Chalktalk: News and views in education

The fall-out from ‘The Irish Times’ 2013 School League Tables


nWhat should parents know about schools?

Once again, the response to ‘The Irish Times’ 2013 School League Tables was enormous, with the topic dominating the airwaves and letters’ pages, as well as being a hot-button issue on social media. As is traditional, the teacher unions lined up to condemn their publication while parents were desperate to get their hands on a copy of the paper to find out information about local schools.

Critics complain that the tables are a blunt guide that show only progression to third-level institutions in Ireland, with no credit for schools, such as King’s Hospital in Palmerston, Co Dublin, that send a higher proportion of students to college in the UK. The Teachers’ Union of Ireland said that “If third-level access rates were the only indicator of the success or otherwise of a school, the true meaning of education would be severely distorted.”

But nobody has ever pretended third-level access is the only indicator of a school’s success. This year, for example, our tables were accompanied by a broad and incisive guide for parents on how to select a secondary school, with advice on how to read a whole-school evaluation and Department of Education inspection reports, going to open days, and talking to other parents, all of which should be read alongside a school’s academic placing in the league table.

The available information about schools was put into the public domain, but there are still major gaps: there is, for instance, no way of knowing how many students progress from which school to post-Leaving Certificate or apprenticeship courses, which would give a very sharp picture of how schools are performing.

Nor is there any way for parents to receive a general summary of a school’s Leaving Cert results, unless the school chooses to release them.

Some seek to keep news from us for “our own good”. But newspapers should not suppress information about education in order to please vested interests.

And parents should be given more credit: they are intelligent enough to take a cautious view of league tables and to know that other factors need to be taken into account when choosing a school that best meets the needs of their child.

nScience winners

Wesley College won the all-Ireland Irish Science Teachers’ Association (ISTA) senior science quiz at Trinity College, with 123 Leaving Cert students and their teachers from 16 counties forming teams which qualified in regionals. The 21st year of the quiz saw cash prizes for the top teams: Wesley College, Dublin; Summerhill College, Sligo; Calasanctius College, Galway; Christian Brothers College, Cork and Belvedere College, Dublin.

As part of ISTA’s link with the Irish Heart and Lung Transplant Association, students from Eureka Secondary School in Kells, Co Meath, designed charity Christmas cards for their winning Young Social Innovator project, Bring Organ Donation into Education.

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