23rd January 2014 - Curriculum overload, maintaining standards in the face of increasing cutbacks and the belief that schools can fix everything among the “great expectations” faced by Primary school Principals says IPPN President in his address to 2014 c

In his opening address to a 1,100 strong audience at this year’s Irish Primary Principals Network conference in City West Convention Centre, Saggart, Co. Dublin, IPPN President Brendan McCabe expanded on the reasons behind the theme for the conference, “Great Expectations.”

Opening his speech with a humorous play on the “Great Expectations” title by portraying the key political and teaching sector figures as Dickensian characters, Mr McCabe swiftly moved on to highlighting the major issues facing Ireland’s primary school Principal, starting with curriculum overload and the Department of Education’s direction that schools should devote more attention to literacy and numeracy while continuing to teach all eleven subjects on the current curriculum.

Said Mr McCabe,

“Trying to fit in all eleven subjects is like trying to fit a quart into a pint jug. Teachers don’t want to have to skim over topics. They want to teach well”.

He added that while Principals acknowledge the importance of numeracy and literacy, if more emphasis is to be given to these areas with no decrease in the overall number of subjects,

“The department needs to offer schools clear guidance and indicate from which subjects this additional time should be taken.”

On the subject of coping with cutbacks Mr McCabe cited the lack of funding for the CPD (Continuous Professional Development) programmes to ensure a sustainable supply of high quality teaching staff, and the rising stress levels of teaching staff.

He also spoke about the impact on vulnerable children of the reduction in funding and resources for special education.

“Over the last twenty years, we welcomed in a large cohort of special educational needs pupils so as to facilitate meaningful integration. Schools did this willingly, and in good faith, believing that the DES would put in place necessary supports. However in the last few years we have seen an ongoing cutback in that provision. Is the DES, in its efforts to make cost-savings going to do so at the expense of the most vulnerable children in our schools?”

Mr McCabe also challenged the expectation that the school system should hold the solution to a plethora of the problems in Irish society,

“In reading newspapers or in listening to political commentary, one could easily be led to the belief that schools can respond to all changes and lead the charge to cure all of society’s ills. The country has a drugs problem. Schools will fix it. Children are bullying each other on the local estate. Schools will fix it. Some children are coming to school hungry. Schools will fix it. We have an obesity problem. Schools will fix it.

Is it realistic to expect schools to respond to all of society’s demands? Should they even try? Is it possible that asking schools to carry the mantle for all domestic and social problems is allowing others to avoid their rightful responsibilities?

Schools cannot provide the cement to plaster over all of the cracks in modern Irish society. We must look towards the primary source of the problem.”

Mr McCabe was the first of a number of key education professionals and leaders speaking at the conference today and tomorrow.


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