Seanad Éireann - Volume 146 - 08 February, 1996

Adjournment Matters. - Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown VEC.

Mr. Cosgrave: This issue relates to the future of the vocational education committees in the Dublin area, particularly in Dún Laoghaire. Members are aware of the existence of the County Dublin vocational education committee, the Borough of Dún Laoghaire vocational education committee and the City of Dublin vocational education committee. While changes may be proposed on the basis of the new county areas, it is desirable that the tried and trusted vocational education committee system continue in future, in some form. This is the approach that I advocate.

Changes are required because the present County Dublin vocational education committee covers too large an area. I pay tribute to the people who served on the vocational education committee in the Borough of Dún Laoghaire which concerned itself with the various schools in that area. Schools might suffer if changes come about because of centralisation. However, the vocational education committee does much work in the areas of adult education, youth services, post-leaving certificate education, community employment schemes and education for the [439] unemployed and there should be input at local level.

If the system becomes too centralised, much local knowledge and input could be lost. I request that the present system be continued, perhaps with some modification. Under its chairman, Áine Elliott, chief executive officer, Mr. Leonard, Mr. Kevin Brown and the heads of the various colleges, great work is being done by Dún Laoghaire vocational education committee. Many people are availing of education in one form or another. However, without localised knowledge, the commitment of the various heads of the colleges and those involved in radio productions, community support services and other activities, many of these people would be left by the wayside. The present committee has worked well. If reorganisation and rationalisation are required, so be it, but why try to fix something that is not broken?

If changes are required, local input should be encouraged. This might include involvement on the committee by local people, public representatives, representatives from the various colleges, community employment projects, Youthreach projects and the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Further Education. It is important that there be a positive response to this suggestion. We should not establish further bureaucracy or encourage increased centralisation. I ask that the Minister respond positively on this matter.

In conclusion, I will quote from the Dún Laoghaire vocational education committee pamphlet, “Providing Opportunities for All”, in which Áine Elliot states:

We remain convinced that small is beautiful, that the most effective service is that which develops from intimate local knowledge and understanding, and we are confident that the role played by the vocational education committee in the future will be cherished and further enhanced in the public interest.

[440] I ask the Minister of State to take my comments on board, although I am unsure if this matter pertains to her brief. Perhaps she might inform the Minister for Education, who has an indepth knowledge of Dún Laoghaire, of this issue. The Minister of State, from her experience in Bray, has seen the benefits that vocational education committees bring to the community.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus): I will ensure that the Minister is advised of the Senator's concerns.

The White Paper on Education, “Charting our Education Future”, sets out Government policy in this area. The vocational education system plays and will continue to play, through the education boards, a significant role in the development and provision of education services. It has been decided that there will be legislative reform and rationalisation of the vocational education committee system. The amending legislation for the vocational education committees will provide for the retention of the vocational education committees, with a substantial local authority involvement and the recognition of the vocational education committees as providers of education.

The Commission on School Accommodation Needs, the membership of which has recently been announced, will commence its work on 1 March 1996 under the chairmanship of Mr. Frank Murray, General Secretary of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools. As its first task, the commission will examine the existing vocational education committee structure and report and make recommendations on the rationalisation of vocational education committees. The report and recommendations will be set in the context of establishment, functions and responsibilities of the education boards. The commission will also have full regard to the key principles and policy aims set out in the White Paper.

[441] The commission will report within three months of its establishment and its report will be published. The legislative rationalisation of vocational education committees will be implemented in advance of the formal establishment of education boards, taking full account of the recommendations of the commission.