15 October, 2015 - Address by Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan, TD, at the NAPD Conference

Check Against Delivery

Introduction

Good afternoon.

I’m delighted to be back here again to join you for your 16th annual conference.

I’m particularly glad to be here two days after the Budget - a Budget that saw renewed investment in our schools for the first time in recent years.

This being a conference of school leaders, I want to focus today on how we are supporting school leaders.

I also want to mention the additional support provided to schools as part of the Budget.

But to begin with, I want to talk about two areas of reform that I believe can transform teaching and learning in Ireland - the new digital strategy for schools, and reform of junior cycle.

Digital Strategy

The publication of a new digital strategy for schools was a central commitment in our Programme for Government.  

I was delighted to launch the strategy last week.

A lot of research went into developing the strategy, including consultation with all stakeholders in education.

We will consult closely with the NAPD regarding implementation of the Strategy, and I want to thank you for your support in developing this strategy.

The Digital Strategy for Schools sets out our vision for the integration of digital technology into teaching, learning and assessment over the next 5 years. 

€210m will be spent over the lifetime of the strategy - the largest investment in technology in schools that has ever been delivered.

But this isn’t just about putting computers in classrooms - it’s a detailed plan to use technology to improve the quality of the education we provide to children and young people.

The strategy contains 36 detailed actions.

I don’t intend to list them all here today, but there are a couple of key areas I want to highlight.

For example, we have committed to providing training to teachers, so they can exploit digital learning for their students across all areas of the curriculum.

We will also provide a suite of high-quality digital content to use in schools.

The use of ePortfolios, by both teachers and students, to capture and celebrate learning in our classrooms will be promoted under the strategy. 

The use of technology to support teaching, learning and assessment will be embedded at each stage of teacher education, from initial training through to induction and CPD.

One of my particular priorities was to see a detailed course on ICT for the Leaving Cert developed.

And so I’m very pleased that one of the actions is for the NCCA to advise me on options for this.    

This advice will address how digital skills can be developed and assessed, as well as how to embed digital skills within other subjects.

As you can see, this strategy is about much more than money.  

But I know that money matters too!

Over the last few years, we have put high-speed broadband in place for all for post-primary schools. 

As part of the budget earlier this week, I confirmed that we will spend €9m next year making sure that schools don’t have to pay for that broadband.

Under this Strategy, we will improve the access to high-speed broadband for primary schools.

And we will help all schools to develop high-speed WI-FI networks so that digital learning can flow across the school.

€30m will be provided to schools in the next school year, rising to €50m a year towards the end of the strategy.

As I have already noted, this is the largest ever investment in digital schools.

This will allow schools to make sure they have the right hardware in place.

And give schools the freedom to decide what their own priorities for investment are.

I’ve spoken about the digital strategy today because I genuinely believe it has the potential to transform the quality of teaching, learning and assessment experienced by our students.

For it to succeed, everyone must play their own role - teachers, teacher educators, management bodies and school leaders must all be involved.

The leadership of Principals and Deputy Principals will be instrumental in ensuring that ICT integration is achieved.

It was a delight to launch the strategy in Mercy Secondary School, Inchicore last week.

What I saw in action was a school that has already embraced the potential of technology.

I saw students working together in small teams, focussed on collaborative projects, and on communicating their findings clearly.

That’s exactly the type of engaged learning that every young person should experience.

I believe that the Digital Strategy will help achieve that.

So too, will reform of Junior Cycle.

Junior Cycle Reform

I am very grateful for the level of support NAPD has provided in relation to these reforms. 

We are all aware of the results from the ballots of members carried out by TUI and ASTI in relation to Junior Cycle reform. 

For decades now, it has been widely known that reform of junior cycle is necessary.  

We know that the current system doesn’t serve our young people the way it should, notwithstanding examples of excellent practice that exist across schools such as Mercy Secondary which impressed me so much last week.  

We know that we can, and must, do better for our young people.

Upon taking office, I made clear that the core principles of Junior Cycle reform had to be protected, but that I was willing to negotiate with the unions and the other education stakeholders, including NAPD, on how reform should be implemented.  

Over the last 15 months, I have met with the leadership of the ASTI and TUI on many occasions.  

I have also met with all of the other partners in the education system, and have listened with interest as a variety of possible solutions to end the dispute and introduce a reformed junior cycle were raised.

I have been prepared to compromise and have sought the same from other parties.

This is how agreement is reached.

But I have also made clear that I would not countenance any compromise that would prevent us from delivering the changes that our students need and deserve.

In May, I reached an agreement with the unions on the shape of the reforms – an agreement that was endorsed by school leaders, management bodies, parents, and of course students.

In July, we reached full agreement on the resources necessary to implement Junior Cycle reform.

I gave a clear commitment to make a substantial investment in teacher time and professional development for teachers to implement these reforms.

And in the Budget this week, I delivered on that commitment - the budget to support junior cycle reform will increase by €8m next year.

I welcome the strong endorsement for the agreed programme for reform by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland.

But it is a real shame that the ASTI membership did not accept the reform proposals.

That said, I am determined to push ahead with the implementation of the new Junior Cycle.

I have repeatedly made clear that my actions will always be guided first and foremost by the needs of our students.

The ASTI is conducting a process of consultation with members with the intention of engaging with the Department to seek clarification on issues relating to Junior Cycle reform.

I have no intention of revisiting the already agreed framework, but I will respond to the ASTI and provide clarification on any issues that arise.

In the meantime, a comprehensive professional development programme to support Junior Cycle is being rolled out. 

This includes seminars for school leaders, whole-school CPD, subject-specific seminars, teacher-led CPD and school visits. 

The programme is also supported by high-quality on-line resources. 

This means that teachers are being provided with all the resources and supports necessary to ensure that their students have a successful experience with the new Junior Cycle.

A determined but pragmatic approach has been adopted to phasing the training of teachers so that ASTI teachers are scheduled for CPD later in the programme of training. 

This will provide a few weeks for any outstanding clarifications to transact.

I am confident that the Junior Cycle Reform will be progressed with all parties fully involved. 

All students in first year and second year throughout the country are currently following the new Junior Cycle curriculum for English.

It is unfortunate that in the long negotiation on junior cycle reform that their voice has often been lost in the debate. 

Their interests will continue be to the forefront of my thinking over the coming weeks.

Valuing school leadership

Reforming teaching and learning in our schools is clearly a priority for me.

But I am acutely aware that real school improvement only happens when we have strong school leaders in place.

Since I spoke to you last year, we have made some real and meaningful progress in supporting school leadership, and I want to take the time to reflect on some of those changes today.

For many years now, NAPD has argued for the State to recognise the need to support school leaders.

At your conference last year, I mentioned that agreement was close to being reached with the NAPD on how we could share expertise amongst school leaders.

And that agreement has now come to fruition through the establishment of the Centre for School Leadership.

It gives me particular pleasure to congratulate your President Mary Nihill on her recent appointment as Director of the Centre.

I also want to congratulate Máire Ní Bhróithe and Anna Mai Rooney who have also been appointed Deputy Directors.

The establishment of the centre was achieved after long engagement with both NAPD and IPPN.

Our decision to establish the Centre on a partnership basis presents a unique opportunity to develop the supports needed and identified with the help of your members.

And I think it also demonstrates the important role played by the NAPD on the educational landscape.

The new Centre for School Leadership, located in Clare Education Centre, has been established for an initial 3 year pilot basis. 

At the end of this period, we will review the progress that has been made, and see how we can further build supports for school leaders.

In recognition of the importance of the State sharing responsibility in this area, I have committed to an investment of €3m for this pilot.

The Centre will coordinate and develop school leadership programmes and supports for school leaders, whether they are aspiring, newly appointed or serving principals. 

In particular, it will help ensure that school leaders have access to quality training programmes and supports from a range of providers, to meet their needs and circumstances.

The Centre will progress a new post graduate qualification for aspiring school leaders, a mentoring programme for newly appointed school principals, and coaching support for serving principals who experience professional difficulty.

Mary and her team will also be reviewing leadership programmes, and bringing them into line with the high standards we must expect of school leaders, as well as developing a quality assurance framework for leadership provision.

She has a lot of work to do.  But her background in the NAPD should serve her well!

Self-evaluation of school leadership

One further area where school leaders need our support, is in evaluating the management and leadership capacities of their schools.

School self-evaluation was formally introduced in primary and post-primary schools in Ireland in 2012. 

We published School Self-Evaluation Guidelines in that year, to support schools’ engagement in SSE, with a focus on teaching and learning. 

The 2012 Guidelines referred to other dimensions of school provision that would over time become areas of focus for self-evaluation. 

The second dimension referred to was management and leadership.

We will soon publish a new set of SSE guidelines, setting out a draft quality framework for management and leadership. 

The Inspectorate will consult closely with NAPD and all of the education partners to ensure that we get this framework right.

Teaching and learning constitutes the core work of every school, and teachers continually strive to provide the best possible learning experiences for their students. 

Teaching and learning will therefore always remain the central focus of whole-school engagement in the SSE process. 

However, research evidence is clear - effective school leadership has an impact on students’ learning experiences second only to good-quality teaching. 

And so now is the right time to make sure that school leaders are considering the management and leadership of your schools, alongside planning for improvements to teaching and learning.

Deputy Principals

It is easy to talk about the need to improve school leadership, or to better support school leaders.

With the Centre for School Leadership, and the next phase of School Self-Evaluation, we are moving beyond talk.

We are providing the types of supports that will allow school leaders to develop, and to reflect on how you can develop further.

But even with these pieces of work done, there was still one further area where we needed to move from talk to action.

We needed to improve the management staffing of our schools.

Last year, I heard your message loud and clear.

The workload burden on principals is too high, the pressure immense, and too many principals feel like the entire burden of leadership and management falls on their shoulders.

Your concerns were fully shared by the management bodies. 

The JMB and ACCS put forward proposals on changes to management structures, and the ETBI has supported this work.

Over the last few months, we’ve spent a lot of time refining those proposals, and debating which areas were the priorities for investment.

In the end, we concluded that providing the resources to allow deputy principals in schools with less than 500 pupils, to be freed up from class time, needed to be the top priority.

I took this prioritisation, and made it one of my key priorities during the budgetary process. 

And we have delivered.

The allocation of the equivalent of 250 additional posts will benefit 374 schools.  

I see this as a first step in strengthening the supports for school leaders.  

We have already identified further need to improve the position of larger schools through the allocation of a 2nd or 3rd Deputy.

And we have agreed that there is a need to look at the structure of middle-management posts more broadly - to look at how Assistant Principals can operate as a real part of leadership teams in schools.

We didn’t complete this work in this budget. But we did make a good start.

And continuing economic growth, combined with responsible and stable Government, can make sure we finish the job.

Budget 2016

I have now spoken about the investment in leadership supports delivered as part of the Budget announced on Tuesday.

And I have mentioned the funding being provided to reform junior cycle, and for implementation of the new digital strategy.

But there were other areas of renewed investment in education contained in the Budget, that I also want to mention today.

Last year, we secured the first increase to the education budget over recent years.

An increased investment of €60m allowed us to provide the teachers and capitation necessary to support the growing number of students in our schools.

And it allowed us to progress reforms such as junior cycle reform, or the implementation of the successful literacy and numeracy strategy.

But it didn’t allow us to do much more than that.

This year, as our economy has continued to recover, we saw greater investment in vital public services.

In other Departments, this has allowed for an expansion of the free-preschool year, along with welcome supports for children with special needs in pre-school settings.

The provision of free GP care to all children under 12 is hugely important, and I look forward to further developments in that area over the next few years.

And in education, beginning to reduce class sizes in primary schools is a step I was delighted to be able to take.

In your sector, I have provided 300 extra teachers to support guidance counselling in schools.

The pupil-teacher ratio is being reduced from 19 to 1, to 18.7 to 1 in most schools.

The same improvement for DEIS schools will see the pupil-teacher ratio reduced to 17.95 to 1.

Making the change in this way will allow each school to decide how best to allocate the additional resources to make sure they meet the guidance needs of the school.

I also announced on Tuesday that a summer works scheme will operate in 2016 and 2017, with a fund of €80m available over the two years.

We will be inviting applications from schools in November for this scheme.

And I have ring-fenced an additional investment of over €10m to expand the apprenticeship opportunities available to our young people.

I plan to roll-out 25 new types of apprenticeships during 2016, in areas such as financial services, ICT and hospitality.

Next year, over 4,000 young people will begin apprenticeships, compared to just 1,200 three years ago.

In total, we will see an additional investment of €144m in education next year, and we will increase the number of teachers in our schools by 2,260 - a remarkable increase in just one year.

Conclusion

It is a real pleasure to be here with you in Galway today.

We have come through a remarkable and traumatic period over recent years.

The education budget shrank for a number of years, even while the number of children and young people in education increased.

But our schools stayed open, and implemented substantial changes even during these years.

A literacy and numeracy strategy that has delivered the first improvements to reading a maths in a generation has been rolled out.

Reform of junior cycle is underway.  Schools are evaluating yourselves in a systematic way.

And all of this was done even while you provided young people with respite from the economic storm that raged through so many homes.

All of this is a testament to the quality of school leaders in Ireland.

You are exceptional people, who display commitment and passion every day.

It’s a relief to me, just as it is to all of you, that our crisis period is fading.

And that we can begin to turn ourselves towards a growing renewal of investment in education.

I look forward to continuing to work with you to plan for that renewal.

Thank you.

ENDS