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Ó Sé to lead march for new gaelscoil

September 3, 2014

Former All-Ireland medal winner Tomás Ó Sé is set to lead a 1,000-strong demonstration next Friday to highlight the growing frustration amongst pupils, parents, and staff over the length of time it is taking to build a new school.

The Sunday Game pundit is to head a march organised by Gaelscoil de hÍde New School Action Group in Fermoy, Co Cork, at 11.30am.

The action group is calling on the Department of Education to honour a vow made in 2011 to build a gaelscoil in the town. The department is yet to locate a definite site.

Mr Ó Sé is a teacher at the 410-pupil school and is angry that his pupils are having to put up with totally inadequate facilities.

The school was originally expected to cater for just half the number of pupils it has. Cloakrooms, halls, and former libraries have been converted into classrooms, some uncomfortably close to toilets. The exercise area is woefully inadequate and now the school must place a prefab in the playground due to a shortage of space.

“It’s a ridiculous situation, the worst I’ve ever seen, and the children are being deprived,” said Mr Ó Sé. “Physical education is such an important part of a child’s development and it’s awful that we as teachers have to tell the children they can’t even run during the morning break. Exercise is crucial for children.

“The ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ concept is completely accurate. I grew up in a country school and we could blow off steam at break and play games to our hearts’ content. The children here can’t and it’s unacceptable. It’s wrong and a new school is long overdue.”

Local GPs have also expressed concern about the situation.

Vivienne Dempsey, chairwoman of the action group, said the aim of the protest is to send a clear signal to Jan O’Sullivan, the education minister, that the people of Fermoy support their call.

The march will begin outside the school at MacCurtain St and continue down to Patrick St. It will then double back to Pearse Square where principal Seán McGearailt and Mr Ó Sé will address the crowd.

Irish Examiner

Junior minister stands over promise that suitable site chosen for gaelscoil

July 23, 2014

A row over the building of a new gaelscoil has resulted in a junior minister stating he fully stands over his promise that a suitable site has been found for it.

Councillors based in north Cork have written to the minister for education seeking clarity over pre-local election statements which suggested that a suitable site had been found in Fermoy for the new gaelscoil.

Gaelscoil de hIde is seriously overcrowded and, for a number of years, the Department of Education has been looking for a site for a new school. Classrooms are cramped and portable buildings are now in the yard, which is curtailing PE and playtime activities.

Prior to the elections, then Minister for Research and Innovation Sean Sherlock announced that a new site had been found at Duntahane Road, on the southside of the town. However, some councillors expressed doubts over this after receiving a letter from the Department of Education which said they are making inquiries about the matter.

Cllr Frank O’Flynn (FF) said that three years ago the gaelscoil was told funding was available for a new school and there was still a problem in acquiring a site.

His party colleague Cllr Kevin O’Keeffe said that the Department of Education had previously promised that the school would be built and opened by next September.

“There’s still no confirmation of a site,” he added.

Council officials couldn’t shed any light on it either at a meeting which took place in Mallow earlier this week.

Mr Sherlock said “without any shadow of a doubt” a site has been chosen.

“As a minister I personally shepherded this process. Any public statements to that effect have been correct. I can assure you that I have had numerous discussions with county council officials on this matter and I fully intend to see this process through,” he said.


GAA star Tomás Ó Sé in fight for gaelscoil

July 3, 2014

Kerry football legend Tomás Ó Sé is helping to lead the fight for a new gaelscoil amid concern it may not be built as quickly as promised.

Ó Sé, a teacher at Gaelscoil de hÍde, Fermoy, is part of an action group which has been formed to lobby politicians to live up to a promise to build its 394 pupils a new school.

The Department of Education promised a new facility would be opened in 2014/2015, but according to the Sunday Game pundit this seems unlikely as a site hasn’t even been identified yet.

The five-time All Ireland-winner, who has taught at the school for the past 14 years, said the pupils are having to deal with seriously cramped conditions and the situation is going to get worse because more numbers are being taken in every year.

“Many classrooms are half the size of the standard classroom. We have two resource teachers operating in a computer room and we’ve a portable building in the yard.

“The kids have to walk around the yard now at break time, when they just want to run about,” Mr Ó Sé said.

“Exercise is crucial for children. I grew up in a country school and we could blow off steam at break and play games to our hearts content. The children here can’t and it’s unacceptable. It’s wrong.”

The action group is urging people in the Fermoy area to send a postcard featuring the pupils to as many politicians as they can in order to get the project moved on.

In 2011 the Government pledged that a new multi-purpose facility would be built to facilitate growing numbers at the school and funding has been earmarked under the capital schools building programme.

However, according to Mr Ó Sé, to date no site has been officially designated.

Initially the school was told the new building would open in time for this school year.

This was then moved back to 2015, and now it seems that target date will also not be met either.

“We know we’re going to get a new school at some stage, but with all the red tape it is likely to surpass the 2015 date which will be a huge blow to pupils, teachers and parents,” he said.

“I am totally frustrated at the extremely slow pace by public bodies in securing a site for our new school. The school community deserve a new school now,” principal Seán Mac Gearailt said.


Education board to lodge €19m application

June 5, 2014

The Cork Education and Training Board (ETB) has confirmed it plans to lodge a planning application within weeks for three new schools in Carrigaline as part of a €19m investment in a new education campus.

The new schools — a gaelscoil, a second-level gaelcholáiste and a Sonas Special Junior Primary School — will cater for more than 1,000 pupils when they are completed and opened by 2017.

But the Cork ETB also announced yesterday that it will open a gaelcholáiste in a temporary building in the town in September 2015 in advance of the construction of the permanent building.

“Negotiations are at an advanced stage to secure suitable temporary accommodation in Carrigaline and there is no doubt that a gaelcholáiste will be opened by the ETB in Carrigaline in September 2015,” Cork ETB chief executive Ted Owens said.

Enrolment for the new second-level school will open soon and parents of prospective first-year students — students who are due to finish primary school education in June 2015 — will be contacted shortly to facilitate their enrolment in the gaelcholáiste.

Cork ETB will be patron of the 500-pupil 4,800sq m gaelcholáiste, which will have 24 general classrooms as well as specialist accommodation and a PE hall.

Project planning and preparation for the new education campus has been under way since a 21-acre site at Ballinrea was bought a number of years ago — the consultants for the project are Cork company Kelly Barry O’Brien Whelan.

Mr Owens said consultation with local groups had been ongoing throughout that time.

He accepted the preparatory work for an education investment of this scale had taken time and stressed that it is now “full steam ahead” on the project.

“Cork ETB is extremely excited about this project and is looking forward to working with our partners to develop a state-of-the-art education campus for Carrigaline,” he said.

The Cork ETB gaelcholáiste is one of three new second-level schools planned in Carrigaline, after the Department of Education approved the Edmund Rice Schools Trust and multi-denominational body Educate Together as patrons of two others following local consultations.

Both those new schools are scheduled to open in 2016 and plans are being advanced by local groups to secure sites and buildings with the help of the Department of Education, and to develop policies with parents of prospective students.

In addition, a major extension to Carrigaline Community School is due to be ready for occupation during the next school year.

Mr Owens wished the patrons of the two proposed new schools well as they advance with their projects.

He said the Department of Education is of the view that such is the population of Carrigaline and the city’s southern suburbs that the provision of all these new schools is justified.


Caribbean and Irish pupils speak as Gaeilge over Skype

March 13, 2014

Separated by thousands of miles, but not by a common language.

History was made yesterday when a gaelscoil hooked up for the first time on Skype with a primary school in the Caribbean, and they both conversed as Gaeilge. Ireland and Montserrat, also known as the Emerald isle, are the only two nations in the world which hold public holidays to mark St Patrick’s Day, and it’s believed it was also the first Skype link between the two islands. Many surnames on Montserrat are Irish as most of its population are descended from Irish slaves who were sent there in the 17th century and married black slaves working on plantations. The idea for the Skype link-up came from freelance journalist, Graham Clifford, from Fermoy, Co Cork. He was on the tropical island yesterday ensuring the transmission went smoothly between Gaelscoil de hÍde, in his hometown and St Augustine’s primary school which is on the outskirts of Monserrat’s capital Plymouth.

Graham’s daughters Molly and Aoife attend the gaelscoil and were able to say hello to him along with their classmates. In both schools, the children dressed up to mark the occasion. To the delight of teachers in Fermoy the Montserrat children sang ‘Ó ró sé do bheatha abhaile’ in almost perfect Irish. Their charges replied with ‘Trasna na dTonna’ (Across the Waves). Both sets of children then spoke to their counterparts of their lives and the type of education they’re receiving. “To see the children on both islands chatting away and singing and dancing for each other was something else. Here on Montserrat they are aware they have Irish heritage, but through this interaction they got to see it in action,” Graham said. “We’ve been organising this call for weeks and in that time they’ve been learning Irish songs and dances, decorating their school in green, white and orange and learning about Ireland. Even if I meet one of the children walking down the street or strolling along the beach on the island they’d roar out ‘Céad míle Fáilte’,” he added.

St Augustine’s principal Claudia Skerritt said it was a wonderful experience for her pupils and would “make the St Patrick’s Day celebrations on Montserrat all the more special”. Their parish priest, Fr George Aggers, who is originally from Cobh, said the children “were very excited and thankfully remembered the ‘cúpla focals’ I taught them.” Gaelscoil de hÍde principal Sean Mac Gearailt said his pupils and teachers were thrilled with the link-up. “I hope we will do more of this with St Augustine’s into the future whereby the pupils can exchange on Skype, through emails and letters. ” he said. “It will help us to exchange ideas and learn more about each other’s history, education and resources. It worked a treat, it was fantastic. There was great credit to the teachers over there to teach their pupils Irish. It just goes to show we have a shared heritage and language, even though we are thousands of miles apart.”


Learning the hard way about changes to Junior Cycle reform

March 12, 2014

The proposed Junior Cycle programme has run into strong opposition from teachers.

How radical are the changes and what do they mean, asks Education Correspondent Niall Murray. IT HAS been the subject of controversy in education circles for almost 18 months but Education Minister Ruairi Quinn looks set to plough ahead with his radical changes to how students are assessed on their first three years of second-level education.

While much of the focus has been on the substantive — and very important — question of who should examine students, the bigger picture of the wider proposals may have been lost on the general public, particularly to parents and students. The key principle underlying the Junior Cycle Framework document, published by Mr Quinn in October 2012, is to change the focus of those first three years from exams and results to what and how students learn. This has received wide backing, including that of teachers, but anxieties remain about aspects of assessment and resourcing.

The following is a summary of the main elements of Mr Quinn’s plan.

-The Junior Cycle Student Award will replace the Junior Certificate from 2017 and eventually all subjects will be marked by students’ own teachers. However, in the initial years and possibly beyond, the State Examinations Commission will continue to mark the written exams in English, maths, and Irish.

-For each full subject, 60% of marks will go for the final exam near the end of third year, but the remaining 40% is to be awarded for school-based assessments, likely to be twice and at the same time nationally — in the final term of second year and before Christmas in third year, replacing normal in-school tests and mocks.

For English, this is to include testing of oral communication followed near the end of junior cycle by assessing a collection of students’ written coursework.

This component was always intended to be marked in-school, even in the proposals in 2011 to Mr Quinn from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment on which teacher unions are represented, whereas it had proposed the final written exams continue to be marked externally through the SEC.

-In response to teacher concerns, an extra day and a half of continuous professional development (CPD) over three years is being planned above that already underway since late last year for teachers of English. Theirs is the first subject for which a new curriculum is being rolled out, beginning next September, with assessments beginning in 2016 and final written exams in summer 2017.

The Department of Education is also allowing for up to four days of CPD for teachers of each other subject as they are being introduced, to cover the new curriculum for a subject as well as school-based assessment requirements, although teachers remain of the belief these provisions are inadequate.

A further one day per year will be allowed, during which schools may close, to facilitate whole-school training on the wider issues around the new assessment regime.

-The final written exam will be just one paper of no more than two hours’ duration and, with the exception of English, Irish, and maths, will be taken at one level and during the traditional school year, in the second week in May. For non-core subjects, the papers will be set by the SEC but marked by teachers, with school-based moderation supported by a common toolkit to support assessment.

-In the early years of the JCSA, English, Irish, and maths will be taken at either higher or ordinary level, and will be timetabled in June during the same period as the Leaving Cert. The papers will be set by the SEC, which will also be responsible for their marking.

-The NCCA is finalising a new curriculum in science, to be phased in for those starting second-level schooling in September 2015. Business studies and Irish were to have been added in the same year — with both new curriculums also nearing completion — but this was adjusted in January in recognition of teacher concerns, and they will now be introduced instead from September 2016 and have final exams for students completing third year in 2019.

Revised curriculums for two more subjects — art and modern languages — instead of four will be introduced from 2017, with remaining changes following in the next two years.

-Students will generally take eight full subjects or their equivalent for the JCSA, but from the first-year intake in September 2015, schools must limit the number of full subjects that students can take for certification purposes to 10, or the equivalent mix of full subjects and short courses.

-As well as traditional full subjects, schools may also offer a range of short courses. A combination of two short courses could be used instead of one full subject to meet the certification requirements, meaning a student could complete assessments in six full subjects and four short courses.

Short courses would be taught over 100 hours (compared to the 200 to 240 hours needed for other main subjects) and the NCCA is designing six optional courses that schools can choose to offer if they wish from next autumn: Chinese language and culture; civic, social and political education; social, personal, and health education; physical education; artistic performance; programming and coding; a personal project; caring for animals; digital media literacy.

Schools can also devise their own short courses, as long as they satisfy the learning principles underpinning the junior cycle framework.

-The current grading system for the Junior Certificate — A, B, C and so on — will be replaced by the following awards:

-Achieved with distinction (90% to 100%);

-Achieved with higher merit (75% to 89%);

-Achieved with merit (55% to 74%);

-Achieved (40% to 54%);

-Not achieved (0% to 39%).

For small numbers of students in specific categories of mild or moderate general learning disabilities, schools can begin from next September to include priority learning units (PLUs) which also form part of the junior cycle framework.

A programme to include PLUs can be put in place for students in mainstream schools where their special needs prevent them from accessing some or all subjects or short courses. This should lead to an award at level 2 of the qualifications framework, one stage below the level 3 currently given to the Junior Certificate and proposed to be given the JCSA. The five PLUs — communicating and literacy, numeracy, personal care, living in a community, and preparing for work — focus on the basic social, pre-vocational and life skills of the students involved.

-Part of the Government’s literacy and numeracy strategy, which requires teachers to focus on these aspects of learning across all subjects, is incorporated in the revised junior cycle.

Beginning with those starting first year in 2015, students must take standardised assessments in English and maths in second term of second year, beginning in spring 2017. This is happening a year later than originally planned, and will be followed by the first testing of second-year students in science in spring 2018, when students in all-Irish schools will also be tested in the language in addition to English, maths, and science.


Quinn pushes on with Junior Cert reform despite protests

March 11, 2014

The planned replacement of the Junior Certificate with a system which will see teachers marking their own students is being pushed ahead by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.

This is despite a protest at schools today and an impending vote by 27,000 secondary teachers against co-operation with the plan. Mr Quinn has issued a letter to the country’s 730 second-level schools setting out the arrangements for the introduction of the Junior Cycle Student Award from next September, when first year students are to be prepared for assessment in English from 2016 as the first subject to undergo changes for certification in 2017.

Members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland are being asked in a ballot not to take part, or in training or related assessments, and the unions expect a show of strength at an unofficial protest called at school gates this lunchtime. While classes will not be disrupted, teachers want the public to understand their concerns about standards in the proposed system, having taken out newspaper ads on the issue yesterday. Their primary concern is that students will no longer have their work examined externally by the State Examinations Commission. The unions have argued that Mr Quinn did not consult on the idea of school-based assessment, but he maintains that the aim of the changes is to end the high-stakes nature of the Junior Certificate because 90% of students go on to sit the Leaving Certificate.

The ASTI and TUI want external assessment for final exams maintained to uphold the integrity of the system, and also have concerns about what they say is inadequate teacher training provision. While Mr Quinn made some concessions in January on additional professional development, and reducing the rate at which subjects will be added for revised modes of assessment, he has also committed to consider any proposals of a working group in which unions have engaged over the past two months with his department, and other stakeholders on professional development, assessment, and resourcing schools.

“If the minister accepts recommendations from the working group, then of course they will be implemented as soon as possible,” Mr Quinn’s spokesperson said. However, the issuing of the circular letter means he is standing firm on the over-riding principle of school-based assessment, which could also harden opposition. Fine Gael members voted at their ard fheis 10 days ago that the party should call on him to reverse this element of the JCSA, although TDs and senators voted against the motion after delegates were told it opposed Government policy.


Bilingual poetry in Bantry Gaelscoil

March 6, 2014

Denis Connolly and his partner Anne Cleary were among the many Irish architects who moved to Paris in the early 1990s, a time when there was virtually no architectural work in Ireland and an abundance in France.

In the interim, most of their compatriots returned to Ireland and moved on elsewhere after the boom ended. The Cleary-Connollys, however, settled in Montmartre, where they live with their family. They have diversified into broader artistic expression and return regularly to Ireland to orchestrate artistic workshops in schools and public organisations. At the moment, they’re in Bantry for a special project in which they join forces with another Irish artist of major significance, also voluntarily exiled in Paris — Irish-language poet Derry O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan has been teaching in France for several decades, where he lives with his wife Jean. In 2012, he became the first living poet to receive the coveted Times Stephen Spender poetry award for an outstanding piece of poetry translated into English.

At their temporary base at the Maritime Hotel in Bantry, all four expatriate Irish appear to be infected with the childlike enthusiasm that their unique project has engendered. “There was a call put out for the Gaelscoil in Bantry and we thought that it would be nice to do something with the Irish language,” explains Denis Connolly. “Immediately we thought of Derry.” They had met at a fundraising event in Paris where some members of Ireland’s French diaspora had gathered. After a short email, Derry sent back a poem he had written on space travel entitled ‘Blip’. “It was perfect and what was extraordinary was that you always expected an Irish poem from school Irish to be something pastoral or about a little black donkey.” They all laugh at the reference to Pádraic Ó Conaire’s ‘M’asal Beag Dubh’ — a staple of the secondary school curriculum for most of their generation and beyond, and one which is referenced in ‘Blip’.

The notion of space travel and weightlessness gave them the visual key. “In this case, we do a participative phase with the kids where they talk about the poem and then we come up with a way in which they can participate in it,” says Connolly. “Derry read the poem in both English and Irish,” says Cleary. “We went through it and discussed every section of it with the children — interpreting data, space travel, the space race, weightlessness and the whole notion of what happens when you’re up in space.” Working through the three phases of participation, photography and print, the result ends up being a very thoughtful interpretation of a piece of poetry, using the imagination and energy of the students to create their own piece of permanent art in the school: a series of images and words are transferred onto the huge glass surfaces of the new school building.

All were impressed by the level of enthusiasm from the children, especially as they participated while on mid-term break. It just goes to show: if education becomes fun, the thirst for knowledge and artistic expression has no bounds.


Camán key to students success at Schools Enterprise award

March 6, 2014

A company set up in a hurling-mad school has won a top prize at a student enterprise competition for its camán-shaped keyrings customised with school, club, and county crests.

A team from another Cork school won the other main prize during this week’s Seachtain na Gaeilge for an Irish comic and CD about Cúchulainn and other legendary figures. For the four teenagers at Midleton CBS behind Hurling Hub, winners of the South Cork Schools Enterprise Programme, the choice of business venture was fairly simple. They designed hurley-shaped key rings, to which crests are added in production, and the school’s hurling tradition was a big influence.

“That’s really where we came up with the idea, the school being so sport-oriented, we thought it would be good to do something associated with sport,” explained company manager Kevin Moynihan. It also helped that the start-up last autumn coincided with Midleton’s path to a county senior hurling championship victory, so sales were strong for club-crested keyrings. With sales of more than €1,000 already achieved on the €2 keyrings — and the prospect of bringing production fully in-school instead of partly outsourced — they were on course for a win themselves going into the event earlier this week at University College Cork — where they also managed to make a pitch to supply college keyrings.

A desire to help primary pupils develop an interest in Irish language inspired the 14-member Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh mini-company Pulse. The lads from the Bishopstown school decided a comic book, Fadó Fadó, telling the stories of Cúchulainn — himself a legendary hurler — could help make learning Gaeilge more fun for children aged nine to 13. The stories are illustrated by the students themselves, and also feature tales of Tír na nÓg and Cúchulainn. The comic has glossaries for tough words and games to make it even more of an educational aid for pupils and teachers, and helping the product win the Cork City enterprise award. The two firms emerged from almost 50 who exhibited at a showcase of young innovators at the regional final at UCC. The college is offering mentorship to both ahead of their participation in the Student Enterprise national finals in Croke Park on April 2, where they will have a chance to add to the €2,500 in prizes provided by the South Cork and Cork City enterprise boards.

Other category winners this week included a number of teams from fellow-Midleton school St Colman’s Community College, from Kinsale Community College, Coláiste Choilm in Ballincollig, and Regina Mundi College in Douglas. Find more details about the two overall winning companies check out @HurlingHub and @PulseCSN on Twitter.


Normalise our native language, or lose it

February 28, 2014

Myles Duffy (Letters, Febraury 26) miss-es the point. The Irish language has never been nurtured by the State. On the whole, the language has been an ornament atop a monoglot anglophone system.

Where a language is excluded from pub-lic or official business, that language goes into decline. This has nothing to do with the survival of the fittest, but is a matter of policy .The Dutch language has thrived in Belgium since the normalisation of its use in public life there was achieved. The same Dutch language is dying out just across the border in Dunkirk, where it was the ma-jority language for centuries, because of its being banned from official spaces by the French state.

Seán Ó Cuirreáin, the Official Languages Ombudsman, resigned in December in frustration at the lack of progress on end-ing the systemic marginalisation of Irish. We need to normalise our language. The comparison with the GAA is not well made. Languages need active speakers with am-ple opportunities to use the language and pass it on to their children. There is no comparison with training for an hour once a week or cheering on from the sidelines.

Dáithí Mac Cárthaigh BL
An Leabharlann Dlí
Baile Átha Cliath 7


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