Dáil Éireann - Volume 612 - 15 December, 2005

Other Questions. - Education Policy.

  10. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Education and Science if the YES consultation process has been evaluated within her Department; the measures which will be implemented or changes made as a result of the consultation process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39655/05]

  Ms Hanafin: The YES consultation process was launched in January 2004, when the discussion document, Your Education System, was published. The process has included a range of meetings, including 17 public meetings, at which people were invited to put forward their views on education. Written submissions were also invited by post and by e-mail. There has been a very considerable level of public participation in the process. For instance, in the region of 5,000 people have attended meetings and 300 contributions were e-mailed to the website for the process. A [1209] public attitudinal survey was conducted in June-July 2004.

Seven people have acted as trustees for the process in order to protect its integrity. Key elements of the process, including all reporting, the conduct of the public attitudinal survey and the management of the website, have been managed within the Educational Research Centre, rather than by my Department.

A report on the overall process has been drafted. I expect that the final report will be presented to me early in 2006, after which it will be published. The report will reflect the various views expressed throughout the consultation, both anecdotally at the meetings and in written submissions and also the statistical information gathered through the public attitudinal survey.

The intention behind this process was to provide an opportunity to as wide as possible a segment of Irish society to have an input into planning for the medium and long-term development of education in Ireland. The rationale is that the education system impinges on the lives of all people in Ireland and, therefore, it is appropriate to seek their views on it from time to time.

It was never intended that the report reflecting what transacted during the consultation process would be followed by a rigid, formal process of implementation. The report will be the product of the consultation process and it will be available to inform those of us engaged in making medium and long-term policy in the area of education. This will allow the values and attitudes of the public to play a role in the formation of education policy. The need for this is recognised in a number of countries where surveys concerning educational issues are carried out from time to time. The best known of these are probably the annual surveys which have been carried out in the United States by the Gallup organisation since 1969. As far as I can ascertain, the last survey conducted in this country to elicit the views on educational issues of a national sample was in the 1970s so the survey carried out as part of the YES process is a useful update.

  Ms Shortall: I note what the Minister said about the report being available early in the new year. Are there any preliminary findings other than talking about the process? Will the Minister outline any of the headline issues that have come out and an idea of the overall cost of the project initiated by her predecessor? Where does the Minister see this feeding into her policy and the course she is taking this year or does she see it influencing it?

  Ms Hanafin: I was very conscious that when a process like this has been undertaken, which involved so many members of the public, it would be important for it to feed into policy making. The final report is not available and we do not even have preliminary findings from the process but what we have is the valuable views of the [1210] Irish public on education, which is the survey that has been published. That provides us with useful information on a range of subjects which I have often dipped into, even recently. Deputies will be aware that at the time the process took place one of the major issues for schools was the area of special needs, and that tended to dominate some of the meetings at the time. Much of that has since been addressed.

The overall cost arising from the public consultation process is €760,142, which covers printing, launching, advice, the setting up meetings etc., the Educational Research Centre for its secretariat and the cost of the survey. Because the report came from an eminent group of independent trustees, including people such as Mary Davis, Dr. Garret FitzGerald etc., and working through the Educational Research Centre, it was out of our hands, but now that that process is almost complete, I look forward to publishing the report in the new year.

  Ms Enright: Will the report be available to the wider public? The Minister was not the Minister responsible at the time but I attended some of the meetings and, naturally, the people tended to be those with vested interests — teachers or parents of special needs children. Will the report reflect not just the views of the public but those of parents and teachers or a particular organisation so that we will be clear on the thinking?

  Ms Hanafin: The honest answer is that I do not know, but with the calibre of the trustees responsible for it, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, Dr. Pádraig Hogan, Dr. Barry McGaw from the OECD, Dame Geraldine Keegan, Ned Sullivan, Dr. Catherine Sweeney and Mary Davis, they will ensure that the process has integrity and that the report reflects what happened. Some the findings and views in the report, such as those dealing with special educational needs, may already be out of date. This will allow us to objectively examine the other issues that were raised and we can also use the survey, which is quite useful on a range of issues, with a view to feeding it in to policy, rather than it being the policy itself.

  Mr. Gogarty: The Minister could dip into and extract best practices from this report, which is distinct from the McIver report. Has the Department set out a timeframe within the lifetime of the current Government for the implementation of a number of key proposals in the report once it is published?

  Ms Hanafin: I do not believe there will be any proposals and I will not accept any presented to me. There are no recommendations in the report, which simply reports on a consultation process which took place. The report ascertained the views of people who attended public meetings and the views of the public. There will be no proposals or recommendations to be accepted.