Sunday 19 November 2017

Schools that have unqualified teachers cannot be pinpointed

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

THE Department of Education cannot pinpoint the schools where second-level students are being taught maths by teachers with no qualifications in the subject.

The lack of information emerged last night as the Government's chief scientific adviser added his voice to concerns about Leaving Cert maths and science results.

As many as half of second-level maths teachers are not qualified in the subject, but department officials do not know where they are currently working.

A department spokeswoman said it was a matter for the Teaching Council to register teachers, while schools had responsibility for hiring teachers.

But after another year of poor maths and science results, pressure is mounting for Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to take rapid action.

Chief scientific adviser Prof Patrick Cunningham said that "we have to start by acknowledging we have a problem".

Worrying features of yesterday's Leaving Cert results included a 10pc failure rate in ordinary-level maths, fewer taking higher-level maths and a drop in A grades, and high failure rates in physics and chemistry.

Prof Cunningham said there has been a decline in the standard of first-year college students while hi-tech industry was having difficulty finding sufficient appropriately trained graduates.

He said the wake-up call sounded by the OECD PISA survey, showing that Irish 15-year-olds were slipping down the international ranks in maths, was reinforced by the Leaving Cert results.

He said some corrective actions could take immediate effect, but others would take more time.

All the initiatives around improving maths take-up and performance made sense, he said. These initiatives include bonus points for entry to third-level; the new project maths programme; better teacher training; Junior Cert reform and better focus on literacy and numeracy at primary level.

But he added: "The challenge is to implement them rapidly and efficiently."

Prof Cunningham also spoke of the Government's firm commitment to Dublin City of Science 2012, which it is hoped will change perceptions to maths and science.


The scientific advisers also expressed concern about grade inflation in the Leaving Cert, which has been a feature over the past two decades, although it appears to have stabilised in recent years.

Mr Quinn responded to the growing clamour over maths and science with a vow to shake up the Leaving Cert, although this will take place after the Junior Cert has been reformed.

Next month, for the first time ever, the Higher Education Authority will meet the National Council for Curriculum Assessment, which advises the Government on issues relating to second-level education.

Mr Quinn said he had asked his junior ministerial colleague Sean Sherlock to take a particular interest in improving the performance in maths to make sure that the concerns of industry were addressed.

Meanwhile, the director general of Engineers Ireland, John Power, said there needed to be more attention to the problems students were encountering with the maths syllabus.

Their feedback should be integrated into reform around teaching of the subject, he added.

Irish Independent

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