Regional boards scheme criticised as bureaucratic

 

THE Education Bill's proposal to establish 10 regional boards has been attacked as "ineffective and totally unrealistic" by the representative body of the vocational education committees.

Management bodies and teachers' representatives also criticised the boards, while opposition parties pledged themselves to abolishing the boards if they returned to government. There was also criticism of the Bill's attempt to force schools to establish boards of management or face financial consequences, with the possibility of a legal challenge on the issue.

Mr Brendan Griffin, president of the Irish Vocational Education Association, said his organisation was totally opposed to the establishment of the education boards. "Our worst fears have been realised in the publication of the Education Bill 1997," he said.

The regional boards proposal "is an inappropriate response to the future needs of education in Ireland".

He said the IVEA was in favour of local education authorities but these authorities should be no larger than the counties themselves. "Our principal concern is that the proposed boards are too remote from local communities to gain their support and confidence and they will be totally ineffective in influencing strategic policy and planning, especially at local level."

The south-east region alone had about 100,000 students and 460 schools. "It would be totally unrealistic to expect a single regional office to operate that effectively," he said.

Fianna Fail's spokesman on education, Mr Micheal Martin, described the boards as "bureaucratic monstrosities" and pledged that his party would abolish them in government.

"Available funds must be channelled into the classroom, not spent on bureaucratic superstructures," he said.

The Progressive Democrats spokeswoman on education, Ms Helen Keogh, described the boards as "completely unnecessary" and said the Minister had consistently failed to give any idea of their cost to the taxpayer. She also committed her party to their eventual abolition.

The general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland, Mr Charlie Lennon, accused the Minister of seeking to create "new layers of bureaucracy" in the education system.

"They will provide a smokescreen to enable the Minister and the Government to evade responsibility for their decisions and, in particular, for their failure to fund the education system properly, he said.