Current Issues in Irish Primary Education, Plus Teaching Jargon and Acronyms Explained!

There is so much information for teachers out there at the moment and it seems that new policies, circulars, CPD, and changes are coming out every week. It is extremely difficult to keep up to date with it all, so this post will give a very brief overview of some the main ideas, policies, current issues, jargon and acronyms being used in Irish primary education at the moment. I hope it will be assistance for teacher and school management post interviews, and for teachers who just want to be kept informed. This post was started in October 2022, and I will keep adding to it regularly to ensure it is up to date and a comprehensive resource. 

Below is a list of thing to know in Irish Primary Education at present:

What is restorative practice?

Restorative practice is a form of conflict resolution which focuses on restoring relationships, fairness, trust, and building skills such as empathy. It is solution focused and provides a structured approach for dealing with conflict and bullying that should be adopted school wide. It requires commitment and time to embed in a school. The PDST offers CPD and sustained school support on it.

What is trauma informed practice?

This means that educators are aware that there are children in the school who have experienced traumatic experiences or events, and that they understand how these experiences can impact on behaviour, learning and development. In practice it means that educators recognise and respond to the children with empathy and create an environment of safety, trust and support.

What is a Nurture Room?

Nurture rooms are a school-based intervention for children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties which are inhibiting their learning in a mainstream class. Nurture rooms originated in the UK in the 1960s, and are becoming more common in Ireland. They are designed to provide a short-term, focused intervention to help children to develop positive relationships with staff and peers, develop confidence, self-respect, and communication. Nurture rooms are run by 2 members of staff and up to 12 pupils. Staff need to be trained on how to assess and support pupils. RTE Radio 1 did a short feature on Nurture Rooms that was excellent on 25th August 2021. Listen here. There is also an excellent Irish Times article on Nurture Rooms here

What is Emotion Coaching?

Emotion coaching is a research based way of responding to children when they are in a heightened emotional state and of managing challenging behaviour. Such situations are used as an opportunity to teach the child about emotional regulation and more appropriate ways of responding. Emotion coaching involves recognising and validating the child’s feelings, empathetic listening, helping them to problem solve, while setting limits on inappropriate behaviour. It is an approach recommended by NEPS who offer training in it. There is a very short video explaining it from Emotion Coaching UK here

What is Flourish and why is it controversial?

Flourish is a RSE programme for Irish Catholic Primary Schools which was  developed by the Council for Catechetics of the Irish Bishops Conference, with the support of CPSMA. It was published in April 2021 and controversy soon followed, as its content is perceived as discriminatory towards LGBTQ+ individuals, single parents, and families that don’t have a man and a woman as parents. Some Catholic primary schools publicly stated that they would not be using the programme. You can view the whole programme here

What is the frontloading allocation model?

The frontloading model is the way that supports for children with SEN are now allocated to schools. It was introduced for Special Education Teachers in 2017, and for SNAs in 2022.

In the past, schools had to apply for SNA access and special education teaching hours (which were known as Resource Hours) to the NCSE. Learning support and EAL teachers were granted separately on the basis of the school’s profile. The Resource Teacher worked with children with diagnosed SEN, who were granted a set number of hours per week based on their diagnosis. The Learning Support teacher worked with other children who were in need of support but who didn’t have a diagnosis.

Applications for SNA access and resource teaching could only be made for children who had a formal diagnosis of a disability as per categories that were set out by the Department. In order to be granted SNA access, the child had to have a report from a professional such as a psychologist, stating that SNA access was essential and outlining the child’s care needs. SNAs were allocated to specific children and the NCSE specified how much access the child was given.

Under the new model, SNAs and SETs are allocated to schools on the basis of an educational profile of the school before the commencement of the school year and the decision about which children get access and how much, is up to the school’s management.

There are real advantages to this model. Namely, SNA and SET resources can now be allocated to any child that needs them without the need for a formal diagnosis (which is an expensive and lengthy process). Furthermore, SNA and resource teacher applications (which took a huge amount of time), no longer have to be made.

But there also are real disadvantages to the frontloading model. In many schools, not enough SNA and SET teachers have been allocated to meet the needs of all students. Schools can apply for an exceptional review of SET or SNA supports, but is an arduous process which is rarely successful. This places a huge burden of responsibility on schools, who are now responsible for dividing up limited resources and having to decide which children have the greatest level of need and will therefore get the greatest level of support. Many school leaders feel uncomfortable and unqualified to make decisions about whether one child’s needs are more severe than another’s. They are also now left to explain this to parents who may demand more supports for their own child and who are often told by the NCSE and other professionals that the school has adequate resources and is responsible for how they are deployed.

Is the Total Inclusion Model Coming to Ireland?

In 2019, the NCSE recommended that the State should consider a move towards full inclusion, which would see all children educated together with the appropriate support in place. The idea was that we should consider abolishing special schools and special classes and place all children in mainstream schools, regardless of their level of disability. It cited the example of a model adopted in the province of New Brunswick in Canada and argues that Ireland may be in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by segregating pupils with special educational needs. The publication of this policy document led to an outcry of concern from schools, their representative bodies, and parents of children with SEN. Final advice on the policy was due to be submitted to the Minister for Education in June 2020, but so far it appears not to have been published yet as it is not available on the NCSE website. In May 2021 the chief executive of the NCSE, Teresa Griffen, spoke at the IPPN annual conference and said that the Irish education system is not ready for full inclusion. We await the publication on the final police advice to see what will happen next in relation to this.

What is Reading Recovery?

Reading recovery is a widely-used intervention for children who have made little progress in reading and writing after their first year at school. It involves one-to-one tutoring for 30minutes per day, for a period of between 12-20 weeks weeks, with a specially trained Reading Recovery teacher. It was developed in 1984 and has been implemented in countries across the world, with millions of students having participated.

Why is Reading Recovery controversial?

Some recent research claims that while children make progress in reading in the short-term, these gains are not maintained. Some literacy experts claim that this is because Reading Recovery doesn’t include isolated, systematic phonics instruction which is necessary for long term success in reading. It is claimed that these decoding skills are necessary to read the more challenging texts that the child will encounter later in their schooling. On the other hand, the Department of Education is still providing funding for the programme in Ireland, and new Reading Recovery teachers continue to be trained by the PDST. There is a link on the PDST website to research with supports the effectiveness of the programme. Teachers on the ground are hearing both sides of the debate and so there is confusion over who to believe. This intensified in October 2022 when a podcast called “Sold a Story” was released which was highly critical of Reading Recovery.  

What are ITE and Céim?

Initial Teacher Education is the new name for teacher training. It includes undergraduate and postgraduate programmes which lead to a teaching qualification for primary or post-primary teaching. All ITE programmes must be accredited by the Teaching Council and they must be in alignment with a Teaching Council document called “Céim” which outlines standards that the IET programmes have to meet.

What is Cosán?

It means “pathway” in Irish. It is a framework for teacher’s learning that was published by the Teaching Council in 2016. It relates to the recognition of teachers’ ongoing learning in all of its forms including continuous professional development. It has not yet been decided how it will operate/ look in practice but it is likely that registration with the Teaching Council will be contingent on engagement with some form of ongoing teacher learning and reflection on professional practice.  You can read it here.

What is LAOS?

This refers to the Department of Education Inspectorate’s Document “Looking at Our School 2022: A Quality Framework for Primary Schools and Special Schools”. It provides a set of standards by which schools can consider how well they are preforming in relation to teaching and learning, as well as leadership and management. It is to be used by schools as part of their School Self Evaluation. It is also used by inspectors when they monitor and report on schools, and when appointing teachers to leadership positions in school. As per circular 0044/2019 for Assistant and Deputy principal interviews, the successful candidate shall be chosen based on four competencies which are aligned to the framework. There is also a version for Post Primary Schools.

What is SSE?

School Self-Evaluation (SSE) began in Irish schools in 20212. It is a process where school staff collaboratively undertake an internal review and reflect on their practice in order to improve outcomes for students. During SSE, teachers evaluate how they teach and how pupils learn, and they produce a School Improvement Plan or SIP which identifies how improvements will be made. In August 2022, the Department of Education released “School Self-Evaluation: Next Steps September 2022 – June 2026”.  There is a requirement now that all schools will use the SSE process to initiate a wellbeing review and development cycle by 2025. 

SSE is a 6 stage process and it also involves the use of the LAOS document above. There is a lot more to it than can be outlined here. For further information, see the SSE Next Steps document

What is wellbeing in primary schools about?

The Department of Education and the NCCA state that “Wellbeing is comprised of many interrelated aspects including being active, responsible, connected, resilient, appreciated, respected and aware”.

Guidelines on promoting children’s mental health and wellbeing were first issued to schools in 2015. Since then, the view that schools play a vital role in the promotion of positive mental health in children has become more and more widespread. It is now Department of Education policy to use wellbeing in schools as a means to enable children to achieve their full potential and contribute to Ireland’s social, cultural and economic development.

The Department of Education launched the revised Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice in October, 2019 which outlines the above policy. To implement this policy, every school and centre for education is required by 2025, to use the School Self-Evaluation (SSE) process to initiate a wellbeing promotion review and development cycle. 

The PDST have a webinar on the revised Wellbeing Policy statement here and an entire section on their website dedicated to wellbeing here.

It is also worth noting, that at present the primary curriculum is also being redeveloped by the NCCA and it is envisaged that is will be completed in 2025. In this new curriculum, wellbeing is one of the proposed curriculum areas and will include elements of what we now know as PE and SPHE. It will also have a significantly increased time allocation to what PE and SPHE currently have.

Redevelopment of the Primary Curriculum

At present, the primary school curriculum is being redeveloped by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). An information leaflet for schools was published in 2019. A draft version of the proposed new curriculum was published in 2020 for consultation purposes. The consultation phase ended in early 2022 after being delayed due to the pandemic.

   

As part of this redevelopment, the Primary Language Curriculum was published in 2015, and revised in 2019. The next phase will be the roll out of the new maths curriculum which has already been delayed a number of times. No date for the implementation of the new maths curriculum has been specified (for a more detailed overview of the Primary Mathematics Curriculum, see our blog post here). It is envisaged that the rest of the new curriculum will be published in the mid-2020s, implemented shortly after, and that it will be in place for 10-15 years before being reviewed again.

The new curriculum will look radically different to the 1999 curriculum. It will seek to develop 7 “Key Competencies” in children. These key competencies will be embedded across all curricular areas from Junior Infants – 6th Class.

There will be 5 curriculum areas, as pictured, as well as the patron’s programme. From 3rd class onwards, the curriculum areas become more defined into subjects.

There will also be major changes to the time allocations which will be presented in 2 categories. There will be a minimum weekly time allocation for Language, mathematics, and wellbeing. There will be a monthly minimum curriculum time for Science and Technology Education, Social and Environmental Education, and Arts Education.

There will also be “Flexible Time” which will give monthly time allocations which the school can decide to allocate based on its own priorities.  The Draft Framework gives 3 different options for how this time will be allocated and it has not been specified yet which one will be implemented, however all 3 options will place a very heavy weighting on “wellbeing” which will receive 3 hours per week from 1st-6th, or 2h 30m per week for Infants.

What is teacher collective/ collaborative practice?

This is one of the domains within the dimension of “Learning and Teaching” in the LAOS framework. “Teachers’ collective/ collaborative practice relates to the ways in which teachers work together to improve provision for pupils. It refers to how teachers learn from each other’s expertise and how they interact with each other to reflect on their own practice. It also refers to the systems that are in place to enable them to discuss pupils’ learning, and to share knowledge, ideas and resources.” P.13 Looking at Our School 2022: A Quality Framework for Primary and Special Schools

What is teacher agency?

Teacher agency means the ability to make informed and reflective professional decisions. It relates to a number of areas such as teachers directing their own professional growth and also to making decisions relating to the learning of the children.

What is child agency? / What is agentic learning?

Student agency is where the “children are active in their own learning. Some ways in which they display their agency is by taking the initiative in learning situations, by observing and becoming involved in ongoing events, or by initiating conversations with others.” – Primary Mathematics Curriculum Glossary, p.40. It also means that they have a say about what they learn, and that their interests and ideas are the basis for their learning.

Where do things currently stand with Croke Park hours?

During the financial crisis there was an agreement to cut costs and increase efficiency in public service. This was known as the Croke Park Agreement. The Department of Education, the INTO and school management bodies agreed that primary teachers would work an additional 36 hours per year to complete tasks that schools would usually take a half day for, such as staff meetings and Staff CPD. This was outlined in Circular 0008/2011. The usage of Croke Park hours was reviewed under the Haddington Road Agreement and a new circular issued (0052/2014), and again under the Lansdowne Road Agreement (Circular 0042/2016).

As things currently stand, teachers still have to do 36 Croke Park hours per year, however 10 of them can now be dedicated to “planning and development work other than on a whole-school basis”. This means that 10 hours can now be used by teachers at their own discretion as approved by management.

The remaining 26 Croke Park Hours should be used for some or all of the following:

  • school planning
  • continuous professional development
  • induction
  • pre and post school supervision
  • policy development
  • staff meetings
  • nationally planned inservice
  • school arranged inservice

As per the original circular 0008/2011, CP hours should be scheduled outside of normal tuition time over the course of the 183 days that the school is open for tuition, and can take place in 1, 2, or 3 hour blocks.

Alternatively, if there is consensus among the school staff, some of the hours can be combined into a maximum of 2 full days outside of the 183 days that the school is normally open for.

The circular also sets out how “…it is expected that there will be consultation at school level as to the optimum usage of this block of hours in order to meet the requirements of the school…”. This means that there should be agreement amongst the staff about how the remaining 26 hours can be best used.

What is school reconfiguration?

Reconfiguration (aka divestment), means transferring the patronage of Catholic schools to a multi-denominational patronage such as Community National Schools or Educate Together. At present 2,750 or 89% of primary schools are Catholic and only 164 or 5% are multi-denominational (see here).

The Government has committed to a target of 400 multi-denominational primary schools by 2030, but this target looks doubtful as only 1 school divested in 2022. The process started 10 years ago, when a report on Patronage and Pluralism in Irish primary schools was published by the then Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn. Reconfiguration has been a slow, difficult and controversial process, and only 13 primary schools to date have transferred their patronage through the Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity process.

The programme for Government prioritises the transfer of patronage to CNS as they are run by state owned Education and Training Boards. This has left other patrons such as Educate Together and An Foras Pátrúnachta unhappy about the lack of choice for parents and that one model is being given priority.

Simon Lewis from Anseo.net has spoken extensively about this on his podcast and I would highly recommend you listen to it if you are interested in this area.  

What is distributed leadership?

This is where leadership in a school is shared amongst the staff. It is a model of school management that is promoted by the Department because the running of a complex organisation such as a school involves too much work to be undertaken by a principal alone. The PDST promote this mode of school leadership in all of their leadership training courses. The LAOS Document states that in highly effective schools “Teachers are empowered to take on leadership roles and to lead learning”. Circular 0044/2019 states that “Assistant Principals work in teams in collaboration with the Principal and/ or Deputy Principal” and have shared responsibility for appropriately defined areas such as learning

What is culturally responsive teaching?

This is a pedagogical approach which aims to connect students’ cultures, languages and experiences with their learning at school. It boosts leaning outcomes for for children with EAL and from minority backgrounds as it focuses on what children bring to the classroom rather than what they don’t know, and gives them a sense of belonging in the classroom.

What is student voice and pupil participation?

As per Article 12 of the UNCRC, children have the right to “have a voice in matters which affect them and their views will be given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity.” The idea of Student Voice in Irish education policy has become increasingly prominent in recent years and the NCCA has run a number of projects on it at post primary level. At primary level, the 2022 LAOS document has an increased focus on “Pupil Participation” and one of the standards under Domain 4 is to “Promote and facilitate the development of pupil participation, pupil leadership and parent participation”. The image on the right shows the statements of highly effective practice within this standard. 

Language When Speaking About Autism

There has been a lot of focus in recent years on what language is most appropriate when speaking about autism. In the past, the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” or ASD would have been commonly used, as would person first language such as “child with autism”. Research on the preferences of autistic people indicates that most prefer identify first language i.e., autistic person, as they see autism as a fundamental part of who they are, rather than an aspect of their personality (and certainly not a disorder that they “have”).

When speaking about special classes, the most appropriate term is “Autism Class”, not “ASD Unit” or “ASD Class”. The NCSE guidelines on Setting up and Organising Special Classes state that “Schools are requested to use the term ‘special class’ in preference to the term ‘unit’ which has medical rather than educational connotations.” ASIAM also explain the reason for this well here

Digital literacy in Irish Education

Digital literacy is set of skills relating to technology use which enable a person to function in a digital world. It means teaching students to navigate, evaluate and create using all forms of digital technologies (see Webwise.ie for more information). The Department published a new Digital Strategy for Schools in 2021 the aim of which is to embed the use of digital technologies to support teaching, learning and assessment. The Draft Primary Curriculum Framework proposes a curriculum area which encompasses “Mathematics, Science and Technology Education”, so digital literacy is going to be a big part of Irish education going forward.

What is PIEW?

It is a planning model for school leaders from the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) to help principals manage their workload. It stands for Prioritise, Implement, Embed, Wait.

It helps school leaders to identify and prioritise which initiatives for enhancing the teaching and learning the school will take on. These initiatives might be things like Literacy Lift Off, Zippy’s Friends, improving handwriting/ spellings etc.

The PIEW model operates on a 6-year cycle as follows:

Prioritise, then pilot the initiatives that the school will take on for 2 years

Implement the initiatives across the school for 2 years

Embed into the standard operating procedure of the school for 2 years and

Wait list other initiatives/ ideas that will be considered in future

What is CLIL?

This stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning and is a global trend in bilingual teaching in recent years. It involves teaching another curriculum subject through a language that is not the primary medium of instruction in the school. In the context of the Primary Language Curriculum, it means teaching a subject such as physical education or visual arts through Irish in an English medium school (i.e.. not a Gaelscoil where these subjects would be taught through Irish anyway). 

What is a PPP?

This means a Personal Pupil Plan – It is an outline of a pupil’s special care needs and how a SNA will be deployed to meet these needs. from October 2015, schools have been required to submit a PPP with all applications for SNA support. The PPP is also required for SNA reviews in schools. All pupils with SNA access must now have a PPP. A PPP template and sample can be found here.

What is Disciplinary Literacy?

A recent NCCA publication, written by Professor Timothy Shanahan, recommended that there should more of a focus on something called “disciplinary literacy” in the Primary School Curriculum (so it will probably be something we will be hearing more about in the future!).

Disciplinary literacy basically refers to the ways that reading, writing and oral language are used in specialist ways within an academic subject. For example, the discipline of science has specific vocabulary, and scientific texts have specific features, that are unique to that subject. 

The basic premise here, is that once children have acquired basic literacy skills, teachers at primary school level should push children to broaden their literacy skills so that they learn subject specific ones, for instance how to read and speak about primary source texts in History rather than relying on a publisher’s text book.

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