January 28, 2013
Niall Murray’s (Jan 22) news report of Professor Eamonn Conway’s accurate assessment that few parents want a change of school patronage deserves further analysis.
As a parent, who voted in the Killarney survey, I was dismayed to learn from Department officials that my vote would not be counted because it is my wife who receives child benefit.
Only half of parents, those in receipt of child benefit, have a right to vote. I was more dismayed to learn that the Department has concocted a protocol that forbids any formal meetings of parents to debate the merits of Education Minister Ruairi Quinn’s very radical proposals for the Catholic Church to surrender 50% of its schools to other patrons.
I fear that democracy is dead.
Beaufort, Co Kerry
January 14, 2013
A wider information campaign is planned to promote a survey of parents on primary school choices after a mixed response to a trial survey before Christmas.
The Department of Education will send leaflets to every home in each of the 38 towns and suburbs where they want to find out how much demand there is for alternatives to the current provision of primary schools almost exclusively under religious patronage.
A more extensive campaign of radio and newspaper advertising is also planned after between 25% and 44% of eligible parents took part in the three-week exercise during November. It resulted in a recommendation that the Catholic bishops in all five areas make one of their local school buildings available for multi-denominational group Educate Together.
The body representing Catholic schools has said turnout was low and claims it means all those who did not take part are satisfied with current arrangements. A spokesperson for Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said participation was quite strong in the context of the low turnout in last year’s children’s referendum. However, the department has been asked to better promote awareness of the surveys by patrons who are interested in taking over Catholic schools, as they are restricted by a code of conduct around the survey to limited publicity spending.
The 38 areas where parents of all children up to the age of 12 are being asked for their views have 311 primary schools between them, or an average of around eight each. But the Department of Education says there are no primary schools in most of them besides those under the control of the local Catholic bishop or other religious patrons, and there is insufficient population growth for new schools to be built.
Kildare town has been removed from the list of areas being surveyed as an Educate Together school opened there in 2011 and a new gaelscoil is to be set up after evidence of demand put forward by all-Irish schools patron An Foras Pátrúnachta.
Both groups expressed interest in taking over any divested Catholic schools in most or all of the 38 remaining areas, with city or county vocational education committees interested in running primary schools in all of them.
Parents in three towns — Clonmel, Longford, and Monaghan — who would like more choice will also have the option of picking Rehab Group’s National Learning Network as an alternative patron. The Redeemed Christian Church of God, a Nigerian-founded church, is interested in running schools in Cobh, Dublin 6, Longford, and Shannon. The survey can be completed on the Department of Education website, or in a paper version on request, from today until Feb 8.
*The survey is online at www.education.ie and parents will need to give a PPS number for verification. A free helpline is also available 1800 303 621.
January 11, 2013
A Cork all-Irish school has reversed its decision not to enrol a third first-year class next September after more than 20 appeals were made to the Department of Education.
Gaelcholáiste Mhuire in the North Monastery — the city’s only northside all-Irish secondary school — was accused of changing the goalposts when about 50 of the 110-plus applicants to start there later this year were refused enrolment before Christmas.
While management were keen to accommodate three classes, the Edmund Rice Schools Trust which owns the school wanted to restrict numbers to avoid putting strain on the school’s facilities. The trustees want any expansion to be managed properly so that the necessary building works would be carried out to meet any rising demand for the school, which is under the same ownership as the adjoining North Monastery Secondary School.
But public representatives and parents claimed they were led to understand when applying last autumn that there would be three first-year classes, the same as in three of the last four years.
After a series of meetings over the last month between the board, parents, and the trustees, a decision has now been made to admit the third class.
It means good news for 28 boys and girls who had been refused a place, most of whom are understood to have lodged appeals to the Department of Education.
The chair of the school’s board of management, Paul Moynihan, said it had been working with the trustees to resolve a number of issues.
“The trustees held a number of concerns as regards the capacity of the school to accommodate the numbers that were being proposed for the 2013/14 academic year. Until these concerns were satisfied the trustees were unwilling to approve increased numbers,” he said.
“The necessary assurances have now been given by school management to the trustees that has enabled them to give their approval to the admission of increased numbers.” Local councillor Tom Gould said the development was good news.
“I think common sense has prevailed, it’s the right decision for the children. It’s a fabulous school with a great reputation and that is why places are so sought after and hopefully work can be done over the next year to ensure we won’t be facing the same situation again.”
January 9, 2013
Parents in 39 towns and city suburbs will be asked their views from next week on a choice of up to five alternative patrons to their local, Catholic-run, primary schools.
They include seven Cork and Kerry towns, nine other Munster towns and 12 areas in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin. But the level of demand for changes to the current system could be in dispute after the interpretation by the group representing Catholic schools of the pilot survey results last month.
Although 25% to 35% of parents said they would avail of a wider choice of patronage if it was available, the Catholic Schools Partnership said this equated to just 5% to 10% of all parents, based on participation rates as lows as 24% in some survey areas.
Following the survey of families in five towns in November, the New Schools Establishment Group proposed that the Catholic bishops offer a school in each of them to multi-denominational group Educate Together. It was the most preferred patron among those who supported a wider choice of schools in Arklow, Co Wicklow, Castlebar, Co Mayo, Tramore, Co Waterford, Trim, Co Wexford, and Whitehall in Dublin.
The expanded survey of parents was to have started today but the Department of Education said patron bodies asked for it to begin next week, rather than this week when schools have just returned after Christmas.
In all 39 areas, the all-Irish schools patron group An Foras Pátrúnachta and the city or county vocational education committees (VECs) have put themselves forward to take over schools currently under Catholic patronage. The National Learning Network, a training division of the Rehab group, is an option for parents in four, and families in four towns can choose the Nigerian-founded Redeemed Christian Church of God as an alternative patron.
Educate Together is offering to be patron to schools in all but five areas, including Carrigaline, Co Cork, where it already has a school. The other Cork towns where parents of primary and pre-primary children are being surveyed are Bandon, Cobh, Fermoy, Passage West and Youghal.
Other Munster towns selected are: Shannon, Co Clare, Killarney, Co Kerry, Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel, Nenagh, Roscrea, Thurles and Tipperary in Co Tipperary; and Dungarvan, Co Waterford.
They have little or no choice of primary schools, other than Catholic or other denominational schools, but with insufficient population growth to justify new schools being built.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has asked the Catholic bishops in the five pilot towns to respond within six months with proposals on how to reconfigure their existing schools to facilitate Educate Together.
January 7, 2013
TG Lurgan is aiming to boost interest in the Irish language with a new music video app, Colette Sheridan reports
AN Irish language music video app has recently been launched by Coláiste Lurgan, an independent Irish language summer school based in the Connemara Gaeltacht. TG Lurgan is available for free downloading on Android and iOS and can be accessed in the App Store or Play Store. It enables users to enjoy and share music videos as Gaeilge.
It was developed on a voluntary basis by Coláiste Lurgan, providing a wide selection of contemporary Irish language music videos alongside tutorial videos for learning Irish. The next version of TG Lurgan will include a facility whereby members can upload their own productions as Gaeilge, allowing people to enjoy and learn from them.
In 2012, Coláiste Lurgan launched Abair Leat! — the world’s first social networking site dedicated to the Irish language. It’s all part of Coláiste Lurgan’s aim of popularising the use of Irish and broadening its base. As the manager of Coláiste Lurgan, Micheál Ó Fóighil, explains, the app — cited as the Irish language equivalent of MTV and Vevo — allows users to create their own playlists, making people’s favourites even more accessible.
“While the songs themselves provide first class entertainment, they are also an excellent vehicle for language learning. Song and verse have always been a very powerful memory aid, putting essential words and phrases not just on the tip of your tongue, but also into your long-term memory.
“Learners relate to Irish language versions of songs they enjoy listening to as entertainment rather than work. Learning the lyrics helps learners to expand their vocabulary and to speak simple essential phrases in a quick non-tedious way. Any exposure to the Irish language outside of the class situation is a huge plus. Quite a lot of people have learned the lyrics as Gaeilge. It’s quite an effective language learning exercise.”
TG Lurgan recently passed the one million plays milestone since uploading its first video on the Vimeo platform two years ago. Among the most popular productions so far are ‘BEO Lurgan’, an Irish cover version of ‘Some Nights’ by American indie pop band, Fun, with over 80,000 views. Other hits include ‘An Chóisir Rac’ — an Irish version of ‘Party Rock’ by LMFAO with 45,000 views and ‘Lady Ga(eilge)’, a medley of Lady Gaga songs clocking up 40,000 views. TG Lurgan also features many original compositions, such as ‘Damhsa Amhráin’, ‘Céili ar an Trá’, ‘An Buachaill Ceart’, ‘Can Os Ard’, ‘Seans Deirneach’ and ‘An Bráisléid’ to mention just a few.
Ó Fóighil says the songs are used in some Irish language classes, “not just in Ireland, but all over the world. Quite a number of them are Irish versions of contemporary popular music.” The Irish language students record the songs during their sojourn at Coláiste Lurgan during the summer.
“We put up the songs in a kind of karaoke version. There are now over 400 videos altogether. While making them, we improvise a lot.”
The Irish language “is never going to go out of fashion, as long as we have a country. But Gaeilge has been very poorly presented by the Department of Education. It’s such a pity it’s not presented by the department in a more appealing way that can actually resonate with people. I suppose the Department of Education would be the biggest obstacle to the progression and learning of Gaeilge.”
Both young and older people are “positively disposed” towards learning Irish. “After spending 14 years in a classroom learning Gaeilge, there’s something wrong with the way it’s presented if people aren’t curious about it afterwards. This has been said over and over again. But nothing has really changed in the way the language is taught. It’s not a question of resources. Money is being spent but there’s damn all to show for it.”
If Ó Fóighil worked in the Department of Education he would make Irish “much more appealing with an emphasis on spoken Gaeilge. No one expects (school leavers) to speak the language. That’s a huge flaw. Not only are they unable to speak it, but when they try to, they have no confidence. They can see no relevance in it… It’s not that more money is required. It’s just that the language needs to be taught in a way that people can connect with.”
Only for TG4, the Irish language “would be in huge trouble. Setting up TG4 was the most positive thing done for the language. The station makes the language relevant. Only for it, we wouldn’t be talking about Gaeilge at the moment. TG4 is a really significant player in presenting the language in a modern way.” And TG Lurgan aims to make it hip, cool and, most of all, accessible.
December 17, 2012
A row between the board of the only all-Irish secondary school on Cork City’s northside and its trustees has left dozens of children upset at being refused enrolment for next year.
After taking in three first-year classes in three out of the last four years, Gaelcholáiste Mhuire AG at the North Monastery has now turned down around 50 of the 110 applicants for places in Sept 2013.
The school board had hoped to take in more than 80 students, but says the Edmund Rice Schools Trust, which owns the school, was behind the cut.
“The board of management intended, and still wishes, to have three classes but was directed by our trustees to take 58 students,” said board secretary Dónal Ó Buachalla.
“As principal, I’d be acutely concerned that there are parents and children who have legitimate expectation. Even at this late stage, I would hope there would be a satisfactory resolution, through ongoing discussion and dialogue between the trustees and the board.”
There are differences of opinion over whether the school has space to accommodate a third first-year class. It is understood that trustees want a phased increase in numbers ahead of any expansion of facilities. The Gaelcholáiste has 405 boys and girls on its roll.
ERST chief executive Gerry Bennett said the record should show that the board decided not to take in more children than it had capacity for, and the trustees agree with this decision.
“Any other course of action would be against the interests of the students already enrolled in the school,” said Mr Bennett. “If a development proposal for extended building provision is received from the school, the ERST will look at it carefully and with consideration for demand for education through Irish in the area.”
But Sinn Féin councillor Thomas Gould said parents who were given the impression there would be more than 80 places at Gaelcholáiste Mhuire feel the goalposts have been moved. Mr Gould is a board member of Gaelscoil Pheig Sayers, which he said had four of out of 11 applicants for the Gaelcholáiste turned down.
“We have parents speaking with their feet, choosing Gaelscoils in the northside, while the only second-level all-Irish school in the area is cutting places,” he said.
December 17, 2012
Student teachers have warned they will not be able to complete their studies because budget cuts mean they have to spend up to €1,500 each on compulsory Gaeltacht trips.
The move was announced last year by the Department of Education. But this year’s first-year students have protested as the Gaeltacht trips and the associated costs loom.
Up to this year, primary teachers had to attend a three-week language course as part of their training. That requirement has been extended by the Teaching Council to two two-week stays during what will now be a four-year degree for most prospective teachers. However, previous funding of the course fees has been withdrawn by the department from this year.
Students say it will lead to costs of over €700 in fees and expenses for each of the two trips. Darren Wynne, president of the students’ union at Mary Immaculate College of Education in Limerick, said expecting student teachers to come up with more than €1,400 over two years is not possible in the current economic climate.
“The people who made these decisions are out of touch with reality, it is an issue of huge concern for students. It will make it financially impossible for some students to complete their course,” he said, after students at the college met with course providers.
“In the long term, this will dissuade students from socio–economically disadvantaged backgrounds from teacher education courses. “We are calling on the Teaching Council to review the placement requirement or the Government to restore funding for the placement,” he said.
The Teaching Council said it had been proposed to extend the Gaeltacht placement to up to nine weeks, but it was restricted to four weeks because of the withdrawal of State funding.
The council has told Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Minister Jimmy Deenihan that the Department of Education should set up a targeted financial support programme to ensure student teachers can take part.
The department said the abolition of grants towards student teachers’ attendance at Gaeltacht courses brings teacher-training programmes more in line with other degrees in which students themselves must bear the costs of additional special requirements.
The cut affects those who began teacher training this year but the department paid over €860,000 to Irish colleges in respect of student primary teachers’ fees this year. A spokesperson said a field trip element of a fee grant may be payable under the student grant scheme, and a limited number of students who do not qualify for a grant may be eligible for a contribution towards Gaeltacht course fees.
“In circumstances of particular need, students may apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund which assists students in third-level institutions in exceptional financial need,” a spokesperson said.
December 13, 2012
Catholic bishops have been given six months to respond to the demand for alternative primary schools in five specific areas where the Department of Education conducted a survey among parents.
The deadline has been set by Ruairi Quinn, the education minister, after publishing a report on the five pilot surveys, while parents in a further 39 areas will be asked for their views on primary patronage.
The report contains the attitudes of parents of 2,544 primary pupils and 915 pre-school children, and recommends school buildings be freed up to allow an Educate Together school be set up in each of the five areas.
Although fewer than 25% of parents with children aged 12 or under responded in two areas, support for a wider choice of patronage ranged from 37% in Castlebar, Co Mayo, to just over half in Tramore, Co Waterford. The numbers who would send their children to a school run by an alternative patron was between one quarter and just over one-in-three, and 35% to 44% did not support a wider choice of patrons.
The five areas are among 44 identified as having little or no choice of primary school other than those under the patronage of local bishops.
Among parents who want greater choice, multi-denominational group Educate Together was significantly preferred in all five areas. There was strong support for all-Irish schools patron An Foras Pátrúnachta in Arklow (26%) and Tramore (21%), and one-in-five parents who wanted more choice in Tramore opted for the local vocational education committee.
Mr Quinn said while many parents were happy with the schools available in their area, there was a clear demand from others for more choice.
“I will now ask the main patron in each area, the Catholic bishop or archbishop, to consider the reconfiguration options open to him which would allow suffic-ient school accommodation to be made available to facilitate this choice,” he said.
Mr Quinn wants their interim responses, based on local school consultations, within three months and a final response in six months.
Fr Michael Drumm, chair of the Catholic Schools Partnership, which represents bishops and religious orders, said the responses show 5% to 10% of parents want alternative schools for their children. His interpretation is based on an assumption that those who did not respond do not want any change to current school choices.
“There’s clearly a huge interest in Catholic schooling but there is also a clear need to reconfigure the system for the minority of parents who want additional forms of patronage. Those who told us the level of demand was 50% were clearly wrong,” he said.
December 11, 2012
The controversial building of a new school on playing fields on Cork’s northside is to go ahead as part of next year’s €370m schools capital programme.
Gaelscoil an Ghoirt Álainn is one of 50 new buildings or extensions which Education Minister Ruairi Quinn announced will go to construction in 2013. Most have already been flagged to go ahead next year as part of a five-year school building programme announced in March.
But the location of the school on part of the 11-acre Tank Field in Mayfield was the subject of potential obstacles at the time, after An Bord Pleanála had overturned an earlier refusal of permission in a vote of Cork City Council members.
Some local residents took a court challenge in September against what they said would be the loss of a right of way through the playing fields because of the project, and subsequent arrangements between the council and the local GAA club which uses the field.
However, Cork Circuit Court rejected their case in October and Mr Quinn has confirmed work on the 16-classroom school should begin next year.
The news brought joy to pupils, parents, and staff of the school, which has operated from prefabs on the grounds of Brian Dillons GAA Club next to the Tank Field for most of its life.
“Gaelscoil an Ghoirt Álainn has been in operation for almost 20 years now and finally we can begin to imagine life in a proper school building with proper facilities for our children,” said principal Deaglán Ó Deargáin and board chair Colm Henry.
“We look forward to progressing with the development of a new school suitable for the education of our children and one which will benefit the whole community.”
Six projects have been brought forward to begin work next year, including an extension to Newpark Comprehensive in Blackrock, Co Dublin, on which construction was not scheduled to begin until at least 2015 according to last March’s list.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said some projects may have progressed if they got through planning faster than anticipated, or if projected student numbers in an area have increased significantly.
The projects include schools being established in the next few years to cater for rising urban populations. Mr Quinn said almost 21,000 of the 25,000 student places to be provided are in extensions or new schools, with the remainder replacing temporary or unsuitable accommodation.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said meeting the needs of a rising young population is welcome, but the Government had failed in its responsibility to ensure existing schools are maintained by the withdrawal of grants for minor works.
General secretary Sheila Nunan said the department should ringfence 7.5% of all future capital funding for maintenance of existing school buildings.
Another 53 major school projects were occupied or completed this year and the larger projects listed yesterday will account for €240m of the €370m capital investment in schools.
December 11, 2012
Thousands of families in border counties will be surveyed before Christmas on demand for the option of sending their children to school in Northern Ireland.
About 12,000 families in the North were asked to complete a similar survey recently, and the Department of Education will issue its questionnaire here in the coming days.
It is understood that more than 500 children cross the border to go to school every day, most of them travelling north from the Republic.
The survey of demand for more cross-border schooling opportunities was ordered by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and his northern counterpart, John O’Dowd, in February, as reported at the time by the Irish Examiner.
The North’s department of education sent details to 12,000 homes within 12 miles (19km) of the border in late October. Mr Quinn’s officials have drawn up their own online version, with the families of about 9,000 pupils being notified through their schools.
Parents of children in junior infants and sixth class (or their equivalents) at primary schools six miles either side of the border, and those in first year of secondary schools within 12 miles of the border, are being surveyed.
Among the issues asked about are levels of awareness of the options for cross-border schooling, and the reasons why parents would or would not be interested in having their children educated in the other country.
Families can cite a range of issues they might see as obstacles to doing so, such as lack of places or transport, the different curriculum, costs of books and materials, separating children from friends, or inconvenience for work or child-minding arrangements.
The aim is also to establish parental preferences for school types, under headings such as religious ethos, gender mix, and language of instruction.
The results will inform future joint policy by both governments to facilitate further supports, mainly on issues like planning for school buildings based on projected enrolment growth that might arise from more cross-border education, and transport.
The outcomes are due to be discussed by Mr Quinn and Mr O’Dowd at the North-South Ministerial Council meeting in late Feb 2013. The North’s department of education is analysing responses to its survey, and said it would not release further details before the ministers are briefed.
“The Department of Education and Skills in the south has yet to complete its element of the survey.
“A full report on the information gathered by the whole survey is to be submitted to the North- South Ministerial Council early next year,” said a spokesman.