I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, to the House. We will proceed with the First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Initial Teacher Training) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, and First Aid and the Mental Health in Schools (Existing Teachers) Bill 2018 - Second Stage. In accordance with the order of the House today the Second Stage of both these Bills will be debated together and decided separately. Senators may speak on both Bills simultaneously as there will not be a debate on the second Bill, except when voting.
First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Initial Teacher Training) Bill 2018: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Seanad. The Minister of State is very welcome to the House and I thank her for her attendance.
At the outset, there are a number of people I would like to thank for assisting me in drawing up this legislation. I thank the various teaching organisations, the Irish Heart Foundation and the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association with whom I spoke. I also thank a number of my colleagues in the Seanad and in the Lower House, who also assisted me in this work, Ms Maria Condon, who has done much work in this area over a period of time trying to highlight this issue and the need for it to be addressed, and the contributions of many others in this regard.
I learned much on my journey with this Bill. I started off by learning that when a child goes to a childcare facility, all the staff there have to be trained in first aid before they are allowed to work in it. When the child progresses and reaches the age of four or five, he or she goes on to primary school and then to secondary school. However, some parents do not realise there is no requirement on the staff in schools, whether teachers or special needs assistants, SNAs, to be trained in first aid. That is something I was surprised to learn. However, I acknowledge the work being done by many school principals and boards of management who are doing their own thing and are getting outside help from people to assist them and to teach them about first aid. However, the Department does not require them to do so.
My motivation, and where I got inspiration to do something about this, relates to an incident that occurred in a school in Monaghan town over three years ago. A young teacher was giving a class and halfway through the class, she had a suspected heart attack. She collapsed and fell to the ground and two students in the class went to her aid. They were able to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, CPR, and an ambulance was called. Thankfully, the teacher is now back working in the school. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the great work done by those two students and their quick thinking. Those two students were qualified in first aid and, thankfully, there was a happy ending to the whole situation.
Subsequent to that event, a number of teachers said to me that if the situation had been reversed, and something dreadful like that had happened to a student, not all teachers would have been qualified in first aid. That is a situation we need to address and that is purpose of my Bill.
I acknowledge that some great work is being done by the Irish Heart Foundation, which is travelling to schools to teach the teachers and then encouraging them to teach the students. However, it is important the Department of Education and Skills takes the lead in this area. For that reason, I decided, with the assistance of others, to try to bring in legislation that would address this issue. I was advised that the best way to go about this would be to break this down into two Bills, as outlined by the Cathaoirleach. The first Bill deals with the teacher training colleges so that when a young person goes to such a college to study to become a teacher, there will be a specific module dealing solely with first aid and mental health.
The second Bill relates to teachers who are already qualified and are currently teaching. It seeks to provide for a curriculum to be organised, and delivered through continuous professional development or any other means decided on by the Department, to enable such teachers to receive qualifications in mental health and mental health first aid. As we know, first aid is not just for the body - it is also for the mind. It is very important to say that. Teachers have told me they are looking forward to the introduction of this legislation. I know that the greatest gift we can teach anyone is the gift of life. If the introduction of this legislation saves one person's life, it will be very worthwhile. The second part of this legislative proposal relates not just to continuous professional development, but to all other instances that can happen. Children can be asthmatic. A child can choke in the classroom. I am sure the Minister of State will agree that a broad range of circumstances can arise. We need to do some work in this area.
Mental health first aid is vitally important. We know that the children of today are under much more pressure than we were under when we were their age. It is important to recognise that. As Frederick Douglass famously said, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men". It is very important for teachers to be qualified to deal with physical situations confidently by providing first aid. Equally, they must be able to identify the symptoms of a child at the back of a classroom who is not participating. When they identify such signals, they should be able to intervene and handle the situation from there.
A teacher spoke to me one day about being approached by a young child who was feeling very anxious. This child was a very good sportsperson who excelled on the sportsfield and was a fantastic footballer. The teacher could not understand how this child was suffering from anxiety. Apparently, the problem was that the child got very uptight when it came to the actual game. It was affecting his mental well-being. It is important for teachers to be qualified to identify the signs and, more importantly, to be able to deal with these matters and put the child on the right path.
I hope the Minister of State will take this legislation on board. I hope my colleagues in the Seanad from all parties and none will find a way to assist us to draw up legislation that will address this issue and put it on a strong footing so that it is not left to boards of management, school principals or teachers to do it for themselves. There should be proper direction. A proper module should be drawn up so that our teachers are fully qualified in physical and mental first aid and, in turn, are able to pass their skills on to the children they look after. As I said earlier, the most important thing we can do as we travel through life's journey is try to save a life. This legislation gives us an opportunity to put that principle on a strong footing. I plead with all Members of the House to support this legislation.
I understand Senator Ned O'Sullivan is seconding the motion. He has eight minutes if he wishes to speak.
I formally second the motion. I commend all of my colleagues, particularly Senators Gallagher, Wilson and Swanick, on putting this Bill together. It will have appeal across the floor of the House. I hope the Minister will be able to give a positive response.
For the sake of clarification, I would like to reiterate what my colleague has said about the hybrid nature of this legislation. The First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Initial Teacher Training) Bill 2018 proposes that teacher training must incorporate occupational first aid and mental health first aid. It provides that in order to secure a job, a teacher will have to show that he or she has completed training in occupational first aid and mental health first aid. The First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Existing Teachers) Bill 2018 proposes that all existing staff in schools be required to receive training in occupational first aid and mental health first aid. It is based on the idea that training in occupational first aid and mental health first aid should form part of the continuing professional development of school staff. It provides for the approval of courses in first aid response and mental health first aid. It requires schools to devise a first aid policy and to put in place a first aid box. Under this legislation, a serving teacher will be required to prove within two years of the coming into operation of this Bill that he or she has completed a training course in occupational first aid and mental health first aid.
Everybody here and all right-minded people will agree that this proposal is a no-brainer. It is something that will be good. To a certain extent, it probably underlines in an informal way what is already going on in schools. I worked as a teacher for 18 years at primary and secondary levels. I remember that as a young fellow going to school, I had a classmate who suffered from epilepsy. I do not think the level of medication that is available now was available in the 1950s. I recall that one teacher not only read up on the subject to brief himself on how to deal with it, but also trained a number of school lads - myself and some of my colleagues - in how to respond if our unfortunate friend got an epileptic attack. That was very forward thinking at the time. I must say that in my time in teaching, I found that teachers to be very caring. A teacher will always try to know as much as he or she can about any student who has a particular allergy. If a student has coeliac disease, the teacher will always look out for him or her. At the same time, teachers are not doctors or psychiatrists. The more formal education and learning that is available for teachers, both in training and in service, as dealt with in the second Bill, the better.
Although teachers cannot be psychiatrists, as I have said, we must bear in mind that we live in an age when young people, especially at secondary level, are coming into contact at frighteningly young ages with substances which can lead to addiction. I know a little bit about addiction from personal experience. The earlier there is observation and the earlier there is intervention, the better one is able to deal with a person's weakness for drugs, alcohol or whatever he or she might be doing. A great deal of training is required in observation alone. That is why this Bill will be very helpful. I am not anticipating how these courses will be run, but I presume they will deal with addiction and addiction awareness. I expect they will show teachers how to observe and initially deal with this sensitive area. A ham-fisted, unprofessional or untrained approach might do more harm than good.
Overall, Senator Gallagher's legislation will be a very important step forward educationally. It will be certainly be welcomed by teachers. Teachers always want to have the best information and the best training available to them, regardless of whether this is provided in their initial training programmes or as part of in-service courses thereafter. This measure will be warmly welcomed by parents. Teachers act in loco parentis. They have a significant responsibility. Parents place great trust in those who teach their children. Parents will feel even more secure and comfortable if they know that those who teach their children have the skills and training necessary to deal with any untoward event or any tendency towards addiction that might exist, especially in second level.
I taught here in Dublin for several years, in a De La Salle school in Ballyfermot. It was a great school with great people, great students and great parents. In the summer months, it was a regular occurrence that one of these robust young people would have to get a few stitches. One's initial reaction would be to throw the child in the car and bring him or her down to Dr. Steevens' Hospital, which thankfully was just down the road.
That was the extent of the knowledge we had and, thankfully, we got away with it. This is the way forward and I commend the Bill.
It is the Minister of State's prerogative to come in but there are more five speakers and if she wishes, she can wait until they have contributed.
I will wait.
The next speaker is Senator Colm Burke and he has eight minutes.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank the Senators for bringing forward these draft Bills. Having introduced Private Members' Bills previously, I know they involve a great deal of work and I very much appreciate the work they have put into bringing them forward.
Health and safety in our schools is an important issue. A large number of young people attend preschools, primary and secondary schools. Health and safety is an important aspect of that process with respect to the management and care of our students. I have concerns about the legislation the placing legal obligations on members of the teaching community. The Teaching Council Act 2001 deals with forward planning and continued upskilling of those in the teaching profession. Under the existing legislation, it is not mandatory for teachers to attend professional development training but the vast majority of teachers do. We must be careful about imposing a new set of rules on a profession that has delivered well for this country over many years.
Coming from a legal background, I have a concern about the aspects of the Bill regarding whether it will create a new expectation that teachers should have skills way beyond their teaching portfolio. That is one of the concerns I have when an proposal such as this one is put into a legislative framework. While every school should have a policy on dealing with issues regarding safety and the care of children, particularly on the way they would respond in the event of an accident, schools have a process and a procedure for dealing with that.
Mental health is another important area. Teachers have expertise in identifying those they believe are under pressure at home, in school or from friends. A great deal of work has been done in this area within schools during the past ten to 15 years, without the necessity of introducing legislation. Schools are proactive, especially in dealing with the issue of bullying in a comprehensive way, but they do not always get the results that we would like. That is no fault of the teaching profession or the boards of management of schools.
The legislation needs to be teased out further. There is a question over whether the proposals should be contained in one Bill, as opposed to two Bills, and that needs to be examined and discussed. We will not, however, oppose these Bills. It is important that we debate them and go through the advantages and the disadvantages of bringing these proposals forward.
The Department of Education and Skills, the teachers' unions and all those in the educational system have worked hard on this issue and in dealing with the new pressures faced by students on daily basis. That has changed substantially. During the past five years, social media have led to significant change and teachers have adapted well. A number of schools have invited parents in to deal with the new challenges of social media. That shows the way they have responded to that challenge without the need for legislation.
Overall, while I welcome this debate and the bringing forward of draft legislation, this proposal needs to be teased out further to see how we would go forward with it. I thank Members for dealing with the issue and bringing this legislation before the House.
I fully support Senator Gallagher on introducing this Bill and commend him, first, on drawing attention to the fact that health and mental health are usually seen as separate entities. It is wonderful that he sees this as the holistic approach to all health, whether it be physical or mental health. Second, it makes sense that existing and new teachers are thought the basic skills of how to look out for the signs and symptoms of difficulties with children's physical and mental health. People work with each other for at least eight hours a day and many people would say that they spend more hours with their colleagues than they do with their families. It is same for children. They spend more time in the school environment than they do with their families. Many children come home from school, go straight to their rooms and enter the social media world. It is important for those precious hours that children are in a school environment that they are allowed to have access to teachers who can spot the signs of difficulties that they may be going through.
A colleague mentioned the development of anxiety in children. Anxiety is one of the greatest problems that face our children. To give a simple example of where physical and mental health are joined together, we all know about social media and that children are glued to their phones for hours but some Members may not know that the average 15 year old needs nine hours sleep a night. How can they get that when they are on their phones? Sleep deprivation causes severe anxiety. This is why this proposal is very important.
I wish to comment on a remark made by Senator Colm Burke to the effect that this proposal should not be provided for in legislation. I totally disagree. I believe it should be. The concern may be that teachers have so much to do that they believe they will be overwhelmed by even more tasks. If this proposal was brought in during training such that it would be part of their curriculum, they would see what is proposed here as being normal when they go into the school environment. While many schools, teachers and principals are trying to adapt to the social media world; the reality is they cannot keep up with it. That is why I agree with the Senator that existing teachers should be thought these basic skills.
The Senator also mentioned the fact that we should consider the legal aspects. We have to stop doing that. We are talking about children. The fact that a teacher might identify some issues with a child does not mean that they have to become their immediate counsellor. All this Bill should be asking is for them to be a link to that child, identify the symptoms of what is happening with that child and then connect them to a professional. I do not know if that is specifically what the Senator was saying. We should not start talking about the legal or financial aspects of this proposal. For once let us put the child to the fore and stop making a mountain out of a molehill. This is a sensible, simplistic Bill that should be supported.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I commend Fianna Fáil colleagues on bringing forward this Bill. I want to begin by dealing with youth mental health because the Bill cannot be discussed without that context. According to research into youth mental health, 75% of such illnesses develop before the age of 24, with the majority emerging in early teenage years. With regard to Jigsaw and the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, we know that when young people receive appropriate care at an early stage even more severe cases, enduring cases, can have positive lasting outcomes.
The recent Jigsaw report on its services highlighted further the importance of access and early intervention. Waiting lists for young people to see psychologists are astronomical but minimal work is being done to address the issue. There is a recruitment and retention crisis for mental health staff of which the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, is well aware. While he has attempted to address it, he has done so with little success. Last year, only 44 of the 72 inpatient CAMHS beds are operational for young people. Young people are waiting out their teenage years without CAMHS assessment before being handed on to the equally overburdened and ill-equipped adult service.
Overall, Sinn Féin supports the intention and spirit of what the Bill is trying to do. However, we have some queries to put to Senator Gallagher. Mental health first aid is an excellent programme which should be embraced by all professional and public structures possible to ensure we have within our services people equipped with the ability to identify and address concerns relating to mental health appropriately and in a timely way. It is an important step in embedding a culture of mental well-being and destigmatisation in society. All of the available evidence indicates that those who undergo this training have considerably improved understanding, knowledge and confidence in mental health and are better able to help those in need. They develop positive attitudes and a greater ability to implement helping behaviour. The HSE gets a great deal of stick, and rightly so, but it must also be praised for initiatives like SafeTALK and Assist which we are trying to roll out to all communities. I have run four workshops in this regard. The initiative is creating suicide-safer communities. Most people are fearful of asking someone how he or she is. Most people will respond that they are fine and things are generally left at that. However, one often walks away knowing something is not quite right. This initiative gives people the confidence and tools, not to act as a professional assistant but to present as a warm neighbour and friend or classmate. It allows people to say "You don't look all right" and to open a conversation. People fear that they will open it up, bring it all on themselves and make the situation worse.
Sinn Féin had a Bill which would have provided training in suicide crisis intervention for all front-line public service workers but it was, unfortunately, ruled out of order by the Ceann Comhairle because of some cost to the Exchequer. While teachers should be provided with the training which best equips them to deal with the evolving challenges facing young people and with best practice in terms of safeguarding young people, the responsibility to address specific and identified mental health issues should not fall on professionals who, despite a duty of care, are first and foremost trained and employed to provide academic education. Teachers are increasingly being burdened with new responsibilities and cannot be expected to be all things necessary for the safe running of schools and care for young people. Mental wellness needs to be embedded in our education system from the very beginning but we must not pass the buck for mental health intervention and care to teachers. Can Fianna Fáil set out what teachers, as stakeholders, feel about this? Given the dearth of mental health services, where do teachers go when someone is in distress? It would be unfair and irresponsible to train teachers to recognise, for example, the symptoms of a young person suffering an eating disorder only to have nowhere to send people. The PNA nursing union is taking industrial action next week for this very reason. Their terms and conditions are having an impact on nurses' duty of care to patients. Only yesterday, I received a reply to a parliamentary question which set out that of the 72 beds provided for in-patient services for young people in the entire State, only 49 were operational. The rest are closed or decommissioned for various reasons.
Any additional administration performed by staff for the introduction of the proposal at preschool services, primary schools and post-primary schools must be included in additional paid hours if it is adding to the workload of the school secretary or other staff members. Has this been quantified? Preschool services provided in the early years sector are under the remit of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, whereas the Bill addresses the Minister for Education and Skills only. Some tweaking is required. The cost must not be borne by teachers or staff and training must be included in existing continuing professional development days. If each board of management is responsible for the compliance of preschools, schools and staff, will the relevant Departments do checks to see if each service or school is compliant? Will there be additional inspections or would these checks be carried out during existing health and safety inspections? It could all be dovetailed. We must work smarter rather than building in extra layers. I commend Senator Gallagher on this progressive, educational and, hopefully, life-saving Bill for our youth.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and commend Senator Gallagher on bringing the Bill before us. I am happy that it has opened a very important conversation. A great deal has been said about the first aid side of things from a physical point of view but I feel very strongly about the mental health side of things. That is what I would like to speak about. We all know about the crisis in mental health among young people. There is a great deal of evidence that the crisis is deepening. A large-scale research project in the USA surveyed 506,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 18 between 2010 and 2015 and showed that the number of young people expressing feelings of joylessness or uselessness had increased by 31%. These are classic symptoms of depression in young people. The number of suicide attempts was up by 23% in that five-year period while the number of actual suicides was up by 31%. This is a demographic change among the entire population of young people in a short period. We are fortunate to understand a lot about why this change has taken place. It is not academic pressure. There was academic pressure before 2010. It is not necessarily the result of unemployment, addiction or poverty. Unfortunately, all of these issues existed before 2010.
What has changed in this short time? One of the things that has changed is mobile phone ownership. Doctors can correlate very precisely the mental health of young people and the number of hours they spend on a phone every day. We do not know why this correlation exists. It could be because young people are less free from social comparison today. It used to be the case that the home was a sanctuary where one could escape social comparison and the pressures of being a young person. However, that is no longer the case as young people have phones with them at all times. It may be that the number of hours spent on the phone reduces the number of hours spent in person-to-person contact. We all know how invaluable that is. It is also likely that the number of hours spent on the phone decreases the number of hours spent sleeping. Everyone knows that children and teenagers in particular need a great deal of sleep.
Aside from this, parents do not want our children to be disappointed or unhappy. We do not want them to fail, to lose or to be bored. However, we should teach them how to embrace these feelings because when they reach adulthood, there will be disappointment, rejection and failure. Childhood should be about learning how to prepare for adulthood. Mental health problems come from an avoidance of emotional pain, an inability to understand the messages of emotion and the inability to figure out how to respond to the signals of pain. Mental health problems are a by-product of a difficulty reading, understanding, expressing and regulating emotion. There is lots we can do to teach emotional literacy to children. If we can have a literacy drive and teach children to understand letters, words and books, surely we can have an emotional literacy drive and teach children to understand and recognise emotion.
One must teach children the vocabulary of emotion, giving examples of frustration and sadness. We must teach children that it is okay to feel these things, feelings come and stay awhile and they pass. We must teach children that it is okay to express how they feel.
Cognitive behavioural therapy, CBT, is a toolkit for emotional literacy. We need to train our preschool and primary school teachers in CBT so that they can then train our children in emotional literacy. There is very good research available. Daniel Goleman has written a book entitled, Emotional Intelligence. There is also a very good clip on YouTube by Dr. Brian McClean on emotional literacy. I urge the Minister of State to take a look at this and see how we can make it work for our children.
I welcome Deputy Buckley to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. Deputy Buckley is a mental health advocate and works very diligently, along with his colleagues in the Lower House, including our colleague, Deputy James Browne.
I congratulate Senator Gallagher on bringing these two Bills forward. I fully support the Bills but I have some thoughts and concerns in terms of their implementation and how that will work. I am sure Senator Gallagher will be open to engaging with Members in the process between now and Committee Stage.
I listened carefully to Senator McFadden's contribution and although I agreed with 80% of it, when we talk about the connection between deprivation, poverty and addiction and mental health, I would put on the record that people in areas of deprivation have always suffered from mental health issues but, unfortunately, nobody noticed.
I was talking about the increase in mental health issues.
Communities in poorer areas have suffered greatly in terms of mental health issues and the deaths of young people.
One aspect of the Bill is legislating for specific areas of training. How do we decide what is more important? There is child protection and anti-bullying measures and socio-economic sensitivities. There are many different areas. Is the list intended to be exhaustive in terms of how many things we include in the training of teachers?
Currently, there is only 18 hours of SPHE teacher training over a four year training programme. If this Bill passes, there would be no more hours in that course. How can work with the teacher training colleges to ensure that we ring-fence an appropriate number of hours in which the training would be provided because I want to see it introduced? I do not want it to be impractical. I want to see it introduced in the way it should so that it really serves the schools, the teachers and especially the young people. The fear expressed by some of the teachers and the training colleges, to whom I have spoken, is around where it will fit in in the school day. If they slot it into the SPHE training, one is taking up time in that space to which an extremely low number of hours are devoted. We should look at the layout of the curriculum for teachers and how we introduce this. While I support the Bill, I will consider an amendment on ring-fencing a minimum number of hours to be spent on first aid training and mental health training.
I have a concern about the first aid course being provided while students are on teacher training courses. If I am correct - correct me if I am wrong - first aid courses only last for two hours. By the time a student teacher finishes his or her training, he or she would be due to retrain in first aid when taking up employment in the workforce. Should one not carry out one's first aid training in the work environment where one would need the experience? We should look at how often such training is required.
Is there a minimum number of people who need to be trained in first aid in the school at a given time? In sectors of employment, there is a first aid officer and other people trained in first aid. If it is a legal requirement to train everybody in the school in first aid, it may be impossible to find the hours to train everybody. Is there an acceptable minimum number who could be trained in first aid?
I refer to the whole idea of what a teacher is. People will say teachers cannot be all things, which I understand. However, sometimes we have the idea that a teacher is the person at the top of the classroom who is there to fill up empty vessels with information and knowledge when it is more about the relationship with, the empowerment of and the engagement with a young person. Nobody expects a teacher to be a counsellor or to provide some sort of a service. Sometimes we think that when we train a teacher we are training him or her to recognise symptoms and signs but that is only one part of it. What we are missing is that sometimes the school setting and sometimes teachers are further compounding the mental health and anxiety of children. A level of training is needed in terms of having an awareness of one's style of communication with young people and whether one is adding to the stress, anxiety and everything else. That is an area we need to look at because teachers will not always be the saviours in this regard. Sometimes teachers need to recognise that the way they run their classroom or school and how strict it is or how they can shame children, especially in areas of poverty, affects children's mental health. We need to look at that to ensure the relationship between the teacher and the student is an equal one.
I support the Bill but I want to ensure it is meaningful and teachers can work it into their day. I do not see why we cannot achieve that between now and the next Stage.
I call the Minister of State.
I thank all Senators who have spoken. I welcome the opportunity to address the First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Initial Teacher Training) Bill 2018 and the First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Existing Teachers) Bill 2018, which are being debated together on Second Stage.
As a former school principal and a teacher for 31 years, and in my current role, I acknowledge the great work going on in schools and the care in loco parentis teachers, special needs assistants and all staff in a classroom provide. Every adult in a school is there to look after and to help the children. That is what happens and, as Senator Ruane said, the role of the teacher is to empower children. I acknowledge their work and the work done by many boards of management around the country. I also acknowledge teachers and staff in schools who have undertaken first aid courses off their own bat and who, in many instances, have paid for their own first aid training. We will accept the Bills but will table amendments. The Bills will require a money message.
The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, who has been delayed, really wanted to speak today. He acknowledges the positive intentions of the Bills and the desirable outcome that staff in schools and in preschools would be equipped to respond in cases where first aid is required for those children in their care. He also acknowledges that professional training for staff in schools and preschools to build capacity to ensure that good quality first aid is available as and when required is very desirable.
However, while the Minister broadly welcomes the ambitions and good intentions of the Bills, he has substantial concerns about their content and presentation. For these reasons, while it is his intention not to oppose the Bills on Second Stage, the Minister wishes to signal that he will propose to deal substantively with these concerns by way of debate and amendment on Committee Stage. Given that the subject matter of the Bills is so closely linked, it is unclear why two separate Bills have been brought forward when on the face of it, it would appear the matters could have been dealt with in one Bill. This point has been mentioned already this evening.
To deal with the first measure, I note that section 3 of the First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Initial Teacher Training) Bill 2018, provides:
The Minister, having consulted with the Teaching Council, shall require programmes of initial teacher education and training provided by institutions of higher education to incorporate a prescribed level of training in—
(a) occupational first aid response, and
(b) mental health first aid.
Sections 4 and 5 provide that boards of management shall only employ members of staff who produce evidence of an up-to-date qualification in "occupational first aid" and "mental health first aid".
Although the Bill's Title refers to "initial teacher education", the requirement to have the training appears to extend to every "member of staff" in a school and preschool, which would potentially include special needs assistants, SNAs, and early childhood education practitioners. It is of note that neither of these groups of employees currently undergoes initial teacher training. I wish to acknowledge the training SNAs and preschool teachers receive. However, in this Bill, they are being lumped in under the rubric of initial teacher training.
The Bill also provides that the requirement regarding initial teacher education, ITE, would commence on 1 January 2019. The provision linking the training to any employment in a school or preschool would come into force on a day set by the Minister not earlier than 1 January 2021. I trust the House appreciates that these requirements are simply not achievable as we have already passed the commencement date.
The First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Existing Teachers) Bill 2018 provides that all existing members of staff in schools, which includes teachers, SNAs and others, as well as staff of preschools, who are typically early childhood education practitioners, must receive a qualification in occupational first aid and mental health first aid by 1 January 2021, with a refresher every five years thereafter. The Bill imposes a duty on the board of management of a school, the proprietor or another person in charge of a preschool to ensure that staff comply with the requirement for this training. It further requires that the Minister for Education and Skills would prescribe courses of occupational first aid and mental health first aid as being suitable and prescribe the content of a first aid policy and first aid box, the latter in consultation with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA. It also requires every school and preschool to develop a first aid policy and keep a suitably equipped first aid box.
Members of this House will be aware that there already exists a body of legislation and policy dealing with the issue of teacher qualifications and training, including initial teacher education as well as ongoing professional development. The Minister appreciates that the Bills seek to acknowledge this to some extent. However, it is vital that the provisions of existing policy and legislation are properly discussed and understood before new measures, which may not be compatible with the objectives of existing legislation, are contemplated. As they stand, the Bills are either fully or partly incompatible with existing legislation, including the Teaching Council legislation; the regulatory framework for health and safety legislation, which is under the remit of the Health and Safety Authority and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation; and the regulatory framework around preschools, which is under the remit of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
It is clear that existing legislation would need extensive amendment to cater for the proposals outlined in these Bills, if enacted. This would include the Education Act 1998, which sets out the functions of the Minister for Education and Skills, boards of management, teachers and schools, and the Teaching Council Act 2001, which allows for the establishment of the Teaching Council and requires it to set certain standards for teachers. As part of its functions, the Teaching Council oversees the registration of teachers and the accreditation of initial teacher education programmes. If adopted, the First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Initial Teacher Education) Bill 2018 would encroach on the existing statutory responsibilities of the Teaching Council to set out the standards for initial teacher education by placing a separate direct legislative requirement on ITE providers. The Bill also fail to recognise the fact the Teaching Council has no statutory remit in relation to the registration of those in the preschool sector. Insofar as the proposed legislation requires a statutory body for the registration of early years professionals, further legislation would, therefore, be required.
Members will know that the preschool sector operates under a different framework to the primary and post-primary school system. The responsibility for the preschool sector lies with my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. As the power to regulate the preschool sector lies with her Department, these Bills, as proposed, would create confusion and conflict between the roles and responsibilities of our respective Departments.
The Minister is also concerned that the Bills are inconsistent with the Department's well-being policies. These policies recognise that schools are centres for teaching and learning and the role of the teacher is preventative and not diagnostic. It appears that the principal import of the Bill for existing teachers is to make courses in occupational and mental health first aid mandatory as part of continuing professional development, CPD, for teachers following qualification. Members will be aware that there is currently no mandatory provision for CPD for existing teachers. CPD is currently undertaken voluntarily by teachers and I am conscious that the teaching profession has continued to respond very positively to the availability of CPD and other professional training. Ongoing consultation with education partners to support the development and implementation of a national framework for continuous professional development will guide any future decisions on the need for regulation in this area.
I will now address the cost. While the issue of cost should never be a barrier to doing the right thing, the Minister is obliged to draw the House's attention to the potential costs of the measures proposed in the Bills. The first and main concern relates to the scale of the estimated expenditure that the provisions contained in both Bills would require. The Department of Education and Skills has conducted an initial costing of the system proposed in the Bills which shows that it would cost between €27 million and €45 million to provide the identified training to existing teachers. This would reach €158 million if a substitution model for these teachers was followed. The financial implications of both Bills would place a substantial burden both on the Department and the Exchequer as a whole and this capacity simply does not exist at present.
Furthermore, in the light of these costs, the passage of the Bills would require a money message from the Government.
Aside from financial costs, implementing these Bills would have wider resource issues. The estimated course time required to train all teachers and SNAs in the primary and post-primary sector is three to five days each. This would have a significant negative impact on schools by reducing pupil-teacher contact time for up to five days. Pressures on teacher supply would increase substantially if a substitution model was to be introduced.
Given the nature and extent of changes proposed by these Bills, extensive consultation with relevant stakeholders would be necessary to secure support for the proposed measures. These consultations would necessarily include school management bodies, unions, higher educational institutions, preschool providers and their representatives, health and safety professionals, and psychological services. It would also be necessary to include parents of both preschool and school-aged children in any such consultations.
Given there are also private providers of ITE in the market, it is not clear whether or how they are provided for in these Bills. Given the scale of the proposed changes and the consultation process that would be required, significant lead-in time and notice would also be necessary to allow higher education institutions to prepare for their introduction. This would not be possible in the timeframe envisaged in the Bills as they currently stand.
At the outset, I acknowledged the positive intentions of these Bills. However, any legislation proposed before these Houses should satisfy the test of proportionality, that is, whether a measure has gone beyond what is required to attain a legitimate goal. No prima facie evidence of need has been brought forward to support the proposals in their current format. Specifically, there is no clear rationale requiring each member of staff to have a prescribed level of training in first aid. Indeed, this is not a requirement in the average workplace. To justify such a proposal, evidence would be required demonstrating why it is necessary to have more than one trained staff member available at any one time. As of now, that evidence has not been provided and the proposed measures as they currently stand are arguably disproportionate to the desired goals.
Notwithstanding the significant measures proposed in the Bills, they do not appear to provide any obligation on staff of schools or preschools to use the first aid or mental health first aid training in the course of their duties. Currently, the responsibilities of staff in any organisation, including schools and preschools, in cases where they may be called upon to administer first aid are complex. Detailed consideration of the role and responsibilities of employees would be necessary before legislation is introduced compelling training and professional development for roles and responsibilities they are currently not legally obliged to undertake.
As I outlined earlier, the Minister is not opposing the passage of these two Bills through Second Stage. It is clear that these Bills require extensive amendment, significant stakeholder consultation and extensive changes to existing legislation for them to be viable. Given the current pressures and competing priorities in the Department of Education and Skills and the Exchequer, the financial and wider resource implications of enacting these Bills would also be challenging at this time.
I thank the Minister of State for that comprehensive response. I also thank all my colleagues for their support in this area. I might try to explain the advice I was given on the two Bills. It was felt that by breaking them into two separate Bills, the one on teacher training could be dealt with quite easily. The second part dealing with existing schoolteachers would be a long-term process. The first part would require an add-on to the existing teacher-training curriculum with a module set aside as part of a course to deal with first aid and mental health first aid. I can see why that common-sense advice was given to me. The second part would be much more long-winded and would require a longer lead-in.
I appreciate that the Bill is far from perfect but it is important not to lose sight of its core message. The Minister of State referred to consultation. I have consulted representatives of the Irish Heard Foundation, which is rolling out this programme countrywide in an expeditious manner. The first aid course that teachers take can be from two to six hours. We should not lose sight of the simple message in the Bill and the motivation behind it. This is about saving a life. If one more teacher is qualified in this area, we could do just that.
I understand that work remains to be done on it. The response from the Minister, Deputy McHugh, appears to make a mountain out of a molehill. It is comprehensive but slightly over the top. It misses the core simple message of what we are trying to do here. Currently teachers and boards of management are taking it upon themselves to do great work in trying to teach themselves first aid. As an employer, the Department of Education and Skills is failing in its duty to those hard-working teachers.
In these two Bills I am seeking to include in the teacher training programme for students going into teaching college a simple module that deals with first aid and mental health first aid. While I may be missing something substantial, I fail to see what the big issue is with that. I fully accept and appreciate that training all existing schoolteachers is a big ask, but it is clear from the contributions of Senators, for which I thank them, that they understand what I am trying to do. I would like the Department to embrace the simple message I am trying to get across. We need to work together to bring forward simple legislation that would help to save someone's life in an emergency.