Wednesday, 10 November 2010
Education (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)
Dan Neville (Limerick West, Fine Gael)
I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Bill. My party welcomes the core objective of it. I have had more than 25 years' experience of the work of my local vocational education committee and its involvement in education in my county. I have nothing but the height of praise for the work it is doing, the VEC's commitment to education in our county and for the leadership of its CEO, Mr. Seán Burke. He has the height of respect and praise from people involved in the education area in the county. His heart is in the right place. He has a difficult job to do and he has an enormous commitment to this area. I met him here today, he having come here to lobby the Minister for Education and Skills to ensure services are improved in the Limerick constituency.
I welcome the further involvement of the vocational education committees in education and, in particular, this opportunity and movement towards being involved in primary education, which is so important for the future of our children. Basic education at primary level is important, as is second level, third level and further education, which encompasses the training area, but if one does not receive a basic primary education and the skills obtained at that level, the opportunity for one to progress to further education is severely limited. I will focus on this area later in the context of special needs education and the importance of it for young people who benefit greatly from the work done in that area.
The Fine Gael Party is concerned about the issue of untrained teachers involved in education. Education is an important issue and it is important that those who impart knowledge to our children and young people have the qualifications and skills required to do so. Would one allow a person who is not fully qualified as a doctor to operate as a doctor? I could go through all the professions in that respect. A farmer would not allow a person who is not fully qualified as a veterinary surgeon to diagnose an animal in his or her herd. There are some professions where this practice happens; it is not exclusive to the education area. I am concerned about other areas where this happens, especially in psychotherapy and counselling services in which many untrained people are involved. We were promised movement to address that but this is not the issue on which I am speaking. I am speaking about education and I want to ensure that those who impart knowledge to our children and young people are qualified.
The other side of that coin is that unemployed trained teachers are available to work and they have not had the opportunity to develop their skills. They have the required knowledge and a level of skills but obviously experience is important, as is the case in any position. In the period after I was first elected to this House two decades ago, I was on a learning curve. Everyone who moves to a new area of work is on a learning curve, regardless of his or her knowledge and qualifications. These young teachers are not getting the opportunity to obtain that level of skill.
Tens of thousands of qualified graduates who are registered with the Teaching Council cannot obtain positions at present. It is important for the future of our education system that those people remain in this country, that they feel they are welcome here and that they do not believe, as many do, that their only course to having a livelihood and engaging in their profession is to emigrate to where work is available abroad while at the same time unqualified teachers are practising here.
The Minister should respond on this issue. I understand that more than 300 unqualified personnel acted as teachers in classrooms last year. Qualified teachers pay €90 per year to the Teaching Council, a body put in place to advance the teaching profession. Members of it see teaching positions being taken up by people who are not qualified to be members of the Teaching Council. Many teachers resent having to pay this annual fee for recognition as a teacher when people with no qualifications can pick up work in schools. It undermines the teaching profession. It underlines Government policy on the advancement of education in making legal provision to pay people who are not qualified to work in this area.
I cannot accept that a school principal cannot find a qualified person to work in the school, even at short notice. While the Irish Primary Principals' Network have a texting operation, Deputy O'Dowd, our spokesperson on this area, made an important point in his contribution, namely, that there could be a database of teachers available to do temporary teaching, which could be accessed, and if there is not, it should be compiled. In other words, there would be such a database and a principal with a vacancy could look up the database to see who is available and would be able to obtain a contact number. It would be as simple as that. The Minister will find that teachers will travel to obtain experience to ensure they get that opportunity for the development of their careers. Some principals want a teacher living within a one, two or three mile radius of the school but all teachers who are qualified and who are not working should have an opportunity to take up those positions. The one question that is asked in every interview, regardless of the job, is what experience does the interviewee have. We have all seen young people going for jobs and the first question they are asked is what experience they have. They are out of college. There are unemployed people who have experience in many areas and most professions. They apply for the jobs and have the advantage over the graduates but those in the teaching professions should get an opportunity to obtain some experience through temporary work when it arises in whatever location. Some principals might say they would be flooded with applications but there are ways and means of reducing the number of applications. Having been involved in recruitment in a previous life, the procedure followed is that one draws up the criteria required to meet the specific conditions of one's school, examines the curricula vitae submitted, identifies the applicants who meet the criteria outlined and calls 15 or 20 of them for interview.
Having studied the area of special needs over the years, I have been able to observe the success of special needs assistants, speech and language therapy and so forth. Speech and language therapy has made an enormous difference to young children. Communications are key to the future development of young people. The first line of communication is one's language, voice and communications skills. I read recently about children who had been almost unable to communicate through language and following speech and language therapy were able to communicate, speak in sentences and articulate concepts.
While one cannot have equal opportunity for everybody because people have different qualities and skills, we should ensure that children have access to the best educational inputs available to enable them to take maximum advantage of life, subject to their individual limitations.
I am concerned that cutbacks in special needs provision will inhibit opportunities for many children. Some of those who are not afforded assistance and do not have an opportunity to fulfil their potential often have difficult lives subsequently. They may experience communication problems, difficulties in relationships or problems securing employment or may become frustrated with life. Unfortunately many of them fall through the net and become involved in anti-social behaviour.
On the topic of anti-social behaviour, I read recently that many of those who have difficulty in school express their needs through anti-social behaviour. The approach recommended was not Garda intervention but taking the young people in question aside and identifying and addressing their problems. The Garda must intervene in some cases and two or three anti-social behaviour orders, ASBOs, have been issued since they were introduced with great fanfare by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, who claimed they would solve the problem of anti-social behaviour.