Further education and training sector shines a light for 2015
We begin 2015 with contrasting scenarios in the second-level schools and further education and training (FET) sectors. In the former, there is considerable retrenchment; in the latter, there has been considerable progress and development.
Second-level schools remain locked in a struggle over the reform of the Junior Cycle. Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan has significantly compromised with revised proposals requiring 40pc of a student's final marks to be awarded by the teacher, with the balance achieved through a terminal examination. The teacher unions remain opposed to any compromise and have called a second strike day for January 22. The minister's proposals are reasonable and they merit serious consideration.
Reforming the Junior Cycle is essentially about making the school experience more engaging and beneficial for young people. Research shows that bringing assessment closer to where the learning occurs is essential to achieving this goal.
Our schools have another serious problem, however. Middle-management posts have been stripped away over the past five years, resulting in massive pressure on principals.
Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), and the other school management bodies have proposed new models for effective and proven in-school management structures, based on international best practice. The management structure model proposed by ETBI is based on supporting the two main pillars of school activity - curriculum and student welfare. Emphasis placed on student welfare puts pastoral care and guidance at the heart of a school's support for its students, something that is critical to helping students to acquire the skills and capacity to cope with the heightened pressure of modern society.
The commitment by the minister and her department to engage with the management bodies to develop fit-for-purpose school administrative structures capable of supporting principals, staff and students, is both timely and welcome. If we want to reform teaching, learning and student well-being, we must provide schools with a management structure that has the capacity to lead these developments. Otherwise the reforms will fail.
It is no exaggeration to say that there has been significant reform in the FET sector, with major progress achieved towards establishing it as a dynamic part of Irish education.
SOLAS, which has taken over the functions of the former State training agency, FAS, has issued its FET Implementation Plan. There has been a review of Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) programmes and apprenticeship training. ETBs, as the statutory delivery agencies for further education and training, are working alongside SOLAS to bring all these plans into force.
Apprenticeship training must be at the core of Ireland's future economic development. Over the next five years, expanding apprenticeship pathways will hopefully address the large shortage of mid-level skills, while also providing interesting careers for many of our young people.
The consolidation of education and training under Ireland's 16 ETBs is well under way.
Michael Moriarty is general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI). ETBs manage 273 second-level schools and about 350 education centres, as well as the training centres formerly operated by FAS.