What will happen in education in 2013?


It’s time to find out who in education has been naughty or nice and how the  New Year will look in the classroom

There will be increasing speculation about Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn’s future

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn can reflect on 2012 with quiet satisfaction. Key elements of his reform programme, such as changes to the Junior Cert and school patronage, are up and running. Further reforms are planned.

The Minister, now aged 66, insists he is there for the long haul, all the way to the next election. But it’s been a long time since any education minister completed five years in Marlborough Street. Quinn is the fifth person to hold the portfolio since 2004. With a Cabinet reshuffle due in September after the EU presidency, there is already speculation that Richard Bruton could move to education, although surely Labour would would want to retain the education portfolio?

Quinn, a distinguished former president of Ecofin-EU finance ministers, will also be linked to the EU commissioner post which falls vacant next summer. Labour has never held the post and a heavy hitter such as Quinn would secure a very senior post; and that could be important in key discussions on our debt burden.

With Quinn unlikely to contest the next election, there will also be pressure from some in the party to move on.

So will Quinn be in education this time next year? No one, least of all the Minister himself, is sure.

What’s certain is there will be a wave of speculation about his future. The hope must be that it will not derail or slow down his reform agenda.

Northern Ireland will become the new Finland.

For year we have looked north to Finland for education’s promised land. But the latest international rankings for primary schools suggest that the promised land may actually be up the road.

Northern Ireland is among the elite performers in both reading and maths where it significantly outperformed the Republic.

Its secret? A concerted move to boost standards in literacy and numeracy and radical reform of teacher education.

The good news is that similar reforms are already under way south of the Border.

There will be speculation about a new working contract for teachers as part of Croke Park Two.

It has been a good year in hard times for the teacher unions, the INTO, Asti and the TUI. Croke Park has protected pay, conditions and jobs, except for new entrants, and there has been no increase in class size for most schools. But there are already signs the Government is targeting the working conditions of teachers, especially at second level where teachers work 167 days a year.

It may be that the Government will press for a new teaching contract where second level teachers are required to be on the school premises during office hours every day. There could also be changes to arrangements for oral exam and much else.

President Higgins will become even more outspoken on education.

The President launched a number of thinly veiled attacks on the “pro-business” agenda of the UCD president, Hugh Brady, and other university leaders in 2012. Expect more robust comments as the Government targets academic working hours and performance-related pay in Croke Park Two.

Opposition to the new Junior Cert will stiffen among teachers.

While change to the Junior Cert has received a hugely positive response from educationalists and commentators, it’s viewed with suspicion by many rank and file teachers. There are fears the new exam gives an advantage to better resourced schools and fails to prepare students for a high stakes Leaving Cert exam. Clearly, the Department of Education has still to make the case for change to the ordinary teacher.

Expect this issue to dominate the Easter teacher conferences of Asti and the TUI.

Waterford will secure a new technological university.

Combined efforts by Brendan Howlin and Phil Hogan will help deliver the new technological university for Waterford, despite the scepticism of some in the Department of Education and the Higher Education Authority.

Little evidence of real collaboration between the universities will emerge, despite their commitment to do so.

Two outstanding HEA reports this year exposed one glaring truth – the seven universities are run like proud, independent fiefdoms. They have no great appetite for pooling resources. Next year, various reports will back regional clusters, deeper collaboration and the rest, but the universities will be slow to change.

Here’s a forecast: This time next year there will still be huge duplication of courses in engineering, education and humanities.

Reform of third-level admissions will begin in earnest.

The university presidents are due to report early next year on changes to the CAO. Expect more broadly based first year university courses in science, engineering, languages and much else. There will be a move away from highly specialised combinations where students need more than 500 points.

Winners and losers in education 2012

Winners . . .

The INTO, which lobbied successfully against a Budget increase in class size.

University presidents:DCU’s Brian MacCraith emerged as unofficial leader of the sector; Jim Browne of NUI Galway was a low-key but highly effective president; Philip Nolan of Maynooth made a strong first impression.

Clive Byrne, head of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, the first key figure to back radical Junior Cert change.

Educate Together.The big winner in the changes to school patronage and about to gain ground at second level.

Labour backbenchers.Protected DEIS schools and special-needs provision and successfully targeted fee-paying schools in the Budget.

Marino Instituteof Further Education and St Patrick’s College of Education: winners in the teacher-training shake-up.

Charlie McConalogue, the new Fianna Fáil education spokesman who led the way on the SUSI grants shambles.

. . . and losers

New entrantsto teaching, all but abandoned by the teaching unions and facing severe pay cuts.

Fee-paying schools, facing a further two-point increase in class size and more scrutiny from the Department.

City of DublinVEC which won the contract for the SUSI student grant system, the biggest education scandal of the year.

The VECsector, increasingly losing out to Educate Together and the preferred choice of relatively few parents in Department of Education survey.

Small schools. The Government held tough on new staffing arrangements hitting small schools.

Most popular articles  Education Today, 2012

1Inside Third Level; former college president Paul Mooney on poor management and light workloads. A response by Gavan Titley of NUI Maynooth entitled “How Mooney got it all wrong” also drew a huge response.

2Anseo! How a new generation of gay teachers is fighting back. By Gráinne Faller.

3Improve your child’s reading in 10 minutes per day.

4Goodbye Mr and Mrs Chips. Louise Holden on the exodus from teaching.

5A TBH column from a parent: To see real educational apartheid, look no further than your local Gaelscoil.

6100 things you need to know about college life.

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