Education suffering 'death by initiative'

Sat, Jan 26, 2013, 00:00

The quality of primary education is being undermined by reform initiatives from the Department of Education, a school leader has claimed.

Seán Cottrell, director of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN), said the system was suffering from “death by initiative”. Over the years, he told delegates to the IPPN conference in Dublin, principals had been bombarded by initiatives.

“It is obvious from their nature that they are ad hoc and reactionary because there is a lack of an overall vision for Irish education.” He said there was a gross imbalance between management capacity in schools and the expectations of the Department of Education.

“To resolve this imbalance, the department must prioritise funding for skilled administrators, provide a minimum of one non-contact day per week for the leadership and management role of teaching principals and reinstate in-school management posts,” he said.

Key strategies

He said Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn should adopt three key strategies if he “genuinely wants to make primary education a priority for this Government”: First, no more new initiatives unless schools are provided with the necessary capacity to manage their implementation. “We have superb teachers – allow them teach.”

Second, give principals administrative back-up so they can fulfil their function of leading the quality of learning. Finally, trust principals: give them the resources to run schools and harness their capacity to lead.

Mr Quinn was unable to attend the conference for personal reasons. His address was read by Seán Ó Foghlú, secretary general of the Department of Education.

Mr Ó Foghlú said the latest international rankings indicated Ireland was performing better than most countries, especially in literacy, but there was still “some work to do if we want to join the ranks of the best performing countries in the world.That must be our ambition”.

On school patronage, he said existing patrons, and most notably the Catholic Church, would have six months to respond to the results of parental surveys on their preferred school options, currently under way.

In his address, Mr Cottrell said it was fine to compare standards in different countries. “But let’s also compare the support schools have . . . Minister, can you imagine the impact on your department if you lost half of your assistant secretaries, half of your principal officers and half of your advisers?”