Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Thursday, 11 Jun 1998

Vol. 1 No. 6

Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997: Committee Stage (Resumed).


If we do not conclude the Bill this morning, and I think it unlikely, it has been proposed that we continue consideration of the Bill on Wednesday, 17 June at 2 p.m. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 230:

In page 20, subsection (1), line 9, to delete ", generally,".

The section states that the principal and teachers of a recognised school, under the direction of the principal, shall have responsibility, in accordance with the Bill, for the instruction provided to students in the school and "shall contribute, generally" to the education and personal development of students in that school. The word "generally" is ambiguous and puts a restriction on contributing to the education and personal development of students, as if one did not have to do it at certain times. It is confusing and does not add to the section.

The word "generally" has been included deliberately to indicate that the role of the principal and teachers extends beyond the provision of instruction to students in the school -their role encompasses generally the education and personal development of students. This is not an expansion or an extension of the current role of the principal and teachers, I regard it as an accurate reflection of the role they discharge.

"Generally" is not a word which grants an extension; quite the contrary, one interpretation is that one need not act that way all the time. I would have thought teachers should contribute to the education and personal development of the student not "generally" but always.

"Generally" also means "overall" — in other words, the role is not just specific but the principal has a general, overall function. I am satisfied that is the meaning of the phrase. It is not intended that it should mean teachers do not have to discharge that role at certain times and it would not be the effect of the Bill as drafted — a teacher could not say that he does not have to discharge that role on a particular day because the Bill says he only has to do it "generally".

I do not think the wording will have an effect one way or the other but the difficulty is that it seems to suggest the role may be discharged generally but not always.

The counter argument is valid also.

To say a child generally behaves does not mean he always behaves.

I will consult the draftsman on the definition of "generally" and come back on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 231 has been discussed with amendment No. 50.

What was the Minister's response, was it accepted?

We have had the debate and in procedural terms we should move on. It is pointless to go back over things. We opposed the amendment because we have made provision already.

I will resubmit it on Report Stage.

Amendment No. 231 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 232 and 240 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 232

In page 20, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following subsection:

"(3) A member of staff to which this Part applies who is employed in an institution to which this Part applies immediately prior to the passing of this Act shall not be made subject to less beneficial conditions of employment or receive less remuneration without his or her consent save in accordance with a collective agreement with recognised trade unions or staff associations.".

This concerns the functions of principals and teachers. It provides that, following the passing of this Bill, no one employed in an institution would be employed under less favourable terms. For instance, if a collective agreement was arrived at the consent of such a person would be required for any changes. It is a normal amendment when there could be changes which could affect conditions of employment and remuneration.

Amendment No. 240 achieves the same objective. Concern was expressed during the consultations about terms and conditions of employment of school staff. I have no difficulty accepting that terms and conditions of employment can be changed only with the agreement of the people concerned or their representatives. That was always the intention in the Bill but, in the light of the concerns which have been articulated, the Government has tabled amendment No. 240 to ensure that is the position.

Amendment No. 240 provides that nothing in the Act will have the effect of altering, after the commencement of the Act, the terms and conditions of teachers and other staff of a school under which they were employed before such commencement. In that context amendment No. 232 is unnecessary. Both amendments achieve the same objective.

If there was a collective agreement which brought about change, could a person's remuneration be reduced or conditions of employment altered without his or her consent?

We have to allow for the process of agreement between the partners. No legislation would ever copperfasten the idea of national or social partnerships such as the Programme for National Recovery or Partnership 2000. To date the agreements have all caused improvements in pay and conditions, but that could happen in theory if everyone agreed. It would be unlikely that the unions would agree to such an agreement. One has to allow for agreements arrived at freely by all parties concerned, particularly in industrial relations.

My concern would be that a collective agreement could be to the disadvantage of an individual or individuals who might be a minority. It is hypothetical but experience indicates that all bases need to be covered when change is being implemented.

The Bill does not change the terms and conditions of an individual's contract. The amendment protects existing situations. A concern was expressed that in outlining the role and functions of a principal or teacher they could involve extra burdens or worse conditions. The amendment states that it is not the intention of this section to undermine the existing rights and conditions of teachers or principals. What happens in the context of industrial relations is a different matter.

When teacher and principal organisations were commenting on the Education (No. 1) Bill, they were critical of the fact that it did not include a statement of the central roles a teacher and principal play in the running of the school. It was to meet those concerns that we inserted these sections dealing with principals and teachers in the Education (No. 2) Bill. They are positive in outlook. During the debate on Second Stage some people felt there was a hidden agenda behind that genuine development. To deal with those concerns we tabled amendment No. 240.

I still have misgivings but I will not labour the point at this stage. The Minister's amendment goes a long way to meet my concern. I withdraw it on the basis of reconsidering it on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 22 stand part of the Bill."

Why is the phraseology regarding the responsibilities of a principal so old fashioned? The phrase that the principal's responsibility is to provide instruction to students is an antiquated sounding concept of what education is about. In discussing the role of the principal there is no reference to leadership by him or her in the school. In statutory terms the school board has much of the legal responsibility but I would have thought that the Bill would make some reference to the principal's role in providing leadership and direction.

Section 22 deals with the general functions of the principal and teachers. Section 23 deals more specifically with the role of the principal. Section 23 (2)(b) covers the point about leadership where it says "provide leadership to the teachers and other staff and the students of the school."

I did not table an amendment on this but would it be prudent to provide in this section for co-operation between schools in an area. This goes back to the idea of regional boards. Liaison between schools in subject provision, at second level in particular, is a good idea.

An addendum could be inserted on Report Stage to encourage and foster links between schools in a given area.

It may not be included as it is ultra vires in the legislation.

Why are the functions of the principal split into two sections?

Because some functions are general to both principal and teachers.

Question put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 233:

In page 20, subsection (1), line 27, after "organisations" to insert "national associations of parents".

This deals with the organisations which would have a right to be consulted when the Minister is agreeing procedures for the appointment of a principal to a school. When consulting recognised trade unions representing teachers it would be consistent with the principle of partnership that national associations would also be consulted about the appointment of the person who will be the leader within the school setting. It is a vital position and the criteria which will evolve should include an opportunity for parents to contribute. This amendment requires the Minister to consult with the parents associations as he draws up the agreements. There may be a case for distinguishing agreement between patrons and recognised unions but parents should have a say in this area. I hope the Minister will accommodate this in some way even if he is not willing to accept the drafting as it is now.

The appointment of a principal represents a contract between the person concerned and the school management. Parents are involved in the management of the school. It is wrong to say that parents have no role in the appointment of a principal. They are legally on the board of management and they have a role to play in how the board of management organises the selection process and interviews. Existing arrangements and agreements are in place between the management bodies or patrons and the trade unions representing teachers and principals in relation to the appointment of principals. I do not propose to unilaterally change that in the context of this Bill.

I will introduce legislation later this year for a teaching council which will deal more comprehensively with both the registration and appointment of teachers. The role of parents will be further enhanced in that legislation. The steering committee has almost completed its deliberations on a teaching council. That steering committee involved all the representatives and partners, including parents, in its deliberations. I have no doubt this is not a correct move at this stage.

The Minister is missing the point. Parents are on the board but we are not talking about the appointment of the board, we are talking about the procedures the Minister, the patron and the unions will agree for the selection of principals. I presume those selection procedures will deal with issues such as suitability, the scope of the job, the job description as advertised and the expectations presented to candidates for the position. This is an issue of core importance to parents in the long-term development of the school.

The Minister may be right that established procedures are now in place. However, he is missing the point when he says he will not include a role for parents in the development of procedures for the selection of principals in this legislation, which we hope will stand us in good stead for 20, 30 or 40 years. We are trying to legislate not just for the status quo but for good practice and for giving parents a true partnership role within the education system. It is difficult to understand how the Minister could defend not giving parents a role on the grounds that the status quo has not given them a role. The purpose of legislation such as this is to develop roles for parents, particularly as they have always got the hind tit in respect of development in the school system.

I am not happy with the Minister's response. I would be happy to accept that the role of parents' associations would be different from that of a recognised trade union where there must be agreement. That reflects practice in industrial relations. However, it seems like an oversight to leave out a consultative role for parents in the development of these procedures. I ask the Minister to consider tabling an amendment on Report Stage. If he does not want to change existing procedures as that would disrupt appointments over the summer or in the next 12 months, he could provide a time clause for their enactment or, alternatively, give parents the right to consultation when a review of these procedures is next initiated. I do not want to cause the Minister problems which will disrupt the schedule of appointments over the summer. However, we are not drafting legislation for the next 12 months but for forthcoming decades and we should reflect that in the provisions we make.

I am always reluctant to legislate for industrial relations issues. It would be dishonest of me to pretend that these are not significant industrial relations issues. There would be significant implications in terms of the industrial relations climate in education if we accepted the Deputy's amendment. There has been a long-standing fundamental issue of contention which has not been resolved between the partners in respect of who should and should not be involved in terms of either drawing up the procedures for the selection of principals or teachers, or the contracts entered into between teachers and their employers. I do not propose to resolve that unilaterally through legislation. The ideal way to deal with this is by agreement with all the partners on any new model which may emerge in terms of setting down criteria for the appointment of teachers or principals. It was not an oversight but a recognition of the realities of the situation. We decided to take a different route in order to secure agreement between all the partners rather than legislating for it in a unilateral way which would be seen as a breach of existing procedures and agreements.

The Minister should not legislate for it in that context if it has been working for years and he hopes to reform it. It is madness to copperfasten a system which he accepts has not been satisfactorily worked out between the partners. By putting it in legislative form, he is copperfastening a system which, by his own admission, has been a bone of contention and has not been finally settled. We should not put it on a statutory basis. Perhaps we should drop this section.

I do not accept that. This Bill represents a significant expansion of the role of parents, particularly on management boards. Their right to be members of a board of management is now underpinned in legislation. It is good that parents' associations are gaining considerable ground on a statutory basis. We have been well served by the teaching profession and the procedures. One must make legislative provision for the appointment of teachers and principals and for the laying down of procedures. The role of the Minister and the Department is to protect the public interest at all times. I have outlined the reasons I am not prepared to accept the amendment.

While I accept there are sensitivities and difficulties, I question the phrase "with procedures agreed". That conveys the view that agreement will be unanimous. Parents should have an input at some level because their views are important. Those representing the disabled should also have an input. Although I am conscious of the difficulties, there should be a mechanism whereby views can be heard and become part of the decision-making process.

I have stated my position on this and I cannot move any further on it. There may be further developments in the context of a teaching council Bill.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 234:

In page 20, subsection (1), line 30, after "determined" to insert "and so agreed".

This amendment deals with the latter half of subsection (1) which states that the appointment of the principal will be "subject to such terms and conditions as may be determined from time to time by the Minister". I seek to include the words "so agreed". Agreement is indicated earlier but not in the latter part of the subsection.

The procedure in the Bill is standard. The procedures for the appointment of principals will be agreed between the Minister and the partners in education. The terms and conditions of employment will be determined by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance. This is a standard provision in legislation providing for publicly-funded appointments. It is an essential control over public expenditure which I am not prepared to change. I am not in a position to accept the amendment.

On an ongoing basis the pay and conditions of all posts are determined ultimately by the Minister for Finance in the context of public sector pay arrangements and we cannot pre-empt that. Departments cannot agree the terms and conditions themselves and put them in the lap of the Minister for Finance. This has always been part of legislation.

Is it not the case that the Minister and his officials enter into talks with the relevant trade unions? Obviously there might be some toing and froing with the Department of Finance as discussions progress. I cannot see the Department of Education and Science agreeing to anything it had not cleared with the Department of Finance.

What the Deputy proposes is a veto for Departments in terms of pay and conditions.

I do not see it as such. Agreement would be reached but the Department can only negotiate on the basis of the resources being made available by the Department of Finance. It would not be a case of the Minister for Education and Science making an agreement and then finding that the Department of Finance is not agreeable.

The Bill's proposal does not undermine what happens. Hopefully, partnership agreements will continue and it is invariably a matter for the Government and the social partners to develop the pay policy on an ongoing basis. In the context of that pay policy negotiations take place with trade unions. The Deputy's amendment would not add to the process; it may cause difficulties.

It would provide that the terms and conditions would have to be agreed before any decisions could be taken. It is a position which has not prevailed before.

I am not convinced but I will not pursue the matter at this point. I will consider the matter for Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 23 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 235:

In page 21, subsection (1), line 26, after "teachers" to insert "(including teachers to ensure special educational needs are met)".

Section 24 makes provisions with regard to staff. Subection (1) provides that ". . . a board may appoint such and so many persons as teachers and other staff of a school . . .". The amendment seeks to ensure that teachers to provide for special needs are included.

Section 24(1) also provides that teachers and other staff may be appointed " . . . as the board from time to time thinks necessary for the performance of its powers and functions under this Act." One of the functions of the board of management is to ensure that the educational needs of all students, including those with special educational needs, are identified and provided for.

Let us consider the matter in the context of a mainstream school where there is an agenda for integration and an appointment must be made. The amendment seeks to promote the appointment of somebody with the skills to deal with special needs.

It is covered in section 9 (a) which deals with the functions of a school. Section 24 (1) simply provides for the board to appoint people it thinks necessary for the performance of its powers and functions under the Act.

I am inclined to agree with the Minister.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 236:

In page 21, subsection (3), line 37, after "organisations" to insert "national associations of parents".

This amendment is in sympathy with amendment No. 233. In this case the amendment concerns procedures under which teachers might be suspended or dismissed. There is a problem with incompetent teachers and the section envisages dealing with that problem. It is strange that those who will be most directly affected by the behaviour or incompetence of the person complained about will not have an input to the procedures to be put in place.

This matter goes to the basis of partnership. It will be a mistake if the procedures in a school to deal with incompetent teachers are to be carved out by the insiders without a role for the parents. The Minister is resiling from a simpler arrangement which was a feature of the Bill proposed by the previous Minister, which did not deal with procedures and whereby a board had a right to suspend a teacher. I am not happy with the provision in this Bill. The Minister should ensure the procedures proposed include consultation rights for the parents.

The Minister may argue that this would disturb established practice. The previous Bill did not propose these procedures so the Minister is introducing new procedures, proposing to give statutory effect to them but leaving out the parents. It is not just a case of the Minister not wanting to disturb established procedures. He is taking a step back from the provisions of the previous Bill and leaving out parents.

The matters of suspensions, dismissals and registration of teachers will be dealt with comprehensively in the teaching council legislation which we hope to publish before the end of the year. For almost 20 years a teaching council structure has been sought. All Departments have been involved in the process. When I took office I set up a steering committee under which a working body was established. Great progress has been made. Issues such as this are better dealt with in the context of that legislation.

In that case the Minister should drop this proposal. He should not give statutory effect to something which will be provided for in a better way in future legislation. That would be consistent with his faith in his ability to deliver better legislation in the future.

I do not accept that.

One cannot do it both ways.

There will be a wonderful convergence by the time the second Bill is published. There will not be a conflict.

Of course, there will be a conflict. We are copperfastening procedures where two legs of the stool only will underpin this procedure. The Minister said he will have a much better three legged stool in the future, but he will either have to amend this legislation in a few months or he will be stuck with legislation which sets the framework within which the teaching council must develop. On both counts, it would be foolish to proceed with this legislation. We should let the cards fall where they may when we come to discuss the teaching council. The Minister should withdraw this attempt to hamstring a process in which he said he is in the midst of and is delighted there is an emerging partnership solution.

Parents will be on boards of management as well.

We are not talking about individual boards but about procedures which will govern.

The language used in the debate has tried to create the impression that they are not on boards of management at all.

I did not do so.

Fair enough, I accept that.

I made it absolutely clear about what I was talking.

We will agree to disagree on this one. It is a similar argument to that about the principal.

It is a slightly stronger argument. The Minister may recall section 48 of the original Bill was very different. It said the board may suspend a teacher or other member of staff.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 237:

In page 21, subsection (4), line 41, after "procedures" to insert "(including procedures under the Vocational Educational Acts, 1930 to 1993, or any other statutory provision)".

Essentially, this amendment deals with further clarification of the word "procedures" in subsection (4). Pending the agreement of procedures provided for in subsection (3), the procedures applied to the appointment, suspension and dismissal of teachers or other staff immediately before the commencement of this section shall, after such commencement, continue to be applied. The concern that the vocational educational Acts and other statutory provisions might not be included has been expressed to me and the Minister may have received similar representations.

Subsection (8) states that the section shall not apply to teachers or other staff of a school which was established and maintained by a Vocational Education Committee. The terms and conditions governing teachers working in vocational education committees are governed by the vocational educational Acts. The Deputy's amendment is covered by subsection (8) which specifically excludes teachers and other staff of VEC schools from the provisions of the section.

Do any other statutory provisions apply in areas other than vocational education committees which could have an impact here?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 239 is cognate on amendment No. 238 and both may be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 238:

In page 21, subsection (5), line 48, after "Finance" to insert "and with the agreement as provided for in subsection (3)".

Amendment No. 238 seeks to amend subsection (5) which states that the terms and conditions of employment of teachers and other staff of a school appointed by a board or who are paid from moneys provided by the Oireachtas shall be determined by the Minister, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance. I seek to insert the words "and with the agreement as provided for in subsection (3)". Amendment No. 239 seeks to insert a similar provision which relates to salaries and remuneration and allows for consistency between subsections.

We had a similar argument earlier in relation to procedures. Subsection (3) covers the procedures for the appointment of teachers and other staff which will be agreed by the Minister and the partners in education, as outlined in the section. Subsection (5) refers to terms and conditions of employment and subsection (6) refers to remuneration and superannuation which will be determined by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance. That is the stated position which has always been in legislation. These are standard provisions which relate to public expenditure and the control of public finances and I am not in position to change that.

Amendment No. 238 relates to the terms and conditions of employment. Subsection (3) deals with part of the conditions of employment, the business of appointments, suspension and dismissal.

They are procedures for suspension.

They would be conditions of employment in the context of teachers.

We are talking in the classic sense about terms and conditions in relation to pay and working conditions, leave of absence and so on.

If I get an assurance that one subsection does not undermine another, I will not have a problem.

It does not arise as these are standard provisions.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 239 not moved.

I move amendment No. 240:

In page 22, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following subsection:

"(8) Except in the case of an agreement as provided for in subsection (3), nothing in this Act shall have the effect of altering, after the commencement of this Act, the terms and conditions of teachers and other staff of a school under which they were employed before such commencement.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 241:

In page 22, subsection (8), line 11, to delete "established and maintained" and substitute "established or maintained".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 242 not moved.
Section 24, as amended, agreed to.
Section 25 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 243:

In page 22, subsection (1), line 29, after "school" to insert "which shall be open to all parents and shall conduct its affairs according to rules guaranteeing openness and democratic operation".

The idea behind the amendment is to provide that a parents' association would be open to all parents and would conduct its affairs according to rules that guarantee openness and democratic operation. We want parents' associations to be inclusive and not to include only a small group of parents. Associations which are not open and inclusive should not have the right to be recognised and a provision of this nature would be desirable. Others have suggested that it should only be in accordance with terms of national associations. It is tricky to provide in legislation statutory rights for associations which may wax and wane. It is probably better to enshrine in legislation the principles that a parents' association should be open to all parents and conduct its affairs in an open and democratic manner. This amendment would specify the types of associations which would receive the recognition afforded by this Bill.

Subject to the parliamentary draftman's wording, I will bring forward an amendment on Report Stage.

I thank the Minister.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 244:

In page 22, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following subsection:

"(2) Each national association of parents shall, with the concurrence of the Minister, draw up rules relating to the establishment, management and dissolution of parents' associations recognised by and affiliated to that national association.".

The subsection which I seek to insert is self-explanatory. Each national association of parents shall, with the concurrence of the Minister, draw up rules relating to the establishment, management and dissolution of parents' associations recognised and affiliated to that national association. This follows on from the subjects of inclusiveness in and regulation of the sector. I would like to hear the Minister's response to the amendment.

It is a worthwhile amendment with which I agree. Subject to appropriate wording, we will insert it on Report Stage.

I thank the Minister.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 26 agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 245, 246 and 247 are related so all will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 245:

In page 23, subsection (3), line 8, after "subsection (1)," to insert "the students of a a school may establish a student council and".

This amendment is to provide for the establishment by students of a students' council.

The amendment provides that the students of a school may establish a student council as opposed to our wording of "shall encourage the establishment". I am prepared to accept the amendment on Report Stage subject to appropriate wording. I believe the Deputy is shifting the onus onto the students.

That is right.

A better wording might be "that the board shall encourage and that the students may" which would marry the two, if that were acceptable to the Deputy.

That seems reasonable.

I will also accept on Report Stage amendment No. 246 which seeks to insert the wording "and the involvement of students". The wording in the Bill mentions only the board, parents and teachers.

Amendment No. 247 provides that student councils would have access to principals or boards regarding issues about which they had concerns. It would be solely advisory access and would not involve any expectation following the tendering of the advice. It would open up the channels of communication which would be worthwhile.

The amendment does more than that in that it explicitly involves a role for students in the operation and management of schools which, in the current climate, might be seen as taking things a step too far. We are effectively allowing student councils to advise principals and boards on any matter related to schools and requiring principals or boards to have regard to such advice. The idea of a student council is an emerging one and some schools have very good systems in place, but the relationship should not be one in which student councils advise principals in terms of the operation or management of schools. In terms of circulation or provision of information, I have no difficulty with the channels of communication being opened up. There should be a good flow of information to student councils and they should be involved in the day to day happenings of schools. However, I draw the line in terms of the management and operation of schools. We accepted other amendments in the report and information section of the Bill relating to the provision of information to student councils.

The Minister is essentially saying the channel of communication should be one way.

Section 27(2), which relates to the information provided to student councils, states: "(2) The procedures established and maintained under subsection (1) shall facilitate the involvement of the students in the operation of the school, having regard to the age and experience of the students, in association with their parents and teachers."

The Minister seems to accept that the flow of information should only be in one direction——

——from boards — principals to students.

The word "advises" is fundamentally different from the word "communicate".

I will examine a more suitable wording for Report Stage. The idea is that the channels of communication would be open to information flows in both directions.

That is acceptable.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 246 and 247 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 248 and 249 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 248:

In page 23, subsection (5), line 17, to delete "the board" and substitute "the Minister".

This is to provide that application of rules is not at the discretion of a school, that there would be general rules established by the Minister governing student councils rather than each school delimiting the rules of operation of a student council.

This is very intrusive. The Minister is becoming involved at a local level in terms of the drawing up of rules.

The rules would be for general application rather than for specific schools.

Can I return to this on Report Stage? I would be interested that the Minister, as overseer, would ensure that student councils were established, but that it would be left to boards of management to establish them. Perhaps there is a gap in the Bill in terms of the Minister having a fall-back position in the event of schools not establishing student councils.

One practical housekeeping problem which may require examination is when they will meet. Will they meet during school times and how disruptive might that be to timetables? Is this area effectively covered?

Section 27(6) covers that. It states: "(6) A student council may make rules governing its meetings and the business and conduct of its affairs." Our amendment No. 249 inserts after that the wording: ", following consultation with the board,".

I withdraw the amendment for consideration on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 249:

In page 23, subsection (6), line 19, after "council" to insert ", following consultation with the board,".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 27, as amended, agreed to.

Amendment No. 250 is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Revenue.

Amendment No. 250 not moved.

I move amendment No. 251:

In page 23, subsection (1), line 21, to delete "with the agreement of" and substitute "in consultation with".

The Minister provides that, in the development of grievance procedures, he will have to obtain the agreement of patrons, national associations of parents, trade unions, recognised school management organisations, etc., before he prescribes procedures under which students or their parents may appeal or raise grievances. It strikes me as extraordinarily restrictive for the Minister to require that such agreement be obtained. All these groups certainly have a right to consultation but the Minister should not be required to move at the pace of the slowest and he should have some discretion under legislation to proceed in the event of failure to reach agreement following exhaustive consultations. We would all hope and expect that such consultations would deliver agreement but it would be a mistake to restrict the Minister's freedom of movement by insisting he obtain the agreement of all these groups.

This is the first time a grievance procedure is provided for on a statutory basis. It is a leap of faith and, in terms of ensuring the success of any procedure which emerges, it is necessary that the agreement of all partners is obtained. Otherwise, the procedure would be doomed to failure. We are in the process of developing the consultative process on the new grievance procedure at primary level. All partners are on board and it is progressing well. We mean what we say about partnership in this context. We need the partners on board in all circumstances if this is to work and that is why such a stipulation is included in the Bill.

I think it is a mistake. We have seen, even in the last few days, how Ombudsman procedures can become clogged when certain groups are given unreasonable powers of intervention or veto. The Minister needs to take some leadership. He will be strengthened in discussion if people know that ultimately he can make rules. It would be foolish for the Minister to throw away his reserved right and to move only at the pace of the slowest.

I take the Deputy's point. The idea is to have genuine partnership. I may, on Report Stage, change the wording from "agreement" to "consultation". I shall be bringing forward an amendment on the appeals procedure which will involve consultation. The two amendments would then be consistent.

Is it the Minister's intention that, when there are grievances, decisions would be made quite quickly? We have all seen cases drag on indefinitely.

Yes. there is an absence of procedure at the moment. That is the problem.

I welcome the Minister's acceptance of a similar amendment on Report Stage and I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 252:

In page 23, subsection (1)(c), line 34, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

The section as originally drafted provides that appropriate remedial action may, where necessary, be taken as a consequence of an appeal or in response to a grievance. It has been put to me that in order for the section to work properly it is necessary to replace "may" by "shall". Amendment No. 252, proposed by me with Deputies Sargent and Bruton, does this.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 28, as amended, agreed to.

As it is now 10.32 a.m. we must adjourn our considerations. We will continue consideration of the Bill on Wednesday, 17 June at 2 p.m. The Select Committee will adjourn until Tuesday, 16 June at 2.30 p.m. when we will consider Estimates presented by the Minister for Education and Science.

The Select Committee adjourned at 10.33 a.m.