This year in particular, our education system has shown itself to be diverse and inclusive, as well as amenable and even eager to change.
Coming from a fast-paced enterprise background, Education Minister Richard Bruton's results-oriented approach to policy is shaking up the established order. Of course, his targets will put pressure on teachers and schools: his department's Action Plan for Education, which aims to make Ireland's education and training system the best in Europe by 2026, will require a long-term commitment of energy and enthusiasm.
Many of these changes are already materialising, like the defanging of the intensely high-pressure CAO points system. This year also saw an increase in numbers sitting higher-level papers in the Leaving Cert, particularly in maths, an important step on the road to making complex subjects more accessible.
It is not the only step, however: this year, CAO applications for courses in technology and engineering actually dropped by 4pc. The addition of computer science to the Leaving Cert syllabus, and coding as a module in junior cycle maths, are sensible and overdue moves that should address any decline.Ireland is one of the world's leaders in technology and software, and ensuring we can supply the country's array of multinationals is understandably a high priority for the Government, especially post-Brexit.
Other important subjects, like politics and society, will be examined for the first time in 2018, broadening out our education offering.
Union gridlock, too, has finally begun to give way and, compared with other periods in recent times, industrial relations are relatively calm and stable.
In June, ASTI voted to suspend industrial action. Its members will be remunerated as per the Lansdowne Road Agreement and will participate in teaching the reformed junior cycle syllabus. For organisations like the NAPD*, the cooling off of this dispute has created a more positive environment in which to train a new wave of deputy principals, whose main purpose will be to share in the administrative tasks of running a school, like hiring and facilities management. This will free up the principal to fulfil his or her primary role as a leader and mentor.
However, it isn't all plain sailing, and neither the Department of Education nor the country's second-level schools can rest on their laurels. ASTI teachers need to catch up on further junior cycle training, but due to the limited capacity to teach them, they will need to wait until November for their courses to commence. This will disadvantage pupils of ASTI schools in the short term.
Elsewhere, a change in attitude to the financial autonomy of schools is warranted, particularly in terms of grants. A universal grant system would help schools better allocate funding to the areas that are priorities for them, like IT infrastructure.
Ireland's education system is evolving in a positive and constructive way to meet the needs of 21st century society and economy. However, if Ireland is to achieve its loftier goal of becoming the European leader in education by the middle of the next decade, then people should be the main area of focus: to push through reform, long-term union harmony and more leadership opportunities for school principals are crucial.
* Clive Byrne is the director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD)