The 50 most influential people in education

 

Who exerts real power and influence in Irish education? Who shapes public policy? Who has the ear of the Minister? Who influences what happens in the classroom? Who leads and influences public debate? The Irish Times top 50 list is the first to identify and rank the main movers in Irish education

1 RUAIRÍ QUINN

Minister for Education and Skills

In six astonishing months, Ruairí Quinn has shown how an energetic Minister can drive the education agenda and push for change. While some of his predecessors were content to sit on their hands, the 65-year-old is at his desk by 8am each day, driving his reform agenda.

His timing could hardly be better. The dramatic slump in Ireland’s OECD rankings in literacy and numeracy have swept away the complacency and self-regard that clung to Irish education for decades. Quinn has labelled the OECD report “a wake-up call” for Irish education. We have, he says, been “codding ourselves about our world-class education system”.

His reform programme is impressive – so far. The forum on patronage in schools will report shortly. Reform of the Junior and Leaving Cert, as well as the CAO system, is in train. Quinn is also reviewing school-admission policies and higher-education funding.

Critics snipe that the Minister is “high on aspiration but low on achievement”. But Quinn is confident he can leave a real legacy in education.

Expected to vacate education during the midterm reshuffle in the summer of 2013, possibly to a post as Ireland’s next EU commissioner.

2 THE TROIKA

The IMF, the European Central Bank and the EU Commission

Buddy, can you spare a dime? These are the guys who sign the cheques for the 90,000 people who work in the Irish education system. Ruairí Quinn likes to remind teachers, unions and others of this at every education conference. His line “Ireland is in receivership” has become something of a personal mantra. Expect more references to AJ Chopra (above) and the rest of the troika in the run up to the budget. The Government line will be: “Don’t blame us for those increases in class size. It’s the troika who are demanding cuts.”

3 COLM McCARTHY

UCD economist; author of An Bord Snip Nua report on the public service

Two years after his Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes, McCarthy – the so-called Roy Keane of economics – is still exerting a real influence on the education debate. McCarthy excoriated the education sector in his report. Irish teachers, he said, were overpaid and underworked compared with their European peers, thanks to the unchecked power of the teacher unions. He also criticised the myriad allowances paid to teachers (including more than €300 million in supervision and substitution payments), the huge number of education quangos and the €1 billion cost of the vocational education sector. McCarthy was also withering about the €100 million in State support for fee-paying schools, opening up a still-simmering debate. Critically, McCarthy noted that almost 80 per cent of the €9 billion education budget is absorbed by pay and pensions. Bord Snip also identified cuts in class size as the most brutal but effective means of making real savings in education, a view that has taken root in the Department of Education. Critics snipe that McCarthy knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Admirers (and there are some) say his report remains the main driver of change in Irish education.

4 ANDREAS SCHLEICHER

Head of the indicators and analysis division OECD (directorate for education)

German-born Schleicher has overall responsibility for directing the OECD programme for international student assessment (Pisa) and the annual Education at a Glance report. The most recent Pisa study, published last December, has transformed the education debate in Ireland. It has also been the main catalyst for the Quinn reform programme on literacy, numeracy and the State exams.

Pisa revealed that almost a quarter of our 15-year-olds are functionally illiterate. On reading levels, Ireland slipped from fifth place in 2000 to 17th place, the sharpest decline among the 39 countries surveyed. In maths, Ireland slumped from 16th to 26th place, the second-steepest decline.

In 2003, Schleicher was awarded the Theodor Heuss prize, named after the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany, for “exemplary democratic engagement” in association with the public debate on Pisa. Schleicher speaks German, English, Italian, French and Spanish.

5 BRIGID McMANUS

Secretary general, Department of Education and Skills

McManus, a former senior official in the Department of Finance, has served almost seven years in Marlborough Street. Enjoyed an excellent relationship with Mary Hanafin but a more distant one with Batt O’Keeffe. “She’s a formidable person,” says one observer. Admired for her forensic attention to detail, occasionally criticised for her micromanagement, she regularly works 10-14 hour days. McManus is due to step down in January – and the succession race is under way.

6 BRENDAN HOWLIN

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform

“I will deliver for my good friend and colleague Brendan Howlin”: these words from Ruairí Quinn may have been intended for the Labour Party grassroots, but they underline Howlin’s key role. Ahead of the budget, the Department of Education has already sent Howlin its comprehensive spending review, including proposed increases in class sizes. A trained primary teacher, Brendan Howlin was active in the INTO before he entered politics. Unlikely to see education spending as “low-hanging fruit” but knows he must deliver cuts for the troika. His problem? Almost 80 per cent of education funding is absorbed by pay and pensions. Cuts in these areas may be off limits because of Croke Park, but cuts in teacher numbers are likely. Cuts in other nonpayroll areas, where Irish education remains chronically underfunded, are also on the agenda.

7 HAROLD HISLOP

Chief Inspector, Department of Education and Skills

While the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment will propose changes to the Junior Cert and much else, Hislop will play the key role in advising the Minister. Ruairí Quinn has pointed out on several occasions that he is “not an educationalist” and will “rely on the experts”. Hislop is key among this group of experts. In practice, the Minister will decide the scope and extent of change to the exam system and much else – but only after consultation with the chief inspector. Hislop, a former TCD lecturer in education, is admired for his strong intellect and clear thinking.

“Harold is the department’s in-house intellectual, but he is also canny and smart,” says one colleague. Since his appointment, Hislop has pushed for greater accountability from schools. He wants more unannounced inspections of teachers, especially in second-level schools, which he sees as the main problem area in Irish education. His task is to drive reform in a way that will reverse the alarming drop in Irish literacy and numeracy standards. But this is no small task given the power of the teacher unions, diminishing classroom resources and the recruitment embargo, which has cut the number of inspectors.

8 SHEILA NUNAN

General Secretary, INTO

The INTO is often compared to the GAA. Both are a force for good in Irish life. Both reach into every town, village and hamlet in the country. And both wield immense power and influence. From Newbridge, Co Kildare, Nunan is the first female general secretary in the union’s 143-year history. She replaced John Carr in 2009.

Nunan has quickly established herself as the leading teacher-union figure. “She’s head and shoulders above all the others. She has immense versatility, she’s a great communicator and she’s a clear thinker,” says one observer.

Nunan has already been tested by the Croke Park deal, when she backed the agreement and faced down sizeable opposition in her union. In the subsequent ballot, members voted to back her judgment.

She is praised for showing steel, but critics carp that the union, once dubbed the “teaching wing of Fianna Fáil”, is too close to Labour Ministers.

That said, the INTO remains the dominant teaching union, and Nunan is seen as a talented and formidable leader.

9 THE US MULTINATIONALS

Intel, Google, Hewlett-Packard et al

In December 2009 the then minister for education, Batt O’Keeffe, attended a secret meeting at Google’s gleaming European HQ, on Barrow Street in Dublin. It was convened by Google vice-president John Herlihy, and others present included Jim O’Hara of Intel and Martin Murphy of Hewlett-Packard. The agenda? The decline in Irish education standards.

The meeting came only months after former Intel boss Craig Barrett addressed the Farmleigh summit on Ireland’s economic future. Barrett’s speech was described by one Farmleigh participant as a “wake up and smell the coffee” moment. His message? Drop all that guff about a world-class education system and face the truth: Ireland is average on education, and average is no longer good enough.

Since those two meetings, the already-powerful US high-tech multinationals have come to occupy a leading role in Irish education. “These guys are having a major impact on the debate, because of the jobs situation and the need for Leaving Cert reform. When they talk, the Government sits up,” says one observer. John Herlihy is a key player. He holds one of the most senior positions in Ireland’s technology industry and is the middleman between Ireland and the US and potential new jobs.

Jim O’Hara, former general manager of Intel Ireland and chair of the Government’s research prioritisation steering group, is another influential figure. He has spoken of the need for “radical changes” to an education system not fit for the 21st century.

10 BRIAN McCRAITH

President, Dublin City University

Mc Craith faced a difficult – some would say impossible – task when he replaced Ferdinand von Prondzynski as DCU head last year. On the face of it, McCraith looks like von Prondzynski’s alter ego: a quiet scientist, a Dundalk-born Gaeilgeoir and career academic. McCraith is certainly less boisterous than his predecessor, but he is proving every bit as effective, albeit in a different way.

To the surprise of many, McGrath, who pioneered research in optical sensors, has emerged as a major player. And there is the strong sense that his influence will grow and develop.

“This guy has the potential to be a thought leader for the university sector and to leave a massive imprint in DCU,” says one observer. McCraith’s recent opinion piece in the Sunday Business Post on reform of university admissions has cemented his growing reputation. It was cited by Prof Áine Hyland in her report on the issue to the Minister.

He is also seen as someone who understands the needs of industry and the way the education system might dovetail with these demands. In an innovative move, DCU is seeking to instill employer-friendly “attributes” in graduates.

According to McCraith, the model graduate will be “creative and enterprising, committed to continuous learning, solution-oriented, effective communicators, globally engaged and active leaders”.

McCraith himself is seen as a model university president for the 21st century. “He appears to have the Minister’s ear. Unlike [UCD president] Hugh Brady, who can be focused solely on UCD, Brian tends to be good on wider education policies benefiting the entire system,” says an observer.

11 JOHN WALSHE

Special Adviser to the Minister for Education

Walshe has spent 40 years writing about education for the Irish Independentand The Irish Times, but there was still some surprise when Quinn appointed him as special adviser. It has proven to be an inspired choice. One senior figure says, “John is seen as someone who has the ear of the Minister, perhaps more than any senior official in the department.” Walsh’s knowledge of the sector, and of the key figures in the teacher unions and management bodies, means he is well placed to advise Quinn on the likely response to various proposals. He has also played a key part (with communications director Deirdre Grant) in building a media profile for Quinn that has seen the Minister marked out as one of the success stories (so far) of this Government.

12 THE PARENTS OF SPECIAL-NEEDS CHILDREN

The requirements of special-needs children were recognised in Irish education only when some brave parents sought to assert their rights in court. The battle for those rights continues. At present parents are battling to retain special-needs assistants in schools.

Ruairí Quinn appear anxious to retain the 10,400 cap on the number of SNAs imposed by the last government. He comes armed with a Department of Education report that says some schools have too many SNAs and others misuse their SNAs. But politicians – and Quinn is no exception – worry that cuts in this very sensitive area will see them cast as cruel and heartless. One political figure says, “Special-needs parents are one of the most powerful lobbies in the State. They have more power than they imagine.”

13 ANNE LOONEY

Chief executive of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment

As head of the key advisory body, Looney is playing a central role in reform of the Junior Cert and much else. You could forgive her for a sense of deja vu about current reform initiatives. During the past 10 years, Looney’s organisation has drafted numerous papers proposing radical reform of the Junior and Leaving Cert, but little has happened. Mary Hanafin, with whom Looney had a testy relationship, dismissed the NCCA’s €100 million plan for a new Leaving Cert as the Rolls-Royce option. The NCCA, made up of teacher unions and other education partners, has often been consigned to the margins. But Quinn’s reform agenda has pushed it back to centre stage. Looney – sister of the journalist Fiona – is relishing her time in the sun.

14 JOHN COOLAHAN

Emeritus professor at NUI Maynooth and chair of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector

Regularly labelled a national treasure, Coolahan remains a powerful influence in Irish education. He has worked as a primary and secondary teacher, a teacher trainer and a university professor for five decades. Ruairí Quinn read his Irish Education: History and Structurewhile on holiday in Connemara this year. The esteem in which Coolahan is held made him the ideal choice to head the potentially fractious forum on patronage. His address to the opening session was a classic of its kind: clear-headed, open minded and written with great elan.

15 TOM BOLAND

Chief executive of the Higher Education Authority

and JOHN HENNESSY,its chairman

“What part of no does UCD not understand?” It was the education quote of 2010, delivered by Tom Boland at a meeting of the public accounts committee in September. Boland was being pressed on why the authority had not put more pressure on UCD and its president, Dr Hugh Brady, to stop the payment of €1.8 million in unauthorised allowances to senior staff. Boland, a barrister and engineer, is noted for his straight talking. He managed to protect the HEA in the Hunt report on third level, and he played a major behind-the-scenes role even though he was not a member of the Hunt review team. Hennessy, former head of Ericsson in Ireland, is pushing a strong pro-business agenda for higher education. His next challenge? Ending the huge duplication of courses across third level.

16 MARTIN HANEVY

Assistant secretary general in the Department of Education

The early favourite to succeed Brigid McManus as secretary general, Hanevy is much liked and respected by Ruairí Quinn. In some respect the antithesis of the Yes Minister civil-servant stereotype, Hanevy is seen as fearless and outspoken.

Hanevy wrote the department’s recent policy paper on school admissions. This has been described by one senior official as “one of the most outstanding and radical documents” prepared by the department.

Known as the department’s Rottweiler by some observers.

17 CHUCK FEENEY

Irish-American philanthropist

The secretive billionaire (right) has already donated close to €1 billion to higher education in Ireland via his Atlantic Philanthropies funding vehicle. You can see his influence in gleaming new buildings at, notably, UL and DCU. Has diverted his money to other good causes in recent years but retains a lively interest in Irish educational issues.

18 ÁINE HYLAND

Former professor of education at University College Cork

The recent Hyland report on admission systems in higher education has underlined her huge status in Irish education. The much-praised, relatively short report was a model of clarity. It led some to question why Hyland was not put in charge of last year’s review of higher education.

19 SEÁN O FOGHLÚ

Assistant secretary in the Department of Education

Another senior official much praised by Ruairí Quinn, he is the buffer between the Minister and the army of TDs, school principals and others when it comes to building queries. Ó Foghlu is credited with depoliticising the unit in charge of school buildings and imposing a new policy that means Quinn doesn’t meet with school delegations. “All political representations have been banned. He is revolutionising the whole system,” says one observer. Expected to be a serious contender for the post of secretary general.

20 HUGH BRADY

President of University College Dublin

If this survey had been published five years ago, Brady would have featured in the top five. Then he was the undisputed leader of higher education in Dublin, driving an ambitious programme of change at UCD. Labelled the Michael O’Leary of Irish education, he had a robust style that was not to everyone’s taste, but few could doubt his success. In 2006 UCD was languishing in 228th place in the world university rankings. Three years later it had soared to a place inside the top 100.

But Brady has burned some bridges. His spat with Tom Boland of the HEA over allowances is still unresolved. Other college presidents resent the “secret” talks that led to a research merger with Trinity in 2009. That said, Brady is a formidable, hugely impressive figure. One observer says, “He has made an immense contribution, shaking up an underperforming college and sector. He has attracted more than his fair share of begrudgers. But that tells us much about the scale of his achievement.” Brady’s 10-year term will expire in late 2013.

21 BRIAN MOONEY

Former president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and careers expert with ‘The Irish Times’

Hugely knowledgable about all aspects of the education system, he is much in demand at education conferences and in the media. Recently asked to brief Fine Gael members on education issues. A teacher at Oatlands College, Dublin, he is noted for his unwavering enthusiasm and energy.

22 THE STANDING COMMITTEE/EXECUTIVE OF THE ASSOCIATION OF SECONDARY TEACHERS IRELAND

The 22-member standing committee of the ASTI has had a low profile of late. But don’t underestimate its enormous power. During the bitter teachers’ strike of 2002 it was the standing committee that shaped the agenda. New general secretary Pat King has been trying to reinvigorate the union, engage younger teachers and finally heal the scars from the industrial action that closed schools 10 years ago. King is seen as a moderate influence on the union, but some members of the standing committee are still up for a fight.

23 SEÁN ROWLAND

Founder and director of Hibernia online college

Is this man the future of Irish education? Hibernia has trained 4,000 primary teachers via its online postgraduate course. Despite the €9,000 fee, Hibernia accepts only about a third of applicants. It generated healthy profits last year. Hibernia’s success at virtually no cost to the taxpayer was cited with approval by Colm McCarthy in his Bord Snip Nua report.

Much of its success is down to Rowland, who is known for his networking skills. Hibernia is now moving into second-level teacher training. Its success is also being closely monitored at the Department of Education, where talk of a more privatised education system is moving up the agenda.

24 PAUL ROWE

Chief executive of Educate Together, the multidenominational-school group

Conservative forces in Fianna Fáil and the Department of Education may have kept their distance from Educate Together for years, but Ruairí Quinn has no such reservations. One of his first decisions in office was to grant the organisation formal approval to run second-level schools. Educate Together is the fastest-growing school-patronage body in the State, with 60 schools. Its move into second level promises to be equally successful. Much of this success is down to Rowe, who has been involved with Educate Together schools for 21 years, as a parent, activist, board member and national representative. Much liked by Ruairí Quinn.

25 THE FINNISH MODEL

Attend any education conference in Ireland and someone will cite the Finnish model as the panacea for the ills of the Irish education system. For a decade, Finland has been among the best-performing countries in terms of education. This is a spectacular achievement, as the Finns rebooted their entire system after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its economy in the 1980s. The Finnish influence was evident in the recent NCCA paper on Junior Cert reform, with its emphasis on local autonomy for schools. It also cited research by Dr Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish academic who describes himself as a “school improvement activist” on Twitter. Sahlberg regularly addresses education conferences in Ireland.

26 PROF DES FITZGERALD

Vice-president for research, UCD

Best-known (and best-paid) academic researcher in the State. Although heavily involved in UCD administration, he remains a researcher of note, delving into the biochemistry that makes our bodies tick. His obvious skills as an organiser have not come cheaply. He has ranked as the highest-paid research academic in Ireland, with a salary in 2010 of €263,000. His salary fell from €409,000 in 2009. Performed creditably in election for provost of TCD earlier this year, securing 35 votes.

27 TOM COLLINS

NUI Maynooth professor and chair of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment

Is there a more popular figure in Irish education? Ask principals who they would like to take charge of their schools for a day and Tom Collins will be mentioned. “He’s just wonderful, so inspiring. He’s an inspiration to teachers,” says one observer. Interim president of NUI Maynooth last year, he chaired a recent working group, established by the seven university presidents, to review the Leaving Cert/CAO. Regular contributor to The Irish Times. Recently appointed chief executive of RCSI Bahrain.

28 PETER MULLAN

Senior official and spokesman for the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation

Little-known outside the education sector but a towering presence within it. Widely regarded as the best press officer in the sector, unfailingly helpful and informative. Liverpool and Celtic obsessive, Mullan was a principal in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Long-time friend of former INTO boss John Carr, now key ally for Sheila Nunan.

29 FERDINAND VON PRONDZYNSKI

Former president of Dublin City University

Retains a huge influence despite taking up post as head of Robert Gordon University, in Aberdeen, Scotland. His views are regularly cited by Ruairí Quinn. Extracts from his Irish Times column featured in recent Hyland Report on college admissions. His blog, “Diary of life and strategy inside and outside the university”, is a must-read for

educationalists.

30 FR MICHAEL DRUMM

Chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership

With the debate on school patronage simmering, Fr Michael Drumm is poised to become one of the most recognisable spokesmen for the church. Drumm, brother of the former HSE boss Brendan, represents the Catholic stakeholders. Had a lively exchange with Ruairí Quinn after the Minister suggested that 50 per cent of Catholic primary schools could be divested. A formidable figure.

31 DON THORNHILL

Chairman of the National Competitiveness Council

A man who has done it all. Former secretary general of the department and former head of the Higher Education Authority. Still a huge influence on education debate and someone whose advice is sought by Ministers, senior officials and lobbyists. The classic insider but one with an outsider’s perspective. As chairman of the private Hibernia College, he has also brought it enormous credibility. “Hugely influential, he remains one of education’s big thinkers,” says one observer.

32 KEVIN McCARTHY

Assistant secretary, Department of Education

Wunderkind of the department and a good bet to be secretary general at some stage. Took major role in shaping Hunt report on third-level education. Will be a key adviser to Quinn on the most contentious issue facing the Minister: should college fees come back?

33 FERDIA KELLY

General secretary, Joint Managerial Board

Kelly, who represents school managers in more than 400 second-level schools, is a key behind-the-scenes figure in Irish education. If schools have a legal or logistical problem, they will often be guided by the advice dispensed by Kelly. A former principal of a Christian Brothers school in Dublin, Kelly is an articulate and respected voice for voluntary secondary schools, including fee-paying schools.

34 RAY KEARNS

Founder, Institute of Education

Kearns changed the face of second-level education with his grind school on Leeson Street in Dublin. Allows students to rate their teachers. Blamed for the rise and rise of grind culture in Irish education but admired for his infectious enthusiasm.

35 JOHN TRAVERS

Acting director general of Science Foundation Ireland

Travers was central to the development of Ireland’s enterprise policy from the 1970s through to his departure from Forfás, in 2002. Continues to influence enterprise through research and innovation via his role as acting director general of SFI, a position he will leave later this month.

36 DIARMUID MARTIN

Archbishop of Dublin

He opened the debate on school patronage by acknowledging the Catholic Church was over-represented in Irish school management. The Department of Education has been frustrated by his reluctance to spell out exactly where and when schools might be divested.

37 PADDY PRENDERGAST

Provost of Trinity College Dublin

Has just moved into the provost’s residence at 1 Grafton Street. Likely to be a key figure over his 10-year term. Recently gave much-admired inaugural speech on the crisis facing higher education. Main challenge will be to become a leader in the debate on third level and to ensure that Trinity punches at its weight. TCD is the only Irish college in the world’s top 100 universities.

38 JOHN Mac GABHANN

Next general secretary of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI)

Once described as “USI for grown-ups”, the TUI is a teaching union with a distinctive radical edge. Voted down the Croke Park deal but did a U-turn after department threatened to sack lecturers in the institutes of technology. Mac Gabhann is bright, popular and respected. Described as streetwise, he will need to be, as TUI members can be difficult to control.

39 JIM BROWNE

President of NUI Galway

Unlike other university presidents, Browne doesn’t seek a national profile, preferring to focus on college business. The son of a train driver, he is seen by colleagues as a workaholic, having published more than 200 academic papers and 15 books that have also been translated into French and Chinese. Adept at building links with industry in the west and much admired locally. Tough, no-nonsense figure.

40 DR ED WALSH

Founding president of the University of Limerick, controversialist Upstart (Friends, Foes Founding a University)is the apt title of Walsh’s forthcoming memoir. Built up what eventually became UL after securing funding from World Bank and European Investment Bank. Key figure in bringing Chuck Feeney (see no 17) and his largesse to Ireland. Scourge of the teacher unions but an influential voice. Always controversial, likes to challenge what he calls official cant, traditional academics and clerical humbug.

41 SEÁN SHERLOCK

Minister of State for Research and Innovation

Billed as a future leader of the Labour Party, Sherlock is slowly asserting his authority. Asked by Ruairí Quinn to examine the maths crisis in schools. One to watch.

CIARÁN CANNON

Minister of State for Training and Skills

Colleagues say Cannon showed his mettle by defending unpopular cuts earlier this year. Key figure in driving Solas, the body that replaces Fás.

42 DR EMER SMYTH

Programme co-ordinator of education research, ESRI

With university education departments often failing to produce topical research, the Economic and Social Research Institute has stepped into the breach. The ESRI was the first to highlight the disengagement, especially among boys, at second level. Its finding played a key part in shaping the current Junior Cert proposals. Other studies, including No Way Back, on early school leaving, Do Schools Differ?and Designing Primary Schools for the Future,have also helped to shape government policy.

43 MICHAEL MURPHY

President, University College Cork

Former medic who is the best paid of the seven university presidents (€232,000 per year). Operates open-door management style. Was outraged when UCD and TCD worked on “secret’’ research alliance. Head of only Irish university college that bucked the downward trend in world rankings. UCC is ranked 181, up three places.

– DON BARRY,President, University of Limerick

Low-key but effective presence in Limerick. Critics point to UL’s lowly world ranking (400-500) and suggest Barry is a “lucky general’’ who inherited Chuck Feeney’s largesse. He secured a graduate medical school for UL only months into his 10-year term.

44 SEÁN COTTRELL

Director of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network

Despite the IPPN’s being in existence for more than a decade, some in the INTO still view it as an interloper on its patch. The IPPN claims the INTO does not sufficiently represent the issues concerning principals. Cottrell is respected as a progressive thinker.

45 BRENDAN MURPHY

President of Cork Institute of Technology and chair of Institutes of Technology Ireland for 2011

A Kerryman in the rival quarters of Cork. Building a reputation for his outreach programmes, particularly in India, China and Canada. As chair of Institutes of Technology Ireland he will be key figure in the drive for new-style technological universities.

46 NIALL McMONAGLE

English teacher, Wesley College, Dublin

Ireland’s best-known English teacher has a passion for literature, poetry and drama. His enthusiasm for teaching has never waned. “He can convince even the most hardened cynic of the beauty of art and literature,” said a student of his from the 1980s.

47 GARY REDMOND

President of Union of Students in Ireland

Certain to be a central figure in the forthcoming storm on fees/increased student contributions. Master of the media soundbite. A student leader who has built links across the education sector. Genial and sociable, likely to be major figure in national politics at some stage.

48 PHILIP NOLAN

President of NUI Maynooth

Some in Maynooth are unhappy the job had been filled by former UCD vice-president and someone closely recognised with the “pro-business” management style of Brady at UCD. But the diplomatic Nolan appears to be attracting plaudits and warm responses. “He’s quietly making an imprint. One to watch,” says an observer.

49 AODHÁN Ó RIORDÁIN

Labour Party TD, deputy chairman of education committee

O’Riordain, a former school principal in Sheriff Street, Dublin, is viewed as a future education minister. Has been a major influence on Ruairí Quinn in shaping the new national literacy programme. His brother Colm is a Labour Party economics adviser. His wife, Áine Kerr, the co-author of this survey, is a journalist.

BRIAN NORTON, President, DIT

Norton has overseen the dramatic growth of DIT. Has also protected proposed development of new DIT at Grangegorman. Steps down in 2013.

50 CLIVE BYRNE

Director, National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals

Bon viveur and lover of all thing Italian who leads group representing second-level principals. Influential, constructive voice in second-level reform.

Who else? Just outside the top 50

* Ned Costello,chief executive Irish Universities Association; Dick Langford, chair State Exams Commission; Kathleen Lynch,UCD academic; Philip Matthews, president National College of Ireland; Alan Wall,director, Department of Education; Luke O’Neill,professor of biochemistry, TCD; Paul O’Toole, director general Solas; Michael Moriarty, chief executive Irish Vocational Education Association; Seán McDonagh, academic researcher; Luke O’Neill, professor of biochemistry, TCD; Tony Donohoe, director education policy, Ibec; Áine Lawlor, chief executive Teaching Council; Kieran Mulvey,chief executive Labour Relations Commission; Gerry Murray, chief executive Institutes of Technology Ireland; Áine Lynch,chief executive National Parents Council Primary; Mary Canning, deputy chair HEA; Marie Griffin,chief executive Co Dublin VEC; Colin Hunt, economist, author Hunt report; Ciarán Ó Catháin, president Athlone IoT; Prof Michael Coey,physicist.

How the list was compiled

The top 50 list has been compiled over the past four weeks. Key figures were asked to compile their own lists confidentially. Broadly, the names that feature here are those that were most prominent on these lists. The list also reflects discussions with leading figures in education and public policy.

* Seán Flynnis Education Editor of The Irish Times

* Áine Kerris a former political correspondent of the Irish Independent