Secondary Level Curriculum Reform: Discussion

Our main item today is curricular reform. At the last meeting we dealt with the matter at primary level; today we will deal with the matter at second level. I welcome our guests from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the Teaching Council, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and the Teachers Union of Ireland. The National Parents Council has no one here today but it was grateful for the invitation. The council indicated it would send in its proposals in writing before we conclude these meetings. It is timely to look at the matter now as it has just completed a trawl of parents' councils nationwide and it is looking forward to having its views included in the review.

You may have noticed from the last meeting that the discussion will be somewhat unwieldy and there will be time constraints. However, thank you very much for coming here today and we look forward to hearing interesting feedback. We will start with a brief presentation from each of the groups, followed by questions.

Most of you have been before the committee at some stage and have heard this before. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege under the Defamation Act. If you are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and continue to do so, you are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of the evidence. You are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of the proceedings is to be given and to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. That applies to members of the committee as well. We will begin with the Teaching Council and I call on Mr. O'Dea to speak first.

Mr. Brendan O’Dea

I will make a brief statement. I thank the committee for inviting the council to attend this meeting. I will offer some brief words about the council's role and then I will deal with the more substantive matter. The Teaching Council was established in 2006 as the representative body for the teaching profession. It has 37 members, representing the various partners in education and 22 of these are registered teachers. The main role of the council is to ensure high standards in teaching and this role covers three areas: the standards of entry to the profession; the quality of teacher education; and the standards of professional practice and conduct. The council has no direct role in curriculum reform. However, many of its functions relate to the quality of teaching and the way in which teachers are prepared to facilitate the delivery of the curriculum and syllabus. I will refer to the relevant areas during the course of this presentation.

In Ireland, we are fortunate to have a high calibre of entrants to teaching and it is important to recognise and maintain this high standard. Last year the Teaching Council published Registration Regulations 2009 which set the entry requirements for teachers who wish to be registered, that is to say, to be formally licensed as a teacher. The regulations bring greater uniformity to the requirements for entry to teaching at primary, post-primary and further education levels.

At post-primary level the traditional and most common entry route to teaching is through one of the 12 recognised postgraduate diplomas in education, also known as the higher diploma. Graduates wishing to enter the course must hold a degree which enables them to teach at least one post-primary curriculum subject to leaving certificate higher level. There are also 18 recognised four-year degrees leading to a bachelor of education degree in which the post-primary curricular subject requirement and teaching education requirements are met as part of one degree.

The council is a statutory body responsible for the professional accreditation of the 45 programmes of initial teaching education in Ireland and it commenced the accreditation process of these programmes in 2009. Professional accreditation is about ensuring that programmes adequately prepare graduates for entry to the teaching profession and for 21st century classrooms. The process is rigorous and is undertaken by an independent panel of experts appointed by the council. In the post-primary curricular context, graduates are expected to have the capacity to do the following: assess the achievement of curriculum objectives and adapt his or her teaching accordingly; develop a knowledge and understanding of the curriculum development processes, including planning, implementation and evaluation; understand and apply the subject matter, knowledge and related teaching methodology of the relevant curriculum syllabi and how they are linked to other subjects and related to experience; and develop the linguistic and pedagogical knowledge and skills to teach the curriculum.

The demands and complexity of the teacher's role are increasing. Learned teaching cannot happen through initial teacher education alone. Rather, it is a career long journey. The council is currently developing a policy paper on the continuum of teaching education which will bring together initial teacher education, induction of newly-qualified teachers and continuing professional development. The Minister for Education and Skills has confirmed that the council's role with regard to induction will come into effect from September 2012 and the council looks forward to the announcement by the Minister of the commencement date for its functions in respect of continuing professional development.

The Teaching Council also has an important role in ensuring professional standards are upheld in the educational interests of students and society in general. It fulfils its role by publishing a professional code of conduct for teachers, which set the standards of professional practice and conduct appropriate to the profession.

The interface between the teacher and the curriculum forms part of the professional practice element covering curriculum process, curriculum content, teaching approaches, resources, assessment and curriculum change. In addition, the council will have powers to investigate complaints made against registered teachers and apply sanctions where it is deemed appropriate. In summary, a core part of the work of the Teaching Council, the professional body for teaching in Ireland, is centred on ensuring that post-primary teachers have and will continue to have the professional capacity to facilitate the delivery of the post-primary curriculum.

I am not aware of who is presenting for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

Dr. Anne Looney

All three of us will present. We will divide the presentation between us. As the committee is aware, the NCCA advises the Minister for Education and Skills on the curriculum and assessment for early childhood, primary and post-primary education. My colleague Arlene Forster was before the committee a fortnight ago discussing the primary curriculum review. She briefed the committee on how we approach our work, how we use research and evidence and how we place a high value on the deliberative process in the formulation of any new proposals.

Of note for the development of post-primary work is the importance of the school and classroom as a critical site of change and a recognition that unless one takes on board the realities and complexities of classrooms and schools, then good ideas about curriculum reform will remain merely good ideas and they will not actually take root in schools. This idea is explored in more detail in our paper, Leading and Supporting Change in Schools, of which the committee has received a copy. For this reason all of our work now is informed by engagement with schools and other educational settings in the developmental process. This approach is supported by research on how meaningful change actually takes place and research into innovation that happens when one empowers the local rather than focuses on the centre. Once we take this as a given emphasis, some themes become important. The first relates to teachers and their role in the change process, which we will come to later. Two further themes relate to students. The first is the well-being of students as young people in our schools and other educational settings. This becomes very important. The second is technology, although not because of aspirations to modernise the educational systems but because technology is now a part of the way students live their lives, how they connect with others and how they share information.

The three tranches of work that we will present today reflect this approach. The first is mathematics. I realise the committee will be familiar with Project Maths, the major curriculum innovation to reform mathematics in post-primary schools. In September this year, every student in first and fifth years began a new mathematics course, of which statistics and probability was the first strand. Of note is that this took place in classrooms only two years after the Department of Education and Skills accepted the advice of the NCCA on this matter. This pace is unprecedented. However, given the well-documented difficulties we have had with mathematics, the urgency was appreciated. Such a timeframe had never been attempted before but it was made feasible because we worked with 24 schools initially as part of the developmental process. This highlights precisely the point I made at the outset, that is, if we take the reality of the classrooms and schools on board at the beginning, it can make innovation easier. It is a good example of how a commitment to engage with schools can actually enrich the process.

Attempting curriculum reform on this scale in a subject taken by all students is challenging and, for those involved, it is very demanding work. However, I believe everyone is behind Project Maths as an initiative and the support of those advocating the centrality of maths and science in building the smart economy contributed to the momentum of the project.

One important feature of Project Maths relevant to the system in general is that it introduced an element of uncertainty into the examination process, whereby the predictability of every question in the leaving certificate examination every year and the idea of a "good" question, defined by its relationship to the corresponding question in the previous year's examination, is challenged by Project Maths because there is no predictability about the questions that arise. This is a welcome innovation not only in mathematics, but for the system as a whole. Extending this innovation throughout the system where there is a greater focus on process rather than on product is a feature of the review of the junior cycle, another aspect of the NCCA's work. My colleague, John Halbert, will provide a brief summary of this work.

Mr. John Halbert

Members have received a copy of the summary of Innovation and Identity, a paper which presents the research and ideas supporting the review of the junior cycle, and the postcard indicating the various means by which people can get involved in the consultation. The paper raises a fundamental question about this stage of education that is faced by education systems everywhere, namely, whether it is a follow-on from primary school or in preparation for the next phase of education. We now have robust evidence that for many students the latter approach, that is, a three-year apprenticeship for the real business of senior cycle which is very much favoured in Ireland, is not supporting the development of young people's well-being and their learning. The evidence is strong from the largest research project ever commissioned on schooling in Ireland. The longitudinal study examined the cohort of students moving through post-primary education and was conducted for the NCCA by the ESRI.

Of note is that in the research it was shown that the most significant year in determining the success of post-primary education is not, as one might think, the year of the leaving certificate, but second year, when students either buy into schooling or begin the process of disconnecting from it. The background paper introduces the idea of a framework for junior cycle and the idea that schools would have flexibility within that framework. As Dr. Looney has flagged, the introduction involves working with different schools to discuss, along with other things, how a framework might operate in those schools and with other partners in the sector.

We are on schedule to have a draft of this ready by the end of the year. It is important to remember that this draft will not just be a paper creation of the education partners. It will have been assembled as the result of engagement with schools and real teachers, students, parents and school leaders. We are also working with Dáil na nÓg on this project, particularly on the issues around student well-being.

The committee may be interested in hearing some of the issues which arose in the work with schools and in wider consultation. It is interesting to note that while shrinking resources for schools are being felt by all those who work in them, the appetite for a debate on how to create better schools and a better educational experience for young people has never been greater. It may be that the current crisis has focused attention on the need to equip the next generation to face ever increasing challenges. As was mentioned earlier, the well-being of students comes to the heart of the matter in such a debate.

Equality has emerged as a significant theme. Giving more flexibility and choice to schools in the programmes they offer has to be supported by a robust national framework that ensures that all students in all schools will learn within agreed parameters and to shared standards. The examination at the end of junior cycle has come in for some criticism before and that theme continues in the review. It was also picked up by the ESRI research that students noted in the third year of junior cycle their experience became all about the exam. Discussions in a variety of fora have focused on the tension between the importance of a terminal exam at the end of junior cycle as an objective measure of student achievement and the current exam which is, in effect, a mini leaving certificate examination without any of the stakes attached.

To inform our deliberations on this theme, the NCCA commissioned a review of practices in other countries on standardised testing at lower secondary level to find out how other countries balance the tension between the need to have objective data, the need to support student learning and the need to have a qualification at the end of junior cycle. The completion of a draft framework will include proposals on assessment, learning, the examination and qualification and is scheduled for the end of the year.

One theme that arose in the course of the study is the progression to senior cycle. Developmental work at the new cycle is well under way within the NCCA and Mr. Hammond will give the committee and overview of this. A table of the current state of play is included at the end of the document provided to the committee.

Mr. John Hammond

At senior cycle our work on subjects including the sciences and the new subject which will be of interest to the committee, politics and society, is well under way and can be tracked on our website. We are revising the leaving certificate syllabi in biology, chemistry and physics extensively. We are bringing the syllabi up to date, we are embedding key skills in the learning within the syllabi and we are currently actively investigating with a network of schools the potential for introducing a practical exam in the leaving certificate science examination. This will move the science syllabi in the direction taken by Project Maths in the emphasis they will place on scientific understanding.

We want to mention two innovations at senior cycle, our work on key skills which is receiving international attention and the development of short courses, two of which we are currently consulting on. Since 2006 the NCCA has been working with a group of schools on key skills. The skills in question are those needed to prepare students for life, learning and work. There are five skills which have been identified: critical and creative thinking; communicating; information processing; being personally effective; and working with others.

We have worked with schools on ideas and examples of how one could embed these key skills in everyday subjects and classrooms. From this work we have developed a key skills toolkit on how to get the skills from the paper into the classrooms. Teachers have documented all of their work on this and presented their experiences on digital video which is available for other teachers to download from our website. Students who have been using the key skills in the classroom have also provided testimony and tell their stories about engaging with key skills.

We think the key skills initiative is a very good example of how curriculum reform of the kind to which Dr. Looney referred earlier does not happen when one puts a good idea on paper, makes a PowerPoint presentation on it and shows it to a group of teachers. It happens when one actively engages with the group of teachers and with particular ideas, and when one supports them in developing those ideas for their students and schools.

Finally, at the request of the Department of Education and Skills we have developed two examples of possible short courses which would be half leaving certificate subjects in enterprise and psychology. These are currently available for comment on our website. As the introduction of short courses is a system-wide issue we have developed them on paper first. However, in a related area of work, schools have been engaged with the idea of short courses and considering how they could be combined with the leaving certificate subjects, modules from the leaving certificate applied programme and FETAC courses to make what are called "flexible learning profiles" for use with students, particularly students who are not engaging well with senior cycle learning.

That is an overview of some of the major areas of work in the NCCA. I apologise if we have gone slightly over the time allocated. We are happy to answer any questions on these and other areas of work.

Ms Moira Leydon

I thank the committee for this opportunity. It is particularly timely that the education partners, and the teaching unions are here today, given the fact that our public representatives are engaged in the very difficult decision-making process and the budget and policy decisions which will affect education in the short and long term. We all fully appreciate the depth of the economic crisis. It is utterly unprecedented.

We are also very conscious that the consequent social crisis is sometimes underarticulated and part of our work as teachers is to always advocate for a strong concern on the social dimensions of education and not just the economic dimensions which are absolutely critical, something which nobody can deny. Our message today on behalf of our more than 18,600 members and teachers is absolutely unequivocal. Education is central to national recovery and recovery across the developed world. The OECD education at a glance indicators, published some weeks ago, gave that unequivocal message. Nobody can challenge that core precept.

From reading newspapers we can see the strong address the President, Mary McAleese, gave some weeks ago at the IPA conference where she tried to rally us as a nation. We are under unprecedented pressure and we have to look to the innate strengths and talents of the population. Some 44% of the population is under 30 years of age, which is an extraordinary strength for our society at the current time, and which we sometimes overlook. Our schools are central to how we meet challenges.

Innovation and sustainability are core requirements. How can schools meet these requirements? One of the core messages we wanted to give today on the theme of curriculum reform is that the content of the curriculum is vital but how it is taught and learned are even more vital. Sometimes policy makers may get hung up on the content. It is actually the process of what goes on in our classrooms that is the critical focus. Our colleagues from the NCCA have given very succinct summaries of the excellent work it is engaged in, in terms of developing change projects such as key skills, flexible learning profiles, integrating assessment into teaching and learning and the flagship, Project Maths. A core dimension of the work of the NCCA is its collaborative structure. It harnesses the expertise of the education partners — teachers, third level educators, teacher educators, subject professionals and parents — which is a valuable asset in education and should not be undermined in any way.

The ASTI cautions that there can be an over-emphasis on changing curriculum content, neglecting what would advance an innovation learning culture in schools. Recently I looked at the website of the Centre for American Progress, a think-tank. It included a report on teacher effectiveness that stated every aspect of school reform depended on highly skilled teachers for its success. This is especially true as education standards rise and the diversity of the student body increases. Curriculum content is vital, but how students are challenged to engage with the content is even more vital.

We are all familiar with the extraordinary success story in Finland which tops the league in every educational indicator; the Finns are literally restraining visitors to their schools. A colleague from the teachers' union in Finland was visiting us and it was entertaining to hear him tell us how the investment in education had not only salvaged the economy but also their national pride at a time when because of an economic crisis in northern Europe they had experienced circumstances similar to those we now face. The model of success in Finland has strong messages for us in Ireland. The Finns are at pains to point out that their success in education is due to their tradition of pursuing the highest standards of entry into the teaching profession.

The work of the Teaching Council is critical in this regard. There is continual renewal of teachers and schools through upskilling and the speedy provision of supports for students experiencing difficulty, high quality ICT infrastructure and, of relevance to the NCCA proposals, freedom for schools to manage much of the curriculum. These are the conditions that will allow the creativity, innovation, teamwork, critical thinking and key skills to emerge. In Ireland we must extend our vision for curriculum reform beyond changing what students learn to focusing on how they learn. We must ask ourselves what are the key conditions for this to happen. Dr. Anne Looney of the NCCA has made the critical point that learning takes place in the classrooms based on a set of relationships. How do we sustain, incentivise and motivate teachers? How do we sustain and engage pupils? These are the key questions, to which there are policy answers.

I will hand over to my colleague and former ASTI president, Mr. Moran.

Mr. Joe Moran

Curricular reform and having a strong curriculum are but one element of an effective education system. This issue is debated internationally. I recently read a book entitled,The Death and Life of the Great American School System, by Diane Ravich, a resident professor of education in New York. She summarised it well, saying the elements of an effective education system were a strong curriculum, experienced teachers, effective instruction, willing students, adequate resources and a community that valued education. It struck a chord because the community in Ireland values education and we have willing students, two great assets. In that regard, we appreciate the stabilisation of the pupil-teacher ratio in the last 12 to 18 months. The increase in the pupil-teacher ratio in 2008 did huge damage to curricular reform because the pupil-teacher ratio is crucial to such change.

We should press ahead with the smart schools programme and have technology in every classroom — that initiative must be continued. There is a need to continue to provide for teacher training, especially in active teaching methodologies, and the teaching of students with special educational needs and to understand students' emotional and behavioural difficulties. The process of continuous personal development must be resourced. We must make sure Project Maths which is about deepening the mathematical competency of all students is properly supported and ensure funding is provided to enable the professional assessment of practical work in science, a current issue, as recommended in the innovation task force report.

We must trust our schools to be innovative builders. A culture in other countries of league tables and examination results gave teachers the message that they should teach to the test instead of empowering students to develop their innate innovation capacities. Anyone who knows the Irish education system is aware that we have a rich hidden curriculum tradition whereby the relationship with students is generally humane and civil. There is a culture of sport, music, enterprise and social innovation in our schools.

As there is a vote in the Dáil, we must leave for a brief period.

I propose that Senator Healy Eames takes the Chair.

I suggest the remaining contributors contribute when Deputies return, but we might ask some questions in the meantime.

It will take ten or 15 minutes. When this presentation concludes, Senators can ask questions and others can ask questions after the TUI presentation. If we suspend the sitting for the whole period, the delegates will be here all day. However, if a vote is called in the Seanad, we will have to suspend.

As a vote in the Seanad cannot take place before 11.30 a.m., we are safe.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames took the Chair.

Mr. Joe Moran

We need continued investment in education to support meaningful change. The ASTI has been to the forefront in making the case for, at least, keeping our investment in education at an amount equal to the OECD average of 5.7% of GNP, compared to the bottom drawer level of 4.7%.

We have many inherent strengths in the education system that we should harness. There is a high level of trust in teachers. A recent report by the Teaching Council demonstrated the high level of public trust in teachers which was second only to the level of trust in nurses in terms of the value the public places on their work. Teaching also continues to attract high calibre graduates.

During my presidential year we published a paper on entry into teaching at second level. A difficulty has arisen, whereby teachers at second level are now offered hours instead of jobs. Many young teachers are operating on half pay. From year to year they do not know if they will be offered 22 hours, a full pay contract, or 11 hours, a half pay contract, or varying elements in between. This is leading to fragmentation in the profession and causing huge professional damage. It is linked to curricular reform because this uncertainty of tenure means all other issues become secondary in the mentality of a young teacher.

The OECD Programme for International Children Assessment studies display our consistently above average performance in international benchmarks for literacy, mathematics and science. Of equal importance, the Programme for International Children Assessment also demonstrates that compared to their counterparts in other countries, young Irish people like school, are engaged in the school project and feel cared for by their teachers. Our school retention rate is much higher than in other EU countries, while our pastoral care structures are vital. However, the moratorium has had a huge impact on the pastoral care system in schools. It is vital that it is not damaged. If the recent alleviation could be continued, it would be very important.

How students learn is more important than what they learn. Focusing on the school environment is the key to successful educational change. Teachers will drive that change when the conditions are created, as the Project Maths programme amply demonstrates.

Ms Moira Leydon

As public representatives, members' concerns are at the macro economic level, for social sub-cohesion and the sustainability of the public finances while teachers concerns are about their students, their welfare, meeting their potential, their behaviour, their well-being, and making sure they get through their day and their year. These concerns are immediately compatible. It is in all our interests that young people emerge as citizens who are not only capable of entering a precarious and mobile labour market but who have well-developed thinking and creative skills, are open to change and innovation, are socially responsible and value citizenship. The latter is an enormously important dimension of our society in which schools play an important role. It is also in all our interests to ensure that young people value our distinctive Irish cultural heritage and its potential not just to restore a sense of national pride but, as we have seen from the Farmleigh conference, the capacity of Ireland and its diaspora, its cultural resonances with the world, to engage the rest of the world in working with us at an economic and cultural level. We are all in this together and the views of all the partners around this table are very important. We represent the views of the teachers and students and they are voices that have to get to these important events.

I am conscious that both members have returned. I presume——

We are not participating in the vote, the other parties are. Apologies for that. We do not know until we go outside what the story is.

On that basis, shall we proceed to hear the TUI?

Why not. I do not mind. Whatever is the view of the committee.

Would the spokesperson for the Labour Party want to be present for it?

It is a matter for members.

Given that there are four out of five or six members present I think we should proceed to hear the TUI presentation, if that is acceptable.

Mr. Peter MacMenamin

We represent teachers and lecturers at second level in VEC schools, community and comprehensive schools, further education colleges and in the third level institutes of technology, all of which are fully State-funded. I say that because the whole issue of curricular development is a policy position we have taken across all the different providers. Today I will address second level schools in the context of our somewhat wider brief.

Clearly our role as a union relates to the conditions of service of teachers but we also have a strong emphasis on education policy issues. We try to marry the two of those issues. We are addressing this issue in the context of the current economic situation, to which I will refer as others have done, the changes being demanded of teachers in the Croke Park agreement and the particular situation in which the TUI finds itself in regard to that proposal which is very delicate at this moment.

In terms of the economic development, clearly the TUI recognises the position of the country and the attempts being made. We have urged members of the committee, as elected representatives, to try to protect education from the worst aspects of the cuts and we acknowledge the efforts that are being made by a number of people in this regard. We have put forward as a spending policy that there should be a targeted increase in spending on education moving to 7% of GDP. We have put this policy forward to each of the parties individually and we have spoken to each of the parties in that regard. Spending on education is significantly behind that figure. We hope that future Administrations will aspire to increasing that spending gradually in the interests of young people.

We have a positive approach to curriculum development. Since the curricular development movement started in the early 1970s we have been to the fore and have been involved in piloting projects within our schools. That work is ongoing. It has involved a variety of assessment modes in schools and we have been involved in alternative programmes for the junior certificate which did not reach the leaving certificate. We have also been to the fore in the development of courses which have led to the development of the post leaving certificate courses which are available in many schools and the appropriate assessment modes that go with that.

Some of what I have to say is negative but it is in the framework of a very positive disposition towards curriculum development and development of assessment modes. We are saying very firmly that while we recognise the current economic situation, it demands that we try to retain what we have. We are very interested in looking to the future but we must do so with caution. Curricular development is resource demanding in terms of teacher time and physical resources within schools. We recognise the need to move forward. The NCCA has outlined the quick movement in terms of the Project Maths programme for which we applaud it.

The priority is to hold what we have and also to increase investment. Some syllabus changes have been brought forward to the leaving certificate, specifically engineering technology, construction studies, art and music, which were agreed some years ago but lack of resources has not allowed them to be introduced. That is a case in point, in terms of what I am saying, while I recognise that Project Maths is an exception. It is a question of holding what we have.

With regard to the junior certificate, we are involved in a discussion document within our own union and will make a submission. For the students in our schools equality and equity of outcome is a priority and funding must attempt to reflect that.

I appreciate that Mr. MacMenamin has adhered to the time limit. We have heard a good many presentations. Questions will help to tease out the issue. I thank all those who made presentations. When Deputy Gogarty returns I will leave the Chair because I have questions to ask. We must keep the education of the child at the centre of everything we are about to say. I invite Deputy Fergus O'Dowd to commence and he has five minutes at his disposal.

I welcome all the delegations and wish to reflect on the constructive comments made by everybody. The curriculum is what the student is taught and he or she makes choices based on that curriculum. I will narrow my comments to two issues. At leaving certificate level students make curriculum choices based on the higher level leaving certificate option. In a subject such as music, 91% of students who study music take the higher level paper whereas, at the opposite end, in maths the number taking the higher level paper is 16%. I welcome all initiatives such as the Project Maths programme which, hopefully, will make a significant difference in the future.

I want to concentrate on the number of students who take honours Irish. The next lowest percentage of students taking higher options are those who take honours Irish. Some 32% of all students who take Irish take honours Irish. That is a serious issue. There is also a sub-issue in that of the people who opt to do Irish, only 35% are males, whereas in the school population generally the ratio is 50:50 in terms of males and females. I do not know if the delegates have views on that. I want to be constructive and support all the changes that everybody is making, but the low number of students taking honours Irish, especially males, is a serious issue. There is also a problem generically in males not choosing to take languages.

The knock-on effect of that is that there are biases within subject choices that we need to address. How can Irish be made more attractive as a subject at leaving certificate level? That must involve a major issue around the curriculum. It must be a major portion of what we need to change. What proposals do any of the groups have on the teaching of our national language. Nuair a bhunaíodh an Stáit, bhí an Ghaeltacht an-forleathan ach tá sé cúngaithe anois. Níl go leor meas ag muintir na hÉireann ar an Ghaeilge. Nuair a dhéanann daoine óga an ardteistiméireacht, ní thagann na torthaí cuí ón airgead atá á chaitheamh agus an obair atá á dhéanamh ar son an Ghaeilge. It is just not working. We need a radical reappraisal of the situation. Fine Gael has proposals about having a choice at leaving certificate as to whether a student takes Irish, but what we want is more people to voluntarily take Irish. We want much better results to be achieved in the subject than have been achieved. What can be done to address that and, in particular, what is the NCCA doing in that respect?

I have a second point I wish to raise and, hopefully, I am still within my five minute timeslot. There is an issue to be addressed by educators and schools generally. Those involved in the area of future skills needs in the workforce said that we need to retrain approximately 180,000 people whose skills in the working community need to be brought up to levels 3, 4, and 5. In other words, a great number of people have gone through the system who are not skilled to take up new jobs when they will come on stream in the new industries. Perhaps this is an issue for FÁS. I hope representatives of FÁS will be asked to come before the committee because it has a particular responsibility in this area. Do the delegates have a view on this? I accept and acknowledge the changes they are making in the junior certificate but we need to do much more to ensure that people who may leave school early will have such skills. How can we encourage people, first, to stay on in school and, second, how can we make the necessary changes to provide for students who may leave school early? How can we make it more attractive at junior certificate level to give students the skills they need?

Deputy Paul Gogarty resumed the Chair.

I thank the delegates for their presentations and the summaries we got in advance which make comprehension in this respect all the more easy. I will be as brief as possible. From my limited knowledge, having been spokesperson in this area for only three years, it is evident that the quality, enthusiasm and freshness of teaching is a critical component for outcomes. We only have to look across the water to our near neighbour to see that in every sense. We have achieved that but we have also achieved it in the sense that there is a respect for teachers, for learning, as Mr. Joe Moran said, and for education — for the book. That respect is manifest in the working, teaching and payment conditions of Irish teachers relative to their OECD colleagues.

I have a few questions for the delegates. I am impressed by the dynamic process of reform. For anything to come out of the Department of Education and Skills within two years is a miracle; this was not inspired internally. We are lucky if we get comprehensive replies to parliamentary questions within three months, let alone two years. I compliment the delegates on that. I also very much take on board the point made by Mr. John Hammond that this must be a shared experience, not a top-down type of instruction.

I have a second observation and I will pose specific questions on this area. In the past 20 years there has been the departure from the secondary education system of a cohort of religious teaching orders, of people motivated by a particular denominational faith belief in the necessity for them to be involved in education. There is a legacy in the free voluntary sector and the designated community colleges, which arose from the merger of schools where students were taught by the brothers and sisters and the "tech" in the middle of the typical town into such a college.

Garret FitzGerald recently commented on one of the causes of our economic failure and noted that collapse of trust and ethical behaviour in our banking system has compounded our difficulties. What is the role to be played by a post-religious order secondary school system in that respect, if I can use that as a factual rather than a denigratory observation? How do we provide and reinforce a civic morality in our school system? There is no point in having very well trained mathematical students if they become con artists. When one considers what has happened in our banking system and all the other things that have happened, we need to have an ethical framework if we are to have a sound economy. Markets will only work if people trust each other. There has been a breakdown in trust in regard to the performance of our economy. Such trust was as critical to the modernisation of the economic revival that the Finns experienced, as was mentioned, as it will be to ours.

On the question of providing a range of choice, do the delegates collectively or individually have a view as to what the minimum threshold is in terms of a critical mass for a secondary school? Is it 600 or 400? A secondary school located not far from here has fewer than 90 pupils and another school nearby has just over 100 pupils.

Mr. Hammond, in his broader paper, referred to the review of certain subjects at various stages, including Greek and Latin. I understand that only 137 people sat Latin last year in the leaving certificate. He might comment on that and where we are going in that respect.

The presence of delegates from the two teacher' unions is most welcome. It seems to be the practice in other professionals that participation in continuous professional development, CPD, is a requirement for the maintenance of one's teaching or professional licence, as in the case, for example, of an architect. An architect must do a certain minimum amount of CPD. Do the Teaching Council and the unions consider that is something that would be necessary? Is it something that could fit into the Croke Park agreement as part and parcel of the delivery on the union side, namely, that upskilling and maintaining the skills of teachers to achieve the sorts of things that they and we are talking about would be part and parcel of the landscape of the new educational system, to which the role of teachers is central? Teachers, like the rest of us, have to be renewed and refreshed in their skills. In politics, we call it elections. I do not know what is the equivalent in the teaching profession, but I would not want to put them through elections.

I welcome everybody here today. I have been a teacher and I am a current member of a board of a VEC. I declare those interests in case they are relevant to the discussion. A third interest I have is that I am musician, so I am always warped in how I say things — I warn the delegates on that level.

I am happy that two words in the right order have emerged from this discussion, namely, that process is more important than product. For me, that is a vital sentence that was said not by one delegate but by a number of delegates. A word I missed in the presentations, which is very relevant in the economic climate apart from anything else, is "entrepreneurship".

If I were Minister for education for a day, what would I suggest to the delegates and on what areas would I seek their reactions? What would be the delegates' reactions to a proposal that we should halve the current curriculum content and that music and sport be made compulsory subjects? I will elaborate on why I put forward that proposal. I compiled a report for the Council of Europe on how to teach history in areas of recent conflict. Its focus was that people on every side of an argument have their idea of the single truth. The single truth is something the Soviets taught. To a large extent, we still teach it. The history curriculum has changed at second level, but my report stated one needed the version of it inThe Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail, the Irish Examiner, the Derry Journal and the Belfast Telegraph and one still did not have the truth. There is no single truth. What one should do is develop a child’s or student’s ability to think critically and analyse what they see in front of them in order that when they see CNN, Fox News, the BBC World Service or RTE, they already know a little about media skills and that someone is trying to sell them a message for a particular reason. That would leave them more able to cope with real life.

Why do I refer to half of the curriculum content? There has been a reduction in the history content at leaving certificate level, but it is still absolutely over-burdened at junior certificate level. That does not change in the case of Irish, English, geography or any other subject. It should be about the process. It should not be about whether one can recite 45 poems but how a person creates a poem and why a poem is important.

With regard to entrepreneurs, I attended a Council of Europe event with the European Youth Forum yesterday in Budapest. We also met the chairman of the youth committee of the Hungarian Parliament. One of the issues for the committee members was the fact that the youth only accounted for 1% of entreneurship. They said this showed that despite students emerging from university with very good degrees, they still did not know what to do because the process had been, in effect, that if one learned something and regurgitated it, one was then fit for life. Everybody knows that is not the way life is.

I am from a region where fishing, farming, building and mechanics have been the traditional routes for those who are not particularly academic. What role is to be played by career guidance in order to intervene, prior to children making decisions on what they will do, to counteract the traditional routes and widen their horizons in order that they can explore outside the box?

I agree that the standard of teaching in Ireland is very high. However, is the Teaching Council happy with the level of recourse if the standard of teaching in particular instances is not what people want? Is the process too difficult to address serious issues in the classroom and schools?

I could say a great deal more. Project Maths has been good. I am aware that one can bring forward as many statistics to counter my point as to support it, but international research links musical ability with mathematical ability. If one studies music, one tends to do so to a higher level because one has done a great deal of work outside the classroom and-or one comes from a musical background. Certainly, if we were learning music from pre-school — this is why I talk about making mathematics, music and sports compulsory — we might have results with project maths that would transcend other areas.

I could speak forever on this issue. Irish has moved from being endangered to vulnerable in the latest UNESCO rating, which means something good is happening. However, I suggest we try to make it more usable. If people see a practical application in the outside world for what they are doing in school, it means more to them. That means getting people to speak and use Irish.

I was delighted to hear the presentations which were very thorough and robust. Mr. Moran spoke about young teachers at second level being offered hours rather than jobs. That is the reality. I do not know how they can be committed to the teaching profession and, above all, their pupils when their working hours are so haphazard. What does he propose as a solution?

In the early school leaving study I conducted last year it was clear there was a need for a mental health resource at second level. Mr. MacMenamin and others defended the pastoral care role. Is the title "pastoral care" reaching the students in a way in which mental health should be dealt with? It does not appear to be. There are massive fall-out rates. One in six children leaves school early. Kids are being traumatised by bereavement and, as emerged in the study, rape, abuse and suicide. What is the role to be played in that regard?

We are fighting to hold onto budgetary funding. Each of the delegates, particularly Mr. MacMenamin, strongly defended the need to hold onto what we had. I made that point yesterday in the Seanad. There is no fat in the education sector compared to others. Mr. MacMenamin made the case for having a figure of 7% of GDP. The OECD is talking about outcomes based education. I did my PhD on the importance of process before product, but I have now come through a process, whereby I can say outcomes are also important, that is, learning outcomes for students. I challenge all of the partners to propose the percentage of budget that is necessary to provide good quality education based on outcomes. We need to consider the budget in that way.

My next question relates to a bugbear of mine for years. We have a strong primary education system, with a creative curriculum, and third level is great if one can get there. However, the big hole in our system is at second level owing to the lack of reform and the over-emphasis on an examination driven system. I agree with Senator Keaveney that creativity and inventiveness have been lost to build the entrepreneurs of the future. That is exactly what we need for economic recovery to pay for the strong public services we need.

I am delighted project maths will be delivered within two years and hear, at last, about the key skills of creative and critical thinking. Why did the NCCA take so long? The evidence has been available for years. Who is holding up the work of the NCCA? I know Dr. Anne Looney and her work. She knows about this for ten or more years.

I urge the delegates to be straight with me on the issue of assessment. The big thing we can change very quickly at second level is the way our children are assessed. Ms Leydon in a passionate presentation mentioned that the method of teaching and learning was more important. I concur with her, but what is also important is the way our children are assessed. We must offer more than a written based outcome, just relying on a written examination. Take woodwork as an example. Obviously, it lends itself to a practical outcome, but one sees children succeeding. They have a written examination and the practical assessment. Why can there not be a practical assessment component, as well as a written examination component for every subject? Why are we not setting our children up for success instead of failure? Unfortunately, the written element and the book do not suit too many children. This brings us back to catching their creativity. We will catch it by changing the assessment mode.

The representative of the Teaching Council mentioned that the council had a role in sanctions. I have worked in teacher education and supervised teachers and believe candidates of great calibre are still being attracted into teaching. However, there are under-performing teachers also, at every level in the sector. All of us have had one and every child can tell us about a teacher who cannot do his or her job. We have a thriving grinds system and, let us be honest, that is one of the reasons for it. Where is the inspectorate involved if the council is assuming that role? Second, what exactly will its role be in dealing with under-performing teachers? Will it have real power and, if so, what will it be? The probation rule at primary level has been changed from five years to three years, which is a disaster. Only 30 of the 400 students who graduated from St. Patrick's College this year have obtained jobs. At my clinic in Galway on Monday last I met 42 young teachers who cannot find a post or maternity leave position in which to be probated. Why is the five year probation rule being cut to three years when there are no vacant posts?

I thank the delegations for their presentations. My colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, has dealt with many of the issues in regard to the curriculum. I will focus on a couple of other topics in the time available to me. Mr. O'Dea referred to the higher diploma in education as the vehicle used by a student to become a teacher. Previous speakers and members of the delegation spoke of the challenges and need for reform of the curriculum. I agree that the standard of teaching in Ireland is, in the main, excellent. However, I am interested to hear from all members of the delegation if they believe the higher diploma as a course prepares our young teachers for the challenges of which we have spoken. Having spoken to young teachers and principals and having been through the system as a teacher, I believe that it does not. Far too much time is spent in the lecture hall and far too little time is spent in the classroom. The course needs to be reformed so that young teachers spend time in the lecture halls at Easter or in August and the remainder of the time engage with pupils and work on the practical communication skills they must develop. This would allow principals to assess their progress and would provide students with a better chance of showing off their skills. Mr. Moran referred to the stabilisation of the pupil-teacher ratio. A change in the course could help in this area also. I am interested to hear the delegation's comments on this matter. The higher diploma course as currently constituted does not prepare young teachers for the challenges of which we have spoken here.

On the curriculum, an area of special interest to me is that of physical education at second level. There has been much talk for the past ten or 12 years of physical education becoming a subject. As regards resources and so on, we cannot, for health reasons, afford not to treat physical education in our schools as a full subject. The manner in which physical education in our schools has been treated is a disgrace. We need to address the issue of physical education because our young people need it. On the figures with regard to the curriculum, the percentages in terms of male and females studying agricultural science, 31.8% and 44.3% respectively are interesting. This indicates a positive future in terms of female input into farming in Ireland.

On Project Maths, it has been stated that at the start of September 2010 every first and fifth year student began to engage with the course. I am interested in hearing the outcome in the State examinations of the students of the piloted schools. How successful has it been, taking into account the knowledge we now have? While it has been rolled out to all schools, what has been learned from the 24 schools involved in the pilot programme? I am particularly interested given my knowledge of one of the schools involved.

On the junior cycle experience, it was suggested that in second year students either buy into schooling or begin the process of disconnecting from it. That is a valid comment. Perhaps the delegation would comment on it. On the key skills initiative at senior cycle, I would appreciate if the delegation could talk us through the five skills identified as central to teaching and learning across the curriculum at senior cycle level. While in theory this is great and is what we need to do, and is what is happening in places, what is being done in this regard nationally across all secondary schools? The delegation stated in their presentations that they worked with schools. What percentage of schools were involved? They also stated that they had developed a key skills tools kit. While I agree with Senator Healy Eames that where this is happening it is great, I am interested to know the spread in this regard because that is very important.

Following on from what Deputy O'Mahony said, as someone who is into sport, PE is an examinable subject. I am interested in hearing the up to date views of the teaching unions on that subject. I would like also to hear further from the NCCA on short courses. If it proposes to introduce short courses, why not include PE as a short course as an interim step. This could be included as a subject which would attract leaving certificate marks. We live in economically stringent times. Schools in so-called developing countries do exercises, such as jumping jacks and so on, early in the morning to get students' circulation going. There is no point in my giving examples of exercises.

I am tempted. Even laughing gets endorphins flowing and makes people more attentive. I am interested to hear the delegation's views on "any exercise is better than no exercise", separate to the academic subject of PE which would benefit certain students with certain skills.

On computers within the curriculum, I suggested to the primary representatives on the last occasion that the way forward may be through the use of cloud computing. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, is rolling out a broadband initiative at second level. There is no point in having a collection of second-hand laptops here and there and having a post or teacher with responsibility in this regard if such post is not filled with a new teacher. It makes no sense to try to get more laptops for students when some students, perhaps from a disadvantaged background, will not have access to them at home. What is the delegation's view on modern technology-cloud computing whereby all the information is stored not on a server in the school with all the maintenance problems but in low cost access units which are available for approximately €100. Would teachers be willing to work with a system in which there would be access to software which could be run remotely? The same level of training would not be required in such a system and the maintenance costs would be lower.

The representatives of the ASTI referred to the requirements of teachers across the spectrum and stated these related, for example, to whether pupils had special educational or language support needs. They also indicated that the system operated by the Department in this regard might be too restrictive. What would be their view on the introduction of a system of devolved funding? Such a system could perhaps be based on the model which has led to the VECs being divided into various units. Would it be possible to have an integrated system, with devolved funding, at a regional level? It might then be possible, at local level, to examine where the need was greatest. Those in the Department do not appear to be able to do this from their ivory towers. What is the ASTI's view on more devolved and decentralised — but real — funding powers being available on a regional basis?

The TUI has continually referred to the need to preserve — if not increase — the funding available. The representatives of the ASTI echoed that sentiment earlier in the meeting. I am sure many heard what a representative of the ESRI had to say about the current economic circumstances in a radio interview he gave earlier this morning. While most might agree that the remedy to our economic woes should be spread out beyond 2014, if our EU partners and the all-knowing — if one considers their history, completely ignorant — hedge funds, international markets and ratings agencies insist on the requisite reduction in the deficit by that date, we must comply. If we go to the bond markets in January and seek a good interest rate in respect of the money we wish to borrow, it will be necessary to introduce a tough budget. What are our guests' views in that regard? I accept that this matter is not specifically related to the curriculum, but it does come into play in respect of education funding.

Reference was made to Finland which increased its investment in education and got itself out of the mire. However, that country did have a greater level of economic sovereignty. Ireland is a member of the eurozone and benefits from lower interest rates, but it is not in a position, for example, to devalue its currency. What are our guests' views on how we should extricate ourselves from the mess in which we find ourselves? Is it realistic to protect education? I am playing devil's advocate to some extent in this regard because I firmly believe we need to protect the education sector. Whether the education budget can be sustained at its current level or whether it will be necessary to reduce it will depend on the level of the cuts to be imposed. Having worked to try to protect education within the context of the programme for Government, it is my firm belief the Department of Education and Skills must be seen to be the best performing Department by the time the next budget is introduced. I hope the level of the cuts imposed will minimal in nature. As matters stand, however, there is huge pressure being exerted from all sides, particularly given the fact that 80% of the education budget is devoted to wages and salaries. If a 5% cut was imposed, this would mean — as the result of the agreements in place — that there would be a need for a much greater cut in areas other than wages and salaries. Are the unions aware of the imperative for us to be seen to introduce a tough four-year plan that will incorporate correspondingly tough budgets? Are they also aware that there is a major impediment to proposals to increase investment in any area because this would lead to other areas being completely crucified? I accept that it is a cheeky question, but in the light of the pressures and the fact that people are fighting to defend their sectoral interests, what areas would our guests like to see being protected to the greatest degree?

I will now ask our guests to reply to the questions posed in reverse order to that which applied to their initial contributions. I call Mr. MacMenamin.

Mr. Peter MacMenamin

I presumed the Chairman would have had us reply in the same order which applied earlier.

That highlights the Chairman's objectiveness.

Mr. Peter MacMenamin

Yes and his inventiveness.

As they are multiple choice questions, our guests can decide which ones they wish to answer.

Mr. Peter MacMenamin

I will apply the Chairman's logic and answer his final question first. We all — at least those of us who were obliged to drive long distances to be here — heard this morning's interview with the representative of the ESRI. Neither I nor the members of the committee are here today to address the question of economic policy. However, I will state the executive council of the Irish Council of Trade Unions, ICTU, finalised a pre-budget submission to be launched in the coming days. What the OECD stated this morning was very much in accordance with what the ICTU had been stating for some time.

The ESRI states that, even though it would like the plan to be rolled out over a longer period, it accepts that our hands are tied in this regard.

Mr. Peter MacMenamin

That is not quite what I heard said. Is the Chairman referring to the OECD?

I was referring to the ESRI.

Mr. Peter MacMenamin

I apologise. A number of commentators have said this is not quite the situation. Certainly, that is the suggestion the ICTU will be making. However, as I am not an economist, I will refrain from commenting further on the matter.

Education must be protected. As the Chairman is aware — we have discussed the matter on a number of occasions — I have highlighted three reasons in this regard. The first is that education is good in the context of personal development and, as such, worthy of investment. Unfortunately, that is not an argument economists tend to buy into or understand.

The second reason I wish to highlight and which economists are likely to buy into in the context of protecting education relates to the educated workforce. We have all seen the impact of this. I heard another report on radio this morning which highlighted Hewlett Packard's plan to develop high-end multilingual jobs, provided candidates with the requisite language skills could be found. Ireland, as an economy, cannot compete in the low skill, low wage sector and must concentrate its efforts on producing a highly skilled and educated workforce capable of operating in the high-tech sector.

The third reason for protecting education relates to something which is extremely negative in nature and which was highlighted by Senator Healy Eames and others. I refer to those individuals who fall through the cracks. If investment can be made in order to prevent them falling through the cracks, this would represent good spending. Taking action in this regard ultimately costs less than imprisoning such individuals or providing them with support throughout their lifetimes. There is a direct relationship in this regard and material on the matter has been placed before the committee in the past.

The Chairman referred to issues relating to computing. Teachers would certainly not have a greater difficulty in dealing with cloud computing than they would in dealing with any other form of computing. However, I am not entirely sure less training would be required. The actual hardware is much better value. An announcement was made recently on information technology and the grants made to second level schools. I feel obliged to comment on the disproportionate way in which the funding involved was provided. It was disbursed in an equitable way across the board and irrespective of the circumstances of individual schools. For example, schools that are very well off are receiving these grants, regardless of whether they need them. The amount of money involved would make very little difference to such schools, but they will still state that they need it. The same money would make a phenomenal difference to smaller schools or schools in disadvantaged areas. It is an outrage that the money has been disbursed on the so-called basis of equality. The system of disbursement is not equitable. This illustrates the difference between equality and equity.

A number of the points made were not necessarily addressed to the unions. Certain members referred to PE as a subject. I agree with what was said, but PE is resource-demanding in nature. If it were to be introduced, either as a short course or as a subject, the fact that it places a demand on resources would not change. Introducing it in current circumstances — where one school might only have access to a small backyard, while another might have an elaborate sports complex on its grounds — would prove completely inequitable. I would love to see it as a subject, but I reiterate that it is resource-demanding. In an ideal world we would be extremely pleased if it were to be introduced as a subject.

It must be recognised that teacher education has come a long way in a relatively short period. A long time ago, when I did my higher diploma in education, the course was useless in terms of the practicality of going into a classroom and learning what to do. We can compare that with how young people are taught now, which is very much concerned with what one does in the classroom, how one interacts and how one reflects on how it worked. There is still some way to go, but the current system prepares young teachers for the difficulties they will meet in classrooms.

Many under-performing teachers were, perhaps, educated through the older system and simply were not given adequate training during their higher diploma. Also, to this day in the VEC sector — I do not say this as a criticism of the sector but as a criticism of those responsible for qualifications — it is not a requirement to have a pedagogic qualification entering the sector. The TUI has been open to this for some 25 years. As far back as 25 years ago it was asked if it would accept the requirement and it agreed it would. It is about to happen, but it is long overdue. Deputy Quinn raised the issue of continuous professional development. We fully subscribe to continuous professional development. We want a well educated workforce, but continuous development demands resources. For the reasons mentioned while the Deputy was out of the room, and because of the difficult situation our union is in, I will not mention the Croke Park agreement as I do not want to say anything that might make the situation worse. However, continuous development is something that is worth looking at.

Senator Healy Eames mentioned pastoral care and mental health. These are a question of resources, so we must consider these programmes against the background of the current situation.

I have only heard the term "pastoral care" used by the students. The evidence we got from the research we did on early school leavers showed a big need for mental health support. If there is a pastoral care programme in every school, how is it that it does not meet that need.

Mr. Peter MacMenamin

There is not a pastoral care programme in every school and what is there has been largely eroded in recent years because of the attitude of the Department of Finance and the moratorium. There is a lack of understanding of what is happening in schools. One cannot simply cut away the core of pastoral care support and expect things to run as they were in the past. That is short-sighted. Returning to spending, I agree with the Deputy that we may need rebranding of the concept. However, the view that middle management posts can be taken out of a school with no effect is madness. It cannot be done. The failure to provide pastoral care will, inevitably, cost society in the future, probably the not too distant future.

I would support further discussion on Senator Keaveney's idea of devoting half of the curriculum to music and sport. It is a fantastic idea. What Deputy O'Dowd said about the uptake of skills relates to this. What is important is relevance. The reason there is such a high level uptake of music at higher level is that students see it as something that is relevant and in which they are interested. However, in the case of other subjects, such as Irish, they see these as having no relevance. They do it because they have to do it and ask why they must. The curriculum must be more interesting and more relevant to their daily lives. Senator Healy Eames and I discussed the issue on another occasion of how a student can spend 14 years learning Irish but still cannot put two words together. There is something wrong in that. Unfortunately, I do not have a solution other than to say that if students see something is relevant to them, they will engage in it. If they do not see it as relevant, they will generally not engage in it.

A question was raised as to the critical mass of a school. There is a difference between the critical mass of a school and the ideal size for a school. Members referred to schools with fewer than 100 students, but the critical mass is somewhat bigger than that. The ideal size for a school is probably approximately 600 which allows for a broad curriculum with appropriate economies of scale. This will not work in every part of the country and the critical mass is probably significantly less than that in terms of a viable school. This brings us back to equality of choice, subject choice, choice of higher or ordinary level and issues of that nature. Therefore, the ideal number is probably from 600 to 800. The experience is that once schools go above that number, they tend to be too big. We have had some examples of schools with enormous numbers, in Gorey and Carndonagh. These schools got too big and ended up having to be split. Carndonagh school was split some years ago and Gorey is being split currently. The evidence is that the giant school does not work.

Sorry for interrupting, but at what level does a school get too big?

Mr. Peter MacMenamin

At what level?

What number of students makes it too big?

Mr. Peter MacMenamin

I suggest 1,000 should be the upper limit. After that, one should consider a second school. If the school is too big students just become anonymous ants walking around the place whom nobody knows. They do not have a feeling of belonging and the teachers do not feel they know them. This happens once a school goes beyond between 800 and 1,000 students. The figure varies slightly and we cannot be precise on it. I will pass over to my colleagues now.

Ms Bernie Judge

A question was asked with regard to how to address the issue of Irish. The Department and the Government have agreed to a different weighting for 2012. One of the difficulties with regard to Irish is that the testing of the development of oral skills remains optional at junior cycle level. We have invited the Department to speak to us about it and to consider a model where the oral test could become a viable option for all students at junior level. If we are sincere about wanting people to be interested in the language, the minimum they should have leaving school is the capacity to speak it. Currently, they do not have that. Putting the emphasis on oral skills and providing an oral exam offers the potential to improve the interest and to make Irish more relevant, accessible and enjoyable. The absence of a viable oral test at junior cycle level makes it difficult for students to continue with Irish at senior level. The advantage of continuing to offer an oral Irish exam is confined to those who can find money, perhaps through private fees or some other source, that is not reliant on the Department. However, there are ways we could explore how to make progress in this area, even with limited resources. The invitation has been issued to the Department of Education and Skills to speak to us on this.

There is a question also of under achievement by male students in Irish and other languages. This is an underlying trend.

Ms Bernie Judge

This may be due to the general disposition of males and females towards different subjects. However, if the right supports are provided in schools for effective teaching ——

The general view is slightly different. Females out-perform males in 18 out of 20 subjects. Males under-perform across the board, particularly in Irish.

Will Ms Judge explain more about the oral Irish exam being optional at junior certificate level?

Ms Bernie Judge

Offering the oral test to students at junior certificate level is optional.

Is it an option for the school to decide whether to offer it? What is the main factor in allowing that option? Is it a question of finance?

Ms Bernie Judge

It is a resources issue.

Would Ms Judge be able to clarify that for me?

Ms Bernie Judge

At leaving certificate level, teachers are released to go to other schools to examine students and to test students. We are not proposing the same model. The teachers are allocated to go to different schools to test the students in their oral skills.

By the Department?

Ms Bernie Judge

By the State Examinations Commission. We are not suggesting that the same model has to be put in place because it is very resource-intensive. However, other models can be considered but any model will have some resource implications. We should at least begin to discuss what other models might work in terms of the clustering of local schools and working locally as this would be more cost-effective.

I understand what happens at leaving certificate level. Will Ms Judge clarify what happens at junior certificate?

Ms Bernie Judge

It does not happen in the vast majority of schools but where it does happen——

I am familiar with the fact it does happen and that is what interests me.

Ms Bernie Judge

It is done within the classroom by the class teacher.

We have a major problem with Irish. There should be oral examinations at junior certificate level——

I am sorry, we have different experiences across the country and I wanted clarification of that. What is clear is that it is definitely happening in some schools at junior certificate level. I have raised this issue here before and other members disagreed with me. I know it is happening. Can Ms Judge clarify why is it happening in one school and not in another? What is that school doing to make it happen?

Ms Bernie Judge

It is the case that many such schools have resources to pay the teachers to do it.

To pay the teacher?

Ms Bernie Judge

To pay the class teacher to do it or a teacher from outside the school. They make a decision to direct their own local resources towards it but——

The teachers within the school or the teacher from another school are paid by this school to do the examination out of the school funds.

Ms Bernie Judge


If I may offer an observation on this matter.

I was just about to ask whether the Senators who have to leave want their questions answered.

I propose that the Chairman ask for my questions to be answered. Senator Keaveney and I have to leave now.

In that context we can move on immediately to have them answered.

If I may offer a very important observation on Irish at junior certificate level. It should be examined. I wish for clarification of my understanding which is that the intervention of the unions is preventing the examination of oral Irish at junior certificate level and because there is no funding mechanism in place. We are looking for 40% oral from 2012. There should be a basis in preparation for this date at junior certificate level.

Mr. Moran wishes to respond. I ask that the Senators' questions be dealt with. I am also conscious of the time constraints on the delegates from the Teaching Council and the NCCA.

Mr. Joe Moran

On the question about oral Irish at junior certificate level, we have been engaged with the Department on that topic recently. We have no problem with the oral Irish examination at junior certificate level. We want a system to be arranged that is fair to all students, is transparent and is equitable between schools. The trouble at the moment is that the schools doing oral Irish on a voluntary basis are creating an ad hoc system. It is only waiting for serious problems to emerge and people will query it and students will contend there are differences in how it is done in one school compared to another. We have opened a discussion with the Department on this issue. We want students to be treated fairly and that the system would be fair to them.

A brief response on that issue.

Ms Bernie Ruane

This has been an ongoing problem with modern languages at junior cycle for many years. For more than 20 years an optional junior cycle oral in modern languages has been allowed but nothing has been done about it. I will say out straight that this treatment is good for the already advantaged students because they have extra funding in their schools. The same thing will happen with regard to Irish. When I was on the NCCA council, I fought very hard to ensure the Irish oral examination at junior cycle would not be optional but I got nowhere. We are back where we started. It is a case of improving language in general. It is all about speaking and about communication. It is not a case of being able to do a cloze test with 100% accuracy. We want equity in the languages. They need to be given more priority and promoted because no matter how good a student is at science or physics or maths, a student must be able to communicate, to sell, to have a spirit of entrepreneurship. These are all tied in together.

I have one final point which I wanted to make all day and I will use my chance while I have the floor. It is about physical education. Senator Keaveney had to leave the meeting but I emphasise that PE has to be encouraged. Our population has become obese. Our young people have no diet. Even in my school, young people are getting on buses at 6.45 a.m. and they do not get a hot meal until they go home maybe at 5 p.m. that evening. That is no way to develop their bodies and if their bodies do not develop, their minds will not develop. This is a significant reason they are not engaging with learning. Jamie Oliver criticised canteen dinners but ——

The problem is that 19 of us here have a solution.

Ms Bernie Ruane

We are so over-regulated. We were making soup in one school and because we did not have steel worktops we had to close down the service. In the meantime, the children just grew fatter.

There are time constraints on the meeting and the delegates from the NCCA are chomping at the bit to answer some of the questions. I will ask the delegates from ASTI to respond first.

Ms Moira Leyden

I am conscious of the time constraints. I wish to say a few words about Gaeilge. Mar duine atá i mo chonaí sa Ghaeltacht, I think the cup is half full rather than half empty. For instance, children who go to the Gaeltacht after two or three days are so animated about the fact that they can speak, communicate and verbalise in Irish. There is a significant bedrock of competency in language among young people. The problem is when they go back from these fantastic Gaeltacht experiences which are also about growing up and not just about the language. The language is in context, it is a form of summer activity. However, they then go back to a curriculum which is both literature-driven and exam-driven. There is a very strong case to be made that Irish should be a core feature of education. Everybody is reluctant to use the "compulsory" word nowadays. Irish is a vital aspect of our history, culture and heritage and a very important dimension of socio-psychological wellbeing. The problem is the students only have one way to study it at second level which is the literature-driven curriculum. I know the Minister for Education and Skills has directed our colleagues at the NCCA to look at the Gaeilge in light of other engagements she has had but we should make the point that students should be given the option. Those who are cognitively enriched should take the literature syllabus and those who want to study Gaeilge, cultiúr or damhsa, ceol, craic agus go háirithe, the digital culture, let them go and do a different course. The cup is half full. Deputy O'Mahony is a teacher. I was talking to my colleague, Pat King, about his former correspondence with him. He would fully appreciate that criticism. We should go out from a positive base rather than looking at the glass as half empty.

I wish to deal briefly with two or three points. Senator Keaveney talked about entrepreneurship. We are fixated on financial entrepreneurship here. We have seen where that has taken us. Entrepreneurship without ethical concepts——

Many entrepreneurs built the ghost estates.

Ms Moira Leyden

Absolutely. It is like everything else. We can manage this process if we do not confine ourselves to shibboleths and old-fashioned concepts. Entrepreneurship is about innovation. There is social and ethical innovation as well as cultural innovation. We should be careful when talking about curriculum change. Our curriculums are very good in some ways. The problem is that the end point of the curriculum is that damn leaving certificate which is the gateway to third level. I am always amazed in these debates about education that nobody is asking the third level institutions to account for what they are doing to develop alternative entry systems. The second level system is being shackled by the fact that instead of serving as a statement of achievement in academic, cognitive, social, personal, sporting, entrepreneurship areas, the school leaving certificate has become a statement of achievement in examinations for the purposes of selection to third level education. I am very pleased to know I have the privilege of sitting on the NCCA council on behalf of ASTI. The NCCA is organising a major symposium with the HEA around the question of transition from second level to third level education. This is a core question to be discussed. We are blaming the second level curriculum for failures but it has been in a straitjacket because the system as it is requires everybody to work towards the exam. If the leaving certificate was a statement of achievement of a student's five or six years in a second level school, we would have a much enriched curriculum of the entrepreneurship, etc. It is all there.

We could have matriculation instead for third level entry.

Ms Moira Leydon

I could not comment because we have not explored that modelper se. I am amazed at the political power in influencing public discourse that university presidents now have and yet they do not really address that core issue, which is a matter this committee might like to consider.

That will happen very shortly.

Ms Moira Leydon

I apologise for going over the top on that. Regarding the Gaeilge, the cup is half full and let us fill it up with a better curriculum.

I do not have a problem with saying that it is half full, but it could be considerably fuller. Of all the cups, after maths it is the one that the fewest people are actually swallowing. The key point is the syllabus.

Ms Moira Leydon

The syllabus is literature based.

I concur with what Ms Leydon says. I know she would like to get people to opt into the subject by choice, but they are not doing that. A figure of 32% is very low when compared with many other subjects. The participation of male students at higher leaving certificate examinations is generally poorer than that of their female counterparts. There are significant underlying issues. I cannot avoid the conclusion that Irish is in a real crisis. If we want to save it and continue to use it we must have radical change in order that people will change their choices. I believe we would both agree on that.

That point is made. We should move on to some of the other questions.

Mr. Joe Moran

With regard to Deputy Quinn's remark about the role of the religious and Dr. Garret FitzGerald's recent comments about trust and integrity, one of the great things about our schools is that, with the exception of the grind schools, all our schools have a social mission rather than a commercial mission. Schools take the ethos and integrity of their operation very seriously. Words such as "inclusiveness" mean a lot to schools and the vast majority of them make a serious effort to bring everybody on board and to respect difference among children particularly in the area of special needs and so forth. The disciplinary procedures in schools have been radicalised over the years and the relationship with the child is very important.

Our much maligned examination system has played a good role in the sense that nobody could ever claim it is corrupted politically or businesswise, and it is very straight. The State Examinations Commission must be complimented on maintaining those standards and ensuring there is a great sense of fairness. Senator Healy Eames spoke about the oral Irish examination. We would say that those standards should apply to oral Irish examinations and so forth across the board. That kind of ethical area is huge because a business model of a school where the entire emphasis is trying to sell one school over another school is not desirable. There is sometimes tension and competition between second level schools. To a degree that competition can be healthy and can increase standards, but it can reach a stage where it becomes almost like commercial advertising, focusing on very narrow differences and can become almost like a brand, which is another thing.

An article in today's edition ofThe Irish Times addresses the balance between individual rights, personal abilities and freedoms combined with social obligations and duties. Denmark introduced that into the second level school curriculum as part of what we call CSPE, civic, social and political education. One of the most important things for those studying business organisation would seem to be the integrity of a contract and for people to honour contracts. Work terms and conditions should be properly understood and there is a moral obligation to be aware of and to pay one’s debt, which in the light of what are now hearing and learning does not seem to have transferred itself successfully into our economic sphere. Maybe the lesson is that we are not going to have a balanced economy unless we address that issue as well as other issues.

Mr. Joe Moran

The Deputy also spoke about critical mass in second level schools. I teach in one of the most rural schools in the country in County Tipperary. Our enrolment is always approximately 300 students. Some people would argue that is not an effective size for a school, but it is appropriate in an area where the students come from a ten to 15-mile radius. Last year the Department did some work in this area. The allocation of resources to schools is a very blunt instrument. In a small standalone school the provision of a broad curriculum is much more resource intensive and would need proportionately more resources. That kind of subtlety is not reflected in the model and is required. Schools are not all equal in what they need to provide. I broadly agree with Mr. Peter MacMenamin of the TUI that the optimal number is 400 to 600. Once a school reaches 1,000 students it becomes too impersonal.

Through the Teaching Council, CPD for teachers will become more formalised, but there is a strong culture of teachers doing courses. The NCCA's Project Maths has an evening course covering computers which is voluntary and many teachers attend those courses. It will probably become accredited as years go on. There is a voluntary flexible mode among teachers in most schools with teachers getting involved in almost anything. As Deputy O'Mahony will know, one can basically ask a teacher to do almost anything including the school's show, school games and so forth. I have spent years getting involved with school sports teams and have mentioned this at NCCA meetings. Participation in school sports and music brings out interpersonal skills and working with people better than anything on the formal curriculum, but is often not acknowledged.

Senator Healy Eames spoke about the issue of young teachers that I raised last year. We have looked at solutions that would not require significant additional resources. For example, the allocation of teachers to a school is now denominated in hours. If one is asked what a school's allocation is, one is given an allocation in terms of hours as opposed to a figure in terms of teachers. We should go back to an allocation of teachers, which should be flexible to meet schools' different needs. Then if a school is entitled to, for example, 29.2 teachers, it should get the benefit of doubt and round the number up to 30 rather than the opposite way which is what has applied up to now. In Scotland a start-up teacher is given a year's placement in a school which gives the teacher a professional grounding to start off with. The Teaching Council is doing work on teacher induction and probation, all of which will be theoretical and nonsensical unless the model of allocation to schools is improved and logical. The problem in education is that sometimes one organisation is taking one step and the other organisations are behind. Senator Healy Eames spoke about primary teachers who spend, for example, two to three years on probation. In recent weeks many past pupils have told me that they got a job this year as a resource teacher, which is not acceptable for probation. On the ground this is not a runner but at the Teaching Council level it is seen to be a runner. That kind of dynamic pertains.

I would be enthusiastic about teachers being conscious of the key skills and to get away from a bunker-type subject mentality, which needs to be done gradually in second level. I would obviously be enthusiastic about sport as Deputy O'Mahony mentioned.

The Chairman mentioned some serious issues about resources, etc. The issue of 80% of people being on salaries is always trotted out. Anything that involves dealing with young people will be heavy on personnel and resources. We should not apologise for that. In the past year, teachers and public servants have been subjected to massive vilification. The 80% figure is sometimes used to vilify teachers, all of whom are compliant taxpayers. It is a gross figure. It would be interesting to see the net figure. The same point applies to all public servants. It has been suggested that the Croke Park agreement is not a runner. It should be emphasised that the agreement protects gross salaries, but not net salaries. The net salaries of teachers, like those of all public servants, are vulnerable to tax increases.

It is inevitable that anyone covered by the tax system may be hit. The point is that when frames the education budget, one must concentrate one's cuts on the 20%.

Mr. Joe Moran

I accept that.

The other 80% cannot be directly cut.

Mr. Joe Moran

I just wanted to take this opportunity to make the point about gross and net salaries because it always irritates me when people do not understand it. It is obvious that if the pupil-teacher ratio is cut — this is a core issue — teachers will have to be taken out of schools, subjects will be dropped and the pastoral care dimension of schools will be diminished. That would do huge damage to schools. The 2008 cuts did significant damage. At least enough good sense was shown to stop that process. There needs to be equality between the direct funding given to various types of school. Voluntary secondary schools think they are disadvantaged in that regard. That whole area needs to be looked after. Students in disadvantaged areas need to be prioritised. Generally speaking, education is one of the main planks on which we can rebuild. In addition to dealing with the urgent things, we should deal with the important things. One of the big dangers at present is that we might make fundamental mistakes during this crisis. We should ensure that does not happen.

I ask Dr. Anne Looney of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to address the joint committee.

Dr. Anne Looney

The quality of the debate and the nature of the questions have shown the complexity of the issue of curriculum and school reform. I would like to make three overarching points. My colleagues will comment on a couple of specific issues that have come up.

We have heard a great deal about the need to hang on to what we have over the decade ahead. We need to be careful that our proposals do not send the school system into a bunker with a set of emergency rations, in the hope that everything will be all right when it comes out in ten years' time. Everything in the rest of the world will have moved on. Our nation's 20 year olds will not look kindly on us for having kept them in the dark for ten years while we were waiting for economic recovery. Standing still is not an option in the education system. We owe it to the children who are in school now to find smart, creative and clever ways of ensuring that the development of education continues. Everybody has a kind of responsibility in that regard. The committee has heard about some of the creative solutions that teachers are already using. They are emerging in their own time. It is a great credit to teachers and school leaders that they are finding ways of working locally. That is an important point to make. Although we have great expectations of the school system, it is important to be careful that we do not transmit the message that through curriculum reform, we can produce a nation of thin and ethical Irish speakers. That will not happen. The education system has a certain set of limitations. The American historian, Larry Cuban, said that if society has an itch, schools get scratched, which is a great phrase.

The teaching of the Irish language is a good example of the role schooling can play. Deputy O'Dowd and Senator Healy Eames asked about the number of pupils taking Irish as a subject at higher level. In 2006, the NCCA, having spent some time consulting on this issue, asked the then Department of Education and Science to consider diversifying provision in this area, precisely as Ms Leydon outlined. We suggested that a range of courses be made available in the education system to suit different needs. We were particularly interested in the needs of Irish-speaking communities, which might be quite different from those of English-speaking communities. We suggested that Irish spoken in Baile an Fheirtéaraigh might be different from Irish spoken in Ballymun. The Department decided not to make progress with that proposal and focused instead on changing the examination weighting. We pointed out to the Department that the restoration of the Irish language is a public project in which schools have a role, not a school project in which the public plays a spectator role. That is an important point from the perspective of Irish. When one consults students on this issue, it is interesting that they talk about their dislike of Irish as a subject but also refer to their interest in Irish as a language. Students often criticise the Irish they study in school but not Irish as a language. The problems associated with the curriculum for Irish as a subject — what is taught and how it is taught — are issues for the public and the school system. As Ms Leydon said, we are heartened that the Minister has asked us to examine this issue again. We will signal that if we are to be serious about tackling the Irish language question, once and for all, the general public will have to be involved. Countries that have been more successful in this regard have approached it as a public project in the first instance. That is an important point.

It is important to bear in mind that when a student is deciding on the level at which to study a subject, it is not a student choice. The ESRI research made it clear that by the time the student gets to sixth year, he or she will have received clear messages from the school and the system about his or her options. That often happens in the junior cycle and may relate to the manner in which classes are organised. We know from the ESRI research that boys are more likely to be streamed than girls and, where boys and girls are streamed, are more likely to be in a lower stream. When one considers the interface with social class, one will realise that a boy from a working class or disadvantaged background is far less likely to access higher level subjects in the junior certificate examination, and thereby has no way of accessing higher level examinations at leaving certificate level. That is precisely why we are now looking at the junior cycle. The choices one is asked to make in sixth year have already been made. We are thinking about giving schools more flexibility in the junior cycle so that they can try to meet the various needs within schools, including gender needs.

The ethical question is an interesting one. A new subject, politics and society, has been the subject of a process of consultation. Some of the young people who were consulted about how the new subject might be configured made some points that could be noted by the members present. They suggested that local and national issues should be considered as case studies as part of the course. Students could be given the tools to analyse the political, economic and ethical perspectives of such issues. That would be a welcome addition to the school curriculum, if a little frightening for some people around the table. When teachers have been upskilled in this area, we will have an opportunity to work with them to ensure the relevant junior cycle subject — civic, social and political education — is also extended and made more flexible. The young people who have been consulted about the school curriculum would give a strong welcome to that.

They will not be diplomatic when they are asking tough questions of elected representatives.

Dr. Anne Looney

I suspect they will not be. It has been proposed that we give them the skills to ask even harder questions when public representatives come to their schools. Senator Healy Eames asked why the NCCA is moving so slowly and what is stopping it from doing things. Three environmental or contextual factors need to be considered in the context of the second level system, in particular. One of the first casualties of a chronically under-funded education system is agility. We have always had a track record of not funding our system as well as similarly developed countries do. One loses agility in that kind of context. Nonetheless, we have been quite smart in working our way around it. The second feature of the system that makes it slow is that it is completely centralised. The NCCA has been trying to loosen that up by giving schools more choice and flexibility. A centralised system is not innovation-friendly. I have said publicly that the development of Project Maths has been like trying to turn a battleship. It is extremely difficult to move a very centralised system. It is important to give schools more choice and more local control. Ms Leydon mentioned the system in Finland, which is seen as having one of the most successful systems. Finnish schools have considerable choice with regard to what they do locally. A 300-student school in a rural area, for example, is able to reflect particular aspects of the local community in its curriculum. It does not have to follow to the letter a more centralised approach.

The last issue is the one Ms Leyden raised, namely, that the longer one is in the second level system, the more one's experience as a student is coloured by the needs of those who aspire to go to university. Those are the three points that make the system more inert than others.

A certain Mr. McCarthy has suggested some ways in which the NCCA might be stopped in its tracks, including, spectacularly, by spending less on research, professional development and publications, or, as my colleagues like to say, by finding fewer things out, telling fewer people about them and not training oneself to understand them. I am pleased to say the council has coped with the cut Mr. McCarthy suggested but I have decided we should continue to gather evidence on the system and try to understand it.

Deputy Wallace has a particular interest in Project Maths. She mentioned the first phase, which includes 24 schools. The schools in the first phase were part of the developmental process. They really had a challenge because we did not have a syllabus for them to implement. We were actually working with them on how to teach statistics and probability. This was a lesson we had learned from how successful Asian countries had implemented change in mathematics. It was a question of working with a group of teachers in this regard. The programme was very demanding on the first schools and while they did receive much support, the teachers therein are to be commended on the way in which they engaged with the project.

Let us consider the evidence from the first set of examination results, which pertains to a small sample of schools. The schools received a lot of support. More students opted for higher level mathematics in the 24 schools than among the rest of the school population. The achievements of students in the B and C grades at higher level were better than those reflected in the national pattern. The A grades were fewer. Those in the corner telling me I am dumbing down maths need to consider the results. It is quite a complex task and it is hard work for the 24 schools. They are being supported because they are leading the vanguard.

ESRI research did not find that the size of a school was important for student outcomes. The ESRI found that the quality of relationships in a school is critical and that even very large schools can be managed and led in ways that preserve good relationships. I would hate to give the impression to parents and students associated with large schools that the quality of the educational experience would suffer as a result of the schools' size. A good school focusing on good relationships and good leadership can give students a very high quality experience. They ESRI has flagged this for us.

Mr. John Hammond might say something about the other issues that have been raised, particularly on the key skills and flexibility.

Mr. John Hammond

I will speak on early leaving and address Deputy Quinn's point on classical subjects. Early leaving is not a school problem alone. The solutions, therefore, are not internal to education. It is a societal problem. We can, however, do very much within the education sector. Arguably our approach towards addressing early leaving and educational disadvantage has focused unduly on interventions into existing curricula and on specially targeted initiatives aimed at schools in disadvantaged communities specifically. I refer also to the introduction of specific programmes targeted at particular groups of students.

Our argument in respect of the junior cycle developments, for example, is that one can probably better address early school leaving and disengagement in the junior cycle by changing the curriculum fundamentally for all rather than engaging in interventions and special initiatives. The flexibility we are proposing within the junior cycle developments, whereby schools would have much greater freedom to generate the kinds of education programmes they believe are most suitable for their students, is the kind we believe will benefit school leavers. It is the kind of flexibility that would enable schools and teachers to be more personal in their approach to individual students and groups of students, not only in terms of the curricular components that would be selected for those students but also in terms of the assessment methods that would be used for them. I refer to the qualifications junior cycle students would access.

Does Mr. Hammond's reply suggest that Educate Together's blueprint for second level school curricula will provide the sort of flexibility and adaptability that is currently lacking in the present system?

Dr. Anne Looney

I have seen the Educate Together blueprint. It has taken many ideas from Leading and Supporting Change in Schools and the NCCA's proposals on key skills. It would not mind my saying so. Many other schools with which we have been working are considering these ideas and their cohort and saying it is something that would work with their students.

Within the existing framework?

Mr. John Hammond

Yes. We regard that as very compatible with the junior cycle developments overall.

The ESRI research included a lot of commentary on the very significant impact on early school leaving of the school environment, the quality of relationships between teachers and students and the quality of learning interactions between teachers and students.

The point needs to be made that developing options and pathways beyond schools, some of which would be vocational options for students, is also very important. The ESRI research also established that when students leave schools, they generally do not find their way back. It is extremely important that the options be developed.

The work we mentioned in passing and which we do not have time to discuss in any great detail on the development of flexible learning profiles within senior cycle is extremely important in terms of catering for disengaged students. Giving schools greater flexibility in terms of the options within the curriculum, assessment and qualifications represents a very important set of levers for addressing early school leaving.

The council retains a very strong commitment to persisting with the classical subjects within the curriculum, despite the low uptake. In the development of a new junior cycle classical studies subject, we worked very closely with the relevant schools. We are also working with those schools in the context of the review of leaving certificate Latin, Greek and classical studies. We have considered UK initiatives associated with the promotion of the value of Latin to language learning generally. We envisage real possibilities for the transition year, the introduction of short courses at senior cycle and the introduction of flexible junior cycle courses in terms of schools taking tasters and other short options within the classical subjects. We retain a fairly strong commitment in this area.

Deputy Wallace inquired about the key skills initiative. Our initial work in this area has been with a small number of schools. The material generated on our website is produced with a relatively small number of teachers, students and schools. We first identified the key skills, fleshed out for ourselves the key elements of each of those skills and then identified fairly rigorously the learning outcomes that would apply across the curriculum to each key skill. All that work is done with a view to embedding the key skills within every subject at leaving certificate level. At junior certificate level, that also comes up for review. From this time forward, when a leaving certificate subject is being introduced into the system, those particular key skills will be embedded within its learning outcomes. The video material, however, is extremely important. While we were very clear on the key skills and what we thought the main elements should be, we did not really know what it would be like in real situations in classrooms. We now have that material, along with teachers' commentaries on their experience of working with key skills and the commentary from students as regards experience of learning in this manner. All this material is very important for the next stage, the dissemination of the key skills initiative to a broader group of schools.

On that point is there anything that existing schools can benefit from, as distinct from waiting for the embedding of the changes within subjects that are being developed? What would Mr. Hammond suggest as regards an existing school, say, that is interested in becoming involved?

Mr. John Hammond

All the material related to the key skills initiative is available on the website and may be downloaded. The toolkit we mentioned as regards how to get the key skills initiative started within a school, and how subjects may be identified and worked through is available on the website as well. There is plenty there for any school that wishes to get started.

Is this mainly at senior cycle and is the transition year appropriate as a stage in which this could be introduced?

Mr. John Hammond

It is relevant to all levels, and as Mr. Halbert, I am sure, will suggest shortly, it is very much part of the thinking in relation to junior cycle, albeit, with the list of key skills slightly adjusted.

I call Mr. Halbert, or has Deputy O'Dowd a related question?

No, it is in relation to the contribution from the NCCA.

There is one more speaker from the NCCA, and the Deputy may come in then.

I had not realised. That is fine. I apologise.

Mr. John Halbert

I want to address some of the questions that arose in relation to the junior cycle, something on entrepreneurship that Senator Keaveney raised, as well as on assessment together with a great deal on physical education. The committee may settle back.

People talk about content and the fact that subjects are seen to be just too big; we are currently engaged in talking about junior cycle to students and parents who must endure their children experiencing it. That content issue keeps on recurring, in two ways. First, the subjects are just too big and there is too much for children to absorb. If one accesses the material on junior cycle one finds there is a very poignant section on students talking about their experiences of a week that comprises 12 or 13 subjects, and what this means to them in real terms. It is really worth viewing.

Second, this is an ongoing recognisable situation, something we have tried to address in the past and we have been trying to see whether we could reduce the amount of content in each subject from a curriculum perspective. Perhaps we need each subject to be significantly shorter, to express clearly what the learning content will be and state the outcomes so that everybody knows, ultimately, that the child will know or be able to do "the following". That is a strong message we have to give here. That work will continue as part of the work of junior cycle reform. It is crucial to provide that critical space we all talk about.

On the key skills issue at junior cycle, the evidence currently is pretty much largely confined to subject-specific skills. If one does science, one learns science-related skills, and the same with language, etc. There is not much evidence currently in the junior cycle of more generic skills or key skills, as we call them, at senior cycle. As Mr. Hammond mentioned, we will certainly include as part of the reform initiative an examination of the type of skills a young person should have at the age of 15. We are not saying we shall be able to predict, as many people believe they can, what the 21st century skills will be. We can see what they will be in so far as we can foresee into the future, but we must realise that the children in junior cycle today will expect to be working in 2050. We are not sufficiently presumptuous to imagine we can predict what skills they will need in 2050. However, we will certainly make an attempt in that regard.

Senator Keaveney raised the issue of entrepreneurship. We have a terminology issue here. There is currently a short course at senior cycle level on enterprise that is out for consultation. The terminology we use is important. We would have envisaged that course in design as being one that encompassed entrepreneurship. Part of the consultation might focus on whether people believe this is the right name for it, incidentally, and we are quite open to a discussion along those lines. Outside that specific curriculum perspective, however, it is important to appreciate that we need to move the enterprise or entrepreneurship mindset away from businessper se and into the curriculum. It manifests in the curriculum, perhaps, under several guises such as creativity or innovation, words that have been used here as well. We need to break the link between entrepreneurship and business, as I believe some members have obliquely mentioned. In this regard too, if one looks at the key skills we have mentioned, the types of initiative we have included in key skills, such as critical and creative thinking, communicating and information processing are the very essence of entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation and as such are fundamental. We therefore see the entrepreneurship issue as being addressed on a number of fronts.

That is very important. It is a long way from "cute hoorism" to getting land rezoned, which is what many people believe entrepreneurship is.

Mr. John Halbert

If the Deputy says so. That is correct, and that includes the ethical issue. We are all too familiar with entrepreneurship being used and abused. In that sense the ethical dimension is really crucial.

The third point is assessment, and how it happens is absolutely critical. When we asked people, particularly teachers, about syllabi, we were told we needed to make changes. However, until one seeks evidence of the learning that is going to happen much of what one is trying to do will go for nought. We have a framework which recognises the links within the junior cycle, and this is extremely complex within all areas of education. To identify one link in particular is probably not helpful. We are seeking to loosen the connection, therefore, between the manner in which something is assessed and the way it is taught. That link at the moment is generally negative in many cases. If the junior and senior cycles, up to leaving certificate, are examined and evidence is sought across a very narrow range, then it is hardly surprising that the teaching and learning are done within a very narrow range.

We constantly hear people talk about rote learning. Rote learning is rewarded in many cases by the way we examine subjects. Therefore, it is no surprise that people learn and teach in a manner that is rewarded.

I must stay in front.

Mr. John Halbert

That is an excellent point and I know the committee talked the last day about the value of homework. Our primary colleagues raised that as an issue and it is a very real concern at senior cycle as well, and the manner in which evidence of learning is sought. That will be a major issue for us at junior cycle and one that I do not believe we shall step back from. We are keen to suggest that the way we assess and gather evidence of learning is something that needs to be looked at.

As regards physical education, I must declare an interest as a former physical education teacher. I could go on at length, but I will not. My colleagues are leaning back in their seats already.

Significantly, we are currently preparing a syllabus for leaving certificate and junior certificate education for consultation. As we speak, that is being prepared for discussion at a committee meeting early next month, and from there it will go to consultation in the education community. There is also a framework for non-examination physical education at junior cycle that goes with that. I strongly argue that this is almost more important, and I will come back to why I say that.

The issue of resources for leaving certificate physical education is a key one, but that is the case for every subject. The issue of resources for physical education has two important sub-points. The first is that physical education is quite fortunate in many cases because it has available to it a vast array of community resources that are under utilised at the very time that physical education lessons in classes need them most. The second, related point, is that some research has shown that it is not so much about the available resources but how they are deployed for physical education. We have a situation where our schools have large sports halls available to them and they will time three classes of physical education for the same period, so three groups will be looking for the same resource. Deployment of resources and similar issues are crucial. Resources are required for leaving certificate physical education, but it should not be a bar. We should not set a bar at a certain height for physical education that we do not set for any other subject.

One of the biggest challenges is the authentic assessment of the physical education experience. If there is distinctive and real learning in physical education, then we must have distinctive and real assessment for the subject. I was in this room almost ten years ago talking about physical education as a leaving certificate subject, and at that time we identified assessment as a crucial issue. It is great to be back because the issue is exactly the same. We have to look beyond current practice to find a solution to the issue of authentic assessment for leaving certificate physical education. That is a real challenge.

I made the point about a framework for non-examination physical education being almost more important. The vast majority of people who engage in physical education in school will do so in a non-exam setting. Why is that the case and what is the outcome? As they will only have non-examination physical education for around 80 minutes in a week for 30 weeks of the year, we must be realistic. No matter how good the system we put in place, we will not change the person's fitness or body composition in such a short period. What we can do is produce literal participants. People who ask the right questions and make the right decisions about their lifestyle, their physical activity and the manner in which they chose to engage in that activity. For example, I noticed in this morning's edition ofThe Irish Times that the Chairman participated in a five-a-side soccer match yesterday.


Mr. John Halbert

I thought it was interesting that he was shown in pre-exercise mode, offering some kind of——

He was doing his stretches.

Mr. John Halbert

Yes, he was doing his stretches. The choices we make will be influenced by the quality of the experiences in the non-examination physical education setting. That is a real challenge for schools. It is linked to my last point about making the direct link between improving health and personal well being solely by a tiny period of every child's day. He or she is in the school for six hours and is somewhere else for 18 more hours. These are key points, because the well being of the child is a crucial responsibility of schools, but it is not only schools that have that responsibility.

I do not want to take up too much time, because others want to come in, but Mr. Halbert mentioned the issue of time. Can people not be told to do a certain type of physical education for homework and report on something such as their lap times? Geography and history can be taught through activity in some cases, and maybe the curriculum can be examined to see where activity can be integrated into subjects, such as field trips or re-enactment of historic battles.


Deputy O'Dowd had some questions.

I am very impressed with what I have heard, although I struggled with the science at times. When people go to college, none of their more rounded achievements, such as physical education achievements, community achievements or whatever, is taken into consideration in the points system. There might be a consensus that there is a major need to look at other achievements outside of the academic world, whether these be sporting, social, community and so on. There should be some indication of progress and excellence in those areas, as there is in academic subjects. Could we put forward that view in some forum? It would make a great deal of sense to pursue that issue.

When students opt to study a subject at higher or lower level for their leaving certificate, is there any evidence which shows that they may opt to do a particular subject because it may be perceived to be an easier way to achieve a good grade than another subject? Are the delegates aware of any of the academic research into the comparative difficulties of leaving certificate subjects?

Business organisation is a classic example.

Has the research been done on this? It might account for some choices made.

I acknowledge everything Dr. Looney said, but nevertheless there seems to be a significant under performance of males for whatever reason, and Dr. Looney highlighted some of them. We are now in the post-boom era, but many able young people left education or chose careers that are now going nowhere. Can the delegates comment on those?

Dr. Looney made a point about the choice of subjects for the leaving certificate already being made for the student because of what has happened along the route. I came across a letter this week to the parents of junior certificate students, which I thought was very good and I presume it is a national thing. The letter stated to parents that they should encourage their children to do higher level subjects and not to drop back to ordinary level until after the mock examinations. It stated that if students limited themselves to doing the pass subjects, they would be limiting their choices at leaving certificate and further on. It was good to get the message across at this stage of the year to parents. Maybe it is just happening in some areas, but I think it is happening at a national level. This is the time of the year to tell parents to encourage their children to hang in there in the honours class.

Dr. Looney spoke about Project Maths and the 24 schools leading the vanguard. Does she have a message for parents as to why this change was so important, with a move towards statistics and probability?

Dr. Anne Looney

The change in Project Maths resulted from a deeper understanding of mathematics beyond simply the maths required to pass the examination. The introduction of compulsory statistics is particularly significant. Statistics used to be an optional subject and was taken by a tiny minority of maths students, but we have now made it a requirement for all students, which can only be to their ultimate benefit.

It is a good idea to encourage students to stay with the higher level, and it is a very useful thing to encourage parents, but it probably signals the big weakness of the junior certificate, which is that third year is all about the exam. For 14 and 15 year olds, there must be another set of messages about learning. However, in the current context, it makes good sense.

While Dr. Looney suggested that third year is all about the exam, is it not also a useful dry run for the living certificate exam when the time comes? Does it not help students to gather themselves together and to focus?

Dr. Anne Looney

Absolutely. However, the ESRI study of 1,000 students as they moved through schools showed that third year became only about the exams. That is the issue for young people of that age.

Balance is important.

Dr. Anne Looney

Yes, the issue is about balance. On the issue of the underachievement of boys, I urge that members keep in mind that some young men do exceptionally well in the education system.

I acknowledge that but I have to hand a paper that identifies issues that should be addressed.

Dr. Anne Looney


I do not suggest that boys are falling behind and so on but this is an issue and regardless of how one identifies it, I am not making a pejorative comment.

Dr. Anne Looney

I understand that but——

For example, boys tend not to opt to study the main languages and in 18 of the 20 subjects studied to leaving certificate level, boys underperform their female counterparts. That was the point I was attempting to make and if I did not make it correctly——

Dr. Anne Looney

No, it is not that I suggested it was pejorative.

I simply wanted to make that point.

Dr. Anne Looney

I suggest the issue is more complex than simply identifying boys because there are different groups of boys within that. While the broader issue exists, some boys in some schools achieve exceptionally well, whereas some boys in other schools do not.

Of course they do. There is no question about that.

Dr. Anne Looney

It is the intersection between gender and social class that is most worrying. Within the system as a whole, disadvantaged boys form the group that underperforms the most.

How does one identify a policy? Does the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, have a suggested policy?

This has been the case for the past 20 years.

Dr. Anne Looney


May I get an answer to my question? Unfortunately, I must attend another meeting in ten minutes and simply am trying to get to the bottom of this.

The question is what the solution is, because members know the issue exists.

Is there a strategy? Has the NCCA analysed this issue in particular and, if so, can it forward documents on it to me? While this may have gone on for the past 20 years, members all agree it will not continue for the next 20 years.

Any such documents should be forwarded to the joint committee.

This is an extremely important issue.

Dr. Anne Looney

This arises from the ESRI study and its key finding was that school organisation in mixed or co-educational schools is a key issue. Boys find themselves in lower stream classes and are more likely to take ordinary level. This is a school issue that must be addressed at school level.

While we can centrally mandate a set of requirements that boys must do X, Y and Z, local interpretations can be quite different. Getting individual schools to consider how the boys in each school are achieving appears to be a critical point and this is one of the themes of the junior cycle review. However, the particular challenges for boys in very disadvantaged communities are actually all those that pertain to disadvantage in addition to all the challenges pertaining to gender and one can see how this could be particularly acute.

Another question related to subject choice and whether subjects were easy or difficult. The comparative work that can be done between subjects is highly difficult because it is akin to comparing apples with oranges. However, the final part of our research, which has become like the fifth Gospel at this committee meeting, will be published early next year and will examine how the students performed in exams.

I believe a study of comparative difficulties may have been undertaken in the United Kingdom.

Dr. Anne Looney

A study on the relative difficulty of subjects?

Dr. Anne Looney

We certainly considered the reason students chose particular subjects. While there is much anecdotal evidence that students choose particular subjects because they will give them better points, the research suggested that students were quite wise about their subject choices. Personal interests——

The point I am trying to get at concerns the actual examination itself. As I understand it, this issue has been studied in England. My question is whether the NCCA has or will study it. I do not even know what the outcome of such a study would be.

Dr. Anne Looney

The Educational Research Centre, ERC, did some work on the relative difficulty of subjects and I certainly will ensure that it is forwarded to the joint committee. I should note that reading it is not for the faint-hearted, as it contains some fairly in-depth statistical analysis.

The summary might be more useful, in English or in Irish.

Dr. Anne Looney

Yes, I would suggest going to the executive summary. We certainly can forward a link to the joint committee to enable members to access it.

Does Dr. Looney believe that such information would be useful? If one genuinely considers choices that students make and if there are significant statistical variations between different subjects, their success rate and whatever, it would seem to be a very important issue to consider.

Dr. Anne Looney

Having read the ERC report, I can tell the Deputy that it found the differences can be quite minimal. It tends to be that particular subjects attract particular kinds of students, which can be a factor for the subject. In addition, there are issues such as the number of components in the assessment or the kind of assessment that is involved that can make a difference.

I refer to the amount of work the student must do to do the course. To restate the question in a different way, is there a level playing pitch between all subjects?

Dr. Anne Looney

Based on the evidence, it is pretty level. I would not say it is Croke Park standard but it probably is as level as it can be, given that the subjects range from Jewish studies and Greek through physics to home economics. While there are different kinds of knowledge, we have a pretty good balance.

At this stage, the Teaching Council should be awarded a medal. This is a type of physics education. They were very brief at the outset and I presume they will be equally brief now.

Mr. Brendan O’Dea

I will address the points that had a Teaching Council element. I hope I will not do an injustice to Deputy Quinn's question but to paraphrase heavily, it pertained to the post-religious phase of post-primary and, as I understood it, inquired how one inculcates an ethical and moral framework into students. We deal with teachers but I believe the Teaching Council's approach to teachers eventually also will have an influence on students. We have put in place a code of professional conduct for teachers within the last two to three years. I will not go through it but it deals with core values, professional conduct and professional practice. It is written by teachers for teachers and is a practical document. I believe this document really will come into place when our fitness to teach regime and procedures are commenced and fired up by the Minister for Education and Skills, as that will be the foundation or bedrock for that process.

If I can move on and provide more context, Part 5 of the Teaching Council Act deals with issues relating to the fitness to teach of a teacher. Anyone can make a complaint about a teacher on a number of grounds, such as professional misconduct and other areas related to the code of professional conduct for teachers. At present, this has not been fired up but we have been given a significant promise by the Minister that this will happen sooner rather than later. To revert to Deputy Quinn's question, this will place a fairly significant onus on teachers in respect of their own practice and how they go about their business, which certainly will flow out to an extent.

Both Senators Keaveney and Healy Eames asked what does one do in respect of teachers who are underperforming or who are having significant difficulties. This is an area in which significant change is taking place at present. An agreement has been reached between the Department of Education and Skills and the unions on section 24 of the Education Act, which puts in place procedures dealing with a number of these issues. They are very new and I will not comment on them as this is not our area of expertise. However, they are new and are still being bedded in. Many problems with teachers probably could be best identified at local level within a national framework. While some questions may emerge from that, the focus might be to deal with them locally. At national level, the council is the professional body for teachers. It has considerable powers for dealing with complaints, there is an investigative framework and so on and anyone who wishes to make a complaint made do so. I foresee that this will deal with some of the questions that have been raised by both Senators.

Deputy O'Mahony made a number of comments on the higher diploma in education. In 2008, we kicked off the process of reviewing and accrediting teacher education qualifications, of which there are 45. We have looked at higher diplomas from a professional point of view and given sturdy feedback to colleges on how they could be improved. We have also taken a number of national issues from our reviews and accreditations on a pilot basis. Our overarching objective is to have a policy on teacher education from beginning to end in order that colleges will be able to see what is expected of them and how they may deliver on it. That is emerging; therefore, the council is breaking new ground in that respect. The Deputy made a number of points about issues to do with higher diplomas. We are aware of these issues and will be aiming to move matters on. I do not want to predict what the outcome of our process will be, but it is active and will change things.

I did not receive an answer to an earlier question. Does Mr. Moran believe that in order to keep a teaching licence, it should be mandatory for a teacher to show evidence of CPD?

Mr. Joe Moran

I did not skip that question; I will allow Ms Kearns to answer it.

Ms Carmel Kearns

Mr. O'Dea mentioned codes of professional conduct. The codes states CPD is both a right and a responsibility. Returning to Mr. MacMenamin's comments, it should be supported by resources at local, regional and national level. Mr. O'Dea has mentioned that we are developing our teacher education framework covering all stages of a teacher's career, of which CPD will form part. It is at an advanced stage. The issue is being actively considered, but we hope to launch a consultation process later this year.

I would regard it as aquid pro quo. If we take it that teachers are above the normal OECD pay level, it should be a responsibility imposed on them that they give of their time to participate in courses provided by others. The quid pro quo would be that, in order to keep his or her teaching licence, a teacher would have to allocate a certain amount of time to be decided on by the delegates who are the professionals. This is the case in other professions. Time has to be allocated to attend courses provided by the Law Society, the Institute of Architects and so on. That is my decoded question.

Ms Carmel Kearns

Absolutely. When the strategy is launched, we will be delighted to be given and listen to feedback. The policy will posit teachers where they will be seen as lifelong learners. Initial teacher education programmes can furnish fully fledged teachers, but they have a lot to learn afterwards.

I would like to deal with the moral question raised. Mr. O'Dea has mentioned that it is reflected in the codes and core values, but it is also reflected in our review and accreditation strategy. When we look at these programmes in the colleges, we are not just looking at the mathematics or Irish content but also at the extent to which they examine the issue of a teacher's personal and social development, as well as his or her professional development. The strategy was developed in consultation with all of the partners involved. The Teaching Council carried out a public survey and 70% of those who responded said they did believe teachers played an important part in the development of values in society.

We could probably have another round of questions because some of the responses highlight a few opinions that might need to be considered by some of the other partners involved. However, we have run out of time. It has been a long but worthwhile session which is the reason we allowed it to continue. I thank the members of the four delegations for coming. Curriculum reform is being discussed at a number of levels and, as I pointed out, the issue has already been dealt with at primary level. All of the conclusions reached will be forwarded to the Minister and a response will be circulated to those who have attended the meeting. The comments made today will I hope prove valuable, both in terms of the ministerial response on the issue of further curriculum development and the budgetary framework being considered.

The joint committee went into private session at 1.05 p.m. and adjourned at 1.10 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 4 November 2010.