The Programme for Government aims to build a ‘knowledge society’ thus reversing the decline in educational standards. eolas sums up the Government’s main plans for reform and the progress to date.
Across the board, ICT will be integrated into education policy. This includes the merger of the National Centre for Technology in Education and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (legislation is needed), a new plan to develop ICT in teaching, learning and assessment, prioritising investment in broadband development, and pooling ICT procurement. As part of redeployment, teachers can be shared through live webchats.
In the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Ireland was ranked 17th for reading and 26th for maths, compared to 5th and 16th respectively in 2006. Its science rank was 14th in both years. The Government aims to position Ireland in the top 10 PISA countries.
Minister Quinn has approved plans to abolish and replace the Junior Cert. The new system, based on 40 per cent continuous assessment over two years, will be introduced from 2014. Extra-curricular activities could be recognised. Pupils entering second level in school will be limited to eight subjects in the Junior Cert replacement by 2014. Quinn is encouraging schools to bring in those limits as early as 2012. At present, around 2,000 pupils take 12 subjects and 21,000 take 11.
Universities are under pressure from rising student numbers and falling funding. The Hunt Report calls for an extra
€500 million to fund expansion up to 2030. The Government is under pressure from universities to reintroduce fees, after Trinity and UCD slipped out of the Times Higher Education top 100 rankings. Meanwhile, the Union of Students in Ireland is holding Ruairí Quinn to his election pledge to reverse the increase from €1,500 to €2,000. Universities are expected to maximise their existing funding, in keeping with a Labour election campaign pledge. Hunt foresaw a smaller number of institutions, and Quinn did welcome its call for the consolidation of institutes of technology.
The proposed Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland will merge the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the Further Education and Training Awards Council. Legislation is currently before the Dáil: the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Bill 2011.
Efficiencies in work and school practices will be sought in line with the Croke Park Agreement. The Government also intends to give principals and boards greater autonomy, and more freedom to allocate and manage staff. Five-year development plans for schools and individual teachers are also envisaged.
The national ‘Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life’ strategy was prepared under the last Government and published in July. Its aims for reading and maths include:
• a 5 per cent more primary school children at Level 3 or above (35 per cent);
• a 5 per cent fewer primary school children at Level 1 (25 per cent with 10 per cent below that level);
• a 5 per cent more post-primary students at Level 4 or above in the PISA test (28.9 per cent); and
• halving the number of post-primary students at Level 1 in the PISA test (15.7 per cent with 1.5 per cent below that level).
All above percentages are for 2009. This strategy runs from 2011 to 2020, and will focus more attention on literacy and numeracy in initial teacher education, professional development and the whole curriculum.
From January, full day primary school pupils should be taught literacy for 8½ hours per week and maths for 4 hours and
10 minutes per week. The strategy will cost €6 million in 2012, rising to €19 million per annum by 2017. Nineteen literacy and numeracy mentors were appointed in July.
The three key policy pillars are Síolta (the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education), Aistear (the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework) and the workforce development plan. The Government plans to introduce common award standards at NFQ Levels 4 and 5 and the phasing out of old awards. The national literacy and numeracy strategy calls for more “partnership” between schools, parents, families and communities at this stage. An integrated language curriculum is in place for 3-8 year olds and several working groups have been set up.
The Forum on Patronage and Pluralism was Quinn’s first major policy announcement. The estimated percentage of parents preferring a Catholic ethos varies but the Minister wants at least 50 per cent of schools to change status, starting from January 2012. Quinn sees elections to boards of management this month as a chance to speed up that change.
The Catholic Schools Partnership warns against forcing change on schools and wants to see a more consultative, bottom-up approach.
Patronage of the 3,169 primary schools in the State in the last academic year was as follows:
|Church of Ireland||174||5.5|
|Other churches and religions||22||0.7|
|Educate Together network||58||1.8|
|An Foras Pátrúnachta||57||1.8|
The forum’s interim report will be published at a working session on 17 November, with the final version going to the Minister by the end of the year.
School building projects will be prioritised in the revised National Development Plan, following the Capital Expenditure Review. In areas of population growth, the Minister prefers shared educational campuses, planned through educational impact assessments by local authorities.
Officials have complained that ministers previously overruled their decisions on school builds, for political reasons, and Quinn has pledged an end to that practice. An inventory of school buildings is also being compiled. Talks on transferring school buildings from 18 religious orders into state ownership are ongoing.