Wednesday, 4 November 1981
Dáil Eireann Debate
That Dáil Éireann calls on the Minister for Education to withdraw circular 24/81 and to allow Boards of Management to admit pupils to National Schools in accordance with the regulations obtaining up to 30th September 1981.
“welcomes the measures taken by the Minister for Education for an improvement in the organisation of classes in National Schools by way of the arrangements for the enrolment of pupils under five years of age and the employment of 300 additional primary school teachers from the beginning of the present school year thereby reducing the pupil/teacher ratio to the most favourable level ever in the history of the State.”
Mr. Power: I would like to refer to the complete distortion of the facts by the Minister of State at the Department of Education last night when he referred to talks that were held with the INTO. These talks concerned merely the age of transfer of pupils from infant schools to other classes and also referred to the age of transfer to second level education. There was no mention at that stage that entry to the national school system would be confined to people over the age of four-and-a-half. Everybody concerned says that it would be in the best interests of children that they would spend two full years in infant education and even a longer period in the national school if possible. This circular is an attempt to get children in and out fast to national school education. It has no base in education at all. The case made here is purely an economic one. In order to illustrate public feeling in this matter Dublin Corporation showed overwhelmingly the way they felt about this circular and their Labour Party members on both sides of the divide voted with us that this circular should be withdrawn.
A case has been made by some that the proposals now before us would bring us into line with European standards. Many of the countries there talk of their kindergarten or nursery school set-up. This is well established, well founded and State aided in those countries, but we have only a very haphazard free school system here, uncontrolled, with people untrained in many cases to do this work — although some are trained — so that the system is not very suitable. However, the presence of such a system denotes the need for this type of facility and a void which the Minister well might fill, but he has added to the problem and deprived parents of the opportunity of sending four-year-olds to school if they so wish. A properly devised free school system would take a lot of money and many years to come into operation, and this circular should not have been introduced until such a system was there to replace it.
Mr. Power: We all, educationists especially and even people over there, would agree that the crucial period in any child's life is from birth up to five years. The child who is lucky enough to have the proper environment and stimulus will develop mentally and physically during that time. Good parents can do wonders with children at that age and a good teacher can be of tremendous assistance also to any pupil. The national school system which we have at present caters for that age group. Teachers are trained to deal with that age group and where possible a degree of informality in teaching keeps pace with the individuality of the pupil. Of course, the greater the pupil-teacher ratio the less individual assistance can be given.
If the Minister wants a windmill at which to tilt the reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio should be a target for him. We are told that from birth to five years of age 50 per cent of the child's knowledge would be acquired. I believe that anything which upsets the intake of knowledge at that age does irreparable harm. I would liken the progress a child makes at this stage to a runner in a sprint, a slight push will ruin his chances. One may overcome a stumble in a mile or a marathon but, for a four-year-old, this decision is so harmful that it will do untold damage. The Minister for Education is the first Minister in the history of the State to deny educational access to pupils——
Mr. Power: There was a slogan once “Change over to Bolands”. It will have a new meaning now. If any change is contemplated, we should first examine the alternatives. When you have a proper pre-school system, possibly you can then think of a change. The present national school system is capable of expansion to cater fully for the needs of our pupils. The choice is now being taken away from parents and the Minister has decided that the earliest date at which a child can be enrolled in a national school is four years and eight months. I am speaking of actual enrolment, he will not start school until September. The child could possibly be five years and eight months in a school that has only one enrolment period in the year.
The present junior school has much to offer, especially to the socially deprived or disadvantaged child. We are supposed to cherish all our children equally, but that is now forgotten. When the home environment is not helpful to the educational advancement of the pupil, the school is a distinct help or substitute. Because of the social pressures which exist today the number of married women working outside the home has doubled during the period from 1971 to 1977. Yesterday in the Dáil a question was answered to illustrate that there are 91,000 married women working in the public service. In the present climate it is very unlikely that there will be an improvement in the situation of the underprivileged child or that their numbers will diminish. Some 20,000 pupils will be denied access to education. It is obvious that many of those pupils would be better off in school than on the streets. There has been a cutback of one-sixth in the numbers of trainees and still there has been no proper reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio.
There are over 900 schools with over 40 pupils. At a time when we all wish desperately for a national understanding and a wage agreement the Minister has shown scant understanding for the needs of teachers or for the students who opted for a three year training course but who will not now have posts available to them when they qualify. These posts were promised on a radio programme today.  It would be interesting to know where they will exist. We believe that teachers do productive work, despite the fact that the Minister said a disproportionate amount of the money spent on education went on teachers' salaries. Those are the words of an economist and an auctioneer.
Youth represents our real wealth. It is reliably estimated that 1,000 teaching posts will be extinguished within the next two years if this circular becomes law. Despite the fact that the present Minister is most unlikely to be in office when the chickens come home to roost, he will qualify for the title of the most “extinguished” Minister in the history of the State. In the presence of such eminent classical scholars, I can be excused for quoting from Aristotle. He said that all who have mediated on the act of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth. The fate of the Government could well hings on the denial of education to our youth.
It is clear that this suggestion proves an economist runs the Department. An investment in education does not show a profit immediately as far as cold-blooded, monetary men are concerned. They do not see an investment in youth as a real investment in the future. This epitomises the difference in approach between Fianna Fáil policies and the policies of the present Government. Because of this decision, 20,000 pupils will be denied access to education. They will not be able to enrol in schools and, as the appointments and retention of teachers depends on the numbers on the roll, many teachers' posts will be lost. They will have to go on a panel and 484 teachers will not now be able to get alternative jobs. Three-teacher schools will become two-teacher schools. Some urban schools in deprived areas will also become two-teacher schools and it will be difficult in very small two-teacher schools to retain their second teacher.
The Protestant community will be the hardest hit, as Deputy Wilson mentioned last night. They have already indicated to the Minister their objections to the circular and have said — I am sure not lightly — that the circular is more detrimental  to their interests than anything done by any other Government. The Minister can feel happy knowing that he has helped in the crusade by supplying the Taoiseach with one example of how we can be classified as a sectarian State. Will our Unionist brethern be impressed with the downgrading of Church of Ireland schools? I have experience in teaching in two-, three-, four-, five- and multi-teacher schools. I am not thinking so much of the loss of a teacher's job but of the effect of the loss of a teacher on any school, the disruption it causes to the organisation of that school and the dilution in the quality of the teaching and subjects available to the pupils.
Ballyshannon national school, County Kildare, where I taught, a three-teacher school, are now going to lose their third teacher in the next quarter. What will happen in more remote areas? It will cause a considerable upset in schools organisation. In Kildare 1,366 pupils enrolled in the infants' school last year. That will drop by 4 per cent in 1982 and it will drop by 50 per cent in 1983 when 679 pupils will be enrolled in our schools. We can assume that the Minister will deny 679 more pupils access to those schools. It will force an immediate loss in this quarter of four teaching posts, six teaching posts in the following year and 13 in the year after that, a loss of 23 posts in Kildare. There will be only 15 vacancies arising from retirements and so on at that time. Perhaps the Minister is not too interested in Kildare but he may be interested in what will happen in Dublin. Last year infant enrolment was 14,000. In 1981-82 there will be a drop of 9 per cent and the following year there will be a decrease of 42 per cent when 8,193 pupils will be enrolled and, possibly, 7,000 denied enrolment. Over the next three years the Minister's proposal means that there will be a loss of 330 posts in Dublin. To offset that, there will be only 113 retirements so there will be a net loss in Dublin of 217 teachers' posts because of this.
In bigger schools the January intake will be disruptive to the organisation of the school. It may sound a small thing but pupils who start for the first time in  January possibly miss more school because of bad weather or sickness. I am sure the Minister appreciates that argument when it was advanced here as a reason why we should not canvass in Cavan/Monaghan during the bad weather in November. He can well understand why children aged four and a half might be excused for missing school in January, February or March. There will not be fair or equal treatment between pupils born in the first half of the year and those who are born in the latter half of the year. The age of leaving national schools may be raised for some but it could well be lowered for others. This depends on how one interprets rule 64. It recommends that the time spent in the national school should be increased. It could well be because of this directive that time spent in the national school could be diminished. My own experience proves that whether a pupil comes to school at four or five years of age, he will spend considerable time getting acclimatised, getting to know his surroundings and settling in. It is vital that this be done and got over with early. If parents want to have their children admitted to school at four, who are we to say “Do not bring them”, and that is what has happened.
The Minister has claimed that under his system children will spend seven and a half years in primary school. Under the present system, children spend eight full years in primary school. There is a volume of opinion abroad that this should be increased to nine years. It is blatantly false to say that pupils will receive an adequate infant preparation as a result of this directive. A child of four and a half years will be admitted on 1 January and will spend only one and a half years in the infants' school and a total of seven and a half years in primary school. A child who happens to be four years, five months and, say, 30 days, and who would not be enrolled until the following September would have the benefit of a full two years in infants' school and eight full years in primary school.
A statement was made that children will be 12 years on transfer to secondary  school. As far as we are aware, there is no change in the Department of Education's rule which says that a child should be promoted to first class at six years, neither is any change mentioned yet with regard to the age at which a pupil should be on transfer to secondary school. We have no firm information available on whether school authorities may refuse to enrol pupils in January, or as to how long January-enrolled pupils would spend in infants' school. Because of this directive, unemployment will be caused and retention figures, if abolished, will eliminate 342 posts. With regard to four-year-olds, the directive will eliminate 690 posts, which gives a total of 1,032 posts, figures which are confirmed in “Oideas” 17—Earrach, 1977, pages 29 to 31. It is also possible that, because of the drawbacks presented in a January entry to schools, many schools will avoid this as long as possible and redundancies could reach a figure of 1,383.
We should ask questions tonight which the Minister should be expected to answer. If this directive is to be brought in, alternative nursery education or day care provision should have been provided. It is our belief that this cannot be provided by the Government within the next five years. If the Minister feels that it can be provided, let him tell us here tonight how he is going to do it.
We have the worst pupil-teacher ratio in Western Europe. Why did the Minister decide, in that climate, to cut back on 180 entrants to our College of Education? We need 4,000 extra teachers in our national schools to bring the maximum class size down to an acceptable limit. Has the Minister thought about the situation in some areas which now enjoy free school transport, that the cutback on pupil intake will lead to a discontinuation of this transport? Perhaps that is what he wants. It could well be what the Minister for Finance wants and he showed his hand in this regard long before he ever became Minister for Finance.
Mr. Power: He is probably consistent  in what he is doing. With regard to this circular, there was no consultation about the raising of the entry age to national schools, no consultation with teachers' unions, or management bodies. There should also have been a consultation, not only with first level teaching but with second level, because this will have consequential effects on those schools and their pupils.
Only today the question of over-manning of our vocational schools was referred to. This is evidence of another cutback. The pupil-teacher ratio in our vocational schools, with the emphasis on manual instruction and other practical subjects as well as academic, was needed and the weighting in the pupil-teacher ratio in favour of vocational schools was justified. It is obvious that the academic bigots are having their say, when vocational education has been singled out for a cutback and the word “over-manning” has been used.
The Minister might well look at his own Department and see if there is any over-manning of civil servants there and if those who are recommending him to do some pruning in our vocational schools might well look nearer home, to see how cuts could be made in the Department of Education.
The amendment to the amendment of Deputies Brown and Kemmy was cobbled together in a hurry, after consultation with the Government, probably with the Minister himself. The format decided upon was an attempt to sweeten up these two Independents for the vote and for the votes which will be needed later. I would not be expected, at my age, to do any proof reading when we have eminent and prominent printers to do that, but it is hard for me to pass over a grammatical error in the amendment. I refer to the phrase “suffer significant frequently permanent emotional trauma”. The words “frequently permanent” puzzle me. I would like to know how anybody could be frequently permanent. As an old NT, I am very tempted to cross that out. Almost always I do that, you know. I suggest that we insert the word “and” between “significant” and “frequently” and put a comma after “frequently”. It would then read “suffer significant and frequently, permanent emotional trauma”. It makes some sense when one reads it in that fashion.
The amendment by Fine Gael and the amendment of that by the two Deputies concerned must obviously be acceptable to Fine Gael. They must agree with the sentiments expressed in it. The amended amendment to replace the previous amendment on the Order Paper of 3 November is a calculated insult to the primary teachers of Ireland.
Mr. Power: Indeed, I can say that it has been seen as such. The generally held belief of the emotional trauma inflicted by primary teachers on pupils is not deserved, but I have come to expect this from Deputy Browne, who has been consistent in this. I must compliment him on his persistence, which has found such a ready ear with the Minister for Education, in regard to doing away with corporal punishment in schools. Now that he has removed the stick from primary education, he will find a very sensible ally in Deputy Kemmy in his next campaign, probably to outlaw the crosier. That is a symbol not unconnected with Dr. Browne's greatest traumatic experience. Granted that there are good and bad teachers and good and bad TDs.
Mr. Power: However, this country owes a great debt to its teachers. They have been to the fore in all that has been good for Ireland. There were quite a few teachers involved in 1916. Many of them were signatories to the Proclamation.
Mr. Power: They played a prominent part in gaining us the limited amount of freedom which we now enjoy. Perhaps Deputy Kemmy and others whom I have interrupted here would like to belittle them. Nationalism should be replaced by socialism, according to these people. There was another eminent socialist here, Dr. Conor Cruise-O'Brien, now departed. He accused Irish teachers of being guilty of producing little IRA men. What the teachers of Ireland, in fact, did was that they kept alive the belief that we could never accept, here in Ireland, that we were a province of Britain, like Scotland and Wales, but that we are a separate historic and honoured nation in our own right.
The Minister and his colleagues have expressed some concern for our young children and the frightful legacy which we are leaving them. This is all hypocrisy, when we think of the penalty which we are now imposing on them. Does the Minister realise the extent of the problem? He should not let the Civil Service run the Government and the country. He is dealing with the Department of Education which is probably the most hidebound, ultra-conventional and immovable Department in the State. It is insulated with layers of incurable and impregnable prejudices and the under-manning we heard mention of today copper-fastens my opinion in that regard. The Minister should think for himself. Schools were built for pupils, teachers play a supportive role but if their role is secondary surely the role of civil servants must be less important still. The parents pay the taxes, they have the children, they help manage the schools and if they were not consulted before this directive was issued at least they have a right to be listened to now.
The Irish people have always shown a love of learning. Even when they were  hungry and ill-clad, the hedge-schools flourished. A foreign Government gave us an educational system in the 1830s and this week 150 years ago national education was founded in this State. What a way we select tonight to celebrate the sesquicentennial year of the foundation of Irish national education. Little did anybody think a century-and-a-half ago and after 60 years of self-Government that any Irish Minister would take this retrograde step. Mo náire thú. Níl an díoghbháil déanta go fóill. Tá slí aige anois agus slí aige sa tseachtain atá le teacht seans a thabhairt do dhaltaí óga na tíre seo oideachas a ghlacadh chomh luath agus is mian leo é sin a ghlacadh, agus cead a thabhairt do na tuismitheoirí a bpáistí a chur isteach san scoil nuair is maith leo. Impím air 24/81 a tharraingt siar. Tá sean fhocal againn, “Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí”. Ní féidir an óige a mholadh agus a rá leo gan teacht.
May I remind the Minister of the words in a popular song: “They try to tell us we're too young” and of the final line to that song which could be very appropriate: “Some day you may recall we were not too young at all.”
Minister for Education (Mr. Boland): I should like to congratulate Deputy Power on the aspect of entertainment he managed to introduce into this debate. “It appeared to be generally agreed that 11 plus is too low for transfer to post-primary schools, and that children generally are too immature at that age. Pursuing that to its logical conclusion one reached the controlling fact that children are being accepted into school at too young an age. In fact, a number of speakers suggested that five years should be the minimum age for acceptance and that children under that age were not ready for school and still needed the protection and security of the home.” Those are not my words, or even the words of the former Minister. They are taken from the official report of the record of the Irish National Teacher's Organisation Congress in 1977.
In the spring of 1981 issue of An Múinteoir Náisiúnta, a publication not unknown to the members of the INTO,  a sub-committee of the Dublin south city branch, a branch that has been rather vocal lately, reported on its findings on the question “From Primary to Second Level when should transfer occur” and it states:
They are not my words, nor the words of any eminent educationalist or the words of a monetarist Minister for Finance but words from a sub-committee of a Dublin south branch of the INTO earlier this year.
Mr. Boland: We could refer to the working party set up by a previous Minister on which the INTO was represented. That working party held the view that “substantially too many pupils were too young on being promoted from infant standard to first class and that a significant number of pupils made this transition after spending an inadequate period of time in the infant standard due to enrolment late in the year in junior infants once they reached four years of age”. Again, that was a working party in which the INTO participated and the report of which they concurred with. If Deputy Andrews wishes to speak I am sure Deputy Wilson will permit him to  conclude. It is rare enough we hear from the Deputy.
Mr. Wilson: On a point of information, the Government decided that those 300 teachers should be employed to improve the pupil-teacher ratio, as had been done every year when Fianna Fáil were in office.
Mr. G. Mitchell: On a point of order, I wish to protest at the way the Chair interrupts speakers on this side of the House when all sorts of interruptions, particularly interruptions from the public gallery, have been entertained. I wish to protest very strongly.
Mr. Boland: I am sure that Deputy Wilson when he put down this amendment must have had mixed feelings when he found himself in the position of presumably being under pressure from the members of his own rank and file and spurred on perhaps by some other interests.
Mr. Boland: There are certain facts of the situation which were kept well hidden from the ordinary rank and file members of Fianna Fáil and from some of the other interests in the early months of 1981. It would never do for the Government of the day to have a whisper concerning financial difficulties in the Department of Education in the months running up to a general election campaign.
Mr. Boland: Nor would it do for the Deputies of the Fianna Fáil Party to be briefed on the fact. Nor would it do that  they might realise that certain unpalatable decisions had been taken by Deputy Wilson and his colleagues in Cabinet. However, even if the ordinary rank and file Deputies of Fianna Fáil did not understand what was happening I am rather surprised that the membership of the INTO and, in particular, its executive, normally a perspicacious group of people who know exactly what is happening where and when, were not in a position to realise the changes in the Government estimates and the changes in the stance of the Minister in the months running up to the general election campaign. As they were not, and as the rank and file of Fianna Fáil Deputies apparently were not so aware, perhaps it is as well that we place the situation on the record of the House. What Deputy Wilson knows well, and what most of his colleagues in Cabinet should remember, is that no financial provision was made in the Estimates for the year 1981——
Mr. Boland: Furthermore, by decision of the Cabinet in the closing months of 1980 the provision to employ the extra teachers this year was specifically removed from the Estimate for the Department of Education.
Mr. Boland: As a teacher himself I am sure he would have realised that teachers do not give of their services on a voluntary, unpaid basis. Indeed, he had the advantage of having his memory jogged by the fact that the provision had to be specifically adverted to in the discussion of costs as presented by his Department to the Department of Finance. Deputy Wilson, and his Government, in fact decided on the deletion of the estimated required provision. Normally — and all of us knew this, especially the executive of the INTO — improved pupil-teacher ratios were announced by the Minister and his predecessors at the Easter congress of the INTO. But for some strange reason, this year no announcement was made. For some equally strange reason the executive of the INTO did not express surprise or outrage as they might very well have done.
Mr. Boland: One would perhaps wonder why, as they were legitimately entitled to do so. They are a group capable of organising a well-concerted lobby and of presenting their facts to the members of the public and the Members of this House. But they said nothing when there was no announcement about the employment or recruitment of extra teachers at the Easter congress as was usual. Deputy Wilson may have had a reason for not doing so. Perhaps he wanted to be especially fair to the Opposition in the weeks running up to a general election campaign. He may have thought it was not the thing to do to take unfair advantage of the Opposition. In fact he was so inhibited in regard to the employment of these extra teachers that he did not approach the Minister for Finance for approval for the proposed improvement in the pupil-teacher  ratio figures which I think were mentioned in the course of the recent election campaign. He did not approach the Minister for Finance for approval for that recruitment until 22 June 1981, 11 days after the general election.
Mr. Boland: No indication was given either in that submission to the Department of Finance or in a subsequent memorandum presented to the Government, his Government still, on the 25 June 1981 as to where the money was to come from to pay for the employment of these teachers.
Mr. Boland: Despite the fact that the Estimates, as approved by the Government and as authorised by the budget and the passage of the Finance Act, had specifically removed from them the money to employ those extra teachers——
Mr. Boland: ——the Department of Finance, in a minute dated 30 June 1981 — some of us in this House will remember that day, it was the day the Government changed — conveyed their sanction for the proposal. Congratulations to them. How glorious indeed were the dying days of the Fianna Fáil administration. This joined a series of other decisions, all of great and far-reaching financial import, made in the days between 11 June and 30 June when office was handed over, in the days between——
Mr. Boland: ——the day the war was lost and the day the battle standard was handed over, the Government of the day decided to compound the financial mess they had made by taking a series of irresponsible decisions without in any way  indicating where the funding was to come from.
Mr. Boland: It was so tight that not only was there not the money to employ the 300 extra teachers but there was not sufficient money to pay the existing teachers for December of 1980; there was not sufficient money for the school transport scheme to be operated after October 1981.
Mr. Boland: I was here last night and I heard the most disgraceful attack for some time launched on public servants in this Chamber. I heard it expressed by Deputy Wilson consistently in line with the attack launched by his Leader upon the civil servants of the Department of Finance when he underestimated the inflation rate by 50 per cent. I heard a similar attack visited by Deputy Wilson, until recently a Member of the Cabinet, and compounded tonight by Deputy Power, the former Minister for whatever he was Minister for, on the civil servants, those who cannot answer back. It shows the paucity of one's argument when one has to visit one's attack on the far side of the bullpen. I reject the attack launched by Deputy Wilson and his leader on the civil servants of the Department of Finance and by the former Minister for Fisheries and Forestry on the civil servants  of the Department of Education here this evening who, only before the summer recess, were singled out for praise by his colleague, Deputy Wilson.
Mr. Boland: The decision to implement the content of circular 24 of 1981 was taken in July in the context of the preparation of the July budget and the discovery by this Government that within ten days of coming into office we were faced with a situation where if a budget were not immediately introduced this country would be faced with economic bankruptcy——
Mr. Boland: If the Deputy would listen he would be able to hear. I have consistently explained that a series of proposals in the area of education was presented to the Cabinet. All those proposals were rejected as being without educational merit save this proposal which had an element of cost saving and effectiveness and which had a myriad of educational advantages which must not have been unapparent to the Minister of the day considering the great similarity there is between this proposal and the subject matter of paragraph 4.20 of the Fianna Fáil White Paper published in December 1980.
Mr. Boland: This proposal is to limit the intake date of children into primary  schools to two days in the year, at the beginning of January and at the beginning of July for entry to school in September, and it requires that children will have to be four-and-a-half years of age. In relation to the proposal that the former Minister for Foreign Affairs kicked out the door——
Attendance at school is compulsory in this country from the age of six to fifteen. Ireland is, however, virtually unique among European countries in that it makes provision in public primary schools for children from the age of four. In the normal course of events children receive their primary education in a single primary school or in a group of such schools on a single site. At present a child may be enrolled in school as soon as it reaches four years of age. Enrolments, taking place as they do at different times during the school-year, can give rise to difficulties in the organisation of classes and in the provision of an adequate programme for such pupils at junior level. In future first enrolment of pupils under the age of five will be permitted only on two dates each year, namely the first day of the school-year and the first school day in January after they have reached their fourth birthday.
Mr. Boland: I think what is really wrong here is that there is basic lack of comprehension by some Members of this House as to the purpose of a white paper. A green paper published by the Government  is a discussion document which invites the public and interested parties to give their views on ideas put forward. A white paper was, and is, and always will be a clear expression of Government policy and intent.
Mr. Boland: Deputy Wilson endeavoured to wriggle out of the commitment in the Government White Paper by referring to the preamble and his reference to the fact that the Government would be anxious to have wide-ranging discussions. But the part of the preamble which he did not quote from said that the Government's view was that the document to be produced “should not be unduly hesitant about making proposals for future development: that the expression of the views of the Minister for Education would be expected and welcomed”. Last night the man who was Minister for Education when this document was produced, the man who presumably had a large input into the writing of this document, the man who invited his Government to sanction this document and in whose name it was published, denied this White Paper, denied they were his views, denied they were the policy of his Government.
Mr. Boland: I would venture to suggest that never, since the Roman prosecutor of Judea handed the man named Jesus Christ over to the Pharisees, has there been a bigger sell-out than the sell-out by the former Minister of his own White Paper.
Mr. Boland: There are a number of educational advantages which Deputy  Wilson knows well and concurred with when the White Paper was being produced. Last night he did somersaults and handstands for the entertainment of his backbenchers and the public gallery. The two fixed entry dates we have introduced are identical with the Fianna Fáil proposal, but we have made a requirement that children should be four-and-a-half years on that entry date, not four years as stated in the Fianna Fáil proposal. Deputy Wilson now invites the House to consider that they were not in any way increasing the age of entry, that children are still four years of age. The INTO invited me to believe that they did not understand that the White Paper meant an increase in the age of entry.
Let us take Deputy Wilson's example given last night. A child born on 2 January in any year would not be four on 1 January. That would mean that that child would be four years and eight months in September. That appears to be substantially older than four years of age, yet the INTO and the former Minister are ad idam for some reason on this matter; “the White Paper did not propose an increase in the age of entry.” The only way in which the entry age would not increase by virtue of the Fianna Fáil White Paper decision could have been if all children in the country were to be born on two specific dates in the year. Perhaps Deputy Wilson or his colleagues had some master plan for how they would introduce that. Whatever plan they had in mind, I believe the public would find it difficult to conceive it.
Mr. Boland: Let us talk about this great lack of consultation. Sometimes there comes a stage when consensus goes out the door, when after you have rooted around for four years trying to find consensus to abolish corporal punishment, you decide it is time to make a decision. Sometimes there are harsh decisions for Governments to make and then the men will be sorted out from the boys. I made a decision on behalf of the Government and I am now being accused of not having  had consultations. What did that really mean? It meant, “We are annoyed that you did not give us the opportunity to mount the very efficient campaign we are running now before you implemented this proposal instead of having to run it now after you implemented this proposal”. That is exactly what it meant.
Let us now have a look at the INTO figures published last Monday in relation to 3,500 primary schools in the country which, I want to stress, are concerned primarily with the effects on the enrolment regulation for teacher employment. There has been scant discussion in this entire debate regarding the position of the child, the role of the child or the needs of the child. The first time this was discussed in public was today when I was interviewed on an RTE radio programme. No other contributor has put forward a view in relation to what is needed for the child. I congratulate the INTO on the expedition with which they produced their figures. However, like all surveys quickly taken, the accuracy would not appear to be very distinctive. I should mention that the INTO contend that if they had not been allowed an artificial enrolment machinery for enrolling children artificially in the last quarter of the year, and to boost the enrolment figures and thereby——
Mr. Boland: The INTO admitted in their briefing document that it is a practice which by tradition they were allowed to use and thereby boost the enrolment figures artificially. They contend in their survey that if they had not been allowed to do that in the June quarter of this year they would have lost 249 teaching posts. That is quite extraordinary because a similar survey conducted by the Department in relation to the June quarter of the previous year — the Deputy will remember when that survey was done — reveals that 90 posts were being held artificially in this way. Yet in the course of a year, the 90 posts have grown to 249. I will not waste the time of the House any further in dealing with the other figures put forward  except to say that they virtually all fall into the same category.
Mr. Boland: I will quote some of them if the Deputy is disappointed. The INTO also gave the figures in relation to the enrolments for the school year 1980-81. Those are the enrolments as at 30 September 1980, which is over a year ago. One would assume that those enrolment figures at least would have been accurate.
Let us have a look at the INTO figures and the cases where they claim they have full returns. Let us make sure to pick those counties. In County Donegal the INTO returns show 1,769, and the actual enrolment was 2,615. For Sligo, the INTO figure is 710 and the actual enrolment is 1,054. For Mayo the INTO figure is 1,761 but there were actually 2,410 children in school in that year. For Galway the INTO figure is 2,482 and the real figure is 3,406.
Mr. Boland: It was a statistical survey when the Deputy was quoting from it. For Kildare the INTO figure is 1,366 and the actual enrolment was twice that, 2,620. For Kilkenny the INTO figure was 1,106 and the actual figure 1,547. For Tipperary the INTO figure is 2,040 and the actual figure 2,761. For Clare the INTO figure is 1,166 and the actual figure is 1,759. I can go on and on but the House will note that the INTO figures are substantially lower than those officially returned to the Department by the principal teachers. There are either many ghost children in the primary schools or the INTO figures are unreliable.
I do not want to waste the time of the House any further in this regard except to draw attention to the fact that 11 of the other conclusions in the INTO survey are based on the premise of the enrolments in the schools, and if such enrolments are actually drastically below the actual numbers in the schools then that serves to exaggerate the number of posts supposedly “to be lost”.
 Last night Deputy Wilson spoke about the special schools and about the effect this would have on schools for the mentally and physically handicapped. I do not know, when he introduced a similar provision into his White Paper, if he intended to impose it on the mentally and physically handicapped. I do not intend to, and the issue of the special schools does not apply. Perhaps when Deputy Wilson wrote his paragraph 420 he intended that this should be extended to the special schools. I want to state clearly so that that unfair worry in the minds of parents of mentally handicapped children may now clearly be removed.
Great play has also been made by various people of the position of the two-teacher schools in the country. I want to state on behalf of the Government and on my own behalf that I am committed to the concept of the retention of the two-teacher schools. I do not believe that one-teacher schools are educationally viable and I will take every step open to me to continue the existence of the two-teacher schools in the country, not the 1,100 two-teacher schools in the INTO figures, but the 863 remaining after Deputy Wilson had closed the other 200 odd during the last four years. I am giving a commitment on behalf of the Government that no two-teacher school will be affected adversely as a result of the implementation of this circular. If other people had given that guarantee four years ago there would be far more of those decent, honourable, worthwhile two-teacher schools still in operation.
Mr. Boland: I want to say in relation to the guarantee I have given concerning the two-teacher schools that that covers virtually all of the 212 non-Catholic schools which are in operation in the  country. Of the 212 non-Catholic schools a maximum of 18 could be affected in any way by the introduction of this circular. That is a figure of less than 9 per cent. That gives the lie also to that.
I want to give an undertaking on the part of the Government in the entire area of pre-schooling. I have a personal commitment to the idea that there should be greater State involvement where it is needed in the area of pre-schooling. I have had many discussions, not just with interested parties or individuals, but with the Members of the Labour Parliamentary Party and the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party and many other interests. As a result, I want to announce on behalf of the Government that the Government are establishing a national registration council for pre-schooling, play groups and nursery groups. The Government will lay down minimum physical standards. It will be mandatory that such schools shall be registered. Operational guidelines will be laid down and inspections will be carried out by health board personnel.
Mr. Boland: In conjunction, the Government intend to give a generous grant-in-aid to the national voluntary umbrella body for pre-schools to allow them to expand radically their courses for training pre-school operators and advising them.
Mr. Boland: In addition, a course is being devised which will be implemented and delivered through the vocational committees through their adult education programmes for the training of pre-school operators. An expansion of the courses for pre-school parents is also being provided. We are also examining the question of acquiring relevant material which can be used on the RTE/NIHE  distance learning projects early in the new year. We hope that project may be used in conjunction with the training programmes which will be introduced on a county wide basis within the next few months.
I want to give this commitment on behalf of the Government. The Government have decided that the vast bulk of the moneys available to us for spending on pre-schooling should be channelled as a matter of deliberate bias into the areas of deprivation and disadvantage. I do not believe middle-class people like myself and many others in this House want or need massive State aid or State intervention in the area of pre-schooling. Neither did the Leader of the Fianna Fáil Party when he was Minister for Health and held responsibility in this area.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Ceann Comhairle indicated to me that the Minister would finish his contribution at two minutes past 8 o'clock. It is now that time and, disciplinarian that I am, I ask him to conclude.
Mr. Boland: I accept that. I want to make this commitment clear. My Government intend to spend money in the pre-schooling area in a vastly improved way, in the areas of deprivation through the health boards.
Mr. Faulkner: I cannot pretend to be a bit surprised that the Minister for Education spent so much time dealing in red herrings. I will try to bring the debate back to the level at which we might expect to find it in relation to a matter of very considerable importance to the children of this country. The Minister for Education has taken a decision to debar four year old children from the primary schools in the future. Enrolment is to be permitted only at the week ending on the last day in June and the week commencing the second Monday in January. Every experienced teacher knows that very few children under five years of age will enter the primary schools in the future.
Everybody, including the Minister, I am sure will agree that his decision is a very important one in the educational sphere. Therefore, I find it difficult to understand how the Minister, after a few weeks in office only, could possibly have come to grips with a very large and complex Department to such an extent as to enable him to make a fundamental change and to argue, as he had been doing prior to his speech in this House, that it was taken on educational grounds mainly.
I have no doubt that many Ministers for Education were faced with the same proposal by the Department of Finance to raise the school entry age. Much as I respect the Department of Finance, I cannot say I ever found them particularly concerned about the effects on our educational system of their proposals to cut the Education Estimates. Minister after Minister for Education successfully resisted all the attempts by the Department of Finance to have the proposal to  raise the school entry age adopted. Former Ministers recognised the damage such a decision could cause to our children's education, and particularly the children in the less well off sections of the community. However determined the efforts and pressures on them, they were determined that under no circumstances would they agree to this change.
Deputy Boland was the first Minister for Education to succumb and to make a decision which all those who are aware of the consequences regard as a fundamental one. From my experience in the Department of Education, and I had quite a considerable experience of that Department, I am certain that they too stoutly resisted the efforts of the Minister and the Government to effect this change. The Department of Education were especially proud of the fact that the age of admission to our primary schools was the lowest in Europe.
Mr. Faulkner: I could not see them easily accepting the demands of the Department of Finance in this area. Quite obviously, the Minister for Education forced their hand and we then had the circular of 12 August 1981. The decision of the Minister for Education in this sphere was a fundamental one on quite a number of counts. I will deal with two of them. First it is now an accepted fact that the years from the birth of a child to the age of five years are basic to his later educational development. In other words what is done to assist a child's development during those years is of the utmost significance in later years.
Secondly, the change now made by the Minister is a serious disruption of a system which has pertained in this country for many generations. Such disruption, without any attempt being made to fill the void created, can do nothing but damage to the system which has served the educational needs of many generations of Irish children. I would not regard the announcement by the Minister about some type of pre-schooling in any great light. It is significant — and perhaps Deputy Browne and Deputy Kemmy will  note this fact — that he waited until the last minute-and-a-half of his time to refer to it.
The simple fact is that the decision of the Minister and the Coalition Government to raise the age of entry to primary schools had nothing whatever to do with education. It was simply and solely a financial measure to save money to help the Government to pay for the costly package of goodies offered by the Fine Gael Party before the election, which was added to by the Labour Party during the negotiations which led up to the formation of the Coalition Government. Like the Government's July budget increase in VAT, the measure by the Minister will hit the weaker sections of the community who have not got the means to pay for any substitute which might possibly be available to the wealthier sections.
The Minister consulted with neither the school boards, the teachers, nor the parents. We had neither a Green Paper, nor a White Paper from him on the subject. The Minister for Finance simply cracked the whip and the Minister for Education——
Mr. Faulkner: The Minister for Education accepted the dictate. Last night the Minister of State at the Department of Education said we should be discussing this matter in relation to education and not refer to teachers being unemployed. Of course, our main thrust relates to the education of our children. We have also got to concern ourselves about the employment of teachers and the employment of graduates who will leave the colleges of education in the near future.
The Minister stated that we have the earliest entry age to primary schools in Europe. He suggested in a previous statement that children of four years of age are too young for a formal school setting. From the Minister's comments one would assume that immediately a child enters the national school it is involved in formal education. That is not so. The primary school curriculum introduced by me  when I was Minister for Education allows for a very high degree of flexibility and informality at infant level. Already great strides have been made in the development of infant education due to the flexible and informal nature of the curriculum. To enable this worthwhile work to continue what is needed is the provision of more resources to reduce further the pupil-teacher ratio, as Deputy Wilson did on a number of occasions when he was Minister for Education, and to provide more equipment and facilities, rather than closing the door on our four-year-olds as the Minister is doing.
When faced with a deluge of criticism and protest the Minister gave a vague promise to provide another system of infant education of unknown quality. Clearly it would take years to implement and the effect would be to abolish a well regulated system that has great potential, giving the necessary finance to develop it. To reach full potential smaller classes at infant level are vital. More teachers are necessary and more equipment should be made available. If the Minister were really serious about the new system he is proposing for infants, he would have the matter researched thoroughly to see how it would fit into the Irish context. He would provide the necessary finance and facilities for such a venture and only then, and after consultation with the various groupings involved including the parents and the teachers, should he make changes. It is obvious the reason the Minister did not carry out the necessary research was that he wanted a short-term financial windfall for the Exchequer and the carrot of pre-schooling will remain a carrot for a long time to come.
Psychological research has demonstrated that the period from the time the child is born until it is five years is critical in the development of its intellectual capacity. It is not many years ago since it was thought that a child's IQ remained constant from the day of birth. This is not so, as has been proved by worldwide research and as has been admirably demonstrated by the Rutland Street project which was financed by the Department of Education and the Van Leer Foundation. By providing the necessary teachers  and the necessary back-up personnel and facilities, it was shown that children from deprived backgrounds could compete with children from more favoured backgrounds. The need to give special attention to the needs of the very young is obvious, particularly to the needs of those from deprived homes. That should be done immediately, not in the far distant future.
The only provision for children of four years, which is of general application, was the infant class in the primary school and this is now being taken away. When Deputy Wilson was Minister for Education he had the right approach. During his term of office, time after time he reduced class sizes thereby creating the conditions where the curriculum for infants could become fully effective. One would have thought that the Minister, rather than raising the entry age to primary schools — incidentally, this will increase class sizes in many schools — would have reduced the number of pupils in infant classes. If he had done this he would have improved on the provision that existed already in the area of child education. Instead of this he is proposing to abolish the provision completely. The degree of flexibility and informality at infant level in primary schools can be very considerable. The aim should be to reduce class sizes and thereby provide a better opportunity for educational development rather than closing the school doors on four-year olds while promising an unknown type of pre-school education in the far distant future. As I said earlier, from the day the child is born until it is five years of age is the critical stage in the development of its intellectual capacity. The plight of a child from a deprived home who no longer can enrol at four years will be pitiable in the future.
I can appreciate that Fine Gael may not be particularly interested in the deprived child but I am rather concerned to find that the Labour Party and the two Deputies whose names are on the amendment should vote to deprive these children. This is something which their supporters will find difficult to understand. May I remind the Coalition parties that  before the election they promised positive discrimination in favour of the socially and educationally deprived? Indeed, after the election they stated that the needs of the disadvantaged would be given special attention. The decision of the Minister and the Government to raise the entry age to primary schools runs totally contrary to these declarations. Far from discriminating in favour of the socially and educationally deprived, they are positively discriminating against these children.
Where will the socially and educationally deprived families get the money to pay for pre-school education, even if it is available? Where will those on low incomes or the unemployed get the money for nursery schooling? The educational needs of such children will be particularly damaged and taking account of the rapid rise in the number of unemployed it is obvious that many more children will be placed in the deprived categories.
Schemes giving deprived children a push over their disadvantage at a young age were once widely criticised but now these schemes have been proved to be a good social and economic investment. Longtitudinal studies carried out in the United States have shown that pupils who get such educational assistance were far less likely to be put in special education, that is to say in remedial classes, or to be held back a grade during their subsequent school career. Research has shown that by the age of 15 years such children scored an average of 8 per cent higher on reading, arithmetic and language tests than the control group. That meant they were the equivalent of one academic year ahead. Such assistance showed up outside the classroom also. For example, delinquency was much more common among those who had not attended school. It was calculated also that the cost of two years schooling at the young age was far less than the subsequent benefits over an average individual lifetime. This accrued mainly from the fact that there was less need for remedial education and there was increased earnings as an adult.
One might ask how this applies to our situation? First, the study in the United  States related to children in the four to six age group. Secondly, it related to children coming from deprived homes. Thirdly, and very important, the only form of kindergarten schooling, the only properly controlled and regulated system of early education available generally in this country, is the primary school.
From what I have said it is clear that the four-year old against whom the school door is now closed will lose out educationally both in the short and long-term and will lose out financially in the long-term as well. This is a very shortsighted policy and it underlines the fact that it was decided on for short-term financial gain to the Exchequer rather than the long-term educational and financial advantage of the individual and the community generally.
In his statement announcing the change the Minister stated it was done “for the purpose of enabling better organisation of classes to be effected in national schools”. I wonder who thought that one up? Is it not clear that it will cause much worse organisation in the national schools? If I might give an example: where there are eight teachers in a school, there is a teacher available for each class. The fact there will now be fewer infants enrolled means that, in many instances, eight-teacher schools will become seven-teacher schools with the organisational problems which will go with such a change. Each teacher will now have a class and part of another class to teach and, of course, the numbers to be taught will increase considerably — eight teachers are needed to teach 260 pupils but if there are only 250 pupils, only seven teachers are employed. If one divides 260 by eight and 250 by seven one will see what I am taking about. Is it suggested that a teacher teaching two classes with a greater number of pupils will be able to do better work than a teacher with one class only and fewer pupils in the class?
The greatest problems will arise, however, in three-teacher schools many of which will be reduced to two-teacher schools. These schools will be reduced not at the demand of the community but  because of the decision of the Minister. It is very important that we remember that. The problems facing a school losing a teacher are exceptional and the Minister should recognise this. It is clear therefore that it is not only the infants who will not be able to attend school who will be adversely affected by the Minister's decision, but it will also affect those at a higher level right through their lives.
Another argument presented by the Minister in favour of change was that children were too young transferring from the primary schools to the post-primary schools. His decision in relation to the entry age to primary schools does not change the situation one iota. The Minister has not changed the regulations regarding the transfer to post-primary schools. Is it not possible that we will no longer have junior infants and senior infants but simply infants and therefore children will continue to transfer at the same age? I would be happier to see children transfer from primary schools to post-primary schools at a later age, but there are many ways in which such an objective can be achieved other than by raising the entry age to primary schools which I have shown can be detrimental to the development of the children.
If the transfer age of children from primary school to post-primary school is too low, why not have a transitional year at primary school level with a curriculum especially developed by primary and post-primary teachers working in consultation? This would be satisfactory to both the primary and post-primary teachers' viewpoints and would be very beneficial to the children concerned. Alternatively, the child could spend a longer period in infant classes so that young children could have a better opportunity to grasp the fundamental concepts necessary for further education.
Let me again stress the point that where the numbers in a school fall below the figure required to retain the full complement of teachers already teaching in the school, and as a result where one teacher must seek employment elsewhere, the pupil-teacher ratio in that school will be considerably increased. In areas where it is already too high it will  create an even worse situation. I have pointed to the educational disadvantages of the Minister's proposals and underline that the more deprived sector of our community will suffer most. The Minister's decision will increase class numbers.
Circular 24/81 will, of course, affect teacher employment. The entitlement of a national school to its complement of teachers is determined by the average number of pupils enrolled in the school. As a result of the restrictions imposed by the Minister for Education, it is estimated that enrolments will be reduced very considerably. The restrictions mean that a number of teaching posts will be extinguished over three years and teachers will be required to transfer to schools up to 45 kilometers away.
While it is true that teachers presently employed will not lose their jobs and that those who become redundant will go on a panel and will be guaranteed a job in another school up to 45 kilometres away, the fact is that many of those who will graduate from colleges of education in the next few years will be without any prospect of a job for a considerable time after graduating. These graduates undertook a three-year course of study on the understanding that there would be jobs for them, and that assurance of employment has been withdrawn by the Minister.
I want to stress this particular aspect of the matter. Unlike the situation in respect of other teachers in our educational system, the Department of Education control the entry of students into colleges of education. I have always held the view that where the Department trained more teachers than they were willing to employ at a given time or where the number trained was too high because of a ministerial decision — such as the decision now taken by the Minister for Education — resulting in primary teacher unemployment, the Department have a responsibility towards those graduates and must shoulder that responsibility. A situation such as this prevailed in the thirties and early forties where some teachers did not get permanent posts for years, with the result that many of them could not qualify for the full pension.
Mr. Faulkner: I will repeat my last sentence. When I was Minister for Education I acknowledged the responsibility of the Department by adding years to the service given by these teachers so as to enable them to get full pension.
A similar situation will arise as a result of the Minister's decision on the school entry age. He cannot claim, as might have been claimed in the thirties, that he did not appreciate the problems which would arise in respect of graduates of colleges of education. He has been forewarned. Cutting back on the numbers entering the colleges is far from being a solution for many reasons. First, what of the students already in these colleges? Second, the reality is that we should continue to train as many teachers, at the very least, as heretofore if we are to continue the welcome trend of reduced pupil-teacher ratios so obvious during the term of office of Deputy Wilson. Third, because of the Minister's decision large numbers of  young people anxious to enter the colleges of education in the next two or three years will be unable to do so.
I want to make it very clear that this is not a storm in a teacup. Our motion is an attempt to ensure that our children have available to them the personnel and facilities necessary to develop their intellectual capacity, taking account of the fact that the period up to five years of age is of vital importance.
I would like to address myself very briefly to two sectors of the community. The first group are those who feel that five years of age is young enough to attend school. The vital period of a child's educational development is before he reaches five years; the base for further educational development is laid down during the period up to five years of age and the consequences of ignoring this can be very serious. The second group are  those who are unhappy about the age children enter post-primary education. I have already said that the Minister's decision will not alter this situation one iota but even if it did I could not accept a situation where a child would be deprived of an education in its most formative years.
Let us be clear that we are not speaking here of a year or a half year one way or the other. We are concerned about the grave matter of depriving a child of the educational assistance he needs at a vital stage in his life, the effects of which can remain with him for the rest of his life. I believe the Minister's decision is a retrograde step.
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