White Paper on Education: Statements.

Wednesday, 10 May 1995

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 143 No. 5

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Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): Information on Niamh Bhreathnach  Zoom on Niamh Bhreathnach  It is a particular pleasure [405] for me, as Minister for Education, to open this debate on the White Paper on education, Charting our Education Future. Members of this House have consistently shown a high level of interest in education matters. Many Members have taken, and continue to take, active and central roles in the education system at all levels. Therefore, I look forward to hearing the views of Members of the House on this important document.

The launch of the White Paper marks a significant stage in the development of the education system. It is, in many senses, truly a landmark in the history of our educational development. Most importantly, as I emphasised to the Dáil last week, there is no exclusive ownership of this landmark. It is, above all else, common property.

It is the common property of all those who engaged with and participated constructively in the debate and dialogue which led to the White Paper. It is the common property of all those who, over many years, have contributed to the education of the people of this country, young and old, in a spirit of great public service. It is, very importantly, the common property of all the children of this country who are entitled to participate fully in our education system in accordance with their abilities and to develop their educational potential to the full. Shared ownership of the White Paper will truly ensure that it represents the enduring charter for the development of education in the future. The White Paper builds upon the best features of our education system as it has evolved historically. It does this while also recognising the need for change in many areas to meet the needs of students, parents and the many partners in education in the rapidly changing society which characterises our country as we approach the 21st century.

The White Paper builds upon and is the culmination of an extensive and in depth dialogue among all the partners in education. Traditionally, the approach to policy-making in education has been characterised by bilateral [406] negotiations between the Department of Education and major interest groups. The National Education Convention and the subsequent round table discussions on intermediate education structures and school governance involved, for the first time, structured, multilateral dialogue among all the partners in education. I was convinced that such a forum would be of enormous benefit to the partners in providing them with the opportunity to analyse the major issues involved, taking account of their varying positions.

I believe that there is now a wide recognition that this process significantly enhanced mutual understanding. It promoted an appreciation of respective positions and difficulties and an enhanced awareness of the fundamental importance of partnership, plurality and a deeper commitment to co-operation and consensus as the key to charting our education future.

I have sought to promote dialogue and debate with maximum transparency and openness. This is not only because I believe this to be effective and the proper way to approach the policy formulation process in such an important area as education. It is equally important to realise that the nature of the process which has led to this White Paper will play a crucial role in the effectiveness with which it is implemented. I have sought maximum involvement in the process of policy formulation. This will ensure a share ownership of the policy document which we now have. This, in turn, will ensure a vigorous commitment to proceeding down the implementation road with enthusiasm and persistence.

I repeat what I said in the Dáil, this is your White Paper — parents, teachers, manager and owners, students. Take this paper, read it, study it and discuss it. Know how its provisions affect your sector. What are your rights balanced by your responsibilities? My Department will facilitate this debate, a debate that should take place in school halls, teacher centres and parents' associations.

In keeping with the spirit of openness [407] and democracy, I have ensured that the White Paper has been given the widest distribution possible. My Department is completing the process of forwarding copies of the White Paper to all schools and educational institutions and to all those who participated in the convention. Copies are being sent to every public library. Copies are also on sale at £5 from the Government Publications Office. In addition, I have arranged for the publication of the White Paper in Irish in the near future. A visual presentation is being prepared for use as an introduction to your public discussion. The contents of this paper will influence the future direction of education. You should know about it.

A number of important principles underpin the approach to the White Paper. These are the promotion of quality, equality, pluralism, partnership and accountability. These are promoted within a framework which requires the State to protect and promote fundamental human and civil rights, to promote the holistic development of individual students and to empower their full participation in society and the economy. The theme of achieving equality in participation and benefit from education for all students, in accordance with their abilities, is integrated throughout the White Paper. It informs the approach to the early start programme. The fundamental objective here is to redress, to the greatest extent possible, disadvantage arising from social and economic circumstances, at the earliest feasible time in the child's development. The search for equality is evident throughout the approach to first, second and third level education and to adult and continuing education.

An underlying objective of curricular initiatives, new teaching approaches, new approaches to assessment and a variety of special support services, is to ensure that all students participate in, and benefit from, education and training in accordance with their abilities and that the adverse consequences of social [408] or economic circumstances are minimised.

The imperative of equality informs all of the new organisational and structural arrangements proposed in the White Paper. Equally importantly, however, the promotion of equality implies prioritisation within the education sector. It implies prioritisation of those who are most disadvantaged through no fault of their own. This requires difficult decisions on resources, including the targeting of resources on particular groups and areas. It also requires a strong consensus within the education sector, and in society as a whole, that the alleviation of disadvantage is a priority, with consequential implications for the way we deploy resources.

As long as any of our people, from the youngest to the oldest, are unable to fulfil their full education potential, then there is inequality in our education system. The Government, all the partners in education and schools and colleges are obliged to address inequality with persistence and commitment. Removing inequality cannot be a discrete item on our agendas. It must be at all times integrated through all our activities and efforts.

Quality must be the hallmark of our education system. We are fortunate in this regard to be able to build upon a distinguished commitment among all the partners in education — teachers, management bodies, schools and colleges — to the attainment of the highest standards of quality and achievement. The people of Ireland have always seen education as a priority and have always had immense faith in the power of education to improve the welfare and wellbeing of the individual and of society. Without doubt, education will play an even more crucial role in the social, intellectual, cultural, economic and political life of our country as we face into a new century. Any society which hopes to develop and improve the quality of life of its citizens needs to [409] plan for their future education in a sophisticated and sustained way.

Irish society sets its sights high in relation to the quality of its education system. We realise that education in Ireland has a major influence in ensuring that the potential of our people is achieved, for their own well being and that of society. At present over one-third of our population is directly involved in education on a day to day basis. Indeed, every member of our society is directly or indirectly affected by our education and training systems.

However, quality can never be taken for granted. I have already dealt with the promotion of equality. As long as there is inequality, as long as some benefit less than others as a result of the adverse influence of factors other than their natural ability and willingness to learn, then the quality of our system is less than optimum.

The importance of quality is intermeshed throughout the White Paper. The approach to quality is manifested in the development of the curriculum, teaching methods and associated assessment strategies at primary and second levels. It is also clearly evidenced in the initiatives to enhance vocational education and training and adult education through the establishment of a new Further Education Authority and Teastas — the Irish National Certification Authority. At third level, a range of initiatives have been set out to provide for the continuing evaluation and enhancement of the quality of education which is available to students.

Initiatives in relation to pre-service education, in-service education and the working conditions of teachers within the schools, coupled with school management and planning structures underline the key contribution which the teaching profession makes to quality. The development of the inspectorate at national and regional level aims to provide for the rigorous and systematic evaluation of the performance of [410] schools and colleges in the delivery of the education service. It also seeks to provide professional support for schools and colleges in the implementation of best practice for the benefit of all students.

In short, a key pillar in the future framework for the development of education will be the systematic evaluation of the education system, from the level of the Department to the individual school, to ensure the attainment of the highest standards of quality.

As a result of this White Paper and the legislative programme which will follow from it, partnership in the delivery of education will be an integral feature of the future. The practical manifestation of partnership in the new framework for development includes: the equal participation of patrons/ trustees, parents, teachers and the wider community in the management of schools and the new education boards; the systematic development of dynamic new planning processes — by schools, education boards and institutes of higher education — which anchor educational activities and objectives in the wider communities which they serve; the location of education as an integral part of wider social and economic planning and development and the recognition of the key contribution of education to the economic and social prosperity of all.

There has been a real partnership in the dialogue leading to the White Paper. This has now been given manifest expression in the structures and organisations for the management of the education system at all levels. Partnership is an integral feature of the continuing planning and development processes within institutions and between institutions and their communities.

The important theme of accountability is an integral part of the new framework. Accountability poses no threats. Access to information is essential if all of the partners in education are [411] to exercise their rights and discharge their responsibilities. Parents are entitled to know how well they are served by their school, the school's approach to education and the nature of its key educational policies in areas, for example, such as assessment, admissions and curricular practice.

Two important and complementary dimensions of accountability are set out in the White Paper. First, there is the accountability of schools, colleges and educational institutions and structures at all levels of the communities which they serve. Second, there is the accountability, through regional and national structures, to the Minister for Education and through the Minister to the Dáil and the nation as a whole. Increased accountability in the future will significantly enhance the quality of our education system. It will provide increased understanding of the reasons for decisions and the effectiveness of their implementation. This will cement real consensus on future policy directions and responses to important issues.

Increased accountability will also demonstrate the efficiency and effectiveness with which resources are used. This is important in securing additional resources and making the best possible use of existing resources.

I have been heartened throughout the debate by the virtual unanimous acceptance by all of the importance of, and the need for, increased accountability. I have sought in this White Paper to translate accountability into practice and to provide the mechanisms and structures for its implementation in the day to day management of our education system.

This White Paper endorses and affirms a pluralist society. It affirms the necessity and the importance of a diversified provision of schooling, recognising the variety of beliefs and values which characterise our modern democratic society. The very evident and significant [412] maturing of our society as a whole should be reflected in, and supported by, our education system. This includes respect for the rights of others, respect for the views and rights of those who differ from us, respect for the rights of minorities and a commitment to genuine action towards those who are seriously disadvantaged in our society.

These all demand a generous response from our society. The education system should, at all levels and in all its processes, promote and nurture the value of each human being in our society. It should equally promote and nurture the values of social cohesion and co-operation, based on respect for the rights and responsibilities of others. This is an essential feature of a modern democratic society.

The education system, as envisaged in this White Paper, commits itself to pluralism and diversity. There is no threat to the ethos of individual schools or colleges at any level. They may continue to nurture their distinctive ethos, traditions and philosophy. However, schools and colleges are required to respect the rights of those who differ and to make sensitive and caring provision for all of those who are different, for whatever reason.

The White Paper values difference and diversity. An informing theme throughout the White Paper is the importance of ensuring that curricular provision, teaching methods and assessment strategies are sufficiently diverse and varied to cater for the wide range of ability levels now participating in education. Students require different provision and different learning methods to meet their needs. The White Paper is committed to providing this to the greatest extent possible.

The White Paper is about education on a lifelong basis. Building from the foundation of a comprehensive and high quality initial education and training, people will increasingly in the future need to update their knowledge and [413] skills and renew their personal development. The framework for development in the White Paper recognises this and seeks to facilitate it. Recurrent and adult education is crucially important for those who sadly missed out during their period of initial education. We only need to reflect upon the literacy and numeracy difficulties among many of our long-term unemployed people to realise the fundamental importance of a solid educational foundation for a person's life chances.

Educational institutions at all levels must increasingly become centres of education for the communities they serve. These must be centres which are accessible to all members of the community. The White Paper locates education and training at the centre of a wider economic and social planning. It is now widely recognised and accepted that education makes a fundamentally important contribution to economic and social prosperity. The White Paper accords an importance to the accumulation of skills and knowledge equivalent to the importance heretofore afforded to more traditional forms of capital accumulation.

The White Paper seeks to build a self confident and outward looking education system which equips our people to participate fully in society, both in Ireland and the wider world of nations of which we are now such an integral part.

The White Paper commits the education system to embrace confidently the European ideal, where a sense of European citizenship now increasingly complements our traditionally robust sense of national identity. The Irish education system has much to learn from best international practice. Equally, it has much to contribute from its own rich heritage of experience and practice. Accordingly, we participate in European and world affairs in education, with the confidence that we have much [414] to contribute and the maturity to realise that there is much we can learn.

I have completed and finalised negotiations on the education elements of the Community Support Framework. This is the agreement between the European Union and the Irish Government on the range of measures and programmes which will be funded up to 1999. In this programme, I have achieved funding of £1.5 billion for education up to 1999. Equally importantly, I have secured a very much increased alignment between the objectives of the European Union for education and training funding and our national education priorities. There is now a strengthened partnership between the European Union and the Irish educational system. This partnership supports early childhood intervention programmes; a range of measures to alleviate disadvantage; the restructuring of the senior cycle curriculum; the provision of national certification for vocational education and training programmes, involving real alternative ladders of progression through the education system; the provision of an unprecedented level of in-career training and development for first, second and third level teachers; and a major programme of capital investment up to 1999 in second and third level institutions and schools. These funding priorities are fully supportive of, and in unison with, our national developmental objectives as set out in the White Paper. This is an important and often unappreciated dimension of the current Community Support Framework which I have negotiated for education.

The White Paper also commits itself to the promotion of an awareness and appreciation of major Third World development issues. Our education system has an important role to play in promoting awareness of these problems. More importantly in the long term, though promoting an understanding of the root causes of the problem, it will [415] facilitate the Irish Government and Irish society in contributing, to their best capacity, to the resolution of these problems.

It is particularly appropriate, at this time in the history of our country, that the education system should fully support and endorse the promotion of mutual understanding and trust on the island of Ireland. The education system must seek, through its institutions and its processes and planning procedures, to enhance mutual understanding, to promote an appreciation and understanding of the causes of conflict in Ireland and thereby lay the foundation for their resolution among all the communities on this island.

In the White Paper, I have set out a major programme of organisational change. The nature and composition of school boards of management are set out, as are the structure and operations of education boards. A radically changed role is envisaged for the Department of Education and its inspectorate. National bodies, such as the Higher Education Authority, will take on new and innovative roles. All of these structures will incorporate in their operations and their missions the fundamental principles outlined in the White Paper which I have dealt with briefly today. Their purpose is to support the putting into effect of these principles. Too often, perhaps, we seek organisational change for the sake of it. I have sought, and I believe I have succeeded, in avoiding this danger in the White Paper. The new organisational structures which are put forward are clearly supportive of, and designed to nurture in the future, the fundamental policy directions set out in the White Paper and the key principles underlining those directions.

There has been some comment on the resourcing of the changes outlined in the White Paper. As Members are aware, I have secured substantial [416] increases in resources for education in recent years. For example, total education expenditure has increased from approximately £1.64 billion in 1992 to over £2 billion in 1995. That is an increase in excess of 26 per cent. The final Government decision on the funding of initiatives in the White Paper is as set out in my foreword to the White Paper. It states:

The Government will aim to provide, during its period in office, the resources for the development needs identified in this White Paper within the framework of the budgetary parameters set out in the Government of Renewal policy document, including the acceptance of the Maastricht Treaty convergence conditions. The amount which can be made available in any given year will have to be decided by the Government in the context of its financial position and its other public spending priorities at that time.

I will now set out my broad intention in relation to legislation. I will be giving priority to legislation setting out the principles and framework for provision of education at primary and post-primary levels. This legislation will provide for the establishment of the education boards and will provide the framework for boards of management in schools.

Another priority will be legislation providing for new governing body structures for the universities, the restructuring of the National University of Ireland and the putting in place of arrangements for appropriate public accountability. My objective is to bring both Bills forward before the end of the year. Work has already begun and my Department is in contact with the parliamentary draftsman's office with regard to the drafting resources necessary. The resources implications and legal complexities of this programme are very considerable and I appreciate that my [417] objectives for this year are very ambitious.

Irish education has a proud heritage and great thought needs to be given to changing an education system which incorporates the values and ideals of such a rich heritage. We have much to be proud of in Irish education. We have very firm foundations on which to build. Let us not jettison what has served us well as we plan how to serve the country even better in the future. The greatest challenge facing all of us is to get people to accept the necessity for change. At the best of times, educational change is complex and slow. Therefore, a sustained effort is required from all of the partners in education to move the system in a new direction and to restructure it in the light of new needs, circumstances and conditions. In an area such as education there are rarely final answers. Indeed, it is totally inappropriate that we should say that our knowledge at any point is complete. However, we are at a time in our education system when new directions are required. The White Paper sets out those new directions and the supporting organisational and legal framework.

It has been my honour, as Minister for Education, to harvest the fruits of an intense and in-depth dialogue on education. As I have said, this dialogue has laid a firm foundation for effective implementation. While I have brought together these directions and set them out in this White Paper, they are firmly based on extensive consultation and on many key trends which have been emerging in education in recent years, both in Ireland and internationally. Accordingly, as I said at the outset, I am confident that there is now a sufficiently widespread sense of ownership of this White Paper, among all those with a genuine interest in education, to ensure that it effects real change for the benefit of students, society and the economy.

[418]Miss Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  I welcome the Minister to the House, as I do the opportunity to debate this White Paper on education. Its publication is of great significance at a time when we are about to shape the future plan for Irish education. It is a framework for discussion at all levels. Now that we are approaching the millennium and in view of Ireland's changing circumstances it is timely to have a long discussion on it. As the Minister says, the White Paper is a culmination of a lengthy and broad based consultation process. As I speak today I am conscious that I too am joining in that process. I remember when that process began, not three years ago but long before that, when Deputy O'Rourke was Minister for Education. That process of consultation was continued by Deputy Davern and Deputy Brennan and we have all now reentered this arena. I also pay tribute to the enormous work done by the National Education Convention and its staff and those who made submissions, both oral and written. Those are the sources from which this White Paper has emerged.

Although it appeared wise to launch the White Paper before the teachers' conferences, the timing of its presentation can now be seen as a mistake in light of the row over early retirement. The impact of the White Paper may have been lost in the short term because of this row. I spoke to many teachers in preparing to make this statement. I am saying what I have to say not because I am in Opposition, but because I have spoken to teachers in staff rooms, and I think the Minister has alienated practically every teacher in the country. Two years ago she spoke about early retirement but now it seems she cannot deliver. This is a pity as she has now lost their goodwill. This has left a sour taste, forcing teachers a little further towards non co-operation with the Department.

I will leave that aside and move on to the next aspect of the White Paper. I [419] welcome the chapter relating to the philosophical rationale which is very sound as it embraces the diverse and multiple requirements — those are the exact words from the chapter on educational action in the future — and that is to be welcomed. That chapter reflects the importance of education in maintaining the quality of life for the whole of society. The philosophy expressed as underpinning the educational policy is one of equality, quality, pluralism, partnership and accountability. This is the holistic development of our educational philosophy; this is what we must aim for if we are to allow our young people to integrate intellectually, socially and mentally into society today. I welcome that chapter. I also welcome the fact that schools are allowed the space to reflect their own ethos. Many of my colleagues thought this was a very fine chapter.

Now I will deal with the real nuts and bolts of the White Paper. Chapter two deals with primary education. In preparing this contribution I did a little research with principals north of the Liffey, particularly in the inner city area. I know this area very well; I link in there three or four times a year so I am in a position to speak about it. The Minister stated that over a five-year span every child in the school will be literate and numerate. I then studied the National Education Convention report which stated that the Department should prioritise disadvantaged students. The convention stated that there was an almost universal welcome for proposals to prioritise the tackling of educational disadvantage and under achievement due to the social disadvantage, which should be done as early as possible in a child's school life.

There are many other references to prioritising the needs of the poor and to sacrifices which should be made, if necessary, to accommodate their needs. The National Education Convention [420] report referred to the priority which should be given to crisis schools in crisis areas. Fianna Fáil has acknowledged that this priority should be of the utmost importance in forming policy for tackling disadvantage in primary schools. I searched the White Paper for the Minister's commitment to these children. Where are the references to funding to pay for in-service training for teachers, to make improvements in the grants available for the provision of school uniforms and books, or for the provision of school meals? Teachers whom I spoke to during the week agreed with me that the White Paper does not deal with that in any detail.

This document is marvellous for round table discussion. Practising teachers know what is needed, but they do not see what is needed in the White Paper. I am reflecting the views of teachers here today and I am glad that I am in a position to do so. Will the Minister indicate whether teachers were consulted? I call on the Minister to identify the crisis schools and to develop a clear and comprehensive strategy for tackling their problems in a serious way.

At the pre-school level greater consultation with existing providers in the private sector would have been useful if the Minister was considering a comprehensive nationally based pre-school system. The Minister has set up a monitoring committee to oversee the early start pilot project and while I welcome the early start project I wonder whether this committee will become bogged down in bureaucracy, with very little consultation with the real practitioners. The easy solution to a difficult problem always seems to be to set up a committee and this is of great concern to my colleagues. The Minister has ambitious plans for what can be achieved by the education system, with the help of the in-service training, before the year 2000.

The Minister is right in that there is much to be done. There is no recognition of how stressful the job of teaching [421] is. It is disappointing that the pivotal function of the guidance counsellor in the school system is not mentioned. The time is right to make a public statement about the lack of psychological and counselling services at both primary and second level. The National Education Convention pointed out that increased problems arising out of growing poverty and unemployment result in increasing numbers of disruptive and disturbed children in many schools. This should be recognised. The lack of adequate in-service and back-up services for teachers should also be recognised. It is not mentioned in the White Paper, which is vague on the subject. I studied the White Paper and did not find any real commitment to helping with back-up services in both the psychological and the counselling area.

We all know that the situation in schools has seriously deteriorated. Alcohol and drug abuse is on the increase. An increasing number of young people have serious emotional problems and they pass through the system without receiving any help whatsoever. If this is allowed to continue, the consequences for the quality of life in schools will be very serious. I hoped the findings of the survey, conducted by Dr. Liam Ryan, Professor of Sociology in Maynooth College, on the problems in schools would have convinced the Minister and the Department of Education that there is an immediate need for counselling and psychological services. This should not be an aspirational matter; these services are required immediately.

The Minister outlined her plans to address the needs of young people at risk. Once again, she has established an interdepartmental committee, including the Departments of Education, Justice and Health; but this is not the way to handle this matter. I am not speaking off the top of my head in this regard. I researched this topic by speaking to various teachers and bodies and I am reflecting views held by those involved [422] this area. I am not opposing the Minister's approach just for opposition's sake; I have done my homework. I ask the Minister to listen to these views and take note of them.

The Minister's approach in this area is too scattered, given that it involves three Departments working in isolation and then trying to form a co-ordinated body. I have experience in this area and I suggest that more specialist teachers at primary level, working in one to one situations, are required. The philosophy should be prevention rather than cure. A structure should be set up whereby the problem can be addressed in its early stages. This should be backed up with psychological assessments, special classes, small numbers and proper home school liaison links. The structure should be continued at second level, with proper links established between the psychological services and the specialist teachers in the two levels.

This is the way forward. Is it not better to spend money on preventative measures at primary level rather than having a situation later where money must be spent on services in prisons, where disruptive children ultimately end up? Is the Minister aware of the huge waiting lists at present for referral for psychological assessments at both primary and second levels? There is no mention of extra remedial teachers in the White Paper.

What does the Minister mean when she says there will be a phased expansion of the home school liaison system? Where are the real proposals towards ensuring better systems in schools? What are the criteria for disadvantaged status and home school links? Has the criteria changed? Is the Minister aware of some schools, which happen to be close to one another and where one has disadvantaged status while the other does not? Are there abuses in the system? I call for transparency in this area.

The volume of change in second level education concerns me. Teachers had to cope with a new junior cycle, vocational preparation training programmes, transition year, new leaving certificate programmes, [423] which include LCAP, LCBP, and new curricula for the leaving certificate? Surely all these changes and their consequent effects on a tired teaching force must be examined in a sympathetic light and agreement reached on the best way forward for pupils, parents and boards?

I am aware that assessments are not part of the Minister of State's portfolio, but this issue must be raised. The balance in the senior cycle between external examination and internal assessment must be maintained. I worry that more pressure may be placed on teachers, particularly if marks attained will be included for points. There is great fear among teachers that they could be sucked into boosting points for entry to third level. There is a need to retain impartiality and to objectively preserve the quality of the current examination system. We must not demote the status of the leaving certificate by ill thought out and questionable internal assessment procedures.

Regarding the school population, all the indications are that it is decreasing, but there is no mention in the White Paper about the future implications for pupil teacher ratios. I spoke to many of my colleagues about in service courses. If teachers across the country were asked about these courses, most would say they found them low grade and minimal. Their view is that the Department does not consider them crucial.

The idea is seen as an aspirational one, but in reality these courses are not great. It is often the case that they are conducted by willing and able teachers, who ultimately take the flak because they are unable to answer educational and administrative questions. Following in-service courses, many teachers find that they must work the position out for themselves. Lip service is given to this area in the White Paper, but the programmes on the ground are unsatisfactory. I have attended many courses and found that I had to work the position out for myself afterwards.

[424] Teachers receive short training courses on how to provide in service courses to other teachers. However, they find they are not fully equipped to carry out the work they were appointed to do by the Department. This is through no fault of their own, but because they received insufficient time. In service programmes involve a huge commitment by the Department and the teachers conducting the courses.

Effective management and leadership at all levels are essential if a school's goals are to be met. The principal is ultimately responsible for determining the school's educational aims, implementing them and getting support from those who work with him and the staff. In my view, a principal is similar to the conductor of an orchestra. However, he often gets bogged down by the many roles he must perform during his day's work. He is at the beck and call of the board of management and the Department of Education. He or she is pulled in every direction and the amount of paperwork coming into the office each day is astronomical. The role of a principal as an educator is lost in the process and he or she becomes an administrator.

What little there is in the White Paper about the role of principals is, again, aspirational. The paper states that this role is becoming impossible and that in the future non-teaching principals will be appointed for a maximum of seven years. At the end of that period they will have a number of options. They can reapply for principalship, positions on the education board, inspectorates, or they can go back into the classroom. However, what will happen if many principals come out at the same time and all seek the same position? What will happen if there is no place for them? What will happen if they do not want go to back into the classroom? Has this matter been fully considered?

There is little in the White Paper regarding middle management in terms of vice-principals and post holders. A new structure is being established to consider this area and there is ongoing discussion. However, another bureaucratic [425] committee should not be formed. The problem can be easily resolved by including principals, vice-principals and grade post holders in the search for a solution. We are dealing with it through the Department of Education but not through the people on the ground, which concerns me.

Irrespective of what new structures are put in place, the quality and content of our education system will ultimately depend on the interaction between teacher and students in the classroom. This is the fundamental relationship in education which needs to be nurtured, supported and properly resourced. The quality of this interaction has ensured that Irish education has been held in high esteem throughout our history.

We should not be slow in celebrating the role of the teacher in Irish society. The 1991 OECD review of national education policy in Ireland commented that while other countries lamented the lack of good teachers and a decline in the overall status of the teaching profession, Ireland did not.

There is a danger, however, that this spirit will be lost if we become too hung up on uniformity of practice and too critical of the hours that teachers work, thus forcing them to look over their shoulders all the time. If we go down that road we will lose the spirit of goodwill and generosity that so many teachers display in giving their free time to sports activities and extra curricular activities such as meetings, discussions and school trips. All that may be at risk if their good work is not acknowledged and if their positive attitude is not recognised and appreciated.

I strongly support the enhanced role for parents in our educational system. Their increased participation is welcome and I have discovered the more that parents are involved, the more successful our educational system becomes. I compliment the National Parents Council, which is now formally recognised as the representative body for parents at first and second level. The proposal to give a statutory basis to this [426] formal recognition will be welcomed on all sides of the House.

As regards third level access, I welcome the halving of fees this year and the elimination of fees in 1996. But does this, in itself, assist students from disadvantaged areas to gain access and reach their full potential? A whole range of third level students have been excluded from the Minister's budgetary package. They include post leaving certificate students who get no maintenance grants, mature students, part-time students and postgraduate students. This is a matter for concern because many students may not get third level places immediately after leaving school. If they have access to post leaving certificate classes but cannot pay the maintenance grant, it can deprive them of later entry to regional colleges.

I welcome the centralisation of grant applications. The CAO system is being centralised through the local authorities who handle it. The CAS system, through which the vocational education committees award diplomas and certificates, needs to be speeded up. There is nothing in the White Paper about that; it is all in the distance.

We must improve the quality of all aspects of the educational system. As students pass through the various stages they require easy access to grants under one system instead of being hindered.

I support my colleague, Deputy Micheál Martin, who said that the new educational boards would become bureaucratic nightmares, swallowing up resources needed for the classroom and becoming authoritarian in character. I remind the Minister of the experience in England, where these type of boards became expensive and divisive quangos. In England it was also found that financing these boards reduced the money available for children's education.

The transfer of education administration from the Minister's office in Dublin to local committees should be effected through local educational boards. Such boards reflect what is happening on the ground, while regional [427] boards would become too big and unwieldly. We should have a system where all areas and backup supports function together and a knowledge of the local environment would be taken into account.

The White Paper is a great subject for dinner table discussion and one can have great fun discussing its good and bad aspects. There are many good things in it, but there is little indication of how its plans are going to be funded. It refers to committees, authorities and commissions being set up; yet no commission is being set up to fund the White Paper's plans, and on that basis one wonders whether it is merely aspirational.

The White Paper contains a long list of in-service courses for teachers over the next five years. These include: early start, new Irish programmes, new science programmes, new European awareness programmes, health and wellbeing, assessment procedures, development of junior cycle, radical restructuring of the senior cycle, development of transitional years. The list goes on and on, but where is the money going to come from?

We have 40,000 teachers, 4,000 schools and eight people on each board of management, which makes for another 32,000 people. All of these must get in-service if we are really talking about achieving the plan five years down the road, but it is beyond me. It would be better to achieve a little, slowly. The White Paper is aspirational and perhaps in 20 years' time we will complete it. Now, however, we should concentrate on primary level. If we get that right it will be easier down the road.

There is very little transparency and information on the European dimension. Naturally, second level schools are interested in knowing what is going on. We talk about Socrates, Leonardo, Lingua and all the many other programmes coming on stream, but I had to search for information on them. When I asked my colleagues in the staff room about the Socrates, Leonardo and Comet programmes [428] they thought I had gone into orbit. Let us keep our feet on the ground and keep it user friendly. Let us keep it simple for the student to create a link between here and Europe.

While we are rightly proud of our education system we accept the necessity for change, but we know that there cannot be final decisions now on any aspect of this. The Minister should take it slowly and start at the beginning, because prevention rather than cure is my philosophy. If we get it right there we will continue to have a successful education system, recognised around the world. I ask the Minister not to undermine the external examination system at the leaving certificate.

Mr. Cotter: Information on William Cotter  Zoom on William Cotter  Ar dtús ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire. I hope we have a good and exciting debate on the contents of the White Paper, which is another landmark in the development of education. It sets out the principles which will guide us in the future and draws together the best ideas available to us on policy and educational philosophy, all of which are well founded and researched.

To some degree this is new to Ireland. We have come a long way in the past 30 years. Most of us currently in the Chamber are familiar with the pre-1967 era in Ireland, which was elitist to say the least. Educational philosophy was then comparatively narrow.

When free education was introduced in the late 1960s and when the education system was requested to underpin and make an input into economic development, purists who supported the liberal educational model saw those notions as a serious intrusion into the school system. It was seen as a degradation of the narrow philosophy in vogue at that time. The liberal versus vocational debate had to take place but we have put it behind us now. There is almost unanimity that education does and must underpin economic and social development and it is good that we have that consensus.

[429] In the 1970s there was a broadening of the philosophical base. There was talk of holistic development, education for life and similar concepts. Eventually there was full agreement on the basic direction education would take. Preparation for life is accepted in every classroom and board of management as an integral part of the educational philosophy. We also accept that the development of the skills and competencies necessary to cope with modern life is integral to education. We therefore have come a long way.

It is clearly specified in the document that the educational system has the ability to deliver and to make an important contribution to an enterprise culture. It is accepted this can be achieved not alone by choosing elements to form part of the curriculum but in the way the curriculum is developed and delivered in the classroom.

We could spend time complaining there was little evolution of thought about education in the 40 years after independence. There were some changes in fashion — in the school where I worked, there was an emphasis on science in the early years which disappeared until it became fashionable again in the 1960s. Various changes like that occurred but there was little evolution of thought in that period. That was because the universities concerned themselves with teaching and there was little interest in research.

When that period is compared to the last 30 years, one could say this White Paper is a celebration of the changes which occurred in the meantime. Without the setting up of the National Economic and Social Research Institute and the National Economic and Social Council and the discussions which have provided new emphasis in education philosophy, this White Paper could not have been produced in its current form. These changes have taken place since the benchmark year of 1967.

The education system is becoming much more an Irish product than it was. We now do our own research and [430] development and do not depend on the results of research carried out in other countries. We form opinions, perform analysis, come to conclusions and provide prescriptions for ourselves. We are mature enough as a people to create our own education system, doing so in response to the public perception of the needs of our children and society. It is gratifying that we now have the maturity, ability and confidence to do things ourselves.

It is also gratifying that the White Paper speaks repeatedly of a partnership between parents, students, teachers, the Department of Education and school patrons in the interest of providing a quality education for all students. It deals with how best this can be organised and concentrates on the basic rights of all individuals involved in the system, especially students whose ability to learn is limited by a handicap. It identifies and proposes a solution for all the major elements involved in the delivery of the education service.

We must ask ourselves occasionally what the essentials of the system are. What happens in the classroom is at the heart of the matter. Further to that are the organisation of management, development and delivery of policy, the resourcing of the system and the philosophy which motivates the system.

The Minister will readily admit the system still needs considerable additional resources in teachers, specialists such as remedial teachers and educational psychologists, and good buildings. Some years ago in the course of debates on education in both Houses, Members said there was a plethora of bad school buildings, along the west coast in particular. We have attacked that problem. We still have some bad school buildings but most of them will be eliminated over the next few years. There is no point in having a philosophy of education that guarantees equality of opportunity which cannot be delivered. It is an anachronism which is being tackled. The resources are being applied with the assistance of European funding. At the earliest opportunity we must [431] ensure every classroom will be suitable for the purpose for which it is intended.

There are still some classrooms in which discussions about a new curriculum are meaningless. How can one talk about delivering a modern science programme in a national school when it would take a teacher half a day to prepare the classroom to carry it out due to a lack of space? The difficulties of trying to put in place the arts programmes in some schools are still great. Teachers will admit they do not pursue all the elements of the new curriculum because they cannot. Thankfully, that is being tackled and the day when it will be eliminated entirely is in sight.

Teachers must be able to have one-to-one contact with pupils and students. It is an essential element in building up a relationship between the teacher and pupil. One has to have adequate space for this essential element of good teaching and learning. In the past in many cases teachers could not easily make contact with all the individual pupils in the classroom. How are they expected to recognise specific difficulties if that is the case? Such contact is essential and progress is being made.

It is not enough to have a commitment to a philosophy which emphasises equality of opportunity unless it is a fact at the delivery of the service. I look forward to the day when there will not be a bad school left. Good progress is being made and it should continue as quickly as possible.

There are immense difficulties in dealing with the special needs of some pupils. In the past few years many remedial teachers have been appointed and we decided sensibly to appoint teachers on the basis of grouping smaller schools together. In most cases that is working well, but it is not the optimum system. Many teachers spend a lot of time travelling around when they should be in the classroom dealing with pupils and that is unavoidable. In some schools the teacher has to take the group of remedial students in an inadequate room or in the hallway because [432] the buildings were never meant for such use.

What worries me most — and I have personal experience of it — is the identification and action towards students who suffer from specific learning disabilities, in particular, dyslexia. In past years students went through national school and part way through post-primary schools without having that problem identified. I recall one case about ten years ago when we did not have the same caring attitude as today. The student was in second year in a post-primary school when his parents decided to try to find out what was wrong. They noticed he was good at some subjects but where English was involved he was not making progress. They decided to investigate with the assistance of the school. Psychological tests were carried out and they discovered he was dyslexic.

Having found that out, the next problem was how to deal with it. At that time schools did not have — as some do not today — the expertise among the teachers to deal with specific problems. However, once it was known he was dyslexic certain measures were taken and the student went on to third level education and got a degree. If the difficulty had not been identified his confidence would have been destroyed entirely as he went through post-primary school to leaving certificate. Dealing with essays, for example, would have destroyed his confidence to the extent that he would have opted out. The identification and understanding of the problem meant that he could maximise his strengths and was able to go on to benefit from third level education.

There are many dyslexic pupils in the country. In the past couple of years in my constituency a group of parents formed an association specifically because each parent had a child who suffered from dyslexia and they wanted action. Although the schools may have had remedial services, they were not in a position to provide any certification that the pupil was suffering from dyslexia and they did not have the ability to deal [433] with the problem once it had been certified.

The parents have done a marvellous job and some of them tell me their children have made fantastic strides in reading and writing since they have come to terms with it. They complain that the cost of taking a child to an educational psychologist is high and poor families could not afford it — it costs about £150 for an assessment to be carried out. However, they raised funds and got a lot of community support, and have now succeeded in having assessments carried out on a number of children.

That is only the first stage. Having identified the problem and having had it certified as such they have to deal with it. They are using their time at weekends to get expert help and using their own funds, and the children involved are now making great progress. It is a joy to hear them talk about how a child's confidence is restored, a child who may have got a pain in their stomach thinking about going to school, and of the progress they can make once their confidence is restored.

I ask the Minister to pay special attention to that area. The percentage of pupils who suffer from dyslexia is not great. In the Monaghan area there were about 15. Our commitment to the individual suggests that we must look after those people. It is difficult to do so because they are so dispersed. How can it be dealt with? The parents intend to deal with it by forming a workshop. I will be asking the Department of Education to discuss with those parents how they are coping, to try to advise them, give them a little support and confidence and maybe use their experience to map out a future for the development of services in that area.

An educational psychologist is needed on the ground. Clinical psychologists are available to the health boards but because of their training and modus operandi they do not feel qualified to work in the educational area. Is it possible for clinical psychologists to do an additional course or diploma to give them the skills necessary to deal with [434] the educational sphere? A multi-skilled psychologist who could deal with any problem as it arises would be a great bonus in the regions. It would also save resources and put services in place where there are difficulties. Resources must be allocated to children with learning disabilities and we are agreed on that now. The Minister states time and time again in the White Paper that this is our basic policy position. A considerable financial input will be required to achieve it but I hope the commitment to policy in this area will be put into practice.

I look forward to the evolution of the education boards, partly because of the needs of children with learning disabilities. Regional educational boards by their nature will be nearer to the schools and will be able to carry out a co-ordinating function in many areas. This will be one of their most important functions, although they will have many others. Functions will be devolved to them from the Department of Education but they will be better able to coordinate because they will be more in touch with schools than the Department of Education is currently. Traditionally each school functioned as a separate unit and tended not to have much time to look at the outside world, particularly at how facilities could be shared with other schools. Each school acted in isolation, tried to do its best with the resources available and did not borrow resources from the community. One hopes that the development of the education boards will facilitate co-ordination and that we will get a better delivery of services in each locality.

I appreciate the White Paper's due recognition of the position of parents and the relevant constitutional guarantees. Parents will have full and proper recognition as members of boards of management and also of the education boards. For far too long parents did not have much input into what happened in schools and never got close enough to look at how things were done. While the Constitution guaranteed them the right to be the primary educators of their [435] children, they seldom got an opportunity to experience exactly what was happening in schools. The emphasis in the White Paper is on parental representation on boards of management and the education boards and further extension of home-school contacts to bring parents and schools closer together. This is the de facto position in many schools around the country where that kind of relationship has been cultivated. Schools should cultivate it because it is important that parents support teachers in the delivery of education. Schools have taken a very sensible approach.

There is no doubt that things in the future will be done differently as a result of the publication of the White Paper. It deals with the thorny problem of how to teach European languages in national schools. We have been talking about this for a long time but there is probably need to discuss it further. Many teachers say that so many new things are being introduced into the curriculum at this stage that the basic essentials tend to be forgotten. We have a Stay Safe programme, talk of a new science programme and many other new elements which change emphasis within the curriculum. We may sometimes forget that learning how to read and write and how to handle numbers are the basic essentials of the system in the early days.

Anybody travelling in Europe, particularly around the Netherlands, will meet families whose children speak four or five languages quite naturally. Of course most of them would not have learned those languages in schools. The parents could be from Holland and Belgium, and the grandparents from Germany and France. These children have an advantage because they learn the languages naturally as they grow and do not have to learn them in school. Children have a great facility for learning languages and we should try to exploit that because our position on the periphery of Europe means it is important that we can communicate.

[436] We may have to telephone institutions in Spain or France, where the person answers the telephone in their native language. Having spent 20 minutes trying to refine the little bit of language we have in order to deal with the situation, we can find it almost impossible to communicate unless we are fluent or the person at the other end speaks a common language with us, usually English. It is important for us to be able to deal with people in Europe. We depend on them for our livelihood as we export much of our produce. We must have linguistic skills and it is important to capitalise on that in the educational system. Children have the facility and ability to learn languages at a very young age and we have to make it possible for them to do that.

I was interested in some of the things Senator Ormonde said. She was talking about some of the minutiae which are not involved in the White Paper. It is right that those minutiae should not be involved. Life goes on despite the White Paper and it is a substantial document which could not possibly address all the issues Senator Ormonde mentioned. That does not mean they will not be dealt with. The White Paper has to deal with the broad issues and does so in a very organised and efficient way. The early chapters dealing with the philosophical base in education are very illuminating. I remember when I taught we got a programme which was produced each year, but there was never any mention of the aims of a particular teaching programme. We were given a syllabus to teach and the examination paper at the end of the year decided how we would approach the teaching of it. There was no philosophical base for it and, if there was, it was not put in print.

It is good that we have a fairly comprehensive philosophical base in this White Paper that is not highfalutin or technical, but which is put in such a way that it can be understood by everyone. It will motivate our thinking and policy formation into the future. There is no doubt that there will be changes in the future because society is changing fast. [437] I do not believe the situation will be as it was until 1967 when thinking remained the same and there was no evolution of philosophy. There is a vibrant period ahead and education and, indeed, the delivery of all services will have to respond to it and will do so by allowing debate.

I welcome the fact that the White Paper will be followed by a substantial body of legislation. We do not have many opportunities to discuss education matters because we do not have a lot of education legislation to deal with. I look forward to many good discussions in the near further as we deal with the legislation which will emanate from this. I congratulate the Minister, her staff and those involved in the consultation process in drawing together in this White Paper the best thinking and strategy I have seen for a long time. I hope we will be successful in the next stage, which will be the implementation of it.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I welcome the Minister to the House. I want to focus on one aspect of the content of education rather than its organisation. It is remarkable how little of the White Paper is concerned with actual content — in other words, with what is being taught and how it is being taught, with output rather than input. It was interesting to listen to the Minister's speech today and to hear the emphasis placed on areas which do not relate to content. However, this is not a criticism of it. The headings were equality, pluralism, partnership, accountability, diversity, Structural Funds and Third World development which are important, but which relate to organisation and the structural approach. However worthy and necessary they may be, they suggest that the only issues in education today are organisational and structural ones. That is far from being the case.

I wish to highlight that fact and to devote my contribution to the question of content and to a specific aspect of it where I believe we have now reached a crisis point. I refer to the teaching of languages, to which Senator Cotter ably [438] referred. Language have always been a part of education. When I went to school everybody had to learn Latin. I was interested to read this week that there has been a return to that in Britain, although I do not hear the sounds of it coming back in this country yet. Most of that classical education in Greek and Latin has gone by the board, but we still teach modern continental languages and Gaeilge.

There has always been a high investment of school time in the teaching of languages, but the hard truth is that most of that time has been wasted. Most secondary school students leave school without a useful working knowledge of any language, either a continental language or Gaeilge. That is a truth which few will admit to, but which has systematically been swept under the carpet over the years. Even those relatively few students who score high marks in languages in the leaving certificate have a low working competence in the language which they are supposed to have learned and have been certified by the State as having done so. Even the better students would be unable to cope in a foreign situation and would bring little, if anything, from their schooling.

One of the most important things to realise is that the teaching of languages in this country is dramatically worse than elsewhere. I am sure most Members know young Irish people who have gone to summers schools or camps on the Continent to brush up on their French or German and the sheer incredulity that they are greeted with when they tell their overseas teachers that they have been learning the language for five or six years. We are just not in the race as regards European languages. By the time a German, French, Spanish or Dutch teenager leaves school, they will be competent in their chosen language or languages, at a level which is astronomically high compared to their Irish counterparts. I am talking about the average student, not the best or the exceptional ones.

We should have known that there was a major problem long ago. The writing [439] has been on the wall for many years as regards Gaeilge. We cram it into our children from the age of four and we devote a high proportion of time to it through primary and secondary school. Yet with all that effort we achieve an unbelievably low level of linguistic competence. I suggest the time has come to face the fact that our existing education system has failed to cope with our urgent need to learn languages. Whether this is caused by a lack of teaching skills, proper teaching resources or a wrong direction in the focus of teaching on the written rather than the spoken language, which is a problem, are questions we will not be able to resolve at this time.

My concern is to blow the whistle so we may recognise this fact. This is something we must face up to and which is so important that we must adopt it as a national concern independent of the existing educational framework. We must create a special mechanism to analyse the problem and then design a solution as soon as possible. This failure in language teaching is a national crisis. We need those language skills to create jobs.

Two of our fastest growing industries are being held back because of our low competence in language skills. Tourism will soon be the world's largest industry, one which has great potential for us. In the past decade we realised that future growth in tourism will come mainly from continental Europe rather than the traditional markets, the UK or the US. I grew up in the tourism business which relied 100 per cent on the British market. We never envisaged in the 1950s and 1960s the likelihood that the Continent would become a growth area, but we should look at what has happened.

I came back from Manchester today on a plane which had come from Zurich. The plane was filled with German-speaking tourists from Switzerland. People in tourism and those who bring in foreign visitors know they must be spoken [440] to in their language, not ours. The language used must always be that of the buyer, not the seller, of a service. Senator Cotter has already mentioned this area and the tourism potential which is important to us.

The second industry is what has been called teleservices, the cluster of businesses which piggyback on our telecommunication facilities. Various activities, including selling, making hotel reservations and servicing equipment — to name just a few — are centred here with a range of operations which stretch across Europe and beyond. IDA Ireland has been successful in attracting some of these companies to Ireland and it has already created thousands of new jobs. The potential is vast; we are talking about tens of thousands of service jobs for the future. This is our best hope of tackling the unemployment problem.

IDA Ireland is already running into the roadblock of our limited language skills. The pool of competent speakers of foreign languages is far too low at present to realise our potential. It will remain too low unless we do something about it as soon as possible. This problem needs an action group or a task force because it is too important and wide-ranging to be left to the educational establishment. As we consider the wide range of issues raised in this interesting and competent White Paper on education, we should also pay attention to the specific and urgent problem knocking on our door. Will we listen to the knocking and answer the door? It is in our hands to open that door and to do something about it now rather than later.

Ms Kelly: Information on Mary Kelly  Zoom on Mary Kelly  I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Currie, to the House and the White Paper which charts the future of education. It is a vast improvement on its predecessor, the Green Paper, because this takes a more comprehensive and philosophical view of education.

Paragraph one deals with the philosophical framework and it stresses that [441] our priority should be equality, pluralism, partnership and accountability. We need to look at the holistic development of the pupil and the empowerment of that individual. It also states that educational principles and rights are derived from the fundamental aim of education to serve individual, social and economic well being and to enhance the quality of life.

The White Paper is so detailed that a half an hour is insufficient to discuss it. We need a more structured debate on this issue. As Senator Cotter said, the legislation which is to follow will, perhaps, give us the opportunity to discuss in detail each aspect of our educational system.

While our educational system is one of the best in the world for the majority of students, would we have as many problems today if it was everything we claimed it to be? We are proud to boast to foreigners about our great educational system. However, I cannot marry that idea with the fact that many people, particularly young people, are out of work, underemployed or have emigrated. If our educational system was so great, why did they have to leave? They are useful to industries abroad because they work hard putting other people's ideas into practice and making vast sums of money for them. However, I am worried that so few have come back to take the lead in the commercial, industrial or political world in this country. If we had equipped them properly at the beginning they could have prospered abroad, but their first priority would have been to come back and right the wrongs in this country and put it on a par with our European counterparts.

Senator Quinn's contribution must be closely considered. We must also look at other areas such as potential leadership. Are we training our young people to be leaders or followers? Unless we consider that aspect of education we could be laying traps for our young people for generations to come.

I agree with the early start programme which needs to be expanded. [442] We should also look at the myriad of existing preschools and playgroups and try to encourage their practices. We should also try to bring the providers of such informal education into the system and ensure that a standard is applied to these groups. Although they may have the best intentions in the world, they duplicate what the children will learn in junior infants in primary school and that is not their function. Many primary school teachers find that children who go to school already knowing the first book in the series are bored in their first year of primary school, yet they cannot tie their laces. The role of the preschool needs to be looked at in this regard.

The primary school curriculum has undergone great change since I was at primary school. I envy my children what they are learning today because I was not afforded the same opportunity when I was their age. I welcome the suggestion in the White Paper that science and technology subjects in primary schools should be advanced. It also suggests that there should be increased opportunities for learning other languages and more about Europe and the Third World.

There are already moves to ensure that second level schools respond to the individual needs of students and that the curriculum is devised in such a way that they leave school with a competence in the core areas of English, Irish, mathematics, a science subject and an artistic subject. There are a variety of other courses which a child can follow to complement these core areas. This concept is evolving in schools and changes have already taken place. We need to continue to build on these changes while at the same time keeping what is best in existing practice. We must make sure that any changes which come about are geared to the needs of the child and society.

I welcome the role suggested in the White Paper for parents in the management of primary and secondary schools. The role already exists in primary schools but needs to be strengthened by legislation. At second level this role is being introduced in many schools and [443] needs to be strengthened and encouraged.

I wish to sound a warning note on this, based on what I see in my home area. The well motivated, well heeled, articulate mothers and fathers come to meetings of parents. However, a large body of parents, many of whom left school after their primary certificates, feel inferior to the likes of teachers, bankers, accountants and solicitors in the town. They find they do not have a role to play.

Perhaps there is a need to look at adult education for parents so that more of them can be equipped to take on leadership roles in schools and these roles are not left to those who are more educated and, therefore, more articulate. All parents should feel they have a role to play in the school and its management structure. When a meeting is called, principals should be aware of the parents who never turn up and encourage them to come for a less formal meeting. Disadvantaged parents must be encouraged to participate. Otherwise the sense of isolation and disadvantage in some schools will be perpetuated.

As the chairman of the task force on the travelling community, I would like to congratulate the Minister on what the White Paper says, on pages 26 and 27, about the children of the travelling community. The paper recognises that these children have a low school attendance record compared to the rest of the community. Specific actions are recommended, such as the inclusion in school plans of admission policies for travellers in accordance with national and regional guidelines. Many travellers spend the summer months travelling and do not settle down again until late September or October. By this time many primary and secondary schools have finished their enrolment and often insist that traveller children wait until the next enrolment period, which would be in January in primary schools. Schools are then slow to take in a child who will be an added burden to the school. Admission policies should be [444] more flexible to allow the enrolment of travellers in late September and October.

The White Paper recommends the continued development by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment of appropriate curriculum and assessment procedures to meet the special needs of traveller children, including the provision of appropriate texts and materials. Many people from different races in other parts of the world have found that unless there is culturally appropriate material, children find it difficult to learn from texts that do not relate in any way to their lifestyles.

We went through a period in Ireland — I saw this in my children's school books — where the stereotypes seemed to be mothers and father living in suburbia. School books took no notice of the many children living on farms, in flats and in streets. It is the same with travellers. Unless there is specific recognition in textbooks that traveller children do not live in standard houses but in caravans, their culture will not be recognised.

I welcome the recommendation that modules on traveller culture should be provided in teachers' pre-service and career development programmes. It is important that teachers who teach travellers realise these children have a different way of looking at life.

I welcome the comprehensive and regularly updated quantitative and qualitative surveys of traveller education and the monitoring of the school attendance pattern. The White Paper expresses the view that, where possible, travellers should be educated alongside the mainstream population. There should only be special classes where these are absolutely necessary. Special classes tend to highlight the differences between children and the discrimination many traveller children feel if they are seen as different. If they have different class and sos times, they feel isolated from the rest of the community. If mutual respect is to be encouraged between traveller and settled children and, later, between traveller and settled adults, it [445] has to be seen to be encouraged in schools.

The idea of a school plan, which is already in place in primary education, is to be extended to second level and this is welcome. It would be of great comfort to many parents to know exactly what the process, ethos, plans, aims and objectives of schools are and to have them written down. It is also important that parents have a role in putting this plan together. The role of the principal is important also. Senator Ormonde can be assured that principals will be somewhat like county managers in that after seven years I doubt that they will all up and go at the one time. However, this mobility within education is welcome. After all, anybody who stays in the same job for too long can become stale. Moving around will lead to fresh ideas and approaches and will ensure that best practice can prevail. It is a great opportunity for a school if a good principal moves there and brings best practice with him or her.

Senator Ormonde's contribution was, in many ways, somewhat confused. On the one hand she was seeking simplicity and advocating that the Minister move slowly. On the other hand, however, she was seeking action on various matters which she did not see included in the White Paper. She was seeking specifics but this is not a document for specifics. This document should be seen and examined as a philosophical blueprint. When the legislative framework is available we can seek specific information on where the money will come from and how resources will be organised. Money issues must be examined but not here and now. We must look at the broader issues first, draft the legislation to implement them and then supply the money for the initiatives. In answer to another question from Senator Ormonde, the Minister indicated that there will be an injection of £1.5 billion in education up to 1999. Included in that is the provision for in-service training for teachers about which Senator Ormonde was so concerned.

[446] I welcome decentralisation from the Department of Education to regional boards. The original regional boards were somewhat unwieldly and I compliment the Minister for having listened to people's objections to those boards. The regional board for the Border area was very unwieldly. Many of the Border areas share common problems but when those problems are eliminated the area would be impossible to administer geographically.

The role of the inspectorate is changed and divided between those who operate from a central location and those who operate on a regional basis. This is to be welcomed. The inspector has two almost contradictory roles to play. An inspector ensures that teaching standards are maintained while at the same time he or she should be a resource for teachers if there are problems in the curriculum. This division in the organisation of the inspectorate will result, I hope, in inspectors being seen as friends and as examiners. The two roles will not be confused if they are carried out by two separate individuals.

The organisation of schools must be examined on an ongoing basis. There are sufficient mechanisms in the White Paper to ensure that models of education provision are examined on a regular basis and that those that are working well will be encouraged while those that are faulty will be remedied. I totally agree with the provision in the White Paper that all schools will be provided by the regional boards. The ownership of schools, following enactment of this legislation, will be vested in the regional boards. The schools will be leased to interested bodies for use as denominational, all-Irish or multi-denominational schools. The ownership of the school will remain within the State.

Over the years we have seen the public, through the Department of Education, put a great deal of money into the construction of school buildings only to find that when circumstances changed the Department of Education could not recoup that funding or retrieve the school building. It was an [447] anachronism that we were alone among the countries of Europe in having schools that were publicly funded but privately owned. I am glad that the anomaly has finally been tackled. From now on schools constructed with public money will remain in public ownership although the school's ethos will be respected.

The White Paper is a valuable contribution to public life. It should be widely distributed and I am glad the Minister has said that she will make every effort to ensure that every school and public library will have a copy. Pitching its cost at £5 is a good idea because members of the public will be able to afford it. It is the best value one can buy for £5 because it contains the blueprint for this country's future.

Mr. Farrell: Information on Willie Farrell  Zoom on Willie Farrell  I dtús baire ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Stáit. Cuireann sé díomá orm nach bhfuil focal ar bith as Gaeilge scríofa sa Pháipéar Bán. Cad a tharla don Roinn Oideachais? Ar chaith sé amach teanga ár ndúchais, teanga na hÉirinn? Fuaireamar tuarascáil ón Aire Ealaíon, Cultúir agus na Gaeltachta, an Teachta Ó hUigín cúpla seachtain ó shin sa dá theanga. Cén fáth nár scríobhadh aon phíosa Gaeilge? Is bocht an rud é sin agus tá an-díomá orm mar gheall ar sin.

We have spoken many languages today and I agree that language is important. However, I am told by those who know about and speak many languages that anybody who learns Irish can learn third and fourth languages very easily afterwards. Irish is a good basic language. It is sad that the Department of Education has released a White Paper without a word of Irish. That is a gross insult to the many people in this country who are promoting Irish. Irish today is stronger that it ever was. It is sad that the Minister has ignored it. It is the greatest insult to the people of the Gaeltacht and to the people who are promoting Irish. Tá níos mó scoileanna Gaeilge sa tír seo anois ná mar a bhí riamh.

[448] The main thrust of this is to establish regional boards. These will not solve anything, because the Department of Education will not get smaller; it will still be Big Daddy looking over all. The ESB was the first regional authority established in the country, followed by CIE, the tourist board and the health boards, all in different areas. Finally, the European authorities were established, again in different regions. If the regions are to be effective, the same region should be used for all authorities. At least we would then know what a region was, but as of now we do not. The regional authorities are scattered all over the place. They are very expensive to run and they are not producing the goods. It is not possible to make contact by phone with any senior regional officer in any of the regional offices as they are travelling throughout the region and are consequently never available.

We should have county boards and every county should look after itself. The greatest example of these were the technical schools, later the vocational schools. They were established in each county and I am a product of a small such school in Grange. They were the first community schools; they were interdenominational and catered for everybody.

There is not a word in the White Paper on the excellent Culliton report which pointed out that there was a need for vocational education. The idea behind this recommendation — and it is mine also — is that certain people are very good academically and they should go to colleges to become doctors, vets and so on. However, there are many people who are very good with their hands and are good technically, but they are being lost in the system. Many of the drop-outs today arise because of this system. We send people to community schools and other big schools and they have no interest in what they are doing. It would appear that we have eliminated many practical subjects from our technical schools and have introduced instead the theory of such subjects. If only the [449] world and the country could run on theory — we have produced many theorists over the years, yet we have a bad country.

Education has failed over the past 25 years and this report will do very little to address this because it contains no specific proposals. It contains many good aspirations, but nothing solid. Education is for life, for work and for independence; but over the past 25 years we have gone from being an independent State to a very dependent State, as everybody is now looking to the State for handouts. We have done away with pride, work and the work ethic and nothing in this report has done anything to bring this philosophy back into our schools.

When the amalgamation of small schools took place I opposed them very forcibly. This was supposed to be the be all and end all and in the best interests of students. However, it has led to more unemployment, more illiteracy and a greater need for adult education. I watched a television programme last night on Channel 4 on the VE day celebrations in England. It produced many letters from young soldiers of 16 and 17 years of age to their girl friends and parents advising that this would be their last letter as they were going into a dangerous situation. Many of them never came back. The handwriting in those letters and the content of them was a credit to the then education system. That same system was in place in this country. When I attended national school, the third class mistress — go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a h-anam — allowed no child out of third class until they could write a letter to their parents, the reason being that if ever they left the country they would be able to write home.

The students leaving secondary school today can talk on the phone for a month, but very few of them can write a letter. What have we done to education and to hand writing? When I was a gasúr the only writing that could not be read was the doctor's. When I was [450] chairman of a certain body I received a note from a school teacher. I read it and wrote a note back to him advising that when I went to school one would get three slaps on the hand if one submitted writing of that standard. At that time one had to form one's letters properly and learn how to write. We do not learn how to write anymore, instead we print. It is a ridiculous education.

When the schools were small, consisting of two teachers, there was a homely atmosphere, which we have destroyed. In consequence, remedial teachers are required today. We have also become impersonal. In those days the teacher knew every child in the school, knew the children who needed help with their homework and those who came from a family background which was not too good. In addition, there was a caring community. However, we have done away with all of this. There were no teachers burned out then. They worked until they were 70 years of age and regretted having to retire. Today they are burned out because we threw discipline out of schools, together with commitment and responsibility.

It is time we got our act together. We should return to the model of the technical and vocational schools. The greatest mistake the technical schools made was when they became secondary schools. This created a vacuum which AnCO and now FÁS had to take up. We should return to the technical schools, the two strands of education and implement the recommendations of the Culliton report. When students attended the technical schools, if they were good at metal work or woodwork they were allowed to study these subjects on virtually a full time basis, and because they were good at them they read books and manuals on how to improve their skills. In consequence they increased their academic knowledge, as it now became an interest for them to read. They read, not because it was a chore, but because they were furthering their knowledge of what they knew they could do best and what they [451] were going to earn their living from. We destroyed this.

The family is very important in education and where there is a good family there are good students. However, they do not have a good environment in the schools because there is no discipline. The Minister launched a report on what he was going to do to address this issue, especially the problems of scheming, truancy and so on. I congratulated the Minister for his initiative at the time, but have heard nothing further since the report was issued. It is an important issue, but what is being done to address it? When I walk the streets of this city I see children sitting on the streets begging who should be at school. Are we doing anything to get these children to attend school? We are ignoring the problem. When I attended school and was kept home to pick the spuds or save the hay a letter had to be sent to the school advising on the reason for staying at home. If this was not done a garda would visit the home after three days asking why there was no attendance at school. Is that supervision a thing of the past? I do not think that it is fashionable now. I would like to hear what the Minister has done to remedy this problem.

I read in yesterday's newspaper that a lady in Ballyfermot had to give up the neighbourhood watch scheme because ten and 12 year olds broke her windows and abused her. That would not have happened years ago. We should be correcting this, which is what education is about. If we do not correct those problems we are wasting our time talking about education. Education is much more than learning the ABCs and 123s: it is learning how to behave in society, be a good citizen and play one's role.

I welcome the proposal in this White Paper for kindergartens, play groups etc. Many parents now leave their children into play groups in the morning and take them home in the evening. That is the way of life. I have said here on many occasions that many women work because of necessity. I was completely vindicated by a recent survey in [452] England which showed that 41 per cent of women said that they work because of necessity. No mother should have to work because of necessity — money should be made available for them if they wish to stay at home with their families. That is the biggest improvement which we could make. I am not against women going out to work if they want to have careers. However, if they want to stay at home they should not have to go out to work because of economic circumstances.

With regard to the Culliton report, I opposed the amalgamation of schools in the early 1960s and a report was done in Scotland at that time which examined schools in the vertical and horizontal systems. The vertical system was where infants, first class and second class, were together and the horizontal system was where 30 children of the same age were in one class. They found that the vertical system resulted in much better education. However, the Department of Education did not listen and bulldozed that system away. We have a sad, sorry sight today and I hope that the two men from the Department of Education are in heaven. I remember their names well. They will be there in indelible ink as long as I am alive because they bulldozed through a system which destroyed education in Ireland.

When children went to small schools they knew the shopkeepers and the people working on the road. There was constant supervision and they also learned how to speak to people. However, we put them on buses and into bigger and bigger schools. It was the survival of the fittest and now we have bullying, stress and problems. Until we remedy that we are wasting our time writing glossy reports on education because we are not talking about the real problem.

I went to a technical school for two years and I did very well out of it. If one went for four years the fourth year was a work experience year. They were sent to work in a business in which they were interested and invariably they ended up working there. Some of our best nurses [453] and some of our best technicians with the ESB and Telecom Éireann came out of technical schools. Everybody who came out of technical schools or colleges in those days knew that they would get a job because people were streamed. We are now told that everyone is entitled to the full run of the mill. However, no human being is capable of learning everything from floor sweeping to heart surgery. Everyone is capable of doing only so much and we must nurture and promote people's talents. Every student has some good qualities and our education system should aim to discover those qualities and work on them. They should not be forced to learn Latin, Greek, French or German if they are not capable of so doing. We should teach them what we know they can do and they will then be proud of their education, their society and where they live.

The biggest problem in schools today is drug abuse. I do not see anything in this report to deal with that problem. Teachers tell us that children as young as 12 come to school with hangovers. Surely, this is where education must start. If drugs are available in school yards, how can those children learn anything? How can they be anything but abusive to their teachers? The teachers have no remedy or way of controlling them because there is no system of discipline.

I do not think that we should bring back what was known as the “class behind the door”. If we put children into remedial classes they will come out with a chip on their shoulder and it would be sad if we went back to that. If children need remedial teaching, they should be brought up to a standard which will allow them to return to their class so that they can play their full part as citizens in that class.

When we walked to school in the country we robbed birds' nests and orchards. We pulled turnips and carrots in the fields and we were hungry enough to eat them. However, we learned a great deal about nature. We were doing an environmental course on the way [454] home, which is missed today. We knew our neighbours. If any child is asked today, two miles from their home, where the road to the next town is, I guarantee that they will not know. They sit in buses and are not tuned to looking. They just go wherever the bus drops them and they know their way home from the bus stop. When children walked and cycled to school they knew every road and crossroad and where people lived. We have destroyed that communication and constant education. We will not have education in this country until we return to that basic.

I would like to see a system of county boards as the county should be the centre for everything. Another feature of small schools is that they each had a team in inter school games. However, when they were all put into one big school, one team came out of that school to compete with one team from another big school. Many then fell by the wayside because in the days when there was only a small group to pick from, everyone was on the team. However, when one has a couple of hundred people to pick from, many of them will not get on a team and these are the ones who will become the dropouts. They could be good, worthy and proud citizens if they got a chance, but our system does not give them one.

Robbie Burns once wrote:

Look not alone on youthful pride and manners boyish might. When man is youthful too is kind supported is his right.

Man's right is not supported any more; we have destroyed that ethic. It is sad but we will have to come back to it one day.

There should be more psychological assessments for educationally backward children. These children should have good psychologists available to them so that they could talk to them and sort out their problems. While psychologists are currently available to the health boards, they are not available to schools, particularly primary schools.

[455] We should get back to having smaller classes, and smaller schools, if possible. We destroyed rural life by closing these schools. Now we are talking about rural renewal and bringing people back to the countryside but we ran them out of it beforehand. One used to have two teachers and one shopkeeper living in these areas, but we did away with that whole infrastructure and put them into concrete jungles during the 1950s and 1960s. Many of our smaller towns and villages are now suffering and are paying a heavy price for those actions.

I would like the Minister to think on what I have said because I am speaking from experience and I know what I say is correct. Child psychologists should be made available as a right — many people refer to rights but not responsibilities — and they can be provided. The Minister has also got to set up some type of disciplinary system. The day that students can give their teachers the “Harvey Smith”, as they are doing at present, it is time for the Government and the Department of Education to bring in a disciplinary way of handling this situation. It must be found.

What is the Minister doing about those children who are not attending school? There is no reason why so many children should be begging on the streets when they should be at school learning how to make a living. The money they collect is being used by their parents and elders for drugs and drink. Those children are pawns in a game and if we do not remedy it, it will further ruin and destroy our society. Indeed, it is doing so at present.

Mr. McDonagh: Information on Jarlath McDonagh  Zoom on Jarlath McDonagh  Déanaim comhgháirdeachas leis an Aire Oideachais as ucht an iarracht atá á dhéanamh aici chun córas oideachais níos láidre a chur ar fáil in Éirinn. Molaim freisin an t-Aire Stáit, an Teachta Austin Currie, as ucht an iarracht atá seisean ag déanamh chun córas níos láidre agus béim níos láidre a chur ar fáil sa chóras oideachais atá faoina chúram.

[456] I will first refer to the vigorous contribution made by my colleague from County Sligo, Senator Farrell. The Senator may have read the White Paper on Education but he must have tired along the way because he did not seem to have reached page 229, which contains a complete section entitled “An Gaeilge”. I remind the Senator that there is also an Irish version of the White Paper available on request for anybody who may be interested. The arhoimhrí — the small booklets on the summary of the Green Paper — are also bilingual. Therefore, the Senator's statement on the lack of Irish in the White Paper is not entirely correct.

Senator Farrell also requested that an effort must be made in the area of truancy and bringing those involved in crime into education. Indeed, it would be remiss of me or of anybody in this House not to pay tribute to the Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Currie, for the efforts he made in this area. I speak with much knowledge of this issue — I have worked in this area as a teacher. I am the adult education officer for east Galway and am familiar with the workings of the justice centres. Truancy, especially with regard to travellers, is a difficult area but the commitment, dedication and work of the Minister is a breath of fresh air to our educational system. I commend the Minister of State for the efforts being made in that field.

I would also like to commend the Minister for Education. It would be remiss of me, as a teacher who has been involved for much of my life both inside and outside the classroom, not to do this. I wholeheartedly compliment the Minister for her determination and commitment to effectively streamline our educational system and in so doing, to harness all the expertise available into a strong, co-ordinated unit. The Minister is to be congratulated on her publication of the White Paper. To get the process of change this far is an outstanding achievement. This document did not appear overnight. It is the outcome of many months of consultation [457] between the various partners in education. I would best describe it as a consensus document reflecting the views of the Minister and her Department, the management bodies, the teachers and the parents.

The initial reaction to the document — I say this as somebody involved in education — is positive. It plots the path of change. Change challenges everybody and is more smooth when accompanied by generosity. I welcome the underlying philosophy of the White Paper. It embraces the education of the whole person and the promotion of pluralism, equality and partnership. It emphasises accountability and openness and I also welcome the autonomy it proposes to give individual schools to promote their ethos. Community schools are already operating as individual entities, so to speak, and are setting a high standard. Their operation, which is backed up by an outstanding SES secretariat, is the essence of professionalism and is a model for any other structure to follow.

Most educators will welcome the Minister's decision to raise the school leaving age to 16 years of age and her ambitious aim to have 90 per cent of students complete the senior cycle by the year 2000. It is well worth recognising that the longer people stay in the educational system, the better chance they have of being employed.

The system that currently prevails, and this is relevant to the Minister's responsibilities, forces young travellers to attend junior schools until they reach 15 years of age. At that stage, many of them opt out because they get an allowance to go to the senior traveller centres. They can stay there for two years. At the end of two years, when they are aged 17, they are left high and dry because there is a vacuum between 17 and 18 years of age and there is no allowance available. Without going into any detail, this is a very dangerous situation which has in the past led to certain problems. What the Minister is doing, in raising the age to sixteen, will alleviate that problem and there will be some finance [458] available for young people between 16 and 18 years of age.

Sitting suspended at 6 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.

Mr. McDonagh: Information on Jarlath McDonagh  Zoom on Jarlath McDonagh  I reiterate my congratulations to the Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach, for her determination and commitment to streamlining the education system and in so doing, harnessing all the available expertise into a strong, co-ordinated unit. I have already spoken about the contribution of the community schools.

This country has always been noted for its educational endeavours. Long ago Ireland was known as the island of saints and scholars. There are saints aplenty still and perhaps when this process has reached its conclusion the Minister will be beatified in some way because she has guided this White Paper through a very difficult process. There are also many scholars in this country. Our children are our most prized possessions. They deserve the very best at all times and this is what the Minister is trying to offer the children of the nation in this extremely well formulated document. The ideal enshrined within this White Paper is that of developing a streamlined programme of education that will lead our children into the future fully equipped to face that future.

Education is seen as an ongoing process and that is why I am glad, as an adult education officer, to see proposals and plans for adult education, distance learning, literacy provision and all types of post leaving certificate programmes enshrined in the White Paper. The Minister's comments on sport are also very welcome and her decision to plan for the provision of a number of sports halls in schools is a sign of her commitment to the role of sport and leisure in education. Teachers will welcome the setting up of a teachers' council. This has been a key demand of the teachers' unions for some years and will enhance the professionalism of teachers.

I acknowledge the contribution of teachers in the education and formation [459] of our young people. Failure to support our teachers would be a serious error of judgment and could damage the fabric of education. I welcome the White Paper's affirmation of the central role of parents in the educational process. Expansion of the role of parents is to be welcomed. Parents will now be entitled to sit on boards of management. Each school will have a parents' council and I am pleased that the home schools link programme is being expanded. Parents are an integral part of our educational system and any enhancement of their role is very welcome news.

I am happy that while setting up new education boards the Minister has decided to retain the vocational education committees as a supplier of education. I am sure that decision has already been formally welcomed by the Irish Vocational Education Association congress currently in progress in County Kerry. This is an acknowledgement of the contribution of the vocational education system in the past. I am a great believer in the vocational education committee system and I speak from experience. I have worked all my teaching life within the vocational education committee and acted on a vocational educational committee for almost ten years until recently.

I accept that certain rationalisation of vocational education committees is necessary but I sincerely hope that most vocational education committees will not be dismantled and that their remit will not be diminished in any way whatsoever. The vocational education committee system has stood the test of time as educational providers operating as statutory bodies, openly and transparently. The role of the vocational school in the creation of modern Ireland must never be forgotten. Any new structures can only learn from the solid vocational education committee structures which have served this country so well since 1930. As a former member of the Irish Vocational Education Association I commend the president, secretary and members of that umbrella [460] body for their contributions to the huge success of the vocational education system.

An increasing number of young people face the prospect of never having a job. Many people are in that category and they are becoming increasingly alienated, disillusioned and in some cases rebellious. The old order may be changing but old conflicts are quickly replaced by new, equally destructive ones. Economic changes leave in their wake large numbers of displaced and dysfunctional people, sometimes so concentrated in a particular area that it is a potential threat to the existing social order. In certain instances there is no work, no access to the economy, no future. Social cohesion breaks down and religious or political hatred is fostered in disadvantaged areas. Disillusionment turns to destruction. This is why I hope the Minister will be unflinching in her efforts to retain and expand the various programmes which exist for the disadvantaged, underprivileged, travellers and those who find solace in Department of Justice workshops.

The vocational training opportunities programmes have brought new meaning to the lives of many unemployed people. The Youthreach scheme must be strengthened and further places should be provided on the various schemes. The marvellous work being done by the various adult education boards must also be recognised and rewarded. I hope any working groups which are established by the Minister to examine or strengthen this area will have the hardworking people involved in adult education among their membership. These people have expertise and real experience in this area.

Any discussion on adult education in a rural setting, involving dispersed and underprivileged communities, must address the topic of education for development. However, although I have meticulously studied the White Paper, I cannot find any real reference to this aspect of education in it. The type of education envisaged must focus on communities' needs and consist of leadership [461] skills, self esteem, project identification, political education and enablement. This means that specialist community development workers must be available as amateurs and leaders. As this is both an educational and development role, it should be addressed in the forthcoming legislation.

I live in a rural community in the heart of County Galway, where there is a strong community base and people operate as a structured group. Organisations in my area and in other similar areas should be allocated a project manager. These project managers, who would come to communities via FÁS, would enable these groups to promote and foster their ideas.

Any structured organisation in a rural or urban community which has a business plan should be afforded the assistance of a project manager. This would enable them to promote their plans and possibly create many opportunities and employment. This is an important aspect, which is dear to my heart, and I hope the Minister will consider it before any legislation is enacted.

The White Paper has been generally welcomed and it is an opportune time to review and reform the education system. The paper provides an opportunity to update the structures to take account of the changing face of education at the end of the 20th century, particularly the changes in adult education.

I am most familiar with this area. Given its nature, it deals with people in the real world and it needs to take note of the changing circumstances in which people find themselves. In rural areas, which are served by adult education boards, the changes taking place must include reference to the decline in rural population, the falling income of small farms and the lack of full-time employment available locally. It must also take note of the lack of trained people to assist and guide people in these areas. I refer to this vis-a-vis the project managers which I mentioned earlier.

In the context of rural areas, we must also take into consideration the growing number of elderly people. For example, [462] approximately 2,500 people live in my parish, which is a typical rural area. One third of the population is under 18 years of age, while another third is over 65 years. The large number of people who are unemployed, except when they get part-time and seasonal work, and the lack of modern work-related skills are other important aspects.

We must also examine the low level of educational achievement by many people who, prior to free post primary education and transport, received no second level education due to their geographical location. The remoteness of certain areas in the country from large towns and centres of culture and education must be taken into consideration, as must the low level of self esteem and pride of place among the inhabitants.

Another aspect of education, which will be important in the future, is the support mechanism of work experience for those involved in VTOs, Youthreach schemes and the various workshops under the aegis of the Department of Justice and FÁS. More finance should be made available and more support given to the idea of the work link experience.

This involves trainees from centres going out to work with companies for a certain period of time. They retain their FÁS contributions for a certain length of time and it gives them a toe in the door. Once they get in, it is up to themselves. This area is very important from the point of view of the creation of employment opportunities, particularly for young people who left the educational system at an early stage without completing any formal examinations.

More money should be made available to the adult literacy schemes. Although marvellous work is being done, the budgets for this area are minuscule. If more finance was made available, much more could be achieved. Everybody has a right to this type of education and a full-time organiser of literacy schemes should be appointed in every county. This is an ambitious idea, but I am sure the Minister will consider [463] it. It is an important area which should not be neglected.

I welcome the publication of the White Paper. It is a positive document and the Minister, her officials and all those who contributed to it should be commended. The paper is a watershed in Irish education. In future years, I am sure people will look back on this historic time and remember this document and the Minister.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  The White Paper is a substantial document and I congratulate the Minister and her officials. I particularly congratulate her on the wide consultations which were carried out before this document was published. Although Ireland is a democracy, some institutions appear quite secret. I often felt that one of the most secretive areas was education. One often had very little idea about the philosophy within the Department and one had a sense of wonder about the transition of one's child through various stages of education. It is splendid that this comprehensive document has been introduced by the Minister.

It is interesting that the Constitution states parents are the primary educators of their children. However, up to now, parents have had very little input to the education policies of schools and universities. It is no wonder that the Minister got a standing ovation from the Federation of Primary School Parents who must have felt that her plans to involve parents in the running of schools and in the formulation of a philosophy for children's education was quite revolutionary.

It was splendid to start with a clearly laid out philosophical framework of what was intended regarding the education of our children. The Minister broadened the emphasis beyond a declaration that the State has to educate people to be useful employees within it, to encompass all that needs to be done within the educational system so that people are educated to have full and responsible lives. Linking the economy [464] with education is right, of course, but there are other things besides the economy which have to be looked at and the Minister's philosophical approach manages to do that.

The discussion of pluralism is welcome and could not be happening at a more important time when we are trying to emphasise that this Republic has adopted a more pluralist approach to life. It shows that we are trying to implement policies which in the past may only have amounted to pious aspirations. Here, however, the Minister's hopes for pluralism within the country are clearly written down.

The emphasis on equality is also important because educational graphs demonstrate that those from the most deprived backgrounds, who receive least at the beginning of their educational careers, leave the school system earliest, suffer the highest rates of unemployment and are more likely to become involved in crime. For these reasons the emphasis on equality is essential for all of us.

The issues of partnership and the delivery of quality education are placed in a prominent position at the beginning of the debate. While I stressed the importance of pluralism, the Minister is right to recognise that schools have a tangible ethos which many of them will want to maintain. Many schools have been concerned about whether the Minister is trying to implement an overall policy for every school so that people would have to implement education in the way that the Department dictates without variation. But the Minister recognises that the rights of parents in their children's moral and spiritual upbringing are particularly significant for a school's ethos, as are the values and beliefs of teachers. It is important to advance this point too because pluralism means respecting everyone's beliefs; it does not mean that we all have to believe exactly the same thing. I am glad to see that the Minister has emphasised that.

The chapters on providing education within the State are extremely [465] interesting and I am glad that pre-schooling has been given a good airing. I am not quite clear how much the Minister intends integrating private pre-schooling which — mainly in middle class areas though also in some working class areas — has been well provided by voluntary groups. Early start programmes are important in areas of deprivation. Their effectiveness has been demonstrated in America where they have been provided on a wide scale in areas of social and economic deprivation and the statistical results have been impressive. An examination of our own early start programmes could similarly provide a levelling up for those children who do not have the advantages of a stable background and a good economic situation at home. I will follow developments in this area with interest.

It is important to remember that it is not just an educational experience for children but also an important social experience for them. Therefore, this area cannot be overemphasised.

In discussing the primary curriculum the Minister talked about the arts, a subject that I have commented on before. Recently I read the remarks of the head of the School of Music in the Dublin Institute of Technology regarding his hopes for an increased involvement in both the appreciation and teaching of music in our schools. It is an area where Ireland has done remarkably well despite, rather than because of, the lack of musical involvement in our schools. It is not just the various pop bands which have done so incredibly well on an international scale.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Hear, hear.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  I am sure that Senator Cassidy will approve of that.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Absolutely.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  He has his own.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  It is incredible that we have done so well. One band triumphs [466] and within a short space of time you see two or three others superseding the first one. They do not just do well nationally, but on an international scale as well. This is obviously our natural outlet and we are about to win a fourth successive Eurovision Song Contest.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Oh, no.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  I think it is a natural home for the winners of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  One hundred thousand fáiltes.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  It is not just contemporary and pop music which have provided such tremendous successes. Look at the achievement of Cara O'Sullivan who won the prestigious international singing contest in Warsaw a couple of weeks ago. The number of opera singers this country has produced for the international stage is quite incredible. When you think of how little musical education there has been here, more stress should be placed on that.

I was impressed by the tin whistle band which started in the Westland Row national school years ago and later expanded to include drums as well. One of the teachers told me that it gave all the boys a great sense of esprit de corps and the pride they took in the band eventually spread to other schools.

The section in the White Paper on arts in primary schools is not as large as I would have liked it to be. I would like to have seen more thought and time spent on trying to introduce more appreciation of music in schools. After all, a tape recorder is not all that expensive, although I realise that some musical instruments can cost a lot. Tin whistles, however, are not that dear and recorders still only cost a few pounds.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Flageolets.

[467]Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  Those who are in adjoining classrooms will have to put up with the beginners' cacophony.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  It will uplift their spirits.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  There will then be a gradual progress until we have the most splendid bands. As much use as possible should be made of all our facilities to take children to concerts. The National Concert Hall has been successful in this respect but you cannot transport children there from all over the country all the time. There are concerts in Limerick and Cork, however. As a child in Cork, I remember that one of the greatest outings was to visit the Hallé Orchestra when it performed at the City Hall. Our own orchestras still travel around the country and they should be promoted because they give great pleasure to many people.

The revival of Irish music should also be stressed. It is not expensive to send people into schools to talk about and play Irish music. The interest in the music which has emerged recently owes a great deal to those individual musicians who have taken the time and trouble to promote it in schools.

The arts are not confined to music. Choral singing has a great tradition in my home city of Cork and I hope to see it promoted. Great interest has been maintained in the feiseanna around the country. The number of choirs which compete has diminished, but perhaps interest could be revived. More effort must be devoted to the visual arts. This will involve costs for equipment, but the enthusiasm and pleasure which younger children get from it means it should be promoted.

The Minister has stressed science in the document and, having a scientific background, I was interested in this. I often feel however that too much stress may be put on the promotion of science in primary schools. It is fine to promote biology and children are eager to explore at this time in their lives. [468] However, despite having a scientific background, if I was to put effort into one or other area it would be into the arts because they appeal to a broader range of small children.

Science can too easily become the priority of the more academic children and the pleasure which the arts can give to a large number of primary school children will be lost. Much of science is quite mathematical and numeracy comes later to some than to others. Lady Thatcher was keen to put science into the primary school curriculum — I was never a great enthusiast for her ideas but I must not be prejudiced. However, I would prefer the Minister to push the arts because money is short and singing does not cost that much.

It is most important to make Irish appear as alive as possible in the primary schools — here again singing can be used. The enthusiasm for the Gaelscoileanna shows that the promotion of Irish is most successful when it is made part of our culture. If the teachers are enthusiastic, far more effort will be put into learning Irish than if children have to learn grammar every morning. Irish singing and drama should be promoted, perhaps after school. The Irish language should be made seem central and important to our culture and the school course should not be the way the language is presented to a child.

One subject on which the Minister has been kind enough to listen to me in the past is the promotion of health and well being. Immunisation is not mentioned in the White Paper, but we have an appalling rate of immunisation in Ireland; in some areas it is as low as 40 per cent. In Britain the measles immunisation rate is 95 per cent — it may be almost eradicated. The figures in Northern Ireland are also good, but the virus will not stop at the Border. Given our low immunisation rate, neither the Northern Ireland nor Republic of Ireland authorities has any hope of [469] achieving anything unless we promote immunisation.

One of the most important times when parents can be made more involved with the immunisation of their children is when they are admitted to school. For constitutional reasons it is not possible for the Minister to introduce an immunisation certificate to admit children to school, as happens in the United States. However, as the Minister said, she encourages the distribution of leaflets and advertising campaigns, etc. on immunisation programmes within the State.

The lack of immunisation against diphtheria did not seem important ten years ago. With the unfortunate change in the health prevention programmes in the former USSR, there are an enormous number of diphtheria cases there now. People from Ireland go there and Aeroflot 'planes stop in Shannon. Viruses will go anywhere and if the population is not immunised, diseases we thought were long gone could shortly reappear. I am therefore anxious that in the promotion of health and well being in primary schools the Minister would stress to parents the importance of immunisation. Religious education in the primary schools is also well covered in the Bill.

I was glad the Minister mentioned the difficulty of the transition from primary to secondary schools, which is often quite disorganised. Children who go to secondary school make subject choices which may affect what they can do for the rest of their lives. There should be far more consultation between the primary and second level schools, as is suggested in this document. The child should have as much time as possible to make the transition and the choices which could make such a difference to their careers in second level education.

A strong point of the Irish secondary school system was that children were allowed do as many subjects as possible for as long as possible. In Great Britain [470] pupils' general education was sadly diminished because they took so few subjects in the earlier part of the second level cycle and as few as three in the last part. The Minister hopes to allow as much time as possible before choosing subjects and as wide a choice as possible. She stresses the need for a modern language and we should try to avoid that being French in every case. French is a useful language but others are useful also. The small numbers who take Spanish, Italian and German at leaving certificate level are quite depressing. The figure for Spanish is just into the thousands and those for German and Italian are still in the hundreds. Schools and parents should be encouraged to see that French is not the only language spoken abroad.

We have a great advantage in that if one has taken a second language from an early stage one grasps the concept that other languages are spoken. It has been discovered that those with the greatest fluency in Irish are those with greatest fluency in other European languages. The Minister provides for the pursuit of a creative or performing art in secondary schools also, which is worthwhile.

I am glad I do not have a child currently doing the leaving certificate because it has taken on a momentous importance in the lives of all our children. Various efforts have been made to consider other ways of deciding which further education the child might pursue after second level and these must be seriously examined. The universities are most anxious about this. The drop-out rate in the first year of university courses is most worrying — it is as high as 30 per cent in some cases. Dropping out may be due to disappointment in the course, inability to cope socially or exam failure. This transition from second level to third level needs more thought and effort. The CAO applications system is fair except that those who can afford most in terms of grinds [471] or extra classes are at an advantage over those who cannot.

I notice there is a section entitled “Time in School”. I heard the Minister's comment recently that parents were mesmerised by the number of half days and teacher training days. I am sure the Minister has the matter in hand.

With regard to second level education I was glad to see an emphasis put on young people at risk, particularly those in custodial centres. It is important they get into education while they are in the centres but it is also important they are put back into the educational system when they come out. It is a problem that while they have been on good courses in the institution they are at a loose end when they come out. There is a need for more co-operation in getting them back into education in their locality. Many of these children have already been involved in truancy and home liaison needs to be developed.

The Minister mentions adult education and I agree with Senator McDonagh that giving people a second chance is important. Our literacy programmes which are often voluntary should be given as much help as possible. The number of people who come through the system without being literate or numerate is extraordinary.

With regard to access to higher education there has been a certain amount of criticism about free undergraduate fees. We will have to see how that works out. The unit costs for our universities must be seriously examined. These are not, of course, our only educational institutions but the universities in particular have a high teacher ratio and many students are involved in research. I hope during her term the Minister will take a close interest in this matter. I dread to think the standards in our universities could go down.

I am glad to see the Higher Education Authority is extending its brief to all publicly funded institutes. I would like [472] to see more promotion of the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. These institutions should be given as high a status as possible as they produce admirable graduates. The more help we give them the better. In some cases they need more monitoring, in view of the regional technical college that seemed to escape from control at one stage. The report on it made exotic reading. I hope the Minister will give as much as possible in the way of funds and resources to these institutions.

The Dublin Institute of Technology needs help to consolidate its position. With its scattered campus it has had difficulties in the past in appearing as an organised body. Those working there are of the highest calibre and are worthy of our support.

I am glad the Minister also deals with apprenticeships in the White Paper. Apprenticeships have been undervalued in the past. In our penal institutions some young inmates become apprentices. The former Minister for Education, Deputy O'Rourke, was anxious to ensure that apprenticeships were recognised and that people got a certificate at the end of them. Those who are in apprenticeships in the penal institutions should continue when they get out. I welcome the proposals on gender equality and I am sure the Minister will honour her commitment in this regard.

University legislation is to be examined in the next few years. The universities are proud of their institutional autonomy. The Minister rightly couples this with their public accountability. I hope the Minister's wishes as expressed in the White Paper on institutional autonomy, the affirmation of the ethos and tradition of the universities, the preservation of their diversity and the enhancement of their developmental role will be kept in mind when the legislation is examined. We do not want third level institutions which are identical — that would be pointless. The difference [473] of character between the different institutions is a worthwhile feature. It is welcome that the private colleges are to come under the remit of the Minister.

In view of what has happened in the recent complaints case in Ardara, where the investigation had to be abandoned. such complaints will have to come under the remit of the Ombudsman, for example. In the case I mentioned neither the person who was accused nor the parents appear to have got any satisfaction as to the problems in the school. The issue of complaints needs to be addressed urgently. I do not have the solution. It seems odd that it should be referred to the Ombudsman but so be it.

I am delighted the Minister stresses the international dimension of education. We could perhaps have more exchanges with schools on the Continent. I was glad to see the White Paper deal with North-South co-operation in education. Exchanges between schools take place and the more the better. The mutual recognition of teachers' qualifications allowing them to teach in the North and the South is important. In the field of medicine, as the Minister knows, it is possible to operate on an all Ireland basis. I hope developments in that regard can be furthered.

I congratulate the Minister on the White Paper and I looked forward to seeing it implemented over the next few years.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  I welcome the Minister to the House. Education is one of the few fields in which everybody is an expert — consumers, practitioners, the hurlers on the ditch — and they all know best. I took part in the round table discussions in Dublin Castle and the analysis groups. It was one of the most intensive consultative processes ever undertaken.

It was interesting to watch the dynamic as the discussions unfolded. [474] When we arrived we were all in our trenches and our target was the Minister. As the various sectors were made face the reality of fundamental change we all had to address areas other than our own and start to abandon the position we held in the past. In so far as that happened, it is a substantial triumph for the Minister that this document is before the House this evening. There was a time when many people thought it would never happen and another large sector which hoped it would never happen.

When researching a speech some time ago, I discovered that the Department of Education had been served by 11 Ministers in 12 years. One Minister held the post for 28 days. It may be that when they went in, they were so frightened by what they saw that they took off. There was a long period when the Department of Education did not have a permanent Minister. I compliment this Minister because whatever differences people may have about the thrust of this document, it is clear that the provision of education will no longer be seen as an undertaking which is independent of the rest of public affairs. It is right at the heart of the life of this country and that is its importance.

When people start to track the decline of British science, technology and industry, they can almost date it from the attacks, particularly by the Thatcher government, on teachers and the teaching profession. There was a consistent and concerted effort to denigrate the work of teachers in the UK over a long period and it was led by Tory Ministers. It had profound implications for the standards of technology, education and so on in Britain. While we have problems here, some of which were referred to throughout the day, it is in nobody's interest to denigrate the profession. That is not to say all is well with the profession and that is recognised by the Minister for Education. There is a way to tackle deficiencies but [475] it is not by bringing the profession into public disrepute with the result that parents lose confidence in the teachers. There is a knock on effect for students and it is a recipe for disaster. The Minister will avoid that like the plague.

Bringing education into the centre of public affairs was a matter of critical importance. The recognition of education on this basis is a huge step forward as it means that we who are responsible for the conduct of public affairs can no longer treat it as being peripheral to normal life and will be obliged to ensure that, in investment terms, it will get necessary priority status. Our prowess in terms of our economic development, social solidarity and cohesion is dependent on that approach.

The proposed abolition of third level fees got a poor reception from people who ought to be more generous. There is an approach here which is mainly psychological. While there may not have been a huge monetary barrier for some, it was very substantial for others. I remember sending my eldest son to college without a grant. I certainly was not flush as I was self employed at the time and it was not easy to find the £800. I also had to keep him and he felt he should be treated as a prince and should never have empty pockets because he was studying. On that basis, he believed his father should keep providing whatever money was necessary, not only to help him study but also to keep him happy.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  It is an in-built confidence thing, in general.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  It is more than confidence. I would have been very confident if my father injected that kind of cash into me when I was his age. It was a heavy burden to bear.

Many people have an aspiration that their children might benefit from third [476] level education, which I believe is a fundamental right. I remember addressing a meeting of the historical society in University College, Cork. I looked at the students and asked myself how they got here and whether it was on their own merit or on their father's merit. I had no doubt that if they were all put into a vat of ink — some were from Knocknaheeny, Farranree and elsewhere — and only those with real academic ability could rise to the top, different faces would have been looking down at me. That is how society was and still is.

One can walk down the South Mall in Cork, the home of the legal profession, view the brass plates and see Murphy & Sons, Dorgan & Sons and so on as if the system was ordained by God. The reality was that they had access to the system and sons and daughters automatically went to university. It did not matter how dumb they were, they crammed to get in there and no money was spared to ensure they got where their parents wanted them to go. No such facility was ever available to ordinary working class families. Not only was the money not there but the family could not possibly do without the income these children would produce. That was the society we had. People must begin to understand that the removal of third level fees is the beginning of a process of opening those doors. We will no longer have to deal with a statistic which says that only 2 or 3 per cent of children of working class origin go to university. The Minister has made a start to break this down and I compliment her for that. The longer we go on, the more people will realise what she is at in this area.

I also pay tribute to the Minister for the way the White Paper has extended the concept of partnership. Responsibility for the provision of education is to be shared. This applies particularly to the involvement of parents and the wider community in taking responsibility [477] for education. Parents and the wider community have always been significant stake holders in the education process. However, this is not always translated into power which in the past was largely in the hands of teachers and managerial interests. New situations will arise after the White Paper and we will see parents and the wider community sharing power on an equal basis with other interested parties.

It is an important concept that the customer has a central role in education. By customer, I mean students and parents, the users of the system. They should be an integral part of the process and not be seen, as they often were wrongly in the past, as a nuisance interfering in what the system thought was their business. The attitude that one could not tell a doctor or a teacher what to do prevailed in Ireland as far back as I can remember. It was an extension of the theory that mother knows best. If one asks some solicitors to send a letter they will not reveal what they are putting in it.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  It was a lack of education.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  It was a lack of confidence. My philosophy is not to trust any of them and always find out what is happening. Parents have increasingly involved themselves in the education of children, sometimes against the wishes of the authorities. The Minister has recognised that they are central to the process. It is their system, not the Government's or anybody else's.

The White Paper is a comprehensive document which gives us a blueprint which will be of immense value into the future. It is important that the philosophical basis should be outlined and this is done in the first few pages which lay out the philosophy which underpins the system. These are principles to which all can subscribe and the clarity is a tribute to the Minister and her [478] Department. From time to time and with some justification, we engage in a bit of Civil Service bashing and hammer the Department. We sometimes use it as a way of having a go at the Minister. We attack the officials but we are really having a go at the Minister. It is fair to say that irrespective of the views people may have about the sections, everybody accepts that this is a tour de force by the Minister, her Department and her officials and it is right that they are given recognition for the input they have had in this process.

All aspects of education provision are dealt in the most extensive manner in the document and I will touch on a small number in my contribution. I recognise that this could be a dangerous approach because when particularising it is possible to home in on a specific point which taken in isolation can be viewed in a number of ways. The attitude adopted by some Opposition speakers to the Minister's earlier actions which will lead to free access to higher education on a universal basis in the future was interpreted as Robin Hood in reverse and neglected the broader view that this measure is just one element in a wider framework of education provision.

Significant progress has been made in rebalancing education expenditure on a targeted basis since this Minister took office. Since 1992 that rebalancing has resulted in major progress in helping to eliminate disadvantage, particularly at preschool and primary level. I witnessed some of that positive action in some of the poorest areas of my constituency which got much needed assistance based on the reality that they needed it to cope with the problems in areas of high deprivation. In many instances, what the Minister saw on some of her visits to these places was as shocking to her as it was to us.

How was this situation allowed to deteriorate through the years to the extent that we would not put animals into some of the conditions where we [479] put children? In some cases, these children had special needs. I am proud to say that on seeing these conditions a decision was taken on the spot that they would not prevail. There was no need to refer back to the Department or an official and I compliment the Minister for that. There was no need for reports or analyses because when the Minister saw things with her own eyes she had the courage to take action.

The White Paper continues the approach and the implementation of the various measures proposed at preschool and primary level which will be of importance in minimising social exclusion in society. The most important aspect of this reshaping of the system is the end of social exclusion. People should be able to move freely between the various sectors of society, starting from the same base of advantage rather than disadvantage. As far as the White Paper moves us in that direction, it must be welcomed by those who believe in a thriving democracy.

As regards second level education, it is fair to commend the Minister for establishing a target of at least a 90 per cent completion rate in the senior cycle by the end of the 1990s. The previous speaker referred to the drop out rate at various stages. That target is absolutely vital as regards the completion of education.

Much can be said about this extensive document and I can only go over the most salient points in a contribution like this. As the Minister knows, I am a member of the IVEA which has been to the forefront in the progressive education sector in providing education and technical resources for those who in many cases would have been neglected. The 1930 Vocational Education Act was one of the most far-seeing pieces of legislation this country ever produced. The involvement of the vocational education committee system in educating hundreds of thousands of boys and girls speaks for itself.

This has been recognised by the Minister in many contributions and on Tuesday [480] at the IVEA conference in Tralee. Those of us in the IVEA and the vocational education committee sector know that we also face fundamental changes. I did not come here tonight to plead any case except to say that I know the Minister has set up a commission to look at the rationalisation of the vocational education committee sector which will undoubtedly put forward proposals. Early on in this debate the vocational education committees said publicly and privately to the Minister that they were not going to be Luddites in this process. Their response to the Green paper stated:

The IVEA is not opposed to change provided there is evidence that such change is progressive and will benefit the wider community. We are committed to supporting the development of a decentralised integrated comprehensive education service that is flexible and responsive to community needs.

Last year the Minister said that it should no longer be feasible in a modern society for 400 schools to revert to a single Department for their daily sustenance and that this hands on control was not sustainable and should be changed. The IVEA accepted that and put in a bid — it would be silly if it did not — that there should be an intermediate tier which should be based on the vocational education committee system. We went to Dublin Castle where we saw that whatever our views on that proposition, there were strong forces which did not see them as the way forward. As in all these situations compromises had to be found.

While we cannot pre-empt the commission's report, vocational education committees have performed services to the community which have been of immense benefit. I know there are critics of the vocational education committee system who will point to some of the defects in the recent past which have caused great distress, but it has had one merit in that all its sins were committed in public because it is an accountable [481] organisation. Whatever defects it had, it was not possible under the system to hide them for long. Everyone involved in the system knew that if a person did not measure up eventually the wheel would turn and they would have to address the defects. This was not the case in some of the other sectors, which could do whatever they wished because in most cases after they were in receipt of public moneys that was the end of the matter. However, the vocational education committee system was quite different — it was open, democratic and accountable and if mistakes were made they were publicly addressed.

When the commission reports back, the Minister must take action as regards rationalising the structure. Some will say that the easiest thing to do is to dismiss the town vocational education committees. There is no doubt that a case could be made in this regard. I ask the Minister to weigh up carefully the benefits which they have brought to their communities.

The IVEA whose conference is under way in Tralee at present is proud of its record through the years and not only in the glamorous side of education, that is, the regional technical colleges, which are important and a wonderful development in Irish education. The previous speaker advocated giving them as high a status as possible and making them universities. I think they are more than holding their own with their present status and we should not be trying to make them into mirror universities. They are there for a specific purpose. They provide a specific and focused type of education and it is the education of the new millennium. Maybe the sector that ought to be looking at itself is the university sector rather than the regional technical colleges trying to ape the universities. In lots of cases the universities are looking at themselves in relation to the sort of role they perform and the place they will have in the future. While people in the secondary school sector may be looking at falling numbers etc., if some of the universities [482] do not brighten up their act they will be looking at extreme competition from the regional technical college sector.

The White Paper is a triumph in terms of sheer tenacity because there must have been times when there were forces raised against the Minister, some of them in clerical collars and some of them in shirts and ties. We were unanimous about one thing: we were going to defend our own particular sector and whatever changes were to be made, the Minister was to start in somebody else's backyard. That was the basic philosophy on which we all went to the convention and, over time, we either addressed the real problems or the Minister simply wore us down. I am still trying to find out which was the reality.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  We are finding things out here now.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  It was probably a combination of both.

I understand there are other speakers, but I want to note with pleasure the recognition in the White Paper of the further education sector. It is the first time the huge development in this area in the last 15 years, for the most part in vocational education committee institutions, has been formally acknowledged. Great numbers of additional opportunities have been provided, mostly in post-leaving certificate courses. An additional provision has also been made in foundation programmes and increased opportunities for the long-term unemployed through the vocational training opportunities scheme. The recognition of this provision is long overdue and the inclusion in the White Paper of a major section dealing with this area is welcome. The proposed Further Education Authority will be a most welcome development in helping to regulate sustained development of the strengthened further education sector.

Of equal importance is the recognition given to adult and continuing education and training and also the proposal for a teastas under the aegis of the [483] Department of Education. The need for a single national system of certification for all third level programmes and all further and continuing education and training programmes provided outside universities has long been recognised. The programme of education and training may be full-time or part-time leading to full certification at a particular level.

This leads me to the concept of the Open University. I believe distance learning has been a most successful development, certainly in the UK. It has been extremely beneficial to people who were unable to attend university. They could not afford to go to university or did not have the time. They went through life and now wanted to equip themselves, not necessarily for work because it did not always have to be employment related. They simply wanted to enhance their own knowledge for their own pleasure and the Open University system helped them enormously. The Open University also gave important opportunities to people incarcerated for different reasons, certainly in prisons, and the education system in English prisons has been the model.

We have done some good work and, if I can bang the drum again, I think the vocational education committee system has been to the forefront in terms of education within the prison system. I have seen that myself. In Cork, it has been of immense benefit in helping people to readjust when they are released. They are all basic, sensible courses to do with managing money, looking after yourself and also literacy. Anybody who has ever visited the District Court would be absolutely amazed that the prisons are not bursting at the seams every day of the week. A lot of people who appear in court cannot read. Some of them cannot write. They do not understand the charges made against them. They are handed pieces of paper that they cannot decipher and these are the unfortunate flotsam and jetsam of society which somebody has to look after. In some cases the first opportunity [484] they got, and they could be in their twenties, is when they went to prison. The teacher sat down with them in a cell and started to teach them to read so that they could read a name or the destination on a bus. It started at that level, and that level is as important in terms of our society as the university sector. Everybody is entitled to a change at whatever level they happen to occupy.

This debate will go on for quite some time yet. Following this White Paper, we await specific pieces of legislation, which will no doubt emanate from the Department. This White Paper has created a climate within the country which is a culmination, as I said, of the longest and most thought out consultative process in which most of us have ever been involved. It was a tremendous exercises in democracy. There must have been times when the Minister was tempted to take a shortcut, either through all of us or through the system, in order to get to this evening——

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  It is hard to be humble. Some of this is embarrassing.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  ——but the Minister did not and she is to be complimented.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  There must be a school here in need.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  No. The Minister and I have had many disputes in relation to this particular process. Some of them were polite and some were no so polite. I came to her on the IVEA, the vocational education committee sector, and she acknowledged the validity of lots of the information we put before her. We also had to acknowledge that the changes the Minister was going to bring about were in many cases long overdue and that we all had to adapt.

In conclusion, I am proud of the fact that I have been a member of a vocational education committee for over 14 years. The people of Cork and I have seen the benefits the vocational education committee. Whatever the outcome of the commission's report to [485] the Minister, I have absolutely no doubt that the vocational education committee system in some shape or form will continue to make a profound contribution to the education system in this country.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  That was an enlightening contribution.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  All my contributions are enlightening.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  I listened attentively to how the inner sanctum operates and,——

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Open Government.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  ——to say the least of it, there seems to be a lot of transparency. I welcome the Minister and the White Paper before us. It is a great opportunity for Members of the Oireachtas to look at the proposals and make a contribution. It is gratifying to see the Minister listening to our views so attentively. I have an interest in the serious situation in Castlepollard Vocational School, which the Minister has been looking at. I am grateful, on behalf of our community and the Deputies from the area, that the Minister, as Senator Magner has said, works speedily and is correcting the bad state of our school.

In 1965, the late P.J. Lenihan was standing for election in my constituency, Longford-Westmeath. Of course, he did not know that both his son and daughter would be Education Ministers years later. Outside Castlepollard Church on the Sunday before the election, he said that the greatest scarcity the country had at the time was knowledge. It was not usual then for those of us leaving school to have second level education, let alone third level education. I finished school at national school level. Had I the opportunity and available finances, I do not know whether I would have been an accountant, a carpenter or something else in life. I am grateful to the good lord for——

[486]Mr. Neville: Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  You would not have been anything other than you are now.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  I have the great honour to have been a Member of Seanad Éireann for the past 13 years. I concur with Senator Magner. I served for 11 years on the Westmeath vocational education committee and the vocational education committee system of education is a successful one. I know this from experience in industry, as an employer, and involvement with the tourist business. Students coming out of the vocational education committee system who are seeking a position of employment, particularly in the hotel or tourist business, are better equipped. They have been educated and trained. Their hands have been put to good use. I would not like to see any interference whatsoever with the vocational education committee system.

It is proposed to have regional educational boards. At present we have a four tier system: the student, the school, the Department and the Minister. Perhaps I misunderstand it, but is another tier about to be added? The less interference, red tape and bureaucratic operations there are, the easier it is to achieve. I know the Minister wants to be remembered as a Minister of action. I am sure all Ministers want to be remembered that way. I am really impressed with the Minister from my experience of her with regard to the school in my locality. I do not say that because something is about to be corrected which should have been corrected in the past ten years. I say it out of the experience I have had of this particular Minister. On the one hand I see a disadvantage with these regional boards; on the other, I see a terrific advantage with the Minister's proposal to have greater participation by parents with the teachers and everyone else involved. This is a welcome step forward.

I listened with great interest to Senator Henry's contribution in relation to the arts. This is an area where much progress can be made. The biggest problems [487] society will face in the future are crime, drug related issues, deprivation and all the negative things happening in the community at present. Young boys and girls attending school may not have the same supervision when they arrive home in the evening as existed in the past. If they have, there is probably a video and television in the house and they witness violence that no one in their wildest dreams could have imagined ten to 15 years ago. In my own area, Mullingar, there is an excellent town band. Over 400 boys and girls participate and are taught to play music by a local man, Hughie McGee. They then participate in various open air rallies and events at weekends. They have travelled to Europe and America.

Consider the situation in Northern Ireland. Schools in Northern Ireland are provided with grants — the Minister can inform me about this — to purchase low-priced instruments so that the students can learn to play music. Such a band brings children together in a community atmosphere. Everyone knows where those children are in the evenings. They are being given an opportunity, under supervision, to display their talents and carry the banner of their town with pride. They are doing something useful for their community. Many times we have sat in the stands at St. Patrick's Day parades and small community bands pass by. They are totally dependent on local subscriptions or some other kind of finance. A small grant should be allocated to each school that is prepared to start its own band. This would be the best kind of community work. Students would be looked after and kept under supervision during their early years.

We are aware of the great contribution the teachers of Ireland have made since the foundation of the State. They are a magnificent group of people. Whether it is with Gaelic games, soccer, rugby, camogie or any other pursuit, teachers are always involved in community development, be it in the city or a small parish village in rural Ireland. [488] They offer their services voluntarily. Nine times out of ten, if they have been in an area for 20 to 25 years, not alone do they teach present students but have taught their parents also. I want to pay tribute to their magnificent work in the community. They are a credit to their profession. They are the unsung heroes of our community. This has not been said often enough.

On All-Ireland day in Croke Park young children play at half-time during the senior games. This happens because of teacher participation to keep children involved in sport. Money allocated to music and sport provides a great opportunity for a boy or girl to get a good start in life. I remember training for hurling finals in the past and the trainer said that a fit body was a fit brain. This was never more required than it is today. There are many temptations for idle hands which can mislead and misguide children. If sport or music were available it would remove the temptation to loiter where alcohol is consumed in excess or drugs are available. I have nothing against alcohol in moderation.

While we are talking about education, I would like to plant this thought in the Minister's mind. I played music, as a bandleader, for 18 years. It was always a great source of pride to play the national anthem at the end of the evening where many people — whether it was in New York, Birmingham, Coventry or London — sang it in Irish. That was 20 to 25 years ago. The children of today are not as vocal when singing the national anthem in Irish as they used to be. I remember the pride expressed by Irish people last year at the World Cup match against Italy in America when the national anthem was sung. It was a great unifying experience. Every class in Ireland should start the day's teaching with the singing of the national anthem. They should be proud to know the words in Irish. The national anthem and the 1916 proclamation should be on display in every classroom. We, as legislators, and the Minister have an opportunity to put this into practice [489] when students are starting off their education because they will never have that opportunity during their careers.

We live in a technological era. The use of the computer is as important as the calculator. Every classroom, including those in primary schools, should have a computer. A small grant would pay for these computers. Up to now parents' associations have had to raise the money to buy them. No classroom should be without a computer because it is as important as anything else in schools. Proper English, correct spelling, expertise in the use of computers and calculators are the necessary requirements for positions in life.

I am sure Members have heard it said that of all Ministers for Education Donogh O'Malley was the supreme hero because he introduced free secondary schooling. We also remember Mr. Charles Haughey as Minister for Health who introduced free toothbrushes. Small things, such as the flick of a ball, win All-Irelands.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Mr. Haughey was Minister for Education too.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Ireland has not changed much over 30 years, except that we now have better housing and one of the finest education systems in the world. We have good job opportunities compared to the late 1950s or early 1960s when I was looking for a job.

The success of “Riverdance” shows how much people love our Irish music and songs. People may not like Irish ballads, but when they emigrate to New York, Chicago, etc. they sing such songs because they go back to their roots and to what they heard at home.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Drink.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  One will hear Irish songs being sung at Irish weddings. A Member mentioned drink. I remind him that 40 per cent of people in Ireland do not drink.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  I am in favour of drink.

[490]Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Some 200,000 people wear pioneer pins.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  That is a disgrace.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  It would cost little to give effect to these ideas, which I hope the Minister will consider.

Many Members of the Seanad are teachers. The teaching profession needs a lot of energy and enthusiasm and one must love the job in order to do the same thing each year with new students. If a teacher suffers from bad health or has lost the drive to educate students they should be given the opportunity to leave because their health will deteriorate and they will not be as productive as before. This would create an opportunity for a young person to gain employment. I hope there will be an early retirement agreement in the near future.

I welcome the principle of the White Paper on education. I know the Minister will get ideas from the various contributions today. We have one of the best education systems in the world but it is not perfect, therefore it must be updated. I wish the Minister well during her time in office.

Mr. Neville: Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  I welcome the publication of the White Paper on education and congratulate the Minister in this regard. This is a historic event in the area of education which is important as the bedrock of our society. The publication of the White Paper will have the same impact as the introduction of national schools in the previous century and of free education 25 or 30 years ago. The White Paper will be seen in this context in the future. It charts a course for the development and further success of education which must develop, progress and reflect our changing society and prepare people, particularly young people, to respond to and survive developments in society.

I congratulate the many people who have contributed to the White Paper, including this and former Ministers, the institutions and those who represent [491] education. Religious groups have also contributed to it and I pay tribute to them for their role in education over the centuries. As somebody who was educated by the Christian Brothers, I appreciate what the religious did for education at a time when it was not easy for people to obtain it. It may be fashionable to say that the religious should have a lesser of a role in education today but we must never forget what nuns, brothers and priests in orders contributed to education at a time when the people did not have the wherewithal to pay for it and the nation, whether it was prior to or after independence, did not have the finances, or the will to provide them, to educate our people. Many people in religious orders, in a voluntary capacity, worked very hard to educate the people of Ireland and a tribute should be paid to them.

The Irish Independent, in its issue of 13 April last, gave its view of the White Paper in an editorial. It stated:

The White Paper is expert, imaginative and comprehensive. It addresses itself to all aspects of its subject, of which three deserve particular consideration both on their own merits and because of the vital necessity to resolve apparent conflicts.

It is common cause that we must fit our young people to cope with the breathtaking technological advances of the present age. But at the same time we must neglect neither the development of the whole person, nor the teaching of the Irish language and culture. We have done then well in the first two areas, much less well in the third.

In an editorial on the same date The Irish Times stated:

This is a rich document, with an overriding philosophic approach to change, that will take time to evaluate and debate fully. But its impact, from the reorganised universities to the developmental pre-school level, and from its inclusion of marginalised [492] groups to its commitment to an overall raising of standards, must be profound.

The Irish Independent referred to the need to develop the whole person. In recent years there has been great emphasis on obtaining points and academic results such as degrees. We should not lose sight, but are in danger of doing so, of the development of the whole person and our culture and language. This is a very important aspect of the education of our people.

Over the years we have lost our Irish language. This is one of the things which distinguishes us from other people and should be very close to our hearts. It is part of what we are, part of our uniqueness. It is important that it is retained and loved by young people. It is important that our education system teaches them to love it, to want to speak it, to be proud of it and our culture, to see its richness and to be interested in ensuring we pass our language and culture on to the next generation. This is an important aspect of the education system, which the race for points might sideline. It is important we instil in our young how rich and enjoyable our culture and language are.

My primary school teacher had a great love of Irish. She did not learn it at school because she was educated prior to the War of Independence. She was 65 or 70 years of age. She was given extensions when I was in primary school. She taught us all subjects except English and religious instruction through Irish. I knew the names of every town and county in Ireland in Irish before I knew them in English. If I have to go back to my arithmetic tables, I have to work them out in Irish. She instilled in me a great love of Irish, but I never became fluent. At 17 years of age I began to go to the Gaeltacht on holidays and I got an ear for the language. Over the years I have gone back there on holidays so that I could go into the local bars and listen to people speaking Irish, which is moving, and sometimes to speak with them.

[493] Our learning of Irish inhibited us from speaking it because at the time there was a concentration on grammar. We are so concerned about how correctly we speak the language that we are inhibited in communicating in it. Language, culture and the Irishness and uniqueness of our race is a vital part of education and must be maintained and developed.

Senator Cassidy referred to computer literacy. We must congratulate our teaching profession at all levels on the level of computer literacy in this country. I am very conscious of this in Limerick because of the Plassey technological park and the emphasis in the University of Limerick in technological training. There is a great level of computer literacy among our young people and the teaching profession throughout the country has embraced teaching them the advantage of knowing about computers and a futuristic approach to what technology can develop.

We have matched and in many areas surpassed our European neighbours in the level of computer literacy. Part of this might be due to the IDA attracting computer companies to the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the recognition of the job opportunities that were and are available in them. The teaching profession responded by developing computer literacy at second level and even at primary level, perhaps to a greater extent than the incentive given by the Department of Education. This should be recognised. It is important that education should bring out the best in our young people. It should develop their innate abilities rather than streamline them for a job or a certain role in society. Education must identify and allow for the development of people's faculties and ensure that they become useful members of society.

In this context one must recognise that there are different levels in society and that people in some levels do not have the opportunity to develop their abilities. We will not have equality of education until everybody has the same opportunity to be educated. This is not [494] the case at present. It is not the educationalists who are at fault, but society. In certain areas in our cities we can predict that only 1 per cent of its people will go to university while in other areas the figure will be over 50 per cent. It is not the ability or future potential of the children that determines that statistic; it is their circumstances. It is only when society — led by politicians, the Government, educationalists and the various institutions — decides on a programme to tackle this inequality in a sincere way that we will ensure that all young people will have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, to demonstrate their abilities and to have an equal chance of success, whether it is financial or in developing the whole person in whatever role they will play. It is only when that is achieved that we will be able to say that we have equality of opportunity.

I welcome the underlying philosophy of the White Paper. It is all-embracing. It reflects the need to educate the whole person. It recognises the need to promote pluralism, equality and partnership. It emphasises accountability and openness. These qualities are welcome, but we must ensure that they do not become just pious platitudes. There must be a programme of implementation to ensure that these aims are realised.

I also welcome the proposed autonomy for individual schools to promote their own ethos. One must welcome the Minister's decision to raise the school leaving age to 16 and her ambition that by the year 2000, 90 per cent of those commencing school will complete senior cycle. This is a worthy objective. However, it will be difficult to ensure that everybody will have the opportunity, the motivation, the interest and the understanding of the need to complete second level education. We discussed the problem of long term unemployment some months ago. We must recognise that the longer people stay in the education system, the better is their chance of being employed. If one studies the report on long-term unemployment [495] one finds that most of the long-term unemployed left school at 13, 14 and 15 years of age. The aim to have 90 per cent of pupils complete senior cycle is worthy, but we must also ensure that people get into the second level cycle.

This country has always been noted for its educational endeavours — it was known long ago as the “island of saints and scholars”. Our children are our most prized possession and they deserve the best at all times. This is what the Minister is seeking to achieve in the document before us. She is developing a streamlined programme of education that will lead our children into the future fully equipped to face changes in society and the challenges the future holds in a range of areas. Education is an ongoing process and I am glad to see proposals for adult education, distance learning, literacy provision and all types of post leaving certificate programmes.

For almost 20 years I was involved in industrial training. People with enormous ability presented themselves for training programmes. One could develop them to a certain level, but many decided they did not have the education to continue; they felt inhibited. They were inhibited and restricted. One could recognise their leadership and management abilities and their abilities to reach any level in industry, but they felt inhibited because they did not have a basic education. They were unable to realise their potential. We have heard of people who left school early and reached the highest levels of management in industry. However, they are a small minority. They only prove that it can happen. Most people who endeavoured to improve their situation and who did not receive a basic second level education were restricted and inhibited from realising their full potential in their occupations.

I saw this countless times in industry. I saw people leaving jobs because they were promoted to a level where they were not rendered incompetent but where they did not have the self-confidence [496] to perform because they lacked the basic education to do so. I saw people appointed supervisors who were brilliant at their jobs but who could not read or write. They would refuse to be supervisors because they were unable to fill in a timesheet on behalf of their workers. Those people had enormous potential to ensure that production went through and that workers were there on time. They could give leadership to their workers and could achieve quality in production. They had all the requisite talents, but if asked to fill up a timesheet they could not do so. They did not say that they could not do it; one had to ask. Their reply would be: “I do not want to be a supervisor anymore. I want to go back onto the factory floor.” However, there would be an accountant higher up in the management structure who insisted that the supervisor fill in the timesheets.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Neville: Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  It is proposed to sit again at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.


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