Education in 2015: Good year, bad year

Girls had a good 2015, but young teachers on low-hours contracts had a tough time

Girls outperformed boys in 25 out of 32 subjects at higher level and in all but one subject at ordinary level. Above, students celebrate getting their results, at Coláiste Íosagáin, Stillorgan, Co Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

Girls outperformed boys in 25 out of 32 subjects at higher level and in all but one subject at ordinary level. Above, students celebrate getting their results, at Coláiste Íosagáin, Stillorgan, Co Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

A GOOD YEAR FOR . . .

Girls

They outperformed boys in 25 out of 32 subjects at higher level and in all but one subject – applied maths – at ordinary level. While girls were more reluctant to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects, those who did performed as well if not better than their male peers. Maths was one of just seven subjects at higher level in which boys performed better.

Class sizes

The budget saw the first improvements to primary school class sizes in almost a generation. We still, however, have the largest class sizes in Europe for this age group, after the UK. If nothing else, it showed the power of the INTO to secure extra funding ahead of other rivals in the education sector.

Consultants

The State’s seven universities spent a total of almost €25 million on external consultants over the past three years, at a time when many claimed they were struggling to cover basic costs. UCD, at least, could claim it was needed. It paid PricewaterhouseCoopers €55,000 for “advice on income-generation and cost-saving measures”.

Luddites

The fact that Ireland has one of the lowest rates in the world of internet use in schools might be considered a bad thing. But a major OECD report found that heavy computer use might actually be doing more harm than good. It stated that countries that invest heavily in computers showed “no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science”.

A BAD YEAR FOR . . .

Casual teachers

Reduced pay and low-hour contracts resulted in many young teaching graduates leaving the profession in favour of better-paid and more secure work during the year, according to unions. Up to half of teachers under the age of 35 are now employed on a temporary basis and feel they have few promotional prospects. It is a similar story at third level, where up to 80 per cent of researchers are on temporary contracts.

NCAD

There were several demonstrations by students on the campus of the National College of Art and Design this year against overcrowding and a perceived decline in academic standards, along with a vote of no confidence in management. In addition, the Comptroller and Auditor General criticised the college for failing to keep proper accounts. A new board, installed last June, is aiming to steady the ship.

ASTI

The union had a torrid time of it during the year. Recriminations continue over the rejected ballot for junior cycle reform. It wasn’t the finest hour for the 180-member central executive committee, which failed to make a recommendation for reforms. In the end, most members didn’t bother to vote. Its rejection of the Lansdowne Road pay deal also leaves it in a potentially vulnerable position: members could forfeit up to €6,700 in lost increments, while others could face redundancy or reduced entitlement to permanency.

Women in academia 

Women remain significantly under-represented in senior academic roles in third-level institutions in Ireland. A breakdown of Higher Education Authority data for 2014 indicated there was full gender balance at lecturer level, with 51 per cent of posts occupied by women. But just 35 per cent of senior lecturers were women, falling to 26 per cent among assistant professors and 19 per cent among professors.

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