Education System Leaves Disabled Students Ill-Equipped

disabled students face problemsIt is interesting to note that despite Ireland being a country that embraces diversity and strives to be all-inclusive, research from the Association for Higher Education Access Disability clearly shows that disabled school leavers are less likely to enter higher education. In fact, they are four times less likely to continue with any type of training. This is borne out by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures, which highlight that disabled students are three times more likely to leave school before the age of fifteen years. Further statistics show disabled adults are twice as likely to suffer unemployment compared to nondisabled adults.

Traditional Education System

To understand why this situation exists in a land of equal opportunity we must look to the education system. The foremost barrier for disabled children who may also have learning difficulties is that the traditional Irish system was not designed to include these children. Through the years policies formulated to include, these boys and girls into mainstream education have not been followed through, as the current system has been unable to adapt. Instead, a series of bolt on compensatory supports try to breach the gap to address the proper needs of disabled students.

Many different support mechanisms have been provided by the Department of Education such as special needs classroom assistance and special resource teachers, which is of some help. However, the main teaching systems and methods of text based learning and classroom interaction remain the same.

This leads to a constant cycle of needs not being fulfilled. For example, deaf children will never be taught in Irish sign language because third level teacher training colleges do not accept deaf students because they do not fulfil the Irish language entry requirement.

Lack of Equipment and Awareness

The traditional education system does not have any mandatory modules in teacher training for disability awareness, leaving many teachers without the knowledge to manage disability in the classroom. Classroom equipment is lacking for those pupils who need to read textbooks using computers and school staff have no knowledge of the use of the software either. When something as simple as the lack of schoolbooks available electronically cannot be resolved, then teaching of disabled youngsters becomes ad hoc.

Even with this make do and mend system of support provision, with recent cutbacks and the levels of bureaucracy to be dealt with by over stressed parents, to even gain these supports is a trial. Often disabled students may end up with limited or no additional assistance due to local budgetary constraints.

Higher Education

Given the statistics and an education system unsuited to this group in society, it is no surprise that it is difficult for disabled adults to pursue higher education because of the limited access to courses. Many higher-level educational institutions do not have any support systems in place for adult learners, or the funds to supply them. Yet with the help of interpreters and readers, personal assistants and tutors with disabled awareness, these statistics could be overturned and improved in a very short timescale.

With so many children in the system losing out at a fundamental level, changes including greater use of multi media, IT and on screen learning are essential for children with learning difficulties and disabilities. This would at least go some way to furnishing a pathway to higher-level education.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Report

An OECD report for Ireland looks in close detail at the pathways to further education and employment for disabled people and one section highlights the importance of distance learning and open college courses as part of a larger process to strive for full inclusion and opportunity.

The goal of developing distance learning in Ireland is to allow any disabled person who has not had access to higher education to have a meaningful, flexible, learning opportunity. By its nature, this type of course is suited to a person with a disability who can work from the home environment with personal support. Many private colleges offer courses of this type. This method can be a viable means for at least some students who are disabled to achieve qualifications and move into the workforce.

The OECD report also addresses funding and money has been put aside for support systems for these students with a view to seeing some real results by 2016. There is no doubt that funding is limited and supports may be costly, but many colleges of all kinds are willing to discuss the needs of individual students from every sector of society to accommodate their needs and find a workable solution to studying.

There is an urgent need to review the proper inclusion of the disabled in mainstream education so they have the opportunity to learn necessary skills needed in the world in which they live. It is unacceptable for the system to fail these children, young adults, and adults and condemn them to a life of unemployment.

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Promoting Ireland’s Education in India

promoting Irelands education system in IndiaIreland is well known throughout history as a land of scholars and it is hoped that many more scholars from the Indian sub-continent will be attracted to her shores.

A delegation of more than 60 of Ireland’s leading academics from Irish higher education institutes has joined a trade mission to promote the brand “Education in Ireland”. This initiative is the brand umbrella for promoting the higher education sector of Ireland to overseas markets.

Managed by Enterprise Ireland, the objective is to promote Ireland as a global education and business hub. IDA Ireland, multi-national PayPal, and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) have joined Enterprise Ireland in this drive to increase the Irish share of some 200,000 Indian students who head overseas to study each year.

The mission to India ran from the 22nd to the 29th of November led by Ciarán Cannon TD the Minister of State for Training and Skills in the largest education mission Ireland has ever sent to India. Bangalore, New Delhi, and Mumbai, the key areas of high technology industry, commerce, and politics were visited during the Indian trip.


The objective was to emphasise Ireland as a centre for international students, promote the quality of learning institutions and to increase market share of the number of Indian students who study and travel abroad.

Along with significant input from one of Ireland’s leading corporate investors, this alliance will show the high level of integration and commitment across Irish research and education sectors. There are almost 1,000 Indian students studying in Ireland currently so there is opportunity to capture more of the Indian market. Studies are mostly post-graduate degree courses in Pharmacy, Business, Engineering, Computer Science, Hospitality and Hotel Management and Accounting.

Ireland has exceptional third level institutions and private colleges offering every type of graduate and postgraduate education. Diversity is the lifeblood of every economy so an increase in the number of foreign students will give all students an advantage by equipping them with the inter-cultural knowledge needed in the global marketplace.

Minister Cannon

Before departing to India, Minister Cannon said, “We will be sending out a strong message to prospective Indian students that an Irish education is valued by international employers and will provide a real boost to their future career prospects.”

The Minister also stressed the economic benefits for Ireland, “In addition to being future ambassadors for Ireland, international students also help to generate jobs here in Ireland. It is estimated that every 100 additional international students who come to Ireland support the creation of 15 local jobs, through spending on tuition, accommodation and other living expenses.”

Indian Education Sector

The Indian education sector represents one of the largest worldwide. USD 100bn was the 2011 total expenditure for this sector and this is expected to steadily increase to a sum of USD 185bn in 2015. With a population of some 600 million people falling into the 0 to 24 years category, this population group, which is also the largest globally, is the target market for increasing the number of Indian students coming to study in Ireland.

The base population is significant and together with rising household incomes across India, it seems likely to trigger healthy growth in demand across a broad range of sectors including education. Establishing close alliances with businesses and educational establishments in India are a priority for the country to promote the high quality and global recognition of Irish qualifications.

Education in Ireland

The Education in Ireland initiative is part of a government strategy “Investing in Global Relationships” and India was identified as a top priority marketplace to advance Ireland as a world-class location for study. Relationship building, raising awareness of the education system in Ireland and collaborating with Indian counterparts over the next three years hopes to fulfil the objective of doubling the number of Indian students studying in Ireland by 2015.

Trinity College

Universities are also doing what they can to entice Indian students to Ireland. Trinity College Dublin for instance has set up a special recruitment office in Delhi last month to promote the university to prospective students. Collaborations with IIT Delhi, the Indian Institute of Science and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research already give students the opportunity to study at Trinity. The new office is to actively promote and encourage Indian students to travel to Ireland to study at Trinity as a priority.

Recently, a successful Indian film Ek Tha Tiger was also shot on location in Trinity College, and the university has since made the film director Yosh Chapra one of Bollywood’s most famous directors an honourary professor, establishing exactly the right kind of alliance and promotion Ireland needs to encourage students to study here.

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Irish Youth Vision for Reform in Education, Irish Language, and Politics

Education reform was on the agenda at a convention in Áras an Uachtaráin this month. An initiative from President Michael D. Higgins started in May 2012 resulted in a comprehensive study involving 800 young people that culminated in the drafting of the “Take Charge of Change” declaration at the convention. A report entitled Being Young in Ireland 2012 was published as part of the initiative.

The initiative was to discover the vision of Ireland that young people see across all areas of life including education. High on the agenda was a fresh approach to teaching Irish and a reform of the current Leaving certificate, points system, and rote learning, which the group considered a barrier to “active citizenship”.

The young people called for legislation for the X-case, which is particularly relevant in light of the recent tragic circumstances of Savita Halappanavar the Indian Galway resident who sadly lost her life after she was refused an abortion. There was also a call for a referendum on abortion.

The presidency seminar was rich with thought and meaningful debate and highlighted the genuine concern of the next generation whose recommendations for a fairer and inclusive Ireland had clarity and maturity.

The “Being Young in Ireland 2012” report reveals concern about the future of the Irish economy, political reforms, and education that prepares citizens for a life equipped with the necessary skills to play a meaningful role in society.


The young people’s declaration was delivered in front of the President, Frances Fitzgerald Minister for Children, and a delegation of representatives from State agencies.

The vision states:

Our vision for Ireland Is of a secular, inclusive, multilingual, confident State with excellent and universally accessible education, health and social support systems; an Ireland of which we can be proud on the global stage; a place where people, arts, culture, heritage, sport and the Irish language are nurtured and developed.”

The outline emphasises the value of human rights and equality of access to services with an emphasis on education, equal opportunities, and inclusion.

The President stated, “Any president of any country in the world would be enormously proud of the presentation”. He was full of praise for the focus on education, social justice, and the promotion of diversity.

“If anyone is in any doubt now about the myth that’s going around that young people are disengaged, disaffected, and cynical, well there is your answer,” he added.

The comprehensive declaration called on the lawmakers to extend adoption and equal marriage rights to gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgender people. It also asked that the Government extend voting rights to the Diaspora abroad.

Main Proposals of the Declaration

  • A double-edged approach to Irish teaching should be adapted at leaving certificate with a compulsory module (spoken Irish) and a second optional module (literature.) This new program should be steered by the Gaelscoileanna organisation.
  • Legislation to be ratified for the X case.
  • Social opportunity development for the Irish language.
  • Equality of rights for adoption and marriage for all currently excluded persons.
  • Introduce legislation to allow absent citizens outside their jurisdiction to vote.
  • Initiate a young people’s campaign to encourage active citizenship.
  • Allocate CAO points for community and voluntary work as part of a broader educational curriculum.
  • Youth sector funding to be increased and maintained.
  • Leaving Certificate reform where class participation is hands on with opportunities for lifelong learning.
  • Local government changes that will allow national representatives to be uninvolved with politics at the local and regional level.
  • Introduce lessons at primary and post primary level to teach children and young people on tolerance, acceptance, and diversity.
  • Increase special needs education funding and extend the scope of the second level IT curriculum.
  • Strive for an Irish State that is secular.
  • Second level curriculum reform to include education in politics.
  • Set up a new employment scheme for graduates that utilises their skills.

This may seem a Utopian vision but there is much to be learned from the fresh and unfettered minds of young people. In particular, their education vision takes an inclusive approach so that less academically minded students might gain a comprehensive education of value based on citizenship skills and their own personal talents.

Studying for life does not mean overlooking the basic essential skills but rather enhancing them using a variety of learning tools from different kinds of education modules and courses, and volunteer and community participation suited to individual talents. Participation in the community rewarded with CAO points could open doors for many students and give them self-confidence and sense of purpose.

A broader curriculum that allows students to pursue individual voyages of discovery establishing necessary life skills has much to recommend it. An inclusive society of well-rounded citizens who have a sense of unity and awareness of what active citizenship means is to be celebrated.

Denise Colebrooke

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College Funding Options

student fundingPaying for a University Education can be expensive and overwhelming, but there are options, and not just bank loans and part-time jobs. There are many scholarships, grants, and bursaries available based on, among other things, where you live, clubs you’re a member of, your subject of study, and your own personal background.

Undergraduate tuition fees start at about €4100 upwards, with professional programmes such as law and medicine costing more. Most colleges have extra charges such as sports centre fees and an annual student services charge or registration fee, which covers student services and examinations. In September 2011 the Student Services Charge will be replaced by a flat-rate student contribution of €2,000 per year.

For postgraduate study, there is more variation among the different universities’ fees. Fees for research degrees average more than €4,000, while fees for taught degree programmes can be under €4,000 or as high as €10,000. The charge for an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) course can be as high as €25,000. The cost of tuition alone can be off putting, and there is also additional living costs, but try not to let this deter you. There are many funding opportunities for furthering your education offered by government agencies, the colleges themselves, and private organisations.

Some potential students may qualify to have their Undergraduate course fees covered by the state. In order to qualify for free fees the course must be full-time and of at least two years’ duration (or certain one year courses in an institute of technology). You can’t already hold an equivalent qualification and you can’t be repeating the year because of previously failing your exams. You must be an EU national, have immigrant status, or meet residency requirements. There is no separate application for the Free Fees Initiative, rather eligibility is assessed based on the information you give when applying for a college place. If you do not qualify for free fees, you may still qualify for full or partial payment of fees if you satisfy the conditions of the Higher Education Grants Scheme.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) Grants Scheme and the Vocational Education Committees’ (VEC)  Scholarship Scheme’ are two types of means-tested maintenance grants offered by the Irish government and administered through County Councils. Conditions for application can be found on the Department of Education and Skills website ( Official application forms are available from the local authority or While the HEA Grants Scheme is intended for students starting courses, the VEC Scholarship Scheme is geared towards students who have completed two years of a Level 7 (Ordinary Bachelor Degree or National Diploma) course and so have gained admission into year two of a Level 8 (Honours Bachelor Degree) course.

In searching for funding, you’ll encounter the terms fellowship, scholarship, and bursaries. The terms are often used interchangeably. General scholarships and bursaries are offered and may be given to students who will attend school full time, have a minimum average grade of at least a B average, and who can demonstrate financial need, but there are many opportunities available to specific groups depending on what you’re studying, where you live, membership in banks or sports clubs, or background.

There are usually more opportunities to acquire funding when the subject studied is in demand. Most of the sciences, in particular maths and engineering have some funding at postgraduate level via private industry. For example, The Science Foundation Ireland/DELL Scholarship provides funding for female engineering students. The INTEL, Shannon Women in Technology Scholarship is open to first or second year female undergraduates planning to study computer science. The Irish Taxation Institute Third Level Scholarship Programme is for those interested in a career in taxation.

Area-based Scholarships, besides the HEA grants, include those sometimes offered by city or county councils, sports organisations, or private industry that provide funding opportunities for area residents. Some Credit Unions award a number of education grants or bursaries in their catchment areas for students studying at all levels of higher education. For example, the Cathedral Credit Union in Cork offers a €3,000 Bursary Award to a members entering full-time third level education for the first time. Sports groups such as various Rugby and GAA clubs offer competitive educational bursaries to members.

Both scholarships and bursaries are often targeted to specific groups: single parents, disabled students, or the specific research goals as a student. For students from disadvantaged backgrounds there are several scholarships including the All Ireland Scholarship Scheme that provides third-level education scholarships to top-performing Leaving Certificate students. The Donogh O’Malley Scholarship Scheme offers a minimum of three scholarships in each of the following regions: Dublin City and County, Rest of Leinster, Munster, Connacht/Ulster, with additional awards to be provided in the areas with greater numbers of eligible students.

Fellowships are usually based on skill, GPA, and qualifications to work in a certain field, as opposed to need. Often Fellowships are payment for some type of work, such as internships, fieldwork, or teaching at the college level, while obtaining a master’s degree or PhD. They are intended to enhance the student’s training and support the student so they may focus on their study without needing additional income. Fellowships range from around €10,000 to over €20,000. Again subject areas that are in need of graduates receive most Fellowship funding; Science Foundation Ireland offers fellowships in many areas of science including biomedical research, botany, and chemistry. The Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences holds an annual competition for students entering postgraduate study and in their first few years.

Colleges’ often provide funding themselves, the faculty, and departmental websites will detail the bursaries and prizes on offer. In addition check each school’s Graduate Studies website for information about possible funding. The National University of Ireland (consisting of UCD, UCC, NUI Galway and NUI Maynooth, and a number of other colleges) administers a number of postgraduate prizes and scholarships. Visit or the specific member College website for details. In addition the websites for each Institute of Technology, DCU, University of Limerick, and Trinity College all list specific prizes, bursaries, scholarships, and Fellowships on offer. For a list of scholarships and fellowships both in Ireland and abroad, see

The Erasmus programme allows registered undergraduate and postgraduate students to apply for financial support to enable them to spend periods from three to twelve months studying or working in another participating country. The eligible countries are all member states of the EU as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Turkey.

Funding agencies do encourage education as an investment for the community and the future, and people who have the ambition and ability should be encouraged and supported, so if you do require funding for your education dont hesitate to try the options outlined above. Your local county council will probably be the best place to start or individual colleges will usually be very helpfult to prospective students.


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November 2012 E-News

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Newly Qualified Teachers Struggle for Employment

teaching jobs scarceThere was a time when a career in teaching was synonymous with security and permanency; a job for life. Today, advertisements for school substitution work are guaranteed to fill school post boxes to the brim with CVs and cover letters from qualified and overly qualified applicants – desperate to get that ‘foot in the door’ of a school. Unemployed teachers and especially newly qualified teachers are facing huge difficulty in getting work this year. Why? Education cuts continue to take their toll on staffing, along with a few other worrying (less talked about) issues and practices.

In every industry and in every system there will always be an element of unfairness and nepotism; the education system is not immune to these regrettable practices. It doesn’t help unemployed teachers or those on few hours to see retired teachers brought in for sub-work or to fill maternity/sick leave. It certainly does not help when retired teachers or those with posts of responsibility are given supervisory/examiner roles during state exams; which gives a healthy financial top-up to an already healthy income.

Recent claims and figures show that in the first six weeks of this school year, 140 retired teachers were called on to do substitution work. The daily sub-rate for primary teaching and per hour for a secondary school teacher would help a lot of newly qualified teachers to pay back college loans, pay mortgages or their landlords. Unemployed teachers must be wondering why some principals are not abiding by a recently made rule in relation to them; a rule which obliges principals to give priority to unemployed teachers. In the case of the 140 retirees given work; those seeking work were left wondering: was it not possible to find an unemployed teacher in the case of these 140 positions?

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation announced that schools all over the country were getting an over-response to advertised positions. INTO president Anne Fay made the point, that it showed the extent of current teacher unemployment. Although growing enrolments mean additional teachers have to be employed for new classes; this recruitment is offset by serious reductions in areas such as resource and English-language teaching. In the case of secondary schools; the reduction in Guidance provision means guidance counsellors have to return to teaching main stream classes which eats into the general teacher allocation. Ms Fay said: “In every county in Ireland there are highly qualified teachers looking for work.” She also added that despite this, Ireland has some of the largest classes in the EU at primary level.

It is a real matter of concern when one looks at the fact that most schools get up to 500 applications for one or two positions. There is also another worrying issue: a lot of advertised jobs are just that – advertisements! There is the possibility that the job is earmarked for somebody known to the school or the principal.

Many principals who are genuinely seeking suitable applicants are empathetic to those seeking work – with some principals noting the high calibre of teachers applying for the advertised position. Some applicants are qualified in more than one discipline – with one or two undergraduate degrees and postgraduate qualifications, not to mention the additional extra-curricular qualifications they offer a school. They are also noticing how some applicants are repeat applicants which means they (more than likely) have remain unemployed between both positions being advertised.

What are the solutions? Principals who fail to apply the rule of preference given to unemployed teachers should be held accountable. Perhaps the government needs to put an official moratorium on third level places for student teachers until the existing numbers of those unemployed are significantly reduced. The government needs to overlook teacher training akin to the Garda training; recruitment and training is a result of demand and need. Finally, nepotism should be ruled out by issuing all principals guidelines when it comes to appropriate recruitment.

It is ironic that teachers (employed and unemployed) have to pay ninety euros per annum to the Teaching Council of Ireland when so many of them are unemployed. Perhaps the Teaching Council should be given the role of monitoring appropriate recruitment of teachers to school. It would also not be a hard task for the Teaching Council to set up a registrar of qualified unemployed teachers for principals to draw from according to their geographical location and school need. Unemployed teachers might see it as ninety euros worthwhile if this was put into place.

It is estimated that there are over 110,000 unemployed graduates in the country. Teacher Unions estimate that there are in excess of 800-1,000 trained primary teachers who are not in regular employment; with a higher number of unemployed or under-employed teachers at the post-primary level.

At the moment the future looks bleak for teaching as a career – that is, if you haven’t ‘got a foot’ in a school door already.

Catriona Lowry

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Creative Writing Courses

creative writing classesA Cork author is hoping to save people time and money through her online creative writing courses. Olive O’Brien set up Creative Writing Ink to facilitate people who do not have the time to travel to creative writing workshops. At present, Creative Writing Ink offers online writing courses, which include advanced creative writing, writing for children, screenwriting courses and more.

They also run an online beginners creative writing course, which is suitable for complete beginners or for more experienced writers who would like to get back into a creative writing routine. Creative Writing Ink has just launched an offer on this course, for full details check out their website at

All tutors are published authors and work with students at their own level. “Our online courses allow students to develop their writing skills through one-to-one exercises, lectures and critiques,” says Olive. “However the main thing is to free up your imagination and above all have fun.”

In addition, Creative Writing Ink offers a full editing service for aspiring novelists or short story writers. For more information see or email

About Olive O’Brien: Olive is a children’s writer and she set up Silver Angel Publishing, a children’s book publishing company in 2009. Her publishing company was shortlisted for the Green Communications Award for this year’s Green Awards and for the David Manley Emerging Entrepreneur Awards 2012.

Olive previously practised as a solicitor and in 2006, she returned to university to complete a Masters in Journalism at DCU. She then worked as an intern at The Sunday Business Post in Dublin and as a features writer at Mid-Day newspaper in Bangalore, India.

In 2008, Olive set out on a round the world trip and on her return to Ireland later that year, she wrote her first book, Perry the Playful Polar Bear which was released in 2009. Olive then published two eco-friendly books Perry the Polar Bear Goes Green and Eco Zico, which is also available as an e-book and as an app for the iPad.

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About Grundtvig

grundtvig programmeGrundtvig is a European initiative which seeks to improve the quality and European dimension of adult education. Their aim is to make lifelong learning opportunities extensively available to Europe’s citizens. Grundtvig primarily focuses on education for adults, and uses both formal and informal methods to do so. Their activities are open to any group or institution involved in adult education within the Lifelong Learning Programme countries.

Grundtvig Sub-Programmes include:

Learning Partnerships:

Grundtvig Learning Partnerships form a structure and means for practical co-operation activities between organisations working in adult education. These partnerships primarily focus on process, and are intended for smaller organisations. Eventually, Grundtvig Learning Partnerships may lead to more larger-scale projects such as Grundtvig Multilateral Projects or Grundtvig Thematic Networks. A Grundtvig Learning Partnership normally takes place over two years and during this phase, learners and adult education staff from at least three participating countries come together to work on a project with a specific theme that is of common interest.

Senior Volunteering:

Part of GIVE (Grundtvig Initiative on Volunteering in Europe for Seniors), this new initiative offers grants to local organisations in order to support senior volunteers. There are many objectives to ‘Senior Volunteering’, including: enabling senior citizens to volunteer in another European country and to create on-going cooperation between the host and sending organisations around a specific topic or target group


Grundtvig Workshops give adult learners the opportunity to take part in learning events and seminars which take place in another European country participating in the Lifelong Learning Programme.

In-Service Training:

Grundtvig In-Service Training enables those involved in the delivery of adult education to attend training courses, which last up to six weeks long in order to develop professionally. Training is carried out through well-organised and structured courses for staff working in adult education.

Visits and Exchanges:

The aim of Visits and Exchanges is to improve the quality of adult learning by encouraging and enabling present or future staff working in this field or those involved in the training of such staff to undertake a work- related visit to a country participating in the Lifelong Learning Programme. These Visits and Exchanges can take the form of a work placement or job shadowing etc.


Under Grundtvig, funding is offered to teachers and education staff who attend contact seminars with a view to setting up links with schools across Europe.


Grundtvig Assistantships give present or future staff involved in adult education the opportunity to spend a period of between 12-45 weeks as a Grundtvig Assistant at another European adult education organisation that is participating in the Lifelong Learning Programme. The objective of Asssistanships is to give those participating the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the European dimension to adult learning, including: advance their knowledge of foreign languages; find out more about European education systems; and to improve their intercultural competencies.

Preparatory Visits:

Under Grundtvig, funding is also available for adult education professionals to undertake preparatory visits with a view to developing partnerships and preparing projects with organisations that are similar across Europe.


Grundtvig provides funding to teachers and education staff to attend contact seminars with a view to setting up links and creating partnerships with other schools across Europe.

If you have an interest in Grundtvig and the funding opportunities they offer; Léargas will be holding an information session in Sligo Education Centre on the 8th of November

The session will introduce and explain the comprehensive activities and application procedures for the following actions under the Grundtvig Programme:

•Learning Partnerships

•Senior Volunteering Action


•In Service Training

•Visits and exchanges

•Assistantship Action

•Contact Seminars and Preparatory Visits

This information session will be of value and interest to all those working with adults returning to education. It is also aimed at targeting those interested in: collaborating, sharing expertise, and developing best practice with other European organisations through project work. The session will mainly be of interest to those wishing to continue their professional development via training opportunities provided in another eligible European country.

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Bringing Maths and Students Face to Face Online

project mathsIt was only a matter of time before an entrepreneurial mind addressed students struggle with Maths as a subject and also devised a medium that is relevant to them as ‘digital natives’ to mathematically engage and test them. Aftermath: the new maths based software has captured the imagination of students and parents alike. It has been created to encourage children to enhance their maths ability in return for time that can be spent browsing social networking sites such as Facebook. Afterall, our young students are ‘tech-savy’ and they require technology to engage them to learn. We, the ‘digital immigrants’ into their technologically conditioned minds and worlds can only imagine the challenges that the traditional classroom poses for them.

Parents can install the programme and choose which websites they want to feature maths questions on, that must be answered, before their site of choice can be accessed. Aptly titled, the ‘Aftermath’ software is suitable for children aged between 11 and 16-years-old and requires them to answer a series of multiple choice questions, with credits awarded for each question they get correct. These credits can then be used for internet time – depending on the difficulty of the maths problem completed. ‘The game adapts the standard of questions based on the student’s ability in previous tests,’ according to the software developer.

Why should a parent access such software for their children? There are a number of concrete reasons: it controls unlimited use of the internet; it teaches students that they are rewarded for work completed; it is relevant to their technological and cultural experience, and in essence it becomes a game to them – which is a highly creative way to get them to connect with maths. The need to succeed is connected to their need to use sites like Facebook etc. – a need, most students can’t do without fulfilling!

There is a real need to get students to connect with this often testing subject; their future success is often (not always) determined by a student’s maths ability and success rate.  The Expert Group on Future Skills needs has outlined in the past how Ireland must raise its level of mathematical attainment to ensure healthy competition with other economies. A sufficient supply of people with mathematical, science and ICT skills is essential to Ireland’s future social and economic development.

Whilst many Maths teachers continually face the daily disruptive classroom question: I don’t need Maths; it is now well known that Mathematics is important, because it is the shared foundation to many other disciplines like science and technology. It is a crucial requirement for the growth of the knowledge economy. What the teacher has to consistently tell the student is: you need Maths as an essential stepping stone into college, apprenticeships, and many places of work. Not an easy task! As outlined by the Expert Group: Mathematical skills enable people to fully participate and work in a modern society. Improving national mathematical achievement is therefore vital for students on a personal and economical level.

The government has become quite proactive themselves in this area: the new maths syllabus ‘Project Maths’ and the awarding of bonus points to those who get at least a D grade in leaving certificate honours maths. However, students are still relatively slow in taking Higher-Level Leaving Cert Mathematics. Has Project Maths worked? This year there has been a dramatic fall in the number of students failing maths in their Leaving Certificate. However 4,000 still failed maths this year, which is down by 20% on recent years, but it still means a lot of students cannot access apprenticeships or fail to get into the majority of Higher Education Courses that require Maths as an entry requirement.

The leaving certificate results in August did provide good news for advocates of the Project Maths initiative – with a significant improvement in performance at higher level. According to official figures, of the 11,000 students who took the higher level maths exam, where a record 97.7% achieved a D grade or higher, leaving a failure rate of 2.3%. This compares with 8,000 students with a failure rate of 8.6% in 2011. These figures are welcome news for the science and technological sectors who are crying out for students with the necessary skills and drive to help make Ireland a centre of excellence. However, there were a lot of students who did question the higher level maths questions and how relevant they were to the project maths course that was actually covered in class. Perhaps the government needs to address the gap that exists between what students are learning and what they are actually being tested on as part of this new Maths syllabus.

This new Maths software is probably one example of what is to come in terms of technological incentives to do Maths. Alongside completing maths questions and engaging with Maths in a medium familiar to them: Aftermath ensures that students do not have unlimited and unstructured access to the worldwide web, which can actually be more detrimental to their learning experience than beneficial.

Catriona Lowry

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Over 5000 Teachers in the Line of Fire

Teacher - Budget CutsTeachers pay and allowances is always a contentious issue. The lengthy holidays with a working week of nearly half the hours of private sector workers have always made teachers and their perceived ‘perks’ a target for debate. Teachers themselves find it equally emotive and tiring; defending a profession that is day by day losing its credibility.

Some said it was just a matter of time; when it was announced that more than 5,000 teachers face losing their allowances under a government review. This is despite a European Commission report that found that Irish teachers’ pay has been among the worst affected by cuts to education systems across 34 countries.

What is up for the sharp blade of the government’s budget cut? An expected target is an allowance of between €532 and €1,572 paid to more than 2,750 primary and post-primary principals. In addition to this possible cut are principals who are in receipt of a payment for acting as secretary to the school board of management. The similar payment of an allowance to principals acting as secretary to a board of management in an Institute of Technology is also under review. Finally, special allowances paid to teachers who teach through the Irish language, work in the Gaeltacht or who work on an island, face possible abolition. Not an easy subsidy to let go of, especially if it is worth €3,063 to about 780 primary and post-primary teachers.

To-date, these seem to be the priority cuts to make but of course all is still pending on discussion with the Trade Unions involved. However, this is now good news for a profession that is continually a media target when it comes to the public versus private sector pay debate, with the latter winning out most of the time.  The teaching profession seems to have a difficulty mending the perforation causes by years of cuts and attacks which have gone a long way to lessen their once well-established credibility.

Teachers who have started work since the beginning of 2011 started on 13% less than their fellow teachers. Those appointed since last February faced a further 20% drop on foot of suspended qualification and other allowances. However these have subsequently been halted for anybody who started teaching after last February as part of last month’s public service allowance review. A new revised salary scale for new teachers has now marginally reduced the overall impact of the cuts. The starting pay of any new teacher since February 1 is €30,702; this is in contrast to €32,240 for those who started between Jan 2011 and that date, and €37,000 for new teachers in 2010.

The three unions representing teachers are preparing an equality case on behalf of those who started last year on the grounds of unfair treatment due to age, which they hope could make the campaign to reverse the cuts easier. Their strong argument is based on a question of fairness – that people doing the same job are on different pay rates.

It is hard to see how this profession will continue to attract a certain calibre of staff; which is a vision held by the Minister for Education’s – to attract prestigious graduates into teaching to drive the economy forward. The on-going attack on their wages and on their credibility will in essence drive a certain cohort away from this profession.

The reality is: a full time teacher may work 22 hours a week (the actual contact time between the teacher and his/her pupils or school); this does not take into account the actual preparation time that goes into every class. Afterall subject inspectors at any given time can enter a class and correlate a teachers planning folder with the contents of students’ copies. The 22 hours does not include: pastoral time that many teachers give for free to pupils in need and more so in the absence of the guidance provision of times gone by; time given to extra-curricular activities, and teacher & parent meetings.

Yes, the government has to make cuts, and when one considers that 80% of government spending is taken swallowed up by education, health and social welfare – it is difficult for any profession especially as large as the teaching one to escape this budget.

There will always be those in the media and private sector who will continue their campaign to challenge teachers. Many teachers would welcome them into a class of teenagers, of mixed ability, or in the case of some primary schools – mixed year classes and say: ‘see how you get on’. Perhaps public sympathy might sway more towards the teachers if the media reported their findings on a day spent in such a classroom.

For now, yes, the cuts are imminent. It will be interesting to see if the CAO Teaching Courses be in as much demand after this next much feared budget?

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Executive PA & Specialist Secretarial Open Day at Pitman Training Swords

Pitman Training SwordsThere’s usually just one reason to train – to help you secure a great job. This is what Pitman Training Swords is all about; over the years, many students have found career satisfaction and success after training with Pitman Training Swords.

There are numerous reasons for deciding to train with Pitman Training. You may want to update your skills or seek promotion at work. Perhaps you are thinking of going back to work or changing careers. Pitman Training Swords has helped many people change careers, – from insurance clerk to Legal Secretary – from Auctioneer to Medical Secretary and from Air Hostess to PA. Their comprehensive range of Diplomas has enabled people to do just that.

Of course, reasons to train are personal and will depend on your aspirations and career to date. The Course Advisors are skilled at understanding students’ needs and helping you choose the best course. Pitman Training Swords combine an analysis of your past experience, future wishes and knowledge of the employment market in your area to help guide you through the choice of courses.

Call in any time on Wednesday 24th October between 12pm – 7pm and the friendly, experienced advisors will be on hand to advise you.

Pitman Training Swords can be found in North Street, Swords, or on the Internet at: If you are social media-savvy, you can also find them on Facebook and Twitter!

Click Here to view Pitman Training Swords courses on

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Success in a Recession

Start Your Own Business Courses‘If I could start again, I would set up more businesses during recessions . . . such a climate is perfect for young, enthusiastic and nimble companies to set up and thrive. This is one of those times.’ Richard Branson, writing for the Telegraph, outlined this optimistic opinion on starting a new company in recessionary times.

Indeed, many of us might not consider a recession to be the ideal parent to give birth to a brand new company. However, some of the most successful businesses have had their origins in recessionary times: Hewlett Packard, Burger King, CNN and Hyatt Hotels, to name but a few. These companies are now multi-billion dollar corporations.

There are a number of concrete advantages to starting a business during a recession. Firstly, starting a business takes time, energy and determination; requirements that a lot of people fulfil when faced with unemployment, but yet have a hunger to work and succeed. After all, during a period of growth, we are busy chasing ourselves to keep up with workloads and hectic lifestyles – not to mention ‘The Jones’.

What can a recession offer a start-up business?

– Start-up costs such as labour and office space are more affordable, and their availability is not an issue during a recession

– There are many State financial incentives to hire staff, such as the government Intern scheme

– Grants are readily available to new companies through local enterprise boards

– There is a surplus supply of highly qualified people to employ

– Setting up a business in a recession teaches you key business endurance skills. Once the recession ends and economic growth returns, you will be left with a business capable of operating in a harsh economic climate, and  subsequently ready to reap  the rewards of sustainability and survival

– Other businesses and companies that struggle during a recession welcome fresh ideas from new businesses which could revitalise their existing business

– Media are always on the look-out for success stories in a recession; this offers a new company many opportunities for free public relations and editorial

Yes, starting a new business at the best of times can be a risky affair. They do say those who fail to plan – plan to fail. Before commencing your new business, it is essential that you look at you – the roots of the new venture. Nothing grows if the roots are inadequate to support the various branches of any business. Regardless of your qualifications and experience, many of us lack basic business skills like how to set up a business. Therefore, it is advisable to participate in a course that will equip you with the knowledge and ‘know how’ to ensure your business has the start and support it deserves.

Griffin College run a Level 3 ‘Business Start-up for Today’s Entrepreneur’ course. This is a Distance Learning course. As part of this course, the student will complete eight different modules, including: market research and writing a business plan.

Another added incentive in completing a ‘start your own business course’ is: when you present your business plan to an agency for grants (perhaps) or to a bank for finance, you will be more credible in their eyes with such a course completed.

Ireland has been in recession now for a number of years; yet, in 2010 over 14,000 new companies were set up in Ireland by entrepreneurial people who were willing to take risks. A recession does require risk takers to kick start growth and to create jobs. There has never been a better time to start a new business; the government has put into place a diverse range of incentives to encourage such start-ups. Sometimes all it takes to take you out of unemployment is a leap of faith into an entrepreneurial world!

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End of an Era – Junior Cert Overhaul

When it was announced by the Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn, that there would be a major overhaul of the Junior Cert examination; the country awaited the inevitable response from the teachers unions. It came as two words: ‘deeply regrettable’.

Through the lens of the unions, these extensive changes, with the end-of-cycle exam being replaced with a school-based model of assessment, are questionable for a number of diverse and quite complex reasons. The most controversial of these proposed changes for the unions will be that teachers will now assess their own students. The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland sent a stern message to the Minister that the removal of an externally-based assessment model will impact negatively on what is seen as the impartiality of an externally assessed exam. ASTI general secretary Pat King said: ‘While there is an overwhelming consensus that the current Junior Certificate needs to be reformed, it is most regrettable that the Minister has announced the end of what is for students, parents and teachers: a credible, independent, objective and fair examination’.

The contentious issues:

– The reforms were done without the consultation of the education partners: teachers and parents
– The high status of a final exam will be obliterated with continuous assessment
– Continuous assessment by class teachers will lack impartiality
– Reforms are driven by budgetary rather than educational rationale
– A concern that fee paying schools and those schools based in wealthy areas will have an exclusive advantage over those schools in poor socioeconomic areas

In response the Minister continues to reinforce the fact that ‘there is compelling international evidence that students will perform better by moving away from terminal ‘high stakes’ exams like the Junior Cert.’  With an end of cycle Junior Cert exam replaced with a school-based model of assessment, there will be an emphasis on the quality of students’ learning experience. It is planned that this will be done on a phased basis with English being the first subject to be introduced to First Year students in 2014. Mr Quinn outlined that the new ‘lower stakes’ Junior Cert will represent a programme which will allow students to develop a wide range of skills, including: critical thinking skills and basic skills such as numeracy and literacy – competencies that are continually pioneered and promoted by the European Union and Educators.

In the new exam, the State Examinations Commission (SEC) will still continue to be involved in the assessment of English, Irish and Mathematics. These subjects will be examined at higher and ordinary level, while all other subjects will be assessed at common level – similar to the current CSPE model. Teachers will be supported by the SEC and the NCCA, who will furnish them with resources to assist in on-going assessment of students’ progress and achievement.

The general consensus of the pro-changes side is ‘about time’. This announcement by the Department of Education has sparked a huge tug of educational opinions and biases. The general secretary of Irish Vocational Education Association, Michael Moriarty, differs to the teacher unions in opinion when he came out to say: ‘the proposed changes to the Junior Certificate should make it possible for students to engage more with their teachers and with curriculum.’ Whilst IBEC, the group that represents Irish businesses, welcomed the reforms with head of education policy Tony Donohoe stating that the reform, ‘could prove to be the most important education reform of recent years.’

Adding to the pro-changes debate, Education officer of the Irish Second-level Students’ Union, Brendan Power, said: ‘The new Junior Cycle has the capacity to revolutionise the educational experience of future second-level students in Ireland. I firmly believe that the new Junior Cycle will result in a more practical and functional education for students and prepare them for life and future education, rather than train them for exams.’ The minister did describe his plan as ‘the most radical shake-up of the junior cycle programme since the ending of the Inter Cert in 1991’. Many arguing for change believe that the education system needs more of these type of radical sweeping changes.

The reality is Ireland needs to start producing employees with a capacity for more than rote learning and who are actively engaged in their education rather than passive assimilators of large chunks of material that they simply regurgitate in a final state exam. Domestic and global companies need graduates and employees with ability to investigate, analyse, communicate, and manage themselves and others. The European Union in 2006 said that schools needed to teach students key competencies that included the basic subjects along with key skills like how to learn, how to communicate and how to engage using other languages apart from their native one. According to those in favour of this new curriculum, there now will be a real opportunity to develop these skills from first year.

Schools can also choose from a menu of subjects from Chinese, Physical Education to Digital Technology and students will study these eclectic modules alongside Maths, English, and Science etc. This subject combination clearly recognises that students possess any number of different intelligences and not just those related to literacy and numeracy. Up until these proposed changes, students who lacked ability in these two intelligences were let down by an education and exam system that never tested their own individual intelligences that could range from kinaesthetic to interpersonal skills.

There are certain cohorts of students who are excluded from education because they are not being engaged in the classroom; they often lack the traditional perceived idea of what is intelligence and therefore they fail to stay focused or be motivated for three years – often leaving school early. It is often the case that it is this exam that becomes their first and last experience of a state examination; it becomes a measurement of their ‘tested’ ability. This new state exam will not jeopardise those who normally do well in class tests and exams; infact it will add to their educational experience and personal development. What remains unseen for now but essentially is a real probability; those students who struggle to stay in school will now be engaged and encouraged by a junior cert cycle that recognises multiple intelligences and is supported by continuous assessment.

The former Governor of Mountjoy, John Lonergan, once said: ‘The problem with the Irish education system today is the fact that we are told what to think, instead of how to think.’ He has witnessed first-hand what happens young men who leave school early with poor literacy and numeracy skills. There is a correlation between these poor skills and criminality, and obviously unemployment. These changes are one step closer to real inclusive education.  The new Junior Certificate will instil in students that there is more to education than points. However, it is ironic that they will have to return to this mind-set when they face the leaving certificate cycle, post Junior Cert – which ironically remains unchanged.

Catriona Lowry

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October 2012 E-Bulletin

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News and Events Conversion CoursesConverting College Courses  

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Ireland’s Third Level Education through the OECD Lens

oecd reportThe latest OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) ‘Education at a Glance’ report reveals that the position of Irish universities on a world ranking scale has remained largely static this year. However, the Higher Education Institutes have issued a reality check on such optimistic OECD statistics; they question both their relevancy today and point to the now difficult task in maintaining such a ranking amidst current and continuous budgetary cutbacks.

Without doubt, the International reputation of higher education in Ireland has received a boost from a new global ranking system. The Irish third-level system is ranked 16th among 48 countries, ahead of Germany and even Japan. These rankings measure 20 factors across four categories: resources, environment, connectivity and output. Their relevancy comes under criticism because the rankings were compiled in 2009 before a series of staff and other cuts in Irish colleges were implemented.

It wasn’t all good news for Trinity College Dublin; they have dropped two places from 65th to 67th internationally. In response, Trinity College’s Dean of Research Professor Vinny Cahill still maintained that it is positive that new rankings show that the performance of Ireland’s institutions has stabilised following a recent downward trend, despite cuts in university funding and grant aid to students. However, UCD has increased its standing slightly from 134th to 131st place but UCC has fallen nine places to 190th. Out of 48 countries, the US, Sweden, and Canada emerged as having the best systems. However, to be rated ahead of Germany and Japan, and several European countries is a boost to the third-level system in Ireland, and will more than likely contribute to attracting more International students to these shores especially when some of our universities remain among the world’s top 300 or 400.

The government must welcome the OECD’s report as it reveals that men who graduate in Ireland will pay back almost six times the amount of public money invested in their education, in taxes etc. This figure makes optimistic reading when one considers that this compares to an average of a four-fold return across the OECD.  Women graduates in Ireland also represent greater value for money to the Exchequer than their counterparts elsewhere. On average, a woman who graduates will contribute two-and-a-half times the cost of her third level education. However, that figure rises to three-and-a-half times in Ireland. On average, Irish graduates can over their working lives expect to earn up to €190,000 more than those who did not proceed to higher education

The report’s figures again reiterate that people with lower levels of educational attainment are more likely to become unemployed. However, time will tell and show the positive results of ever increasing access for mature learners and FETAC learners into our third level college system, with a large cohort coming from areas with poor educational attainment. It seems regrettable that it takes the majority of those from socio-economically disadvantaged areas to get to the age of 23 or over to consider third level education or to be eligible for college courses in the absence of the standard leaving certificate. Another issue of concern is the government’s continuous rising contribution fee which is creating a stumbling block for those who are just on the edge of financial survival. These students often come from PAYE families who do not have the contribution fee waived for them due to marginally failing to meet the criteria for a maintenance grant.

Higher Education Authority chief executive, Tom Boland said that the latest ranking was positive news for Ireland, hard-working colleges, their staff, and students.  He particularly welcomed the ‘Output Ranking’ which measures research and its impact, and the extent to which labour market needs are met by an educated workforce — Ireland was rated 17th for these areas. Projecting market needs and implementing and adapting college courses are key to producing graduates with relevant qualifications. An example of how colleges respond to market demands is in the area of Engineering; whilst civil engineers have significantly fallen in demand, there is a demand for energy engineers; something colleges have recognised. There are now a range of excellent energy engineering courses available to students. Also, the number of HEI conversion courses now available, reveal a proactive third level system who are offering much hope for graduates whose defunct degrees often force them to join the rising unemployment figures or to emigrate.

Overall the Irish education system is seen globally as one of the most efficient and effective in terms of the graduates produced. However, one is still drawn to the existing shortage and predicted shortages of home produced graduates with certain key skills like languages and IT; perhaps lessons will finally be learnt and importing skilled workers in key areas may become less necessary in the future.

Catriona Lowry

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