06 March, 2020 – Speech by Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills at the ACCS Conference, 6th March 2020

Introduction

First, I would like to pass on the regrets of the Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, T.D. as he is unable to attend the conference this year. 

I want to thank you; your President Mr. Paul Fiorentini, Vice President James Duigan, and your General Secretary, Mr. John Irwin, and Assistant General Secretary Áine O’Sullivan, for your invitation to address this Convention. I would particularly like to congratulate Paul for his re-election as President for a third year and wish him and James the best in their respective roles for the coming year.  

I want to take a moment to mention the coronavirus and the challenge it poses for us all. We are very much guided by the HSE as to the best course of action to take in limiting the spread of the virus and I would advise all schools to be vigilant in following this advice locally. I am also aware that the Department of Foreign Affairs provides regular updates in relation to foreign travel and schools should actively check this advice before planning trips abroad. The Department will monitor the situation closely and provide help where necessary. 

I would like take this opportunity to acknowledge the important role played by the ACCS as a Partner in education, and to also acknowledge your ongoing constructive engagement with the Department and valued contributions on proposals for change and supporting the implementation of change.   

We value very much the role of community and comprehensive schools in Irish education and the innovative approaches that you foster and disseminate. 

I would especially like to thank the ACCS for your dedicated and valuable work in supporting community and comprehensive schools in their everyday activities and in helping to implement change for the future for the benefit of all of our learners. 

I take note of the theme of your conference this year ‘Promoting quality in education’ and in my speech today I want to take the opportunity to update you on developments in post-primary education which contribute significantly to promoting quality in education. Comprehensive and community schools were founded from the 1970s onwards to offer a broadly balanced curriculum to young people of all abilities and dispositions, and your schools have a proud tradition of innovative practice. 

By working together we can focus on the qualitative aspects of change rather than change for change sake. This approach will help to better prepare our current and future learners for a fast changing world. 

Ancillary Staffing C&C Sector and School Funding

The Department is aware of your concerns about the impact of the recruitment moratorium on secretary and caretaker posts in your schools and acknowledge the need to improve these arrangements.

Alleviation measures were put in place which permitted schools to fill clerical officer and caretaker vacancies on a limited basis. In 2019 additional measures allowed schools with enrolments of 700 or more to employ two clerical officers. 

Budget 2020 enabled schools with enrolments of 700 or more and to fill caretaker vacancies provided they have fewer than two caretakers, while also introducing further alleviation measures that relaxed the moratorium in the case of clerical officers in schools with enrolments of 500 or more.

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. 

Paul, John and Áine have been, and continue to be, very clear with us about your priorities for investment. We have been listening closely to them and recent budgets have reflected that consideration. We are still listening to your priorities, including the lifting of the recruitment moratorium on secretary and caretaker posts. 

I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the collaborative work between the ACCS and the Financial Services Support Unit in preparing standardised national templates for annual school accounts which will support schools in ensuring good financial governance. We know that this is a developing relationship and are very confident that there will be many benefits for you all as your work together advances. 

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.

The findings from national and international studies are very positive about the improvements in outcomes for disadvantaged students. Evaluations of DEIS at post primary shows a narrowing of the gap between DEIS and non-DEIS post-primary schools both interms of performance at Junior Certificate level and retention to Leaving Certificate and attendance.  It also shows a rise in the percentage of students in DEIS schools taking English and Mathematics at higher level. 

These findings 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 good work that is carried out in our schools. 

Further data analysis on the new DEIS identification model is at an advanced stage with briefing of education partners, to be led by Educational Research Centre, getting underway this month. The full application of the identification model will allow for the development of a resource allocation model to ultimately match resources to identified need. 

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 of students. 

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 planned for implementation from the 2020/21 school year. This model is based on the school profile methodology used in the special education teacher model. This will support the phased roll out of the School Inclusion Model. 

Concerns have been expressed by the ACCS and others to senior officials within the Department. These concerns centre on issues such as clearer guidance which recognises the need for coordination time, support for decision-makers and a fit-for-purpose appeals system. 

The Department takes these issues seriously and recognises they stem from genuine concerns felt in schools and a desire to ensure that the new allocation model works. 

The Department is coming towards the end of a series of bilateral meetings with stakeholders on this matter. It will then reflect on the points made and write to all education partners. 

The National Council for Special Education is also developing policy advice on special school and special class educational provision and this is expected 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 for children with special educational needs being opened in recent years shows the willingness of schools to play their part. There are now 449 are post primary special classes which includes 55 new special classes opening during this school year. 

It is the strong preference of all 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 available places. 

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 teachers of STEM, languages, and Home Economics, as well as 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 continues to involve cooperation and innovative approaches by all stakeholders. 

In that context it is very pleasing to note that “Sub Seeker”, the substitute teacher recruitment portal jointly developed by NAPD and the IPPN, recently went live. It is an excellent example of cooperation between stakeholders to provide an innovative solution to a shared problem. 

The Department also published details of a new teacher sharing scheme for post-primary schools which can help to overcome challenges in sourcing teachers for particular subjects. I would encourage you all to avail of the opportunities these arrangements can offer if given a chance to work. We are working with you to see if can look at different ways to achieve the same outcome. 

Other measures include upskilling existing post primary teachers in Mathematics, Physics and Spanish; The use of digital technology to interview applicants and a national campaign to promote the teaching profession. The Turas abhaile work that the ACCS undertook in the summer was very helpful in bringing over 40 teachers home to full-time jobs and I would particularly like to thank John and the team for your innovative work on this. The Department will continue to work on teacher supply issues to help address difficulties in this area. 

Distributive Leadership

The recently agreed approach to leadership and management in post-primary Schools, which the ACCS has a lead role in developing, paved the way for the implementation of a distributed leadership model and the restoration of 1,300 posts of responsibility across the post primary sector. 

Amongst the most important changes was greater flexibility in the assignment and re-assignment of roles and responsibilities to assistant principals. This has afford school management greater flexibility to respond to the individual needs and priorities of their school. 

Centre for School Leadership

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, 180 post primary school leaders have accessed the coaching service and 36 schools are participating in team coaching.

A postgraduate diploma in school leadership has also been introduced supporting over 370 school leaders with retention rates well above normal averages.  

The most recent development is the publication of a shared calendar which provides principals and deputies principals with access to professional learning provision in leadership from a range of stakeholders. The calendar now includes all ACCS CPD events and this is an excellent example of working in a collaborative way to achieve a common purpose.

 The centre for School Leadership has also recently developed a Model of Professional Learning for Leadership which endorses programmes for leadership across the system. Of the five leadership programmes that have been endorsed to date, one such programme is the ACCS Middle Leaders Programme. We are very aware that this is being rolled out across all of your schools and led by Áine. It is great that the programme is leading to schools working together in this important area and that the key focus is on learning in the classroom. 

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. The Department has placed a very high priority on wellbeing promotion and has set a target that all schools and centres for education will have initiated a School Self-Evaluation Wellbeing Promotion Process by 2023. 

Schools play an important role in developing caring, nurturing, environments where young people can thrive and achieve. This is key in supporting the wellbeing of students in our schools. 

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

Since the Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice was first published in 2018, significant work has taken place to realise the vision set out in the policy, encompassing the existing, ongoing and developing work in the area of wellbeing in education. 

Just as important are wellbeing supports available to school staff.

 In September 2019, the Department welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with the ACCS and other partners in the Teaching Council’s teacher wellbeing promotion campaign.  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.      

Curriculum Development

A feature of policy in the area of curriculum provision in recent years has been the greater flexibility and autonomy afforded schools in curriculum provision and the opportunity to become directly involved in curriculum development and the development of curriculum choices themselves.

A strong example of this approach is the Framework for Junior Cycle which provides schools with greater autonomy in developing junior cycle programmes that combine subjects, short courses and other areas of learning in more flexible programmes designed to meet the needs of their students. 

As part of the Framework for Junior Cycle, the NCCA is currently carrying out early insights reviews into the first subjects to have been introduced under that framework: English, Business Studies and Science, with reports on these reviews to be issued shortly. In addition, the NCCA is to commence similar reviews of the early enactment of Junior Cycle Irish, modern languages (French, German, Spanish and Italian) and Visual Art. 

As well as these reviews, the NCCA is in the process of commissioning a multi-dimensional study of the impact of the changes made as a result of the introduction of the Framework for Junior Cycle. 

Following the Minister’s decision last year to accord History special core status within the Framework for Junior Cycle and following the NCCA’s advice, the Minister has decided that from September 2020, all schools will be required to offer History as a subject. Furthermore all students entering first year at that time will be required to study History as part of the curriculum. 

Students will follow the existing junior cycle History specification, which is of a minimum of 200 hours’ duration and will be assessed at a common level.  In the case of certain students with special educational needs the NCCA has been asked to develop a short course in History to address the needs of these students, to be available from September 2021. 

You will be aware of detailed discussions that this Department has held over the past number of weeks with representatives of the management bodies and teacher unions in relation to arrangements for the holding of Junior Cycle Subject Learning and Assessment Review meetings. I would like to express my thanks to the ACCS representatives for the constructive manner of their engagement in this process. I don’t believe that there are any teachers or representative organisations who want a situation where the complete SLAR process is not fully implemented in schools for the benefit of students. I believe that we all need to keep working together to ensure that this will be the case.  

In late 2016, the NCCA commenced an extensive review of senior cycle programmes and vocational pathways, to include Transition Year, Leaving Certificate Applied, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme and the Leaving Certificate Established. 

The review will be informed in part by lessons emerging from implementation of the new Framework for Junior Cycle. The review is focusing on the purpose of senior cycle education and pathways, programmes and flexibility. 

The NCCA is finalising an advisory report which will look at priority areas, longer-term goals and a proposed timeline and advice on the pace and scale of developments in senior cycle. The report is due to be submitted to the Department later this year. 

Irish medium education & Gaeltacht School Recognition Scheme 

Also as part of the Irish Language 20-Year Strategy, this Department has committed to creating opportunities for expanding Irish-medium education outside the Gaeltacht in the context of the establishment of 45 new schools from 2019 to 2022 to meet demographic needs. 

As you are no doubt aware, since the introduction of the revised arrangements for the establishment of schools in 2011, three new Gaelcholáistí have been established as well as four Aonaid. A further new Gaelcholáiste is due to be established in Maynooth this year. 

We have also announced plans to develop a new policy for Irish-medium education. This new policy will provide a framework for the delivery of high quality Irish-medium education in Irish-medium schools and early-years settings outside the Gaeltacht

I would also like to refer to the Gaeltacht School Recognition Scheme which aims to strengthen the quality of Irish-medium education in the Gaeltacht and extend the use of Irish in Gaeltacht school communities.

Amongst the developments contained in the scheme are new Irish medium teacher education programmes and an e-hub pilot project which facilitates Gaeltacht students to study Leaving Certificate physics through the medium of Irish. 

Translated as

Chomh maith le sin, agus mar chuid den Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge, tá an Roinn seo tiomanta go gcruthófar deiseanna chun an oideachas lán-Ghaeilge lasmuigh den Ghaeltacht a leathnú i gcomhthéacs na 45 scoileanna nua a bhunófar idir 2019 agus 2022 chun freastal ar riachtanais déimeagrafach. 

Ó tugadh isteach na socruithe leasaithe do scoileanna a bhunú in 2011, níl amhras ar bith ann ach go bhfuil tú ar an eolas gur bunaíodh trí Ghaelcholáiste agus ceithre Aonaid nua.  Tá sé i gceist Gaelcholáiste eile a bhunú i Maigh Nuad i mbliana. 

Tá pleananna fógartha againn freisin 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.

Mar chuid de na forbairtí eile atá faoin bPolasaí Gaeltachta, tá cláir oideachais mhúinteoirí trí mheán na Gaeilge agus tionscadal píolótach ríomh-Mhoil a thugann deis do scoláirí Gaeltachta an Fhisic Ardteistiméireachta trí Ghaeilge a dhéanamh. 

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 and under the Schools Broadband Access Scheme the Department will continue to fund the provision of broadband services to schools and upgrade services to existing schools as the opportunity arises. 

Further Education Training

The fostering of active inclusion has been a core priority of the further education and training Sector since the publication of the first dtrategy in 2014 and will continue through the second Further Education Strategy, 2020 -2024. 

The second strategy will outline how further education and training will provide pathways for a diverse group of learners, and will support societal participation and strong communities through a more targeted approach to addressing barriers around participation, completion and progression for marginalised and priority cohorts. 

SOLAS has also recently completed a review on pathways to participation in apprenticeships for the purpose of ensuring that our national apprenticeship system is more reflective of the range and diversity of our population, and that apprenticeship opportunities are more readily accessible to all.  

The 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 has prepared useful templates and FAQs to assist schools in the drafting of their admission policies before the end of April. 

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.

Conclusion

I hope you have had an enjoyable and fruitful conference and the Department looks forward to working with the ACCS over the coming year in progressing many important education matters.