27 January, 2020 – Speech by Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills at the IPPN Conference, 24 January 2020

Introduction

First, I would like to pass on the regrets of the Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh as he is unable to attend the conference this year for obvious reasons. He was delighted to attend the Deputy Principal conference in November where he got the opportunity to listen to speakers and meet some of you. 

I would like to particularly take this opportunity to congratulate the IPPN on reaching the significant milestone of your 20th anniversary. 

I would like to give a special mention to your founding President, Mr. Jim Hayes and your first National Director Mr. Sean Cottrell. Sean served you so well over many years and successfully led the establishment and growth of the IPPN. 

In recognising this particular anniversary I would like to thank successive Presidents and Directors down the years for your dedication and constructive manner in which you have worked with the Department for the advancement of Irish primary education. 

I also want to thank you; your current President Damian White, Deputy President, Brian O’Doherty and your CEO Páiric Clerkin for your invitation to address this Conference today. 

The IPPN has since your foundation played a significant and important role in developing leadership in our primary schools and has successfully represented the views of Deputy Principals and Principals within the wider education community and in engagements with the Department. The representation goes beyond this to engaging actively on proposals for change and supporting the implementation of change. 

The IPPN is recognised within the education community and by the Department as an important and valued partner. 

I note with great interest the theme of your conference ‘back to the future 2020 vision’ and pause to consider how much has been achieved and can be achieved by working in a collaborative way. 

In my speech today I want to take the opportunity to update you on developments in primary education and highlight how we are working together for the education of the children in our schools. 

Primary Education Forum

Across the Department we have been seeking to listen to what you were saying about the work we have underway within the sector, and how these impact on pupils and teachers in classrooms. 

We established the Primary Education Forum to facilitate the exchange of information between the Department, agencies, teachers, school leaders and managers. The aim of this approach is to support the planning and sequencing of change in schools and to look for opportunities for schools to streamline implementation and address workload issues. It follows feedback on the experience of implementing the Action Plan for Education, the Department’s high-level work programme. The work of Forum is consistent with the sort of approach proposed by Dr. Karen Edge that you heard yesterday and we will be happy to work with IPPN on next steps arising from this. 

We have actively responded to this feedback. For example, as a result of the Primary Education Forum, changes were made to two planned reforms around the Primary Maths Curriculum and implementation of certain provisions of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018.

A similar partnership approach has been adopted to examine the issue of small schools through collaboration with the Primary Education Forum. 

The work now underway seeks to build on this in a sustainable way by continuing to engage with yourselves as the key partners and the Department’s Small Schools Steering Group to develop proposals to support and sustain small schools. 

We are at the early stages of the work of the Forum and we are all seeking to ensure that it adds value. It has the potential to impact in a positive way on how we all work together. 

Teacher Supply

The Department is very aware that many of you, as school leaders, continue to experience difficulties in teacher supply and, in particular, in recruiting substitute teachers. 

We have undertaken a lot of work and a lot of consultation in this area. The Teacher Supply Action Plan sets out a range of measures across various policy areas to assist in addressing our challenges. An updated plan is currently being drafted and consultation is ongoing with key stake holders. 

The successful implementation of the Action Plan is not for the Department alone; it requires cooperation and innovative approaches by all stakeholders. 

In that context it is very pleasing to note that “Sub Seeker”, the substitute teacher recruitment portal developed by IPPN in cooperation with NAPD, recently went live. 

I must commend the IPPN for taking this initiative with NAPD; it is an excellent example of cooperation between stakeholders to provide an innovative solution to a shared problem. 

The Department also in recent months introduced supply panels for sub teachers on a pilot basis. I would like to thank all of the school leaders involved in getting these started. 

Initial feedback is that these are operating well and they will be reviewed shortly in order to confirm next steps with supply panels. In the meantime, the Department continues to work on teacher supply issues to help to address difficulties in this area. 

Centre for School Leadership (CSL)

Another great example of past and continuing collaboration is the decision to establish a Centre for School Leadership on a partnership basis between the IPPN/NAPD and the Department. 

A key focus for all of us in recent years has been to build the professional practice of teachers with a focus on collaboration and supporting school leaders.  It is encouraging to note that since the establishment of the Centre for School Leadership 563 school leaders have accessed the coaching service and 100 schools are participating in team coaching. 

The most recent development in this partnership is the publication of a shared learning calendar which provides all school leaders with access to professional learning provision in Leadership across the system from a range of stakeholders. 

Wellbeing in Education

The promotion of wellbeing for all of our children and young people is central to the Department’s mission to enable our young people to achieve their full potential and be the best they can be.  We all place a very high priority on wellbeing promotion and it is increasingly an issue across Irish society. 

The Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice was first published in 2018, with an aim that all schools and centres for education will have initiated a School Self-Evaluation Wellbeing Promotion Process by 2023. 

We continue to be fortunate to have schools already doing so much to equip children and young people with the knowledge, skills and competencies to enhance their wellbeing and deal with challenges. 

The IPPN has long recognised the role school leaders have in developing caring, nurturing, environments where children can thrive and achieve. This is key in supporting the wellbeing of students in our schools. I would like to acknowledge the continued commitment of the IPPN in the area of student wellbeing. 

Just as important are wellbeing supports available to school staff. In September 2019, the Teaching Council in collaboration with the Department, Management Bodies and Teacher Unions launched a campaign promoting teacher wellbeing in schools. This campaign included a “Take Care of You” poster for schools and an ezine message which included testimonials from teachers.

The Department has also established the Health and Wellbeing Expert Advisory Group to advise on the range of supports available to staff to support positive occupational health and wellbeing. 

The Inspectorate and NEPS welcomed a recent opportunity they had to meet with IPPN and other partners involved in the Wellbeing for Teachers Group and exchange information and views about this important topic. 

Primary Curriculum and Irish Exemptions

Since the introduction of the Primary Curriculum in 1999, Irish society has seen significant changes and as an example there are now over 200 languages being spoken in Ireland. We all recognise the need to acknowledge this change within our primary schools. 

The Department has tasked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) with reviewing and redeveloping the primary school curriculum. 

The framework will issue for public consultation in the coming weeks. In addition to the public consultation there will be ongoing consultation with our partners and key stakeholders which I am sure that the IPPN will be actively involved in. 

Exemptions from the Study of Irish

In line with commitments in the Action Plan for Education and in the 20 year strategy for the Irish language, and following a public consultation, revised circulars were published setting out new criteria under which an exemption from the study of Irish may now be considered.

These new circulars are based on the needs of the child rather than on the diagnosis of a particular disability. They place the child at the centre of the learning, providing clarity and removing the ambiguity which previously existed. 

Irish medium education & Gaeltacht School Recognition Scheme

Mar chuid den Straitéis don Ghaeilge freisin, tá an Roinn seo tiomanta go gcruthófar deiseanna chun an oideachas lán-Ghaeilge lasmuigh den Ghaeltacht a leathnú i gcomhthéacs na scoileanna nua a bhunófar idir 2019 agus 2022. Tá 28 bunscoil nua a bhunú sna blianta seo chun freastal ar fhás déimeagrafach. 

Chomh maith leis sin, tá pleananna fógartha againn chun polasaí nua don oideachas lán-Ghaeilge a fhorbairt. Cuirfidh an polasaí nua seo creat ar fáil chun oideachas trí mheán na Gaeilge ar ardchaighdeán a sholáthar i scoileanna agus i suímh luathbhlianta lasmuigh den Ghaeltacht.

Ba mhian liom freisin tagairt a dhéanamh don Scéim Aitheantais Scoileanna Gaeltachta a bhfuil sé mar aidhm aici caighdeán an oideachais trí Ghaeilge a neartú sa Ghaeltacht agus úsáid na Gaeilge a leathnú i bpobail scoile Ghaeltachta. 

Digital Strategy for Schools

The Department’s current policy for the effective use of digital technologies in teaching and learning is set out in the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 which is currently being implemented. 

The Strategy promotes the embedding of digital technologies in all classroom and school activity so that the use of digital technology becomes a seamless part of the whole education experience, including all aspects of teacher education and continuous professional development. Further ICT grants to support schools in implementing the strategy were announced in recent weeks. 

DEIS Programme

Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools or DEIS as it is more commonly referred to, is the Government’s main policy initiative aimed at tackling educational disadvantage in primary and post primary schools so as to maximise the chances of every child getting the best possible opportunity to fulfil his or her potential in life. 

Work is continuing on the implementation of the various actions under DEIS Plan with a focus on targeting extra resources as closely as possible at those students with the greatest level of need. 

Evaluations of DEIS to date have shown improvements in literacy and numeracy rates, retention to leaving certificate and attendance. The findings from national and international studies are very positive about the improvements in outcomes for disadvantaged students in reading, mathematics and science and indicate that as a society we are doing relatively well internationally on limiting the extent of the difference in performance of disadvantaged students from their peers. While we all need to keep working on this, these findings are encouraging and reflect the work that you lead in our schools. 

Special Education 

By now most schools are advanced in working though the challenges of adapting to the new model for allocating special education teachers to schools. Schools are now resourced on the basis of their profiled needs, as opposed to requiring the diagnosis of individual children. This approach enables the provision of additional teaching supports to be linked to learning needs in schools. 

Also currently underway is a pilot of a School Inclusion Model which is intended to provide a new integrated education and health service model for supporting students with additional care needs, including therapy, behavioural, and other supports, as well as SNA support.

In this context a new model for allocating Special Needs Assistants to schools for students in mainstream classes is also being implemented effective from the 2020/21 school year. This will support the phased roll out of the School Inclusion Model. 

Planning is underway to support the implementation of the new model for mainstream classes. The planned roll out of the new model from next September was noted at the Primary Education Forum in December. Work is underway as well on the development of guidance and information for schools and parents. The Department will be consulting stakeholders in early February on the implementation of the new model and we look forward to working with the IPPN on this. 

The National Council for Special Education is also currently conducting a review of special school and special class educational provision to be finalised by Summer 2020. We have not made any policy decisions on this and we will need to reflect on this advice when we receive it. The extent of new classes being opened in recent years shows the willingness of schools to open special classes and while challenges remain, significant progress has been made with 167 new special classes opening for this school year. 

It is the strong preference of all of us that schools engage with this challenge on a voluntary basis because it is the right thing for the children in their community. We are seeking to support schools in doing so, while being conscious that the Minister does have powers to address situations where there is a lack of places available. I look forward to working together on how we can all improve on existing implementation arrangements. 

Education (Admission to Schools) Act, 2018

As you will know the Minister recently commenced further provisions of the Admissions to School act which will require schools to draft new school admission policies following consultation with parents, staff and Patrons.

The new framework for school enrolment is designed to ensure that every child is treated fairly and that the way in which schools decide on applications for admission is structured, fair and transparent. The Department are preparing useful templates and FAQs to assist schools in this work. 

Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 

The Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019 was published in September and while the Bill had completed consideration by Seanad Éireann in December further progress must await the formation of a new Government. 

Climate Action – (Education for Sustainable Development)  

Under the Department’s Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development, climate action has been integrated right across the primary and post-primary curriculum and into Initial Teacher Education, teacher CPD and both the assessment and inspection processes. 

A range of bodies and organisations are working to deliver the strategy and Global Citizenship Education in our schools such as Green Schools, Worldwise Global Schools, Blue Flag Schools, the UN Flag project, EPA, Concern and many more. 

The Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development runs until the end of this year and the Department will be consulting widely on the follow up to the current strategy and we know that you will participate actively in this process and help us to identify and prioritise areas for further action in this area together with innovative solutions which will set the roadmap towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

School Transport

The Minister announced in October a review of the School Transport Scheme  as it currently operates with a view to ensuring funds are being spent in the most effective way  to meet the objectives of the scheme.  Terms of reference and the scope of the review are being finalised and it is anticipated that a cross-departmental steering group led by the Department will be established shortly to oversee the review.

School funding / capitation

In acknowledging the challenges faced by schools in relation to funding, recent budgets have begun to restore the funding that was reduced during the financial crisis, including capitation, and middle management posts. The recent Budget was subject to the uncertainty arising from Brexit and we would all have wished to have had the opportunity to do more.

We have been listening closely to your priorities for investment and recent budgets have reflected that consideration. We are still listening to your priorities, including additional release days for teaching principals and will reflect on these in the planning for future investment.

Changeover of boards of management in primary schools

Before I conclude I would like to thank the IPPN for their positive contribution in relation to reviewing and updating of the Governance Manual for primary schools which helped with the recent smooth transition of new Boards of Management starting out on their four year term of office. 

Conclusion

I hope you enjoy the remainder of your conference and in keeping with the theme of the conference, the Department looks forward to many more years of collaborating with the IPPN as a key Partner in education.

May there be many more anniversaries to come.