Cog Notes: Helen Mortimer mobilises parent power

If the unions do go to the barricades over junior cycle reforms, they may find the new National Parents’ Council chief executive a formidable opponent in the PR war

While Jan O’Sullivan and the teacher unions remain at loggerheads over the junior cycle reforms, the National Parents’ Council Post-Primary claimed a small victory in the recent talks.

The Minister for Education pointedly referred to the role of parents as well as teachers in persuading her to retain State certification for new junior cycle awards. This followed a meeting between her officials and the council's delegation of president Don Myers and new chief executive Helen Mortimer.

Mortimer, a former director of the Rape Crisis Centre in Galway, is the first full-time chief executive of the parents’ group. She is from Shrule, Co Mayo, and is the mother of five adult children, two of them teachers, “so I would see things from the teachers’ and the parents’ perspective”.

The council, which is 30 years old next year, is being put on a more professional footing but volunteerism remains its backbone. It aims to get a parents’ association in every school, and to boost its lobbying war chest through an annual affiliation fee of €1 per student.


Mortimer has already conducted numerous training sessions with parents’ associations and has been struck by a “huge disparity” in how local schools engage with them. “It can be very daunting, where they feel they don’t either have the right or the capacity to challenge something they are not sure about.”

The first step to having a voice is to contact, she says. As the unions escalate the dispute over junior cycle reforms, they may find Mortimer a formidable opponent in the PR war.

OECD boss defends Pisa tests against criticism from academics

The "Prince of Pisa" Andreas Schleicher was in Dublin last week for a gathering of European statisticians working on his influential OECD league table. The Educational Research Centre in Drumcondra, which manages Pisa tests in Ireland, was playing host to fellow agencies across Europe, and Schleicher flew in for a dinner and Q&A session.

The visit came in the wake of an open letter signed last summer by 80 academics worldwide, including Ciaran Sugrue at UCD, and Mary Fleming and Manuela Heinz at NUIG, calling for a halt to Pisa tests because, the letter argued, they were distorting educational outcomes.

However, an unrepentant Schleicher told Cog Notes that “the Pisa league tables provide an important reality check”. He said it was true “Pisa metrics do not cover everything that is important in education” but the tests are always evolving. The 2015 edition will provide Pisa’s first assessment of social skills, measured by students’ capacity to solve problems collaboratively, while global competencies will be assessed in 2018.

In their letter, the academics wrote: “No reform of any consequence should be based on a single narrow measure of quality.” Asked if he agreed with this, Schleicher replied: “I don’t know of any reform that is currently based on any single metric. But too many reforms are currently based on single ideas, ideologies, pet projects and vested interests, including those of academics, without any empirical metric or evidence base.”

Waterford sulks over wedding plan

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan’s willingness to make concessions to the teacher unions will not have gone unnoticed in Waterford IT, where opposition to a proposed merger with IT Carlow has become more entrenched.

WIT is smarting over what it perceives as a “forced marriage” with a suitor below its station. After a dressing-down from O’Sullivan for breaking away from merger talks, the institute has decided not to engage with Michael Kelly, the Minister’s recently appointed peace envoy to the southeast.

While it says it wants to “deliver” a technological university to the region, WIT has no Plan B to the Carlow union. Cork IT, once proposed as a partner, is moving ahead with its merger with IT Tralee.

If it escalates further the feud could discredit the whole idea of creating technological universities, which were initially dreamt up to satisfy WIT’s demands for an upgrade. Forget about further conciliation: O’Sullivan will need the skills of a magician to sort this one out.

Ag Science enters the modern age

The syllabus for agricultural science is being updated after 40 years, and submissions are being sought from industry group Agri Aware and National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

A background paper has been published and is available where an online survey can also be completed. Agri Aware says it wants to ensure the new specification for Leaving Certificate students "is modern, relevant, and embraces key issues for the industry, now and into the future".

Cork IT to show life after limbo

Cork IT will host a novel collaboration next week to highlight the reality of the direct-provision system. Lillian Ibebugwu, an asylum seeker from southern Nigeria who used to live in a now-defunct direct-provision centre in Cork, will join be joined onstage by Maurice Crotty, a former security guard at the same centre.

The pair are now first-year students of social care at CIT and part of a creative team performing at the event, Lives in Limbo: What Now?, on November 26th, 1pm-3pm, at the James Barry Exhibition Centre, Bishopstown campus.