Review of 2018 Review of 2018

At the end of each year, I look back on my predictions from the year to see if I got anything right at all! I threw out a number of ideas that I thought might happen during the year but got off to a terrible start within a day or two of the new year when it turned out my prediction that the new president of the INTO would not be the previous Deputy President. I had suspected that someone would have thrown their hat in the ring to challenge for the position but they didn’t. There was an election for a major INTO position, but it was for the General Secretary, rather than the president, and I’m afraid my crystal ball didn’t predict that was going to happen.

My main prediction was that 2018 would be the year of the Spin Doctor. I think it’s fair to say that this was correct. I’m surprised the people in charge of education in Ireland aren’t dizzy.

Richard Bruton (who I unsuccessfully predicted would still be in charge of education by this time – thanks Denis Naughton!) spent his last few months spinning his “Best Education System in Europe by 2026” story and for some reason was gobbled up as a mantra. I’ve yet to hear how it’s going to be measured. However, the award for the biggest spin doctors in education has to go to the INTO. While they are well practiced over the last couple of years in the art, this year took on a whole new level. This year teachers had to vote on a new pay deal. Due to some congress motion, the INTO were not allowed to openly recommend that its members should vote in favour of the deal. Instead, the INTO spent several weeks openly recommending that members should vote in favour of the deal without actually saying the words “recommending in favour of the deal.” The social media campaign was embarrassing with their patronising hashtag #INTOExplains for people too stupid to understand the implications of voting against the pay deal. Sure enough, members voted against the deal. 2019 is going to be an interesting year for union members as it becomes more and more fractured. It appears spin doctoring isn’t completely foolproof. 

In terms of my former champions of spin doctoring, the Teaching Council, 2018 was a quiet year for them. Cosán, as predicted, didn’t emerge and is quietly being watered down in the background. Droichead continues to steamroll its way through primary schools and, unfortunately, whatever resistance was left, it was killed off when none of the representative bodies stood up against it. 

I had predicted that we would see the first league tables emerge for primary level, thanks in part to Droichead freeing up inspectors to do OFSTED-style inspections but that didn’t happen. However, there was a noticeable rise in newspaper articles focusing on WSE results. A number of principals found themselves as headline news stories when things didn’t go too well in their respective WSEs. I may have been premature in my prediction and I think it might be another few more years before we see the league tables.

People of minority faiths and people without a faith had little to sing about in 2018. While Richard Bruton did remove the infamous Baptism Barrier, he didn’t do so for minority faith schools, hence creating an even more complex education system. While much of this won’t become news until September 2019, my prediction was that faith in schools would no longer be a news item. There’s been very little to be fair. There was a bit of talk of separation of church and state after the referendum earlier in the year, but all told, there was very little talk of religion in schools and its everyday impact on children, with one exception – RSE. The year has ended with the government trying to separate church and state from sex education.

Separating church and state when it comes to the Protestant church is clearly a no-go area. As predicted, the government decided to extend the baffling rule that allows 32 students from the Church of Ireland lower Leaving Certificate points to get into Teacher Training College in DCU. I wrote to the new head of education, but received no acknowledgement, never mind a reply. 

The other faith-related news came from the ETB who have finally decided to remove Faith Formation during the school day from all of its Community National Schools. The CNSs are now very similar to Educate Together schools and one must wonder, apart from uniforms and the first name basis, what the big difference is. I suspect we’ll hear more about this soon.

Moving on to another cohort of people that have been mistreated over the last decade, families with children with additional needs. Last year I predicted that the new model for allocating resources would come to our attention because the government basically cut resources but delayed the cuts until 2019. It’s now becoming clear that nobody actually did anything to prevent this from happening and soon schools will see themselves lose a number of teachers in their schools. This will have an immediate impact on children with additional needs who already have extremely limited supports, and now it’s just going to get worse. How the various representative groups managed to do absolutely nothing about this with two year’s notice is shocking. This is beginning to hit home in schools.

I predicted that everyone would still be confused by the Primary Language Curriculum and in 2018, we’d pretty much be left to our own devices. I was almost right; training is still happening but it does seem that even the trainers have given up on it and are now just telling teachers to pick bits and pieces from it. It still hasn’t rolled out to the senior end and in some ways, I’m not sure how they’re going to do it. 

It’s also put a delay on the Primary Maths Curriculum (even though the government spin doctors were working overtime trying to link the delay to easing pressure on workload for school leaders) and it seems we aren’t going to be hearing about it for a couple of years yet. This means the pause button is well and truly stopped on the ridiculous idea of introducing coding into the Maths curriculum, for now.

This leads us nicely into the world of technology where I predicted schools would be looking at their infrastructure and trying to spend their ICT grants wisely. This appears to have happened. If there’s any battle going on in terms of spending money on hardware, there’s been a rise in the purchase of iPads and Chromebooks. However, neither have exploded into schools and it seems like there’s a bit of a waiting game going on. Given that there is funding still coming in, schools are rightly being cautious.

The Digital Framework for Learning, however, hasn’t gone away. I didn’t mention it in my prediction at the beginning of the year because I didn’t think it would have made any impact. However, it looks like it’s still around. I imagine we’ll be seeing more about this framework in 2019 so I’ll have to remember to add it to my predictions for next year.

Overall, there wasn’t much to shout about (in a positive way) in primary education. Despite the promises of pay equality, the talk of separation of church and state, the mantras of being the best education system in Europe by 2026, very little actually happened. Hopefully 2019 will bring some promise to a very fractured profession.


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