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 relational pedagogy?

This involves supporting the learning and development of children through close, caring and consistent relationships which promotes trust and security. There is extensive evidence to confirm that prioritising relationships in primary schools between staff and children helps secure children’s emotional well-being, improves behaviour, and leads to more successful learning. This is especially important in the context of a post covid world where children are suffering the after effects of being isolated from their peers and school community for prolonged periods. For more information on this, “Relationship-Based Pedagogy in Primary Schools” by Nicki Henderson and Hillary Smith is available from Easons.com

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 a DLP?

DLP stands for Designated Liaison Person. Each school must have a DLP who is nominated by the Board of Management. It is usually the school principal. Child protection concerns must be reported to the DLP, who is responsible for ensuring that standard reporting procedures are followed so all child protection concerns are referred promptly to TUSA, or in emergencies, the Gardaí. The DLP’s name must be on display in a prominent position near the school’s entrance.

The Debate over Homework

Homework has been a controversial issue for decades and every so often the debate resurfaces in the media. Are there any real benefits of giving homework at primary level? What does the research say? Each side of the debate has its strong advocates and teachers sometimes feel bound by school policies or parental expectations rather that what they personally believe to be beneficial for their students.

What are the Arguments for Homework?

  • It helps to consolidate learning by giving children an opportunity to revise the day’s learning
  • It helps keep parents informed about what their children are learning at school
  • Helps prepare children for post primary school
  • It gives a chid the opportunity for 1 to 1 attention from an adult that isn’t often possible in school

What are the Arguments Against Homework?

  • It puts huge stress on parents and children and can cause discord at home in the evenings when both parents and children are tired after a long day
  • Children need to have time to play, be outside and enjoy their home life without the pressure of homework hanging over them
  • It’s difficult to differentiate and provide homework that meets the needs of all children
  • Parents may not have the skills to help the children with it, especially in maths or Gaeilge
  • Varying levels of parental engagement: sometimes the children who would most benefit from homework do not get the assistance with it for a variety of reasons

What does the Research Say?

There is no definitive answer. For every study that you see against homework, you can find another one that purports its benefits. Some studies show positive effects of homework under certain conditions and for certain students, some show no effects, and some suggest negative effects (Kohn 2006; Trautwein and Koller 2003). There is a very good summary of some of the research on homework here

What is the NCSE?

According to the NCSE website, “The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) was set up to improve the delivery of education services to persons with special educational needs arising from disabilities with particular emphasis on children.” It is the body responsible for co-ordinating and reviewing the provision of educational supports (such as SNA access and SET hours) for students with special educational needs. Schools apply to the NCSE for resources for students such as Assistive Technology (e.g., computers and software for dyslexic children), and can apply to the NCSE for an “exceptional review” if their SNA or SET allocation is insufficient to meet the needs of the school. Extra supports are rarely granted.

According to the NCSE website “Our local service is delivered through our national network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) who interact with parents and schools and liaise with the HSE in providing resources to support children with special educational needs.” However, many schools and parents have been left with vacant SENO posts for extended periods in recent years.

The NCSE also publishes research and policy advice for government with regards to special education. Some of it has been extremely controversial, such as their 2019 policy document which recommend that the state should consider abolishing special schools and classes and move towards total inclusion.

Professional development for teachers in the area of Special Education Needs has also been a responsibility of the NCSE since the Special Education Support Service (SESS) transferred from the Department to the NCSE.

What is the frontloading allocation model?

The frontloading model is the new way in which supports for children with SEN are allocated to schools. It was introduced for Special Education Teachers in 2017, and was due to be introduced in the 2020/2021 school year for SNAs but has been repeatedly deferred, with schools retaining their SNA allocations under the previous model (see here for the 2023/2024 school year circular).

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.

Despite the official deferral of the SNA model, in practical terms many aspects of it are in place (schools no long apply for SNA access for individual children, it is up to the school to decide which children get SNA support and how much), while others that are desperately needed (promised support from therapists such as SLTs and OTs) are not. So it seems that while officially the new frontloading model has been deferred for SNAs, schools are having to implement some aspects of it. 

What does Continuum of Support (CoS) mean?

It is a framework set out by the Department of Education to help schools identify students’ needs and respond appropriately in the context of the 2017 SET allocation model, whereby schools have autonomy as to how they allocate SET resources to pupils. The framework operates on the basis that SEN occur on a continuum in terms of severity (mild – severe) and duration (transient – long term).

As part of the CoS process, schools gather and analyse data which enables them to identify pupils’ level of need and to respond flexibly. The pupils with the greatest level of need should have access to the greatest levels of support. There are 3 levels of support: classroom support, school support, and school support plus.

Classroom support is needed when child does not respond appropriately to regular classroom differentiation. At CS level, the class teacher consults the parents (any the child if appropriate), decides on a very small number of appropriate targets, completes the written documentation and puts simple interventions in place for an agreed period of time, after which a review will take place.

At school support level, the SET undertakes more formal observations and diagnostic assessments as appropriate. The SET completes the written documentation and works with the student either in class or withdrawal. The plan agreed with the parents, class teacher (and the child if appropriate) and is put in place for an agreed period and subject to review.

School support plus is the highest level. A detailed and systematic approach to assessment using formal and informal tools is needed and outside professional involvement is normal warranted (although a formal diagnosis of SEN is not). In collaboration with the class teacher, parents, (and where relevant outside agencies, the SENCO, and the child) SET completes a more detailed longer-term plan which is also subject to review.

For more information, examples and detailed explanation, you should refer to the DES “Guidelines for Primary Schools – Supporting Pupils with Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools”.

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 it was delayed considerably. 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.

In January 2024, the long awaited policy advice paper entitled “An Inclusive Education for an Inclusive Society” was published. In it, the NCSE makes 7 key recommendations for the Department of Education to consider, with the overall aim of progressing Ireland towards a system of educational provision where every student attends their local school i.e. full inclusion. 

What is the School Inclusion Model (SIM)?

SIM is a pilot programme under the NCSE which has been run in 75 schools and 75 early learning centres since the 2018/2019 school year. The aim of the model is to build the capacity of schools to support the inclusion of all children with SEN. In order to do this, the scheme provides for the provision of in-school therapies (S&L, OT), the training of SNAs and additional supports from psychologists. The scheme also encompasses the SNA frontloading model. It was paused during the pandemic when HSE therapists were redeployed, but has since recommenced. Planning for the expansion of the scheme is underway, but it is having difficulty due to a current shortage of OTs and SLTs. Criticism of the scheme relates to the fact that the schools receive advice from the OTs and SLTs but the children don’t receive ongoing therapies. Instead, teachers and SNAs are asked to deliver the programmes advised by the therapists. There is also concern that there will be far too few therapists available when the scheme is rolled out nationally.

A good (and short) overview of the scheme can be read here

What are “Behaviours of Concern”?

In recent years, the term “Behaviours of concern” is being used in preference to the term “Challenging Behaviour”. While both terms essentially mean the same thing (i.e. behaviour that puts a person or those around them at risk of harm), some academics are advocating for a change in the language that we use to describe such behaviours.

It is argued that the term “Challenging behaviour” is associated with a “crisis driven approach in which behaviours are assumed to be inherent in the person who exhibit them”. In contrast, the term “Behaviours of concern” emphasises the “Ideal response of support rather than the challenge they must overcome”.

Chan, J. et al. (2012) ‘Is it Time to Drop the Term ‘Challenging Behaviour’?’, Learning Disability Practice, 15(5), pp. 36-38 (read the full article here).

What is a CDNT?

Children’s Disability Network Teams were established to provide services to children (0-18years) with complex needs who require the support of a multi-disciplinary team.

Complex needs are those which result in severe functional difficulties and a child having moderate or severe difficulty participating in normal daily living appropriate for their age. Children whose needs are identified as non complex must access services via the Primary Care route, or via CAMHS in the case of a mental health diagnosis only.

CDNTs operate within a defined geographical area and children access the service nearest to their home address. The CDNT team will work collaboratively with the child and their family to identify the needs and priorities, to plan goals, and to provide interventions.

What is the CAMHS Scandal?

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is a specialist HSE service for children with mental health difficulties. In early 2022 news broke of serious problems with the prescribing of medications at South Kerry CAMHS. A HSE review found that hundreds of children in south Kerry received risky treatment from a doctor and that significant harm was caused to 46 children. The Government has committed to a compensation scheme for the children and families affected. An independent audit into prescribing practices at CAMHS nationally commenced in July 2022 and is due for publication in February 2023. 

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

It is educational framework designed to make learning accessible to all students, regardless of their diverse needs and learning styles. It involves proactively creating instructional materials, methods, and assessments that cater to a broad range of learners from the outset. For more information, see our UDL blog post

What is Section 37A?

Section 37A is an amendment to the Education Act 1998. It was added in 2018 and gives the Minister the power to direct schools to open special classes. This provision was used for the first time in 2019, and since then a number of schools have been served with Section 37A notices in response to an ongoing shortage of places for children with complex needs in special classes and special schools. In June 2022, the IPPN & INTO released a joint statement regarding Section 37a stating that “It signalled a clear departure from the consultative and collaborative approach that has underpinned the interactions between the Department, its agencies, the education partners and schools in recent years.”

This statement was released after Josepha Madigan publicly named 4 Dublin schools which she claimed were not engaging sufficiently with regards to opening special classes, and was highly critical of them in the media. The IPPN/ INTO statement stated that this decision was “at odds with the facts presented by the schools, was ill-informed, ill-advised and ill-judged” as the schools had engaged and had raised reasonable concerns relating to a lack of resources required to deliver a quality education to students with special educational needs.

What is a Section 29?

If you teach in an urban area or a school that is heavily oversubscribed in terms of children needing places, you may be familiar with a “Section 29”. Section 29 of the Education Act allows a parent to make an appeal where a school has refused a place for their child. This may be because the school is full or because the child has been suspended or expelled for a period of no less than 20 days in a school year. When the child has been refused a place due to the school being oversubscribed, the parent must have first made an appeal to the school’s Board of Management, and if unsuccessful, they can then appeal the decision to the Department of Education. The appeal will be dealt with by an appeals committee who will consider the evidence presented by the school as to why the child has been refused a place or suspended/ expelled.  

What is Preparation for Teaching and Learning?

The Department released new guidance during April 2021 called “Preparation for Teaching and Learning – Guidance for All Primary and Specials Schools. There is a move away from the use of the term “planning for teaching” and a move towards calling it “preparation for teaching and learning”. Preparation for T&L includes ALL of the activities undertaken by the teacher in their preparation for teaching, not just their written/ recorded planning. There is an acknowledgement that preparation for teaching and learning occurs before, during and after teaching and that it includes invisible, visible, and recorded elements. The 3 elements of preparation (invisible, visible and recorded) are equally valued. There is more to it than this, and I have a full blog post summarising the guidance here

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, 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 is PISA?

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with the aim of evaluating education systems across the world by measuring the performance of each participating country’s 15 year olds on assessments in maths, reading, and science.

Ireland has traditionally ranked well in the PISA tests, especially in literacy, however in the 2009 test, our results were dramatically lower than in previous years. This prompted the Department of Education to launch the Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life strategy in 2011 which contained a number of measures designed to improve attainment in reading and maths in Irish schools by the year 2020.

Pisa tests take place every 3 years, and by the 2012 testing Ireland’s scores were already back in line with our normal ranking. In 2018 Ireland ranked in 8th place out of the 79 countries for literacy, in 23rd place for numeracy, and 20th place for science. The 2021 testing was postponed until 2022 due to the pandemic.

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 the IPPN?

The Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) was set up in 1999 as a professional body for leaders in Irish primary schools. The IPPN is recognised by the Minister for Education as an official education partner. It supports principals and deputy principals and acts as a representative for their views. It is an independent, voluntary and not-for profit organisation and works with multiple agencies towards the goal of advancing primary education. For more information, see IPPN.ie

What is Education for sustainable development (ESD)?

In June 2022 ESD to 2030 was launched. It is the second National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development. ESD aims to ensure that by 2030 “all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development” (SDG 4.7).

ESD has and will continue to be integrated into the curriculum across all levels of the education sector and into school inspection and quality assurance processes. It has also been integrated into initial teacher education and CPD on it will continue to be offered. Resources have been made available on scoilnet.ie. Sustainable design, energy efficiency and retrofitting are now key elements of educational infrastructure.

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 the Primary Curriculum Framework (PCF)?

In March 2023 a new framework for the curriculum at primary level was launched. The framework is a document which sets out the purpose structure and content for the redeveloped primary curriculum for primary and special schools. The redeveloped curriculum will be guided by the vision and principals set out in this document.

You can access the Primary Curriculum Framework here or read our summary blog post here

What are low threshold/ high ceiling tasks?

This is a term used to describe tasks (usually mathematical) that are designed to be accessible to all students. They are tasks which all students will be able to make a start on, but which also can be extended to a high level with more complexity. The aim is that everyone works at their own level of engagement on the same task. The website nrich.maths.org provides many examples of such tasks.

AKA: Low-Floor, High-Ceiling Task (LFHC)

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 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 dialogic teaching?

This is an approach where talk between the teacher and students is central in the classroom, rather than just teacher presentation of material. It is effective for promoting both the children’s oral language development, as well as extending their learning and critical thinking. Classroom relationships are also central and it leads to social and emotional benefits too. It is grounded in research and there are a number of books on dialogic teaching as well as CPD being offered in Education Centres.

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.

What is NEPS?

The National Educational Psychological Service provides a publicly funded psychological service to students in primary and post-primary schools in Ireland. NEPS focuses on learning, behaviour and social & emotional development. There are approximately 180 NEPs psychologists and each is assigned a group of schools whom they work with. NEPS operates on a consultative model of service. This means that the focus is on advising schools on how to intervene effectively with students, rather than the psychologist themselves working directly with the student in most cases. In the regards, NEPS have produced a number of information leaflets, guidelines and publications for schools to use. They can undertake some psychological assessments e.g. for specific learning difficulties, although there is very limited capacity for this

Is it the Department of Education or the Department of Education and Skills?

The Department of Education has had a number of name changes since it was established in 1924. In 1997 it was renamed as the “Department of Education and Science”. In 2010 its name was changed to the “Department of Education and Skills”. This was due to the financial crisis and subsequent focus on reskilling people who had lost their jobs. In 2020 it had its name changed back to the “Department of Education” and this is its official name (for now!).

What is the OLCS?

The Online Claims System (OLCS) is used by schools to record all staff absences. It is accessed through a website called esinet.ie. It must be specified whether the absence is substitutable or non-substitutable leave and if a sub has been employed, the claim for them will be submitted through the OLCS. The OLCS is usually used by the school principal, the secretary and the deputy. All absences and substitution claims must be entered and approved by 5.30pm every second Friday to ensure payment on the next pay issue.

What is Droichead?

The new model of teacher induction which has been available to all Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) since the 2018/ 2019 school year. Droichead involves NQTs receiving support from teacher colleagues who are internal to their school and who receive training as a Professional Support Team (PST) that guides and advises the NQT during their induction.

Droichead is process based rather than a single event such as an inspection. Prior to Droichead, NQTs would have to undergo probation which involved passing inspection visits which were carried out by a Department Inspector. This was referred to as “doing the Dip”.

The Teaching Council has set out standards that the NQT must meet in order to complete Droichead. NQTs have to attend cluster meetings once per term which are facilitated by the NIPT, engage in reflective practice, and engage in additional professional learning activities. The PST must also form a joint declaration with the NQT that they have participated in a quality teaching and learning process. For more information, see teacherinduction.ie

What is the NIPT?

The National Induction Programme for Teachers is a Department of Education funded service that supports newly qualified primary and post primary teachers as they begin their teaching careers. The NIPT provides resources to support Droichead, induction workshops for NQTs to attend, a website with resources for teachers, and a support service for schools.

What is ESCI?

Education Support Centres Ireland is the umbrella organisation of the Education Centres in Ireland. Their website is extremely useful for teachers, as it allows you to search what online CPD courses are available across all of the Education Centres in Ireland. For instance, if you wanted to do CPD on being trauma informed, you can type “trauma” into the search and you will see all of the options.  

What is the “gamification” of learning?

The term “gamification” means including video game design and game elements such as acquiring points, or going up a level, into traditionally non-game contexts.

“Gamification of learning” refers to the integration of such game elements into the learning experience to increase student engagement and motivation. This can include points, badges, leaderboards, and other rewards to incentivize progress and achievement.

Gamification is commonly used in apps for learning, but it can also be applied to a classroom context. An example is to use a classroom-wide game that encourage teamwork and problem-solving, for instance the teacher could divide the class into teams and give them a challenge or problem to solve within a certain timeframe. Each team could earn points for completing the task successfully and working collaboratively.

Gamification is used to make learning more fun, and it can help to develop important skills such as critical thinking, communication, and teamwork.

There are many elements to gamification that can be applied to the classroom content. While it can be a useful methodology, caution should be taken to avoid the overreliance on the performance based elements such as points, as more and more such approaches are recognised as being coercive and not conducive to developing intrinsic motivation to learn.

Disclaimer: The above information is based on my own research into the topics, and while I have made every effort to present the information as accurately and succinctly as possible, I am not an expert in any of the above. Furthermore, the aim of this post is to give an extremely brief overview and explanation of each topic to assist teachers with being generally aware of some of the myriad of current issues in education. Obviously many of these topics are extremely complex and for a full understanding, one would need to look more closely at the research, websites, circulars, or books that are available on the subjects. 

12 thoughts on “Current Issues in Irish Primary Education, Plus Teaching Jargon and Acronyms Explained!

  1. Laura says:

    As someone who is trying to return to the teaching workforce after a 3 year break this was extremely helpful! Thank you for taking the time to do this.

  2. Mary says:

    This is really helpful. I am a veteran teacher but I was not familiar with some of these initiatives. Your explanations were concise and informative. Thank you.

    • Teaching Plans says:

      Yes, the post is in addition to (and should not prejudice) your teaching duties. You are being paid extra to do it, so it is expected that it will require extra work hours. Normally for an AP2 post it is an average of about 2hours extra work each week, but this may be more at busy periods and less at other times.

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