POD: Return to 1984

This week principals received an email from the people in POD to let us know that due to feedback, they were making a number of changes. I’m not one to waste an opportunity and I think before I get into the changes, that I should remind people that a number of schools took part in a pilot for POD, in which feedback was sought. Interestingly, none of that feedback seemed to have any change to the original concept. But anyway…

The  Department of Education started by thanking us for our “continued participation and engagement in the POD project.” They also said that the Department is “committed to taking on board feedback from schools and parents about POD.” Now, I might be wrong, but I think that should have read something more along the lines of  “The Department is committed to taking on board Simon McGarr’s legal challenges to POD.”

The first few changes seem to be quite minor. Firstly, they are going to use a secure upload facility for data. I’m almost beyond shocked that this wasn’t in place in the first instance. While I know there was a system in place to send the DES encrypted files by email, it was up to individual schools to follow a series of rather complicated steps to do this and there was a high risk that information would be sent via email unencrypted.

The second change is based on the much talked about ethnic background questions. Throughout the pilot programme, the department was told that this seemed very intrusive and potentially controversial. There didn’t really seem to be any reason to input this information either. In any case, the question remains but the options will be worded differently. I’m not really sure if this change is a change.

The third change is based on Learning Support. Again, it’s not really a change only a postponement. Schools don’t have to fill in questions based on Learning Support and Resource Hours. However, it’s only a short postponement as schools will have to fill this information in for the 2015/16 year. My problem with this is that the whole NCSE model is supposed to be changing so all this seems rather a waste of time if it is only going to be used for statistical purposes.

The fourth change is also not a change. The Department states that it has received a number of comments and queries about the retention period for POD data, currently until children reach the age of 30. According to the Department, they are “taking this feedback very seriously.” However, they fall short of saying that they’re going to do anything about it. The only thing is that a circular will be released at the end of the academic year when all the data has already been uploaded.

The fifth change is controversial and can’t possibly be legal. According to the Department, “from the 2016/2017 academic year, it is intended that teacher allocations and capitation grants will be made on the basis of POD data.” In other words, if a parent refuses to fill in information on POD, the school will lose that child’s capitation grant and the enrollment won’t be recognised by the Department of Education. Therefore, schools may be forced to refuse enrollments to families as a result, which I believe is not allowed. This change is nothing short of bullish, or at very best cheeky. To punish schools for something completely out of their control is unacceptable. To top it all off, the Department states that it “will endeavour to work with schools and parents to help avoid the loss of funding or resources.” So, the Department are going to effectively threaten parents that if they don’t fill in POD, the school won’t get funding but they will endevour to help them avoid the very situation they have created!

I’m beginning to feel that the whole POD escapade is becoming more and more like 1984. It’s as if some sort of benevolent system is being set down by a Big Brother using some form of newspeak for and I feel my thoughts are almost considered a thoughtcrime. I really believed that POD was going to be a really good idea and I thought it was going to save me lots of time in my job. The current system is not useful or usable. It’s astounding how they really haven’t taken any feedback on board and are pressing ahead with it no matter what. Right now, not filling in POD will result in having capitation grants cut; perhaps in the future the punishment might be a one way trip to Room 101.

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