Life Learning

Saturday 30 August 2014

Social class and gender 'have huge effect on the way pupils are taught'

Edel O'Connell

Published 19/01/2012 | 05:00

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Attending the University of Limerick conferral ceremony yesterday were Mairead Hussey, along with children Molly and Paddy, who come from Lisnagry, Co Limerick. Mairead graduated with a Masters of Science at UL

CHILDREN are being taught in dramatically different ways depending on their gender, social background and the age of the teacher.

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Big learning gaps could emerge between boys and girls, as well as the rich and poor, because teachers are tailoring classes according to what they believe is best for their students.

But the result is that the amount of time being spent on core subjects varies widely across the primary school system, a new study reveals.

It found:

- All-girls schools concentrated more on religious education and art.

- All-boys schools concentrated more on English, physical education, history and geography.

- Co-ed schools sought a middle ground between boys' and girls' schools in terms of subjects.

- Disadvantaged schools focused on English and social, personal and health education.

- More advantaged schools focused on art, religious education and Irish.

The report, by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on nine-year-olds in the primary school system, outlines the dramatic differences in the way children are taught.

Key factors include their gender, social background and the age and character of their teacher.

The nine-year-olds surveyed spent most of their time at school learning English, Irish, maths and religion.

But the mix offered to pupils largely depended on the type of school attended. There was large variation in the time allocated to particular subject areas found across schools, and even within schools.

This may mean that some students spend significantly less time than their peers on subjects such as maths, which could lead to a learning gap if repeated in subsequent years.

Broadly, the report found girls spend more time in school learning religion, while boys focus more on history, geography and physical education.

The report, which uses information from the wider Growing Up in Ireland study, found pupils in single-sex girls' schools and fee-paying private schools are afforded more "active" and engaging classes.

Meanwhile, those in disadvantaged areas are more likely to be taught through traditional methods.

Teachers more recently out of training college place a greater emphasis on interactive teaching than their older counterparts, it found, but traditional teaching methods still dominate overall.

Sheila Nunan, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, said the curriculum was designed in 1999 and implemented on the understanding that there was a need to reduce class sizes.

However, she said one in five of the primary school population are in classes of more than 30, which makes interactive teaching methods very difficult.

Ms Nunan said much of what teachers learn in colleges of education is "washed out" after a few years of having to deal with large classes, a lack of resources and poor school buildings.

Dr Emer Smyth, a report co-author and ESRI professor, said the outcome of the huge variations in teaching would not be known until a follow-up study in four years' time into the progress of the children.

"The concern would be, that if you have a gap -- some classes are spending two hours more on maths than other classes -- if that persisted into other year groups there could be a learning gap emerging," she said.

Other findings of the report revealed how girls were more likely to have a positive attitude towards languages, while girls in single-sex schools were more interested in maths.

It found that boys in single-sex schools were happier to learn English, Irish and mathematics compared to those in mixed-sex schools.

Irish Independent

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