Every January I try to predict what’s going to happen in primary education for the rest of the year and what the big issues and big stories will be. I’ll focus on a number of areas of interest to me. Please add your own guesses by commenting at the bottom of this post.
For me, the most eery of my predictions last year was about the Droichead programme. Last year, I said:
I also think the Droichead debacle will finally come to an end in 2017. The model will end up being a weak compromise where students will leave college and will receive a year of mentoring. At the end of the year of mentoring, the new teacher will be considered “inducted.” This model will be flawed but will keep most people happy and the Teaching Council will claim that this was what they wanted from the very start. This massive upheaval in primary education will end with a limp.
This is exactly what happened. Droichead is now part of our primary education system. I didn’t guess at the time how the INTO would be the main instigators in helping Droichead over the line but I didn’t expect them to resist it either.
One thing I couldn’t have predicted from the INTO was its president referring to some of my articles as “fake news,” which leads me to my main prediction for 2018: it’s going to be a year of spin doctoring.
Richard Bruton has remained on as the Minister for Education and has come up with a plan to make Ireland the “best education system in Europe by 2026,” which is a lovely aspiration, considering Ireland’s education system is already performing quite well except for its human rights abuses for minorities. In order to sweep our problems under the carpet, I expect a number of press releases from the Department of Education and INTO celebrating “successes” such as improvement in literacy and numeracy, successes in STEM (though no such subject exists), showcasing schools that teach coding and, finally, fantastic steps regarding equality for minority faiths and none. Of course, none of these will have any truth.
Speaking of spin, I made the following prediction about posts of responsibility:
I predict posts will be back in 2017 in a much reduced form but without any of the much needed changes to how they work. I predict schools will get about 50% of the posts they lost and they will be in the same format as they were before the recession.
I was almost right. 50% of posts were returned but they were not spread across the sector evenly. This time small schools benefited the most with a full restoration of posts while bigger schools are still well under what they used to be. The INTO announced this as a successful outcome. I predict that 2018 will bring no change to Posts of Responsibility. I think there may be half-hearted half-announcements, but I don’t see schools getting their posts of responsibility back.
Moving back to my friends in the Teaching Council, I think we’re going to hear about Cosán in 2018 but I don’t think they are going to risk the wrath of the teaching profession by implementing it until 2019. The Teaching Council are probably still wondering how they managed to pull off Droichead so will need to assess whether their masterstroke will backfire. However, with the INTO on their side, they may choose to move quickly while the going is good.
The effect of Droichead and other changes that were allowed is that schools are now going to be graded OFSTED-style by the Department of Education inspectors. 2018, I assume, will see the first schools getting graded. I predict that we will see more newspapers publishing the findings of the inspectorate and the beginnings of comparing results of schools. I would also not be surprised to see the first League Tables based on STEN scores appearing in a newspaper in 2018.
Back to union matters, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we saw another contest for the presidency of the INTO again this year. Last year, the INTO scraped through with their preferred candidate. The vote was extremely close and one never knows what will happen this year. I’m going to be bold and predict that the next president of the INTO will not be the current deputy president.
Like the years before it, 2017 was another disappointing year for people of minority faiths and no faiths. Richard Bruton has just announced, at this time of writing, that he will be removing the “baptism barrier” from Catholic schools but not minority faith schools. This now means that Protestant schools will now have huge privileges over other schools given their numbers. While not for 2018, I predict that there will be a rise in the next census of people identifying themselves as Protestant. However, I will make one prediction for 2018 in relation to the privilege enjoyed by members of this faith. For the last couple of years, DCU has allowed members of Protestant faiths to get lower points in the Leaving Cert to do primary teacher training. No other faith group enjoys this privilege. This arrangement was due to the amalgamation of CICE and St. Pats but is supposed to end this year. I predict that the arrangement will not only continue but will be allowed to continue for several more years. Ultimately, while all this is going on, I see little progress being made in terms of equality for children and teachers in schools. In fact, due to the Baptism Barrier removal, I can see 2018 as the year that religious inequality in schools loses its media attention.
Moving slightly away from the spins and politics and into the classrooms, 2018 will be the year it begins to hit schools that they have been duped by the government and INTO with the new arrangements for children with additional needs. In September 2019, most schools will lose a number of SET teachers. The first indications of this will become apparent somewhere near the end of 2018. However, I don’t think we will hear much noise about this well into 2019.
The Primary Language Curriculum will, however, continue to roll out in 2018 with everyone continuing to be confused. It’s already behind where it should be and nobody really seems to understand what they are supposed to be doing. Training has been minimal and it has now come out that half the people who originally worked on the curriculum walked out as they couldn’t stand over it. I have a strong feeling that we will simply be left to our own devices, much like we have for other initiatives such as Aistear. I don’t know if there will be any impact for us as a profession but I don’t see the government doing anything to help teachers understand the new curriculum.
Instead, the government will be rolling out the new primary Maths curriculum. At the end of 2017, a consultation was sent out to everyone to respond to a draft curriculum. I predict the final curriculum when it comes out will be about 90% the same as the draft curriculum. I also predict that despite that the draft says now, coding will become part of the curriculum.
Ah yes, Richard Bruton’s pet project: getting coding into primary schools. I thought last year would see a big surge in coding use but the general lack of enthusiasm from the edtech community seemed to stop things in their tracks. There is a new person at the helm of the PDSTTiE so a lot will depend on his agenda. I imagine 2018 will see a number of schools piloting the use of coding in the maths curriculum and by the end of the year, whether it’s a good idea or not, the pressure will be on to jump aboard the Scratch ship. The schools that have invested in iPads will reach their next stumbling block by not being able to use it.
Aside from coding, 2018 should be an interesting year for technology in education. 2017 saw the first ICT grants in years and many schools did exactly what I predicted and splurged the lot of iPads and then wondered what they would do with them. I think 2018 will be a year where schools will quietly improve their infrastructure with a lot of investment in wifi and various bits and bobs to make their iPads work. I don’t see many new things on the horizon in terms of hardware except maybe that we will see even more Chromebooks in classrooms. 2017 saw a few schools taking them on and this year, I’d suggest that a good few more will also do the same. However, in general, I see 2018 as being a reasonably slow year where schools will be a little more careful with their money and consolidate what they have.
I don’t see a huge amount of good news in 2018. I think everyone will be focusing more on women’s bodies than anything else so I don’t really see much changes to education or our political landscape. I wouldn’t be surprised if Richard Bruton was the Education Minister next time I write my prediction piece. However, like I said last year, I don’t see any other politicians in the Dáil that I’d entrust with the job. If nothing else, this time next year, we’ll all be coding monkeys.