Monday 20 May 2019

The challenge in the education system is to maintain confidence while we reform and change

Education Minister Richard Bruton
Education Minister Richard Bruton

John Curtis

This country has a strong and diverse secondary school system. Much of what is rich and vibrant in the voluntary, faith school sector is rooted in the tradition and founding intent of the communities that established schools in the first instance and the local circumstance through which they evolved.

Society and teaching methodologies have changed, but that sense of association and service that still typifies much of what occurs in our local schools is precious. That is not to say that school systems will not be reformed and amended - they should be subject to constant evaluation and recalibration, especially given the pace of change in the modern world, but underlying precepts, whereby schools are cognisant of heritage and faith dimensions, can be respected. Surveys consistently point to a broad satisfaction with second-level schooling, and the breadth of provision and choice is laudable and evolving. Furthermore, we have managed to maintain a culture whereby there is a strong sense of service and volunteerism still evident in our schools.

The challenge is to maintain this confidence in the system while we reform and change. Our Catholic and faith schools, based, as they are, on a mission to serve and to develop the capacity of all aspects of the young person, will continue to evolve and embrace the new pedagogies that will emerge in this new information age. We do need to reflect on how best to manage the teacher-supply problem that now confronts us. Our teachers are our greatest resource and if there are issues that make the profession less attractive, they need to be addressed. If this does not occur, quality of delivery in the classroom and, perhaps, that care component that is so evident in our teaching cohort, will inevitably be compromised.

The ambition of the Department of Education and Skills Action Plan for Education is evident in stating that we will provide the best education and training system in Europe by 2026. In this regard, we have solid foundations and, in preparing for the knowledge economy as referenced repeatedly in the National Development Plan, our schools will have a key role to play. There will need to be a cohesion in how change is handled; we do need to be mindful of the capacity of the system and the reality that, in truth, schools can only do so much. Administration and governance are key demands in any system, but schools are, in general, small organisations predicated on the voluntary commitment of those on our boards of management and there needs to be a coherent system as change is managed and initiatives emerge.

We would acknowledge that there has been increased investment in the system in the last number of years and we would like to thank Minister Bruton and his officials in this regard. We also welcome the minister's commitment to begin to address the funding anomaly that has voluntary secondary schools disadvantaged in relation to schools in other sectors. In broad terms, there is much to be positive about in the educational landscape.

Our schools are embracing Junior Cycle reform. There are more deputy principal posts in our schools. The recent circular on middle leadership and management has incorporated the language of distributive leadership and given a new impetus to how schools will organise and manage. A remodelling of how resources are allocated to schools for students with special educational needs has been positively received and investment in IT provision in schools is continuing. As the funding constraints of recent years recede, we envisage that those anomalies, whereby Ireland is in 30th place out of 33 OECD countries in terms of expenditure on education and 27th place out of 29 countries when it comes to per capita investment in each second-level student, will be addressed and the obvious deficiencies we still have in terms of the pupil-teacher ratio and allocation for special educational needs and guidance counselling will be attended to.

We are mindful that the increased investment in our education system will have to continue and that individual schools and communities are given the appropriate autonomy that will allow the voluntary and faith school sector, which has been so integral to the quality of educational provision and the strength of community in this country, to prosper.

John Curtis is general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), representing management in 400 voluntary secondary schools, the annual conference of which starts today.

Irish Independent

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