Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 11 Dec 1996

Vol. 149 No. 13

Primary Education: Motion.

The overall time limit on this debate is two hours. Notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the time limits for the debate are as follows: the Minister may speak for 15 minutes, the proposer of the motion may speak for 12 minutes and each other Senator may speak for eight minutes. The proposer, or some other Senator nominated by him, may reply for five minutes.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann—

—expresses its concern about the resourcing of Irish primary education and particularly noting the lack of an adequate remedial service, the number of substandard school buildings, the poor provision for pupils with special needs and the low level of grants for the running and maintenance of schools;

—regrets the slow progress being made in replacing and renovating substandard school buildings, despite the commitments in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress and the Programme for Competitiveness and Work;

—demands that all schools in the recently published INTO list be dealt with as a priority;

—and further demands that, in the light of the embarrassing OECD document, Education at a Glance, published yesterday, Tuesday, 10 December, in Paris, showing in international terms the atrociously low level of resources given to Irish primary education, the Government set it as a priority objective that Irish primary school class sizes and spending per pupil be brought into line with European Union averages.

I thank the Minister for taking this motion tonight as I know she has a busy schedule. The motion is very strongly worded, for which I make no apology. Having said that, this is a continuing issue and I ask the Government benches, in particular, to note that while it is strongly worded it is not especially directed at this Minister. This issue has been a problem for many years and progress must be made on it. The Ministers with whom I have dealt over the past five or six years of all parties have all made an effort on this issue but it will never be enough until our funding compares with that in Europe.

The OECD report showed, among other things, that Irish primary teachers are very well paid in a world context. That is worth mentioning because it is a fact that our teachers are valued. Teachers value their pupils and the service they provide. It is important that they are listened to in regard to these areas.

There are always huge levels of frustration in dealing with an issue such as this. As a representative of teachers, I will say it is never enough and the Minister will say how much she has done. I understand this motion will be accepted by the Government and I ask the Minister to use it as a lever to get the Government and the Department of Finance to improve conditions in primary schools. She will have the full support of all parties for that.

There is very worrying information about primary school funding in the OECD report. We need further information. The Minister and her Department have examined the impact of school funding in various different ways. The INTO have initiated a new survey of all primary schools to determine the precise problems caused by the lack of funding.

It is easy to make a mantra of the various issues — the shortage of ancillary staff, the lack of a nationwide psychological service, the small number of general purpose rooms and the inadequate resources for special and remedial education — which daily bite into the operation of schools and will be reflected in any survey results. The Minister is quite entitled to say she has made progress on each of these issues, as would any Minister of the day. While the progress made in these areas must be recognised, it should also be recognised that it is not sufficient. We all need to be happy with the service, including that provided by teachers in the classroom. Every aspect of education must give value to the taxpayer who is entitled to demand the best quality service.

It is now official that Irish primary teachers have the largest and most overcrowded classes in the European Union and, according to the OECD, in the world with the exception of Turkey. Irish kindergarten classes are even larger than those in Turkey. A great deal needs to be done.

There are under 500,000 pupils in primary schools and, although that is unlikely, that figure might go as low as 400,000 in ten years' time. Assuming, it does and that we retain the current number of teachers in the system, which is just over 20,000, that would give a ratio of 20 pupils per teacher. The European average pupil to teacher ratio is 16 to one.

The Minister continually refers to the fact that there are 18,000 fewer primary school pupils this year. However, we still need to retain the current number of teachers — in fact, we need to increase it. While the number of pupils is reducing we can deal with many problems through the demographic dividend, but the number will cease to reduce in five or six years time. That might not be the Minister's problem or mine but it will be a problem for someone and we must plan for it. We need more resources if we are to reach the European level.

Having the largest class size in the European Union means that discipline problems are increasingly difficult to deal with, there is less time to deal with individual learning problems and the identification of a pupil with particular or special needs is much delayed. As a teacher, the Minister will be well aware of that.

In the OECD report Irish primary teachers emerge as the most productive in Europe. In crude measurement terms such as class size, hours worked and so on, an Irish primary teacher does on average 1.5 times the work of other European teachers. The fact that salary levels are above average is poor compensation for the physical wear and tear and near impossible professional challenges facing teachers. A balance must be found. The Minister has always defended the need for a well paid teaching service.

The OECD report confirms once again that Irish primary education has the lowest per pupil investment and the worst pupil teacher ratio in the European Union, which includes the element of teachers' salaries — halving teachers' salaries and doubling the number of teachers would not change the investment per pupil. The Minister will argue that the percentage of GDP spent on primary education is high in OECD terms, which is true, but the investment per pupil is very low.

When we consider that primary school teachers and pupils operate in overcrowded classes and substandard accommodation for long hours, it is galling to see the low value placed by the State on them compared to that placed on second and third level students. I do not suggest second and third levels are overfunded — the opposite is the case — but, in crude terms, the State invests three and a half times more in each third level student than in each primary pupil. There are good arguments why it should be significantly more, but I am not sure it should be over three times more. In financial terms the boards of management of primary schools receive £45 for each pupil per year to run their schools. The Minister has increased that amount significantly by 50 per cent since she took office. However, after the pupils leave, they go to post-primary schools where the boards of management receive £177 for each pupil per year to run the schools. I do not understand why primary school pupils are so undervalued.

Overall, the State invests 50 per cent more on second level students than on primary school pupils. In recent times it has been repeatedly shown that second level education is not overfunded and that parents and teachers are worried about it. This demonstrates the poor position at primary level. The gap between primary and post-primary and third levels is wider in Ireland than any other European country. This underfunding is a callous response to the constitutional imperative which requires the State to provide free primary education; not only it is not free but it is more poorly funded than other levels of education.

Some years ago the Government signed a UN document relating to the rights of children and the commitment to free primary education. This is stated in the Constitution and the Minister for Education is entitled to call the shots on this matter at the Cabinet table. She is being asked to carry the can for the lack of funding for primary education. The Constitution entitles the Minister to demand this money and she would have the full support of the people on this issue. The scale of the problems created by underfunding must be identified — for example, school debts. As the Minister is aware, this is a huge problem. I was infuriated some years ago when the rules relating to primary education were changed to allow boards of management to incur overdrafts. I preferred it when they were not allowed to do so. Almost all schools are now, of necessity, engaged in fundraising. Ancillary supports, such as caretaking, secretarial services and classroom assistance, are also important. Issues such as the condition of buildings, the lack of equipment and the lack of information technology are constantly debated.

We are talking about modernisation and the possible establishment in the future of a Department to deal with technology. Immediate savings would be made if every school was hooked up to the Internet. They could buy a full encyclopaedia on CD-ROM for £80 rather than spending £1,500 on Encyclopaedia Britannia. For this amount, schools could have modems, printers and CD-ROM computers and be connected to the Internet. This aspect should be considered. I have raised this in the current negotiations between the social partners and the Government.

I am aware the Minister shares my views on this matter. It is difficult to provide a service given the widespread retail distribution network in primary education where, because of plantations and famines, there are houses up hills and down dales. This is not the case in other European countries but information technology would make the service more cost effective. It would also help in service education of teachers and the development of new ideas.

The Minister and I have taken part in discussions on the funding of schools with management authorities and parent groups. The impact on schools of inadequate funding has always been a problem and the current situation is leading to unmanageable problems which must be addressed because pupils deserve better.

The motion is not critical of the Minister or her Department. All sides of the House agree there is a problem. I place the issue in the context of other aspects of education, none of which is overfunded, and Europe. In terms of developing forward, immediate investment in primary education is needed, whether it is in information technology, school buildings, ancillary services or specialist teachers. I ask the Minister to give her full support to the demands in the motion and to give full flight to her views on many of the issues I have heard her explain repeatedly in other places. It is time she came out as a teacher, expressed her views and demanded that the Government give her the support to which she is entitled.

I wish to reiterate some of the principles Senator O'Toole eloquently and effectively enunciated. The motion is not an attack on the Minister. She has made a significant contribution in a number of the areas about which we are most concerned and she wants to continue doing so. However, she must find that progress, although faster than under previous Administrations, is disappointingly slow given the amount of work which remains to be done.

I am sure all Members agree that the substandard schools mentioned in the recently published INTO priority list must be addressed and that these school buildings must be urgently replaced and renovated. I wish to concentrate on two aspects of the motion. The first relates to the provision of an adequate remedial service, a matter which is close to the Minister's heart. The House debated it on 30 June 1993 when the Minister made 200 additional places available. I urge her to continue even more emphatically in that direction given the way society is going and the problems which are piling up in terms of disadvantaged areas and attacks on the totality of poverty there, which is reflected in schools but which also reflects the home environment. Schools are an integral part of dealing with the difficulties but they cannot be a substitute for a full policy of attempting to crack the problems of structural unemployment and poverty which have become a culture in those areas. This point has been made repeatedly and the great backlog which still exists in this area must be cleared.

The Minister deserves praise for her contribution towards the provision of more remedial teachers through courses at third level and through in service training. I understand these are working satisfactorily in my college but there is still a great deal more to be done. A challenge confronts us, much of which depends on EU funding. Where do we go when problems arise or questions must be posed in the near future regarding the continuation of this funding for such a desirable purpose? If the funding is not included in the Government's budgetary processes and is made contingent on continuing support at current levels from Europe, huge questions marks are placed over the sustainability of what has already been achieved and, even more so, on continuing it at an improved level.

It is not a reflection on the Minister but the nature of the position in which we find ourselves that the issue of adequate provision for remedial teaching will force itself even further to the surface of the problems confronting education. I agree with Senator O'Toole's point about the idea that, because numbers in primary education are falling, more resources are not required. This is an extraordinarily mechanical way of considering the matter and it informs much of bureaucracy's approach to resourcing education. The idea is that if we wait long enough, the numbers will come down, not because of anything that is being done, but because of the working through the system of decisions made by innumerable people in the full pinnacle of their wisdom in earlier years. Given the depths from which we began in terms of pupil-teacher ratios, that is an unacceptable approach to a much more urgent matter. I support Senator O'Toole's argument and reasoning in that direction.

The OECD report shows the lack of provision of non-salary resources in primary education in a comparative context in a glaring and disappointing way. That investment in primary education, including pre-school education, is much needed. I only saw the OECD figures today and Members are aware that one can make almost anything one wants of figures. One of the more serious messages coming through is the great gap within the same grade of performance in the lower and top quartile. There are huge differences in the achievement levels of pupils of the same age and often in the same grade and class.

Remedial teachers have a significant role to play in trying to cope with deprivation and in motivating pupils in the weaker strata. In some cases it is a question of affinity for the subject or intelligence in a particular area, while in others it is question of motivation, background and innocence being pointed in the wrong direction from an early age. Remedial teachers, in particular, coupled with falling pupil-teacher ratios — falling even faster than the slow trudge of the demographic consequences to the education system — are required at this stage.

I agree with my colleague on the importance of improving technology about which we spoke this morning on the Order of Business. Given what the Houses have done in terms of technology, it may seem importunity on our parts to tell others how they should conduct their affairs. The sooner primary schools, indeed all schools, have access to information technology the better for everybody from the viewpoint of resources and educating children from an early age about the type of world in which they will grow up.

Some people grudge teachers their comfortable salaries and positions. Given the role of teachers in our society, we should grant them recognition for their fundamental contribution. I suspect that if all teachers went on strike tomorrow morning parents would be running to second the role they play. We are piling more and more responsibility on them. They are now increasingly proxy parents and we are asking them to be surrogate social workers. We are piling on them a cluster of problems which were dealt with in the home or elsewhere in earlier generations. I do not believe we take adequate cognisance of the responsibility we expect teachers to discharge not only in the school towards their pupils but towards society as a whole. I do not grudge them anything which may result from this motion which I strongly support.

I would have preferred if the motion had referred to the considerable amount of work the Minister has done in education since taking office. It is a little bald from that viewpoint and it suggests that many things are wrong about which nothing is being done. When one examines what has happened in education over the past number of years, one would have to acknowledge, as Senator Lee did, that a considerable number of things have been done. The context of education has changed. Regional boards will be put in place which will free up the policy side and will make it more efficient and effective.

At school level, there has been a large number of innovations aimed particularly at the disadvantaged. The amount of money being spent in schools is enormous compared to a few years ago. I would have preferred if that had been acknowledged in the motion. However, the proposer and seconder admitted many good things were happening in education. The motion give us the opportunity to do an audit and to look at things which are not 100 per cent. The Minister will have no problem defending her position in each of the areas mentioned in the motion. We cannot achieve everything in a day or a year. However, we must continuously try to reduce inequalities in the system, which is what is happening. I am happy with the approach the Minister has taken.

Primary education in Ireland is different to that in most other countries because we have a voluntary system. The Department makes grants available and the owners of the school make up the difference. That is how the system devolved. In recent years everybody has been looking for more resources from the Minister but nobody has suggested that the owners of schools make a greater input. In fact, their input has been decreasing. We tend to lose sight of the fact that this is a voluntary system. I do not want to dwell on that because it is a hornet's nest which should remain untouched for the moment. Although schools are privately owned, the Department is being asked to pay the full cost of running and maintaining them which, under the definition of a voluntary system, was never intended.

The motion refers to the remedial service which today is unrecognisable from the service which existed a few years ago. There has been a considerable number of appointments to the remedial service. A huge number of schools have a service which they did not have three or four years ago. The number of substandard buildings has decreased. Of the 47 schools on the INTOs list, 17 are at an advanced stage in the planning process. The west coast has been transformed over the past number of years. We must refer to the positive aspects.

The motion also refers to the poor provision for pupils with special needs. A few years ago no provisions were made for such pupils and little attention was paid to their needs. This Minister and Government have invested substantial resources in this area and they intend to continue to do so. Within a few years those who remain disadvantaged will be looked after.

As regards the low level of grants for the running and maintenance of schools, I already referred to the voluntary nature of schools, which has certain implications. The capitation grants which the Minister is making available to national schools represent a colossal 60 per cent increase in the past few years. Local contributions have not increased by 60 per cent; they have decreased. It has been suggested that we get rid of the local contribution but that is another day's work.

The motion also says that we should regret the slow progress being made in replacing and renovating substandard school buildings. A huge amount of work has been done in this area. We could all point to new schools which have been opened. I can think of three or four schools in my area which the Minister opened in the past few years. The motion demands that all schools in the recently published INTO list be dealt with as a priority. That matter is receiving priority but the Minister does not have the resources to attack all 47 at once and no sensible person would expect her to do so. Some 17 schools will be looked after quickly and the list will be reduced substantially over time.

The motion also refers to what some people say is the embarrassing OECD document. I do not believe the document is embarrassing. Per capita expenditure can be examined from various viewpoints. However, we can stand over and be relatively proud of our position as regards expenditure on education. The evolution of the system allowed the Government in the early days to make choices which it would not have made if it had been a complete State system. Those choices have a distorting effect on the system today.

We support this motion because, in effect, it supports what the Minister is doing. The Minister will be able to show that the problems mentioned in the motion have been eroded in the last few years. She will also be able to say that the erosion will continue apace for as long as the Government has control of this issue.

I support the motion. It refers to the lack of resources being allocated to primary education and its knock-on effect. The motion specifically refers to lack of remedial services and substandard schools. I made a number of inquiries from colleagues — some of them members of the Minister's party — and many of them mentioned schools which are substandard. However, there will always be a few substandard schools and I do not intend to base my comments on that issue this evening. I will talk about the area I know best, the remedial services.

The quality of access to remedial education concerns me. In some cases the access consists of a remedial teacher who is available to a school once a week. That teacher might teach reading skills one week and numerical skills the following week. What happens to the student who is dyslexic? There is no provision to deal with such a problem. Often the parents must provide adequate facilities for such difficulties themselves.

The emphasis in the allocation of resources should be on primary schools. There is much talk nowadays about the impact of unemployment on families and the impact of dysfunctional families on children. Many students are in need of remedial teaching only because there are no support systems in the home or in the school. It is important that there be equality of access to remedial teachers in schools. That is not the case at present. There is a cluster system. Perhaps it is the next best thing but I would prefer if money were redirected to primary level. If a student of 12 years of age has not had access to proper remedial education his or her learning difficulties in reading and numerical assessment will not be discovered.

There are better facilities at second level. They include career guidance teachers, remedial teachers and full access to educational psychologists. What happens at primary level? There is one psychologist for every 40 schools. I am aware of schools where the remedial teachers have tested students and brought their problems to the attention of the educational psychologist and they are still awaiting the psychologist's reports. That is not good enough. We should ensure that all professional supports are available to provide an integrated approach. They should include the primary teacher, the remedial teacher, the home school link, the educational psychologist and access to social supports in the area. That is the way forward. That is what happens at second level, particularly in disadvantaged areas. If the approach at primary level is right it will make my job and that of others in second level education easier.

Many students are lost when they enter second level because they have low self esteem and cannot cope with their inability to read and write. They have to be re-tested by the educational psychologist and put on special programmes. They are immediately marked out. On the other hand, if they were discovered at the age of four years, they could be helped through the primary education cycle and re-integrated into the system in fifth class, after which they would be ready to take on normal stream education by 12 or 13 years of age. We would be well advised to invest our money at that level. I constantly say as much because I am aware of the knock-on effect of not doing so. An integrated approach must be adopted because the cluster policy does not work.

There is a better system in the cities than in rural areas where a remedial teacher might be in one school on one day and in another school the following day. In such cases the teacher has to familiarise him or herself with what happened in the school during the previous week and find a room in the school, which could be substandard, in which to teach the student before moving on to the next school. There is too much mobility. The student only sees the remedial teacher coming to the school for an hour or two before he or she leaves again. There is no continuity. To that extent there is discrimination between urban and rural schools.

I advocate the provision of one remedial teacher per school. At least 20 per cent of students in every class are remedial and even the best class will contain four or five students who require remedial teaching for whatever reason. Such students require teaching on a one-to-one basis to give them proper support. If remedial services were provided in every school from first class — parents should also be involved as far as possible — it would be more beneficial to the students than providing such access at 12 and 13 years of age when it is too late. Regular support from an educational psychologist is also necessary but at present that is not available. There is such a service on paper. However, if I were to seek an educational psychologist in the morning I would have great difficulty in getting him or her to come to the school to test the child and furnish me with a prompt report so a decision could be made about the best class and remedial programme for the student.

I do not dispute that there is access to remedial services and that the access has improved. In addition, there is better access in disadvantaged areas in cities. However, we need quality of access and that can only be provided if there is one remedial teacher per school. It is particularly necessary now in view of the impact of unemployment and dysfunctional backgrounds on children. If there was quality of access the knock-on benefit for the child would be huge. The Minister might not have enough money to provide it but I advise her to prioritise her expenditure. The money should be directed at primary level. Second level is doing fine at present and has plenty of supports. However, there are not enough supports at primary level and that is the problem. Our thinking should focus on that level.

This is the first time I have come to the Seanad since Senator Cosgrave, a colleague in my constituency, was elected Cathaoirleach in rather sad circumstances. I mourn the sudden loss of the previous Cathaoirleach, Senator Naughten. Senator Cosgrave is the third Cathaoirleach with whom I have dealt during my period of office. Ministers have been welcomed to the Chamber by each Cathaoirleach with great courtesy. It is sad to see the loss of so many good men from so many different persuasions.

I am glad of the opportunity to address the House and to comment on the findings of the OECD report and I will be as positive as possible. It was with this in mind that I did not seek to try to influence the wording of Senator O'Toole's motion but accepted it in the spirit in which he assured us it was tabled. It can still, as Senator Cotter said, make rather grim reading but I noted the points made.

The education system is a success. Several OECD reports confirm this. By international standards we have a high retention rate of pupils in education, second only to Norway. The outcome is very good, reflecting on the teaching profession and the investment we make in our teachers. It is an extraordinary statement about the success of the education system here.

We have a high output of mathematics and science graduates. Let us celebrate this good news. We have high mathematics and science attainment at junior cycle level. We have a very high participation of teachers at primary and second level in in-career development programmes, a deliberate investment in our teaching profession.

All these achievements are built on the foundations laid in our primary schools. The teachers in our primary schools, without doubt, achieve internationally high standards. They should be recognised and valued.

I have put aside £40 million for teacher in-career development in the national plan negotiated for 1993-99. This year we will spend £4 million on in-career development, the training and retraining of teachers. A meagre sum of less than £700,000 was spent in 1992, the year before I took office. This illustrates the legacy of under funding which I inherited and I hope Senator Ormonde is listening to these comments.

I remind the House that the OECD report is not commenting on my term in office. Some of it relates to 1994 and 1993 and it is incumbent on us to note the record of previous Administrations which led to the under-funding of primary education and the steps I have taken since 1993 to correct this.

Since I became Minister, the education budget has increased by one third. The effect of this improved funding is felt in every primary school. On my appointment, I adopted two priorities for our primary schools. First, I wanted to improve pupil teacher ratios, capitation grants and general support for all schools in our primary system. We had to make up for years of neglect. Second, I wanted to target support specifically at those children with special needs arising from disadvantage, learning difficulties and physical disabilities. Sometimes, as I apportion the massive funding increase which I have secured, it has led to friction.

The House will be aware that I have succeeded in keeping 1,000 teachers in the primary system who would have been lost because of falling pupil numbers. Maybe it is just as well that numbers are falling. However, the jobs could equally have been lost but that did not happen because of the partnership between the teacher unions, the Government and the Minister. One thousand teachers have been targeted for general improvements in primary schools and for children with special needs.

The pupil teacher ratio which stood at 25.2 four years ago has been reduced to 22.5 in the current school year, a decrease of 2.7. Maximum class size has fallen from 39 to 35 over the last four years, a decrease of four pupils per class.

In disadvantaged schools maximum class sizes have fallen from 39 to 29 over the last four years, a decrease of ten pupils per class in schools that are within the general disadvantaged scheme of the Department. In schools which experience particular difficulties and which are included in the "Breaking the Cycle" initiative we have specifically targeted class size. I taught a class of 63 children from the Oliver Bond flats area which is now enjoying classes no bigger than 15 for the first four years — I will not talk about the quality of teaching to which Senator Ormonde referred.

In the context of student performance and class sizes, our teachers are performing well. From research available we know that if we decrease class sizes to 15, the quality of life for teachers will improve as will the performance from pupils. In schools in the "Breaking the Cycle" initiative, the size of junior infants, senior infants, first and second classes is no bigger than 15.

Is it any wonder that the OECD report, an end of term report on previous Administrations, shows class size in primary schools in such a bad light? I thank the Senator for acknowledging that improvements have been made which have been both general and specific in character.

Since the publication of the Report of the Special Education Review Committee in 1993 there has been a significant increase in the number of special classes attached to ordinary national schools. All these classes operate on the basis of a reduced pupil teacher ratio. As Minister, I introduced a one unit improvement in the pupil teacher ratio across the entire range of special schools and classes. This contrasts dramatically with the absence of change in the preceding four years.

Remedial teachers are a particularly important resource in catering for children with learning difficulties. Since my appointment, I have allocated an additional 241 ex-quota remedial teaching posts to primary schools. This contrasts with the preceding four years. The record stands for itself: in 1989 not a single extra remedial teacher was appointed. In 1990 there seemed to be a prospect of improvement when 80 were appointed but in 1991 and 1992 no remedial teacher was appointed. No wonder Senator Ormonde is meeting problems at secondary level. The facts speak for themselves. However, I will continue to search for further improvement. I share the expectations of the remedial teacher service about which Senator Ormonde spoke.

We also have resource teachers who cater for pupils with more serious learning difficulties and disabilities. Forty-six resource teachers provide this specialised service. This is not enough but is an increase on the extraordinarily low number of seven resource teachers which we had four years ago. Where children with special needs are involved, it is necessary to supplement the teaching staff with back-up support from care staff. When I became Minister, there were 82 child care posts in the special education system. There has been an increase from 82 to 232 in four years. There is no doubt that more needs to be done to undo the legacy of previous Administrations, but I put it to the House that employing almost three times as many child care assistants in four years is a major advance.

The home/school/community liaisón scheme is a further initiative to combat disadvantage in the primary school system. The scheme is targeted at pupils in particular areas of disadvantage. We now have a national co-ordinator to make sure this is operating nation-wide. There were 30 coordinators at primary level when I took office. In four years, this number has grown to 105, serving 178 schools and 51,000 pupils and their parents. I am proud to have encouraged and facilitated the expansion of this scheme because we did not have this type of communication during my teaching days. There was no link between home and school. Teachers thought they knew it all. I have learned that this is not so and I am glad to be in a position to encourage the growth of that scheme.

When I became Minister for Education, the capitation grant stood at £28 per pupil. During the previous four years it had changed very little. In 1989, it was £26.50, in 1990, £28.00, in 1991, £28.00 and in 1992, £28.00, an increase of only £1.50 in four years. I have succeeded in securing substantial increases in the level of this grant to £33 in 1993, £38 in 1994 and £40 in 1995. A further increase this year has brought the standard grant to £45 per pupil, which represents an increase of £17 per pupil, or more than 60 per cent, over a four year period.

The increase in capitation grants for schools designated disadvantaged has been even greater. There has been an increase of £30, from £45 to £75, in the last four years. I have also introduced special capitation rates for pupils attending special classes and special schools. When I took office, the grant per child with mild mental handicap was a mere £76.20 per student. Today it is £195 for students under 12 and £316 for students of 12 years or over. When I took office, the grant per child with a severe or profound mental handicap was a mere £92.70. Today it is £383 per child. When I took office, the grant per child with a visual impairment was £132. Today it is £307 per child under 12 years of age and £372 for children over 12. I could multiply these examples and I will continue to seek more and more funding, but my record is clear. I am delighted Senator O'Toole has given me the opportunity to state this.

I will now deal with the issue of the capital funding of primary schools. The House is well aware that during the period 1988-1992 there were severe cutbacks in the capital funding of primary schools. This year we will spend almost £30 million on primary school buildings. We are completing nearly two buildings per week. Senator Cotter asked Senators to think about what schools in their areas have celebrated the completion of new buildings or repairs. Spending in this area amounted to £13 million in 1991. I have spent £30 million in this year. This was truly a legacy of neglect. When I came into office the INTO presented me with a list of 170 seriously substandard buildings and I took it as a sad testimony to the indifference we witnessed in the past.

Since I got that list, over £89 million has been allocated for capital works at primary schools. Major projects have been undertaken at over 120 schools. Improvement grants have paid for over 7,000 minor works — closing mouse holes and so on — carried out in schools. It is worth noting that we have 3,300 primary school buildings. Major projects are coming to an end at over 60 schools around the country, while work is in progress at a further 24 schools. I recently approved major projects in Cork, Kildare and Mayo. Improvement grants have been paid in respect of 1,600 applications by schools for assistance this year and I am delighted the Government agreed to the allocation of an additional £8 million to capital projects.

More work needs to be done. I need to hear Senators' voices raised in support of that work and I take this debate in that spirit. The backlog of projects built up as a result of cuts imposed between 1988-1992 is unbelievable. I am committed, with the INTO, this Government and the support of my colleagues, to eliminating the substandard buildings list.

The INTO recently published a further list of 47 schools which need attention. Of these, one project has gone to tender, a second will go to tender within ten days, improvement grants have been sanctioned this year in four cases, 18 schools are advancing through the various stages of the planning process, detailed reports have been sought in respect of ten schools, a further 11 schools will be considered for inclusion in a future capital programme and the Department has no record of an application from two of the schools. I am sure Senator O'Toole and I can speak about that matter later. I assure the House that, as with the earlier list of 170 schools, I will constantly review this list and prioritise the buildings on it. I am glad that Senator Cotter was able to think of so many projects that were neglected for years and have now been completed.

I have responsibility for all pupils and for the resources that I receive. I must use them wisely and well. The OECD report leaves no room for complacency but the measures I have taken demonstrate my commitment to ensuring that the shortfall in resources identified in the OECD report is and will be addressed. I stand over my record in improving capitation grants, increasing teacher numbers and tackling the backlog of major capital projects.

We are examining the whole area of technology. This section of the curriculum needs investment from in-career development because teachers need that kind of support in order to introduce the exciting possibilities of technology to their pupils. I smiled when Senator Lee referred to the difficulties we have in accessing technology. If more people in this House can access and use technology in all its forms it will be easier for me to secure support for that investment. I will support those teachers who take this area, for which they were not trained, into their curriculum.

I thank Senators for allowing me to speak and to acknowledge the work done, as has been said already. As Minister for Education seeking more funding, a debate such as this from all sides of the House is extremely helpful. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

The first two sections of this motion identified four ongoing problem areas in Irish primary education. These are the lack of an adequate remedial service; poor provision for pupils with special needs; low level of grants for the running and maintenance of schools and, last but not least, the number of substandard schools which are still in use and the slow progress in relation to the replacement and renovation of these buildings. All these problems have their roots in the inadequate resourcing of primary education over the years. They will be solved only by the provision of substantially increased funding for Irish primary education.

The OECD report, Education at a Glance, to which the final section of the motion refers and which was published yesterday in Paris, confirms once again that Irish primary school pupils are still being taught in the largest classes of any country in the EU. Of all the countries surveyed, only Mexico and Turkey have a higher pupil teacher ratio at primary level than Ireland. The lack of an adequate remedial service in the primary sector has been highlighted in almost every education debate in which I have participated. Some progress has been made over the years but there is still a long way to go. In this regard it would be most unfair not to acknowledge the present Minister's special interest in this area and the further progress which has been made under her stewardship in this and other areas to which the motion refers, but she can only do as much as the resources which are available to her allow.

This problem will be solved satisfactorily only when every primary school, irrespective of size, has access to an adequate remedial service. At present I understand that more than 900 schools still have to manage without the services of a remedial teacher. The problem is particularly acute in small rural schools where the children with learning disabilities are at a distinct disadvantage vis-a-vis their counterparts in schools which have access to a remedial service. The provision of remedial education at primary school level makes good economic sense. It is more cost effective than intervention at a later stage.

In rural areas where remedial services are provided on a shared basis, there is a need to ensure the provision is based on the children's educational needs rather than overall enrolment. Action also needs to be taken to ensure that suitable accommodation is available for all teachers of remedial classes. Remedial grants are also grossly inadequate and need to be increased substantially.

The provisions for pupils with special needs also leaves much to be desired. Many such pupils are being educated in totally unsuitable buildings. There is also a need for suitably qualified classroom assistants and proper support services. The policy of integrating children with special needs into ordinary classes in national schools needs to be supported by adequate resources. All over the country children with disabilities are enrolled in such classes and the teachers have little, if any, backup from other professionals like psychologists, physiotherapists, counsellors or speech therapists. If the policy of integration is to succeed, it cannot be allowed to continue on this haphazard basis. As soon as each child's individual needs are determined, the required backup facilities should be put in place.

The 1997 Estimates, which were published this week, contain no good news on the funding of primary schools. Yesterday's Irish Independent reported that both capitation and building grants have been frozen at 1996 levels. The time has come to end rather than increase the disparity in funding between the different levels of education. Adequate grants should be provided for the maintenance, heating, lighting, cleaning and insurance of primary schools. It is ridiculous that so much of the time and energy of members of boards of management and parents' committees have to be expended trying to raise the necessary finance to ensure the day-to-day running costs can be met. The need to supplement the totally inadequate funding provided by the Department of Education places an unacceptable burden on many families and results in serious financial hardship for parents in many parts of the country.

The time has come for every school to have an adequate budget for the provision of essential educational materials, facilities and equipment in addition to meeting the costs of employing necessary ancillary staff, such as caretakers, secretaries and classroom assistants. In the Estimates, the provision for primary school building also remains the same as it was in 1996, despite the fact that in many parts of the country children are being educated in school buildings which are seriously substandard.

The INTO recently published a list of primary schools which are in a deplorable condition and which are totally unfit for use as educational establishments. Recently, on the Adjournment, Senator Finneran and I raised the case of one such school, Cloontuskert national school in County Roscommon. We were told by the Minister for Health, who was replying on behalf of the Minister for Education, that the Department's architectural staff are in the process of preparing tender documentation for this school. I appeal to the Minister to expedite that provision as soon as she can.

Investment in primary education makes very sound economic sense. We are told that primary education is the foundation on which all further education is built. The stronger and more solid the foundation, the better the superstructure. The under-resourcing of primary education is, as the old saying goes, penny wise and pound foolish. It is time we pledged ourselves to abandon that policy in the interests of this and future generations of Irish children.

I welcome the Minister. This must be her tenth visit to the House and the news gets better with each visit. I have vivid memories of her first visit to this House and the reception given by another Senator. He has improved his manners since then.

The Senator should be a teacher. I have been struggling against a good upbringing all my life.

Senator Kelly without interruption.

I did not identify the person but he has identified himself. An indication of the good work the Minister is doing is that Fr. Seán Healy of CORI has acknowledged her particular interest in the area of disadvantage and she has diverted resources to the disadvantaged when pressure was exerted for her to spread the cake evenly across all sectors. The Minister took the wiser decision and "Breaking the Cycle" will be one of the best things ever done in Irish education. Schools that are particularly disadvantaged have been picked out for special attention. The effects of that may not be seen for ten years but they will be seen. It is a fantastic approach and one on which the Minister should be complimented.

It has not necessarily met with approval everywhere. I have met parents and teachers who have said: "Why should extra money be spent on them? They do not bother coming to school and they have no interest in education. Why is my child not getting the same?" In many cases their child comes from a middle class home and the parent can supply every facility going. The State owes it to those who are disadvantaged to make up the differences in their lives by giving them better resources.

The Leas-Chathaoirleach said that intervention at primary level is very cost effective and the Minister has acknowledged that it pays off in the long-term. Listening to the proposals from the Opposition, nobody seems to have sat down to cost the proposals. Someone recently described this Government's actions as the economics of the lunatic asylum. If his own party members costed their proposals and gave him the result, who would he regard as the lunatics?

For example, a quick calculation of the cost of putting a computer in every school in Ireland would cost approximately £6 million. When one adds everything up, one is asking a great deal of the Minister. The Minister has acknowledged that she could do with double her budget. She would spend it very wisely. She should be encouraged to keep demanding more and more money but, at the end of the day, it must come from somewhere; it must come from taxes. The public has a great reluctance to pay those taxes. Some day the general public will have to wake up to the fact that we cannot have good schools, teachers and facilities unless someone pays for it. If the pupil does not pay, the general public will pay through taxes.

The Labour Party is often accused of being the tax and spend party. That is not an insult; it is to our credit because we spend money on areas and on people who need it most. I am not sorry that nickname has been given to us.

The Minister for Finance is doing a fantastic job.

The Minister has outlined the improvements made. However, anyone with common sense would know that, if windows are not painted every two to three years, they will have to be replaced. The regular maintenance of schools was badly neglected. Minor repairs were ignored. Roofs were left without slates and rain got through. What could have been solved five or six years ago by a pennyworth of paint now needs major reconstruction. We are now paying for five, six and seven years' neglect. People should realise that and should ask the parties which were in Government five or six years ago why the money was not spent then.

One area I would like the Minister to examine is that of school assistants and bus escorts for the mentally handicapped because they are the most disadvantaged of all. The Minister met a delegation from a school which services part of my constituency. It outlined in detail the problems it faces. The school bus escorts scheme must be put on a firmer footing; it cannot be based solely on the casual FÁS employee. It is an area fraught with danger unless the bus driver has an escort. It would be my wish to Santa Claus that this area be regularised. The Minister might be wearing a red blouse but I do not think she is Santa Claus. However, it is something we must examine to see if funding can be found for it.

I congratulate the Minister. She has done magnificent work and long may she remain in office.

I am glad the Minister has come into the House to outline what she has been doing because she has concentrated enormous effort on the neglected area of primary schools and has made huge advances. I support the "Breaking the Cycle" initiative because it is those in disadvantaged areas who need to be given the most.

I strongly reject the notion that parents in those areas do not care about their children's education. This is not so. They care very much because they realise substandard education led them to their present position. I work in a hospital near a disadvantaged area and I heard about a father who was so thrilled with his daughter's progress that he took her around pubs in the evening to show off how much she had improved. Maybe he got this dash of enthusiasm coming up to Christmas. Nonetheless, I gather the scheme has resulted in great advances. I also applaud the Minister's efforts in the extraordinarily important pre-school area.

The one aspect which depresses me is how we are to get the essential advantages of this approach through to the general public and to the Minister's colleagues in Government. I listened to the enthusiasm of the general public and some Members of the Oireachtas for building more prisons and creating further prison spaces. If the profiles of those in our penal institutions are examined, it will be seen that they mainly come from disadvantaged areas and that a large number of them left school at an early age. Some prisoners told me that when they went to school they at least learned to read and write. Why then are other prisoners only learning to read and write in prison? If they had been taught in primary school, they would not cost the taxpayer £1,000 per week to keep them in a penal institution. The Minister has increased the capitation grants but they are still pathetic. There is an annual capitation grant of £75 for each pupil in a disadvantaged area. An afternoon for a child in a special residential home would cost that much. However, we still are not able to bring to the public mind the correlation between the two problems. I do not know how it can be done but, if I could do anything to help, I would.

One sees very few grey heads in penal institutions. The vast majority are young people, usually young men, coming from disadvantaged areas where many of them have had substandard schooling. The Minister spoke about teaching 63 pupils in a disadvantaged area of Dublin. When I read medicine in Trinity College, I was obliged to do an arts degree as well so that I could become a supply teacher in September. People had to suffer under me and I with no training for teaching.

It came naturally.

While I had no more than 50 pupils, it was impossible to deal with those numbers. Those in the first few rows learned something but the vast majority learned nothing at all.

I strongly applaud all the Minister's efforts. I do not know how we are to get it through to the general public and to Members of the Oireachtas that, unless we put finance into this area of education and take it seriously, children will not properly benefit from second level education nor will they reach third level. We waste much money on the incarceration of people who would be properly employed in the community had they received proper primary education. I do not know how the public and Members of the Oireachtas can be made to see this and to stop the tremendous enthusiasm for locking up more of the population, be they adults or children.

As one who had to face the world with a good primary education, I realise its importance and the improvements which have been made. However, desired improvements and those being implemented must be emphasised.

Children need remedial education for a wide variety of reasons. They may have specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, their education may be interrupted by ill-health or other circumstances or they may have emotional problems preventing them reaching their full potential. Whatever the reason, it is best addressed at the earliest stage possible.

The need for remedial teaching is at its greatest in the primary sector. For many children, primary school is not simply an education but a foundation. For those who leave school early, it is the only education they will ever receive and we must ensure it is of the highest quality. We continue to plough money into third level education while sometimes ignoring the needs of primary school children. I am confident that proposals in the White Paper on Education will help reverse that.

I especially welcome the "Breaking the Cycle" initiative initiated by the Minister which targets resources at areas of greatest disadvantage and which, hopefully, will be expanded. It has been estimated that, approximately, 15 per cent of pupils are in need of remedial services. Despite enormous progress we fall far short of adequately addressing those children's needs. In 1992 there were 947 remedial teachers, in 1995-96 the figure is 1,188. That is a substantial increase and there is also the provision of resource teachers. Nationally about 87 per cent of all primary school pupils have some form of access to a remedial teacher. However, the objective must be to have a remedial teacher available to all pupils.

A lot more will need to be done to remedy the lack of attention which was paid to this area in the past, where children with difficulties were fobbed of with vague and unfulfilled promises to expand the remedial services. I accept that the Minister has fleshed out these promises and I welcome the establishment of the task force to implement the findings of the Special Education Review Committee. The White Paper provides that each school will be responsible for drawing up a policy on student assessment and that the school psychological service will be expanded to support teachers in this task.

I welcome the proposal to establish a national data base which would register each child with a special disability giving each education board the responsibility for these students in co-operation with health boards. I fear that its implementation may come too late for many children who do not have access to remedial teachers.

In these circumstances one always has to be a little parochial and I make a special plea for a remedial teacher for Scoil Gubnatán in Mallow which is under severe pressure due to an increase in pupil numbers. The Minister made a good decision to upgrade that school but there is a danger that pupils who do not receive appropriate remedial teaching will fall through the gap in the education system.

I do not agree with paragraph 3 of the motion. I read in The Corkman last week that a school manager was reported as saying that his school is sound. He told the parents and his teachers that the INTO did not make a proper assessment in that case. I wondered what were the criteria set down in this respect and I got a copy of Circular 24/82. I compared this circular with gaelscoil Thomaís Dáibhís in Mallow. This school was founded in 1984, has 180 students, no indoor toilet and is housed in leaking prefabricated buildings which were second hand when acquired 13 years ago. It is not good enough that students are being taught in such conditions. If the school further west is not included, then perhaps gaelscoil Thomáis Dáibhís would be included in the Minister's programme.

The Minister knows the great uplift that is given to students, teachers and parents when a school is refurbished. A crash programme is needed to upgrade all schools. We will always encourage the provision of such funds in the Estimates. I hope we will have improvements both in the buildings and the provision of remedial teachers.

I am pleased to support this motion. All sides of the House acknowledge what the Minister has done since taking office. I accept that she has made great strides but education, particularly resources for primary schools, is an issue that most Senators face in their constituencies every day. Ireland has a great regard for education. Parents are always concerned about the resources and facilities available to their children and many of them are concerned that their children should not face the disadvantages they faced in their schooldays.

Remedial teaching concerns many people. Twenty years after remedial teachers were first appointed we still have schools without any such teacher. None of us can be proud of that. In County Laois last summer I raised the issue of eight schools which are still without a remedial teacher. Many of these are small rural schools. These areas already suffer disadvantage because of their remoteness and they are not given equality of treatment with schools in larger towns. This causes great distress to the parents and teachers.

As a parent, the more one sees of the work of teachers and the problems they have to address the greater respect one has for what they are doing. Teachers are facing more difficult times today. People expect them to address many of the problems of society. It is important that primary teaching is seen as the most important area of our education system. Over the last 25 years we have seen huge areas of disadvantage develop in our larger towns and cities but also in rural Ireland. Primary teaching must be targeted as a response to this problem.

Most primary teachers feel that they can deal adequately with the middle stratum of children. Teachers do not have the time to deal with children who start to fall behind and this exacerbates the problem. Teacher numbers are reducing because of the fall in the birth rate but we cannot afford to wait another 20 years before we get the numbers right. If we are to address the disadvantage which has developed and the resultant crime and unrest, we have to deal with this. Disadvantage is not peculiar to towns and cities. Mr. John Higgins has spoken about the disadvantage the west faces in relation to job creation. One school in Barrowhouse, County Laois, was listed as seriously substandard by the INTO. I support the motion and it is important that it is being debated in the House. The Minister wants funding to bring all schools up to standard and we are expressing concern and the support for the Minister to introduce the measures proposed in this motion. Most of us regret that no extra remedial teachers were appointed this year except in areas designated as disadvantaged. The Minister provided extra resources. The Minister supported 119 or 120 schools but in rural areas almost 700 applied for consideration under the disadvantaged scheme.

I have received many representations, as I am sure the Minister has from a school in High Street, Belmont, County Offaly, where over half of the pupils attending the school come from families which hold medical cards. Those involved were surprised that the school was not included under the scheme. There are many areas in rural Ireland that are as disadvantaged as some of the inner city areas.

We accept the Minister's efforts but there are huge benefits to be gained from expenditure on primary education. It will help to prevent children from leaving school early and give them hope of gaining employment when they leave school. Primary education will provide the greatest return on investment.

I support the motion. The Minister should take note of the reason for this motion. I hold the view, as do many people in rural Ireland, that the Minister provides two levels of support and small rural primary schools are second best. A recent survey indicated that there are at least four of them in County Donegal. The Minister has not seen fit to take seriously the updating of facilities for primary schools and there is no statement of policy that will gloss over what is evident on the ground. There is total neglect in some areas. I am not talking about the rat infested school highlighted on television; perhaps that is the worst case but in County Donegal there are similar cases of schools needing repair.

School managers have given up trying to get funding to update schools. Being a school manager in rural Ireland is not an enviable task. This is borne out by the fact that most people who looked for improvements in primary school transport in rural areas have given up. The answer is always the same; there is no funding. There is a standard letter that I could read. I gave up writing to the Minister long ago even when people came to me in dire need.

The Senator should go to Senator Maloney. He will get it.

I went through the procedure of getting maps and showing where the people lived and the numbers of children involved. I could rhyme them off the top of my head but I got nowhere. Perhaps it was my politics. People in rural Ireland are bitterly disappointed with the Minister's performance.

I disagree.

The Senator is entitled to disagree and support the Minister.

There is a great deal of ground to be made up.

Senator Kelly feels obliged to support her but I do not have such an obligation. I am telling the Minister the truth. The Senator is clapping her on the back but the Minister has failed miserably.

There was nothing done for years.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator McGowan without interruption, please.

Why are we discussing the motion? The Minister has failed to deliver to small rural primary schools to the point that it is no longer worthwhile trying to contact her. She is not able to respond to any problem in rural Ireland. She has failed to deliver anything on the ground during her term and she can produce as many reports as she likes.

The people do not say that in Tullylease or Kildimo.

There is no shortage of reports. The printer is available to print another one.

It is a new programme.

Before the last by-election in County Donegal the Minister quietly visited Milford to make an announcement but she did not stop in a few places where she would have heard the truth. When she became Minister for Education, I said that she might deliver some improvement in Dublin areas but she was never too concerned about delivering anything in rural Ireland. I am convinced she has failed miserably. The legacy exists and those who are directly involved in education found it necessary to put down this motion. The Minister is not able to oppose the motion. She would lose if she did so and that is why she has accepted it.

We are in the minority. Of course we would lose a vote on it.

I want to tell her the truth. There is no soft soaping here. She has failed to recognise the needs of small schools in rural Ireland.

I support the motion and urge the Minister to press ahead with the investment so urgently and badly needed in primary education. I am convinced that within the Department there is a feeling that the falling numbers in primary education will solve the problem over the next couple of years. That will not happen and the Minister is well aware that even with falling numbers there would still continue to be a necessity for investment in primary education and in areas which are not being attended to presently or were not attended to by previous Governments.

It is almost time for the modernisation of the system of planning for primary education buildings and facilities. The archaic system which has been in use by the Department of Education, the Commissioners of Public Works and local boards of management is not adequate to deal urgently and quickly with some of the problems. When the Government found a few years ago that the accommodation for Government staff was not adequate to meet their needs it embarked upon a modest plan of getting private investment to build offices and then lease them. This is how accommodation was provided for civil servants in Limerick, Ennis and many other towns. This system cannot be used by the Department, not only for primary level but also for second level, because of the lack of availability of funding, especially in the rural areas I represent. There is no shortage of people in the building construction industry who would be prepared to enter an investment buy-back arrangement with the Department, but it has resisted this.

There were a few disasters.

In Kilmurry, of which the Minister is aware, where children walk along the side of the road to classes in the local parish hall, only a few days ago a local builder undertook to build and fund the school provided the Department arranged the financing but we continue to be unable to get any movement from it.

It will not be advantageous for Senators to provide a litany of the schools in their constituencies which have not been dealt with. However, in the case of Tulla, money was provided for a new school in 1994, yet work has not commenced. Similarly, money was provided in the 1994 Estimates for a primary school in Kilkee, one of the country's premier resorts where school accommodation is badly run down, but work has not started.

I do not understand the system used by the Department with the Office of Public Works and local boards of management which entail elaborate procedures, even before planning permission can be sought, involving design, sketch plans, drawings, further sketches and detailed planning. These procedures impede the undertaking of necessary and urgent work. They could be avoided if modern methods of financing and lease back facilities were put in place.

I compliment the boards of management in the many schools who, with teachers, do trojan work. Primary school teachers in my constituency work beyond the call of duty and put hours into many other activities related to the school for which they get little credit.

Recreational and sporting facilities in national schools are in an appalling state; indeed, they do not exist in many schools. While the Minister's priority may be to put decent accommodation in place, recreational and sporting facilities go hand in hand with a primary school education. It is vitally important that they be provided, yet no sporting facilities of significance are being provided for the national schools which have fought for years, without success, for general purposes and recreation rooms. This is a huge area of investment but it is not adequately provided for in the Estimates. The Government must give a firm commitment to increase funding to undertake the substantial amount of work that needs to be done.

I will not dwell on the points made by other speakers on the need for remedial teachers and proper access by teachers to the remedial area. There is a necessity to deal urgently with this. I compliment the Department in the few instances where it has provided a remedial teacher by amalgamating three to five schools for this purpose. It has been successful in the area I represent and could be expanded with a small effort. However, unfortunately, no new remedial teachers were appointed in the past year, certainly not in County Clare, despite the willingness of schools to amalgamate for this purpose. Their applications are before the Department.

I cannot understand the unseemly delay in the payment of small grants for work undertaken by boards of management which have been approved and sanctioned for a long time. Such a situation arose in Kilmurry. It was bad enough to have bad facilities, yet when the parents got together to provide a facility it took them months of representations and letter writing to obtain a miserly grant of £800. Thankfully the Department paid it last week, two or three years after it was due.

It is unacceptable that when boards of management undertake to provide small facilities, at considerable expense to themselves, to make life more tolerable for the parents, teachers and pupils, the Department drags its feet for a year or two in the payment of a few miserly pounds. There is no justification or necessity for this. It will not bankrupt the Department. A small grants scheme should be established and administered by the Minister to enable these minor jobs, which perhaps do not need plans, specifications or planning permission, to be undertaken speedily and effectively.

It is necessary to accelerate the elimination of the bad facilities in many primary schools. I plead with the Minister to expedite work on the schools in Kilmurry, Tulla and Kilkee so that there is a prospect that the required facilities will be in place for the start of the next term.

I thank all who contributed to the debate. It vindicates people's interest in education.

The Minister outlined her successes in primary education. I am the first to criticise her when she gets things wrong, indeed I would be her greatest critic. She is, therefore, entitled to flaunt her successes. She has outlined selectively what she has done. Any Minister is entitled to do this. It goes with the territory.

The Minister did not refer to one issue, the "Early Start Programme", for which she, more than any other, is entitled to take credit. With every Minister with whom I have dealt I have identified areas where they left their mark. Two areas initiated by the Minister, the "Early Start Programme" and in service education, represent a significant advance. Many of the Minister's predecessors had different battles to fight but this battle continues. We will never tell the Minister that she has done enough because when this happens there will no longer be a need for her.

Senator Cotter supported the Minister by outlining the substantial resources she has obtained. This is important. He also indicated that she has much more to do. Senator Ormonde made an impassioned appeal for an extended remedial teaching service, as did speaker after speaker.

The Minister accepted the motion but considered that it made grim reading and suggested that it might have been couched in more acceptable terms. However, the situation is unacceptable. There is all party support for the motion, which is important. It strengthens the Minister's hand in Cabinet and elsewhere. It does not take from her contribution.

On the question of the teacher-pupil ratio, we should aim for the European average. If we get it below 20:1 we should ask whether it is necessary to continue reducing it or whether more should be given to target areas. I do not know the answer and I am open to suggestions. However, we will not have done enough until we reach that figure, which is a long way from the European average.

The Minister did not respond to the point raised about the difference between post-primary and primary capitations. While I accept the post-primary sector has needs which the primary sector does not have, in terms of subject supply and so on, and that a strong case can be made for a differential, the existing differential of £45 and £177 is unacceptable. I think the Minister would agree with that in her heart of hearts.

Senator Mullooly gave credit to the Minister for the progress she has made. He also outlined the need for support for teachers at ground level, as did many other speakers.

I agree with Senator Kelly — this is the third time this year I have agreed with her which worries me — that tax and spend is the way to do business. The way to make progress is to get a balance between tax and spend; it is the only way we can redeploy resources to help the weak in society. I also ask the Minister to listen to the points made by Senators Sherlock and Honan about the need for remedial education which is, as Senator Honan said, a beneficial investment in the future and in the next generation of leaders.

Senator McGowan raised, in his colourful and inimical manner, the crucial need to remember small primary schools. The Minister addressed a conference for teachers in one teacher schools, which are the smallest schools. She gave them a commitment and some movement has been made in that direction; that needs to be done in a very controlled way. I will be putting the view to the Minister over the next number of months that any school with 15 or more pupils should have a second teacher. We should also look at other supports for smaller schools, such as classroom assistants or teacher aides.

Senator Daly mentioned the building programme. We are often approached about paying builders on time. Sometimes the mistake is made at local level but too often it is a delay at official level. I know of school authorities which cannot get a local builder to take on jobs in their schools. Senator Daly was also the only speaker to make the telling point about investment in sporting facilities. He also underlined the need for a general purposes room in schools.

Tonight's debate has been a victory for education in many ways. However uncomfortable the Minister might feel about the wording of the motion, speakers have recognised her contribution and she must recognise they have put a very strong case for primary education, which is the fundamental building block. If pupils fail at primary level they will not succeed at post-primary level; if they do not succeed at post-primary level they will never become qualified. The connection between education, qualification and employment is established in every European country. We must begin at the beginning.

The point made by Senator Henry about prisons is crucial. If we do not invest in pupils at an early age we will have to build walls around them later — and we will still be trying to teach them to read. Senator Lee stressed that this is an investment in the future.

I thank the Minister for accepting the motion. She will recognise that speakers made their points in a spirited debate. It is significant that the same points were made on both sides of the House, although perhaps with different emphases. Investment in primary education is the way forward and can create the structure for a better future generation. I acknowledge the Minister's acceptance of the motion and I wish her well in screwing extra resources out of the Cabinet, which is how we will really judge her.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.