A two-tier secondary school system

Paying for a “change in culture”

Sir, – This week, in a Deis school in Cork, we had a whole-day workshop on how to work with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) students in our classes.

The speaker from the National Council for Special Education told me after the workshop she had just given her talk at a “fee-paying school” the week before. I had asked her if the majority of her talks were given in Deis schools. “We’ve opened up 55 special classes,” she said in reference to the new units that the Department of Education is funding for ASD students. The speaker told me that the vast majority of these special classes had been opened in Deis schools. The long workshop was made to a group of teachers with hundreds of years of teaching experience between us.

The speaker asked to accept this “change in culture” that is coming to Irish education.

The “change in culture” is essentially about asking more and more Deis schools (the number has now been widened) to open up special classes for students who would not traditionally have attended such schools. The emphasis in all our classes must be on accommodating the needs of the ASD students. Many of us asked about how we should cater for the needs of the other non-ASD students in the class who might be upset by some of the new changes but the speaker responded by saying it’s time to embrace the “change in culture”.


One of the problems is that the traditional Leaving Cert exam and the CAO points system, which decide who goes on to get the opportunity to train to become our doctors, nurses, teachers, etc, does not appear to embrace the same “culture of change”; in fact, it is ever more demanding in terms of its academic requirements. Even though teachers in Deis schools must now adjust everything to accommodate this “change in culture”, students are expected do better than ever in a highly competitive points race driven by a very traditional Leaving Cert exam.

Since the majority of the “special classes” are in Deis schools and not in the “fee-paying schools”, it left me with the impression that the divide that exists in our secondary school system in terms of how they feed certain courses in universities is only set to be exacerbated by this “change in culture”. – Yours, etc,