Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Education Services at Detention Centres.

Thursday, 25 June 1992

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 421 No. 6

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[1459]

  17.  Mr. Sheehan  Information on P. J. Sheehan  Zoom on P. J. Sheehan   asked the Minister for Education  Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan   if it is proposed to review the terms of reference of teachers providing education services at detention centres for young offenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

  35.  Mr. McGahon  Information on Brendan McGahon  Zoom on Brendan McGahon   asked the Minister for Education  Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan   if it is proposed to review the terms of reference of teachers providing education services at detention centres for young offenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

  42.  Mr. Timmins  Information on Godfrey Timmins  Zoom on Godfrey Timmins   asked the Minister for Education  Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan   if it is proposed to review the terms of reference of teachers providing education services at detention centres for young offenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

  43.  Mr. Doyle  Information on Joseph Doyle  Zoom on Joseph Doyle   asked the Minister for Education  Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan   if it is proposed to review the terms of reference of teachers providing education services at detention centres for young offenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

  48.  Mr. Flanagan  Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan   asked the Minister for Education  Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan   if it is proposed to review the terms of reference of teachers providing education services at detention centres for young offenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

  52.  Mr. G. Reynolds  Information on Gerry Reynolds  Zoom on Gerry Reynolds   asked the Minister for Education  Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan   if it is proposed to review the terms of reference of teachers providing education services at detention centres for young offenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

  75.  Mr. Currie  Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie   asked the Minister for Education  Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan   if it is proposed to review the terms of reference of teachers providing education services at detention centres for young offenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. S. Brennan: Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan  I propose to take Questions Nos. 17, 35, 42, 43, 48, 52 and 75 together.

[1460] I have no plans at present to review the terms of reference of teachers providing education services at detention centres for young offenders. The overall operation of these centres, including the education service provided, is subject to ongoing review by my Department to ensure that the objectives of rehabilitation through care and education are fully met.

I take it, the Deputies' questions are prompted by the recent decision by County Dublin Vocational Education Committee to withdraw from its involvement in the provision of the education service to Oberstown boys and girls centres. While I regret the fact the vocational education committee should have considered it necessary to take such a decision, I am satisfied that the role required of the teachers in question was no different from that currently operating very satisfactorily in the other centres for young offenders for which my Department are responsible.

The House will appreciate that the nature of these centres and the background of many of the inhabitants are such that problems of discipline can and do arise both inside and outside the classroom. Given this reality, it is absolutely essential that all staff, be they teaching staff or care staff, operate as part of a multi-disciplinary team and work in support of each other, particularly where dificulties with discipline arise. Such inter-disciplinary support is essential to the maintenance of order in the centres and has been successfully achieved in all centres in the past.

In the particular case of the centres at Oberstown, which were newly opened in September 1991, the Department departed from their traditional practice of direct recruitment of teaching staff by the centres themselves. Instead, it was decided to seek to bring a stronger vocational dimension to the education programme by engaging County Dublin vocational education committee to recruit the necessary teaching staff.

However, experience with this method of recruitment has proved unsatisfactory in that the teachers thus appointed, [1461] unlike their counterparts in other centres, have displayed ongoing reluctance to view their role as part of the wider inter-disciplinary team. As a consequence, they have been unwilling to undertake the necessary level of involvement in dealing with matters of discipline and disruptive pupils. Efforts on the part of my Department to resolve these difficulties had been ongoing for some time prior to the decision of County Dublin Vocational Education Committee to withdraw from the centres.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  Does the Minister realise that his comment that teachers have displayed reluctance represents an attack on the integrity of the fine teachers who during the years have provided an excellent service in Oberstown and other youth detention centres and on the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee? Does the Minister realise also that two weeks ago a female teacher was pulled to the ground with the flex of a tape recorder around her neck held by a detainee; that another teacher was held by a pupil as a fellow detainee subjected her to martial arts style kicks; that other teachers have been bitten; that even though the panic button which teachers carry around was pressed there was no response until long after the damage was done; and that there is a fear that there will be loss of life and limb?

Mr. S. Brennan: Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan  I would not want my comments to be interpreted as a slight on the teachers involved. I simply stated the fact that they have displayed ongoing reluctance to see their role as a multi-disciplinary one and take the view that theirs is purely a teaching one. I respect that decision of theirs — perhaps I should have said that — but we would require them to take a broader view beyond the simple teaching functions. If they decide not to take that view, then I respect their decision, as I respect the decision of the vocational education committees not to expose their staff to any form of danger.

I would join Deputy Jim Higgins in totally condemning and expressing regret at any incidents of violence in these institutions. [1462] In similar institutions the staff are recruited directly. Perhaps it was not the right way to proceed in the first instance, that is to seek to deal with it in the manner we did by trying to separate, on a strict basis, the teaching function as opposed to the disciplinary, almost custodial function. Having said that I want to make clear that, for example, Oberstown and similar centres are not prisons; open settings prevail, with rehabilitation through encouragement rather than by way of penal measures. A number of meetings have been held on this issue. We have endeavoured to be more specific about the panic buttons, insisting on formal weekly meetings. Indeed a new focus is being put on those weekly meetings and on the need to respond immediately to those panic buttons.

I might add that, apart from teachers, there are educational co-ordinators, care staff and senior management at these centres. The teachers take a different view. Perhaps, in the first instance, it was unfair of us to ask teachers to take a broader view but other institutions where teachers have been recruited directly have agreed to take that broader view. That is what I propose to do in this area — recruit teachers with a broader responsibility, and do that directly. It is quite clear, given the type of institutions these are, that it is not simply possible to be just a teacher; the role has other sides to it.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  Irrespective of what category of teacher the Minister now decides to recruit — and I understand that they themselves will provide the new type of service with fewer teachers — at the end of the day one is talking about providing education. Would he agree that the kind of education provided by vocational education committee teachers was ideal in such circumstnaces in that it was practical, manual and imparted skills. Would the Minister agree that, at the end of the day, irrespective of what category of teacher one recruits, one cannot impart knowledge or skills if there is basic insecurity? Would he agree that [1463] what is needed in such circumstances is a number of care staff on hand to respond quickly to the types of circumstances that invariably arise? In addition, would he agree that team teaching, with two teachers together, one complementing the other, would be a good idea?

Mr. S. Brennan: Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan  The only issue on which Deputy Jim Higgins and I disagree, is that, given the nature of these institutions where there will be youngsters on long remand stay — at the same time stressing that they are not prisons but remand centres — it would be nice if a teacher could be just a teacher. Unfortunately, in those institutions, to an extent everybody must understand the other's discipline. On the one hand, they must look after their own discipine, be that teaching, administration co-ordination, care staff — all must do their job — but they must also know a little and, at times, in an informal way, be prepared to do the job of the others. It is not possible to draw a demarcation line totally at teaching and contend that security and other matters are for everybody else because of their nature and the suddeness or urgency with which something can arise. Therefore, it is not possible just to put teachers there; they must have a broader, inter-disciplinary function.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  Would the Minister say whether there has been any analysis made of the educational requirements of young offenders; for example, has any sociological research been conducted into the link between crime and the drop-out level at school?

Mr. S. Brennan: Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan  I cannot name a study or survey offhand for the Deputy but I will certainly check it out. I am aware, though, that my Department continuously study how these centres work, and keep up with modern methods and information in regard to the link between crime and education and how we can best tackle the problem.


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