Private Members' Business. - Education Bill, 1991: Second Stage.

Tuesday, 22 October 1991

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 411 No. 4

First Page Previous Page Page of 188 Next Page Last Page

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

I regard it as a singular honour to bring this Education Bill before the House this evening. This is a first in many respects not least of which is the fact that this is, to my knowledge, the first Bill entitled an Education Bill to be brought before Dáil Éireann. Indeed, the other measure bearing that title was the very worthwhile, radical and comprehensive Education (Ireland) Bill, 1919 which was introduced in the House of Commons. That Bill proved so controversial at the time that after its Second Reading it was abandoned; abandoned perhaps but certainly not forgotten. Neither has its lesson been lost on subsequent Ministers for Education. Since the 1919 experience even the most adventurous of Ministers has shied away from any attempt whatsoever to introduce a subsequent Education Bill.

I am particularly happy to introduce this Bill this evening because it is incumbent upon us, as we face into the 21st Century which is less than a mere nine years down the road, once and for all, to place our education system on a sound legislative framework enshrining what has developed in such a piecemeal and ad hoc fashion up to now while, at the same time, leaving the legislative scaffolding flexible enough to enable desired [1317] and necessary changes to occur for the foreseeable future.

One of the remarkable features of Irish education at both primary and second level has been its marked absence of any legislative base. It is generally accepted that our present primary school system is founded on a letter sent by Chief Secretary, Lord Stanley to the Duke of Leinster in in October 1831. Apart from the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924 the only other legislation enacted in the sphere of primary education is the School Attendance Act, 1926 and subsequent amendments. Secondary education for its part derives mainly from the modest financing proposals in the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Act, 1878. The Agricultural and Technical Instruction Act, 1879 was the precursor of the 1930 Vocational Education Act, 1930. The Vocational education system, therefore, is the only system of education which has a contemporary and solid legislative foundation.

Changes, great and small, have been wrought over the years by ministerial directives and by hundreds and indeed thousands of circular letters. The introduction of free education with its welcome and far-reaching consequences, comprehensive schools, community schools, the replacement of the Intermediate Certificate with the Junior Certificate, the primary education review — everything that has happened, great and small — happened by way of ministerial diktat not alone without any legislation but without any of these momentous happenings reported to the Dáil in order to enable the elected Members to make recommendations, debate them or provide criticisms.

It is truly remarkable that the central instrument of social policy, the greater moulder of society, the education system, managed by a Department who have a budget of £1.3 billion should have absolutely no reporting process, no obligation and no accountability to the Dáil other than the inadequate and truncated Estimates debates. I want, therefore, to pay particular tribute to Deputy John Bruton for his analysis in 1990 showing that there [1318] was a glaring deficiency in education which must and should be addressed by an education Bill. More than any other Member of this House, Deputy Bruton has been an outstanding pioneer of reform. His Dáil reform proposals are recognised by commentators and people outside this House as far-reaching, practical and long overdue. They have slowly gained grudging recognition by the parties in Government, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, as an urgent imperative if we are to restore respect and credibility to the Houses of Parliament.

The introduction of television to this Chamber was the result of another Bruton crusade a few years ago which culminated in the adoption of a motion by the Dáil and the establishment of an all-party committee thereby making the televising of this House's proceedings, and indeed of the other House, a reality. I am delighted, therefore, that the Minister for Education's initial reluctance to accept the need to have an education Act was quickly laid aside and that she is now to publish in due course her own education Bill through the mechanism of a Green Paper and a White Paper.

In the absence of a clear statutory base the role and functions of the Minister for Education have been based on assumptions rather than on any clear definitions. Indeed, the authority of the Minister has no statutory base and the status and enforceability of all directives and circular letters issued by the Minister derive in effect from the fact that the Minister holds the purse strings. If one fails to comply, then one does not get the necessary finance to function. I have set out therefore, in this Bill to establish a comprehensive list of what I see as the statutory role, functions, duties and obligations of the Minister for Education. Section 4 of the Bill makes the Minister responsible for the provision of primary and post primary education to all persons of school age and for the supervision and implementation of education policy.

I have already remarked on the virtual absence, indeed non-existence, of legislation on education. The last number of [1319] weeks has been a super-charged debate on the need for accountability at all levels in public life culminating in last week's debate in the Dáil. Education has always been a subject capable of exciting intense debate but it has become particularly so in later years because of the higher participation rate, structural changes, moves towards rationalisation, curriculum innovations, the ever increasing education competition and greater involvement of parents.

Responding to the need the print media have contributed by providing specialist correspondents well briefed, sharp, critical and constructive, providing thoroughly educative features and supplements to feed the growing national appetite. How ludicrous, therefore, that we have had absolutely no education debate in this House. I do not think anybody can seriously contend that the monthly Education Question Time lottery is a debate or indeed that the guillotined half hour to one hour Estimates debate give ample scope to do other than a cursory examination of the various elements of the Estimate.

The requirement in section 4 (c) of the Bill, that the Minister must bring before the Dáil each year a full and comprehensive report on all aspects of education within six months of the conclusion of the school year is one of the most significant features of the Bill. This annual report would include an evaluation of the Department's activities during the previous year, a statement on their success or otherwise in achieving their education objectives and the implementation of education policy. Again dealing with the different elements of the annual report to the Dáil, section 4 (c) (iii) builds in a statement on the unit costs in the different types of school. It is important that we have this regular appraisal of the essential running costs of the different types, sizes and categories of schools. It is particularly important at a time when capitation grants have fallen seriously into arrears and when parents of children at primary level have to dig deep into their own pockets to pay for [1320] heating, cleaning, school equipment and other essential features of education. It is the absence of this annual unit cost statement that has led to the situation where free education and the free education scheme is being increasingly undermined and eroded by such daily impositions on parents. It is also important that the unit cost studies would pinpoint the need to grant aid at the appropriate higher rates those schools which have a higher technical content in their curricula as apart from schools where there is an almost total academic bias.

There is a quiet sense of satisfaction in the Irish education circle that Irish education standards are high. The recent OECD report on education in Ireland, however, emphasises the increasing importance of education and training for the vitality of the economy, employment and the entire process of national development in an era of rapid social and cultural change. The annual report to the Dáil, therefore, would contain comparisons with other European countries both in terms of a comparative evaluation of the schools system vis-à-vis schools in our European counterpart countries as well as comparisons, where possible, in relation to the standards and education objectives in equivalent examinations in those countries.

We are on the brink of 1992 with all its implications for Community cohesion and greater European integration. It is extraordinary that while major developments have taken place and continue to take place in the social and economic sphere there has been very little interaction between the education systems in the different member states. Of course there is contact between the Ministers at ministerial level — I acknowledge that. I also acknowledge that we have programmes such as the ERASMUS programme at third level.

Ireland should be the leading proponent of greater integration. By letting up the blinds on our education system, by offering ourselves and our education product to the outside examiners, we would be making a first significant step [1321] to much greater and badly needed education co-operation and partnership. These are the core areas of the annual report to come before the Dáil; many other areas will, inevitably, be reported on and the Bill allows for this. However, the really important thing is that we have an annual report, that we thereby have full accountability, that we have an annual update on where we are educationally, how effectively the system is delivering the service, and where we hope to go in the coming year and years ahead. It goes without saying that it is absolutely necessary that this report is debated in full in the Dáil, thereby bringing the accountability process to its logical conclusion.

Section 5 of the Bill is essentially a series of enabling provisions defining areas where the Minister is empowered to make regulations concerning minimum standards to be attained in each school, also providing for the maintenance of funding for schools, recognition — and the withdrawal of recognition — of schools, the terms of employment of teachers and other non-teaching school personnel, the length of the school day, school terms and school year and regulating the rights of school boards and management in principle to grant additional holidays in certain circumstances. It is important that as much discretion as possible is given to local management in this area and, indeed, as many other areas as possible.

One of the glaring deficiencies in our education system is the virtual non-existence of a proper scheme of in-service courses and retraining for teachers. There seems to be an assumption that a teacher who emerges from a teacher training college after three years or obtains his or her higher diploma in education is like the camel, equipped for life with his or her pedagogical hump, fully competent to deal with the changing classroom demands for the next 40 years of his or her teaching journey through life. Of course one must recognise the efforts of the Department of Education to get in-service courses under way, but [1322] these efforts are hopelessly under-funded, totally inadequate and very unstructured in the face of the massive need to retrain teachers in coping with the various educational demands. I am talking about the curriculum changes, curriculum designs, changing methodologies and pupil assessment.

The Minister for Education, therefore, has a clear obligation to set up a comprehensive scheme of in-service and retraining courses for teachers so that every teacher in every school in every part of the country can have regular access to such courses in his or her area, thereby recharging, on a regular basis, their educational batteries. Many of the frustrations of teachers, much of the feeling of being unable to cope and a lot of the clamour of teachers about increasing pressure and tension, would be greatly eased if a permanent scheme of retraining and in-service courses were in place.

The OECD Observer referred to the Irish teaching body as a competent but greying profession which is in danger of suffering from hardening of the arteries unless proper in-service training is put in place immediately. The OECD Observer said: “Ireland has a human capability to build up an outstanding in-service education. The main difficulty is the lack of appropriate structures and resources.” Section 5 (g), therefore, is the enabling provision which the Minister will use to the full to fill a major educational vacuum. Notwithstanding the introduction of the finest in-service and retraining in the world, there is an obvious need to allow voluntarily out of the system teachers who feel they simply cannot benefit from such courses and who want to go. There should be an ongoing early retirement provision to facilitate this and to rejuvenate the profession from the huge pool of young, able and highly motivated teachers who are in such ready supply.

Education has come to be increasingly couched in terms such as partnership and co-operation. Yet if we examine the vast majority of catchment areas in the country we will see that not alone is there no partnership or co-operation, there is, in [1323] fact, intense rivalry and competition. Acknowledging the merits of competition, one nevertheless has to question why the various primary schools in a catchment area remain totally detached and insular with absolutely no contact among themselves and absolutely no contact in most cases with the second level system into which they pass their charges after sixth class. Equally, or perhaps more so, we should look at the situation in small provincial towns where you have the classic case of two secondary schools and a vocational school all enjoying parallel but separate independent existences with absolutely no contact with each other on an informal let alone formal basis. Indeed, in many situations these schools are very often locked in mortal combat for the scarce pupil numbers in the catchment area. Generally they provide the same range of subjects to children from similar backgrounds who at the end of schooling will sit the very same examinations. You have wholesale duplication and triplication while often schools individually are too small to enable adequate streaming according to ability range.

Section 5 (h) of the Bill allows for the recognition and provision of support for local education co-operation councils, as the Bill states “to facilitate local co-operation between schools, both primary and post-primary, and the sharing of improved allocation of resources available to all schools in particular areas”. I believe that such local education co-operative councils will provide a forum for dialogue where the management boards of all the different schools in an area come together and in the common interest of all their pupils openly discuss their common problems and experiences, where they can examine the possibility of pooling their resources and arrive at common solutions to their problems, where they can evaluate the need and effectiveness of the home school liaison programmes, where they can co-ordinate student exchange with other countries, where they can devise ways of giving more educational vitality to the very [1324] expensive school buildings and equipment and resources which in most cases remain locked up and unused for 16 hours a day five days a week for entire weekends and for four months of the year, where again the schools can arrive at common youth programmes for the young people in the area and also put in place a proper structure for adult education. The areas of common interest and of common benefit are innumerable. However, one of its main priorities should be for everybody in the local education co-operative council to sit down together and look down the road to the future and devise a proper development strategy for education at all levels in its area.

The population projections at primary level are alarming. They indicate that pupil enrolment will drop from the current figure of 534,400 to 427,700, a drop of over 100,000 within ten years. There is a clear early warning system here for the post-primary sector. It is glaringly obvious that reduced numbers in school means increased competition for students leading almost to an education civil war at second level where survival will be the name of the game. It is patently obvious, therefore, that there must be rationalisation. Far better that such rationalisation should be the result of a process of mutual interaction and dialogue through the local education co-operative councils than by way of subsequent shotgun marriages. I had the very fortunate experience of being involved in a second level school which moved from a situation of intense competition through a period of educational courtship with the other schools in the catchment area leading to an eventual very happy educational marriage in the shape of a community school.

I am not, however, advocating regionalisation or new regional structures. I believe that we are simply too small in terms of population to set up new educational regions. However few they might be, each new regional authority would require their own separate [1325] bureaucracy. The history of regionalisation in this country has not been a happy one.

One need look not further than the health boards — eight grossly overweight bureaucracies with their eight chief executive officers presiding over a hierarchy of programme managers, staff officers, assistant staff officers, superintendent community welfare officers, community welfare officers, clerical officers, assistant clerical officers and clerk typists. Huge resources are dissipated in administration while the actual services themselves are starved for cash. I see no reason why we should repeat the mistake in education. In my opinion the local education co-operative councils' proposed in this Bill would provide an easy local vehicle for the delivery of a better education service at minimal cost at local level, which is ultimately what we are setting out to achieve.

I want to place particular emphasis on section 5 (f) of the Bill. I believe that if you are to achieve education equality then you must discriminate favourably in terms of extra resource input to compensate for disadvantage; you have got to allow for weighted distribution of resources according to need. On the one hand, we are proud of the fact that the products of our education system can hold their heads high on any international education stage. This, however, ignores the fact that 10 to 15 per cent of the pupils at primary level do not derive benefit from primary education but actually leave school more demotivated and soul destroyed than when they crossed the school threshold in the morning. It is a scandal that with such a high proportion of school children unable to cope with the day-to-day happenings in the classroom remedial teaching is such a low priority that two-thirds of schools have absolutely no access whatever to remedial teachers.

Again, you cannot equate in terms of targeting of resources slow learners with a class of high achievers or children from huge ghetto-like low education interest areas, or indeed the children of travellers who are gaining exposure to education for the first time, with highly motivated [1326] youngsters from areas with a long history of involvement in education at all levels. There has to be an acknowledgement of such social or intellectually disabling factors and special resources in the form of special pupil-teacher ratio, additional grants etc must be made available.

Again, research at post-primary level reveals that the curriculum is failing 25 per cent of the students and this certainly is not to assume that the other 75 per cent are being well served either. We aspire to but we certainly do not serve all the children of the nation equally. Equality of education provision is not the same as equality of education opportunity. As things stand, our education system simply fails to dispenses the educational resources of the nation equally and equitably as the Constitution requires. Emile Durkheim observed “Education transformations are always the result and symptom of the social transformations in terms of which they are explained”. This Bill, therefore, attempts to end once and for all the wasteful squandermania of so many talented pupils' abilities, to put an end once and for all to a situation where so many of our students come off the education conveyor belt and onto the education scrap-heap. We are attempting to put in place an education framework which will give full scope to the expression of the potential, the talents, abilities and skills of all the children of the nation.

The Bill also envisages a new relationship between the school and the social services outside. Social Workers, community welfare officers and community careworkers have considerable insight into particular domestic circumstances which could prove vital in the child's school performance. Again, teachers can often observe and detect in children in class some telltale symptoms of circumstances that need further examination at home. Yet, apart, from the early tentative start in home school liaison, there is absolutely no dialogue or exchange between schools and the social services.

In section 5 (w) I am proposing a greater usage of travelling teachers. How [1327] often have we seen vibrant small schools go to the wall because a drop in pupil numbers led to a loss of a teacher, which in effect meant the loss of a subject? Drop French from the curriculum and students cannot go to university. Drop woodwork, as almost happened in Tuam last week, and you have lost your technical status.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  It did not happen.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  There is considerable scope within and without catchment areas for exchange of teachers, for travelling teachers serving two, three and possible even four schools in the areas of technical subjects, modern languages, in the case of new subjects coming into other curriculum such as technology, for career counselling or in the area of remedial teachers.

Again, the Bill in section 5 (z) makes provison for the nationwide availability of the school psychological service as against the present unsatisfactory position where there are only two small pilot schemes for the entire country.

It is ironic that parents who are the only group recognised in the Constitution as the primary educators of the child should have been the least involved in the whole process up to now. The huge growth in parent participation has added immeasurably to the whole education process in the past number of years. The more I meet with them and see the input of parents at close quarters, the more I bemoan the fact that their central and vital role and expertise has been sidelined and wasted for so long. At present primary schools, vocational schools, community schools and comprehensive schools have boards of management with elected parents. Unfortunately, with rare exceptions, the vast majority of secondary schools do not have management boards. This Bill introduces parents' associations and boards of management to all schools. As well as increasing the number of parents from two to three, parents and teachers on the new boards of management will be enabled to hold [1328] the Chairs on such boards. At present, particularly in primary level, the Chair is generally the preserve of the school manager.

Section 6 (2) makes provision for a pro rata parent and teacher increase on management boards in accordance with the size of the school. Fine Gael are strongly committed to the fuller and more vital participation of parents in education. We are pleased that the Fine Gael Vocational Education (Amendment) Bill which was introduced to the House earlier this year gave rise to a letter from the Minister for Education to each local authority urging them to retain one place for a teacher and a parent on every vocational education committee. While it is heartening that the vast majority of VECs responded positively to the Minister's promptings, nonetheless it would be better to have two parents and two teachers as a statutory right. The Bill defines the functions of the board of management among which is the drawing up of a school plan every four years with an annual update; the employment of teachers; grant-aid for the retraining of its teachers and the publication of the school's annual report to be made available in the local library and other public places.

The Austrian philosopher and scientist, Rudolf Steiner, laid emphasis on the education of “the whole child, the head, the hand and the heart”. However, a major feature of the existing post-primary curriculum in particular is the huge bias in favour of academic learning. A major injustice is done on a daily basis to those pupils whose skills, aptitudes and talents are not of an academic bent. Children's whole talents very often lie in the manual area, in creativity, enterprise, teamwork and initiative, and in a majority of cases these are poorly catered for in the present sechond level system. While there have been welcome initiatives in promoting alternative education — teachers and inspectors deserve tremendous credit for developing new subject areas — the system in the main however is still totally polarised between [1329] high status academic learning on the one-hand, and low status alternative education on the other.

This Bill therefore proposes the setting up of a statutory curriculum review board consisting of 25 members. The board would consist of the main interest groups in education and would be based largely on the existing model of the NCCA. However, I have proposed an increase in the number of parents, both primary and post-primary, to two and I have also proposed bringing onto the board a representative of FAS. The board must undertake a curriculum review at least once every ten years and all its findings and recommendations must be brought before the Dáil and the Seanad. I would envisage as one of the earliest recommendations from such a board a complete re-orientation of the curriculum at second level to give far greater expression to vocatonal training and technical subjects and to end the academic imbalance and bias. Parallel with curriculum review, Fine Gael also propose establishing an independent examination board in this Bill. A vast body of expertise is locked up in the Department of Education in the persons of the inspectorate. The examination board, therefore, shall be constituted of a chief executive, and one inspector from each subject area.

It is beyond dispute that the leaving certificate as an orthodox examination can more than hold its own with the best anywhere in the world. However, I am strongly of the view that it is totally unjust that a 20 hour examination, essentially a written examination in mid-June, should be the only and final arbiter as to a pupil's educational attainments. I am strongly of the view that a school-based assessment should be an integral part of our public certificate examinations and section 9 (3) makes provision for this. This can be undertaken in several ways: by awarding marks for inhouse examinations during the period of study leading to the final certificate examination; or monitoring the student's performance in consultation with other students in the same subject area faculty; or a combination of both in [1330] co-operation and in consultation with the inspectorate.

We are extremely fortunate here to have one of the finest teaching professions in the world, a profession which has shown its ability to change and adapt where resources are available. There is no doubt that the Irish teaching profession has the capacity to do a professional objective assessment provided adequate resources are forthcoming. One of the frustrations often attendant on the teaching profession has been the lack of promotional opportunities. School principals have often been appointed when in their twenties and thirties. Apart from the fact that this tends to close off promotional opportunities for other teachers and stunts upward mobility within the school there is the oft expressed desire by many school principals to revert to teaching again. However, if they do so at present they forfeit their principal's allowance. Section 10 (6) allows for boards of management to employ principals and vice-principals on fixed term contracts thereby allowing them to revert to a teaching role while retaining a percentage of their emoluments.

Since the publication of the Bill, section 12 has attracted a great deal of attention. It deals with the role of the inspectorate and the relationship between the inspectorate and the teaching profession. Over the years the role of the inspectorate has been undervalued and relegated. It is ridiculous that we have a mere 81 inspectors for in the region of 3,400 primary schools and only 65 inspectors for 800 post-primary schools. I want the number of inspectors greatly increased, possibly, even trebled. However, the role of the inspector should be redefined in clear unequivocal terms to that of assisting, counselling, advising and monitoring teachers performance. I want to see a situation created where the inspectors will be welcomed in the school as a resource offering primarily assistance and advice to teachers. I want to see the inspector perceived as a partner in education.

[1331] Irreparable damage was done to the image, reputation and good name of the school inspector years ago, particularly in primary schools, when the finest of national school teachers dreaded the arrival of the inspector in the school, as one would greet the arrival of a mini-tyrant. It is true to say that the inspectorate are the true professionals within the Department of Education. We need to unleash and make available their talents. We need to resource them properly and avail of their expertise at every possible opportunity.

We have an extremely conscientious teaching profession but I am sure the teaching profession, and teachers' unions, would be the first to acknowledge that as in any other profession or sphere of life standards can and do occasionally fall below what is required. Section 12 (2) makes provision for professional retraining and further education where this arises. In the vast majority of cases the retraining will in all probability have the desired effect and iron out the problem.

I sincerely hope that the termination of the employment of teachers whose teaching remains consistently below acceptable professional standards, as enshrined in section 12 (2) should only be called into play on the rarest of occasions and after every other procedure has been exhausted. However, if the need is there, it should be called into play.

The periodic review of the professional performance of teachers will be welcomed by teachers in due course as the benefit of the integrated role of inspectors into education becomes more obvious. I would like to see inspectors reverting to a teaching role for one year in every ten in order to maximise his or her apreciation of the day-to-day operations and problems confronting teachers in the classroom. An indication of the lapse of the role of the inspector has been the failure of the inspectorate to produce an annual report for the past number of years. Section 16 (4) restates this obligation of the inspectors to produce an annual report dealing with the work of [1332] the inspectorate during the relevant academic year. I envisage this report being integrated into the Minister's annual report and being brought before the Dáil in due course.

Section 17 deals with a range of special needs, such as those of the physiclly and mentally handicapped, adult education, distance learning techniques, the recognition and maintenance of a specific number of Irish schools, enhanced facilities for modern language teaching, the provision of nursery and pre-school places and the criteria for such schools which very often, unfortunately, operate at present as mere commercial ventures. I envisage the Minister being empowered to introduce regulations to oversee the operation of summer schools.

Section 18 makes provision for the teaching of religion in every school which is funded in whole or in part by the State. However, recognition is given to the right of parents or guardians to choose to withdraw their child or children from religious instruction if so desired. One of the kernel features of the Bill is the introduction of a code of discipline. I appreciate that the Minister recently issued guidelines to post-primary schools and that was very welcome. We also built in, as the ultimate sanction, the right of each board of management to suspend and expel students in the interests of the common good, if need be, for persistent breaches of the code of discipline in the school. Again, we hope this will be a rare occurrence but it is vitally important that it is built in as the ultimate sanction, safeguard and penalty if so required.

I am delighted to have had this opportunity to bring this Bill before the House. As everybody knows it is a daunting task to present an education Bill. One can look at a whole range of Bills from skeletal framework Bills to intrusive detailed Bills such as the 1988 education Bill in the United Kingdom which had in the region of 450 sections and took 360 hours to debate in its passage through the House of Commons. In this Bill, Fine Gael are legislating for education and we hope we are putting in place an education [1333] system which will be accountable, equitable, democratic and, above all else, effective. In this Bill we have got the balance right.

Minister for Education (Mrs. O'Rourke): Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I would like genuinely to thank Deputy Higgins as Education spokesman for Fine Gael for the opportunity to have a debate on education in the House. We have had many such debates despite Deputy Higgins's remark that we do not have very many. Since I became Minister we have had legislation establishing new universities and legislation dealing with Thomond College. These offered opportunities for wide-ranging and discursive debate and gave us an opportunity to express our thoughts on education. I welcome Deputy Higgins's spunk in bringing forward this Bill.

Before we lose the run of ourselves and get caught up in all sorts of things, I wish to put on record my thoughts on the Bill. I am glad to have had the opportunity of participating in this debate. I am very disappointed with the Bill but not surprised. It is arid, arrogant and aimless. It lacks soul and sensitivity. It is arid because of its totally bureaucratic nature; arrogant because it was drafted without any consultation — which is extraordinary — and aimless because it contains no philosophy of education. It gives no clue as to what the Fine Gael policy on education is other than to indicate a Big Brother — I shall not say Big Sister — approach by the Minister and Department in relation to schools and teachers. One has to search carefully through the Bill to find any reference to a pupil and then mention is made only in relation to codes of discipline and expulsion. We are talking about education, about pupils, students and people in education, but the only reference to a pupil is, as I said, a censorious one in relation to discipline and expulsion.

One of the central issues the education system has to cope with and adapt to is change. This Bill is not about facilitating change. It is, in fact, about preventing it. In the absence of any clear philosophy of education in the Bill, its effect would be [1334] to ossify the education system shackled by centralised bureaucracy.

The House will be aware that in October 1990, in answer to a question, the Taoiseach announced that it was the Government's intention to introduce a comprehensive education Bill and the necessary steps are now in train. The first step will be to issue a Green Paper — a discussion document — which will deal with all the major issues affecting education. The Green Paper has been drafted in my Department and will be published shortly. It will afford the opportunity for widespread and detailed consultation with all those interested in education — not just the formally constituted educational organisations but also individuals and anybody interested who feels that he or she has a contribution to make. I believe this process of open consultation and exchange of views is a vital prerequisite to any action leading to an education Bill and, clearly, this process was not addressed in the preparation of this Bill.

I can reinforce my point by drawing attention to a statement issued by the Teachers' Union of Ireland on the Fine Gael Education Bill. The Union registered “its regret that no consultations were held with teachers' unions before its publication” and said that such consultations could have aided the definition of a Bill responsive to the existing structural and educational situation while at the same time aiming at reform.

As recently as last week in my contribution to the confidence motion I said that I wished to bring about change in the education field not by diktat but through consultation and collaboration with all concerned. This approach has been a constant theme throughout my policy to achieve change in education. Examples of this approach are numerous. The Primary Review Body and the Primary Curriculum Review Body were representative of all the interests in primary and post-primary education. The reports of these bodies were published so as to allow for a wide ranging debate on the issues.

[1335] Changes in the syllabuses at the junior level of secondary education have been introduced systematically over the past few years as part of the new junior certificate course. Those changes were not pulled out of the sky or out of a hat, they were introduced and proposed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, established by me, and having among its membership all the educational interests involved in second level education. I pay tribute to Gemma Hussey and her Curriculum Education Board, the forerunner of the NCCA. This process will be continued for the remaining subjects at junior certificate level and it has now extended into the senior cycle. The NCCA recently made proposals in relation to the content and structure of the senior cycle in the context of the six year post-primary cycle being available to all who commenced their post-primary education this year.

Before submission to me, the NCCA's position paper on the senior cycle was widely disseminated and the views of the interested parties were obtained. I was glad, in those circumstances, to be able to announce that I agreed generally with the approach adopted by the council. I note, incidentally, that the Fine Gael proposals include the establishment of a Curriculum Review Board, presumably in place of the existing National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Deputy Higgins did address that issue. However, I fail to see the point of that. In fact, I pay tribute to the NCCA, to the previous chairman — both in Mrs. Hussey's time and in mine — Dr. Ed Walsh, to the present chairman, Dr. Tom Murphy, and to all who serve on it.

The NCCA, the successor to the Curriculum and Examinations Board, have done tremendous work throughout the past few years. Credit is due to the chairman and executive of the council, to the members of the council itself and to members of its various committees, for their achievements over a relatively short time in the revision of syllabuses at junior cycle, at senior cycle — beginning now — and for their involvement in in-service [1336] training. The Fine Gael proposals give scant recognition of the work of the Department and in this respect seem to be recommending change for change's sake.

The House will be aware that a major plank of my education policy is catering for the disadvantaged. In the allocation of additional teaching posts to schools serving disadvantaged areas, I decided that such posts should be provided in accordance with strict criteria so that all could see the basis for the provision. I arranged for discussions between the Department, managerial bodies, teachers and parents, from which emanated agreed criteria. I stress that from time to time I am asked about particular schools which were allocated a resource or ex-quota teacher for disadvantaged status. Two years ago when we received through the previous programme, the Programme for National Recovery— and now through the Programme for Economic and Social Progress— the allocation of those extra posts, I was determined that there would be agreement as to criteria which would then allow for the allocation of such posts.

Within the past two years I introduced an initiative to develop home/school links at primary and post-primary levels. That initiative principally related to the primary level, but is commencing this year at the post-primary level. This policy is aimed at improving contacts between the school and the home, particularly in disadvantaged areas, with a view to enhancing childrens' participation in education and helping to promote greater understanding and co-operation between home and school. The National Steering Committee, whose task it is to oversee the home/school liaison policy, is representative of all the interests involved both within and outside the education sector. There has been whole-hearted support and involvement by all concerned in this initiative and the outcomes to date are extremely encouraging.

Consultation and co-operation with all relevant interests have been a significant feature of the important measures I have taken to combat disadvantage. There [1337] remains, of course, great scope and need for much more to be done. The following are some of the measures taken. Funding for the special assistance scheme for schools in disadvantaged areas has increased by 300 per cent; there are now 80 schools under the umbrella of the home/school links programme. Within the past three years 325 additional teachers have been authorised for primary schools in disadvantaged areas and for remedial education. The pilot schemes in two areas are being monitored and will be evaluated. In the present year 325 teaching posts were authorised in order to reduce class sizes in primary schools. At post-primary level 120 schools have each been provided with the services of an extra teacher to assist in aspects of disadvantage within those schools. To reduce the pupil/teacher ratio in post-primary schools a further 250 teaching posts were sanctioned this year. There are now about 1,000 teachers ex-quota for various curricula, remedial and other needs in post-primary schools.

To follow something said by Deputy Higgins, I have paid special attention — correctly so and with the agreement of all in the House, I think — to the involvement of parents in education. I have asked all school management authorities to take the initiative of having parents' associations formed in connection with their schools where no such association exists at present; so the Bill does not need to include anything about that. I also wrote to all local authorities involved in forming new vocational educational committees following the local elections asking them to arrange for representation by parents and teachers on the new vocational education committees. I was gratified at the response of the local authorities to my request — but not so in County Mayo.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  I was not involved.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I take this opportunity to thank them for their generous co-operation in this matter.

At national level I have ensured that parents are represented on all bodies and [1338] agencies established in the areas of primary and post-primary education. I have instigated a formal consultative process in policy formation and implementation through regular meetings with the parent bodies. I have endorsed my complete commitment to the role of parents by guaranteeing Government annual funding to the National Parents Council in respect of both primary and post-primary education.

I mentioned those examples to emphasise the importance I attach to consultation with and involvement of all interests in developing education initiatives. It is simply not possible to achieve change in education without first striving to arrive at a consensus. I do understand Deputy Higgins's urge to change, which is laudable. I remember there being a parliamentary question, I think in the month of May last, about the need, as the Deputy saw it — and I share his view — to introduce a measure of assessment particularly at junior certificate level. I remember the Deputy wanted it introduced forthwith, more or less overnight. Whilst I said I shared the Deputy's viewpoint on the need to introduce such a measure of assessment, it is simply not possible nor would it be correct even if it were possible. I suppose it would be possible if one operated by way of dictat. But for one to go about effecting change in such a frenzied fashion would not be feasible and certainly would not be for the good of those within the education system, pupils, teachers or management. It may appear to be a long, laborious, sometimes tiring process to have constant consultation but the result is that one achieves a consensus. One achieves a meeting of minds and viewpoints on specific matters.

I know Deputy Jim Higgins taught for many years; I respect his professional involvement and strong record in that respect. I too taught for many years. I do not see education as a staccato arrangement under which one goes to bed at night, wakes up with a fine idea and endeavours to implement it straightaway in that fashion. It is simply not feasible to do so but even if it were it would be [1339] entirely unreasonable and indeed against the best tenets of education which are that one effects change for the good by way of consultation.

I am glad to be given the opportunity to discuss education in the House at any time. Wild horses would not keep me away from this Chamber this evening while this debate takes place. I am so disappointed that Deputy Jim Higgins did not seek out relevant interests, that he cobbled together an Education Bill which so obviously bears all the hallmarks of the impetuosity of his party Leader. When he was spokesman on education for his party I found quite alarming — the most appropriate word I can use — the manner in which he would about his business. For example he would come in to the House and demand of me if I knew what was happening within regional education authorities in Andalusia; if I know what was happening in some other very remote place; and if I would please get the relevant report, copy it and indeed bring it in the following morning. I know I exaggerate somewhat but I do so merely to point out the absurdity of his methodology. The Deputy's party leader may very well have fine thoughts about other matters but they certainly do not invoke a response from anybody involved in education. It is a staccato-type approach. I know he is very keen that all his front bench spokespersons bring forward elaborate documents and Bills — that is all very good. We all engaged in that in Opposition ourselves. We were all very keen to bring forward policies, initiatives and so on. At the same time I must stress that one cannot approach educational issues with a sledge hammer.

This Bill has all the hallmarks of having been cobbled together at the last minute in order, in some way, to pre-empt the discussion document I will be issuing. I give Deputy Jim Higgins fair marks for having read his papers, on having kept his ear to the ground, on looking at television programmes and ascertaining what will be contained in our Green Paper.

[1340] The notion that a matter as vital to Irish society as an Education Bill should be drafted without such a consultative process is anathema to me and simply makes no sense. Judging from the lack of reaction on the part of the various interests involved in education to the draft Bill I can only conclude that it really is not being taken very seriously. It is seen for what is is, an attempted political pre-emptive strike.

The general thrust of the Fine Gael Education Bill — it can hardly be described as a philosophy — is diametrically opposed to my approach. I am on record previously as stating that, in my view, the individual school is the most important element in the education process. It is what happens in the school — the Deputy said so in the House this evening himself — that ultimately decides the success or failure of our education system. For that reason the school must be given the responsibility of ensuring that a high quality education is made available to the students under its care. The management authorities of the school, whether primary or post-primary — in order to undertake this demanding responsibility — must be given greater autonomy to take decisions affecting the education of the children attending the school. Local responsibility, coupled with authority and accountability, is the key to the operation of schools in the future.

The movement towards greater autonomy for schools is a worldwide phenomenon. Paradoxically in almost all cases, including Ireland, the initiative has come from central governments. Central governments only can legislate for change, establish the statutory framework, set a national agenda for implementation and ensure compliance. Reliance on administrative controls and legislation to implement change could serve to encourage the attitude among schools of merely obeying rules. This is the antithesis of the robust independence and local judgment that should be the characteristics of a devolved system. To the degree that Deputy Jim Higgins's Bill is over-regulatory it would contrive to [1341] stultify the education system, killing off initiative and creativity of schools and teachers.

I freely admit that, in the context of great autonomy for schools, the role of the Department of Education must change. There is a sense in which the total involvement of the Department in the day-to-day activities of school life has led to a greater dependency on the part of schools on a paternalistic Department of Education.

The rigidity and bureaucracy of the system must be broken down to release locked-in energies, initiative and creativity. Structures and management must become more flexible and responsive. As a first step, this means dismantling the over-centralised and bureaucratic administrative arrangements that Fine Gael, through this Bill, seek not only to perpetuate but to extend.

The essential task of a central Department is to lay down a national policy for education, to monitor overall educational development and achievement, to ensure that national standards are maintained and improved and provide the necessary support, financial and otherwise, to enable schools to play their part in providing high quality education and training for all.

A key strategy in the reform of the education system must involve pushing autonomy down to the school or college floor. This will require the establishment of clear central core values and rules as a framework within which practical autonomy takes place routinely. Schools need to be driven by just a few key values and be given plenty of space to take initiatives in support of those values, finding their own paths, so making their task and the outcomes their own. The dominance and coherence of the culture of an institution is an essential quality for success. The stronger and more positive the culture the less need for policy manuals, organisation charts and detailed procedures and rules. Detailed regulations do not allow management or staff to act like adults.

I have outlined here in broad terms what I see as the respective roles of the [1342] Department of Education and of the schools. I have referred previously, in another forum, to the fact that there are tasks and services which cannot effectively be undertaken either at national level or at the level of the individual school. Such services would include school transport, in-service training of teachers, adult education and the provision of youth and sport activities. There is a need, therefore, for an intermediatory structure, locally based, between the Department of Education and the individual school for the delivery of services which are best provided in this way.

I have outlined here a clearly identifiable structure — the Department of Education, an intermediatory structure and the individual school. It is an indication of such an overall structure that is clearly lacking in the Bill before us this evening. Even worse, the Bill is peppered with ministerial regulations which would render school autonomy impossible and would emphasise even more than at present the sense of dependency on a monolithic Department of Education.

I find it very difficult to comment in any meaningful way on this Bill because of its lack of depth. By that I mean the disappointing negation of a statement of any philosophy of education within the Bill. Rather it was prepared by way of putting down on paper a number of issues in the education field, in itself laudable, then saying that the Minister of the day would have to make regulations on each of those issues. In that respect it is a simplistic document.

So wide-ranging a measure as an education Bill requires that its provisions be set within an overall framework of a philosophy of education. Without a statement of what the Bill considers education to be, and what it thinks are the aims of education, it is not clear what is the overall thrust of its provisions. The provisions must have a purpose and aim, must have an end and a laudable objective. We are not told at all what all of these rules, regulations are about. It is noteworthy that monitoring and implementation of policy are mentioned but formulation of [1343] policy is not. That may be an omission on account of hasty drafting but the absence of clarity on the aims of education poses problems for the formulation of policy. For example, how does the Bill see the development of the different potentialities of pupils; where are those related to the pupil, as an individual, to his or her role in society; how does the Bill distinguish between basic educational purposes and the educational needs of working life? Nor does the Bill clearly set out the structures within which educational provision should operate.

The Bill envisages the Minister of the day being responsible for school property while at the same time, it refers to the due rights of ownership of school property. The position of owners or trustees is not at all related to the management provisions in the Bill, which provisions take a cavalier attitude to existing management structures. Currently, where management boards exist — as they do in the primary sector and in areas of the second level sector — the interests represented are those of the owners or trustees, the parents and teachers. However, representation of the owners or trustees — those who have established the schools and maintained them — are spoken of in the draft Bill as if by afterthought, under the heading of optional further representation, where they are included dismissively with “other interested bodies”. This does not indicate that any very profound thought has gone into the formulation of the proposals on management structures.

The provisions in the draft Bill governing teachers I can only describe as censorious. There is no broad vision of teaching as a profession with a need for well structured pre-service teacher education. I acknowledge that Deputy Higgins mentioned very strongly the provision of in-service training. The Bill concentrates on negative aspects such as the termination of teachers' contracts in certain circumstances. The use of the word “termination” elicited a very chill response. References which imply that [1344] teachers need to be kept under surveillance at all times abound. This is not the kind of legislation which will support a committed body of teachers or encourage them to give of the best they can contribute. Again, in keeping with its general approach, the Bill sees teacher issues, such as performance, as matters between a centralised controlling Department and teachers and does not see a role for local management in this sensitive area.

The competence and commitment of teachers crucially influence the quality of education. An intelligent, well trained, imaginative and committed teaching force is vital to the success of any campaign for greater quality in education.

In Ireland, traditionally, teaching as a career has been held in high social regard and it has continued to attract people of the highest calibre and intelligence. Any erosion of the status, morale and general conditions of employment of teachers would undermine efforts at qualitative improvements in the system and bequeath a costly legacy to the future.

Deputy Higgins referred to the Education Bill in the UK. This Bill is a recipe for a Baker Bill. I was in the UK recently and talked to many people inside and outside education. They stressed the regulatory nature of the UK Bill and how it has manifestly contributed to a downturn in educational standards and morale and a general malaise. It is quite extraordinary.

Rigid bureaucratic, top-down forms of accountability as proposed by Fine Gael would seriously undermine the necessary exercise of professional judgment by teachers and have devastating effects on them. It would create a climate where the only reform that could be produced would be paper reform. The Bill refers to local education co-operative councils with only the vaguest indication of what such councils might be. It puts the onus on the inspectorate for examinations and at the same time would ask the inspectorate to be involved in massive reporting on individual schools.

I cannot consider the proposals on curriculum to have been properly thought [1345] through. There is something odd about decreeing that curriculum shall be reviewed once every ten years.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  At least.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  The curriculum should be constantly reviewed and evaluated. I thought the reference to every ten years was a misprint but then the Deputy mentioned it.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  Who wrote that for the Minister?

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I write my own scripts. One would have thought that a curriculum review board would keep matters under ongoing review without needing to wait ten years. It is not clear how the ten years squares with the quadrennial reports to be made to the Minister of the day, nor is it clear why regulations regarding a core curriculum need to be picked out separately from general curriculum regulations.

The Bill empowers the Minister for Education to make regulations — and these would be statutory regulations, I presume — on such matters as parents' associations and codes of conduct. Yet it makes no reference to regulations about staffing levels, a matter which is much more appropriate to regulations by the Minister of the day.

The constitutional requirement on the State to provide for education sets the basis of the system as a partnership between local providers, communities and the State. The development of this partnership at all levels in the system is the key to future development. This concept of partnership is sadly lacking in the Fine Gael proposals.

Because the Bill has obviously not been thought out in any kind of detail, I would find it impossible to have any meaningful discussion on it. Of course, I am glad to be here talking about education. I understand fully here reasons for producing this Bill but they are opportunistic and political. For this reason I have no doubt the House will reject it.

Deputy Higgins made some interesting [1346] points. He referred to eduction in the European context and I fully agree with the remarks he made on that matter. I also agree regarding the in-service needs of teachers. The Deputy said there were schools throughout the country that never had contact with one another. That is not true. The Deputy mentioned this in regard to primary schools within one catchment area. There is great interaction through quizzes, debates, games and so on; there is ever-increasing contact.

The Deputy said that the process of regionalisation has had an unhappy history throughout Europe and I wondered wryly, what had happened to the ideas put forward by the former Minister, Mrs. Gemma Hussey, in the Green Paper she published in 1985. The Fine Gael Party loudly applauded this paper and Deputy Bruton was enthusiastically in favour of it. I wonder what happened to her fine ideas. Perhaps they are lying on paper in some press in the Fine Gael rooms.

Deputy Higgins stated that remedial needs have not been addresed. A Fine Gael Deputy tabled a question to me today regarding remedial appointments. In the process of gathering information in the Department for the reply, we came across startling facts. There has been a huge increase in the number of remedial teachers in the years 1987-91 as distinct from what happened in 1983-87. Of course, there is an ongoing need for development and research and provision for the disadvantaged.

Reference was made to the downturn in population. There has been quite a downturn in the past six years but last year and this year births have been rising. In a few years time those children will be going into the primary schools. The idea that demographic trends are irrevocably downward has been shown to be incorrect. We await the full figures for this year.

I am glad to be here this evening on the occasion of the bringing forward of this Bill, but I regret very much the centralised nature of its provisions, the dictatorial way it was arrived at and the lack of any consultation process. The need for [1347] such a process of consultation has not been addressed within this Bill. When I bring forward my Green Paper before Christmas I will engage in a complete discussion with everybody who wants to talk to me about it, and I do not mind how long it takes. Then I will formulate the White Paper and, following that, the education Bill. I thank the House for its attention and I look forward to further debates on the matter.

Mr. O'Shea: Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom an Teachta Higgins, urlabhraí Oideachais Fhine Gael, a mholadh as ucht an Bille Oideachais seo a chur os comhair na Dála.

I would like at the outset to compliment Deputy Higgins and the Fine Gael Party for bringing the Education Bill before the Dáil for debate. It is timely that against the background of the postponement of the publication of the promised Green Paper——

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  It is coming.

Mr. O'Shea: Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  I am delighted to hear it, but one thing the Minister said frightened me a little and that is in regard to the timetable. She said she did not care how long the consultation took. I wonder how long it will be before we actually see the Bill — I am not inviting comment, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Do you want a proper Bill or——

Mr. O'Shea: Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  It is important that we have wide-ranging education debates in the House but, unfortunately, during my time here we have not had the opportunity to have such debates.

This Bill deals with first and second level only, and it is realistic to state — in the light of what the Minister has said, it is absolutely certain — that this Bill will not survive beyond Second Stage. The Bill addresses some important issues requiring urgent attention. In my view there is no issue in education today that [1348] requires more urgent attention than discipline.

The Minister recently issued guidelines on discipine for second level schools. However, I believe the problem is a lot deeper. As I said to the Minister a number of times, I believe we need to have at least one school welfare officer in each VEC area. I am not trying to denigrate the substantial steps that the Minister has made with home/school links, but I believe the problem is a lot wider than that, and it is a growing one that requires urgent attention. By a school welfare officer I mean someone who would have a definite office, a definite administration, someone who would have the wherewithal to assemble representatives of the various statutory and voluntary groups that deal with family problems. I would see a situation where the children at first and second levels who had problems in terms of behaviour in school would be referred to the school welfare officer at a very early stage, as early as possible, and the problem dealt with where it really exists, that is, in the home. If the home situation does not allow for a child to develop in line with good social practice, unless the home situation is rectified the school cannot make up for what is lacking at base.

There is a small minority of children causing a very considerable negative effect in our schools. Here we should look at what I believe is central to many of the problems with bad behaviour in schools, that is, that failure and self-image are intertwined and anti-social behaviour is often the result. There are children, for instance, who can relate on a one to one basis but cannot cope with group situations. These children will express their inability to cope with being part of the class group by indulging in attention seeking, disruptive behaviour. Dealing with them can take a great deal of teaching time and a point is reached where their continuing presence in the classroom is a grave injustice to their fellow pupils.

There are many ways we can look at these children. Some of them can be quite intelligent but their home environment [1349] and their background has caused them to develop in such a way that they are essentially survivors and, even though they are out on the streets or in areas of their home base, they see things around them in terms of survival. That can be a very narrow base. They do not develop a perspective. Their curiosity is not aroused in the general sense that opens the mind. This is why I believe these children require very special attention and very special attention has to come in a milieu that takes them outside the school a lot. For instance, if they live in a city they would be brought to the port area, if such exists, to the airport, or the telephone exchange so that they know how their community works and they are tied in to the positive aspects of their community because a lot of their lifestyle has developed very negative attitudes and they do not see the constructive side of our society.

The words “expel” and “suspend” are used in the Bill. These measures seldom solve the problem for the pupil involved because under our present system there is no help for troubled children if they are removed from mainstream education. We have at this time a number of remedial teachers thoughout the system, but the children who in my experience cause the discipline problem in schools can be quite intelligent and it is not remedial help they need but help to bring them to terms with society and to deal with everything around them in the most positive way.

The answer to this problem must lie in a recognition that the present resources for psychological referral and for remedial help in the very general sense are grossly inadequate. It may be an unpopular thing to say in the present economic climate but unless we begin to spend more money on these critical areas of need, we will never be able to describe our education system as adequate.

The type of service I am talking about would require a very low pupil/teacher ratio, indeed as low as one in some instances, with the necessary pychological back-up and interaction with the home. That is the area of discipline that [1350] cannot wait for the education Bill. It is a matter that must be dealt with immediately. There is an urgency with it because it is becoming a problem that is growing all the time, and I believe there is an element here that we can lose sight of. What I am proposing in terms of providing a school welfare officer — at least one in each vocational educational committee area — is a cost effective exercise. I believe this system would be successful to a very considerable degree. If we succeed in remedying anti-social tendencies in young people at an early stage we avoid the situation where those anti-social tendencies, had they been allowed to develop, would have resulted in a very large cost on the community because these children who could loosely be described as emotionally disturbed, the same children that cause many problems in our schools, tend to gravitate towards crime on leaving school. I know we cannot generalise here, but I would suggest that this argument is valid in substance. If these children are put on the right road to a constructive way of life they will do less injury to people and less damage to property. In addition, there would be an immediate saving to the State in terms of not having to put them into custodial care of whatever type and a reduction in the use of Garda resources. If we do not address this problem now — I say this in all sincerity and with a great deal of concern — we will have to deal with major problems over the next decade which will require a great deal more resources. Aside from any legislation we may be discussing in the context of this debate, I appeal to the Minister to deal with this problem and to make substantial provision in the Book of Estimates which will enable us to come to grips with what I believe is the greatest problem in the educational system at present.

I welcome the assurance that the Green Paper will be published by the end of the year. If we do not see this paper by the end of the year we certainly will not see it between Christmas and Easter, the period during which the teacher conferences are held. The Green Paper will [1351] afford us the opportunity to have a national debate which, if it is an open and honest one involving all the people concerned, will make a profound contribution to every facet of Irish life. It would be tragic if this debate was dominated by vested interests.

There is much to be preserved in our education system but we must not be afraid to examine and analyse every aspect of that system. First and foremost, we must restate the values we cherish as a society. The values which underpin our nation must also underpin our education system and they must be clearly stated in an education Act as part of our philosophy on education. If we are a nation which cherishes honesty, integrity, compassion, tolerance and social justice, then this debate will afford us an excellent opportunity of saying so and of building on those values in perpetuity into the consequent White Paper and finally the Education Act.

Equality of access to the type of education which the individual needs is, of course, the fundamental plank of any education Act in a just society. It is a vehicle by which the less well off in society can escape the poverty trap. At the end of the day education is about the development of a person to the fullness of his or her potential and not just a response to the demands of the marketplace.

The Bill does not deal directly with another area which I consider to be of great importance, that is the place of the Irish language in our education system. A major part of the debate on the Green Paper must deal with the Irish language, not just in the education system but in terms of its place and value in our nation. The first question which must be asked is whether we should continue to put very considerable resources into the preservation and restoration of the Irish language and, if so, our reasons for continuing to invest these resources in preserving our national tongue.

As someone who is committed to the Irish language, I believe the result of a [1352] real debate would be to stimulate intellectual life and greatly enhance the national self-image. There has been a great deal of hypocrisy in relation to the Irish language. There has been a knee-jerk response and an elitism which has alienated many people from the Irish language. A full and frank debate on the Irish language would bring the message home to people that we are not just part of an Anglo-American culture but rather a people with a rich and unique culture and heritage of our own.

The inherited attributes which make us a distinctive people do not dwell in the Gaelic culture alone. Many elements go into what is Irishness; we have literature in two languages which ranks among the best in the world, a unique approach to life, we have our music, folklore and craftsmanship. I should like to make the point here that while the Primary Curriculum Review Body recommended against the introduction of a European language at primary level I strongly believe that if we neglect to do this we will be seriously disadvantaging our children in a developing Europe.

Events of recent weeks have highlighted a very basic problem in our national life. People have been encouraged to look at the figures who dominate our commercial and industrial life as the saviours who will bring about solutions to our many problems. Recent revelations have exposed the feet of clay in the golden circle and an age old lesson has been starkly demonstrated. Each and every one of us has a real contribution to make in terms of solving our problems and the problems facing the country. The veneration of the golden circle has reduced the self-image of many and consequently our national self-image. The debate on the Green Paper affords us the opportunity of restating our pride in being Irish and developing our self-confidence to challenge and overcome our difficulties. That spirit of national renewal is there to be cultivated and nourished as a positive force. It is the spirit which must permeate our education Act.

The first principle of good teaching is to be clear on what we want to teach. [1353] The putting in place of structures and their funding without first having a clear and comprehensive philosophy on education is putting the cart before the horse. Education is about people and enriching people's lives; it is not just about providing structures. The structures and funding must serve the people, not the other way around. We must also concern ourselves with enhancing job satisfaction for teachers. The present situation where job satisfaction is low and many teachers are burnt out is all too prevalent. It is also necessary to give a meaningful role to parents in the education process. There is a need for flexibility between the various sectors in education and mobility of teachers between those sectors.

I want to refer to an issue which has been dealt with both by Deputy Higgins and the Minister, that is centralisation versus decentralisation. County committees of education are probably the bodies most appropriate to our system. Of course, autonomy within schools is necessary. One of the difficulties I have with the new Regional Colleges Bill is that it seeks to centralise authority in the Department of Education. Regional technical colleges have been the success story of the past two decades and the Bill which will come before the Dáil shortly, particularly section 5 and part of section 7, will give the Minister statutory power to prevent particular courses from going ahead. Under section 7 the Minister may, by way of letter, instruct the new governing body of the RTCs, to cease a particular course or service and the college must comply.

I am particularly proud at the progress the Waterford College have made in terms of providing degree courses. Legislation will be brought before the House and when the Bill is passed the Minister of the day can effectively curtail the growth of the colleges.

Debate adjourned.

Last Updated: 23/05/2011 00:56:22 First Page Previous Page Page of 188 Next Page Last Page