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.