That’s Another Fine Mess……

In 2011, commenting on the release of the Draft Framework for the Junior Cycle, the then Minister for Educaiton, Ruairí Quinn, complemented the NCCA for having kept their deliberations secret. This secrecy, coupled with a politically managed consultation process that actively limited teacher input, sowed the seeds of what is generally regarded as a failed educational reform by those who have to implement it.
What should have been a simple and relatively straight forward change management project has now become a butchered and disfigured mess thanks largely to a deliberate attempt to ‘get one over’ on the teaching profession by those who think they know the reality of schools better than those who have to deal daily with the consequences of poor investment.
Everyone recognized the need for change. In this context, it is simply astounding that the DES and two puppet Ministers could mess this up. We now have a situation where the Minister, on behalf of the DES, is crying foul like the person who left the fire unguarded complaining that the house burned down.
It should not have surprised the DES and the Minister, nor indeed the NCCA that teachers would react. It’s bad enough that the reforms are a house of cards built on sand that pander to a particular new-agey concept of education as a simplified mix of instruction and political correctness – Ireland’s version of No Child Left Behind. 
It’s bad enough that years of under-investment produced economic and social disadvantage that led directly to the need to designate ‘DEIS’ schools and to produce the JCSP programme. But to ask that we should dumb down all of Ireland’s second level education so that the Minister, the DES and the NCCA can feel good about themselves is a step too far.
Just like the fish that don’t notice the water in which they are swimming, the Powers-That-Be failed to notice the impact of years of disastrous social and economic policy. They think the issue is teachers and schools. They think that if only they can get teachers to jump through more and through different hoops, they can fix the country’s education and so ensure a brighter future for children.
To be fair, on the surface it makes a degree of sense. But the reform is built on a pack of lies and limited understanding of children. 
We were told that the Irish education system is broken and that we needed to reform the system to continue to attract investment. Yet research by Grant Thorton stated

” Ireland’s education system is consistently ranked amongst the best in the world. Both OECD “Education at a glance” and the 2013 IMD “World Competitiveness Yearbook” ranked Ireland in the Top 10 best educated nations in the world.

The development of a strong skills base has been a key driver of economic growth in Ireland and has played a pivotal role in helping the country attract significant knowledge based FDI. The removal of tuition fees for third level education in 1995 resulted in the number of  individuals who hold third level qualifications growing rapidly. The IDA indicate that 60% of students go on to higher education and that Ireland is ranked 1st in Europe for the completion of higher education.

Ireland’s world class education system has produced a skilled labour force. This availability of highly educated and qualified employees makes Ireland an ever attractive destination for inward investment. “

We were told that we needed the reform because research (and that’s a whole other issue) showed that first year students had trouble adjusting, second year students switched off and third year was dominated by the exam. We were told that if we got rid of the exam, all would be ok.

Except the Minister discovered parents actually liked the exam – as a practice for another exam – and so decided to keep a bit of it! So now the exam will be over two years – that’s two years for kids to worry about the exam, rather than just one!

Second years will still be distracted in second year because that’s when they really begin to develop their social world in earnest and all that that means. But the government is going to ruin the fun of that for them.

And because first years will have trouble adjusting, that year won’t count towards the exam and already students can see that it is a wasted year.  And nobody bothered researching the effects of puberty on students ability to progress during the junior cycle years.

We were told that continuous assessment would give a better indication of ‘student learning’ (which wasn’t defined nor defined as either a verb or a noun) eventhough other countries are moving away from this model, particularly because boys perform poorly under this system.

The Minister has decided to get bolshy with the Unions. The Unions will of course do their thing. The Irish Times will continue to produce childish headlines in the hope of staying alive.

The whole thing is now simply a mess and something different needs to be done.

Something Different
The Minster should suspend the entire Junior Cycle reform programme for one year. She should take the process back to October 2010. She should establish an Education Council composed of the DES, the Unions, teacher training college’s principals and draft a new Junior Cycle programme that in grounded in reality and which can evolve as more resources come on stream.

The alternative is the implementation of a mess that will have to be revisited in 10 years and which will just waste tax payers money. But then, we’re good at that in Ireland, aren’t we and the Minister only needs to get to October.

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