Wednesday, 10 November 2010
Education (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)
Peter Kelly (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
This legislation is one of several measures currently being progressed by the Government to cater for the changing nature of Irish society and the new requirements of education provision. There have already been many developments that have helped bring about greater diversity in our education system. Today's legislation is just one of many ongoing developments and I welcome the Tánaiste's commitment to this area.
We have come a long way since this debate began. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin indicated previously that where there is no demand for a Catholic ethos or patronage in a school the church is willing to consider releasing schools from its patronage. Following on from this, the Department of Education and Skills, at the request of the Catholic Church, undertook to identify areas that may offer potential for the church to divest patronage of certain schools. A total of 43 town areas satisfied the criteria set down by the Department and six were selected at random. The results of this review were published in August 2010.
It is important that we have a full consultation with the patron, the management of the school and staff before any decision is taken on handing over patronage from the Catholic Church. I fully support full consultation. I would like to see full consultation with the patron, management, staff, parents and pupils. Sometimes people feel they are not consulted enough. To try to get a successful outcome to any decision, particularly in the education field, it is of the utmost importance that full consultation take place with all interested parties.
The Department has stated that it will put processes in place to consult with the local communities, including prospective patrons, on the future patronage of these identified schools. I hope and believe the Department will do as it has said and put processes in place. We do not want to hear at a later stage, when it is too late, that the community felt they were not adequately consulted. It is important that they be adequately consulted, beforehand and not afterwards. It is no excuse to say, when things have happened, that we meant to do this or that or that we should have talked to this or that group. We have plenty of time and we have been given plenty of notice. Everyone should be consulted.
While the introduction of a new form of patronage is welcome, we must remember that 92% of schools are in the hands of the Catholic Church and we must continue to look at how we are going to divest control of some schools in the areas identified by the Department.
It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to the Catholic Church for supplying education to the people of counties Longford and Westmeath in my constituency. The church has given fantastic service over a century or more and was completely committed and dedicated. Most of the people of my constituency owe their knowledge and education to the Catholic Church. The schools have been of the highest standard and the commitment of the priests, nuns and lay people has been second to none. When people return to the constituency for school re-unions one can see that, thanks to their education, they have had successful careers academically, professionally or in trade.
I hope to see the progression of trialling arrangements in this area. The introduction of the Bill reminds me of the need to ensure that we have a transparent and appropriate system for recognising primary schools. This is very important. As new schools are created and as the Church considers which schools it will consider divesting, we must ensure a transparent set of criteria is in place for deciding who should be chosen as patrons. This is critical as we discuss this Bill.
It has recently come to light that certain people in certain professions were not qualified to do or were incapable of doing their jobs. We do not want to repeat this mistake in respect of the patronage of schools, particularly new primary schools. Let the process in which we engage not be slipshod. Let it be transparent and in the public domain, and let people see who the patrons are to be. Let the people have their say and make a comment, one way or another, before patronage is decided upon, not afterwards.
The Education (Amendment) Bill 2010 doubtlessly represents further progress in achieving greater diversity in our primary school system. I welcome the debate on the amendment to the Teaching Council Act 2001 allowing the use of unqualified teachers in certain circumstances. This must be debated further because greater clarity is needed. I have received numerous representations, and rightly so, on behalf of qualified teachers in this regard. Many teachers who are qualified to the highest standard find themselves unemployed in the present economic climate. Qualified teachers must be given priority. I appeal to the boards of management of schools to address the issue. The boards are doing a good job overall on a voluntary basis and might not wish for interference from outside. While they meet regularly and are concerned, and they have the welfare of the pupils, teachers and schools at heart, it is no harm to ask them to give priority to newly qualified young teachers when filling vacancies.
Over the past century, in addition to having teachers teach in this State, we have sent teachers all over the world to teach. In the majority of cases, our teachers are held in the highest regard on foot of their having given a great education to pupils here and abroad. I hope the boards of management do not mind my suggesting that newly qualified young teachers should be given priority. I am sure most of them would agree with me in that respect.
With regard to VEC involvement in primary education, let me comment on the proposed amalgamation of the VECs nationwide. It is proposed that the VECs of Longford, Roscommon and Leitrim join together. I welcome the Minister's comment that she will meet all the CEOs first. This must and will be done. I thank the Minister for her commitment in this regard. The different bodies and unions involved in VEC education will be consulted. The last item on the agenda, after the discussions, will be to decide on the various headquarters for the various VECs.
County Longford VEC, Administrative Offices, Battery Road, Longford, has recently purchased approximately five acres at Connolly Barracks in Longford. It is an excellent site and would make very suitable headquarters for the VECs of Longford, Leitrim and Roscommon. I ask that this be kept in mind when the appropriate time comes.
I commend the Bill to the House.