Give me a crash course in . . . Irish school standards

So, are we top of the class or is it “could do better”?

It looks like you’ve heard of the Department for Education’s Chief Inspector’s report, which was released earlier this week. It is based on nearly 10,000 inspections carried out between 2016 and 2020. It covers education from preschool to primary and secondary education.

In summary, it shows that there are a lot of strengths. The level of teaching and learning in primary and secondary education is generally positive. However, there are challenges such as the poor performance of pupils learning Irish in many schools and the limited extent to which our best pupils are tapped. Internationally, we’re not top of the class, but we’re doing quite well overall.

In which areas do we get the best marks?

Our reading standards are on par with the best in the world. Our primary students are doing very well in English reading, as are secondary students.

In mathematics, our primary students also perform very well overall, and at the secondary level, they perform above the average for developed countries.

Where can we do better?

There are many opportunities to improve the results of the most gifted students and to increase the number of students who succeed at the highest levels. For example, at the secondary level, we have only an average proportion of high achievers in science and a significantly lower proportion of high achievers in mathematics.

The Chief Inspector’s report says there is a clear need for more active, learner-centred teaching approaches at primary level, while we can do more at secondary level to develop students’ problem-solving skills in areas such as math, science and business subjects.

As for Irish: “ar fheabhas” or “uafásach”?

The quality of language use in Gaeltacht and Gaelscoileanna schools was rated as good overall. Results for students’ level of Irish in English-language schools are not as positive. At primary level, the report found that pupils’ learning outcomes in Irish in Anglo-Saxon primary schools were “very concerning”.

Inspectors observed an overreliance on Irish to English translation as part of students’ Irish experience and highlighted the need for more fun and engaging Irish language learning activities.

At the second level, Irish language inspections indicated that the quality of teaching and learning in Irish was good or very good in most schools.

How has Covid affected students?

Due to school closures, students have experienced anxiety and challenges to their well-being as well as gaps in their learning. Inspectors said it appeared the effects of Covid-19 had been felt unevenly, with students most at risk of educational disadvantage being disproportionately affected.

It is possible that in the next few years we will see a slowing down or even a reversal of the progress made here in improving the learning outcomes of students in disadvantaged schools relative to students in other schools. The same is true for students with additional needs.

What are the biggest challenges for the education system today? Schools must

identify where the greatest learning gaps have occurred as a result of school closures and address them in a systematic way. There is also a need to reform the curriculum and assessment experience for senior students in post-primary schools.

School governance and leadership is also identified as a major issue. The report says the voluntary management boards of the state’s more than 4,000 schools are no longer viable. Additionally, inclusion and diversity pose significant challenges to ensuring that all students can reach their full potential.

About Stuart M. McFarland

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