to the fullest extent the potential of each individual in the context of the society and the era in which he or she lives. If we decide on it, I hope the focus will be on the individual, because developing individual potential is what the education system should be all about. Some of the facets of the education system which have been played on in the past did not concentrate sufficiently on the whole area of human ability. If we take the individual as the starting point and the central focus of what we do, we will not go far wrong.

Given the technological world in which we now live, it is vital that we concentrate in education on getting the balance right between humanities and science. There is much stress on education for future work and we must get that balance correct to make sure that we cover both. When I use the word "enterprise" in the context of education, I mean that we should seek to develop an enterprising spirit rather than pushing everybody into the academic side. Education is not just about preparing people for jobs; it is also preparing people for life.

Resources is a subject we cannot avoid when we discuss education. One problem is that education is a vastly expensive undertaking and a number of Senators referred to this. The State spends approximately £2 billion on education and, given the size of the budget, it has been fair game over the past decade for people whose job it was to suggest cutbacks in public spending. I often argue that the State should not become involved in something that can be better done by private enterprise. There are some exceptions and education is definitely one. That sort of thinking in the past has increased the inequalities in the education system. In many cases where the State has cut back, the gap has been filled by parents who can afford it. As a result the education provision has become more and more lopsided and this is apparent. In schools in higher income areas, where parents can afford it, there is better education. These schools have computers, but one does not see computers in schools in areas of less income. This is one area where we must not hold back. We must strongly concentrate on ensuring that we allocate sufficient resources for education.

Regarding the process, the education convention is the latest and most exciting part of the debate. The theory is that Green Papers are consultative documents while White Papers are Government decisions. Therefore, a Green Paper is a step in consulting people about Government decisions before those decisions are cast in stone. All too often in the past — and I have been involved in a number of Green and White Papers — Green Papers have been no more than a genuflection to the idea of consultation. This is why I have been most impressed by the convention, by what has been happening in education in recent years and by today's debate in having the Minister join us for a question and answer session. I congratulate the Minister for that step.

Over the past two years we have seen the system work as it should. Whether it was originally intended, the Green Paper has fulfilled its role as a genuine consultation document. Nothing in it is holy writ. It has provoked massive debate that has not by any means been limited to the traditional vested interests or to the professionals concerned. Education is an area which directly affects everybody's lives. There are few people in this country who have not been touched to some extent by the debate this has evoked. I welcome this approach because I believe it is correct. In business I believe in staying close to and listening to the customer and seeking ideas from customers. That is exactly what this debate has done. It has opened the doors and let the people in. A system which down through the years was closed and highly authoritarian is now at last opening up to the people who work it and its clients, who are the parents and pupils. That is a tremendous step forward. I salute the courage of the many people who have made this happen.

I wish to make two further points in that regard, which have a definite bearing on where we go from here. The first is that this process of consultation cannot now stop. This is a game for which there is no final whistle. The genie has been taken out of the bottle and it will not go back in. The past two years should tell us that there is a permanent value in structuring our education system so that there is ongoing dialogue between all the various players. One reason for this is that education demands continuous change. Every so often we need to stand back, take a look at the whole operation and ask questions such as: are we going in the right direction or have we got our priorities right? That is exactly what is happening now. Let us not fool ourselves that we can in one fell swoop put in place a perfect education system that will serve us well for the next 30-50 years before we have another fundamental look at it. Whatever we do now is only the first step. We should legislate for a process of evolution and resolve to make continuous and genuine consultation an integral part of that.

My second point is about the legislation which will result from the present process. The Minister should take this one step at a time. An old proverb asks how one goes about eating an elephant; one takes one bite at a time. I am not suggesting we try that, but we should try it with regard to education.

We can scale down the task to manageable proportions in two ways. We should aim to put in place framework enabling legislation which is empowering rather than prescriptive in every detail. We do not want a massive monster like the Companies Act. It was approximately ten years before the Companies Bill was enacted; and when it eventually came into being it turned out to be flawed in many ways and it now has to be revised. We should look for education legislation to say the first word rather than the last word, in addition to restricting the scope of the legislation so that it provides a framework rather than a detailed prescription.

An effective way to manage might be through not having one but several Education Acts. Once the overall direction has been established, the individual sectors of education can perhaps be dealt with separately. In this way we could pull together and work towards creating a mosaic, piece by piece. The vital thing is that each piece, once it was on the Statute Book, would be solid progress in itself. Let us not aim at one big bite. The danger in going for the once-off, big bang approach is that the job might never be done. That is a real possibility and we have seen it happen before. If the present process was not to ultimately produce a concrete result it would be a bitter blow for all of those who have taken part in the many stages along the way. It would be a massive failing of our responsibilities to the young people of Ireland, future generations and those who now depend on the success of this process.

I wish to give five minutes of my time to Senator Henry.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I congratulate the Minister and the Minister of State for initiating the debate in this House. It will be a further strand in the consultation process established by the Ministers in the Department since taking up office.

A coherent national education policy with clearly defined objectives and priorities, based upon the experiences of so many professionals in this area, is necessary and timely in view of the changes taking place in society. We cannot divorce the conventional kind of discussion that has taken place from some of the major discussions underway at present in other forums, such as the EU. The policy document published recently by the EU Commission on ways forward into the 21st century sets out the huge challenges facing the EU and facing us as part of that Union. The policy document suggests that 15 million new jobs will be required by the end of the century, that there must be priority given to action on jobs and that there must be a life long link between the individual and the education system.

It is important in the current consultation process that the Minister has the opportunity to consider the overall situation in a way which links the education and training systems together to make them more amenable to present circumstances and to improve the service by the proper utilisation of financial and human resources such as skilled personnel. Therefore, there is a necessity to link the pre-school and primary school systems with second and third levels and to take meaningful action to deal with the transition from school to work, because it is in this area that the system breaks down in many places. It is an area which requires more attention than it has been given hitherto.

Our educational and training priorities must be reviewed. The complex and varied systems which are in operation at present must be examined as they tend to confuse the community generally, and even parents, teachers and other educators. The maze of community initiatives in the vocational area, the escalation of post-leaving certificate courses, which indicate that people view third level as being the best prospect for access to a long term education, and the demand which parents are making for an extension of grant aid into that area indicates the necessity to link together more closely the relationship between second level, third level and the area of training and training schemes.

As an indication of the escalation in post leaving certificate courses, there are approximately 17,000 people engaged in such courses as against 14,500 attending the vocational education committee colleges and 11,500 attending the universities. Many of the students in the post-leaving certificate courses are not getting the benefit of student grant or maintenance support. I understand that the Minister established a review body to examine this some time ago and it has now reported. In view of this, I urge the Minister to give some indication as to how the increased demand for higher education and the provision for financial support for students in this area can be addressed.

As I have pointed out, most people believe that the university is the best place to obtain the most complete training and education. The expert advisory group, which was established by the Minister in April 1993, must publish its findings and some clear indication from the Minister is required on the action she proposes to take regarding the payment of grants to students attending these courses. Such courses are recognised by the NCEA, but students do not qualify for grant support or student maintenance grants as they have been established by private institutions to meet the demand for higher education facilities.

Parents of middle income and, especially low income families are finding it difficult at present to raise the money to keep their children in these institutions. In view of this there is an urgent necessity to make some radical changes in the whole system of payment of grants and support for students. They should be linked to the student rather than the individual means testing of families or whatever. A way must be found around this system and in this respect I would like to see the report of the review body for that area published.

Over the last 20 years EU unemployment and our unemployment levels have risen steadily. The investment ratio has fallen and our competitive position in relation to economies such as the USA and Japan has worsened with regard to unemployment, the share of export markets, research and development, and the development of new products, ideas, inventions and methods of production. Even the EU is lagging behind the USA and Japan at present.

These areas are part of the education agenda. While I welcome the initiative taken by the Minister regarding consultation, together with the report of the forum which was established and the documents published by NESC, such as the educational and training policies for economic and social development, it is now time for action. There has been a multiplicity of reports and recommendations from bodies, organisations and individuals. I welcome the endeavour by the Minister to draw all these together and obtain the benefit of the value judgements of the professionals in the business, who have been involved for many years in this area of activity.

I hope that we can help to formulate the Minister's thinking in relation to the proposed education legislation through a debate such as this. I hope that we can indicate to the Government, through the Minister for Education, that we can have all of the debates we wish regarding policies, strategies, reports, White Papers, programmes from NESC, conventions and so on, but unless the financial commitment is made to deal with the shortcomings in the education system, our efforts in this House, the efforts of the forum and of the many professionals who put time and effort into shaping policy in this area will have been of little use.

Therefore, the message today must be clear and simple. In dealing with this matter there has been sufficient debate, dialogue and partnership, on which I compliment the Minister. A debate such as this is useful and important if it helps to shape the future policy of Irish education. However, we must be satisfied, as must the Minister, that if she is to undertake what is required in this area, substantial financial investment and investment in other activities is needed in order to shape the future dimension.

I avail of this opportunity to compliment those involved in every level of the teaching profession. Their expertise and professionalism cannot be doubted. However, it is necessary to continue inservice training for teachers and this must be addressed in future strategies and policies adopted by the Minister. Rationalisation of the multiplicity of schemes is required in the training area and also at organisational level in regard to activities between the Government Departments involved. Approximately five Departments are involved in a multiplicity of schemes in the training area. I am baffled by the number of schemes in existence, but despite this the situation in regard to employment is deteriorating.

Given the number of vocational and FÁS training schemes, those organised by the Department with responsibility for the vocational system and the range of activities in this area, the Minister should avail of this opportunity to put in place a system which would link up with second and third level education. It would enable the transition from school to working life to be successfully achieved. This is not being done and it is a cause of a lot of unemployment at present. The Minister is faced with a challenge. She has the courage and energy to deal with problems in this and other areas in education, but she will need money. I hope the debate in this House will encourage her to continue.

Opportunities in the area of research and development which could provide employment must be looked at. Time does not permit me to go into detail about these critical areas, which must be examined in the light of the Minister's proposals. However, the time for debate has passed; it now is time for action. We want to see initiatives in relation to how the Minister proposes to deal with these problems. We want to see how we can avail of existing resources and provide additional resources by, perhaps, involving private enterprise or business in the education system. This has been successfully achieved in the University of Limerick, which received investment from a combination of American and Irish private companies and sponsors. This is a unique development. There has been a lot of criticism regarding the level of pressure in institutions like the University of Limerick.

The Minister may be sure of our support in dealing with this complex area. I would like her to deal with matters such as places in post leaving certificate and third level courses, which are not funded by the student grant scheme. Many families face hardship in trying to meet educational demands to enable them to keep their children on in level courses.

I remind Senators that we will have a question and answer session from 3.30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

I am glad that one part of the report addresses the importance of the school in society. The school has always been important socially as well as educationally, but now more than ever stability in the school must be stressed. The principal is in a position to set the tone in the school and I hope they are given training and support when they take on the job. In a changing society the school can be a refuge where the children may receive guidance if the extended family has fallen apart around the child or if they are experiencing deprivation or abuse in the family. Great effort must be put into the social aspect of the school.

Senator O'Toole mentioned something important and, sadly, it was highlighted by another social and personal tragedy reported in the newspapers today. Another newly born baby was found abandoned, probably by a young mother. I ask the Minister to consider sex education in primary school. The ethos of the school and those involved, including parents, teachers and the religious, could devise a programme appropriate to the school. It is not wise, in view of the changing youth culture, media exploitation of children, peer pressure and, indeed, the early sexual maturation of children, to deprive them of sex education in primary school.

The Minister initiated the stay safe programme in schools, but it is not sex education. The Minister should not place the onus for sex education on the Department of Health. It is the role of the Department of Education to bring forward a proper programme in this area. If the family is letting the child down in any circumstance, it is up to the school to take up the cudgels on behalf of the child. In this area Irish people are reticent to talk to their children and, as a parent, I know it is not an easy area to address. However, given the number of recent tragedies involving young girls, the Minister would be well advised to address this area of education.

I wish to share my time with Senator Norris.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This report is a major breakthrough and a first step in the educational history of Ireland. I compliment those involved in putting it together. Unlike other reports, it does not have a summary at the end where one can read a short synopsis of the main points of the report.

It is a report which one must read.

That is of value because one is forced to read the entire report. I admit I have not done so; I just skimmed through parts of it. I am sure I represent other Members in that regard. The report covers all aspects of education in great detail and it highlights issues which a modern day society must deal with. It is interesting that this issue has been addressed in the report. Society is changing rapidly because of improvements in technology and communications worldwide; therefore our formal structured education system must change and adapt in order to be on target like other countries.

It is remarkable that one-third of the population is involved in education. The formal education authority, the Department of Education, has a huge responsibility in providing education. Within that one-third, there are two definite strands. There is the sector which provides education, that is the 40,000 teachers in about 4,000 educational institutions. The second strand consists of all the pupils and students at junior, senior and third level education. Education involves a great responsibility. It happens throughout our lives. We are being educated every day. Formal education is confined to the school and college system. This report deals very definitely with this and specifically with the responsibilities of teachers and principals. Given that society is changing, this is a fundamental issue.

The stresses and strains to which teachers are subjected today are far greater than what they were subjected to ten years ago. I am glad the report suggests the provision of more money for inservice training of teachers during their careers to keep them well versed in what is going on.

The report deals with the fundamental issues of literacy and numeracy. Unfortunately, about 10 per cent of pupils go into second level without adequate literacy and numeracy skills. We all know that the basics of education are the three Rs, that is reading, writing and arithmetic, which one must acquire to have any hope of succeeding in society. I am glad the report highlights this and suggests that special action must be taken and additional finance provided. I welcome the Minister's recognition of this and the need for more expenditure on the disadvantaged and deprived sector within the educational system. The Minister spoke about priorities. The cost of implementing the report's recommendations is phenomenal. It would not be possible to do it at once. It will have to be done on a staged and priority basis. One of the Minister's first priorities should be to invest more money in the 10 per cent of pupils who are failing to secure adequate literacy and numeracy skills at primary level.

Minority groups are also referred to in the report. I refer in particular to the education of children from traveller communities. I am delighted the report publicly acknowledges the special culture attached to our nomadic community and recognises that special facilities should be provided for its children. This is extremely important and the Minister should recognise and act on this. Major advances have been made in this area in recent years but there is still a huge and wide-ranging need for improvement.

The issue of gender equality in education somewhat amuses me. Whenever we discuss this — I am looking at some of my chauvinist colleagues opposite — underneath the surface——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I remind the Senator she is giving five minutes of her time to Senator Norris.

I hope the Minister will elaborate on what she and her Department propose to do in relation to this issue. It will take more than the formal educational system to undermine an inherent tradition which exists as far as gender equality is concerned.

I compliment the Minister. In her first year in office she has proceeded in a nice, steady, solid way and has done a great deal of good work. In commissioning this report she has done something unprecedented. She has also done good work for County Clare. She is half a Clare person, as is Senator Magner, and we take pride in that also.

I am grateful to Senator Taylor-Quinn for sharing her time with me. I welcome the Minister and congratulate her for commissioning the report. I also congratulate the persons involved in its production. I understand the convention finished sitting in October and the report was published in January. This is remarkably efficient and an example to us all.

I wish to concentrate on two items and direct them to the Minister. The first is the question of multi-denominational and non-denominational education. The report, on page 31, states that "there would seem to have been unanimous agreement among participants at the Convention that the rights of parents to multi-denominational education should be respected and facilitated." This is a most important short section of the report. It also indicates there are circumstances obtaining where Church authorities who have control over Church property are very often reluctant, even though this is State-funded, to make it available to multi-denominational projects. This is extremely regrettable. I would like to go a little further, and I believe the Minister has the power to go further, in regard to altering the rules. I do not just believe in multi-denominational education but I also believe very strongly in non-denominational education.

I respect the right of parents to have their children educated according to the ethos to which they subscribe. It is the responsibility of parents to provide that ethos. We are always hearing about the rights of parents. They have rights but they also have responsibilities, one of which is to provide the ethos. It is the responsibility of the State to provide education in questions of fact, over which there can be very little dispute. It is also extremely bad teaching practice — and I speak as a teacher — to have people who are uninterested in spiritual values and do not share the ethos to be put in a situation where they must inflict on children something in which they do not believe, simply for the sake of form. I appeal to the Minister very clearly and specifically to change the rules to permit not just multi-denominational but non-denominational education.

The second point I wish to make has been touched on and is the question of sex education. I have the experience of 25 years of dealing in this area. When I started campaigning for greater information in this area, there was a level of sexual illiteracy which was extremely damaging to the development of the individual. I strongly support the Stay Safe programme but also support, as Senator Henry does, the introduction of clear, untroubling, factual information on sex and sexuality.

Perhaps what I am going to say now is a little controversial but I believe that in the present climate it is time we introduced a small section of factual information on the sexual orientation of homosexuality. I say this because there will be a proportion of young people who will be homosexual and have this sexual orientation. The fact that their existence is obliterated entirely from the record is extremely damaging for them. I say for the record of the House that sexual orientation is established at an extremely early age and that a large minority have this orientation. The Minister may disregard recent surveys on the incidence of homosexuality. I do not have time to go into a methodological analysis of why they are flawed but, believe me, they are. Watch this space and I will demonstrate to the British and the Americans why such surveys are flawed and why, once again, heterosexuals seem incapable of dealing objectively with data when they affect homosexual people.

On my next point I speak as a teacher and do not think there is such a huge distinction between third, second and primary level teachers; we are all teachers and teaching is an honourable profession——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I am sorry I must interrupt the Senator. It is now 3.30 p.m.

But not at a comma, grammatically I could not permit that.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I ask you to be brief.

I will finish my sentence in order to satisfy the Minister's requirement for grammatical completion. Surely it is time we had a professional body like the General Medical Council for the different elements of the teaching profession. I put three specific points to the Minister which I am sure she will find time to consider.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

As it is now 3.30 p.m. I will take questions from the floor and ask the Minister to reply. Senators will have an opportunity to ask questions related to the main issues. I will call the Minister at 3.50 p.m. to conclude.

The Fine Gael Party is committed to taking political patronage out of the appointment of teachers, as I mentioned this morning. I also mentioned that if this is not done there will be difficulties taking the voluntary sector into any new administrative structure. What is the Minister's view on that? Second, I would like to hear the Minister's views on whether a good mix of continuous assessment and external examinations would be appropriate and if she feels she could achieve that.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is there a related question?

The question of teacher appointments came into the discussion on the intermediate tiers and structures. What is the Minister's view regarding where the appointment should take place? I share the concerns of the first questioner, which is one of the reasons I would like to see it take place at school level rather than intermediate level.

Senator Cotter made the point strongly about patronage and his colleague said he did not feel it was justified to point the finger in the direction of one strand of the education system. The two Senators have in common a belief that there should not be patronage in the appointment of teachers, that the system should be fair, open, transparent and, in every sector of teaching, the community into which a teacher moves should have confidence in their appointment. I take the point which the Senator made this morning and that made very strongly by his colleague in defence of the County Galway Vocational Education Committee.

The appointment of teachers is a subject which is currently under discussion. I do not use words such as intermediate tiers, structures or committees. I deliberately use the words "local education authorities". It would have been simple to respond quickly to the excellent report which came from the convention by just assembling the network of support services which we could easily put out around the country. However, my reading of the report and the convention which I attended suggested that more than that was required. Where we liaise with the local education authority on teacher appointments, I know those who are responsible at trustee level and the boards of management.

It was a wonderful experience to be here listening to so many Members who are involved in the teaching profession. I will take the Senator's question as a signal to me that this is an area which he would like me to spell out. I think Senator O'Toole was hoping that by asking me a question nicely and quietly I would spill the beans on the White Paper but I was not caught out. I take the point and I will direct the Senator to the local education authorities on that. Will I move to the question of continuing assessment?

May I compliment the Minister on speaking for four minutes without saying anything?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

We will take continuing assessment as a second question.

My question is on school assessment, which is a controversial subject.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is it a separate question?

It is on the issue of assessment. It strikes me that there is a continuum in education with the pupil at one end and the institutions which provide the education at the other. Because this is a controversial area, I do not think it has been given enough consideration. I would not like us to adopt the mistaken, wrong-headed attitude which was adopted in the UK, although I do not think there is any suggestion of it here. However, as a parent and having listened to parents and taking up a point which was made by Senator Norris, I believe there is a need for some feedback to parents on the performance of schools. The assessment of schools, in addition to that of pupils, has a place in this debate and I would like to know what plans there are for this.

I touched on the role of the inspectorate this morning. There is a great concern about a change in the role of inspectors. This is not a reaction to proposed change but many of us would see a diminution of the role of inspectors if they were not involved in assessment. The objection is to various aspects of assessment rather than assessment itself. Any teacher knows that some form of assessment has to take place, so that is not the issue. Could the Minister give some guarantee about how the inspectorate's role in that general area would be maintained?

One of the partners in any discussion we have about assessment is, of course, the teachers. In other jurisdictions which I will not name the whole movement in assessment appears to be toward the testing of teachers, whereas Senator Roche and others are concerned that we would have an assessment of pupils. I share that concern and if I am to continue targeting disadvantaged children within the school room there has to be an assessment of their needs, which is how I see the role of assessment.

There has been ongoing assessment at third level which American institutions got very excited about. However, I think I am on record in the other House as saying that it is rather a flavour of the month, although perhaps one which has lasted longer than a month. I would prefer to take it more slowly and in partnership with the people who are involved.

This, naturally, takes me on to the role of the inspectorate. Senator O'Toole and I would believe in common that once the new curriculum was introduced the cigire was an ally who helped teachers to deal with the inspectorate. I thought the chapter in the Green Paper on the role of the inspectorate was very positive to the primary school inspector. At second level — and in a way this is opinion as much as anything else — inspectors got very involved in examinations. We now have curriculum assessment and different organisations. However, I would like to see the inspectorate at second level being involved with the classroom and the overall aspects of the school. Heavy demands were placed on the inspectorate's time which meant that the second level inspector was not as important a person in determining school policy and practice.

There is a chapter in the Green Paper on the inspectorate. It was an area which caused lively debate at the convention. Building on that chapter, the role of the inspectorate is one which will be spelled out. There is a need to inspect but it should be seen in terms of benefiting the child. Senator O'Toole will not mind if I declare a bias toward the primary school system from where my knowledge of the inspectorate comes. Day-to-day interaction was more evident there for a long time as the Department became very involved at second level with the examination system.

I will just include a word on the role and assessment of the Junior Certificate which might have been a contentious issue here last week. With the agreement of the teaching union and more particularly the managerial partner and the Department we now have put in place more assessment at that level.

I received a lovely invitation from Clane school which is mounting a wonderful art exhibition in the RDS. The quality of work done there was a credit to them and a good example of why there should be teacher assessment. Only a teacher specialised in that area could elicit that standard and level of enthusiasm. I have said a little rather than nothing, Senator Cotter.

I ask the Minister to articulate her views on the question of mobility within education. The time when a teacher was appointed to spend 40 years in the same classroom without any movement is gone. One of the great attractions of teaching today is the possibility of spending a few years on a career break learning about other places or transferring with other teachers, job sharing or working in the area of curricular development for a while or working as a principal teacher for a set period of years, with an option to move into a new space between inspection and teaching. There are other positions, like home/ school liaison teachers, counselling teachers, etc. — I am only giving a few examples. Could the Minister stress the need for mobility, movement, flexibility and fluidity and would she share her views on these matters with the House? Mobility is vital to the future health of teaching as a profession.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is there a related question?

Yes. I was going to raise this issue because teaching is a profession where there must be a huge level of burnout and it is important to have the kind of mobility Senator O'Toole referred to. There should also be some ongoing support for teachers who face this problem. There is a series of health, personality and other issues contained there. There is a deficiency there because of the diversity of management and because there is no central body. For example, we have in State agencies like the ESB support mechanisms in place for teachers or staff affected by burnout, alcoholic or related problems. Is anything being done in that area? Education has become so much more challenging that I would echo Senator O'Toole's point. Some sort of central unit should be established to look at that issue.

I did not have an opportunity to speak on the matter, but I want to compliment an old colleague of mine from UCD, John Coolahan, who did an excellent job in bringing it all together.

In my speech this morning, I referred to a growing category of teachers; the part-time teacher. There are literally hundreds of them, known as EPTs, around the country and there is little——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

That is a separate question to that asked by Senator O'Toole.

My question might require some elasticity, but would the Minister say what is her favoured intermediate structure?

On mobility, I would describe teaching, at times, as a lonely profession. When a teacher closes the door, they are surrounded by many demanding pupils. We all know of teachers who stayed not only in the same school but also seemed confined to the same class for their career. Matters have now changed positively because a more mature attitude has been adopted both by the teachers and their unions in taking up their cause. Beforehand, the teacher may have been seen as the "big baby" in the classroom.

I would put in-service training among the questions on mobility. There would be teachers involved in the instruction of teachers for in-service training. There are some pilot schemes running which involve teachers being taken out of their classroom, sent to another school and sharing a job with another. That facility was not there when I was in the teaching profession. I would like to recommend job sharing not only to the women but also to the men. It exists and we issued a circular last Christmas to the second level and other schools to examine this matter. There is also a teacher swap scheme existing with Northern Ireland. I know the number of teachers who have volunteered for that scheme has been disappointing. Therefore, I will use this opportunity to inform teachers that they can avail of it. At this time in our history, it might have some immeasurable benefits.

The Senator referred to home/school liaison teachers. The issue of mobility in-service training and job sharing affects the welfare of teachers. I am consulting with different unions at the moment and the welfare of teachers is on all their agendas. Senator Roche referred to the ESB and An Post. The Department of Education is talking to those State bodies and considering their schemes. I told the teachers conferences last year that I would examine the area, but it is not yet complete. The points made by the Senator are certainly part of my agenda and an answer will be forthcoming sooner rather than later. I will answer Senator Magner's question on preferred local structures by saying that I prefer the one that works best for all, and that is where the conundrum lies.

It is difficult for a teacher to get a full-time job as a secondary teacher. Indeed, more part-time teachers are coming on stream. There are currently thousands of them and they have little security of tenure. I ask the Minister to examine the situation pertaining to these teachers with a view to allowing them into the superannuation system.

When an application was made by the teachers' union in 1987, it was stated by the Labour Court that if a precedent could be set, they could gain entry to the system. A precedent has now been set. The Minister has referred to the job sharing situation, whereby those taking part in it retain their benefits and pension rights. However, those on part-time teaching 11 hours or more cannot go into the superannuation scheme. This is grossly unfair. The precedent is now there and I ask the Minister to use her good offices to examine the situation with a view to allowing the thousands of part time teachers, especially those in the EPT system over 11 hours, into a superannuation scheme. It is vital and should be included in any reform currently taking place.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is there a related question?

Yes. Senator McDonagh's point refers to part-time teachers at post-primary level. At primary level, they tend to be referred to as substitute teachers. That issue could be dealt with at primary level if the concept of substitution was replaced by temporary service. Temporary teachers, even if they teach for only a day, pay into the superannuation scheme. They are a part of the system and it helps to give more stability to the need for trained and qualified substitute teachers, which is vital in the development of primary education. It also ties in with the need to extend the supply panels at primary level. Could substitution be replaced by temporary teaching?

I will take Senator McDonagh's point which refers to temporary teachers first. In the vocational education committee, which is the area that is of interest to the Senator, some 90 per cent of teachers are currently considered full-time. There is flexibility in the filling of the other hours by part-time teachers. I am aware of that matter because I am currently examining it. I have to allow some flexibility but the managements of schools who respond — and the vocational education committee sector has always done magnificently in this regard — to growing and changing needs in the educational world are penalised by that flexibility. There have been calls for pro rata entitlements. Senator O'Toole said it would be easy. Of course it would be easy but I have a budget of less than £2 billion out of which the funding would have to come. There could be a response to some of these demands but they would have financial implications. Senator O'Toole is aware that there are panels and pilot schemes in place at primary level which have worked well but there was a cost involved. Having studied it, I am glad of the success of the move from substitute panels to temporary teachers. It is an area which will only benefit from priority spending if the Department and those representing the teachers sit down and discuss its ramifications.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

There are four people offering and the time is up but I will call on the four of them to be brief. The Minister might take the four questions together because I told her I would call on her to reply at 3.50 p.m.

While in Castlebar last week, the Taoiseach announced the setting up of a regional technical college in the town. Will it start in December, 1994, or September, 1995, and how many courses will be available at that college?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

A very appropriate question I have no doubt.

The Minister is possibly aware that a number of schools employ speech and drama teachers who are paid from parents' committee funds. Would the Minister consider appointing one speech and drama teacher between five or six schools?

Would the Minister give her opinion on the review of the third level student support schemes? There is a huge expansion in the number of private third level colleges and many families are finding it difficult to meet financial demands because of the lack of any student support in these areas. What is her policy or thinking in that area?

In Ireland we always appear to have a great deal of choice in education. However, there are certain inflexibilities in the system. Would the Minister examine the school transport system to explore the possibility of introducing flexibility into the manner in which it operates? There seems to be an excessive degree of bureaucratic rule surrounding it.

The Taoiseach was in Castlebar recently and I know exactly what he announced as we had announced it earlier. It was the setting up of one-and two-year Outreach courses. There is a study in progress which will spell out where the future needs of third level and regional technical colleges lie. I will make decisions when I receive that report, which will probably be September at the earliest.

I accept Senator Taylor-Quinn's point about speech and drama teachers and tie it in with Senator Roche's point about the transport system. There are things that a local education authority will be able to do and matters to which it would respond more easily. I am sure the colour of Senator Roche's hair was not helped by recent hiccups in the transport system. A local education authority could respond locally to the need for facilities such as speech and drama in its area.

With regard to the third level student support scheme, we are awaiting the publication of the grants committee report which examined the whole area of third level students. There is an onus on the Minister for Education to ensure a structured approach to the different forms of education available and to meet commitments on that.

I thank the House for allowing me to come here today. It has been a good exercise for me to reread the convention report and get an indication of Members' concerns and priorities in such a wideranging report. I also congratulate the secretary, the secretary general and the chairperson of the convention for the work they have done on behalf of all of us. I am a Minister at a very exciting time. Sometimes it is too exciting but I have survived.

I will take this opportunity to answer a few of the questions which were raised. Senator Ormonde talked about the transition year and the different strands going into the leaving certificate. She was rather concerned that people would not be aware of the plethora of options available to them. Senator Ormonde is a career guidance teacher and has specific knowledge in this area. We are compiling a video which will spell out the various choices to the schools, the parents and anybody who wants a copy of it.

The emphasis now is on making the leaving certificate attractive to all students, particularly those with different needs. About 70 per cent of children stay in school and sit the leaving certificate and I do not think that is good enough. We certainly have to aim for 90 per cent. We have to ask why school is not relevant to some children. I sometimes meet children who seem so wise I wonder if they need school at all. We have to make school relevant to those children. Senator Quinn has a special interest in one strand of the leaving certificate and we want to ensure the knowledge is there.

Senator O'Toole referred to one particular school. The people in that school were given a choice and they made their decision. I am on record as saying that I was quite disappointed as I know I broke the back of the crisis schools. This school was quite entitled to turn down refurbishment but they did get the choice. We will look at the needs of their school in 1995 but in the meantime I have announced the commissioning of a national survey on school buildings. One cannot decide expenditure on the day-to-day headlines from any one school because I worry about a school that may not be able to bring their needs to the attention of the Department of Education. I will be looking for the support of the INTO but we have to look at second level schools as well.

Sex education is topical at the moment. I accept that it is not just the duty of the Minister for Health. However, there has been a good relationship between the Departments of Health and Education in developing programmes. There is a variety of programmes not only on sex education but also on substance abuse and so on. It is very helpful to the Department of Education to work with the Department of Health and the health boards to ensure that we are putting together a healthy package. I thank the teachers for their support.

There are constant congratulations on the vocational education committee system and I take that on board. With regard to the future of education they certainly are an example to a Minister who is devising a new sector.

There is no good example in the buildings they have destroyed all over Dublin.

Senator Farrell was interrupted by lunch as he was taking us down memory lane. In the recent budget I announced the provision of computer, phone, modem and fax to the island schools. Knowledge is about to take over from people and I mean that in the best sense. We will not have to depend totally on staff levels to make a wealth of knowledge available to schools. There was a lot of support for small schools at the convention and I welcome that. I feel now that we are on the brink of an exciting world, and I will further develop that in the next few weeks. In regard to the issues of equity and pre-schooling, I was glad to see that despite my ability to say a lot and mean nothing or mean a lot and say little, Senator Magner welcomed the fact that the report did not fudge issues but very much marked the card of the Minister.

Senator Honan spoke about the implementation of the recommendations of the report. Issues such as the governance of schools are interesting, and I am thinking about these issues. Senator Quinn spoke about the philosophy of our education policy. We need to underpin what we do by spelling out our philosophy because then our actions make sense. Of course resources remain an issue. Many speakers welcomed a convention style consultation process with all interested parties.

We did not forget to link the world of education and work. There was some rolling back in response to the Green Paper; it put us back on track. At the end of school life I hope every child will be able to go to work. I want to keep the link between education and work because the more holistic the education, the more flexible the student will be on leaving the system. Senator Taylor-Quinn put it in perspective when she said that one-third of the population are involved; I believe all the population are involved. Some people are at school, some have family members at school, some have been to school, have been unhappy in school or are looking for a different kind of school. The Minister for Education is lobbied by representatives of all these groups; I hope Members notice that I am thriving on it.

Coming into this Chamber has raised my spirit. I am sorry I will not be back to see the demonstration Senator Norris promised on different aspects of different kinds of education. I thank Members again. I found this to be a very enriching experience. I hope I was able to share with Members some of the excitement I feel at being a Minister for Education at this time.

I thank the Minister. It would be remiss of us to not note that she is the only member of Government who has come into either House to take unscripted questions from the floor. It is much appreciated.

Question put and agreed to.