No standards contradiction - Quinn


Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn today denied there was any contradiction in findings between the OECD and the State Examinations Commission (SEC) on falling standards in English and maths among Junior Certificate students.

The OECD report, widely considered the most reliable guide to academic standards, saw Ireland fall from 5th to 17th in English and 16th to 25th in maths. It reported almost 25 per cent of Irish 15-year-olds were “functionally illiterate”.

The State Examinations Commission, however, found there had been no “discernible diminution” of standards in English nor maths at Junior Cert level.

“There isn’t really a contradiction; it’s a question of how you look at it,” the Minister said today. “One is a league table of different countries - approximately 60 countries - and our relative position within that league table has dramatically slipped.”

Mr Quinn said the OECD report did not reflect a large fall in standards domestically but that other countries in the tables “have dramatically improved”.

He did admitted there had been “a decline in standards” but insisted it was "not as precipitous as those original [OECD] figures will suggest”.

The OECD report is based on the Programme for International Student Assessment, which administered a two-hour written test to almost 4,000 Irish 15-year olds.

The State Examinations Commission carried out an analysis of Junior Cert scripts from previous years. Examiners looked at 27 random scripts in each subject, selected at random from exams that took place in the past decade.

The Minster said he would be unveiling a national literacy strategy later this month and signalled a clear intention to restore Ireland’s position in the OECD tables in future years.

“We have to get back in it. Part of declared Government policy in the programme for government is that we’re going to get back into the top 10 not just for literacy but for numeracy and scientific matters as well,” he said.

The Minster was speaking in UCD at the installation of a 1930s stained glass window commemorating Kevin Barry, a medical student and Irish Volunteers member hanged in 1920 for his part in an ambush on British soldiers.

The window was first unveiled in UCD’s original building on Earlsfort Terrace in 1934, and the university says its relocation marks the final stage of the institution's move to Belfield which began over 30 years ago.

The last engineering and medical students transferred to the Belfield campus from Earlsfort Terrace in 2007, 26 years after the building started being used as the National Concert Hall.

Mr Quinn said he remembered viewing the window in its original surroundings during his time as a student. “It’s extremely elegant, and I’m delighted it has found a home in these surroundings,” he said.

The Minister thanked UCD for the restoration project, which he said was “giving a new home to the memory" of the 18-year-old medical student who was hanged on the November 1st, 1920, despite requesting he be shot as a soldier.

The window and its frame were removed from Earlsfort Terrace in 2010 under the supervision of a conversation architect and following recommendations of the international body for historic stained glass, the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi.

The window was painted by RJ King of Harry Clarke studios, a prominent stained glass producer in Dublin, and paid for by the fundraising efforts of the student-run Kevin Barry Memorial Committee of the 1920s.