Dáil debates

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Education (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)


7:00 pm

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the Education (Amendment) Bill 2010. The purpose of the Bill obviously is to provide some direct State involvement in primary schools. For the first time, a new model of patronage and the vocational education committees, VECs, will be the vehicle to establish, build, run and provide the patronage system for the schools concerned. Its second purpose is to abolish the educational disadvantage committee and its third purpose, which is the sting in the legislation's tail, is the proposed amendment of section 30 of the Teaching Council Act 2001 to allow for the statutory employment of unqualified, unregistered teachers.

Nevertheless, the main thrust of the Bill pertains to the proposed new patronage model. It would, for the first time, extend to the VECs the opportunity to engage on a statutory basis in providing patronage for primary schools. This would extend to eight the number of patrons that are involved in primary schools at present. In a way, this is unique because the vocational education committees are the exception in Irish education. While all education is funded by the State, the VECs are the only State bodies that have been established specifically for the delivery of education at second level. If one considers the development of the education system from the Stanley letter of the 19th century onwards, the patronage of primary education has been controlled by the Catholic and Protestant churches. Second level education has developed in a similar manner with secondary schools, diocesan schools and religious schools, as well as grammar schools on the Protestant side. Even third level education has developed along similar lines with the Catholic university of the NUI and with Trinity College on the Protestant side. Overall, Irish education has had a religiously-dominated patronage and governing system.

It was not until the enactment of the Vocational Education Act 1930 that for the first time, the new State became directly involved in education. Interestingly, at the foundation of the State, when establishing portfolios the first Dáil decided not to have a Department of Education at all. The founding fathers of the country decided in their wisdom, dare I say hardly in their republicanism, that there should be no Department of Education because that effectively was the remit of the churches. Churches had this responsibility and guarded jealously and carefully the remit that had been given to them in respect of education. The founding fathers of the State did not see fit to establish a Department of Education but established a Department of Irish instead. This was as far as they went in providing a Cabinet position. This was a rather bad start and it was not until 1930, when a serious gap in the education being provided became evident with regard to manual skills, trades and apprenticeships, that it was decided that the State itself could get involved in this area. The churches did not want it as it would not provide priests, brothers or schooling that was suitable for future leaders of the country. However, the working classes needed some training and, therefore, the Vocational Education Act was enacted and education was extended at a second level outside the remit of Catholic patronage.

For the first time, a democratic structure was established with local councillors and the VECs themselves to provide a system of education that was more trade and manually orientated than anything that had existed heretofore. This then developed in the context of the Dublin Institute of Technology and the regional colleges and now finds expression in the institutes of technology. The country had an alternative pathway of education, of which the churches neither sought nor insisted on the patronage. For example, the VECs have chaplains, rather then having parish priests, who are the chairmen of the boards of primary schools. It certainly has been something of a historical anomaly in respect of the provision of education. In a way, it is to be hoped the introduction of this legislation will bring the VECs into the daylight and into the mainstream of the provision and patronage of education. It is a model that may well move forward and expand in the years to come.

In addition, I have described how the system developed in an ad hoc fashion. Consequently, there are gaps all over the place and the current position must be considered. For example, in the primary sector the Catholic and Protestant churches find it extremely difficult to provide the patronage as they are too extended and have too few personnel coming on-stream. Moreover, there is a huge voluntary requirement in that respect. However, this is only happening because of the pressures that exist. It is not happening in an organised fashion or being planned and it is neither holistic nor comprehensive. The Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills should take on board the recommendations of the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, to have a patronage forum in respect of primary education. There now are eight separate patron bodies and without knowing exactly how matters will work out, we should look back before moving forward with another patron or another ad hoc solution. Instead we should carefully examine our current path while recognising that the old system that operated for the entirety of the 20th century will no longer function and that a new system is needed. Moreover, it should be recognised that a new system is required, rather than simply a new individual part to it. I advise the Tánaiste to respond in that fashion. I acknowledge there has not been a great response from the Tánaiste to date but perhaps-----


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.