Wednesday, 2 May 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
Section 6 inserts new provisions relating to staff and provides for the following: “The numbers and qualifications of the teachers and other staff of a recognised school, who are, or who are to be, remunerated out of monies provided by the Oireachtas, shall be determined from time to time by the Minister, with the concurrence of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform”. My amendment proposes to delete this paragraph and substitute it with the following: “The numbers and qualifications of the teachers and other staff of a recognised school, who are to be remunerated out of monies provided by the Oireachtas, shall be determined from time to time by the Minister after consultation with and with the agreement of bodies representative of patrons, recognised school management organisations and any recognised trade union or staff association representing teachers, or other staff as appropriate and with the concurrence of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform”.
Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Is the Deputy speaking to the correct amendment? I understand we are discussing amendments Nos. 4 and 5. The Deputy appears to be addressing a later amendment. If it is of any consolation, I do not propose to accept amendment No. 4 which would have the effect of deleting section 5(b).
Deputy Seán Crowe: I apologise for the confusion. The amendment relates to the transfer of certain powers from the Department to the Health Service Executive. Concerns have been raised about this issue, especially by families who are seeking additional supports, many of whom argue that the Health Service Executive is not providing the supports they need. They are concerned that transferring further responsibility for the provision of supports and services will have a negative effect on their children.
Deputy Brendan Smith: Amendment No. 5 in my name has been grouped with Deputy Seán Crowe’s amendment. Repealing subsections (5) and (6), as inserted by section 40 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004, would remove the obligation on and ability of the Minister to request the assistance of the Health Service Executive to provide the relevant support services. Will the effect of repealing these subsections be to remove all compulsion on statutory agencies to meet the needs of a child who requires particular supports and interventions? I am concerned that may be the case.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: The effect of the amendments would be to delete section 5(b) and maintain the current position which is no longer appropriate. Section 2 of the Education Act 1998 has been amended to clarify the position that the delivery of health and personal services, including speech therapy, to students of school-going age, is not a support service to be provided by the Minister for Education and Skills. Subsections (5) and (6) of section 7 of the Education Act which provided for the Minister for Education and Skills to request the assistance of health boards to make provision for such services, therefore, no longer apply. The legislative framework will be regularised in accordance with the de facto position that the provision of speech therapy services is a matter for the Health Service Executive. The proposed provisions do not impact on the availability, through the HSE, of speech therapy services for children with special educational needs. The Department will continue to support the co-ordinated delivery of services to families of children with special educational needs and work with service providers in the health and disability sectors through the interdepartmental cross-sectoral team.
On amendment No. 4, I introduced an amendment on Committee Stage which changed part of section 7(4) of the Education Act 1998. The effect of the amendment is to require the Minister, in carrying out his or her functions under the Act, to have regard to best practice in teaching methods, value for money and quality outcomes for students. These functions include determining procedures.
On the issue of appointments, suspension and dismissal procedures, the Minister is required to consult the education partners, as provided for under section 24(11) which is contained in section 6 of the Bill. This is a technical provision which states the considerations to which the Minister must have regard in making these and other procedures. The amendment was made on Committee Stage on the recommendation of the Office of the Attorney General to ensure clarity in respect of considerations required of the Minister when determining procedures. The effect of Deputy Seán Crowe’s amendment would be to undo the change made on Committee Stage and, accordingly, I do not propose to accept it.
Deputy Seán Crowe: There is a lack of clarity as to the effect of the proposed changes. Speaking in the Seanad in February, the Minister did not provide significant clarification or comfort about the practical effects the changes would have on mainstream and special needs schools. The change appears to prevent the Department of Education and Skills from providing support services currently provided by the Health Service Executive. It is not clear what are the services in question or how pupils and schools will be affected.
The section appears to be at odds with section 13 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. If the section is not amended, it will become a matter for the National Council for Special Education to make requests of the HSE, under section 39(1) of the 2004 Act, to assist with implementation of particular individual education plans and provision of services which the Department does not provide but which are necessary for such implementation. The problem is that section 39(3)(c) of the EPSEN Act allows the HSE to refuse such a request on the basis of insufficient resources. The Act does not impose a positive obligation on it to provide quasi-educational services for children. Most of the absolute requirements on the executive to act in certain cases are set out in the Child Care Act 1991 and refer to children at risk of abuse or neglect. For this reason, I ask the Minister to provide clarity on this matter.
Given the current shortage of resources, facilitating requests by the National Council for Special Education will present major difficulties for the HSE in many cases. This gap in the legislation needs to be filled as people are concerned the changes may have a negative impact on children with special educational needs. Deputies know the hoops families must jump through to secure additional services for such children.
Deputy Brendan Smith: My concern in this regard, one which has been expressed by different groups, is that responsibility for the delivery of services will fall between different agencies. Deputy Seán Crowe correctly referred to section 13 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 which placed particular obligations on the Minister to provide for the individual requirements of children. The proposed change appears to absolve the Minister and the Department of these responsibilities. My concern is that the Health Service Executive delivers health services and is not an education provider. It delivers health services, and that is my particular concern.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: The Department of Education and Skills cannot compel an agency of another Department to do certain things, which was expressed in the original legislation. In effect, that turned out to be not practicable on the ground. That is why the cross-sectoral team, which is an ad hoc body working between the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Health, is trying to address both the educational needs and the health needs of young people with learning difficulties. The Bill being proposed is trying to align the legislation with what is happening on the ground.
This is about the question of the agreement and the consultation on it. The preamble of the Education Act 1998 specifically refers to the shared objective of education being provided in the spirit of partnership between the various stakeholders. Any movement by the Minister, having the power, without either consultation or agreement, unilaterally to set out the appointment procedures, the dismissal and suspension procedures, and the terms and conditions of employment for teachers, would be in direct contravention of the preamble and the spirit of partnership, upon which the model of education in Ireland is founded. By attempting to sideline the various stakeholders, the Minister is devaluing the huge contribution made by the voluntary members of the board of management. This was raised during a recent Oireachtas meeting with those boards of management, who argued quite strongly against the changes being made. These board members also raised the issue of having a right to consultation and input into processes which intimately affect and restrict how they run a school. They are concerned that the Minister is trying to amend unilaterally the contract of employment of thousands of public employees, without the consent or agreement of employees and their representatives.
The concern is that this changes the dynamic. It gives more power to the Minister. This was raised the other day when we were debating the Estimates. We spoke about the perceived non-involvement in the drugs strategy and in the key pillar on rehabilitation. There was also the issue in respect of the Ombudsman for Children and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs coming before an Oireachtas committee. There were good relationships and consultation between those stakeholders and the Department of Justice and Equality, but they had difficulty with the Department of Education of Skills.
The power is being shifted. That consultation may be just down to a telephone call. I am not saying the problem is with this Minister, but who knows what Minister might be down the road? People are wondering why we should change the partnership model when it is working. That is what my amendment is about.
Deputy Brendan Smith: I mentioned on Committee Stage that the representatives of the patron bodies — a large number of groups — made a presentation to the education committee and they outlined a number of practical changes they would like to see incorporated in this Bill. Deputy Mitchell O’Connor participated in that debate as well.
The Croke Park agreement is for a finite period of time. Regardless of those people criticising it, it has brought benefits in the delivery of public services and in the management of the public service as well. Does this Bill now put in legislation the redeployment elements of the Croke Park agreement? I do not know whether it is advisable or if there is any requirement to pay redeployment processes and regulations on a legislative basis. From speaking to the patron bodies, to the individual teachers, to principals and to chairpersons of boards of management, I understand the redeployment processes have worked well. One notable aspect of the redeployment process is the difference in application vis-à-vis second level and primary schools. There is no review of primary level while there is provision for review at second level. The Minister might indicate to us if this is likely to change.
It was very clear from the presentation made to us at the education committee that the representatives of the patron bodies were not looking for a veto. They were very adamant that they wanted to get that message across, in case they would be misrepresented. They wanted to continue the process of engaging with the Department and with the relevant stakeholders, as that process had worked well. It was a process that was given particular impetus in the past two years in particular. Mr. Hanevy, one of the Minister’s assistant Secretaries General, was speaking at our committee earlier, and he spoke of the great dialogue that exists between the Department and its stakeholders. He stated that before circulars are finalised, there is generally an input from the representatives bodies, including the patron bodies in this case. When the Department, the patron bodies and the other stakeholders are cognisant of the value of that partnership and the way that system has worked effectively, I do not know why there is a need to change it.
In discussing issues in this House and on Committee Stage, we have all spoken with the potential for decentralising decision making. The Minister has referred to that on a number of occasions, in respect of staffing, career guidance and devolving building projects to VECs. This Bill effectively centralises employment provisions. Is it advisable that the Department of Education and Skills should occupy centre stage in the employment process? I do not think so. As the partnership process has worked well, I believe it should be continued and it probably has the potential to be enhanced without the Oireachtas setting down legislative measures.
I asked on Committee Stage if the patron bodies had been consulted prior to the finalisation of this Bill. I presume that Mr. Hanevy’s remarks this morning answer that question. One other issue that has been raised — it was also raised by Deputy Crowe — is a concern among some of the teaching community that the employment contracts of thousands of people may well be changed by the enactment of this legislation.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: I thank the Deputies for their contributions. However, the effect of the amendments would be to introduce a general requirement that the Minister must consult and, in the case of Deputy Crowe’s amendment No. 6, agree with the education partners any change in numbers, qualifications and terms and conditions of employment of teachers and other school staff. It would also continue the requirement to reach agreement with all parties on appointment, suspension and dismissal procedures. These matters were discussed at length by me in the Seanad and by the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, on Committee Stage in this House.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 introduce a requirement to consult, and in the case of amendment No. 6, to agree the numbers and qualifications of teachers and other school staff. Amendment No. 8 also introduces a requirement to consult and agree the terms and conditions of employment generally of school staff. These amendments would set aside the existing provisions whereby the Ministers for Education and Skills and Public Expenditure and Reform determine the numbers, qualifications and terms and conditions of employment. Amendment No. 9 would impose a requirement to reach agreement on the redeployment procedures in schools. I am not accepting amendments Nos. 6 to 8, inclusive, as they would diminish the existing powers in legislation given to the Ministers and, by extension, the Government regarding numbers, qualifications and terms and conditions of teachers and other staff who are public servants and remunerated from public funds. Neither can I accept amendment No. 9.
The Bill is intended to remove any inherent weaknesses in the current legislation that inhibit the operation of redeployment processes or cause delay, in general or in individual cases, because a party withholds agreement. Consultation is provided for and redeployment arrangements continue to be developed to accommodate issues that arise and ensure optimum results. However, the net point, as I said extensively in the Seanad, is that there must be a capacity to overcome obstacles and ensure a fair distribution of staff and resources to all schools.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: It is appropriate, therefore, that I should discuss it now. The existing legal provision concerns three aspects of the terms and conditions of teachers and other staff — their appointment, suspension and dismissal. It is limited to the procedures that apply or to be carried out in relation to these three aspects. The new provision will ensure legal clarity in carrying out recruitment, suspension or dismissal, as the procedures that will apply in the future will not be subject to a potential veto by one party withholding agreement. I am not, therefore, accepting the amendment because it would maintain such a veto.
During the passage of the Bill through the Seanad there was clear affirmation of ongoing partnership within the schools system. I said, “Agreement should not equate to unanimity or veto but, equally, consultation does not mean diktat or imposition.” I also gave assurances which I now give to this House that following enactment of the Bill departmental officials would engage in discussions with the education partners on having general consensus on the extent and quality of this consultation and how agreements could be reached. Established procedures such as the Teachers Conciliation Council would be used as a vehicle for these discussions.
I know the concerns expressed to Deputies by various interested groups and can understand why they have been expressed. Let me outline my reason to the House. In a redeployment case, for example, agreement might be reached by someone representing the teacher on one side and someone representing the Department or the school on the other. However, while there might be agreement between the employers’ representatives and the trade union’s representatives, it might be withheld by the individual, the teacher. We want to avoid that stalemate. I was told by Mr. Martin Hanevy, to whom Deputy Brendan Smith referred, that we had had a few near misses the last time round. They were avoided by goodwill on all sides, but there may not always be that goodwill in the future. That is why it is correct to empower the Minister to use the words, “consult” and “agreement”.
I reaffirm the undertaking that I will have an exchange of letters with the education partners on what I mean by consultation and agreement. However, I need this flexibility in the legislation. My successors will also need it.
Deputy Brendan Smith: I welcome the Minister’s affirmation that proper and adequate consultation with the education partners will continue. To avoid doubt and uncertainty, could the Minister’s correspondence with the education partners be issued immediately following the signing of the legislation by President Higgins? It is important that there not be a lacuna, that the processes that have worked satisfactorily continue and that the role of the education partners continues to be valued by the Minister and his Department.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: I am happy, in principle, to give that assurance to the Deputy and will put the letters of understanding and their interpretation in the public domain in order that everything will be clear.
|Bannon, James.||Barry, Tom.|
|Breen, Pat.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Butler, Ray.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Byrne, Catherine.||Byrne, Eric.|
|Cannon, Ciarán.||Carey, Joe.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Collins, Áine.|
|Conaghan, Michael.||Conlan, Seán.|
|Connaughton, Paul J.||Conway, Ciara.|
|Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.||Costello, Joe.|
|Coveney, Simon.||Creed, Michael.|
|Creighton, Lucinda.||Daly, Jim.|
|Deasy, John.||Deenihan, Jimmy.|
|Deering, Pat.||Doherty, Regina.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Dowds, Robert.|
|Doyle, Andrew.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|English, Damien.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Ferris, Anne.||Fitzpatrick, Peter.|
|Flanagan, Charles.||Flanagan, Terence.|
|Gilmore, Eamon.||Griffin, Brendan.|
|Hannigan, Dominic.||Harrington, Noel.|
|Hayes, Brian.||Heydon, Martin.|
|Hogan, Phil.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Humphreys, Heather.||Humphreys, Kevin.|
|Keating, Derek.||Keaveney, Colm.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Kelly, Alan.|
|Kenny, Seán.||Kyne, Seán.|
|Lawlor, Anthony.||Lynch, Ciarán.|
|Lynch, Kathleen.||Lyons, John.|
|McCarthy, Michael.||McFadden, Nicky.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McHugh, Joe.|
|McLoughlin, Tony.||McNamara, Michael.|
|Mathews, Peter.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.||Mulherin, Michelle.|
|Murphy, Dara.||Murphy, Eoghan.|
|Naughten, Denis.||Neville, Dan.|
|Nolan, Derek.||Nulty, Patrick.|
|Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.||O’Donnell, Kieran.|
|O’Donovan, Patrick.||O’Mahony, John.|
|O’Reilly, Joe.||O’Sullivan, Jan.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Perry, John.|
|Phelan, Ann.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Quinn, Ruairí.||Reilly, James.|
|Ring, Michael.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Shatter, Alan.||Sherlock, Sean.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Stanton, David.||Timmins, Billy.|
|Tuffy, Joanna.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Wall, Jack.||Walsh, Brian.|
|Adams, Gerry.||Calleary, Dara.|
|Collins, Niall.||Colreavy, Michael.|
|Crowe, Seán.||Daly, Clare.|
|Doherty, Pearse.||Donnelly, Stephen S.|
|Dooley, Timmy.||Ellis, Dessie.|
|Ferris, Martin.||Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.|
|Fleming, Tom.||Grealish, Noel.|
|Healy, Seamus.||Healy-Rae, Michael.|
|Higgins, Joe.||Kelleher, Billy.|
|Kirk, Seamus.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|Lowry, Michael.||Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McGrath, Mattie.|
|McGrath, Michael.||McLellan, Sandra.|
|Martin, Micheál.||Moynihan, Michael.|
|Murphy, Catherine.||Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.|
|Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|O’Brien, Jonathan.||O’Dea, Willie.|
|O’Sullivan, Maureen.||Pringle, Thomas.|
|Ross, Shane.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Stanley, Brian.||Tóibín, Peadar.|
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: To ensure section 30 is effective, we need to ensure the Department and the VEC only pay those who are registered teachers. Amendment No. 10 is largely technical in nature and is intended to ensure the Teaching Council can share information with my Department and the VECs, not only in respect of those who are registered with it but also those who were but are not currently on the register. This will help to reduce the risk of error when the data the council hold are matched with those held by the Department and the VECs.
Deputy Seán Crowe: I raised this on Committee Stage. My amendment seeks an up-to-date online register of available teachers provided by the Teaching Council. At one stage in the House we discussed the importance of that. The reason for the amendment is to ensure technology such as the Internet is utilised to provide up-to-date information to principals and school authorities on the resources available to them. It is one of the difficulties principals voice and it came up at the IPN conference. I suppose it is one of the excuses some principals use in hiring teachers who have retired.
It would be a positive development if the Teaching Council would provide this register. I am attempting to put it in legislation. If there was agreement from the Teaching Council that it would do this, I would be happy with that. The non-availability of such a register is an issue that is continually raised and the provision of this enhanced service would facilitate the employment of newly qualified teachers on a short-term basis or in a crisis. It would also help address the unjustifiable practice of employing recently retired teaching personnel on a temporary basis.
When I first moved the amendment, the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, rejected the concept of an online register of available teachers by citing the additional requirement this would place on the Teaching Council. He went on to state that under circular 31/2011, schools are required to keep a list of those appropriately qualified registered teachers who inform the school they are available for substitute teaching work.
In practice, there seems to be a difficulty, not only at primary level but perhaps more so at secondary level, in areas of speciality, for example, home economics. The management groups have all cited difficulties they have encountered in hiring a suitably qualified person, and this seems to apply throughout the country, although there does not seem to be a problem in some areas while there does seem to be in others. My amendment aims to facilitate and assist principals and others in such a situation. It is also about creating a system which does away with the need to call on recently retired teachers. That is why I put forward the amendment.
The Ceann Comhairle may say I am out of order on the following. The Teaching Council has a power whereby a teacher cannot be paid until a determination is made. That is also a difficulty and I do not know whether it will be addressed in the Bill. I note the Teaching Council must give one month’s notice in that regard but there is a difficulty with that timespan in that the Teaching Council determines when the teacher gets paid. It might be a little late to review the matter at this stage, but perhaps the Minister will address that anomaly. There has been considerable criticism of the Teaching Council by teachers. The council needs to come up with initiatives and positive actions which would better enable it to engage with teachers. One such positive action would be, as I have proposed, providing an up-to-date online register of qualified teachers. The council might also have a role to play in assisting newly qualified teachers to secure employment. While it does a great deal of positive work, it is not getting that message across. An online register would be helpful in this regard.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: We are moving into new territory in regard to the employment of teachers. Under this legislation, only a registered teacher will be legally eligible to be paid by a school with moneys derived from the taxpayer by way of the Department of Education and Skills. Therefore, it behoves every prospective teacher, like every prospective voter, to ensure they are registered. What we are seeking to do, without accidentally penalising anybody, is to have an information flow from the Teaching Council in respect of persons who were registered in the past but whose registration may have lapsed and those who are currently registered. I do not wish to put precise rules in this regard in primary legislation other than what is in the text. The Deputy can take it that we will have consultations with the council and will seek to ensure best practice prevails. However, it is a professional responsibility for a teacher to ensure, where employment in the State sector is sought, that he or she is registered.
I acknowledge the Deputy’s comments in regard to certain criticisms of the Teaching Council, but it is not appropriate at this stage to examine them further. At the recent trade union conferences, which both he and Deputy Smith attended, I had several informal discussions with council representatives. It is a matter for the council itself to ensure it establishes a satisfactory relationship with its 73,000 registered members.
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure there is the utmost clarity in respect of the requirement that the Minister prescribe the circumstances and conditions regarding the employment of a person in place of a registered teacher. The Bill states that the Minister “may” prescribe those circumstances and conditions, which is insufficiently strong to eliminate concerns that a person might be employed in place of a registered teacher without being governed by ministerial regulation. Any such uncertainty is unhelpful and unacceptable.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: The amendment seeks to ensure that a person cannot be employed in place of a registered teacher without this being governed by ministerial regulation. As written, the provision states that where the Minister is satisfied that it is necessary to facilitate the urgent, temporary or occasional staffing needs of recognised schools, he or she may, from time to time, prescribe regulations governing the circumstances in which an unregistered person may be employed in place of a registered teacher and any conditions that might attach to that employment. Those conditions could relate to a maximum time limit for the person’s employment and the purposes for which he or she is employed. The Bill does not give the Minister discretion to take any other type of measure through which an unregistered person may be employed in place of a registered teacher. Therefore, if the Minister does not make regulations specifying the circumstances in which an unregistered person may be employed, such a person cannot be employed. The Oireachtas is only permitting this to be done by regulation and not by any other instrument. That is the advice I have been given and, as such, the Deputy’s amendment is not necessary.
Deputy Denis Naughten: I wish to flag an issue that has been raised in regard to the timing of the notification issued by the Teaching Council, that is, the period of time it has to make a determination, and the payment of salaries in the interim. Under the legislation as it stands, the council must give one month’s notice to a teacher in respect of his or her renewal or initial application of registration. The council then has three months in which to make a determination and must give one month’s notice of its intention to remove a person from the register. There is a twofold anomaly in this regard. First, if there is a delay on the part of the Garda vetting unit a teacher could end up, through no fault of his or her own and having furnished all of the required documentation, being removed from the payroll while continuing to fulfil his or her duties as teacher. Second, the lead-in time is very tight to allow for a person to provide all of the required documentation.
I urge the Minister to review the level of notification that is given to teachers in order to allow them sufficient time to get all of the documentation together in advance of their renewal notice or initial application to the register. Will he, in addition, seek to introduce a streamlined process in regard to the engagement with the Garda vetting unit? The major difficulty arises not in respect of persons who are residing in this jurisdiction and have done so all of their life but in the case of persons who have resided in another jurisdiction, whether within or outside the European Union, in respect of whom the Garda authorities must contact their counterparts in that jurisdiction. Unfortunately there can be significant delays in securing a response in such cases, especially where the country in question is outside the European Union. I have spoken to individuals who lived in countries like India and Pakistan, for example, where the length of time it takes to get a response from the police authorities can be considerable. In such circumstances, a teacher might end up in a position where he or she is not on the payroll for weeks or months. I urge the Minister to ensure we do not have people working for the Department or qualified persons whose appointment is delayed, through no fault of their own but purely because of difficulties arising with the bureaucratic paper trail.
Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): Amendment No. 14, in the name of the Minister, arises out of committee proceedings, and amendment No. 15 is an alternative to it. The two amendments may, therefore, be discussed together.
The amendment provides that the regulations governing the employment of an unregistered person may include a limit on the length of time for which such person may be employed in the place of a registered teacher. This is a change from the existing wording which refers to the unregistered person being employed in a teaching position. The change is proposed following representations from the INTO and from Deputy Smith and others. The suggestion was that under the original wording an unqualified person could be deemed capable of filling a teacher’s job. The new wording is tighter — in order to be a registered teacher, one must, ipso facto, be a qualified teacher as distinct from merely a person being employed in a teaching position. I am happy to accept this change. Amendment No. 15 is similar in its intent.
This issue has arisen during a number of debates and we must ensure that as many substitute teaching positions as possible are given to unemployed qualified, registered teachers rather than to retired personnel. We are all well aware of the widespread concern about the lack of opportunities for newly qualified graduates and the need for those young people to get the relevant experience as well. The employment of retired teachers as substitutes must be minimised as far as is practicable.
I mentioned on Committee Stage that on occasion, be it for geographical reasons or in respect of the teaching of a particular subject, it is not always possible for a principal to employ other than a retired teacher and we accept those circumstances. It is essential, however, that the message goes out that unemployed qualified graduates will get every available opportunity that arises.
I welcome the Minister delivering on the commitment he made at the teachers’ conferences at Easter. Deputy Crowe no doubt has been spoken to on this issue, as I have and the Minister has, on this issue. The INTO was lobbying hard to have this wording achieved and I welcome that. If that section must be underpinned by a regulation or Department circular, it is essential the relevant circular or communication to the boards of management principals is absolutely clear on the obligations in appointing substitute teachers. There can be no uncertainty or doubts in any communications that are issued; this should be the Bible for principals taking on substitute teachers.
Deputy Seán Crowe: The Minister mentioned limiting the length of time a person may be employed in place of a registered teacher. What is the limit in that case? It is not put down in the legislation but it would be useful if we knew the time because people are concerned about this.
I was happy to make this amendment. It was central to the allaying of concerns expressed by unions and other representatives. One must remember, however, that this is mainly a problem in primary schools and it is principals in those primary schools, who are union members, who until now have been making the decisions about hiring people.
I understand from reports within the Department that there is a reduction in the salary scale for retired teachers coming back to teach on a temporary basis. They do not come back at the same grade at which they retired, they come back at the starting grade so the financial incentive has been reduced.
Concerns have been expressed to me about the situation that might arise in special schools or Youthreach centres, or other second chance education centres. Those special schools and Youthreach centres are providing excellent services and the people delivering those services as tutors or teachers may not be registered teachers but they are doing an excellent job. We must clarify the long-term employment status of such people. I know many such people and have seen the quality of their work in special schools and Youthreach centres. A situation could arise where the Department of Education and Skills refuses to pay an unregistered teacher and that employee has a contractual commitment with a specific school. In the event of an unfair dismissal case arising, the onus would be on the school, acting as employer, to meet the costs that might arise. That could place a demanding onus on schools. I hope through legislation and regulation that, which none of us want to see happening, eventually will be addressed.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: This matter was raised in the Seanad and on Committee Stage. The combined effect of section 30 of the Teaching Council Act 2001 with this Bill, when enacted, will be to prohibit the payment of a person employed as a teacher in a recognised school unless he or she is a registered teacher. The only exception to this will be where due to urgent temporary or occasional staffing needs, it is necessary to employ an unregistered person. Therefore, the pay of a teacher must stop if his or her registration lapses.
The issue of payment needs to be isolated from any other issue that might arise. The Bill does not provide for a direction to dismiss a teacher who is not recognised, nor does it confer immunity from litigation in respect of a board of management or VEC that took disciplinary action solely as a result of a person no longer being registered with the council. A protection for schools against an unfair dismissal claim along the lines being advocated by this amendment would be arbitrary and disproportionate. It would mean that a person whose registration lapses for even one day could be dismissed summarily and without recourse to the Employment Appeals Tribunal.
Different types of circumstances may arise for a person being unregistered after the commencement of section 30. In some cases, the person might inadvertently cease to be registered due to an oversight on his or her part. The number of days on which he or she is not registered might be very low. In those cases any sort of disciplinary action might be regarded as inappropriate. In other cases, the person may need a significant period of time to gain the necessary qualifications to become registered. In these cases it may be appropriate to facilitate that person by granting him or her a period of unpaid leave. Equally, there may be cases where a person simply chooses not to register, despite the fact he or she has all the necessary qualifications.
In any of these circumstances, there is no termination of the employment of the unregistered person; he or she simply cannot be paid from Oireachtas funds while he remains unregistered. If a person takes other action, such as absenting himself or herself from the school without permission, this should be treated in the same way as if he had done so while being paid. In other words, this is a matter that is separate and should be treated separately.
I understand this will give effect to section 30 of the Teaching Council Act. The Minister had spoken previously about commencing that section without amendment of any legislation. Why is this necessary?
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Section 8 cross-references the amendment of section 24 of the Education Act 1998 provided for in section 6 of the Bill. It is the view of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel that it is legally necessary that the wording of section 30 of the Teaching Council Act 2001 contains a reference to the qualification of that section by the proposed section 24(8) of the Education Act 1998. It is a belt and braces cross-referencing.
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