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The core curriculum, testing and opting out have put great pressure on the education system in England, Wales and Scotland. The teaching profession in Northern Ireland has been steadily demoralised during the 10 years of Conservative Government. Morale is at an all-time low, with a constant flow of teachers quitting the education system. Recent research shows that in 1988 the number of teachers retiring prematurely through ill health increased by 42 per cent. and that during the past 10 years the ratio of teachers leaving the classroom before retirement age has gone up by a staggering 260 per cent.
Column 1100David Allen, the leader of the Ulster Teachers Union, blamed those figures on teachers being "saturated with innovation". Stress consultant Dr. Sandra Mills warned that the Government's proposed reforms will serve only to increase teacher stress and further undermine the delivery and standards of education.
The result of the drain on teaching resources has been extra pressure on the remaining teachers, with substitute teachers now being so scarce that the absence of a single teacher may result in other classes being swollen by as many as 50 pupils. Only today I learned that the pupil-teacher ratio in Northern Ireland is the worst in the United Kingdom. The situation is compounded by the chronic lack of investment in the physical environment of schools in the Province. Because of the Education Reform Act, teachers in England and Wales have no direct salary negotiations. I understand that that is not the case in Northern Ireland.
This evening I received a factsheet from the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, stating :
"The Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 currently provides for the Department determine teachers' salaries. Practice to date has been for the Department to issue regulations which encompass the agreements reached by employers representatives (including the Department) and the recognised teachers' unions in negotiations. It is now being proposed that unidentified prescribed persons or bodies' may determine teachers' salaries. This new provision has been included in the Draft Order laid on 23 November 1989 ; it did not appear in any of the Consultative Documents nor in the Proposal for a Draft Order published in June 1989. There has been absolutely no consultation on this matter which is of central importance"
to all teaching unions in Northern Ireland.
In spite of what the Minister said about the consultation period, he has failed to consult the teachers on the important issue of salaries.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Minister should follow the precedent of his former colleague in the Northern Ireland Office who, in a similar situation when something was introduced into an order at the last minute, gave the House an undertaking that he would introduce amending legislation at the first opportunity?
Mr. Stott : Perhaps the Minister will note what the hon. Gentleman said, and perhaps we can persuade him during the debate. Having listened to the veracity of the arguments, he may very well take that point on board.
I am conscious of the time and I know that other hon. Members wish to speak so I shall try to get through my speech as quickly as I can.
Although official figures show, and the Minister has pointed out, that school leavers in Northern Ireland are more likely to leave school with A- levels--23.4 per cent. compared with 16 per cent. in England and Wales--the figures at the other end of the scale show that in Northern Ireland 21.9 per cent. of school leavers leave school with no GCE or CSE qualifications. The figure for Wales is 16 per cent. and in England it is only 9.6 per cent. Clearly, although the Northern Ireland education system is doing well for those geared towards A-levels and higher education, it is not performing effectively for the majority of schoolchildren not geared to those qualifications.
We believe that the current attainment problems are a direct result of the selective system of education in the Province which labels children as educational failures at an early age and seriously limits their future opportunities.
Column 1101We are concerned at the omission from the order of a serious appreciation of the differences in educational qualifications of school leavers from the Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. The 1978-79 report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights highlighted the fact that, in 1985-86, 19 per cent. of leavers from Protestant schools were classified as having no qualifications, compared with 25 per cent. of leavers from Catholic schools, and that in 1987 it would have required a 10.4 per cent. increase in the number of Catholics leaving school with A-levels to match the Protestant position. That is unacceptable, and I do not believe that the order has addressed the problem.
We welcome the fact that the Government have substantially withdrawn their proposals to allow schools to opt out. They tried to justify opting out on the ground that it represented a
democratisation of education provision. As the Minister with responsibility for education admitted, and I think that I quote him fairly, absolutely no one thought it a good idea. People appreciate that in reality opting out represents a Government attempt to centralise educational power by further removing local control and placing further additional powers in the hands of the Secretary of State.
Opting out in Northern Ireland now applies to only one class of school-- integrated schools. Once a school is officially recognised as integrated, it becomes eligible for grant-maintained integrated status. Labour Members are strong supporters of the concept of integrated education and believe that it has a vital role to play in the development of a school system which does not promote and reflect sectarianism. There is growing support in the Province for integration. A poll conducted in April last year for the Fortnight magazine showed that 67 per cent. of people were in favour of the Government supporting integrated education. However, we are concerned that the Government's proposals for opting out may seriously discredit integration as an option throughout the education system in Northern Ireland.
I have recently received a letter from the Belfast Charitable Trust for Integrated Education, which says :
"Several governors of integrated schools have in recent weeks declared their opposition to seeking GMIS status for their schools if the draft order is not suitably amended. We fear that if it is not we will soon have a small number of schools outside the legally defined integrated system, but accepting our definition of integration (i.e. schools where Protestant and Catholic children are educated together on a footing of equality), while the schools inside the legally defined integrated system will not be accepted by the integrated education movement as properly integrated."
Although we support the principle of integration and integrated schools, we believe that the Government are going about it in the wrong way.
On the subject of integration, the leader of the Social Democratic party asked a question--
Mr. Stott : If the right hon. Gentleman cannot get the name right, he cannot expect me to get it right either. He asked a question concerning the consultation with the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education. I wonder why the Minister has not seen fit to talk to the council. It has made suggestions in its correspondence about "reasonable numbers" and "a reasonable balance".
Column 1102The Minister tried to justify what he meant by that. As I understand it, these people want a ratio not of 50 : 50 but of something like 40 : 60.
There are other people in Northern Ireland who may not be religious, such as those from ethnic minorities or those families in which the parents come from different sides of the religious divide. There is nothing to prevent the Minister from accepting the definition that people want. I am sorry to labour the point, but here again is an issue that could have been taken up in Committee and on which we could have tested the Minister. We could have flushed out the reason why he has refused to accept that definition.
We also dispute the Government's claims that their proposals to allow open enrolment in schools will lead to greater choice for parents. Their stated intention is to force schools to enrol to the limits of their physical capacity according to the number of parents who want to send their children to a particular school. In practice, that represents a system of rationalisation because while some schools will expand, others will close. Grammar schools, as a result of their elitist reputation, are likely to benefit from the new system as parents will compete to send their children into what they perceive to be the best school. Aside from the adverse implications for non-grammar schools under this system, grammar schools will find themselves oversubscribed and will be forced to introduce some type of selection. That seems likely to be on academic ability and parental suitability. In short, open enrolment provides a backdoor method for preserving the 11-plus and the less popular schools will go into a vortex of decline.
A Northern Ireland head teacher recently summarised the situation in stronger language when he said :
"We would prefer to have a marriage rather than a rape. We are afraid that the grammar schools will just take over and push many of the secondary schools to the wall."
Mr. William Ross : Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that, whenever the Minister was speaking on this matter, he said that schools could enrol up to their capacity, but that he did not define the capacity? Is the hon. Gentleman as well aware as the Minister that there are many schools in Northern Ireland with many temporary huts sitting in the school grounds? Are they included in the capacity or is it simply the permanent buildings that are being covered?
Mr. Stott : I am aware of that. We have serious doubts about the Minister's description of how open enrolment will work. Will it be carried out until schools are bursting at the seams? We believe that there should be some planning in education. In England and Wales, the local education authority, the local community and the local education committee have the responsibility.
One of the key Government proposals is for the establishment of formal tests at the ages of eight, 11, 14 and 16 to assess pupil performance. The system of testing that is proposed could lead to a lowering of standards, reinforce failure and demotivate many children. Assessment and testing in the widest sense are integral to the very process of teaching and learning. Some testing is beneficial both for individual pupils and their parents, and for those who are concerned with judging the effectiveness of schools. But the Government's proposals represent an over-reliance on inappropriate forms of testing which could result in paradoxical results and to a possibility of lowering rather than raising standards.
Experience in some American schools shows that testing can lead to teachers teaching to test and neglecting
Column 1103both the high and low achievers. Rigid testing at an early age will have a demoralising effect on some children who perform poorly and will lead to their developing a feeling of inadequacy.
I believe that information on a child's performance at school should be gleaned through sensitive diagnostic testing which fully tests each child's strengths and weaknesses. We welcome the Government's decision not to use tests to construct league tables of pupil against pupil, of class against class and of school against school, but some of us are still not convinced that the testing data will not be used for such purposes.
The Labour party considers that the Government's proposals to establish a formal test at the age of 11 represent a back-door method of preserving the 11-plus examination. The move clearly reveals the Government's desire to resist the development of universal education and to reinforce and further develop selective education. That is also the view of all the people in the Northern Ireland trade unions to whom I have spoken over the past two weeks.
The Labour party has always believed that the framework for the curriculum should be clear and more explicit. Our 1987 manifesto contained a commitment to a
"clear but flexible core curriculum agreed at a national level." We therefore welcome the broad concept of a Northern Ireland curriculum, but we have serious reservations about its detail. We are alarmed that the national curriculum does not apply to pupils in the private schools. The Government's plans are not about establishing a common curriculum for all pupils but about setting up a state syllabus that applies only to certain pupils. That is both politically dishonest and educationally divisive. We also feel that the Government's proposals are too rigid and too prescriptive. The likelihood in practice of time impositions for the compulsory contributory subjects will serve to squeeze out important subjects such as information technology, electronics, statistics, personal, social and career education and home economics. We believe that schools should be permitted great flexibility in the range of compulsory subjects offered and the teaching approach adopted. The proposal to include education for mutual understanding as a cross-curricular theme deserves praise. We fully support the aim of EMU in educating children to understand the different traditions in Northern Ireland. We also support the Government's new position on the Irish language. Irish is a key strand of the Catholic tradition in Northern Ireland and is growing in popularity--it is second only to French, the most studied language in schools. It is being studied by more than 20,000 students. We believe that the Government have made the right decision in allowing schools the flexibility to include Irish in the framework of the curriculum.
We feel that the current method of educational funding may create problems for voluntary schools in the provision of the full curriculum. Controlled schools, which tend to be Protestant schools, receive 100 per cent. funding from the Northern Ireland Office for capital projects, compared with only 85 per cent. that the voluntary, largely Catholic, schools receive. It is often argued, for example, that the reason why proportionately more Protestants than Catholics study for A-level science is that controlled schools can more easily raise the funds needed for
Column 1104expensive science blocks whereas Catholic schools have been faced with the problem of having to raise significant sums from donations. The Labour party believes that the system of differential capital funding should be ended. That change would not only facilitate the more successful implementation of the curriculum but would play an important role in the achievement of greater equality in educational attainment between the two main sectors.
I have already explained that this substantial document deals with virtually all aspects of education in Northern Ireland. But it does not deal with one very important aspect of Northern Ireland education--pre- school education. Pre-school education in Northern Ireland is woefully inadequate. Day nurseries provide only 2.8 places per 1,000 children aged between one and four, against a United Kingdom average of 16.7 places. Only 208 places per 1,000 children aged between three and four exist in registered playgroups in Northern Ireland. In the United Kingdom the average is 322. Only 13 per cent. of Northern Ireland's children aged between three and four exist in registered playgroups in Northern Ireland. In the United Kingdom, the average is 322. Only 13 per cent. of Northern Ireland's children aged between three and four attend nursery classes, as against the United Kingdom average of 23 per cent., which is bad enough.
The Government have clearly failed in their duty to provide adequate child care provision in Northern Ireland. We consider the Government's failure to tackle the problems of pre-school education while introducing the most wide -ranging reforms of the education service in the Province since the war represents a shameful neglect that clearly illustrates a blinkered approach to education in Northern Ireland. We believe that nursery education should be provided for every three and four-year-old whose parents want it. The Labour party believes that education is central to the quality of individual lives, to the establishment of moral values, to the functioning of society and to the general economic prosperity of the Province. We believe that the people of Northern Ireland should be entitled by right to the best education without regard to their family background, income, sex or religion.
The proposals outlined in the order represent a combination of dangerous, divisive and destructive measures which constitute a substantial threat to respected Northern Ireland educational values. We cannot amend the order. It will go forth and its provisions will be visited on the educational establishments of Northern Ireland. All I can say is that when the next Labour Government assume office in two years' time we shall return to the subject and involve everyone in Northern Ireland in its implementation and in meaningful consultation.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : I should like to place on record at the beginning of my speech the continuing dissatisfaction of Ulster Unionists and other right hon. and hon. Members at the fact that we are forced to embark on yet another debate on an unamendable order which affects the education of children in Northern Ireland. This is not the beginning of a personal attack on the Minister, but a further reminder to the Government that elected representatives from Northern Ireland agree that the use of the Order in Council procedure to deal with the
Column 1105affairs of Northern Ireland is shameful, reflects badly on the mother of Parliaments and should be discontinued and replaced before the end of the Session with proper legislative procedures. I recognise the efforts that the Minister made to consult and to obtain submissions and responses, but I must observe that although the Northern Ireland Office and the Government think that a considerable time was given for consultation, because the recent consultation period covered the holiday months of July and August, even with the extension granted by the Minister, the timing was not conducive to obtaining maximum participation of all interested parties and in-depth analysis of such complex and radical proposals. The electorate in Northern Ireland, school governors and members of education and library boards are sceptical about the consultation process. If consultation is to be effective, and not just a cosmetic exercise, there must be seen to be positive responses to representations. Some of us had considerable difficulty persuading major interests to respond at all, and even then it was difficult to arrange suitable dates for discussion of the proposals. Consultation on education matters with people involved in schools is well nigh impossible in the holiday period and utterly impossible in the first month of a new school year.
I accept that the Minister responded positively when advised of the difficulties faced by those seriously wishing to examine the provisions in the order and extended the consultation period to 30 September, but concerns still remain, despite the ministerial statement of 10 August which emphasised that the proposals were designed to give more power and greater freedom of choice to parents and school governors. It is clear that many of the changes have been widely accepted and welcomed and it is recognised that education has always been a partnership between parents, teachers, boards and the Department.
Will whichever Minister replies to the debate tell the House whether part II, article 3, of the order has made provision for central control of education by the Department of Education, thereby reducing considerably the function of the education and library boards and other bodies in Northern Ireland? If the proposals were designed to give more power and greater freedom of choice, why has there been this centralising of the control of education within the Department? It is dangerous in a democratic society and especially dangerous in a divided society.
The Minister should tell the House whether article 3(a), which extends the Department's duty to promote the education of the people of Northern Ireland, thereby goes beyond the provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988, which appears to have no similar provision for education in England and Wales. Suspicion arises from perceived central control of education. People in both communities demand an assurance--the Unionist community demands that its children will not be subjected to indoctrination through a green-tinged curriculum and the Roman Catholic community demands assurances that there will be no orange indoctrination of its children.
Under article 4(i) of part III, the board of governors and the principals of every grant-aided school are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the curriculum in the school satisfies the requirement of the article. Good Ulster schools have always provided a broad and balanced
Column 1106curriculum which is child-centred and has sufficient flexibility and depth in the subjects studied to match the age, ability and aptitude of the pupils. Principals and teachers, as professionals, produced that balanced curriculum.
Does the Minister really believe that members of governing bodies desire responsibility for curriculum matters? Perhaps he will tell the House why the order has departed from the provision made for England and Wales under section 1 of the Education Reform Act whereby the Secretary of State, the local education authorities, the governing bodies and the head teachers have responsibility for delivering the curriculum. By omitting area boards and other bodies from article 4(1), the Minister has reduced the functions and responsibilities of the area boards. Will education and library boards be consulted on curriculum content, or will schools and boards be forced to accept packages produced by Ministers and hand-picked curriculum draftspersons?
If it is accepted that professional teachers and principals will be expected by most governing bodies to have a key role in curriculum matters in each school, why, under schedule 8(3), do the qualifying conditions for membership of the Northern Ireland Curriculum Council and the Northern Ireland School Examinations and Assessment Council not include any reference to knowledge and experience of education? Members only have to be persons appearing to the head of department to have knowledge or experience relevant to the council's functions. It is strongly felt by some practising teachers that teachers should be members of each council. Will the Minister give an assurance that teachers will have such representation and, if possible, give further information about the proportion of teacher members, the areas of expertise and the means of selection that will be used to appoint teacher members to the two councils?
Curriculum responsibility is referred to in articles 4, 10 and 11. Article 11(3) states :
"It shall be the duty of--
(a) the Department and the boards in relation to all grant-aided schools
to exercise their functions with a view to ensuring that the Boards of Governors and principals of grant-aided schools are in a position to fulfil their duties".
These articles give area boards no direct authority in matters relating to curriculum, yet many matters of policy are concerned with curriculum issues. Has the Minister amended, or has he even the power to amend, the order to include a change of emphasis to reflect these area board functions?
Arising from the requirement that school curriculum policy should reflect the findings of inspections, will the Minister say whether all schools can expect to have more frequent general inspections and subject inspections than in the past? Will he explain why, under article 6(4), there will be no formal assessment within creative and expressive studies? Will not the decision lead to a loss of esteem by parents, pupils and employers and to a deterioration of provision for such study within schools? Will the Minister reconsider article 6(4) and remove this permanent exclusion from assessment to ensure that the career prospects of many talented young people in Northern Ireland are not adversely affected?
Articles 9 and 34 cover external qualifications. There is concern in schools to meet the needs of individual pupils. Article 9 provides that no course of study for school age
Column 1107pupils leading to an external qualification shall be provided except when the Department approves the qualification and the syllabus. That requirement applies to courses offered to all pupils of school age in grant-aided schools and may, by order, be extended to include pupils above compulsory school age and students below 19 in full-time further education. Acknowledging that GCSEs will form the basis of assessment at 16, will the Minister ensure that alternatives to GCSEs which have relevance and currency in the sphere of further education and the world of work, and have met individual pupils' needs in the past, will still be available to post primary pupils?
Part IV deals with admissions to grant-aided schools. Will the Minister spell out honestly for parents that unless they make realistic choices when stating a preference for the post-primary school at which they wish their child to be educated, they and the child could be disappointed?
Does the Minister agree that, in reality, grammar school heads will select? Does he accept that open enrolment will lead to a demand for grammar school places to fill available accommodation and that only when oversubscription occurs will academic attainment or aptitude be used as criteria for admission to those grammar schools?
How does the Minister expect secondary or community schools to compete fairly for pupils? In the long term, removing the 27-73 per cent. split of intake between grammar and secondary schools could prove harmful to both types of school. Grammar schools which use open enrolment to accept pupils beyond those who are highly motivated academically will have difficulty with less able pupils, and many smaller secondary schools will be unable to provide the curriculum demanded in the order and will be forced to close or amalgamate.
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : I have an enormous admiration for grammar schools in Northern Ireland and I am amazed that Northern Ireland does so much better in A-level and O-level attainment than England, Scotland or Wales. What do Ulster Unionists think about the abolition of the 11-plus in article 38(5), bearing in mind that that will not happen in England and Wales--thank goodness--and that grammar schools in Northern Ireland have a broad social base and get the best out of above-average pupils?
Mr. Beggs : I have no doubt that the grammar school system as established in Northern Ireland will remain. Even with the disappearance of the 11-plus selection procedure, the new attainment testing will provide a basis on which children will be enrolled in grammar schools. Our real concern is that to maintain numbers and to protect staff when there is falling enrolment, there may be a temptation for some heads of grammar schools to enrol pupils who will not benefit from a grammar school education.
Mr. Mallon : Surely the nub of the problem is that secondary schools are apeing grammar schools and not performing the role for which they were intended. Open enrolment and the proposed system of testing will encourage that trend to increase, with the result that we shall have even more of a two-tier system.
Column 1108potential with only a small group being encouraged to proceed to examinations which are on a par with the courses that are available at grammar schools. Reference has been made to the level of young people who leave school without qualifications, but we should be honest with ourselves and take into account the low grades that have been achieved by many school leavers in England and the way in which they were evaluated by employers.
It is impossible to provide opportunities that will ensure that all children will have the same level of achievement. We must accept that there are wide ranges of individual ability while affording the opportunity to each individual to realise his or her potential. I am concerned that with the loss of the 27-73 per cent. intake split there will be damage done both to grammar schools and secondary schools. I fear that many smaller secondary schools will be forced to close. If that should happen, the Government's intention of improving education standards across the board could be destroyed.
Rev. Ian Paisley : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that secondary schools have closed and have then reopened with a lower intake of pupils as integrated schools which receive the full grants? The Government had said that they could not support the schools as they were. That has happened in Belfast and elsewhere.
Mr. Beggs : It is difficult for many of us to accept that once enrolment falls in a secondary school, whether it is maintained or controlled, there is pressure for closure. It is difficult to understand how they can be reopened as integrated schools on the same site. Of course, much more money is available for the schools because integrated education is the flavour of the day and gets every encouragement and incentive. We do not object to that development, but people should realise that there has always been a degree of integration in education in Northern Ireland. We have never been given much credit for that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of our party, was educated at a Roman Catholic school. I am a member of the governing body of a voluntary grammar school which has a high percentage of Roman Catholic pupils. The matter has never come up because the religion of those pupils is nobody's business but their own.
Mr. Alton : Schools such as Sullivan Upper, which I visited a few weeks ago, bear out exactly what the hon. Gentleman says. Some schools have a mixture of pupils and are not designated as integrated schools and do an excellent job. I think that Hazelwood school was mentioned in the debate. Does he accept that that school, which has 209 pupils, has gone from strength to strength because it decided to become an integrated school and therefore became more popular?
Mr. Beggs : It has gone from strength to strength because there is a demand for that type of education. I am not aware of its impact on smaller maintained Roman Catholic post-primary schools or controlled post-primary schools in the area. It seems nonsense to encourage a new start at the expense of closing neighbouring schools. It would be much better to encourage co-operation and the sharing of expertise and so on.
So that others can check my comments about the demand for integrated education, I should like to put on record a reference in the second edition of an independent
Column 1109education magazine for Northern Ireland called Education North. It is edited by the education staff of Queen's university and the University of Ulster. It says :
"Indeed, only 4 per cent. of the sample visited were extremely likely to send their children to integrated schools."
I am not here to thwart the wishes of such parents because we all believe in parental choice. I want to sound a word of caution and ask for consideration to be given to the impact of Government policy. I urge people to look closely at what is happening to community schools and small secondary schools in the rural and border areas of our Province. I hope that the Minister will assure us that open enrolment will not be allowed to be the final straw that drives out Protestant families whose number is declining because of the Government's failure to provide proper security and defeat terrorism in those areas. Those small community and secondary schools need support and protection in areas where they have been subjected to sectarian terrorism.
I was disappointed to read in the Belfast Telegraph tonight that the Minister, who is encouraging and promoting integrated education--none of us wishes to block that development--is not permitting it to happen because of parental choice. He is doing so with the co-operation of teachers. The paper attributes to him a categorical statement that he would not give consideration to teachers, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, who feel on the grounds of conscience that they could not move with their Roman Catholic school to integrated status or from their controlled school to integrated status. He said that he would not give consideration to teachers who wished to be transferred to another school or leave teaching altogether and seek compensation. He wanted to know what he would be compensating them for.
I hope that the Minister will rethink his position. It is important that teachers should feel free to go along with the proposals if they wish and not feel coerced into supporting Government policy. As Ulster Unionists, we believe that the funding of all schools should be fair and equitable. We seek an assurance from the Minister that the state has equal regard for all children that there will not be priority or privileged status for integrated schools and that extra funds will not be directed towards currently fashionable schools.
We accept the right of parents to choose to send their children to grant- maintained integrated schools, but we want the Minister to justify why they cannot be maintained by education and library boards as is the case for Protestant and Roman Catholic schools and, indeed, schools in the controlled sector.
Does the Department have extra funding for the promotion of grant- maintained integrated schools?
Column 1110that it is Government policy to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated schools and to provide funding to do that.
What assurance can the Minister give that under local financial management school governors will not become the buffers between parents and the Department when spending cuts occur and the perception of responsibility for cuts in school budgets transfers from the Department to school governors?
The order establishes in legislation a council for Roman Catholic maintained schools. We as Ulster Unionists have not objected, but as the role and influence of the main Protestant churches has been steadily diminished in controlled schools, it is an appropriate time to invite the Minister to take steps to establish a similar council for the transferor representatives of the three main Protestant churches. It is important to demonstrate to Protestant communities that their church representatives enjoy recognition, status and esteem equal to that afforded to other interest groups in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) : Does the hon. Gentleman recall that churches other than the Catholic church handed over complete control of their schools to the state, thereby unfortunately lessening their control over what was happening? Is he saying that state schools, which we always understood to be non-sectarian, are Protestant schools?
Mr. Beggs : I accept the hon. Gentleman's helpful intervention. It is easy to be wise after the event. The assurances given when those transfers took place were not honoured. It is therefore appropriate to invite the Minister to establish a similar council for the transferor representatives of the main Protestant churches.
Rev. Ian Paisley : Is it not a fact that the then Stormont Government refused to increase the grant to the Protestant schools and said, "Hand the schools over to us and we will guarantee your rights as transferor"? Immediately that happened, the money increased. If the hon. Gentleman were as old as I am, he would remember the fight about 65 per cent. grants and the battle that took place between the Protestant Churches which were deceived by the Stormont Administration and the Roman Catholic Church.
Mr. Beggs : I would appreciate it if the hon. Gentleman would let me finish my speech because others want to make their points. There is so much in the order that one would like time to deal with. It would have made a proper Bill and we could have discussed the issues thoroughly in Committee. We must endeavour to prevent an abuse of power by the Department of Education and to ensure that public confidence is maintained. To that end, an independent ombudsman should be appointed in Northern Ireland to deal with specific education matters.
We hold our teachers in high esteem. We congratulate them on the achievements of primary guidelines, the 11 to
Column 111116 initiative and the introduction of GCSE. I am confident that, despite this enforced legislation, which deserves more thorough discussion, teachers in all sectors of education in Northern Ireland, including further education, will successfully cope with change, provided that the Government provide the necessary financial resources, adequate staffing levels and opportunities for in-service training, and take the necessary steps urgently to improve morale and halt the drift of highly qualified, experienced teachers who are leaving the education service because of the pressures under which they are expected to work in schools and colleges.