Curriculum reform is like an Ikea flat pack without instructions

Secret Teacher: We feel increasingly insecure about what we are meant to be doing

The frantic pace of education reform means teachers feel increasingly insecure about what exactly it is we are supposed to be doing. Photograph: iStock

There is a wily so-and-so behind Leaving Cert reform. A recent report in this newspaper highlighted how the pressures of the current system are too much for young people. This at a time when “wellbeing” is recognised as so important. It’s quite simply genius. It’s clearly broken so we must fix it. Cue reform, badly needed reform.

Let's hope that the wily so-and-so keeps George Santayana's words in mind: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The mistakes of the past – the new Junior Cycle – must not be repeated, and so teachers will need to be on board for this one.

Court the experts, but marry the teachers. If the consultation had been carried out properly, the whole sorry drama attached to the rollout of the Junior Cycle could have been avoided. That’s an easy one to get right this time round.

Teachers are fully prepared to be involved. You'll find more than 35,000 members on a "voice for teachers" Facebook page, where many of the challenges we are facing get aired, shared, mulled over and resolved.


Set up such a page and let authentic voices make fresh contributions from the chalkface. From that it would even be easy to establish a committee or working group. I guarantee you some teachers are so dedicated that they would do it in their own time.

For those teachers gasping in shock at that suggestion, teachers doing the job properly already put in a lot of their own time, so your protest is neither well-founded nor helpful. Such negativity is precisely what leads to experts deciding it all for us.

In recent years too many of us feel we have regressed in terms of what we are offering in our classrooms. That’s the only way to sum up the impact that recent upskilling has had on how teachers feel about the service they are providing. We feel increasingly insecure about what exactly it is we are supposed to be doing. Educational reform is moving at a frantic pace, and the persistent re-invention of the wheel is wearing many in our profession down.

We are well into the rolling out of the Junior Cycle and teachers today are still burdened by unanswered questions

Teachers are entitled to feel empowered by reform. We are fully trained professionals who have invested substantially in order to join the vocation, and the fact that so many are considering throwing in the towel is testament to the failures of recent developments in Ireland.

The fear of not being good enough affects only those who actually care. We are well into the rolling out of the Junior Cycle and teachers today are still burdened by unanswered questions.

At every single professional development event or conference I have attended in recent years, a small portion of time was allocated to this most significant of reforms, but usually near the end of a morning or afternoon session. A brief presentation usually takes place, and questions are invited.

If the audience is lucky, there will be time for someone to point out how obvious it has become that teachers need to be properly trained and prepared; it is this observation that will get the loudest applause of the whole event. I have yet to see evidence that we are being heard.

Fewer questions and more answers is therefore one definite requirement for successful Leaving Cert reform. Surely that is self-explanatory.

A key feature of the new Junior Cycle course is an increased awareness of, and need to document, “learning objectives”. These come on large colourful posters and our job as teachers is to unpack them. They are relatively complex and therefore must not be shared with the students.

But the teacher is required to come up with a totally different list of “learning outcomes”, which spell out what the pupils will know by the time the lesson is over, and these must be shared with the pupils at the start of each lesson.

Doing this for 32 lessons a week shows the alarming increase in the onerous paper trail today, which inevitably means teachers have less fuel in the tank when they are actually in front of a class.

The Leaving Cert needs to come fully built and entirely fit for purpose. Is this honestly too much to ask?

The whole idea of presenting each individual teacher with a poster of “learning outcomes” which they must then unpack is simply tedious and head wrecking, and has led to vastly differing interpretations, some right and others much less so.

The new Junior Cycle brainchild was not delivered as a finished product; it resembled an Ikea-style flatpack, but with no accompanying instructions. The Leaving Cert needs to come fully built and entirely fit for purpose. Is this honestly too much to ask?

It’s going to be a lot harder for us to object when the Leaving Cert is clearly crying out for a revamp, so it is important we engage at every stage of this reform process.

It is vital that we are invited to engage. The recent trend of teachers moving into other professions or taking their teaching skills abroad needs to be brought to a halt and reversed through more teacher-friendly approaches to reform. While Leaving Cert reform doesn’t appear to be reform for the sake of it, we must not fix what isn’t broken.

Teachers and pupils are, have always been, and will remain human beings who spend their days interacting as they choreograph their way through the teaching and learning process.

We have the Junior Cycle to thank for putting “wellbeing” at the front and centre of pedagogical discourse, but this is positive only if it applies to the teachers too.

Secret Teacher

The Secret Teacher

Our anonymous columnist on the trials, tribulations, exhilarations and frustrations of school life.