Honours maths ‘mandatory’ for primary teachers

Quinn’s comments about ‘highly feminised profession’ prompt widespread disapproval

Honours leaving certificate maths will become a minimum requirement for entry into teacher training, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said today.

In a comment which caused widespread disapproval among the 750 delegates at the annual conference of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, Mr Quinn referred to his “highly feminised audience and profession”.

“I also want to see Higher Level Mathematics in the Leaving Certificate becoming part of the minimum entry requirements for Initial Teacher Education and I’ll tell you why - to a highly feminised audience and profession - our research shows that young women who do the Junior Certificate and take Higher Level Mathematics comfortably in the Junior Certificate exam, drop Higher Level Mathematics when they do their Leaving Certificate because it is not a requirement. This is evidence-based research, and that’s why we want to see it happen.”

However general secretary of INTO Sheila Nunan provoked roars and cheers by opening her response to Mr Quinn's speech with the words: "Sisters – hell hath no fury".


While Ms Nunan said she was “quite agnostic about honours maths”, the “sisterhood” knew well the “simple sums of the primary school are: 30 into 1 teacher doesn’t go very easily”.

As delegates got to their feet in approval she continued “46 per cent cuts in assistant principal posts do not make for a good running of schools and 20, 40 and 86 pupils in a 2,3,4 teacher-school ... are not easily divided, so whatever way you multiply it, add it, subtract it, do the Pythagoras theorem, I have one message, Minister, the sum we’re looking for is an increase in the money that goes into education”.

Ms Nunan added: “It wasn’t the honours maths that made the Irish women the way they are today, let me tell you. It was the boys who did the honours maths led the country to ruination”.

Mr Quinn made his remarks as part of his speech which addressed the “need to continue to ensure that most entrants to initial teacher education come from the top 15 per cent of all leaving certificate students.

He later told reporters he had been paying tribute to women members of the audience who had been able to spot the lack of a requirement for higher maths and amend their study schedule accordingly.

He said his remarks were “a compliment” to the young women who make up 85 per cent of the primary teaching profession.

“They realise that they don’t need Higher Level maths for entry into the Initial Teacher Education and that requires more work than Ordinary Level so they drop it. I think that we need, in fact, to have our primary school teachers at the same level in mathematics that we require of them in the Irish language,” he said.

The Minister said he would be “in discussion with the relevant bodies” on the honours maths issue “shortly”

Outlining his proposed reforms Mr Quinn said the academic degree of bachelor of education, B.Ed., had been expanded from three to four years of learning and the “historic” amalgamation of 19 colleges of education into six new centres was now underway.

However he said improving accountability and quality in the education system did not involve what the US academic Diane Ravitch called “the heedless destruction of careers, reputations, communities and institutions”.

Mr Quinn said his aim was to “validate the excellent work taking place in all schools and which encourages all public servants to strive to achieve more”.

But Ms Nunan said it was “a matter of fact” that INTO had been the “leading voice demanding more and better trained teachers”. She said the “call for a four year degree course” came from INTO and “modern fit for purpose school buildings” had been on the union agenda “for years”.

Ms Nunan said the “failure” to acknowledge the impact of the cuts and the pursuit of a “one sided reform agenda” were feeding a “corrosive cynicism” which was harming primary education.

“We called for progress on every single issue you raised here today and in most cases were the first group to do so” she told Mr Quinn.

Ms Nunan also warned against government using money which could be invested in education, to fund tax cuts.

Calling for a “rescue plan” she said the country’s primary school principals are at breaking point.

She said schools were being asked to take on initiatives in literacy and numeracy and tackle bullying. “But there is absolutely no understanding of the lack of support or backup available to principals to lead these duties.” She called for release time from classroom teaching of one day per week to cope with the workload of school administration.

“A review of principals’ workload with realisable solutions is a matter of urgency.”

She said recovery from “six years of austerity” for primary education depended on investment of key resources, taking on board the professional concerns of teachers and the active involvement of teachers in policy planning and development.

The conference continues tomorrow.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist