This year’s IPPN annual conference was more than a little bit political with no less than seven politicians taking to the stage over the two days. Every year I give a summary of what I got up to. I try to spend a good bit of time in the Expo and miss out on some talks but it gives me a chance to see what sort of resources are going to be available to me this year.
In terms of technology, it was all about touchscreen panels with about 5 companies exhibiting their version of the “new Interactive Whiteboard.” I can’t say I’m completely sold on them yet as I’m not sure how long they last when they are in full use in a classroom. There were a few companies selling Apple stuff and their stands were generally all glossy and lovely. I didn’t have any need to speak with them as I am not going to buy iPads any time soon. Tip Tap Tap were there and I was pleased to see that they seemed to be popular with principals. There were a couple of other bits and bobs but nothing really that new to report on.
There was a change to the order of running this year with the Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan moving from the Friday morning to the Thursday evening. Last year she was accompanied by a number of government officials and she managed to say absolutely nothing. This year, as it’s an election year, we were all expecting a few empty promises. However, there was really nothing coming from her again, just a bland speech outlining what she was happy with since she took over from Ruairi Quinn.
O’Sullivan was preceded by a rather unnecessary flag procession to commemorate 1916 followed by a witty speech from the IPPN president Maria Doyle. I didn’t stay for the final speaker, the president of the GAA as I really have no idea what he could possibly say to someone like me with zero interest in the sport. I heard later that he thinks we should use Croke Park Hours to teach GAA. Great.
The following morning granted us five politicians from different parties all outlining their manifestos for the upcoming election. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, Renua and the Social Democrats were all represented. I’m fairly sure Fine Gael would rather forget their showing as they appeared to find someone from 1916 and transported him to the future. At least he gave some humour to an otherwise cringeworthy and boring session. Principals smirked as each party promised lower and lower class sizes. A joke was tweeted that by the afternoon we would have any children in the classroom.
From my own point of view, I was most disappointed by all the politicians’ responses to the question about the teaching of religion in primary schools. All politicians said they had absolutely no problem with the current set up where faith formation takes place during the school day. Joanna Tuffy even went as far to give an example of how in her daughter’s school, some Muslim girls even took part in the Nativity Play. She thought this was an excellent example of inclusion. (Yes, you read that correctly and below is the tweet.)
@simonmlewis they chose to do so and chose the school too for that matter
— Joanna Tuffy (@joannatuffy) January 29, 2016
The clear winner of the hustings was Fianna Fáil’s Charlie McGonagle who was the only one who seemed to have bothered to research his audience. The rest must have either thought they were at an INTO meeting or maybe they just thought they could wing it.
Over the two days, I helped out at the Principalmeet, which was now officially part of the programme this year. Both days were resounding successes and I learned more from both these seminars as I usually do. A few highlights were: tips on behavioural science, starting a chess club (from my former primary school teacher), making over the entrance to a school and social stories on tablets.
Later in the evening was the visit of Enda Kenny. The Fine Gael guy from the 1920s has said that he thought he would have a surprise for us all, which everyone seemed to guess was a date for the General Election. Instead we got the most incoherent speech since Eric Cantona explained why he Kung Fu kicked a Crystal Palace supporter. For the first few minutes, people actually wondered whether it was really Enda Kenny or it was Mario Rosenstock or Oliver Callan.
In the middle of the speech, Kenny even said “I’m your daddy” to us in some rambling tale. He didn’t give an election date and missed a wonderful opportunity to get a few votes from the 1,000 principals there.
Overall, the conference was its usual formula of a great Expo and great networking opportunities. I understand there’s an election coming up, but I think there was too much of a focus on politicians and I’d rather have seen more educationalists or leaders of learning. Hopefully, next year we’ll have more of that and a new Minister for Education who might actually say something.