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Ireland

Ireland

6. Education and Training

6.10 Current debates and reforms

On this page
  1. Forthcoming policy developments
  2. Ongoing debates

 


 

Forthcoming policy developments

Action Plan for Education 2021

Each year the Department publishes its high-level work programme in an Action Plan for Education. These plans articulates the Department’s ambition, values and goals, based on its Statements of Strategy. The current statement is Cumasú Statement of Strategy 2019 - 2021. The last action plan was the Action Plan for Education 2019 [Department of Education and Skills (DES), 2019]. During 2019 the Department engaged in a public consultation regarding the upcoming Action Plan for 2020, however, this plan was not published. The goals of the upcoming Action Plan for 2021 are to:

  1. Ensure education standards and improve the learning experience to meet the needs of all pupils, in schools and early years settings
  2. Ensure that all pupils experience equity of opportunity in education and are supported to fulfil their potential
  3. Together with our partners, work to ensure that we provide strategic leadership and are supporting the delivery of the right systems and infrastructure for the sector. 

It is expected that the new strategy will be published during 2021.

The Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) is the statutory funding authority for the universities, institutes of technology and a number of other designated institutions. It leads the strategic development of the Irish higher education and higher education research system and is the advisory body to the Minister for Education and Skills in relation to the higher education sector. The Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 established the HEA, set out its functions and provided for its governance. It has been updated on several occasions. The Department of Education argue that the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 is, in some important respects, not aligned with the current role and responsibilities of the HEA. Therefore, the Government has approved the updating of the act.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) is the statutory funding authority for the universities, institutes of technology and a number of other designated institutions. It leads the strategic development of the Irish higher education and higher education research system and is the advisory body to the Minister for Education in relation to the higher education sector. The Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 established the HEA, set out its functions and provided for its governance. It has been updated on several occasions. The Department of Education argue that the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 is, in some important respects, not aligned with the current role and responsibilities of the HEA. Therefore, the Government has approved the updating of the act.

The Minister initiated a consultation process on the updating of the HEA Act in July 2018 and hosted a consultation forum in November 2018. The Consultation Report and Response of the Department of Education on the Legislative Reform of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 (DES, 2019) is a report on this process. It also includes the DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION’ response to the issues raised and the proposed framework for the new legislation. An Outline of the Legislative Proposals for the Reform of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 (DES, 2019) is an outline of the main provisions which it is proposed to include in the legislation. Further consultations took place during 2019 and an update of the Act is pending. However, a date of this update has not been released. 

School Inclusion Model

A new School Inclusion Model to support for students with special educational and additional care needs was developed based on policy advice from the NCSE. Piloting and evaluation during the 2019/20 academic year. It is supported by €4.75m funding allocated in Budget 2019 and aims to build schools’ capacity to include children with additional needs and to provide other supports for pupils. 75 primary and post-primary schools 3 areas participated. The model does not require a formal diagnosis for access to Special Needs Assistant support.

Key features of the School Inclusion Model are:

  • A new frontloading allocation model for Special Needs Assistants (SNAs). A profiling system for Special Education Teaching will be used to allocate resources, breaking the link with the need for an assessment. An appeals mechanism will be included to deal with exceptional cases in schools.
  • National Educational Psychological Service will be expanded to provide more intensive in-school supports.
  • SNAs will be offered a new National Training Programme, emphasising the need for students to develop independence and resilience.
  • A new national nursing service for children with complex medical needs in schools.

The model is a collaboration across the Departments of Education, Health, and Children and Youth Affairs, as well as the National Council for Special Education and the Health Service Executive.

Education plans

Under the EPSEN Act each child assessed with a special educational need should have a personal education plan. This system is not yet in place but its implementation is being coordinated by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which has published Guidelines for the Individual Education Plan Process (2006). Schools are required, in line with Circular 30/2014, to put in place Personal Pupil Plan including a care plan for all pupils availing of SNA support. Guidelines for schools on educational planning and monitoring of outcomes and the manner in which they should conduct educational planning, through the Student Support File, are contained in the Guidelines for Schools: Supporting Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools (DES, 2017).

 

The NCSE has also published Implementation Report: Plan for the Phased Implementation of the EPSEN Act 2004. This sets out how the Act can be implemented. However, there is currently no date for the implementation of the assessment of need and individual education plans.

In 2018 Minister for Education and Skills said during a Special Educational Needs Parliament (Dáil Éireann) Debate, ‘At present, all schools are encouraged to use Education Plans. My Department's Inspectorate's advice is that the majority of schools are now using some form of individual education planning for children with special needs.’

Short Courses for Leaving Certificate Examination

Towards Learning. An Overview of Senior Cycle Education (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, 2009) proposes the introduction of 90-hour optional short courses, alongside the current longer subjects. These would also be examined by the State Examinations Commission. Two sample short courses being developed for consultation in the areas of Enterprise and Psychology.

Traveller culture and history

Traveller Culture and History in the Curriculum: a Curriculum Audit (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, 2018) recommendations included that Traveller and Roma culture to be embedded in the curriculum. The Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018 was proposed in 2018, passed by Seanad Éireann (the upper house of the Irish Parliament), and is, as of September 2020, before Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Irish Parliament). This act would include Traveller culture and history in the curriculum.

Enhanced Media Education

Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020: Enhancing Teaching, Learning and Assessment (DES, 2015) supports embedding digital learning objectives within future education policy and curriculum initiatives; and a specific strategic action is set out in that regard. This will mean that future curriculum specifications can drive effective application of ICT in learning, and support teachers in developing students’ digital learning competencies. 

 

Ongoing Debates

School patronage

While the State provides for free primary education, schools are established by patron bodies. Under the Education Act, 1998 (Government of Ireland, 1998), patrons define the ethos of the school and appoint the board of management to run the school on a day to day basis. Most schools in Ireland are owned and under the patronage of religious denominations. Although they are increasing in number, there are still a very limited number of non-Catholic schools. Their limited number of student places available and their absences in certain areas, has come under criticism in recent yearsin public discourse and in the media.

School admission policies

Many schools in Ireland are oversubscribed for available pupils/student places. Each school must publish an admissions policy. These admissions policies typically include several contributing factors.

Often a waiting list is formed for admission and children are often prioritized if they have a sibling, parent or grandparent who attended, or is attending, the school. There has been debate that waiting lists and ‘siblings first’ policies can disadvantage immigrants and Travellers from being offered places at their preferred schools. Under the Education (Admission to Schools) Act, 2018, schools must accept applicants where they have places and a limit of 25% of available places can be prioritised for children or grandchildren of past pupils. Some debate on this topic remains.

Reform of the Leaving Certificate

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) began a major review of the senior cycle and the leaving certificate examination, in 2016. In 2019 NCCA engaged in a public consultation. The next stage of the review is for NCCA to issue an advisory report to the Minister for Education for consideration.

The response to COVID-19 in the provisions for education

Due to COVID-19 and related health measures, a number of temporary reforms to education occurred during 2020. Calculated grades were used instead of the Leaving Certificate Exam for sixth (final) year secondary school students during 2020. This move was highly criticised by many students, parents, members of the teaching community and media. Objections to calculated grades included, some students’ fear of teacher bias and some teachers’ feeling that they were ill-equipped and/or that it was inappropriate for them to give predicted grades. Teacher and principle representatives also criticised students and parents contacting Leaving Certificate teachers to lobby them about calculated grades.

Following the release of students’ calculated grades, three errors in the coding used to generate standardise results were discovered. 6,100 students gained improved marks following a review of the Leaving Certificate calculated grades system. The Minister for Education confirmed that a similar number of students were awarded grades that were higher than they should have been. As of 13 October 2020, this figure is not yet available, but the Department of Education said the exact number of students who received inflated grades will be made available in the future.  

National Strategy for a Comprehensive Guidance Service for Young People

The Further Education and Training Strategy 2020 - 2024 (SOLAS, 2020) states that the nature and quality of guidance provision vary across the different access points into the FET sector. The Further Education and Training Strategy 2014-2019 (SOLAS, 2014) reported that the need for an integrated FET guidance approach was frequently mentioned during the consultation process. Based on these consultations and on research, the strategy recognises the need for an integrated FET Guidance approach. The aim of an integrated model of guidance for the FET sector should build on practice currently in operation within the AEGI services including development of national referral protocols between Adult Guidance Services and ‘Intreo’ and other national agencies e.g. HSE, disability services etc. The National Youth Council of Ireland has called on Government to develop a National Strategy for a Comprehensive Career and Life Guidance for Young People.

Further cyber safety

The Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs published a Report on Cyber Safety for Children and Young Adults in March 2018. The committee believed a national campaign regarding cyber safety is needed, which could be similar to other government safety campaigns, such as those about road safety. While there is some digital literacy lessons in school, as outlined for second level schools in Chapter 6.8, the Committee also suggested that online safety be part of the curriculum in primary and post primary schools, including peer-to-peer workshops on Cyber Safety in schools. this Committee ceased with the dissolution of the 32nd parliament (Dáil) on the 14 January 2020.

QQI reengagement

Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) was established in 2012 under the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012 (Government of Ireland. 2012). It has taken over the functions of the following 4 bodies:

  • National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI)
  • Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC)
  • Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC)
  • Irish Universities Quality Board (IUQB)

Re-engagement describes the process by which education and training providers whose Quality Assurance was previously agreed with HETAC or FETAC are now required to demonstrate how their governance and Quality Assurance systems meet with the QQI guidelines. In 2017/2018, QQI piloted the re-engagement process, with 12 providers, to test its efficacy. The Reengagement process for independent and private providers formally commenced in 2018.

Many providers criticise the reengagement process arguing that it is a time-consuming and expensive process. These providers argue that some providers, particularly smaller non-profit providers, may not have the necessary resources to dedicate to the process.