As we come to the last day of year, it is traditional at Anseo.net to make predictions for what we think will be the big stories for the following year. 2015 was the year where inequalities in the country were highlighted. The historic vote for marriage equality in Ireland has raised awareness that there are still many inequalities in Irish society and from an education point of view, the headline grabbers were the (perhaps ill-labeled) unbaptised. However, with the economy recovering, very few of the minorities who were targeted during the recession years received any form of reverse on the cuts imposed on them.
2015 saw a new Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan, who we predicted might be an olive branch after Ruairi Quinn’s tenure. For me, I will remember Jan O’Sullivan mostly from her appearance at the IPPN conference in January where she spent the entire hour saying absolutely nothing and then answered all the questions fielded to her with zero commitment. It was to be a symbol of the entire year where she managed to respond to almost nothing in education. With only a few months left in government, will Jan O’Sullivan manage to do anything worthwhile?
In fairness, most of her year was taken up by half-hearted fighting with secondary school unions. I don’t know how second level works (or if it does at all) but some sort of solution was bashed out by the unions, which involved all sorts of convoluted trickery and their members voted against them anyway. With this in mind, I think the last few months of O’Sullivan’s tenure will be to kick the secondary school teacher tin down the road past the election and let it be the next headache for the next minister. My understanding of politics is limited but I believe the best way for the minister to do this is to create as many diversions as possible. I believe there will be two main ones: The Patronage and Pluralism Plan and the reversal of some cuts.
For those who don’t know, in 2015, in Ireland, a secular country, children can be refused access to a school based on the religious beliefs (or lack of them) that their parents have chosen for them. Over 96% of schools can legally do this and any of them that are oversubscribed use this right. Furthermore, even if a school doesn’t refuse access to a child, the ethos (the religious spirit) of the school must (yes:- must) infiltrate throughout the school day. It is so ingrained in Irish culture that it is largely invisible unless you happen to not subscribe to typical Irish culture.
With a growing population not subscribing to stereotypical Irish culture, patronage is becoming a big issue. The solution to the problem is easy: plan the separation of church and state in education over a period of time. However, I think what will happen in reality is a big announcement in March or April where schools will no longer be able to refuse an enrollment based on religious beliefs and that will be it. This will probably make one or two people happy but for children who will continue to have to sit at the back of classrooms on their own, it will make very little difference to their lives. However, it will probably suit the ETB model, which I predict will become the favoured model of the current administration. I also believe at least one Catholic school will either divest completely to the ETB or will have joint patronage.
The second story of 2016, I think, will be money and its availability. I think the government are going to have to splurge to buy votes. I think they’ll throw a lot of money into secondary schools, for example pay equality for all teachers, educational technology and other vote-winning bonuses. At primary level, perhaps it is wishful thinking but I think primary schools will start to see better broadband with the first 100Mb broadband connection being launched in a school in Dublin. I thought it would happen this year but 2016, I think, has to be the year for it. The government might also reverse some of the cuts imposed since 2008. I hope there will be the reversal of cuts to SEN, Travellers, EAL and so on. My feeling is that money may be given to the voters instead, i.e. the teachers.
Technology-wise, I don’t see 2016 being much different to this year. The Digital Strategy was a huge waste of trees with almost nothing of any note in it. Schools will again have to set their own agenda and depending on broadband, we might be seeing some decent subscription-based web sites for various subjects. With regards to hardware, I’m looking forward to the first glance of smart classroom furniture but I think it will be a while yet before it takes off. I also think touchscreen IWBs are going to infiltrate more classrooms as they become cheaper. Chromebooks didn’t really take off in Irish primary schools in the same way as they have in America. Again, if decent broadband becomes a reality, 2016 might see the emergence of Chromebooks and a proper war between them and tablet computers.
Another big story for 2016 will be the Teaching Council. They have had an annus horribilis in 2015. With most schools completely opposed to Droichead and the scandal emerging about fees, the organisation will have a lot of work to do to gain any form of trust amongst its members. 2016 sees a new council being elected and there are a number of disgruntled teachers putting themselves forward for the various roles. Could they make an impact immediately? My prediction for 2016 is that Droichead will be shelved or scrapped pending yet more consultations with schools. Another possibility is the extension of the pilot until they reach a critical number of schools signing up. I would hope that they would try out alternative models but I can’t see this happening.
Well-being was a bit of a buzzword in education this year. For me, there was a lot of talk about it but very little evidence of it in action. Perhaps, 2016 will see well being coming into the curriculum somewhere when we figure out how to divvy out the times of the various subjects. Speaking of the curriculum, I think the new language curriculum will start to take hold and it will be interesting to see how the various companies react to it. I imagine we will have a load of new schemes in Irish and English and I imagine they won’t be very good. However, there might be some decent software or web apps that might emerge.
Last year we predicted POD would come in without too much controversy. However, I still believe that POD will be used to cut services for schools. As it is not 100% compulsory until next year, it might be 2017 or 2018 before we see the real effects on children.
However, overall, I believe everything will depend on the upcoming election. There will be many promises and a small number of calculated gestures. The overwhelming amount of pressure on the government in terms of Junior Cert Cycle, Pay Equality, Patronage, etc. will need to be dissipated and many of the changes in education will come about because of this but none of them will probably be directly tackled. In my previous article on the review of 2015, I said that I think we need role models in 2016 in education. Whoever they are, I hope they will make a morally positive impact in education as we begin the road of economic recovery.
What do you think are going to be the big stories of 2016 in education? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below. I’d love to hear from you.