Tag Archives: guidance

Senior Cycle Debates

Today I was teaching Religion with a group of of Senior Cycle students, and we were looking at ‘The Search For Meaning & Values’.

I’d stumbled on the following interview with Kurt Cobain.  At one point he talks about his friendships with women, and how he felt that women were oppressed. (The clip is only 5 minutes long – and worth watching)

As a group we then started debating more about whether the group felt that women were actually oppressed in the modern world.

Unsurprisingly, the girls in the class all said ‘yes’ that women are oppressed.  Interestingly for me, they focused on the idea of women being expected to stay at home to cook and clean.  The guys felt that women were not oppressed.    And chaos ensued for the next few minutes!

The idea that women are not treated as equal was new (and news) for some of the lads gathered.  But, fair play to them, they were willing to listen and consider the implications.

I added the idea that oppression becomes apparent when women are excluded from top jobs in some companies.  But what really opened up the discussion was when we spoke about the Stanford Rape Case.  I brought up some sections of the victim’s letter (The full version is here), and it really brought up a good discussion among the students.  (Students?  They are young adults.  Some of the class are 18 years, and all have a maturity way beyond that which I possessed when I was their age).

What becomes tricky is how to handle such a debate when you have a group of young adults.  I have a particular set of values – and no guarantee that the students share them with me.  Of far more importance is the fact that students could be affected by what we were discussing.  When guiding such a debate you need to be familiar with your group.  The debate may not be appropriate or possible depending on who’s sitting in front of you.

I was so impressed by the quality of thought process of the students.  And of the basic goodness of many of them.  They dealt with many of the issues brought up by the letter in such a mature manner.

It’s a good start to the year with them, and I’m looking forward to many more debates.  Hopefully they will examine their own values in a conscious manner, and actively take part in developing their own sense of Meaning and Values.

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Labour & FG. Supporting Inequality

A lot of us remember the gloomy days near the end of the previous government.  Brian Cowen was in power, and was denying anything was wrong – even though every economic commentator was warning of a crash.  The optimists, God Bless ’em, were talking about a soft landing.

Around this time I became politically active for the first time in my life.  I joined FG, I canvassed for my local guy, went to the meetings and did my part.

My part included believing that FG would be good for people across the country.  They had a plan for free health-care, for better services, to turn the economy around.

It all ended as so many love affairs do.  With Disillusionment on one side, and confusion (What did I do wrong?) on the other.  I left Fine Gael in 2013.

As we face the final week of the latest General Election Campaign, I’ve decided that I cannot give a #1 to Fine Gael or Labour.

And why?  Well, I see inequality has greatly increased during the tenure of this government.  And, rather than put that in vague terms, lets look at how far this inequity has spread.  You see, despite the claims that the recession is over, Austerity still rules in Education.

In Education the cuts of the past 5 years have been brutal.  But these cuts have not hit everyone equally.

equity-vs-equality

School budgets have been repeatedly cut

But if you go to a school in a middle-class area, then the school can ask for “voluntary contributions” that will go a long way towards making up the shortfall.  In a poorer area schools don’t have this option, or at least the amount that they could legitimately ask for is far less.  So, a school in a disadvantaged area will be hampered in what it can offer its students.

Students with Special Educational Needs.

These students are hit in two ways.  The most obvious is that the number of Special Needs Assistants was cut.  The criterion were tightened up.  Think about this.  These students are already disadvantaged, and this particular cut could only affect those who were already at a disadvantage.

The other way in which these students were affected is in the area of class sizes.  Prior to 2007 secondary schools operated with maximum class sizes of, usually, 24.  Very often this maximum is exceeded, with class sizes of 27, 28.  At primary level it’s worse, with class sizes of over 30 being relatively common.  Again, those at an educational disadvantage are hit hardest by this.  Think of trying to give individual attention to a child with dyslexia when you have 27 other students to keep engaged.  Certainly they may have ‘access’ to an SNA, but the reality is that the same SNA may be working with a number of students across different class groups.

Access to Educational Supports

How do you know if someone has dyslexia?  Their teacher may suspect it, based on a student’s written work.  But a teacher’s word is not enough to get access to an SNA.  No, for that you need a report from an Educational Psychologist.  The National Educational Psychological Service provides these assessments.  And this assessment goes to the DES to get access to an SNA approved. But guess what?  NEPS have had their resources cut as well.  So a given school will be allocated a certain number of assessments each year – and students with needs may have to wait longer – and fall behind further – because of a lack of funding.

Being Ireland there’s always a back-door.  If you can afford it you could get your child a private assessment , then that assessment will work for the DES.  Those who are better off are less affected by the cuts.

Student Supports

One of the bluntest instruments used by the current government was getting rid of Guidance Counsellors.  Another was the removal of posts of responsibility.  These posts provided teachers with the option of taking on extra responsibilities in a school, and getting paid for them.  Year Heads, Programme Coordinators, Special Duties.  They are all being cut, and other teachers have to pick up the slack, or the buck is passed onto school managers who are already being overloaded.  But, if you are in a school that can afford it, the Trustees will find some extra money to provide the needed supports for students.

This is nothing against these trustees. They are doing the right thing by their students.  It’s just that schools in poorer areas often don’t have these resources.

I could go on.  And on.  The point is that even though the same cuts have been applied across the country, the cuts have had a greater affect on the poorer among us.  Simply because they don’t have the safety blanket of spare money.

Suffice to say I’ve been disillusioned.

I look at the parties vying for my vote, and I find it easy to dismiss lots of them.

From what I can see only one party is actually talking properly about reversing some of the damage done to the public service.  That party is the Social Democrats.  I’ll be voting #1 for them.

As for #2, I’m open to suggestions!

 

Austerity in Education

We are well into our new school year, and hopefully any teachers reading this are doing well – within their classrooms and within themselves.

And while we all get on with our jobs we are being told that the recession is pretty much over.  The headlines are great!  Economy creates 1,000 jobs a week; Tax take €1.4 Bn ahead of forecast.

One of the things that I reckon has slipped under the radar this September is that the capitation for schools was cut by a further 1% this year.  This is 4 years in a row that the budget for running schools has been cut.

But the headlines tell us things are great.

We are now at the point where extra supports have been cut wherever the Government thinks they can get away with it.  We have lost language supports for foreign nationals.  Because they are magically better at English now?

And the headlines still tell us things are great.

We have lost supports for students with Special Education Needs.   Think of that.  Those who need the most support – denied it in the name of Austerity.  We have had cutbacks to the National Education Psychological Service. Students who may have an undiagnosed condition may fall through the cracks – because NEPS don’t have the resources to provide enough assessments to schools. Again, it’s those who need the most help are the ones who suffer.  Another support – Guidance Counsellors – has been removed altogether.  Students need as much help as possible to make intelligent subject and college choices.  But Guidance Counsellors do so much more on a personal level with students.  But, with the stroke of a pen they became casualties of the recession.

But we’re told the recession is over.

One of the early cuts was to teacher numbers.  Classes are larger – and by necessity this means that teachers can give less attention to individuals.  All students suffer.

And they have the gall to celebrate the ‘success’ of Austerity.

Teachers have had their pay slashed – and they have been divided.  Anyone who received a contract after 2011 is paid on a different scale.  They are paid less than their equally qualified counterpart who was lucky enough to land a job in 2010 or earlier.

Forgive me if I see little to celebrate in our Government’s performance in Education.

Any successes that have appeared recently are down to the sheer hard work of so many professionals who are exhausting themselves because they love their jobs and they love teaching.  Part of me wonders if the Government knows this and that is why they are not afraid to keep on cutting.

Many teachers are exhausted – and a number have retired early simply because of the level of cuts enforced upon them.

Maybe it’s time to cut back.  The election is coming, and I very much doubt that I will be sending any votes the way of our current Government.

Let’s see them celebrate that.

For any teachers who are feeling burned out – or worried about their own ability to cope – please consider contacting Carecall – where counselling support is available for free

http://www.carecallwellbeing.ie/About-Carecall-Ireland-6894.html

 

Now You See It…

If you’re anything like me, you love Derren Brown.  He’s a bit of a genius, illusionist, mentalist, clever and challenging.

He’s also a bit of a trickster.

He has one particular move I like, he gets the unsuspecting victim to willingly hand over his wallet.  Just like this:

Which brings me to this RTE headline yesterday.  On the face of it, things look great.  1,700 new teachers and SNAs (Special Needs Assistants) to be employed in Irish Schools.  All good, yes?

Well, as always, it’s a little more complicated.  While the headline does grab your attention, the details of the article take a lot of the shine away:

  • 10,000 new students entering primary level each year
  • 4,000 new students entering second level each year
  • The cost of college registration to increase.  Again.
  • The budget for new schools (needed for the extra numbers) is to be cut by €10,000,000
  • Funding for second level schools (Capitation, the grant per student in school) is being reduced again.  This time by 1%
  • Funding for third level colleges also to be reduced by 1%

That’s the new cuts.

There’s still no reverse on the reprehensible decision to remove guidance counsellors from secondary schools.  No decision to restore middle management in schools.

For years now the budget for education has been cut. The new posts in the headline don’t do anything to change the pupil/teacher ratio – it only maintains the current crazy level.  Schools have been forced to cut subjects, options, programmes and supports for students.

These are not cuts in education. They are attacks on education.

Minister Joan Burton was on Matt Cooper’s show a few weeks ago and said something like ‘Austerity is over’.

Austerity is not over.  Certainly not if you’re in education.  And just like Derren Brown, the government has managed to dip into the pocket of the education sector once more.

The Minister’s Real Speech

It’s A Tuesday in Easter…

Teachers, it’s a pleasure for me to have the chance to speak to & berate you today.

This is my fourth year addressing you, and I’m determined to make headlines today.  Enough of Man U holding the limelight today.

Now, where was I?  Oh yeah, the primary lot.

Yes.  We’re in a hole.  i’d like to blame the other lot, but I’ve used that line enough already. So let’s talk about how you lot are underqualified. First up, you only had to do three years in college to train as primary teachers, I’m changing that.  Plus, you lot aren’t good enough at maths.  Lets see, a starting point is that you’ll have to do honours maths for the leaving.  You see, girls are lazy.  You’re going to drop honours maths after the Junior Cert if we give you half a chance.  So, you have to keep it on.  So there.

Second.  I’m a bit upset.  All the women in here and I don’t even get a cup of tae?  What’s the point in having a feminised profession if you lot can’t even put on the kettle?

To address this, I’m changing the law.  We already have FEMPI, but I’m now changing the education act to get rid of teachers that are sub-standard.  And to keep an eye on these standards I’m the one who sets the standards.  There.  That should reassure ye.

Now, about this religious malarkey.  I got an idea yesterday.  How’s about we put the religion classes at the start of the day, or at the end?  I know, I know.  You then have students who have no room to go to.  Look, I know I’m taking as many teachers out of the system as possible, but can’t you just play musical chairs with them.  And yes, I do include all you lot who’d be in one-teacher-schools-if-I-get-my-way.

I’m not anti-religion. If it makes you feel any better, I’ll quote Hans Kung.  There, see?  But I will take the chance to boast that my first full day on the job was the day I started to look for ways to get the church out of as many schools as possible.

Remember I’m not anti-religion.  We must respect the rights of families who want their children to be given a religions education.  That’s in the constitution.  Unfortunately.

Later that day…

You lot are the secondary teachers, yeah?

First up.  Have you got around to telling me what you want yet?  Don’t bother with that resources rubbish.  I want to know what you want so that you will do what I want.

Here it is.  Let’s work to support inclusion and giving students a chance.  Let’s not let that bit about the guidance counsellers come between friends.  Come on.  You know that wasn’t a real job.  If the kids really cared then they’d find out what their subject choice and college options were.  I mean, that worked for me and my buddies in the bish.

Now.  the JCSA.  Let’s be clear.  We all agree that the current Junior Cert needs reform.  The best advice that I can get (while avoiding teachers) is that my pet-project is the way to go.  What we have isn’t working, and I’m the boss, so what I say goes.  Yes, I will pretend to keep listening to you lot, but consultation is not spelled n-e-g-o-t-i-a-t-i-o-n.

Now it seems to me that your unions don’t like what I have in mind.  So, I think that they aren’t doing their job.  They seem to think that you are not up to the task of working over 60 hours a week.  I say let’s prove them wrong.  I’ve already gotten away with taking about 20% of your pay, forcing you do do S&S and adding 33 hours of meetings.  Let’s face it, it’s not as if I trust you to work unless I get the principals to roll-call you after hours.

To re-enforce that point I’m changing the law and the Teaching Council will be allowed to continue the beatings until morale improves.

I look forward to seeing you all next year.  By then I hope that you’ll be too knackered to kick up a fuss.