Teacher’s Pet


An insider’s guide to education

Fees are big issue but Quinn opts out of USI conference

Ruairí Quinn’s address to the annual conference of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) next week promised to be a huge media event.

The Minister – who signed a USI “no fees’’ pledge before the election – would have to explain his actions to a sceptical audience.

But, in a move which has dismayed the USI, the minister has opted out of the conference. The official line is that it makes more sense for junior minister Ciarán Cannon to attend the conference which is being held in his Galway constituency.

This does not wash with USI president Gary Redmond who has accused Quinn of “running scared”.

Next week’s conference is, arguably, the most important in the history of the student movement. For the first time, students will vote on their favoured funding model – upfront fees, a graduate tax or a loan system. The result will have a major impact on government policy – but will Quinn be there to hear it?

Reshuffle at the Department

The appointment of Seán Ó Foglú as the new secretary general in the Department of Education has resulted in a mini reshuffle among the 10 assistant secretaries in Marlborough Street. Kevin McCarthy moves from higher education to school buildings while veteran official Pat Burke moves to third level.

Ó Foglú addressed the annual conference of the Association of Community and Comprehensive schools in Killarney over the weekend on the specific issue of school patronage.

It would be good to hear his wider observations on an education system which, suddenly, appears under criticism from all sides.

International students stay at home

Despite all the hype |(from the Department of Education, Enterprise Ireland etc) Ireland is still performing dismally on international education. The most recent figures from the Higher Education Authority show that international student recruitment by Irish universities and colleges has stalled and may even be in decline, as former DCU boss Ferdinand von Prondzysnki notes on his blog.

Overall, international students account for a mere 7 per cent of the Irish student body. This compares with 17 per cent in Britain.

Younger set nipping at Smith’s heels

With Ruairí Quinn under fire on so many fronts, some young Turks in Fianna Fáil are uneasy about the performance of the party’s education spokesman Brendan Smith.

Smith has certainly been a low-profile figure although his allegation that Quinn was “over-spinning’’ on school buildings had a big impact recently.

The younger set would like to replace Smith with Senator Averil Power, the telegenic former special advisor to Mary Hanafin. But Power must first secure that Dáil seat.

A St Louis girl to the last

St Louis school in Monaghan emerged with great credit from Nuala, that heart-rending, brilliant RTÉ documentary on writer Nuala O Faolain which attracted close to one million viewers.

When Nuala was banished to Monaghan for some minor infraction in Dublin, it was the teachers – lay and religious – at St Louis who first recognised and then nurtured her intelligence. Today, over 50 years on, the school is still thriving. Its website lists an extraordinary array of arts and cultural activities plus an entire section on the importance of student affirmation.

NGO is right about TY

That proposal by Friends of the Elderly for a more community focused Transition Year (TY) certainly caught fire. As ever, the teacher unions rolled out the usual defensive stuff and refused to acknowledge the failings of TY.

Here’s the truth. TY is wonderful, groundbreaking initiative which is the envy of many school systems. But its effectiveness is very uneven. Some schools and students embrace the year with gusto. Others use it as a third Leaving Cert year while still others organise very little for their students.

Friends of the Elderly are right. TY has still to realise its full potential. It would be great if TYs spent part of the year deepening their involvement in community activities. But there are several other basic skills they might also gain. Most Irish teenagers leave school without knowing how to drive, how to open a bank account, how to cook or how to perform basic DIY tasks. TY is an excellent initiative in many respects – but it needs to be updated and revitalised.