Seanad Éireann - Volume 137 - 30 June, 1993

Remedial Teachers for Disadvantaged Schools: Motion.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: As the proposers of the motion and the amendment are not present, we will wait for a few minutes.

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): It would not happen in the other House.

Mr. Norris: Since the proposer of the motion is not here, we should continue with the business of the House and take the remaining amendments to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, 1993. Then we could have our tea.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The order of the House this morning was that we would break at 6 o'clock, take Items 26 and resume on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, 1993, at 8 o'clock.

Mr. Norris: The record will show that I was attempting to be helpful.

Ms Kelly: I move:

That Seanad Éireann commends the Government and, in particular, the Minister for Education on the allocation of 200 positions for additional remedial teachers and additional teachers for disadvantaged schools.

The Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach, should be commended for her proven commitment to remedial education in this country. Her allocation of extra teaching posts must be viewed as the first step in a five year plan. Already thousands of Irish children stand to benefit directly from decisions taken by her Department. The Programme for a Partnership Government states this Government's [479] commitment to improve the position of Irish schoolchildren who are economically or educationally disadvantaged. The 200 appointments sanctioned by the Department includes remedial teachers and extra teachers for schools which have been designated as disadvantaged.

A recent report calculated that approximately 10 per cent of the total population are illiterate. This problem can be traced directly to disadvantages which people suffered in school. In its report, “Education, Inequality and Poverty”, which is a response to the Green Paper on Education, the Combat Poverty Agency states:

It is at primary level that interventions designed to address educational disadvantage are likely to have their largest impact. Research evidence has shown that the effects of poverty have, to a significant extent, occurred before children leave primary school (Morgan, 1992). The elimination of disadvantage, therefore, requires an attempt to identify and change those aspects of schooling which cause problems for disadvantaged students. This fact has been borne out by research done by Mr. Mark Morgan in 1992 for the Combat Poverty Agency.

Recent educational research (Morgan, 1992) shows that educational disadvantages can be caused by the discontinuity between home and school experienced by disadvantaged children. Such discontinuities flow from both the child's inability to cope with school and the school's inability to cope with the needs of disadvantaged children. In short, this research places educational disadvantage in a socio-economic context and argues that socio-economic factors are of relatively greater significance in causing educational disadvantage, than socio-psychological ones.

The submission recognised that socio-economic disadvantage is different from other disadvantages such as [480] physical or mental handicap. While the Agency's focus is on addressing socio-economic disadvantage and ensuring that education is a fundamental right, it recognises the importance of ensuring that children with disabilities are catered for within the education system.

We must look at the education system and see what can be done to remove disadvantages. One way to do this is to ensure that schools have a psychological service which will help students with psychological problems. This will ensure that every child with a learning or behavioural difficulty has access to help at the earliest stage.

We should also consider socio-economic disadvantages. Perhaps the best way to do this is to introduce some form of pre-schooling for children from a disadvantaged area. The people who were involved in the Rutland Street project 25 years ago experienced more advantages than the children who were not involved, although they all came from the same area and socio-economic background. Some 20 to 30 years later, the children involved in that project are still experiencing its benefits.

We must look at this issue in the context of a five year plan because this programme cannot be achieved overnight. The Minister must be complimented for using some of her Department's resources to create 200 remedial teacher positions. By doing so, she is helping those who are at a disadvantage. As a former remedial teacher, the Minister is aware of the problems faced by the education professionals.

It was said in a previous debate that children should not suffer as a result of economic disadvantage. Schools should not perpetuate this problem. Instead, they should make a conscious effort to break the cycle of disadvantage because in some areas economic disadvantage is experienced by many generations. We should address this problem in this generation, otherwise it will continue into the next.

Since taking office the Minister has classified an extra 50 primary schools as [481] disadvantaged. Within this classification, 18 schools have been given crisis status, in other words, these schools should have extra teachers. This is acceptable because it has been proved that the numbers of children in a class will determine the teacher's effectiveness. It is easier to identify and overcome learning difficulties if the class is small. An attempt can be made to solve these problems if crisis areas and areas of extreme economic disadvantage are identified.

Sometimes there is no point reducing the pupil-teacher ratio, although this is desirable. It would be better if the Minister allocated the available funds to the areas of greatest need. In some better off areas it is possible for parents to overcome any disadvantage to their child resulting from being in a large class. They can supplement the child's education with art and music classes, grinds, books and home aids. In a poor area and in a socially and culturally deprived home the existence of books is limited. Some homes do not have books and there are homes where the parents are illiterate. In those circumstances it is difficult for those parents to help their children. Help for these children must come from agents outside the home and the best agent is their local primary school. Having identified areas which are extremely disadvantaged it is only by providing the necessary resources for those areas that these problems can be readily overcome.

It is often the case that economic disadvantage and learning difficulties go together and in many ways it is easy to understand why this may be so. If a family is poor, there may be a number of children, the father may be unemployed, the mother may not be very well educated and it could be difficult for her to identify that her child has special problems. Problems of reading, such as dyslexia, are not often identified quickly in homes where reading is not the norm. It is difficult for a parent to identify a reading problem in a child when the parent does not read or where the habit of reading is not there, whereas in a middle class or a better off home a mother will quickly realise that the child is not absorbing what they are [482] reading and they are falling behind in class. In other words, the problem will be more easily identified in better off homes.

To compensate for the inability, through no fault of their own, of the parents to identify the problems experienced by the child it is necessary that the school has the facilities whereby to identify and deal with these problems. When one talks about areas of disadvantage one is inclined to think of inner city schools or schools in the larger urban housing estates but this is not always the case.

In rural areas, and in particular the poorer rural areas, economic disadvantage also exists. Difficulties are compounded if the school is physically remote from the pupils and, they do not have access to ancillary facilities that might be available in urban areas. For example, if a child in rural west Limerick is dyslexic and the local school does not have a remedial teacher, they will have to travel many miles to get help. I ask the Minister when allocating more remedial teachers, as I presume she will over the next few years, to consider some of the rural areas that may be experiencing difficulties.

The additional 86 remedial posts the Minister has sanctioned are shared among nearly 300 schools. That means the numbers of pupils in some areas that have access to remedial education has increased greatly. A previous Minister for Education admitted that in one year she allocated 19 remedial teachers to 19 schools. We must commend this Minister for making sure that this year that number is greatly increased.

I commend the Minister for the beginning of what I hope to be a long and successful programme. In overcoming the disadvantages that many children have in school and in providing the extra remedial teaching posts, she has taken the first step on a programme we all hope will be a great success.

Mr. Cashin: I second this motion. The problem of under achievement in schools is not unique to Ireland but is a subject [483] of concern for most other developed countries. It is possible for any child not to be able to achieve at school to the extent that they themselves, their parents or their teachers would wish. Some of them even complete formal education not having acquired the basic literacy and numeracy skills which are necessary for independent living. Furthermore, they may not have enjoyed their experience at school.

One view of learning difficulties is that there is a gap between the attainment of pupils at school and their potential. Remedial education aims at closing this gap by providing additional specialised teaching on an individual basis or in a small group. The first teachers assigned exclusively to remedial work were appointed in the early 1960s. Since then many schools have been crying out for such a service. This year the Minister has appointed over 80 additional remedial teachers which, in effect, brings the total number to 200. However, this is but a drop in the ocean and there are pupils in every school in the country who need this extra specialised help, and until it is available our education system will have failed them badly.

The withdrawal model of remedial education which is widespread in our schools is not without its disadvantages, but in most cases it is the only workable option where the remedial teacher is servicing three or four schools. However, it has a number of disadvantages; there is an emphasis on remediation rather than on prevention, it leads to the concentration on disabilities rather than abilities, it disrupts timetables, it can isolate children from the classroom work, co-operation with class teachers can be difficult to achieve and it labels the children.

A good remedial programme should be preventative rather than be a cure. It follows that addressing any problem that exists in infant level is crucial and this can only be done where infant classes are of manageable size. It is impossible in infant classes of 30 or 40 pupils. Traditional remedial education has been [484] centred on the learning of the less able children. However, it is also necessary to respond to the special needs of the brighter children.

Programmes of remedial education should respond to the total needs of our children. In the case of many learning difficulties in children, which express themselves as under-achievement in reading and in mathematics, they may be the symptom of more deeply rooted problems. With some pupils, intervention aimed at helping them to come to terms with their problem of emotional adjustment is achieved with special focus on reading and mathematics.

In my constituency of Cork north-west we were pleased to receive four remedial teachers. Two were placed in my home town of Kanturk, one at St. Colman's convent national school and one at Lesmire, an outside school. The other two have been placed at Newmarket boys and girls national school. I congratulate the Minister for providing a remedial teacher to Meelin, regarded as the highest village in the country. This village has in the past supplied limestone for the building of many houses of learning such as St. Coneman's College, Fermoy. To add a little geography to the proceedings, the village also had the distinction of having oil prospectors in the past.

I also contratulate the Minister for providing teachers for Rockchapel, Kilbulane-Milford, Tullylease and Drumcollogher, which is across the county boundary. This is a rural area——

Mr. O'Toole: Did the Minister provide the Senator with a new building also?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Cashin without interruption. Senator O'Toole will have an opportunity to make a contribution.

Mr. Cashin: There are many other schools which are less fortunate. However, the Minister is to be congratulated for her work in this area and especially for her commitment to rural areas. Given the resources of Government, I am confident the Minister will [485] have this problem addressed by the end of her term in office.

Mr. O'Toole: I move amendment No. 1:

After “schools” to add: “; and urges the Minister for Education to ensure that the grossly underfunded primary sector receives adequate resources to provide remedial teachers for the pupils in the other 1,500 schools around the country, which do not have access to any remediation service.”

I support the motion and commend the Government and the Minister for providing the extra remedial teachers and the extra teachers for schools in disadvantaged areas.

In moving this amendment, which I urge be accepted, I have examined carefully the Programme for a Partnership Government and I note the commitment in the programme to provide, before 1996, an additional 500 remedial teachers. I have examined the number of schools which at present do not have access to remediation. I conclude that an additional 500 remedial techers to the number in the system at present — which is approximately 1,100 — will mean that virtually all schools will have some form of access to remedial teachers. Between 1,500 and 1,900 remedial teachers are required to achieve this objective.

Since, deliberately, I have not put a time scale on the amendment I see no reason the Government cannot accept that this is a logical proposal in line with that part of the Programme for a Partnership Government dealing with education. Furthermore, in that part of the programme dealing with employment and job creation, I note the Minister made a statement in Cork over the weekend on the relationship between investment in education and economic development.

I believe this is the first Minister for Education to address that point in recent times. If more than 50 per cent of the 300,000 people who are unemployed have no qualification beyond primary level, then there is a problem at this [486] level. I speak of the area in education I represent and it does not give me any pleasure to express that view, however, it is one I hear from my members.

The view of a primary level teacher, a view with which I am sure the Minister would agree, would be that 95 per cent of children should know the basics of the “three Rs” leaving primary school. It is clear that 95 per cent of children have the ability and the potential to learn to read in some form and if these children have not acquired these skills — and they have not — there must be a problem.

In making this point, it is clear that remediation ensures that the basics are implemented. In the recent report adopted by the European Parliament last month on the commitment to education and the connection between education and employment, specific reference was made to the need for remediation and literacy programmes to ensure employment.

The reality is that the 150,000 who are unemployed and have no qualification beyond primary level are unlikely — and I choose my words carefully — either to gain or create employment. This is where the issue of remediation arises. I believe, and I understand from her statements that the Minister also believes, that an investment in remediation is a long term investment in job creation for the future.

It is important that it be stated in this House today that the Minister has clearly indicated the direction she is taking on these two areas and that there is a consensus of support. However, the majority of Senators have discussed with me in the last three or four months the need for a remedial teacher in their area. It is an issue of which people are very aware.

I know the Minister does not have sufficient money to meet all these needs at present, however, I ask for confirmation that the Government and the Minister will ensure that moneys will be available at some stage to provide access to remediation at primary level for all children. This is all the amendment seeks.

The purpose of the EC Cohesion Fund is to eliminate levels of inequality, especially social inequality, within the [487] EC. The issue of disadvantage is important. For example, a task force on crime was established in Clondalkin recently arising from difficulties in the area and the task force examined ways the Government might make an input into the Clondalkin area to reduce this disadvantage. I was dissappointed with the findings of the task force on the issue of education. I believe there was a lack of understanding on their part. I met teachers in the area and requested their views on the task force's report on education. These teachers spoke to the local police and to those involved in crime prevention. The majority of the people the teachers spoke to said the first thing young people steal is food. This shocked me to the core, although given the reports in the news today of the man charged with stealing food, perhaps I should have not been so surprised. Such children begin stealing food and proceed to robbery and larceny.

In dealing with disadvantage, a novel and imaginative approach is required whether it be by home school community liaison co-ordinators or support teachers in areas where there is high level of unemployment, underprivilege, poverty, other social problems and so on. I understand that tomorrow the Minister will issue the list of schools which will come under——

Ms Bhreathnach: Today.

Mr. O'Toole: It has been issued today. It is good that it was issued this week because there could have been a major controversy.

The list was compiled on the basis of a consensus approach by the partners in education as to the needs of various areas. However, in terms of specifics, in the north Clondalkin area it was felt that, apart from providing more teachers, it would be beneficial if hot meals were available and if special areas within the schools were designated for children with serious problems.

There is a daft debate going on about whether to hold parents responsible for [488] the crimes of their children. It is a polite debate to have in Dublin 4 and the suburbs where most of us live, and where we can have a conversation about it over a pint but the reality is that many of these parents are afraid of their children when they get to this point and teachers, even in primary schools, are dealing with pupils who have been joy-riding through the night and come to school regularly suffering from hangovers. You cannot blame the parents for that. You can make certain demands of parents but it is thoroughly unfair to say that parents can be held responsible for the way their children behave. Parents often fear these tyrants and thugs — and that is all they are.

An approach that might give them some sense of well-being at school level is important. If we approach this in a two-handed way, with remedial support and support for disadvantaged areas, at least we will begin to break that vicious cycle of deprivation and underprivilege which begins with poverty and leads to poor school attainment and qualification levels, low levels of employment and unemployment. These are the same people who create problems down the line. It is not coincidental that the same areas provide the highest levels of unemployment, the majority of our prison population and the largest number of drop-outs in society. A movement towards improving that situation through remedial teaching and aiding disadvantaged areas is a step in the right direction. I would urge the Minister to indicate that she will accept the amendment. It does not put a time limit on implementation but it does give an intent with which I hope the Minister would agree.

Professor Lee: I am glad to second the amendment because it provides an opportunity to highlight the issue raised in the original motion. Like Senator O'Toole, I welcome the motion and I rise not in a spirit of criticism but to add my voice that the Minister accept the amendment in the spirit in which it is proferred. I agree with Senator [489] O'Toole's wishes for the long term but I recognise the reality of the lack of resources in the short term. All education areas lack resources in the short term and by comparative criteria they can all make special cases for themselves in terms of pupil-teacher ratios or staff-student ratios, for example. The highest priority, however, ought to be remedial teaching where there is a choice of resources being shifted in one direction or another.

I have said frequently that the education system bears too heavy a burden of expectation in terms of rectifying social injustice, and that the education system cannot, on its own, compensate for structural injustice in society. On the other hand, there are some things that only the education system can deliver, and effective remedial teaching is one of them. The needs of remedial teaching extend far beyond the immediate needs of the classroom and impose enormous demands on remedial teachers whose occupation is a skilled one.

Normally when one reads responses to the Green Paper on Education one normally makes allowance for the special pleading of various groups that reply. While I presume there is some special pleading in the response by the Association of Remedial Teachers of Ireland, their special interests happen to coincide with general interests to a much greater extent than is the case with a number of other responses. While I am no expert in the area, it seems to me that the bulk of what they say is cogent and coherent. They argue that remedial teachers should be specialists in the field of compensatory education and they are disappointed that no reference to their training is included in the document.

Training in general is grossly neglected in that document. While accepting the pressures that are on the Minister, we devote a derisory proportion of our total education budget to training of all types. Remedial teaching is one area where training is essential, and on-going in-service training should remain a high priority. I am aware of the inadequate funding elsewhere in the education system and in my own university department [490] I have a staff-student ratio of 1:40. Even so, in discussing the application of whatever funding may be coming from Europe, priority ought to go to the most defenceless areas, such as primary education and remedial education, and at as young an age as possible. The earlier children can be catered for the better the chance of something emerging before they are lost, because it becomes a losing battle later in the system.

Senator Kelly referred to the problems in rural and urban areas, and I accept what she said. However, there is a cluster of disadvantage in many of the urban areas which are suffering in a number of ways, and although ancillary services are available there are many parallel pressures in urban areas that are not replicated in rural areas. In urban areas there is an intensity of the type of vicious circles — or vicious lines because they are not circles at all — of deprivation and underprivilege that incorporate unemployment and anti-social behaviour in generation after generation of families.

Given that resources are scarce, one has to have enormous sympathy for the demands from these deprived urban areas, and that is not to speak against the legitimate demands of rural areas. When the Minister is setting her priorities, however, I would understand her dealing first with those urban areas while keeping the plight of rural children in mind.

Another reason I hope she will accept the amendment is that it does not, as Senator O'Toole says, impose time pressure but tries what is a worthwhile, commendable and admirable initiative which we hope will be continued with all the energy and commitment the Minister has already shown. In so far as our amendment can be helpful, I hope she will take it in that spirit.

Miss Ormonde: I welcome the Minister to the House and am glad of the opportunity to say a few words on this motion and the amendment.

No one knows better than I what remedial and disadvantage mean because I work in a disadvantaged area as a career guidance counsellor. I deal with students [491] whose socio-economic background means they are in need of extra teaching resources. What do we mean by “disadvantage?” It really means that if there is no remedial teacher in a school, that school is disadvantaged and we need a remedial teacher in every school in the country. The Minister has started going down that road and is aware of the importance of having a remedial teacher in every school because whether they are primary or second level schools, there will be a minority of students who need extra help.

Looking at the transition from primary to secondary education one recognises the lack of remedial teaching in the primary school. In other words, students from homes with a lack of resources, no support group, and stress-related problems, feel at a disadvantage in school because they are not able to cope with the normal curriculum. They have nowhere to go and, because the class sizes are so big, they are lost. They may not necessarily be in need of remedial teaching in the sense that they have learning disabilities — it may be that they just need extra help — but they are lost to the education system and to society at large.

Researchers have pointed out that very few students from disadvantaged backgrounds go on to third level education. References by Clancy and Kathleen Lynch from UCD clearly indicate that the needs of students from the lower socio-bracket are not being recognised because of the lack of resources in schools to help along the way by giving them the necessary props before they go into second level. These problems must be tackled in primary school before it is too late.

If a remedial teacher is to be introduced into every school a whole range of resources must be provided. It will also cost a lot to find a suitable programme which will vary from school to school and from pupil to pupil. Small numbers in classes and a withdrawal system in schools are necessary because pupils may not be remedial in every subject. They [492] may be remedial in one or two subjects and in that case there would have to be a timetable arrangement within the system which will free teachers and complement remedial teachers.

We are discussing 200 remedial teachers, and I do not know whether those teachers have been allocated to primary or second level schools. This motion states 200 positions for additional remedial teachers and for additional teachers for disadvantaged schools. I would like this clarified. I hope not all the 200 teachers will go to primary schools. While I know that primary education is the foundation, nevertheless the schools in the large urban areas must be examined and prioritised. I would not like to think I am neglecting my rural background because there is a better chance of finding students who may be less skilled in certain subjects or have a lower IQ in a less populated area.

It is very important that the pupil-teacher ratio is reduced. The school population is declining and that must release more teachers and resources. I know this is happening because I deal with this area and the drop in numbers of students coming into second level is obvious. This is something that should be examined.

There has been a great deal of talk about child centred education but, so far, I do not see much progress in that regard. I hope we will move futher in that direction and that it will be tied in with the education programme, the book schemes and a range of subjects. The Department of Education will also have to examine the subject range for the junior certificate examination. In first year all classes are often required to cover a wide range of subjects. As Senator O'Toole said, we are back to the three Rs. If one loses sight of the three Rs — and this relates to my background and to that of my father who was a teacher and always held this view — and if we cannot get that right by the time the pupil is 11 or 12 years of age, there is no foundation. Reading, writing and arithmetic must be part of the Department's education strategy in primary schools. If we get that right and [493] if we bring in a remedial teacher to make sure they can read and write by the time they move into second level we can give them a junior certificate. We can train them for skills orientation jobs, and we can place them, but if we lose sight of the three Rs we can forget it.

There is a discipline problem in second level. I welcome the idea of the school home link and the guidance counsellor However, if there are to be remedial teachers in school, consideration must also be given to having a guidance counsellor an education psychologist and child guidance clinics. All these areas must work together because remedial teachers cannot work in isolation because if they need to refer a student to an education psychologist very often one cannot be found.

While I welcome this move, there is still a lot to look for in terms of the broader education for the less well off student. I do not blame the Department entirely. It has been said that education starts in the home and one is taught in school, so we must consider involving parents not only when things are bad but when they are going well. We must make schools user friendly so that parents can come without feeling apprehensive about meeting teachers. If that was the norm when things go wrong the parents could help to work out a programme for the child and this could be continued in the home. Very often the ethos in the home and the ethos in the school are not correlated and that destroys what is being done in the school because all is forgotten at home.

Remedial teaching is about educating parents in terms of what is involved for a student. I welcome the remedial programme. There should be liaison between a remedial teacher and an education psychologist. The programme can only work when they operate together for the overall benefit of the child. Ideally we should consider education for life and not just education in a particular subject or for an examination. We are talking about preparing students for the new world and jobs in the future will be different from the jobs of today.

[494] Things are changing all the time. I hope there will be equality of opportunity for all students because they should be cherished equally. Perhaps in the next decade Clancy will be in a position to state that there are many students from disadvantaged areas in second level going on to third level colleges. I would welcome that because I am not happy with the current situation. I hope there will also be a guidance counsellor in every school. I suggest that remedial teachers should be considered as ex-quota, that they will not have any other teaching or administrative duties. We are going in the right direction and I look forward to progress in this area.

Mr. Cotter: I welcome the Minister to the House. It is good that she has returned here and that we have another opportunity to exchange views.

We must consider having a remedial teacher in every school. It does not make sense otherwise. This motion gives the impression that everything is fine and that every student is being looked after properly but that is not the case. I do not know where the figure 200 came from because as the Department is aware the figure is 86. The Minister has evidently sanctioned 86 posts and I note she has looked after Senator Cashin very well. He is very happy because many schools in his area have been looked after but everybody cannot say the same.

The Department could not tell me today to what the 200 referred, and I assume the Minister has a number of things in the pipeline that she will announce during the summer. We look forward to that but I have a list of the 86 posts in front of me; this figure of 200 mystifies me. It does not refer to 200 schools either because the service the Minister has put in place this year takes in 305 schools. The mystery will continue until the Minister replies. The impression might be that things are fine in the country but this is not the case. When the Minister has increased the figure of 86 to 200, as I assume she will, half the schools in the country will still be without a remedial service. If the Minister is proud [495] of her achievement on one side, she will have to be ashamed of it on the other. That stands to reason.

Mr. Magner: It does not.

Mr. Cotter: It does; there are many students in Cork who do not have the services of a remedial teacher. That is one of the bald facts on which we must ponder for a while.

Next September half the schools will not have the services of a remedial teacher and some of those schools will be incredibly disadvantaged. It is difficult to discern the definition of disadvantage. Are we aware that 580 schools around the country have two, three or four classes with between 30 and 39 students in the same classroom. This places a great deal of stress and strain on the system. One has third, fourth and fifth classes and between 30 and 40 students in the classroom and no remedial teacher available for as little as a quarter of an hour per week. It is stressful for the teachers who are in that position and it is difficult for parents who have children in such classes. The parents are responding and regularly call to my clinics and to my house asking how they are going to get the services of a remedial teacher for their children who are not doing well in school. It is aggravating for parents because they are aware that if their children do not have education, they will be disadvantaged in the workplace as well. We are all conscious of that fact.

If the Minister expresses pride in what she has done she must also apologise to the schools which will not have remedial teachers next September. I have heard many stories over the last few years. Somebody with dyslexia can slip through the primary system and enter secondary education before it is discovered. Teachers have told me that they notify the psychological section about students who have difficulties, years pass and the students are never called for assessment. It is a terrible indictment of the education system that this can happen but it is happening. Students are passing through the [496] national school system before they are assessed, and that is happening in schools where there is no remedial service.

We would all like students to leave education feeling confident and able to cope with the basics of communication and with life. We are sending students out of school every year who do not have the basic skills required to cope with life. Until such time as that problem is addressed we cannot really congratulate ourselves. If we do, we must apologise as well.

The system needs more resources. This may or may not mean money. Because the population cohort for national schools is decreasing, there will be more teachers available without the need for additional financial resources and over a few years the required number of teachers will become available. The proposed amendment is attainable without committing extra resources to the area.

I am disappointed with some of the information I have received recently. It has been suggested to me that there is an element of politics involved in the appointments which were made, and that is disturbing. Indeed, Senator Cashin's comments would tend to lend weight to that as he was very proud of the fact that his own little area was looked after; that would imply other areas were looked after not quite so well.

Ms Kelly: Were Cavan and Monaghan looked after?

Mr. Cashin: It is the largest county.

Mr. Cotter: That has been said to me on a number of occasions over the last few weeks.

Mr. Dardis: They are the most intelligent people.

Mr. Cotter: I did not hear that, but it is probably true. It has been said that there is political interference in the system and that the criteria used are not the empirical criteria which should be used. Schools have informed me that having applied ten years ago, they were [497] by-passed, even though they had well over the 10 per cent quota in favour of other schools which applied recently and in some cases, schools got teachers even though they never applied. I think the Minister will be able to verify that if she is pressed. The schools are also annoyed because Labour Party people have been informed of appointments before the schools.

Ms Gallagher: Untrue.

Mr. Cotter: This went on in the past but people voted for change and hoped we were going to get it. They have not got it. Many schools would have preferred to be informed of an appointment by letter in the ordinary way and then let the politicians do what they like. If they want to go to the press and claim they were the people responsible, let them. Those things are important to us. All those who voted for the Minister for Education were voting for change and what they meant by that was fairness and justice.

Mr. Magner: They are getting it.

Mr. Cotter: They are not getting it.

Mr. Magner: That is what is driving the Senator crazy; they are getting it.

Mr. Cotter: The Labour Party have proved themselves to be much more adept than any other party at political skulduggery. They are certainly moving in the direction in which former Governments moved and there is no change in that respect. People are objecting because change was held out as a possibility during the last election and it did not happen. Most people would like some fairness and justice in the system. This month the vocational education committees are making appointments to schools and everybody will say they are political in nature——

Mr. Magner: That is not so.

[498] Mr. Cotter: ——and that they are not based on merits as they should be.

Mr. Magner: That is nonsense.

Mr. Cotter: The man who says it is nonsense must be living on the other side of the mountain.

Mr. Magner: It is nonsense.


Mr. Cotter: There must be change. Meritocracy should be the basis for all appointments. This is not the situation now and it should be.

I will be supporting the amendment and I hope the Minister, in light of the developments in education, will be able to accept it.

Mr. Maloney: I welcome the Minister to the Seanad. She was a remedial teacher so she will know the significance of having a remedial teacher in a school. Under the Programme for a Partnership Government there was a commitment given that more remedial teachers would be appointed, and I welcome the appointment of another 86 at this time. I also welcome the fact that, in Donegal, four remedial teachers were appointed to cover 17 schools. The people in the area also welcomed the appointments. I was examining some figures in relation to schools in the Clonmany area which showed that in one school with a roll of 114 children, there were 30 in need of remedial help; in another school there were 132 pupils and there were 21; in another school there were 132 pupils, 21 of whom were in need of remedial help; the third school had 85 pupils of whom 24 needed remedial help in English and 23 in mathematics. Of those 85 pupils, 78 came from families which held medical cards and 72 from families in receipt of unemployment benefit.

I welcome the fact that many of the additional remedial teachers are going to rural areas because most of them were sent to urban areas before this. This means that 76 per cent of all pupils now [499] have access to remedial services. I congratulate the Minister for seeing and responding to the urgent needs of deprived children in rural areas. In the allocation of the new posts she gave priority to schools which had no remedial support. For example, in County Mayo remedial provision increased from 36 to 56 per cent and provision for County Leitrim increased from 43 to 63 per cent coverage.

Home liaison officers are important to forge links between school and home. When there is a huge cultural difference between home and society many teachers, for example those of itinerant children, find that a liaison person is vital if parents and children are to learn that education is important for the future. The system should work both ways and the need to recognise home values should also be understood. Often schools and teachers seem to reinforce middle class values to the detriment of other value systems, particularly in the case of itinerant children.

With regard to Senator O'Toole point in relation to Structural Funds, the ESRI report on Structural Funds stresses the need to have educational disadvantages addressed at primary level. I have no doubt that the Minister will work hard to see that this is done and that the proper funding is given to the areas where help is needed. It is easier and cheaper to solve learning problems at the youngest level than to attempt to remedy the problem later on with Youthreach programmes.

I congratulate the Minister on the work which she has done. I have no doubt that if she had more funding it would have been spent providing remedial teachers in disadvantaged areas. I welcome her commitment and thank her.

Mr. Sherlock: I wish to share my time with Senator Dardis.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Mooney): Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Sherlock: I support this amendment and I would be surprised if it was [500] not supported by Senators on all sides of the House. Young people are leaving primary school illiterate, which is the worst situation one could envisage, and the number has increased over the last few years. Consequently, I support the amendment which seeks to provide remedial teachers for the pupils in the 1,500 schools which do not have access to remedial services. If we are to cherish all the children of our nation equally, the Minister has no choice but to appoint remedial teachers. Not to do so would be an abdication of responsibility. It is a vitally important area on which I hold strong views.

I know Senator Cashin has been working hard and he referred to areas west of Kanturk, The parish of Glantane is outside my area but I received a letter which stated that in this school year, 1992-93, there are more than 270 pupils in the four primary schools in the parish, and quite a number of children have been identified as having learning difficulties and urgently need expert tuition from a remedial teacher. I wrote to the Minister and received a reply on 4 May 1993 which mentioned that as a first step towards honouring the commitments in the Programme for a Partnership Government 80 additional remedial teachers would be appointed with effect from September 1993. However, I received no indication that Glantane was included.

Kilcredan and Chonpriest national schools have applied for remedial teaching services on a number of occasions during the last decade and on the last occasion the divisional inspector visited both schools to verify the number of pupils needing remedial teachers. On that point I think the requirement of a catchment area of 500 pupils to justify the appointment of a remedial teacher should be examined. The schools were advised in 1991 by a former Minister for Education that their case would receive urgent priority. To date I have not heard that a remedial teacher has been appointed to those schools.

I wrote to the Minister on that question and had discussions with a number of schools. There is something radically [501] wrong with our primary education system. Where such a high percentage of our children require additional tuition from a remedial teacher, it is an abdication of responsibility not to appoint such teachers.

Mr. Dardis: I, too, support Senator O'Toole's amendment. I regard it as being moderate in tone and a good amendment. My record of having amendments accepted in this House is particularly unfortunate, so saying I support this amendment is probably conferring upon it the kiss of death. I want to raise a particular case with the Minister. I do not expect her to have an immediate answer but perhaps, throught her Department, she would investigate the situation for me.

I should say at the outset that I have a vested interest in the matter in that I am a member of the board of management of the school in question and my children received an excellent education there. Fortunately, they did not require the services of a remedial teacher. An important principle which would be accepted by all is that people at a disadvantage should be looked after by society, particularly disadvantaged children.

The school in question is Scoil Bhríde, in Athgarvan, County Kildare. In 1982 that school applied for a remedial teacher. In 1986 the principal of the school was told by an inspector of the Department that they would be getting a remedial teacher to be shared with the neighbouring school of Two Mile House. It even reached the point of discussing the allocation of time for this teacher but nothing happened. The most recent state of affairs is that Two Mile House, which was to share with Athgarvan, has been included with Brownstown and Suncroft, two other schools in the area, and a post has been advertised for a remedial teacher.

These advances are to be welcomed. However, even apart from the aspect of geography, it does not make sense because the school in the middle is being ignored. The other school involved is St. Patrick's Church of Ireland school in [502] Newbridge, County Kildare. Both schools would be prepared to share a teacher. My question is, what is the status of the application from the schools at present?

I agree with Senator Cotter about the numbers mentioned in the motion. There is a belief among parents and teachers in the area — and I am not just putting forward my own view — that politics has had a bearing on this matter and that objective criteria have not been followed. It is a cause of concern that certain public representatives are notified of decisions — not in respect of this matter but in respect of other matters — while others are not; they may receive late notification or no notification and only find out what has happened from talking to other people.

These are the only two schools within a 30 mile radius and they have no remedial teacher. A school in Newbridge with 500 pupils has two teachers and, although those teachers may be necessary, it seems wrong that one school has no remedial teacher while other has two. I ask the Minister to investigate this matter. Perhaps she would outline the objective criteria followed by the Department when making such appointments. I would also like to know when Scoil Bhríde will be allocated a remedial teacher.

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): I do not accept the amendment. I wish to outline what has been achieved not only in the area of remedial teaching but in the provision of educational services in the other disadvantaged areas. I think it is accepted by the House that as Minister for Education, I accorded top priority to addressing the needs of those who are the victims of socio-economic deprivation and those who suffer from physical or mental disability and I am pleased to have been able to allocate an additional 200 teaching posts to this task, with effect from September next. Those teachers are freed for other duties because of the drop in the number of schoolgoing children at primary level. They will be allocated not only to remedial teaching but also in other areas.

[503] My experience both in the teaching profession and in political life has long ago convinced me of the need for a special effort to focus on the needs of the educationally disadvantaged in our society. There is abundant evidence that educational qualifications or the lack of them determine to a large extent the life chances of our young people. The likelihood of obtaining educational qualifications is closely associated with social background and the children of socioeconomically deprived groups constitute a majority of those who do not benefit from the educational system.

The link between educational deprivation and unemployment is clear. The majority of those who are long term unemployed have few or no educational qualifications, have left school early and have not benefited from an education system which should cherish all children equally.

It is clear, therefore, that education plays an indirect but important part in the perpetuation of poverty. The children of deprived groups are themselves most likely to leave the education system early, experience unemployment and to have limited life chances. Thus the cycle of deprivation is perpetuated.

As Minister for Education I see breaking this cycle of deprivation as the single greatest challenge facing our education system. I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to take concrete measures to break this cycle and in so doing to have the firm backing of all my colleagues in the Government, whose commitment to this area is strongly reflected in the Programme for a Partnership Government.

To combat educational disadvantage we must focus on intervention in the early years of the child's life. Research findings indicate that pre-schooling is effective in improving school performance, especially with significant parental involvement. Where areas of socio-economic disadvantage are concerned, therefore, I see a particularly important role for pre-schools as a means of generating early awareness of the role of education [504] in children's overall development. The importance of this area was specifically recognised in the Programme for a Partnership Government and I am pleased to announce that I will shortly introduce an initiative in this area under which my Department will resource the establishment, on a pilot basis, of a number of pre-schools attached to primary schools in areas of recognised particular disadvantage.

The objectives of the service will be to expose young children to an educational programme which would enhance their overall development and prevent school failure and to offset the effects of social disadvantage. The service will provide an opportunity for parents to develop their capacities to educate their own children by involving them in all stages of the development and operation of the service including planning, organisation and implementation. It will also allow for community partnership and participation in developing and operating an important local service.

The service will be accommodated in vacant classrooms in primary schools in the selected areas. The teachers involved will be on the staff of the school and will be under the general supervision of the board of management and of the principal teacher. I intend to allocate 16 teaching posts to this important pilot pre-school service in areas of disadvantage.

Partnership between parents and the school is essential in combating educational disadvantage. Our partnership approach must emphasise that the parent is the child's principal educator whose relationship with the teacher is one in which the roles are equal and complementary.

It is evident that a crucial consideration in developing greater participation in education by children from disadvantaged areas is the need to interest and involve parents in their children's education. The home-school-community liaison service is targeted specifically at this area. The liaison teachers attached to this service, who are referred to as co-ordinators, are engaged full time in working with schools, parents and local [505] groups in fostering closer contacts between parents of pupils and their schools. By developing a greater appreciation on the part of parents of the positive contribution which they can make to their children's development and by breaking down barriers between parents and those who deliver the education service, the home-school-liaison service is making a very valuable contribution to overcoming educational disadvantage in these areas.

I am particularly pleased to have been able to appoint an additional 15 co-ordinators to the service with effect from September next. This will bring the total number of co-ordinators involved in the service to 60 and will facilitate the inclusion of an additional 27 schools in the service. The home-school-liaison service will now cover a total of over 33,000 pupils in disadvantaged schools. Evaluations of the effectiveness of this service to date suggest that it is having a most positive impact in the areas in which it operates and I have decided to put the service on a permanent footing with effect from September next. I intend in the coming years to develop the service further in line with the Government's commitment to this area.

The disadvantaged areas scheme plays an important part in our initiatives to break the cycle of deprivation by early intervention at primary school level. Schools included in this scheme not only receive an extra teaching post but qualify for a supplementary capitation grant at a rate of £17 per pupil over the increased and approved capitation grant that is now £33 per pupil. This means £50 per pupil in a disadvantaged school. I have approved the allocation of an additional 50 concessionary teaching posts to facilitate the inclusion of an extra 50 schools in the disadvantaged schemes. This initiative will result in 258 primary schools which will involve 73,000 pupils being included in the scheme.

Schools selected for inclusion in the scheme are being chosen on the basis of priority of need as demonstrated by a range of socio-economic criteria. I would ask for evidence of political interference to be brought to my attention. I have [506] withstood many persuasive arguments because I accepted the criteria laid down in this report long before I became Minister for Education. Perhaps the situation has changed — I do not wish to judge previous holders of this office — but I am satisfied, in my commitment to transparency, with this criteria. Some schools who never contacted me got a remedial teacher because writing a letter to me is not one of the criteria established in 1990 and under which I have and am making, these appointments. Some Senators have been involved in political life much longer than I and know we must adhere to criteria already laid down and I am satisfied with what is happening. Perhaps the Senators should listen and then look at the schools to which they have referred. Senator Dardis has not asked me to comment on his school because he accepts that I would not have the relevant information. If two different schools are considered, the criteria taken into account are not the number of pupils there, but the incidence of unemployment, medical card holders and local government housing occupancy. Account is also taken of an assessment by my Department's inspectorate of the needs of individual schools and the prevailing pupil-teacher ratios in schools seeking disadvantaged status. All primary schools not already included in the scheme were recently invited to apply for these 50 posts to be allocated and Senators will be pleased to hear that the decisions on the schools selected will be made early next week.

Mr. Cotter: And the Minister will inform the Senators and Deputies in the Labour Party first.

Ms Bhreathnach: Calling my office either today or tomorrow will not get an answer. The decision will be communicated early next week.

Mr. O'Toole: Could the Minister give us the criteria for remedial teachers?

Ms Bhreathnach: The criteria for remedial teachers have been agreed with [507] an organisation Senator O'Toole seeks to represent in this House. They play an important role in the agreed criteria.

Acting Chairman: Will Senators, and especially Senator O'Toole, allow the Minister to continue without interruption? Senator O'Toole will have an opportunity to reply before 8 p.m.

Ms Bhreathnach: Additionally, another 18 of my 200 posts are being allocated as extra concessionary posts to schools already included in the disadvantaged areas scheme. These posts will be based on pupil numbers and will go to the largest schools already in the scheme, which currently have one concessionary post, and to schools which have been identified as having particularly acute difficulties at present and would benefit from additional staffing resources. Details on the schools selected for receipt of these posts will be announced early next week.

In addition to these posts, I am also allocating a significant increase in the levels of funding to schools in disadvantaged areas in the current year. The level of expenditure under the disadvantaged areas fund in the current year, at £2.618 million, represents close to a 40 per cent increase over the 1992 figure.

The various measures I have outlined above concern the allocation of additional staffing resources and while I have no doubt that these resources will be greatly welcomed — I thank the Senators who thanked me on behalf of those schools who have already received these resources — I am also conscious that, in many cases where socio-economic disadvantage exists, the need can be of a financial rather than a staffing nature. Therefore, I have decided to specifically target financial assistance to schools whose primary need is financial. I have decided to allocate £250,000 in the current year to selected schools identified as having particularly acute financial difficulties at present. The process of selecting recipient schools for this special [508] support has been agreed between my Department, the INTO and the schools management and will be based on attested financial data submitted to my Department by the schools management. I am confident that this new initiative will provide welcome relief for schools in disadvantaged areas whose current burden is inhibiting their potential for development.

I have also decided to allocate £100,000 for distribution to schools which demonstrates a significant level of socio-economic disadvantage but which did not qualify for inclusion in the disadvantaged areas scheme this year. The schools selected will be given a supplementary capitation grant at a rate of £17 per pupil and decisions on those schools will also be announced shortly.

Moving from what we would recognise as the remedial area, there is a disadvantaged group, already referred to in this debate, who require special attention and they are the children of traveller families. My Department already provides 160 special classes for such children around the country and a special teaching post has been allocated in each case to deal with the special needs of these children. Additionally, a valuable support system for this group is the visiting teacher service for travellers, which provide the extra back-up which such children need so that they can maximise their educational potential. I have decided to appoint a further two posts to this service — with effect from September 1993. This will bring to 11 the number of visiting teachers in the service who, together with the national education co-ordinator for traveller children, will ensure that the children in question receive the extra support they need.

Individual pupils can experience disadvantage within the education system if learning difficulties are not recognised and remediated in good time. I recognise the value of remedial teaching and I am pleased to have allocated an additional 86 posts to this service, bringing the total number of such posts to 1,031. As a result, a total number of 390,000 pupils in our primary schools now have access [509] to a remedial service. This represents a coverage, not in the number of schools but in that of pupils, which is the most important factor of all. Some 77 per cent of all primary school pupils now have access to a remedial service. Everything in the garden is not rosy but I am satified that the situation is improving and I am committed, with the support of the Senators, in ensuring that further resources are obtained so that, during this Government's term in office, the roses will bloom in Senator O'Toole's garden.

Over the coming years, I intend to make further progress in this area in line with the Government's commitment to appoint an additional 500 remedial teachers by September 1996. Disadvantage exists not only among socio-economic groups and individuals with learning difficulties but also among children who suffer from physical and mental handicap and they have their own special needs. It is the policy of my Department to encourage the integration of handicapped pupils into ordinary schools and classes to the maximum extent possible. The extent to which this can be achieved and the pace of this development will, of course, depend on the capacity of individual children to cope in the integrated setting.

There will always be a need for special facilities to meet the needs of those who suffer from more severe forms of handicap and special schools and classes will continue to provide this service, where necessary. However, where integration is possible, it can be extremely benefical to the children concerned and I am anxious to encourage schools to foster this process. I am pleased to say that many of our schools have already successfully embarked on this course and I take this opportunity to compliment them — the teaching profession on their initiative and dedication.

Since it is important that the efforts of schools in fostering the integration process should not go unrecognised, I have, decided to allocate a number of additional resource teacher posts to this area. These posts will be allocated to [510] schools which have been identified as having a number of handicapped children in ordinary classes. The resource teacher will act in support of the ordinary teaching staff in dealing with the handicapped children and will thus ensure that these children are given that extra support they need in the classroom. It also recognises the extra support which teachers who take on this job need in their classrooms.

I consider that the initiatives I have detailed provide a firm indication of the Government's commitment to the needs of primary schools and their pupils in disadvantaged areas, to children with learning difficulties and to children with special needs and that they will be a sufficient encouragement to the schools, teachers and parents involved.

I thank Senators from both sides who have given me the opportunity to highlight what has been achieved in this area. In the six months since this Government took office, Senators can see the progress which has been made in relation to the commitments in the Programme for a Partnership Government. During the next four years, Senators will be able to see where we are going and I ask for their support for the sake of the children and their parents, the partners involved in education.

Mr. McDonagh: I wish to share my time with Senator Neville.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Sherlock): Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. McDonagh: I welcome the Minister to the House. Statistics, press reports and Members have emphasised the problem of the increasing number of young people leaving school unable to read or write. This highlights the need for more remedial teachers. I speak not as a Senator but as a teacher working with disadvantaged students in County Galway vocational education committee.

I am Chairman of the Adult Education Board in County Galway vocational education committee. We have under our jurisdiction ten training centres of which we are proud. Those attending these centres [511] are early school leavers who struggled through primary school and could not cope with secondary school. If remedial teachers had been available the majority of those young people would not have been early school leavers or attending these centres. A number of these young people have fallen by the wayside and have been in trouble with the law. This sad situation could have been averted had remedial teachers been available.

This problem has always existed but it is getting worse. I bring to the Minister's attention a rare situation in rural areas which is causing concern and economic hardship for parents. I highlight an example from my parish. The parish of Lackagh, Turloughmore, County Galway, has four schools, but no remedial teacher; 480 pupils attend these schools. During the past number of years we have appealed to the various Ministers for Education to have a remedial teacher sited in the parish. However, the call has fallen on deaf ears.

Parents with children in need of remedial attention must travel 12 miles to the nearest city, Galway city. They must pay approximately £12 per hour for grinds — I have no quarrel with that fee because it is difficult work. These children must travel at least once a week to the city to receive remedial attention and it is an expensive exercise. Parents face travel expenses and perhaps babysitting costs. This a major problem in rural areas.

Although my family can afford a motor car, many families face transportation difficulties. At four or five o'clock in the afternoon, when these children must go to the city, buses are not available and one could not contemplate getting a taxi at that time of the day. This a major problem for parents in rural areas with children in need of remedial attention.

Perhaps in places like the parish of Lackagh, a remedial teacher could be shared in the ratio of one teacher for 400 pupils. I realise that this ratio is high, but it would be of enormous benefit. While I am pleased that a number of neighbouring [512] parishes have been allocated remedial teachers, the parish of Lackagh, which has four national schools, is still in limbo. Many parents face the dilemma of having to bring their children to Galway city for remedial attention. We would appreciate if something could be done in this regard.

In the city of Galway a number of mildly mentally handicapped students have been removed from the system and have been integrated into ordinary national schools. This will not be successful unless the appropriate services are provided. I refer, in particular, to the Holy Family school and the Burrenview school where major problems exist.

As a teacher, I highlight an area with which I am conversant. I ask the Minister to consider the idea of a parish module for rural schools. A teacher with remedial qualifications could be allocated to rural parishes with four or five schools and approximately 400 pupils. In addition, I ask the Minister to consider the allocation of remedial teachers to schools in large cities, particularly where mildly mentally handicapped children have been removed from mildly mentally handicapped schools and placed in ordinary schools. While there are problems in relation to funding, perhaps the Minister for Finance will respond favourably to the Minister's requests. I hope the Minister will respond favourably to the amendment being tabled this evening.

Mr. Neville: I welcome the Minister to the House and thank her for her contribution. I put forward my case in relation to the proposed remedial teachers. There are two areas I wish to mention and I know the Minister is dealing with one. In the Glin area of west Limerick, the school which services the disadvantaged areas of Ballyhahill, Loghill and Ballyguiltenane, out of 300 plus children there are approximately 30 in need of remedial teaching. I ask the Minister to give this matter her favourable consideration as quickly as possible. The other school is my own local school which has been applying for a remedial teacher for many years. This school has [513] pupils from Kilfinny, Croagh and Cappagh and about 40 children in the school require remedial teaching. In Bawnmore there is a child in urgent need of remedial teaching, the family are paying £6 for group therapy with a remedial teacher. There is a special problem in this area which has an unusually high incidence of cystic fibrosis and many of these children fall behind and require remedial teaching.

I am glad the Minister spoke about traveller children. I wish to raise the issue of traveller children in Rathkeale and the provision of a liaison officer for St. Annes's school and the boy's school in Rathkeale. I raised this matter on the Adjournment some time ago but the Minister was not in a position to come to the House. There are 100 traveller children in St. Anne's school and from now on there will be a similar number in the boy's school. Most of these children are in special classes. There are special problems in St. Anne's school. We need to encourage the parents of these children to continue the children's education and we should stress to them the importance of primary education to the traveller community. A home school liaison officer is very necessary. When this problem is mentioned outside Rathkeale, people cannot believe that the Department do not give it the attention it needs because of the unique problems there.

The school staff works very hard with the traveller parents. Traveller children usually attend the early years of primary school but they do not see the need for continuing education at a later stage because the parents cannot help the children with their homework. People are entitled to educate their children as they wish and this also applies to travellers but it would be of help to the children if a liaison officer was available to liaise between the school and the parents. I hope some of the money which the Minister mentioned will be allocated to travellers will be used in this area. I ask that the school be designated as disadvantaged.

Mr. Fahey: I understand three people [514] wish to speak so I will share my time to allow everybody to speak——

Acting Chairman: I will be obliged to call Senator Gallagher to reply ten minutes prior to the conclusion of this debate.

Mr. Fahey: Senator Wall wishes to speak——

Acting Chairman: You may share your time with him.

Mr. Fahey: If it is acceptable we will divide the remaining time by three.

Acting Chairman: That is acceptable.

Mr. Fahey: I welcome the Minister to the House.

Acting Chairman: I will allow you a little latitude until the ten minutes prior to the end of the debate when I will call Senator Gallagher to reply. You may divide your time with Senator Wall.

Mr. Fahey: You are not being fair to me. I was trying to be helpful to everybody. I will speak for about seven or eight minutes.

Acting Chairman: There will not be much time left for anybody else.

Mr. Fahey: I will speak for five minutes. I welcome the Minister. I appreciate how well she has done in what is an extremely difficult job in the months she has been in the Department. It must be one of the most difficult Departments because of the vast amount and variety of work. I sincerely hope that she can adhere to her aspiration of laying down criteria because it will be a difficult one to implement.

I wish to briefly refer to the pre-school pilot programme which is a very good initiative and is welcome. The home school liaison scheme is undoubtedly a very good one and I am delighted it is being made permanent and expanded [515] and that the visitors service for teachers is also being expanded.

I wish to dwell for a few moments on two areas, disadvantaged areas with particular reference to the remedial teaching and the integration of special needs. It is welcome that there are 200 new posts in remedial education. However the Minister would agree that many more posts are needed. I would describe Senator O'Toole's amendment as aspirational. We would all like to see 1,500 extra remedial teachers provided, however, the reality is that the resources are not there to provide as many teachers as the Minister and all of us would like.

While there is a cry for remedial teachers to be appointed to schools throughout the country, and I would join in that demand, I am convinced from experience that if parents were more significantly involved in the education of their children, many of the remedial problems we have in primary schools today would not exist. Some effort should be made, perhaps on a pilot basis, to educate parents as to the necessity for constant attention to and assistance for their children. I am convinced that many remedial problems are due to the fact that parents do not give any attention or assistance to their children when they are doing their homework. Teachers cannot be expected to provide the level of assistance that is necessary. Many children who find learning difficult would, in my view, perform much better if they received pesonal attention at home.

There is no liaison of significant degree between teachers and parents. There is liaison to a certain level. Teachers do their best to communicate with parents and to involve and motivate them, but I am not aware — and the Minister can correct me if I am wrong — of any structured system where the Department provides support services for teachers in schools to involve parents in an effective and meaningful way. If this were done it would alleviate many of the problems for school children who cannot read or write because they do not get help at home. If my wife did not sit down with our children [516] every evening they would not learn. I am convinced that in deprived areas especially, because of the difficulties with which parents have to contend and which I am glad that the Minister is tackling, not enough support and assistance are being provided.

With regard to disadvantaged areas, I made the point the last time the Minister was in the House that there is a growing gap between the haves and the have nots. The initiatives the Minister announced this evening will help to narrow that gap but a much more radical approach is needed. I welcomed the Minister's interest. It is clear from her speech that she is very keen to tackle the problem of deprivation. I suggest that until we identify clearly disadvantaged areas, such as Neilstown — and I do not mind mentioning it — and provide them with resources, they will not achieve the results they deserve.

The problem will be, as the Minister and her officials will know, that the Department of Finance will simply not want to provide money for this. I would say to the Minister for Finance, his officials and the Taoiseach — I know I do not have to say it to the Minister present — that a good return on investment would be achieved if there were a significant increase in the amount of money granted to the Department of Education to prevent the problems we are seeing in this and other cities because of the cycle of deprivation suffered by these people. Until we adopt a radical approach and are prepared to provide a huge level of resources, the problem will not be tackled effectively. Investing in these areas would provide a good return.

I am convinced that tourists are being attacked by children who are deprived. There but for the grace of God go I because, if I was reared in the deprivation I have seen in some parts of this city I would be a bigger blackguard than any of them. We do not give these kids a fair chance and until we do we can expect to have problems associated with crime and vandalism. The integration of special needs should be pursued by the Minister, but that will require a great deal of courage. [517] Specialist interests do not want integration but it is the correct way to help the children involved. There must be special schools with special needs but many of the children in such schools should not be there and they are not being educated as well as they would be in an ordinary national school with proper support services. Again I accept these are costly.

Acting Chairman: I call Senator Wall. I am obliged to call Senator Gallagher to reply to the debate at 7.50 p.m. You have approximately two minutes.

Mr. Wall: Thank you. I also thank Senator Gallagher and Senator Fahey for sharing their time with me. I welcome the Minister. I take tremendous pride in the work she has done on the issue of remedial teachers. She more than anyone else present knows how much is still to be done in this area. If there had not been financial constraints, I am sure this work would be at a more advanced stage.

I am delighted the Minister has started to tackle the problems for the travelling community. It has already been said this area must be investigated and the faults remedied. A good education is the best way to gain respect in society. If the travelling community is not given a chance to be educated that respect will not be forthcoming.

We must also consider the parents in that community. As Senator Fahey said, communication between parents and children is vital for education. This must also happen in the travelling community. I ask the Minister to consider the travelling community as a group, parents and students, to achieve a satisfactory result and ensure they do not become further segregated. Unfortunately this could happen if we consider students who are travellers in isolation from their parents. Both should be given the same regard.

I congratulate the Minister on her achievements to date and I am sure her greatest moments are to come. I hope the Department of Finance will appreciate her excellent work and see it as essential for the future of this country.

[518] Acting Chairman: I call Senator Gallagher. You have ten minutes to conclude.

Ms Gallagher: I congratulate the Minister on her work to date. I had sympathy for her on her appointment because the area of education had been neglected in the last number of years. Everyone knows schools are in bad repair and undoubtedly the Minister is inundated with queries on this subject. The fault may lie with previous Governments and it is good the Minister has addressed this at an early stage.

I went to a two-teacher school in the country. For my first four years in education I was taught by a teacher who had serious personal problems, alcoholism among them. Many have suffered in rural areas from similar circumstances, especially in smaller schools where pupils may have the same teacher for a number of years. This matter has not been addressed before but many people have been through this system and suffered as a result. They never received the basics in education. The possibility of remedial teachers did not arise because they did not exist — and that was true not very long ago.

The Minister has taken a big step by allocating this number of remedial teachers for the current year. Her programme indicates this is only the first step, and it has been long awaited. I congratulate her because the value of remedial teaching can never be overestimated. It is a basic form of education. If pupils suffer or lose out at national school level they never have an opportunity to catch up subsequently.

It is crucial that this problem is tackled, considering how many children in modern society come from disadvantaged and socially deprived backgrounds. In addressing this issue the Minister has shown she understands what education involves and this knowledge is derived from her practical experience. One could never overemphasise the value of education.

I am more than delighted to see seven teachers appointed to Cavan-Monaghan [519] to serve approximately 40 schools. These appointments will add immense value to education in the area. It is petty to dispute who first announced the news. Some schools were urgently seeking remedial teachers for ten to 12 years and they were pleased that someone had heard their calls and that teachers were given recognition for what they were trying to achieve in small rural communities.

The Minister has also reversed the decision in the Green Paper on Education. Smaller schools are to be protected against closure to a greater extent. This was reported in today's newspapers. I am aware of this problem having attended a small school. It is important to protect these smaller rural schools if we are serious about rural development and maintaining standards in such communities. As has been mentioned, deprived people have to travel for remedial services. It is important that we have primary schools in each locality and that they are not amalgamated as many other services seem to be.

The Minister has been more than transparent about the existing cirteria for the appointment of remedial techers. Those were already established and she cannot be criticised for them. The value of [520] remedial teaching has been acknowledged. The Minister has outlined the comprehensive programme she has embarked upon which is focused on the disadvantaged. This shows she understands the education system and its role in tackling problems rather than having to provide a cure at a later stage.

As has been said, crime and all our other social problems stem from primary school days and the lack of a good education. Until now, some schools may have been privileged in that regard while others permanently suffered. The Minister's programme attacks that and seeks equality for school children which is long overdue.

Regardless of where one lives or one's background, one is entitled to a certain standard of education. Had that issue been addressed earlier fewer people would have left school after the intermediate certificate because they were no longer able to face the future. The Minister intends to ensure equality in standard in our system of education and this must be welcomed. I trust she will continue with her marvellous programme and I wish her every success.

Amendment put.

The Seanad divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 28.

Belton, Louis, J.

Burke, Paddy.

Cotter, Bill.

Cregan, Denis (Dino).

Dardis, John.

Henry, Mary.

Honan, Cathy.

Lee, Joe.

McDonagh, Jarlath.

Neville, Daniel.

Norris, David.

O'Toole, Joe.

Reynolds, Gerry.

Sherlock, Joe.

Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.


Bohan, Eddie.

Byrne, Seán.

Cashin, Bill.

Cassidy, Donie.

Crowley, Brian.

Daly, Brendan.

Fahey, Frank.

Farrell, Willie.

Fitzgerald, Tom.

Gallagher, Ann.

[521]Mullooly, Brian.

O'Brien, Francis.

O'Kennedy, Michael.

O'Sullivan, Jan.

Kelleher, Billy.

Kelly, Mary.

Kiely, Dan.

Kiely, Rory.

Lydon, Don.

McGennis, Marian.

McGowan, Paddy.

Magner, Pat.

Maloney, Sean.

Mooney, Paschal.

[522]Ormonde, Ann.

Roche, Dick.

Wall, Jack.

Wright, G.V.

Tellers: Tá, Senators O'Toole and Lee; Níl, Senators Mullooly and Magner.

Amendment declared lost.

Question: “That the motion be agreed to”, put and declared carried.