Saturday 25 November 2017

In my opinion: League tables don't reflect quality of inclusive schools

Tim Geraghty, President, National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals

Mary White, Minister of State for Equality, Integration and Human Rights, recently launched Ireland's first national Intercultural Education Strategy. This aims to "put learners at its core by respecting the diversity of values, beliefs, languages and traditions in Irish society and to assist educators in creating a learning environment where inclusion and integration become the norm".

NAPD welcomes this initiative because our association has always been committed to the ideal of inclusion. But we have to be vigilant in achieving the ideal of an inclusive school.

Sometimes it seems as if the more a school includes Special Education Needs Children, children from disadvantaged backgrounds or from the Travelling Community, the more parents exclude it from consideration as their first school of choice. Parents sometimes develop a perception that the school only caters for such children.

The media obsession with league tables conveys no benefits on the inclusive agenda. Their narrow focus on a single outcome in education, when so many reports indicate that young people's needs are infinitely complex, ignores the diversity of students' needs.

A report last month from St Patrick's College, Addressing the Challenges and Barriers to inclusion in Irish Schools, quotes from a study of school culture and inclusion which argues that "systemic forces of inertia can be much too weighty" for a major shift in whole school practices to occur. These include a didactic pedagogy, curriculum and assessment practices, the points system, subject interests and the rigidities of space and time.

The free-market approach of the Celtic Tiger era did not get it right. The free-market approach to education will not serve. League tables take no account of income or family support, and do a disservice to fine schools where excellent teaching and learning are taking place.

Smyth and McCoy in their report Investing in Education: Combating Educational Disadvantage show that strong investment must remain a key social objective. ESRI reports repeatedly highlight the personal consequences for early school leavers across every aspect of their lives -- employment prospects, income, health, social status, and lifestyle.

Barnardos in its report Written Out, Written Off? emphasises: "There is a need for joined-up policy between education, health and welfare services to address children's needs."

In May 2009 the Department of Education extended the remit of the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) and charged it with developing a strategic app-roach to attendance, participation and retention in school.

A core part of the new strategy will be an integrated child- and family-centered education support service drawing on the skills, expertise and knowledge of four services -- Home School Community Liaison, School Completion Programme, Visiting Teacher Service for Travellers and the Educational Welfare Service.

Schools in the DEIS scheme benefit from support in tackling disadvantage, and colleagues are acutely conscious of how badly those supports are needed. NAPD realises that all schools have children in need of support and calls on the Department of Education to continue to explore ways of supporting all disadvantaged children.

Irish Independent

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