An insider's guide to education
* After the sleepy Mary Coughlan era, new Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn has hit the ground running at the Department of Education in Marlborough St.
At a meeting with secretary general Brigid McManus last Thursday afternoon, he set out no less than 12 separate priority areas. And he wants swift action on issues such as school patronage, the literacy crisis and school buildings.
Quinn has received a very warm welcome from across the education sector. The new Minister, who spent three years as education spokesman, knows all the main players and understands all the key issues.
At this stage, the teacher unions – where support for Labour is in the DNA – see Quinn as “their man’’ who can be relied upon to do their bidding.
But make no mistake – Quinn is a formidable and independent figure who will do things his way. He has the potential to make a real, lasting impact on the education sector.
What are this main priorities? During his contribution to the Oireachtas Education Committee last year he raised some of the big issues he would like to see addressed.
– Why has Ireland more primary schools per capita (3,200) than any other OECD state?
– How much has been invested in the teaching of the Irish language? He called this “the single biggest policy failure’’ of the Irish system.
– How much time has been spent in faith formation in primary schools?
– Why are five teacher-training colleges controlled by religious orders?
* The number of candidates in the race to be the next provost of TCD is down to five after Prof Robin Coningham of Durham University withdrew last week.
Coningham, one of only two external candidates, said he has taken the decision “as it has become increasingly difficult to sustain the running of a credible and public eight-week election campaign in another country alongside maintaining equal credibility discharging the daily responsibilities of my role as pro-vice chancellor, active researcher and supervisor, and parent here in the UK.’’
His comments underline how difficult – if not impossible – it is for any external candidate to contest the post.
History don Jane Ohlmeyer is emerging as a live contender to be the first female provost – and the first female leader of a university in Ireland. But vice-provost Paddy Prendergast and business don Colm Kearney are also in the shake-up.
* Jamie’s Dream School,Jamie Oliver’s education crusade on Channel 4 continues to fascinate.
Last week, the Sultan of Spin, Alastair Campbell demonstrated some strong teaching skills. And historian David Starkey came to terms with the task of teaching low academic achievers.
An Irish spin-off of this show is probably already in the planning process. But has anyone told PJ Mara and Diarmuid Ferriter?
* Has an arts degree had its day? The question is prompted by the latest CAO figures which show an eleven per cent slump in the number applying to 1st arts at UCD, the largest undergraduate course in the State. It appears the very high unemployment rate among arts graduates explains the decline.
Overall, NUI Maynooth was (again) the big winner this year , registering a nine per cent increase in first preference applications.
DCU – where new president Brian MacCraith is making such a strong impression - registered an 8.5 per cent increase in applications.
Interest in DCU business school programmes increased by 18 per cent despite the overall decline this year for applications in business degrees in the sector.
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