Tuesday, 26 March 2013
Education and Training Boards Bill 2012: Committee Stage
The establishment day will obviously be after the President has signed the Bill. We are anxious to ensure there is not a premature establishment day. We hope to have everything done by June at the latest and we will probably establish the boards on a sequential basis. Some sections will not commence until everything is in place.
The establishment day is pragmatically based on whether all the accounts will work, will people get paid and given that three administrative systems are being brought together, that all the staff working for the VECs will be paid. The assistant secretary with responsibility in this area, Mr. Martin Hanevy, is talking to the new CEOs who will not have legal powers. In an area where two or three VECs come together, the current VEC which will not become the super VEC is still legally the chief executive for that body. Therefore, there will have to be a degree of co-operation and implementation. I am happy to report there is co-operation. As it is a big logistical exercise the establishment days will be fixed and there will be attempts to simulate everything to ensure it will work. There are enough adjustment difficulties without compounding them. I would hope the vast bulk of operational commissioning will be completed by the end of June.
I do not wish to presume how the House will vote but we should be in a position to have the Bill signed off by the President from the middle of April onwards. However, it will have to go back to the other House with a couple of additional changes. I envisage that happening in the period from May to end June.
I welcome what the Minister has outlined because, as I pointed out on Second Stage, it is important to get these issues right rather than arrive at an establishment day and have a debacle such as SUSI. By way of clarification can the Minister say if he hopes that all amalgamations would be in place by a particular date? Has he envisaged a particular date?
I would hope that come September when the school academic year resumes, everything would be commissioned and operational. In the event that some things may be problematic in the operation of a school we would wait until the end of June in order that it would not impact on the school day.
Government amendment No. 1: In page 21, between lines 45 and 46, to insert the following subsection: "(8) The Minister shall, in deciding whether or not to give a direction or his or her consent under this section, having regard to-(a ) the existing provision of, and future need for, education and training in the area in which the education or training provider is situated, (b ) the desirability of providing a diverse range of education and training opportunities for students and learners, (c ) the optimum use of available resources, (d ) the desirability of securing value for money in respect of arrangements entered into or support services provided under this section, (e ) the availability of expertise, experience and skills in the education and training board and education or training provider concerned, (f ) the capacity of the education and training board concerned to enter into arrangements or provide support services under this section, and (g ) the opportunity to share resources, expertise, experience and skills for the benefit of students or learners.".
Section 22 provides that an education and training board may, with the Minister's consent, enter into an arrangement with an education or training provider for the joint performance of any of the board's functions. This will be subject to terms and conditions agreed between the board and the provider. The Minister of the day is given a direction to direct an education and training board to perform functions jointly with an education or training provider where a provider makes such a request to the Minister. The section also introduces an enabling provision to permit education and training boards to provide support services in respect of other education or training providers if they request them. Those support services could include matters such as procurement, human resources, financial, legal, ICT and corporate governance. The provision of support will be subject to ministerial consent and to terms and conditions to be agreed between the parties.
The Minister is also empowered, on foot of a request from an education or training provider, to direct an ETB to provide these supports to that provider.
The legislation places no obligation on education or training providers to avail of any support services, and this is an important part of the amendment. For example, while the Minister might direct an education and training board to arrange to supply services to schools in a locality that are not ETB schools, the legislation does not require a school to avail of those services. In this way, it will remain open to other providers to use or decline services that may be arranged or provided directly by the board.
I move amendment No. 2:
Both amendment No. 2 and the corresponding amendment which follows on from it, amendment No. 8, relate to the current wording which provides that a parent, once his or her eldest child reaches the age of 18 and is no longer in an education facility, should no longer be a member of the local education and training board. I tabled the issue for debate because parents' representatives have raised with me the concern that while everybody else on the board will be there for the full five-year term, one could have parents on the board chopping and changing, and this could put them at a disadvantage vis-à-vis other members of the board. I can see the logic behind the amendment in that, if a parent came on the board when his or child was in secondary school and the child was not involved for the following four years, the parent would not be an appropriate representative for those four years. I want to raise, however, that concern that has been brought to me about consistency of representation. That is the substance of amendments Nos. 2 and 8.
In page 28, subsection (1)(c), line 18, after "is" to insert ", at the time of appointment,".
Amendment No. 5 is about ensuring parents' representatives are "chosen through a ballot of local parents". It is important to have the national parents' bodies involved in the election process. They have an important role to play in terms of support for parents and training. Although the Bill is mainly about the post-primary sector, both the Minister and I attended the annual general meeting of the National Parents Council Primary last year. It is doing fantastic work, supported by the Department, in providing training for parents' representatives on boards of management. More of that needs to be done at second level as well. That is a good idea. Ultimately, the parents' representatives on the ETBs should be chosen by local parents and every parent with a child in any of the educational facilities covered in his or her area should have an opportunity to vote for his or her representative. That is important in terms of ownership of the process by local parents. That is the spirit of this amendment.
I support my colleague, Senator Power, on amendment No. 5. The amalgamation of the two counties of Cavan and Monaghan requires that the parents whose children are attending the education and training board schools within that area should be given ownership of who represents them on the education and training board. It is not acceptable that a national body should decide parents X and Y should represent the parents of Cavan and Monaghan on the Cavan-Monaghan education and training board. I have no difficulty with the national associations conducting the elections from within the area over which the particular education and training board has jurisdiction, but I strenuously object to two representatives being imposed on the parents who send their children to education training board schools within the education and training board district when they do not have a say through the ballot box as to who those parents should be.
It is open to abuse if that is allowed to continue. I support amendment No. 5 and the comments made by my colleague, Senator Power, in that regard.
I am very open to the principle behind the amendment. I have no difficulty with it but how to get something that will practically work. I want to talk about a person who is a member of a local authority who subsequently becomes a member of the new ETB but which is currently a VEC. Under the proposed legislation if a member of a local authority subsequently loses his or her seat for whatever reason - since we are aligning the elections with local elections this will not necessarily happen - or if he or she ceases to be a member of a local authority for legal reasons with which one would be familiar, he or she will automatically lose a seat. In addition in this context, we must provide for every possibility in legislation and not just for probable ones. If the same principle is applied to parents then there must be an institutional linkage between their membership of the ETB through being the parent of a child in the education system or through being a member of the local authority at that time.
I with to turn to the role of the National Parents Council. We know what is going to happen and I offer the following for consideration but we can return to it on Report Stage if Senators want to give it consideration. We know that the new elections in June 2014 will bring the new composition into place and we shall simply bring the three or two existing VECs together as a transitional process. The National Parents Council could initiate an invitation or expressions of interest. For example, in the Mayo-Sligo-Leitrim configuration that is simply the way. Senator Mooney should feel comfortable that Leitrim is recognised and I know how Leitrim feels neglected by the rest of the world. One could invite expressions of interest from people in those three counties. They could be asked if they want to be considered for election or nomination to the board. We could have some way of doing that so it is not going to be a surprise. In my view, logistically and practically, one could not start to engage in that exercise after local elections and there should be some preparations made for it. I am open to considerations on Report Stage because we have done something similar regarding representations in the five areas where business and learners will be represented. A mechanism exists and if we can align it in some way with that I will be open to giving it consideration on Report Stage.
I am glad that the Minister has referred to the configuration of which we are part. It is the one anomaly in the legislation and I ask my colleagues to consider Leitrim, Sligo and Mayo together as a geographical entity. On the basis of the current legislation the appointment by the national board could end up with a parent in Westport being nominated as one of the parents' representatives and he or she would then have to consider how to adequately represent the interests of the parents and pupils of Carrigallen Vocational School which is on the Cavan-Leitrim border, half a country away. Is easier to reach Dublin as it is nearer in terms of location.
I wish to record my appreciation of the Minister's willingness to debate these intricate issues, particularly those related to counties Leitrim and Sligo. With the exception of the Dublin City and Cork City County, it is the only configuration that involves three local authority areas. It is not just about the numbers but the sheer geographical entity that has now been created that will create enormous difficulties. Let me outline one example. Senator Power tabled an amendment that sought a local ballot. Such a provision would go some but not the whole way towards addressing the issue. I have argued that there should be, in the case of this configuration, at least a minimum of one parents representative from each of the counties. That would ensure that the scenario I have outlined would not happen as there would be one parents' representative each for Leitrim, Sligo and Mayo.
I do not think there will be a major difficulty in the other counties. For example, Cavan and Monaghan will probably work it out so that they will get one representative for each county on that basis.
I sat on the national council and am somewhat unique in this country in that I was directly elected as a parents' representative on my own VEC. I fought two such elections. All my children went to the local vocational school in Drumshanbo of which the Minister has an intimate knowledge. We are grateful for his continuing interest. My youngest child is doing his leaving certificate this year. Sadly, from my point of view, under the proposed legislation it would rule me out as a parents' representative.
I would be grateful for the Minister's own knowledge of the intricacies of the legislation as to how I might address that challenge. I enjoy my time in the VEC and see it as an important role. I would be reluctant to give it up but that is for another day. I am just attempting to square the circle and do not want to over egg the pudding. The Minister has said he would consider suggestions and proposals on Report Stage, so does he see a possibility of addressing that issue? I appreciate it is a difficult one but he has addressed it in a previous section in terms of local authority representation. Without singling out Sligo, Leitrim and Mayo, he has said that where there is a configuration of three there will be a minimum of three local authority representatives.
I must put on the record that this is an extraordinarily big advance on what the original legislation was proposing, which would have ended up - on the basis of the math, as the Americans put it - with Leitrim having only one local authority representative. I am grateful to the Minister who saw the merit of that argument in terms of equity and fairness. Everybody accepts that and the same applies where there are two. All of that is contained in the relevant section. Will the Minister consider this matter because the way it will work, as currently outlined in this legislation, is not an ideal scenario.
During my time on the national council there were a number of counties that did not have any parents' representatives on their VECs. For some unknown, bizarre reason some counties did not nominate representatives and no elections were held. I would be concerned that, if the nomination process is left with the national council, the Minister may not necessarily get the result he is seeking in terms of the people appointed. If some counties showed a lack of interest, the person appointed may fulfil the criteria but may not otherwise be suitable.
I know the Minister is a strong democrat, so I am inclined towards the argument that Senator Power has made about local ballots. One can see the difficulty there would be, particularly in Sligo, Leitrim and Mayo, in coming up with a formula that would give fairness and equity, as well as providing local representation in the various counties. The only solution I can see is to adopt a position similar to that which the Minister adopted with the local authority representation, that is, to introduce an amendment on Report Stage that would address a minimum level of representation where there are two or three counties.
I appreciate the Minister's willingness to look at each of our amendments before Report Stage. On that basis, we will not push them today.
As regards the local ballot, the Minister is right to say that immediately after the local elections, in the summer, would not necessarily be the best time of year for parents. That is why we need to think this through on all sides of the House before Report Stage to find the right mechanism to do it. A local ballot is important but we need to look at the best way of doing that, which fits in with the timescale involved. It must ensure that all parents have a say in who their parents' representative is with a view to giving the representatives involved a maximum amount of legitimacy and the strongest possible voice on behalf of those they seek to represent.
I am very anxious to accommodate everybody in this Chamber, as we did in the other Chamber. In a way, this is a much better Chamber in which to express what I am about to say now because it has direct experience of it. There are panels for election to this Chamber to which I was once elected. To follow up on what the Leas-Chathaoirleach has explained, there is only one unique three county combination. There are three local authorities in other combinations but I refer to Limerick city and Limerick county. Leitrim, Mayo and Sligo are unique in that sense and we will have to find a way to overcome that. In anticipation of the local elections and the formation of the new education and training boards, ETBs, one could invite expressions of interest from parents who qualify, that is, who have a young person or persons in school in any one of the three counties now made up into an education and training board. The expressions of interest could be confined to a certain number. I will not prescribe what it will be. One could then sign off on it and certify through a statutory instrument that 12 or 15 names from the National Parents Council, NPC, nominees for ETB No. 1, 2 or 3, to stick with the example we are looking at, would be chosen, allowing for gender balance. It would then be up to the elected councillors to decide who they would be. That is what we are doing with the five additional ones. We will have to look at ways in which we can do that.
I extend an invitation to all Members of the House to come back to me with a proposal for the operational functioning of the system so that in advance of the elections, parents who are serious ? we want committed parents ? could express an interest and go through an NPC process that people understand and know. The parent representatives could only come from that panel by virtue of being elected. The 12 county councillors from the local authority are elected. The staff representative would be appointed from within the democratic process within the new ETB and perhaps ? I am thinking on my feet without prescribing a direct model ? those 12 plus two would be required to elect from a selected panel of parent representatives who meet the criteria. That accords with what we are doing in terms of the business interest, learners and others. I invite all Members of the House to consider the issue.
The reason I wish to be as inclusive as possible is because the infrastructure will have responsibility for the delivery of education at local level for the next 30 or 40 years. Many changes are occurring on the ground in terms of the educational partnership arrangements we have in place currently. From my point of view, the more democratic legitimacy and local engagement the better. Therefore, if we get it right by consensus, it will be all the stronger and all the better for it.
I very much welcome the Minister?s invitation to us to make proposals. I am not sure I agree with having 12 councillors plus two members of staff deciding on the parents' representatives based on the nominations or expressions of interest that come forward. Is it not possible to consider a mechanism similar to any other election where people are nominated to stand for election whose names are put on a ballot paper? Taking into consideration the points Senator Mooney made, such an approach would be more open and democratic. It would not be acceptable to have a system whereby nominations are made by the parents' associations and then 12 county councillors plus two members of staff decide which two parents to choose. We should consider a mechanism involving a ballot paper with ten, 12 or however many names. The only stipulation should be that one of those elected to sit on the board should be male and the other should be female. Such a system would be more open, straightforward, democratic and above abuse. We should consider introducing a system of that nature.
Reading through amendment No. 8, Senator Power has proposed the removal of the lines as far as line 20 in section 33. Part of the section would also exclude a parent where the decision has been upheld to permanently exclude the child and that struck me as strange. I used to perform similar functions to Senator Bacik and hosted as a junior dean once, but it never occurred to me to expel the parent as well.
Is there justice in that? We would expel student X for his offence and his parents would then be banned from sitting on the committee. It seems strange. We had Senator Bacik's advice on the legality of such a move. Presumably the parent was elected by all the parents and not by his or her son or daughter. Is it alright to leave that section in the Bill? It was only when Senator Power tabled the amendment that it occurred to me that it was strange to visit on the parent the crimes of the son or daughter. Can we do that? The Minister will consider this between now and Report Stage and whatever advice Senator Bacik might have on punishing parents for the misdemeanours of their children.
I welcome the Minister's invitation for us to make proposals before Report Stage. Senator Wilson and I will discuss this and come forward with something before Report Stage to address all of these issues, to find the most democratic way possible of electing the parent representative.
I listened with interest to the debate and was not going to participate until Senator Barrett referred to the issues Senator Power has addressed in her amendments.
The relevant provision does not punish a parent whose child has been excluded, it is there to prolong his or her membership of the board. Where he or she ceases to have a child under the age of 18 registered as a student by reason of exclusion, the person does not cease to be a member of the board until the time for an appeal has expired. It has the opposite effect to Senator Barrett's reading of the Bill, in that it prolongs the membership of the board for that person. It is an interesting debate and I welcome the Minister's remarks on returning to this on Report Stage because it raises the question of method of election that Senator Moran and I address in amendment No. 4.
Responding specifically to Senator Wilson about the current elections for parents, while I support the principle behind his contribution, the reality of practice and experience on the ground is the opposite. Current procedures to identify and elect parents are cumbersome and expensive, involving communication with approximately 150,000 people. The experience to date has been that turnout is as low as 1% in some VECs. We should accept as democrats that we want to underpin the principle but can we collectively find a way to make this work?
Since this will be raised on Report Stage, I am open to exchanging draft amendments because we only get one bite of the cherry when we come back next time. I want parents to have a clear voice but they should be relevant to the experience of the children as they go through the five years. We must find a filter system for candidates and a democratically accountable system for the election of the candidates. It is a two-tiered process but I am open to discussion on this. When we achieve consensus we will bring it into the House on Report Stage and dispose of it and I will deal with it in the other House. This is an opportunity in primary legislation that will not come our way again.
I move amendment No. 3:
This is an important amendment. Of the 21 members of the education and training boards, at least two should be representatives of learners. When the Seanad discussed the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act, which related to third level qualifications, the Minister kindly accepted an amendment I tabled providing that two representatives of learners would be on the board of the authority established under the legislation. The same principle should apply to this Bill. As currently worded, the Bill provides that a nominating body will submit to the Minister the name of a person who would represent learners but does not specifically reserve one place on the board for a learner representative. While I assume all Ministers would choose to appoint one representative of learners to a board of 21 members, this is not required.
In page 28, subsection (1)(d), line 25, after ?subsection (9)? to insert the following:
?, at least two of whom shall be representative of learners?.
Two learner representatives should be appointed for the reasons I cited in the debate on the quality assurance in education legislation. It is difficult to be the only person at a table serving a particular function, but this is especially the case for a representative of learners on a board that includes 12 councillors, several members of staff and several parents. At least two learner representatives are required to provide for proper representation across the sector. While some of the voluntary community schools at primary level will be represented, the representatives mainly reflect the adult education system and vocational education committees. Given the broad spectrum of learners involved, we should ensure that at least two of the 21 places on the board are filled by representatives of learners. This will ensure learners' voices are at the centre of all the board's work feedback from learners will be listened to.
I am trying to keep the new boards compact. The number of representatives on the boards has increased to 21 since the Bill was drafted and it will increase to 22 in one case because it takes in County Leitrim. While this is not necessarily a problem, we should not move beyond the current size.
My thinking on the Bill during the debates in the other House was that a parent will, by definition, be a representative of someone in the system who is learning, albeit not directly of learners. I assure the Senator that parents will have a strong interest in this matter. I understand her point about appointing representatives of learners in their own right. To ensure flexibility, we adopted an approach of having the principle enunciated in primary legislation, while using a statutory instrument for the purposes of nominating the bodies that will represent learners. These include the National Adult Literacy Agency, NALA, and AONTAS. Given that a new body may emerge in the next ten or 15 years, it would not be appropriate or constitute good use of parliamentary time to return to the House and change primary legislation to include the name of the new body in the Act. By extension, my proposal in respect of business is similar. A knowledge of business or enterprise is a requirement for nominees and bodies such as IBEC, ISME and local chambers of commerce would be invited to nominate people resident in the relevant area, with the final decision resting with the council. This system would be not unlike the system in place for the Seanad in that nominees would have to come through a panel system.
There is no equivalent of the Union of Students of Ireland for adult learners. The representative bodies which perform a role in respect of adult learners that is similar to the role of the USI are NALA and AONTAS. My concern is that if I increase the number of representatives of learners from one to two, the number of board members will increase from 21 to 22. Someone from NALA or AONTAS who comes through a nominating process will be indirectly accountable. NALA would not be in a position to nominate one person to fill the slot - Senator Wilson raised this issue - but would have to nominate at least two people, at least one of whom would be female. It would then be for the incomplete council, albeit one with a democratic mandate given that it would consist of local councillors, to make the selection.
We are trying to reconcile representation on the one hand with democratic legitimacy on the other and this is what we have come up with.
I can see that the Minister is reluctant to increase the membership further, given that we have already increased the number of councillors since the first draft. Again, however, I would generally make the point that if there are 21 people, there should be a second representative for learners. I take the Minister's point that we have gone from 18 to 21 already and he was prepared to make space to address other points raised. I also accept the Minister's argument as to why he has not opted to name specific bodies in the legislation. I met representatives of NALA at an earlier stage in this process about the Bill and we discussed the need for that organisation to be a nominating body. However, I take the Minister's point that it is not appropriate that every time one wants to add a new body, one is required to change primary legislation. I accept that this is probably best done by way of ministerial regulation and I appreciate the Minister's assurance that NALA is one of the nominating bodies.
I acknowledge that there is not a USI-type arrangement in place and that student representative structures in general are not great not just in the VECs, but in adult education generally. That is a result of a much higher turnover of students, with many doing one-year courses and so forth, unlike the four-year degree structure at many universities, which enabled myself and Senator Bacik to become involved in student representation, for example. I ask the Minister to consider this issue further before Report Stage. I believe the principle is important, while accepting what the Minister has said about parents. However, from the teenage years onwards, while it is important for parents to have a voice, I also believe that young adults should have a greater say on issues that affect them, as does the Minister himself. I would like to see this matter considered again between now and Report Stage to see if we can arrive at something that is acceptable to all.
I welcome Senator Power's amendment because it gives us an opportunity to discuss the matter. Having said that, Senator Power has already acknowledged that the numbers have increased since the first draft of the Bill was published. I looked back at the Bill as amended by the Select Sub-Committee and there were only four members appointed in accordance with subsection (9) and ten members in the local authority, with 18 members in total and now it has gone up to 21. At least now there is an opportunity for two members to be representatives of learners. In other words, of the five, at least one must be representative of learners but there is potential for two, as I read it. That is very welcome.
We all very much support the principle that there should be representatives of learners and in that context, I welcome the Minister's willingness to look at this again. However, he is right in not wanting to see the numbers increase to such an extent that the body becomes unwieldy. I do not know if there is a problem about 22 members as opposed to 21 - that does not seem to make a significant difference, other than the fact that it becomes an even number, which could pose problems. Having said that, the original 18 was also an even number, so perhaps it is not an issue at all. If there was a facility to increase to two the representatives of learners, that would be great, but I do see that even as currently drafted, we could end up with two learner representatives out of five anyway, which would be very welcome.
By way of compromise, perhaps the Minister would consider the possibility of including an adult education officer on the board. Such officers deal with a very large population of learners who do not have a voice, including adult learners and over 3,500 YouthReach trainees. The possibility for parents of the latter group getting onto the education and training boards is very limited because of the numbers involved. I know the Minister has included two staff representatives but the adult education officers occupy an important place and may be in a position to represent people who would not otherwise have a say. The likelihood for thousands of young people of having a say on the education and training boards, other than through voting for county councillors, is very limited. Did the Minister give any consideration to that option?
I think I have said all I want to say on this issue. I am striving here for genuinely broad representation, which was not the case with the VECs in the past, when often people were given slots because they were former councillors, they knew somebody, or were closely politically aligned with the dominant faction at the time.
This is a structured advance beyond that point. As Senator Bacik has already said, we are trying to limit numbers to a certain extent and maximise representation in an effective and efficient way. The current system of selecting parents' representatives to go back is unsatisfactory. As I have indicated already I am open to suggestions. We can have informal discussions and see how far we can get on that and then bring it to Report Stage and sign off on it.
Government amendment No. 4:In page 28, between lines 47 and 48, to insert the following subsections: ?(5) The Minister shall make regulations for the conduct of elections for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) and the regulations may provide?(a) for the establishment of panels of candidates for election comprising women only and panels of candidates for election comprising men only from which persons shall be elected in accordance with those regulations, and (b) that, as far as practicable, a minimum number of women and a minimum number of men shall be elected from each local authority.(6) When making regulations under subsection (5), the Minister shall have regard to the objective that at least 40 per cent of members elected under subsection (1)(a) shall be women and at least 40 per cent shall be men.?.
Under the current law the proportion of male and female local authority representatives on a VEC must mirror the proportion of the total number of male and female members of those county, city and town districts when added together. The existing system has given rise to practical difficulties, particularly where a number of bodies come together to elect people to one board. Difficulties at local level have arisen, particularly when a casual vacancy occurs and doubts have been created about the validity of actions of boards that do not reflect the correct gender proportions. In the course of this debate, my concerns on this issue have been ones of practicality and not ones of principle.
On Committee Stage in the other House, I said that I personally favoured the introduction of gender quotas in some form for local elections. Having reflected on the arguments articulated by Senator Bacik on Second Stage and by others on previous points in this conversation, I now propose amendment No. 4. The effect of the amendment will be to compel the Minister of the day to make regulations - statutory instruments - governing the election of local authority members to ETBs. Those regulations may provide for gender balance by creating separate panels for men and women. They will also empower the Minister as far as possible to specify a minimum number of women and men who must be elected by each local authority. The amendment provides that in making the regulations the Minister must have regard to the objective of at least 40% of each gender being elected by the local authorities. This reflects Government policy on gender balance on State boards and I believe it may attract cross-party support also, but that remains to be seen.
I acknowledge that as a society we have further work to do to ensure proper representation of women at all levels in the public and private sectors. However, I believe that measures such as this and the recently introduced Electoral (Amendment)(Political Funding) Act are important steps on that journey. I hope my proposals will meet the concerns underlying Senator Bacik's amendments and other expressions of interest.
I welcome the amendment, which takes the correct approach. When I read through the Bill, it was clear that it had carefully provided for gender quotas in other aspects of the election, but there was a glaring gap in respect of local authority elections. The Minister is taking the right approach and his amendment is preferable to the amendment tabled by Senators Bacik and Moran, although I understand the spirit behind that amendment. I had actually considered proposing the same wording but decided against it.
During the Seanad election campaign I visited some counties where there were only one or two female councillors on a local authority. This made it difficult to draft an amendment that would make sense. Much as it is important to have proper gender representation on the ETBs, the alternative wording that has been put forward would go too far in that if there is only one female member of the local authority, she would be forced to go on to the ETB in order for it to be proportionate to the membership of the local authority. I would not like to do that to a member who might not want to participate, which would be the logical conclusion of the other wording. That was why I did not table such an amendment. The sensible approach is to say that the Minister would wish to have proper gender representation and that he can provide for it through regulations at another stage.
The legislation we agreed last year to introduce gender quotas for general elections was incredibly progressive, on which I commend the Government. It took leadership to do it and it has the potential to make a big difference if the parties co-operate with it properly. The same should be done for local elections, which would be a better way to address this issue. If we then had proper representation of women among local authority elected members we would have the pool from which to pick members of ETBs.
The amendment is very well worded. It achieves the purpose I wanted it to achieve in a sensible way.
I welcome the Minister and thank him for bringing forward amendment No. 4. It has the same aim and effectively accepts in principle what Senator Moran and I are seeking to do through amendment No. 7. I do not take offence at Senator Power's remarks. She is quite right that the Government amendment is more elegantly worded.
As Senator Power said, it is difficult to get the wording of this right. However, there is one change I would like to see in amendment No. 4, and I raised this previously with the Minister's office. The idea of the panels of candidates is right. That is a good way of doing it and mirrors what has been done for the other panels. However, it is unduly conservatively worded with the use of the word "may" in the new subsection (5) which states: "The Minister shall make regulations for the conduct of elections for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) and the regulations may provide -". I suggest that it should state: "...and the regulations shall provide". That would be a belt and braces way of ensuring that this would be done. There are enough provisos later to ensure that the Minister and the local authorities are not unduly bound. The new paragraph (b) provides "that, as far as practicable, a minimum number of women and a minimum number of men shall be elected from each authority". That is one proviso, while subsection (6) provides that the Minister shall have regard to the objectives. Those are much less prescriptively worded. There should, however, be prescriptive language used in terms of the regulations being made. That is my one reservation about the amendment and I would be delighted if it could be amended again on Report Stage.
Senator Moran and I are happy to withdraw our amendment on the basis that the Minister's amendment replaces it and seeks to fulfil the same function. I made these comments on Second Stage and pointed to the need for an amendment to ensure there is a gender balance in the local authority membership of the education and training boards. I am delighted the Minister accepted that in principle and, as he said, it was really a matter of practicality that it was not included.
I must express my gratitude to the current councillor and former Minister for Education, Niamh Bhreathnach, who first raised this with me. As Minister, Niamh Bhreathnach had ensured that the previous VEC legislation provided for gender balance in the local authority membership of the VECs and she was very anxious to see that principle enshrined in the education and training boards legislation. I am delighted that it will now be so enshrined. However, we might strengthen the wording somewhat by changing that single word in amendment No. 4. I am very grateful that the Minister has accepted this in principle. The Bill is strengthened as a result and there will be better representation of men and women.
Finally, like Senator Power, I would like to have seen perhaps strengthened legislation in terms of local authority membership and quotas for political parties, but I believe the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act will make a huge difference in the next general election and in the next local elections because parties will have to bring forward women candidates. There is a very poor level of representation at local level, at approximately 16%, while the level in the Dáil is 15%. Of course, it is 30% in the Seanad, which might be why the Seanad has been a driving force for gender equality-----
I echo the sentiments that have been expressed. I welcome the Minister and thank him for putting forward this amendment, which incorporates the amendment tabled by Senator Bacik and me. It is important to ensure there is gender balance from the local authorities. This issue is reflected everywhere. In the case of teaching, 72% of teachers are women but when one looks at the top, one finds that the majority of principals are men. This is a huge step and I thank the Minister.
I am on Senator Moran's and Senator Bacik's side on this issue. However, Senator Power's point is well made and we should not just gloss over it. Notwithstanding the import of the Government amendment and what the Minister is attempting to do, which I fully support, has any thought been given to how this might pan out on the ground? Sadly, as has been said by Senator Power, there is a severe under-representation of women in some local authorities. Let us be politically practical about this. The dominant party or grouping that is in power shares out the spoils. I wish there was more power sharing at local level, and in some instances there is, but there generally is not, to be blunt. It is still winner takes all. I do not ascribe that to any single party, it is just the reality. Some will say that this is democracy and I may get used to it, but it is not really.
If the dominant group or party in a local authority has an under-representation of women, this provision forces the woman into a situation where the party will say she must sit on the board in order to comply with the legislation. The woman might say she does not want to sit on the board but the party will tell her that she must. There is no flexibility in this at all. Once this Bill is enacted into law, local authorities will have no choice. They will have to implement it. There will be no give or take, no transition period and no flexibility. That is my main concern about it.
Sometimes one can lead by example and sometimes one can make something a prerequisite. To take the scenario the Senator mentioned, if the female member of whatever caucus simply refused for a variety of reasons, there would be other females available from, perhaps, a different caucus who would get it. Practice varies in different local authorities. In some cases, the practice is winner takes all for whoever happens to be the dominant group. In others, there is a pro rata sharing. In my local council, Dublin City Council, there was a pro rata distribution of members in different seats. Perhaps that is the way to go, through local government reform, to provide for proportionality in the different sub-committees of the local authority. However, if it is the case that a group that is predominantly male is hoping to control the ETB and if it wishes to maximise its strength, it will have to incorporate females in that grouping. Politicians act rationally when it comes to matters such as this. If we make it a prerequisite that it must be a mixed team in terms of gender balance, it is up to the common sense of the political leadership, rather than forcing one person to do it who, for all sorts of reasons, might simply say that she does not wish to do it.
With regard to Senator Bacik's request to change the wording of "the regulations may provide" in section 5, I am open to changing the word to "shall". I will be subject to the advice of the female Attorney General.
I do not wish to delay matters but in the context of what was said earlier in respect of parents' representatives, I want to raise a very technical point. I would be grateful if the Minister or his officials might give some consideration to the point in question because it seems there is a slight anomaly with regard to 30(1)(c), which relates to the members who will be parents and which refers to "2 members appointed in accordance with subsection (8), each of whom is the parent of a child who has not reached 18 years of age ... or is the parent of a learner". Under this provision, it seems that there is no requirement that the learner in the children detention school or wherever would be under 18. I am seeking clarification on this matter because section 33, which we debated in the context of amendment No. 8 and which deals with the cesser of membership, states that a person will no longer be a member of a board where "he or she ceases to have any child under the age of 18 registered as a student of a centre for education or recognised school, or a learner in a children detention school". This appears to indicate that the reference to children under the age of 18 applies to children in centres for education or recognised schools or to those who are learners in children detention schools. There seems to be a slight inconsistency between the wording used in the two provisions.
I would be grateful if the legislation could be re-examined in order to establish whether my reading of it is correct.
It appears that in one provision children will be under 18 and that this is not the case in the other. It is assumed in section 33 that the children involved - those in centres for education or recognised schools and those who are learners in children detention schools - are dealt with together whereas they appear to be treated separately elsewhere in the legislation.
Does the rule set down in sections 30(9)(b)(i), (ii) and (iii) in respect of the five appointees apply to the appointment of members, each of whom is the parent of a child who is registered as a student, dealt with under section 30(1)(c)? I presume it does not apply and that whomever is nominated and ultimately appointed will not be obliged to have a child registered at a particular school or centre of education within an ETB area.
I wish to offer a few thoughts which may be of assistance to the Minister. Section 30(9) deals with ministerial appointments and states that one of the bodies to be appointed shall be "representative of business, industry and employers", that another shall be "representative of learners" and that another "shall be a body established for the purpose of representing the interests of persons engaged in the management of, or leadership in, recognised schools". On Second Stage I referred to the fact that among the 21 members there will only be two teachers and one learner. We want people with direct classroom experience. When the Minister or his successors are making their five ministerial appointments, provision should be made in this regard. There is a certain degree of demoralisation in the sector with regard to the fact that so many people outside it believe they can do the job better than a teacher in the classroom.
As I also stated on Second Stage, the Minister will probably obtain a sense of the demoralisation to which I refer when he attends the teachers' conferences.
At present, mathematics teachers are putting in a huge effort to overcome a national problem. They might not be represented by an established body in the way that those who occupy management and leadership roles are. Teachers throughout the country are doing the best they can to deal with the problem relating to mathematics to which I refer. In the past, history teachers formed an organisation, the aim of which was to desectarianise the teaching of history. Before that, there was great enthusiasm for the teaching of Irish on the part of those who volunteered in that capacity. It would be useful to have people with that type of interest - as opposed to an occupational interest - in teaching involved.
I concur with Senator Power's point that another learner should be included in the five members to be appointed by the Minister. There must be at least three or four people present who will inform the other members as to what it is like to teach in a classroom. Two learners, two teachers and people who have the enthusiasm to mount campaigns and encourage interest in national programmes - the one currently in train is that which relates to project maths - should be involved. The Minister should consider such individuals when making his appointments in order to ensure that there will be some form of direct involvement from the classroom.
I was not present for the debate on Second State, so I wish to elaborate on a couple of matters now. I am concerned to have legislation which will be fit for purpose in 20 or 30 years' time. The reality is that we have a public private partnership in education. The public side is the State, which sets the curriculum, pays salaries, regulates the examination process, etc. At primary level we have different patrons and at secondary level we have VEC schools, as they currently are, and the free voluntary sector and in between are the community schools. For reasons of history and social change and given the strength of private sector partners at both primary and secondary level and the decrease in numbers - this is not in any way a partisan religious comment and I do not want it to be taken as such - I am of the view that the ETBs will be able to deliver to educational providers, on a non-compulsory basis, certain services. For example, if a principal of a school sought to have something done under the summer works scheme, subject to the agreement of the Catholic Primary School Management Association, CPSMA - the dominant patron - half a dozen contracts for small works projects in the relevant area could be carried out under the supervision of the ETB. This would free up the principal in question, who would not be a project manager or building contractor in the first instance. Human resources and IT support and a host of other supports could be provided at the request of the school in question. This would happen at primary level and in the free voluntary sector. By definition, the VEC schools will have access to the services to which I refer.
I must inform Senator Barrett that if I, through a statutory instrument, were to make a specification in respect of the provision in section 30(9) whereby one of the bodies to be appointed "shall be a body established for the purpose of representing the interests of persons engaged in the management of, or leadership in, recognised schools" in the next two to three months, the CPSMA, the joint management body, JMB - which crosses both religious denominations - Educate Together and the various other stakeholders would be invited to nominate people for consideration in order that they might be represented. Education providers at primary and secondary level have informed me that they are nervous about a traditional VEC body which would be a provider of education in the broader sense and which would also have a stake in its own schools. They are of the view that there is a possible conflict there. If we want to have better co-operation between the free voluntary sector and the VEC schools, as they currently are, then the stakeholders involved should have a voice on the education and training boards.
This will be for future Ministers for Education and Skills and Governments to decide but I am of the view that we will need a much stronger local education partner to operate with the Department of Education and Skills at central level. There are things which we simply cannot do at national level that VECs or their successor bodies could do. However, they will not be able to do these things unless the educational stakeholders are of the view that they have a role to play at the heart of the ETBs, namely, on their boards. That is the thinking behind the relevant provision. The principle in enunciated in the primary legislation and the bodes to which I have just referred are those I have in mind in order that we might give effect to what is envisaged in the next year or so. Names will be put forward by the nominating bodies and, ultimately, it will be the responsibility of the boards of the ETBs to select who they wish to fill the relevant posts. They will not merely be able to appoint a friend of a friend of a friend to positions.
We all know that it happened, irrespective of which group was dominant. It is to have a two-tiered system.
Based on precedent, many of the 12 local authority members are teachers, for example, principals or subject teachers in second level schools. They are not present in an institutional capacity, but they are a strong component in every elected assembly across Europe for all sorts of reasons. The teaching voice is not silenced because it does not have a formal representative. Senator Barrett should consider himself.
Section 37(1)(d) reads:
In terms of casual vacancies, will this provision only apply to the nominated panels that were already in existence? It would only apply to the five members and would not be open to anyone else.
referred to in section 30(1)(d), by a person--(i) nominated under section 30(9)(a) but not appointed on foot of that nomination, or
(ii) nominated by the same body which nominated the member who occasioned the vacancy,selected by the education and training board concerned.
That point will be clarified in the regulations, but the intent is that the panel cannot be bypassed. I will clarify the issue and revert to the Senator on Report Stage.
I wish to bring to the House's attention two issues, the first of which I missed because we were moving so quickly. We will introduce amendments to section 51 relating to accounts and accountability. They will ensure that, in the transition from vocation education committees, VECs, to education and training boards, ETBs, there will be no gap in the obligation to file accounts and to respond to the Committee of Public Accounts on a VEC's financial activities. We must also consider the best way to deal with the accounting for the current year, during which one period will relate to the time of the VECs and another will relate to the new bodies. The Department is consulting the Comptroller and Auditor General's office on these matters and, if necessary, will introduce Report Stage amendments.
Second, we may need to consider tabling a Report Stage amendment to section 58. Under procedure, I am required to bring the House's attention to this now. Otherwise, I would not be able to table it. Section 58 relates to the transfer of staff from VECs to the new ETBs. A similar provision is contained in the Further Education and Training Bill 2013, which provides for the establishment of SOLAS. That provision may need some minor amendment. If so, we will make a similar change to this Bill.
Perhaps the matter of existing CEOs who have not been appointed to the new CEO positions has already been agreed, but what will happen to acting CEOs who have taken over from those who have retired and, under the staff embargoes, have presumably not been given similar contracts?
From memory, there are five more CEOs than there are formally established ETBs, of which there are 16. There is a surplus. The panel of existing CEOs has been frozen. Different jobs have been contracted for current CEOs who, as they did not qualify under the process of selection, will no longer be super CEOs in the new configuration. It was a combination of seniority and choice. This number of established, permanent CEOs will be given other posts as we make the transition from the 33 VECs into the 16 ETBs. I signed off on these posts in principle. It is on a voluntary basis and there have been discussions with the CEOs in question.
When vacancies occur on the new 16 ETBs, they will be filled from the declining panel of existing established CEOs. Existing acting CEOs will revert to their previous levels of employment. In some cases, education officers were acting up. When the new super CEO enters into office following the confirmation of the body's commissioning by me, the acting CEO will revert to the position from which he or she had been elevated.
When all of the confirmed CEOs on the panel have retired or been accommodated, super CEO vacancies in the new ETBs will be open to competition in the normal way.
It is an interesting issue. The Minister mentioned a figure of five people. I am unsure as to how many acting CEOs there are, but there is one in County Leitrim, a former school principal. Given the Minister's response, it appears that the acting CEO will revert to his position as a school principal. I understand that staffing is a complex area and I do not want to get into it, as trade unions and Ministers must negotiate people's futures and livelihoods. Given the small number of people involved, however, I would have expected an exploration of the possibility of including acting CEOs on the same panel. They have served for a number of years, but it's possible that their expertise will be lost in open competitions.
Traditionally, CEOs tended to be appointed from within a geographical area. For example, the Leitrim CEO came from Leitrim, not Cork or Dublin. Has the Minister given thought to this matter? Given the small numbers involved, will he allow acting CEOs to form part of the panel? There cannot be that many.
I have noted the Senator's comments. I am reluctant to get into that space, as it is close to IR-type operations and we have not yet resolved the situation for all of the confirmed CEOs who have not been accommodated. I am conscious that I am not just speaking to the House, but to people who are following this debate with a certain degree of scrutiny. With my full blessing, my Department's operational senior Civil Service level has been as creative and flexible as possible in an attempt to accommodate people in what has been a difficult, yet incomplete journey.
I hope the same principle will prevail for acting chief executive officers as well. We want to make this a success.
I am sorry to have to press the Minister on this as I understand perfectly from where he is coming. Does that give any indication of the path I am attempting to go being addressed or are these people outside the loop completely? If they are placed in that category, it will not matter legally that these are acting chief executives, regardless of time served, and they will be treated the same as any other ordinary citizen who applies with the appropriate qualifications for a vacancy when it arises among the 16 boards. It seems to be a two-tier system and I am only attempting to see if there is any possible movement, as we are talking about small numbers, with those who have given of their time and expertise but who will revert to a previous position. If these people wish to advance prospects in the administrative educational area, it seems they will have to go into the pool with everybody else.
The pools will be fundamentally transformed. There are currently 33 pools but there will be 16 education and training boards, ETBs. I will refer to the Senator's example theoretically rather than in a personal way, and the person will now see a combination of three VECs go to one education and training board. It would be up to the incoming chief executive of the larger education and training board to deploy personnel as he or she sees best with the co-operation and agreement of the individual. We have had a difficult and incomplete journey in getting an agreed mechanism for existing confirmed permanency executive officers to rearrange themselves across the 16 new ETBs. I would hesitate to give any undertaking in primary legislation debate to that kind of matter.
I commend the senior civil servants involved as this has been a purely administrative exercise and I have not been involved in it politically at all. Great progress has been made, and anybody reading this debate should have some confidence in the progress made so far. Experience and talent acquired in the course of somebody acting in a capacity above what he or was doing previously should not be wasted but it seems that is a management decision rather than one for legislation. I know the Senator is seeking clarification rather than a change to the legislation but it is a matter for discussion.
Yes and no. What I am getting at is that it seems almost certain that the fixed chief executives who have not been appointed to the super-CEO position will be redeployed within the administration of the new education and training boards.
There are one or two outstanding issues where final resolution has not yet been found but the matter is ongoing. There are tasks that must be done, as this is a massive transformative set of reforms that will bed down 16 new entities across 33 areas. That will take time, and we have asked people to carry out certain tasks; we had discussions with the various people who were permanent CEOs who did not get a super-CEO job in this instance. They remain on the panel for vacancies that subsequently arise and in the mean time, they have been co-operating with discussions in the Department, with specific tasks identified. They will continue that with the terms and conditions they currently have.
I am getting a sense of where the Minister is coming from. I am sorry to put the Minister on the spot but for the purposes of the debate, how many acting chief executives will effectively be stepping down? Is the number large?
Is it that many? That would be a horse of a different colour in the context of fixed chief executives. If the number was smaller, an arrangement could be put in place. I am thinking about the expertise that would be lost if people return to former positions within the education system. A two-tier system would then be in operation for future advancement between those who are fixed chief executives and who can apply to fill vacancies if they arise and the other ten, who will form a separate category and be lumped with the world and his wife in going for similar vacancies. Assuming that the four who are stepping down involuntarily because of the new structure are appointed in the fullness of time, there would be a new playing field but ten former acting chief executives would not be given the sort of recognition afforded to the group of four. There must not be a way to solve the issue and it is just the way things are.
We are trying to reduce the total number in the public service and Civil Service. Any incoming chief executive charged with bringing together two or three VECs with different systems and, in some cases, slightly different cultures will make use of all available talent. It is a managerial function with which the Department does not want to become involved. We have had to resolve the issue of having 20 permanent chief executives for 16 slots and a mechanism was found to do this, although it is not a complete process. Two people are not yet satisfied with where they are and we are working to resolve the problem. Across the public sector we are trying to do more with less, and people with additional experience and talent - even if at the level of school principal - will be deployed effectively by a prudent CEO.
Before agreeing the Title, I have a query on section 53(7), relating to the disposal of land or property by an education and training board.
I ask the Minister to clarify the following:
Considerable property might have to be disposed of as a result of amalgamations.
All moneys received by an education and training board on the sale or other disposal of land or any interest in land may be recovered by the Minister and where not recovered by the Minister shall be applied towards such purposes as the Minister determines.