Wednesday 26 November 2014

Reform agenda must make use of our most valuable assets – teachers

In My Opinion: Ciaran Flynn

Published 26/03/2014 | 02:30

Ciaran Flynn
Ciaran Flynn

'Is life worth living? It depends on the liver," is a well remembered example of a pun from my own school days. I understand it much better now. Thankfully, I'm still learning.

I have always enjoyed learning, but have not always enjoyed school. Will it be any different for young students setting out in post-primary education now?

For the sake of Ben and Grace and all others setting out in September, I hope so. I hope that schools in Ireland in the future will place a greater emphasis on student learning than they might have in the past. This is the aim of the new reform agenda for Junior Cycle.

Are the changes proposed what students want? The Irish Second-Level Students Union (ISSU) certainly thinks so: "This new programme will implement major changes in our education system, which in our opinion, have been needed for years. Hopefully students will learn life skills rather than having a life focused around high pressure exams." These thoughts are echoed by parent groups, and by many teachers.

I was reminded at a recent ACCS conference that: "An education based on memory presumes that the future will be more of the present." (Mark Patrick Hederman). We probably all agree that it won't be.

Some of our practices need to change radically to enable our students to realistically face the challenges ahead. They need to learn confidently and well.

The student needs to be placed at the centre of learning rather than regarded as the passive recipient who can regurgitate at terminal exam time.

Many teachers of English who have experienced the first day of in-service for the new programme have come back to schools energised and motivated. We all need more of the same, the change agenda must be resourced adequately.

This recession has been difficult for schools, teachers, school managers and especially students. It has however, made us realise that the precious resources we have must be utilised effectively.

The most important resource is our teachers. Our teachers need to facilitate learning using assessment for learning techniques and practices. We need to establish a balance between assessment for learning and assessment for certification.

This is a challenge that all the educational partners must work out together. School-based moderation with external monitoring by the State Exams Commission is our preferred option.

It is inconceivable that we will not achieve this over the eight year period envisaged for all the changes to take place. Others have done so. Our students require us to.

As school managers we need to re-energise middle management so that the learning and teaching agenda proposed is brought to centre stage, with a complementary reduction of administration.

This agenda requires teacher leaders who are open to change, engaged in collaboration and prepared to share and mutually evaluate student work. They must become active participants in the professional learning community which is the school of the future.

This will require a change of culture among some of our teachers and leaders and a re-viewing of what school management should be delivering.

We should be proceeding confidently and in close collaboration to achieve the reform our young people deserve. Is school worth attending? It will depend on the learner.

CIARAN FLYNN IS GENERAL SECRETARY OF THE ASSOCIATION OF COMMUNITY AND COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOLS (ACCS), WHOSE ANNUAL CONVENTION TAKES PLACE MARCH 27-29

Irish Independent

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