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 Header Item Back to School Costs (Continued)
 Header Item School Curriculum

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn]  It is important that all schools are sensitive to the financial pressures on parents not only with regard to school uniforms or books but in respect of any matter that has cost implications for parents. Therefore, I join the call to urge individual schools, boards and patrons to ensure that any steps recommended for schools in the report are implemented as soon as possible.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien This issue has been raised on numerous occasions in the Chamber. We have been told consistently that the issue of school uniforms is a matter for individual boards of management.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn It is.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I welcome the fact the Minister said we need leadership on this issue, but I believe we need leadership from the Minister as well. I imagine the Minister is well aware that under the 1998 Act he has the power to issue recommendations on this or any other matter. This was last done in 2008 in respect of school uniforms. The recommendations issued in 2008 were not exactly progressive. One of the recommendations made for the current system was that school uniform policy should be left to schools, as before. However, the Minister has the power, by virtue of being Minister, to issue recommendations to change that. It is unfair to say that it is up to parents to mobilise. I understand that must be part of the process but the first step should involve the Minister issuing recommendations to various boards of management.

The other issue relates to voluntary contributions. The Department's discussion document on enrolment envisages the matter of voluntary contributions being regulated by secondary legislation. Are there any proposals by the Minister or the Department to introduce legislation on this issue?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I am very supportive of the recommendations of the joint committee. As Deputy O'Brien is aware, they were all-party recommendations. I will be studying the report carefully and I will consider whether it is appropriate for me to make a formal recommendation. I have stated repeatedly during the past two years that in the first instance it is a role for parents, who are represented on the boards of management of schools, to move in the direction suggested in the report.

I hope to have the draft enrolment legislation and the statutory instruments ready fairly soon and to publish them. I will deal with that issue in draft form in the publication when it is ready.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I thank the Minister for his reply. Can we get a commitment that if the schools, boards of management and patron bodies do not take on board the recommendations, then the Minister will actively pursue issuing his own recommendations as the powers vested in his office allow? I offer one example of a school in Cork which was recently amalgamated. Prior to the amalgamation there was a consultation process with the parents. One of the outcomes of the consultation process involved a commitment given in respect of school uniforms such that they would be phased in over several years, because of the additional costs. That was agreed but, unfortunately, it has been reneged on. I have before me a letter from one parent who has three children attending the newly amalgamated school. One of them is in sixth class and that student must get a crested uniform, a crested coat and a crested tracksuit at a considerable cost for one year only. A letter was sent out by the board of management stating that if students do not have the full uniform there will be consequences.

I will pass on information to the Minister but there is a lack of recommendations coming from the Department and this is the result. Individual boards of management are taking ludicrous decisions when it comes to school costs and I have no faith in the ability of individual boards of management to take on board the significant financial pressures that parents find themselves under.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn All I can say is that since the foundation of the State, and even going back before then, a partnership has existed between the State and school providers and educators. The Department at national level does not micro-manage individual schools. We have endorsed the role of the National Parents Council at primary and post-primary levels.

With all due respect I am not passing the buck but that is the body to which those aggrieved parents should write in the first instance. It is understandable why the people wrote to Deputy O'Brien. I presume they were his constituents. I have met the National Parents Council at primary and post-primary levels and I will certainly take up the issue with them. However, ultimately, all I can do is make a recommendation. It will be for the boards of management, on which the parents are represented, finally to decide.

School Curriculum

 3. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn in view of the serious concerns regarding the subject of history in the proposed reform of the junior certificate, if he will consider including history as a compulsory subject.  [32343/13]

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn Under the new framework for junior cycle, schools will design programmes to reflect not only the key skills and statements of learning of the framework but also to reflect teacher qualifications and the identified needs of students. All junior cycle students will be required to study English, Irish and mathematics. Thereafter, schools will have the flexibility and autonomy to offer short courses and to choose from 18 other subjects, including history.

The vast majority of schools already offer history. More than 90% of students choose history although it is compulsory in only half our schools. Curriculum choice is important in motivating students to learn and to remain in school to completion of senior cycle. Overall, I am in favour of leaving the decision on what is offered at the discretion of each school. I emphasise the fact that 90% of all second level students are taking history.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan I thank the Minister for the reply. No doubt there is much alarm and disquiet among those in the History Teachers Association of Ireland, among people who teach history at third level, like Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, and people within the history industry such as Catriona Crowe from the National Archives of Ireland, at the way in which they see history being downgraded under these proposals.

We all believe that history should be taught as a full subject over a substantial period and in a chronological framework and that it should be seen as part of the core curriculum. What the Minister is suggesting as part of the new proposed junior certificate is the same as the way in which history is taught in transition year in a modular way. The Minister stated that each student will value local, national and international heritage. That is part of what happens in transition year. For example, a particular person, a particular event or a particular organisation might be examined. My school has studied the role of women in 1913 and in 1916 in particular.

The History Teachers Association of Ireland met the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection. A very involved, frank and open discussion took place. Did the officials report back to the Minister? Is the Minster in a position to take on board what was discussed at that meeting?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn As it happened I saw some of the debate that took place with the committee in the House. I am sympathetic to the study of history right through to sixth year, as are 90% of students who study the subject. I cannot quite understand why history teachers are so fearful that their subject is suddenly going to be abandoned. As Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan will be aware from her professional background, in the traditional free voluntary sector the subject is compulsory in many schools. However, throughout the entire spectrum of the 723 post-primary schools in the country it is not compulsory, yet 90% of pupils study it. There is clear evidence to suggest that if the curriculum, in terms of what is required to be studied by different students, is too prescriptive and does not allow for different interests to be expressed, then there would be early departures from the system. That would be a negative effect that I have no wish to bring about either. Anyway, I have every conference in the interest that Irish people have in history to ensure that the vast bulk of them will continue to study the subject, but not only as a project in transition year. That is not the intention. What the History Teachers Association of Ireland should do is engage actively with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to discuss how their concerns can be addressed within the new curriculum.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan The fact that up to now 90% of students have chosen the subject is no guarantee that under the proposed framework that will continue to be the case. We have something that is working, so why try to reinvent it? There is no doubt that the junior certificate history programme needed reform, especially in second year. However, the fear remains that it will not convey all the skills involved with the teaching of history, including literacy, numeracy, analysis, critical thinking and the question of how can we know who we are as a people unless we know where we have come from. It is also important in terms of teaching bias and the role of the media. I do not believe all of that will come across under the new proposal. We have seen the example in England, where changes were introduced. Someone made the point that when Margaret Thatcher died no one from a certain generation knew who she was. Perhaps that is not a bad thing, but nevertheless a certain point was being made.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn The whole thrust of the junior cycle reforms serves to bring a holistic approach to teaching at second level, which we do not have at present.

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