The Lucrative Grinds Industry

studen grindsThere seems to be a common denominator arising time and again when it comes to our secondary level education and exam system; it is not a case of success to the brightest but predominantly success to the richest. Educational attainment and progression often comes down to having the means to access private tuition and grinds schools in addition to a student’s secondary school education.

In Ireland, grinds are private tuition offered on a one-to-one level or in a group setting. This has become a lucrative industry in Ireland, particularly at secondary school level. The ‘grind’ school system is now a €20m industry.

When one looks at how we store and retrieve information from our memory (repetition and recall); it is easy to comprehend how a grind works. A grind(s) works by repeated repetition and individual testing; ensuring the long term memory becomes a rich pasture to plant and reap information. There is an ‘intelligence’ to rote learning and the grind system has perfected it.

This unfairness of our education system (largely due to the grind industry) has been highlighted again by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC), who have called for the entry and selection test for entry to university medical schools (known as the Hpat) to be abandoned. In a brave move, the Institute says the test gives an unfair advantage to those who can afford expensive grinds. Gerry Flynn, the Institute’s president, said: ‘the available evidence suggests students who retake the test and those who attend expensive preparatory courses obtain a significant advantage over those who have taken the test for the first time and have not enrolled in the preparatory courses.’

It is often the case that a market is created for goods/services by convincing the consumer that they can not achieve a certain lifestyle without it. The grind industry which is the ‘child’ of a competitive points system has created students who are hungry for after-hours intense lessons, study groups, lectures, and online classes.

What is this costing the parent/guardian? At a minimum, 35 euros per grind and this figure can go up to 55 per grind (depending on the subject and teacher involved). At leaving certificate level a student takes up to 7 subjects; the maths is easy to do in this case as to what grinds for one academic year could possible cost for a parent/guardian. In fact, some grind schools charge up to 1000 euros for one subject for one year.

The teachers unions warn against buying into grinds when they consider that all they do is repeat what is going on in the classroom – something a student should be able to do independently at home during study/homework time. This is perhaps where the kernel of the issue lies: we are not promoting independent workers or thinkers anymore and perhaps it is sheer laziness that a student needs to acquire a private tutor to make them do their subject course work or pay a fee to actually study.

What is the irony of this grind debate? The majority of those taking private tuition are made up of those who tend to do well academically anyways who predominantly come from middle and upper-class backgrounds. The students who perhaps could do with extra educational support; those from poor socio-economic backgrounds and those with learning needs are not necessarily accessing grinds. They either simply cannot afford it or do not come from a cultural background

where additional support is seen as valuable. This same argument was recently highlighted by the The Economic and Social Research Institute (ERSI).

If over 40% of students are taking grinds and the majority come from homes with a cultural background of educational attainment and ability; how does a student who comes from a starkly contrasting educational and cultural background compete with these students on the points ladder?

There are bodies that are looking to ‘balance the stakes’. ‘Engineers Ireland’ offer free tutorials for Leaving Certs and their courses are in demand. Who is actually taking up the offer of free tutorials would make an interesting read for those who continually seek to create a fairer and more accessible education system.

Will the Minister for Education follow through on looking at whether the Hpat should remain in existence and listen to Guidance counsellors who argue that this exam has done little to ease the CAO points pressure on students. The writing seems to be on the wall: those who can afford the expensive preparatory H-pat courses do well in this exam as opposed to those who can’t afford the luxury of participation. The Guidance Counsellors label this test as ‘a further obstacle to stated Government policy of promoting equality of access and opportunity’. The Institute is urgently calling on the Minister for Education ‘to examine the available evidence and request the medical colleges to abandon the practice of putting additional obstacles to students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds accessing medical courses’. It is evident that the Hpat has done little to widen access to the profession as the Department of Education and Medical profession hoped it would.

Prior to this growth industry, we all pretty much were on the same level playing field where our natural aptitude, ability and interests put us in our pre-destined place. The reality was students went into various jobs: teachers, doctors, nurses etc., or went into direct employment; without going through and being conditioned by this lucrative grinds machine. The reality is that on paper we are producing a high calibre of students but the reality is a student population less able to work and think independently.

The good news is that according to the latest OECD report on education in Ireland; compared to other countries, students who are educationally disadvantaged are more likely to progress to third level than those in other OECD countries. For example, 51% of second-level students whose parents have low levels of education go to third level. This is compared with an OECD average of 33%. Where the 49% go remains to be documented accurately.

Sometimes anecdotal evidence speaks louder than facts and statistics. Recently, one leaving certificate student told an honours English Secondary Teacher, as the teacher tried to promote dialogue and discussion in the classroom: ‘just give us the information or photocopy it. I need to get an A’. Yes, we have come along way!

Catriona Lowry

Follow and Share:

The Reality of Educational Cuts in Secondary Schools

secondary school class sizesThis September many students walked into familiar classrooms and many took a seat; those late to arrive looked to the teacher, wondering where to sit in the absence of not just chairs but space. We don’t miss what we never had; however, this current generation of students are accustomed to a maximum of 25 in their classes. This September, the classroom setting has changed, with many students joined by an additional 8 to 9 students. Ask any assertive and empowered adult would they contain – yet alone teach a class of up to 34 teenagers in a confined space and you might just hear a resounding ‘Not a chance’. Yet, this is what teachers today are facing in packed classrooms, made of students with probably a number of diverse abilities and ambitions.

There are schools who are dealing with budgetary cuts in the same manner as a manager of any factory/company would do – they are making serious internal cuts. In the case of a school day, many are creating everything from study periods in the absence of subject teachers available to reduced timetables for some students. The Department of Education has responded by warning schools that they could face serious consequences if they send students home early or cancel classes because of cuts in staffing. Ruairi Quinn, the education minister, is concerned at unconfirmed reports that secondary schools have chosen to deprive students of tuition time. There are many principals that would welcome Ruairi Quinn’s alternative plan to work with his cuts.

About 800 jobs have been cut from 720 secondary schools by the inclusion of guidance counselling into overall teacher allocations this year, forcing schools to decide between less guidance provision, reduced subject choices, larger classes or a mix of those measures. A recent news report reported that one secondary school is sending younger pupils home early four days a week after axing a class, and another was replacing some taught classes with study periods — both in order to maintain the level of guidance and counselling for students. These are schools that for very good reasons recognise that they must maintain a guidance and counselling service in their schools. After all, little education can be attained by a child distressed or with emotional behavioural difficulties in the first place. It is not just the said child that is affected but the class that contains him/her.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) recently said that it can understand why a principal might make a choice to reduce class times for some students. ‘We don’t know any schools where it’s happening, but it is a sign of the tough choices they are facing.’ For some schools, they have already cut subjects or merged higher and ordinary-level classes,’ a spokesperson said. The probably reality is: principals are getting creative with the budgetary cuts but nobody wants to formally admit to it – certainly not the Department of Education.

The most recent OECD’s annual education report shows that Irish second-level schools out-perform most other countries. The report shows that Ireland has one of the highest school completion rates in the world with only two countries out of 26 coming ahead of Ireland. The average school completion rate for OECD countries is 84%, while in Ireland it is 94%. It is widely accepted that completing second-level education is highly correlated to employment status, lifetime earnings and according to the ASTI General Secretary Pat King, ‘A country’s completion rates for second and third-level education are vital to the development of a workforce which can compete in the global knowledge economy and ensure long-term economic growth.’ However, the ASTI has issued a stern and realistic warning to the Government that Ireland’s education ‘successes’ are under serious threat due to four years of Budget cuts. They also highlighted that the OECD’s educational findings does not take into account the impact of the cuts on second-level schools as the findings presented mainly relate to data collated before the cuts took place. The impact and results of continuous reduced funding, loss of teachers and the axing of vital support services on schools, such as Guidance and Counselling has yet to be measured and evaluated.

Recently, there was a news report that outlined how incensed parents were when their children attending a particular school were asked to bring in their own toilet paper. As humorous as this maybe for the reader of the report; this is just one example of the measures that principals have to resort to – in order to keep the school doors open. Hardly comparable to cutting classes or overcrowded classrooms but still evidence of the times we live in and an indication of what is yet to come. The next OECD report will no-doubt be a very different read in terms of our education ‘successes’.

Catriona Lowry

Follow and Share:

The Junior Cert – The State Exam Where Fairness Prevails

junior cert examThis year 58,798 thousand candidates received Junior Cert results. This is an increase of over 3% on last year. There was a time, not too long ago, when the Junior Cert was the first and last state exam for some students; destined for direct employment or apprenticeships. With many apprentices left today unemployed or unable to finish their apprenticeship programme (due to the lack of employers to take them on for the job phase of their apprenticeship and the collapse of the construction industry); it is little wonder that more and more young men especially, are choosing to remain on in school after the Junior Certificate. This not only gives rise to the numbers sitting the Junior Certificate and their subsequent Leaving Certificate – it also contributes to an increase in the actual level of grades achieved. Education is taking on a new found importance with a certain cohort of students who once just saw it as a finishing line to leaving their secondary education. According to the report ‘Monitoring Ireland’s Skills Supply 2012’ (in relation to students competing the leaving certificate): the retention rate in schools rose from 84.8% (2000 cohort) to 87.7% (2004 cohort – exiting in 2009 or 2010).

The Junior Cert Exam gives students their first experience of the state exams process and is invaluable in guiding them as they prepare for Senior Cycle and their Leaving Cert. A quick glance of a master copy of the results in any given school will have one striking characteristic, the grades seem more similar across the board and there is more an equal sharing of A’s B’s and C’s amongst students. This makes the Junior Certificate one of the fairest exams which helps young people to learn about setting and reaching educational goals in their lives. It also takes a valuable snapshot of a student’s aptitude for teachers and parents in planning for learning needs, the Leaving Cert and beyond. In fact it is in comparison to the Junior Cert that it becomes questionable how fair the Leaving certificate is as a state exam as there are such extreme contrasting grades and results between different types of schools in different socio-economic areas. This is not the case with the Junior Cert Exam results.

There are calls to reform the Junior Cert and whilst change is always welcome, unions are favouring reform that maintains the fairness of this state exam for all students regardless of family background, socio-economic status and other factors. The president of the ASTI made the valuable point: ‘It would be folly to subject the Junior Cert exam to a cost-saving exercise which would lower its status and reputation and increase social inequities. This would cause irreparable damage to young peoples’ experience of the exams system.’

Every year grades across 26 different subjects are revealed with maths and science again the ones under the spotlight, as they were during last month’s Leaving Certificate results. It was a welcome sign for those trying to promote more students to take the honours paper to see that 48% in total opted to sit the higher Maths paper. According to the president of Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), while there have been many debates on the significance of promoting math and science in today’s education system, modern languages are still very important in terms of fulfilling the country’s economic demands. To him, the relatively reduced numbers of language graduates being produced is somehow alarming. Therefore, something needs to be amended on the current learning system – which could be addressed in the junior cert phase in secondary schools.

What can be learnt from the Junior Cert cycle and the exam itself? The National Council for Curriculum and assessment could address the inequities that exist in the Leaving Certificate Examination by looking through the lens of the Junior Certificate Exam. Rather than looking at reforming the Junior Certificate, perhaps it is time to make it more realistic on a practical level for those who traditionally would have left in order to undertake an apprenticeship, is it possible to combine both (academic achievement alongside a type of apprenticeship)at this stage in the school system, for those who wish to undertake such an option. Finally, with worrying shortages of graduates with language skills and the reluctancy of leaving cert students to undertake a foreign language – perhaps this reluctancy along with the inequities of the Leaving Certificate could be addressed by the NCCA by emulating the key advantages and success of the Junior Certificate Examination in the Leaving Certificate.

Author: Catriona Lowry

Follow and Share:

Six Centres for Teacher Education Announced

teacher education centresThe Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., is to proceed with radical plans to overhaul the provision of initial teacher education (ITE).

Minister Quinn has accepted the recommendations set out in a report commissioned by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) on the structures of teacher training. The purpose of the report, requested by the Minister, was to identify new possible structures to improve teacher education in Ireland so that it is comparable with the best in the world.

The main recommendation in the review by an international panel of education experts is that teacher education be provided in six “centres for teacher education”.

Currently there are 19 state funded providers of ITE (and three non-state funded) offering more than 40 college programmes in primary and post-primary teaching.

Changes are already underway to the content and length of teacher education, with a greater emphasis on literacy, numeracy and pedagogical skills (teaching methodology).

Today’s announcement on structural changes will complement the curricular reforms already outlined by Minister Quinn and assist in positioning Ireland at the forefront of teacher education.

“We know from research that the quality of our education system cannot exceed the quality of our teachers,” said Minister Quinn. “This is why I am driving changes at both a structural and content level in teacher education.”

“The new collaborations recommended by the international panel will mean that a smaller number of centres for ITE exist, but that they offer education across multiple sectors from early childhood to primary, to post primary to adult education.”

“These centres for teacher education will also possess a critical mass in terms of research capacity which is not always possible in smaller institutions. The new configurations will mean strong research bases will be cemented in each centre.”

The report from an international review panel on the Structure of Initial Teacher Education Provision in Ireland recommends the following configurations:

  • Dublin City University – St. Patrick’s College Drumcondra – Mater Dei Institute of Education
  • Trinity College Dublin – Marino Institute of Education – University College Dublin – National College of Art and Design
  • National University of Ireland Maynooth – Froebel College
  • University of Limerick – Mary Immaculate College – Limerick Institute of Technology
  • University College Cork – Cork Institute of Technology
  • National University of Ireland Galway – St. Angela’s College Sligo

The Review Panel has also suggested that the Church of Ireland College of Education would be suitably positioned to join any of the first three new configurations.

The review is in keeping with the recommendations of the National Strategy of Higher Education 2030 or Hunt report which sees local, regional and international collaboration as the key to higher education system development. It will also form part of a wider review of the entire higher education landscape which is currently underway by the HEA.

Minister Quinn has now asked the HEA to submit a detailed report, before the end of the year, on how to implement the recommendations of the Panel. He will then report back to Cabinet with more formal proposals including financial implications.

“Ireland continues to attract the highest calibre of students into the teaching profession. I believe the restructuring of teacher education which I am now initiating will mean these top performing students will receive an education which equips them to become the best possible teachers,” Minister Quinn concluded.

Follow and Share:

Is the End Near for the Points Race?

cao points system

Secondary school teachers continue to feel aggrieved at their exclusion from debates and decisions related to them and their students. This has become clearly apparent in the current plans to restructure the exam and points system. Whilst universities are in the discussion loop, secondary teachers feel left out in the cold.

The common ground seems to be the agreement that something has to be done in an interventional way to dilute the tension that surrounds chasing points for college places. Therefore proposals for changes to the point system are a welcomed idea. However, the contentious issue concerns those who are drafting the changes.

Teachers unions are demanding that they, along with teachers, parents and students be included in drafting these radical proposals. However the proposals to-date are exclusively coming from the Irish Universities Association (IUA) which include measures aimed at alleviating the pressure associated with the annual points race for college courses – measures which could be in place by 2015.

They include:

  • The introduction of more general first year courses that would be easier to access and allow students time to sample and reflect on what they want to focus on at a later stage.(Thus reducing the low retention rates in first year for some courses).
  • Proposals to reduce the current 14 grade types to eight in order to smooth out the level of points a student can expect to achieve.
  • The group of seven universities say they would like to see the extension of controversial bonus points to incentivise certain subjects.

These controversial proposals have already been submitted to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn. The TUI president, Gerard Craughwell said: ‘We welcome certain aspects of it but we think an awful lot more work needs to go into it’. He went out to say how he regretted the exclusion and opinions of parents, the practitioners and the students themselves.

In relation to the bonus points awarded to those who take higher level maths, The TUI continues to highlight the negative effect they had following this year’s maths exams. It is now obvious that the awarding of bonus points did push up the points for certain courses. This could be seen to discriminate against those who cannot take an honours maths paper. It highlights the students who would normally have got onto their choice of course but who have been left with no place on such courses – due to competing with students who had the extra awarded maths points to win a place on that specific course.

Aside from the points debate, the teachers unions recognise that there is a bigger issue at play aside from the points race. They want to look at how students are assessed in the first place and the fact that they are assessed on learning attained or not attained as a result of rote teaching and learning – the reality of the education system currently; rote methods of teaching and learning have to be used when quick memorisation is required where there is a substantial amount of material to cover as part of the curriculum. The points system is therefore rewarding points for essentially chunks of memorised material reproduced in state exams.

Rote teaching and learning is based on memorisation and it discourages exploration and reflection. This is clearly outlined in the report Entry to Higher Education in Ireland in the 21st Century which indicates that whilst HEIs are taking in high points achievers – there is a real question surrounding what learning has actually taken place and the ability to transfer this learning and ability into their course of choice.

Gemma Tuffy of ASTI said: ‘The report from the universities today is just one voice in the debate on the Leaving Cert and entry into higher education.’ It is hoped that this points race debate and existing proposals for changes will be opened up to the other relevant parties so that it will realistically fit into the context of secondary schools and be amenable to both teachers and students. Students and the art of teaching are currently being conditioned by a competitive points; their future course of choice and career is in fact overshadowed by an unfair points system.

In fact as far back as In 1999, the Report of the Points Commission also referred to the negative impact of the points system on students and on their senior cycle school experience. Issues raised in that report included high levels of student stress; the negative impact of the points system on students’ personal development; choice of subjects by students to attain the highest levels of points for entry to third-level education; a narrowing of the curriculum arising from the tendency to teach to the examination rather than to the aims of the curriculum; and an undue focus on the attainment of examination results.

The teachers unions recognise that aside from their role to play in formulating a fairer points system; they acknowledge the HEIs are addressing future skills/needs shortages and are addressing these by producing courses and subsequently graduates for these existing and future growth sectors – something that secondary schools need to address also. This would counteract the existing focus on chasing points and divert the attention on addressing the reality of the current jobs market.

Finally, the HEIs make the additional point that because the points system is based on the Leaving Cert, students tend to conflate the Leaving Cert with the points system. This is evident when they are asked about their Leaving Cert results. Instead of stating their results in terms of subjects and grade levels achieved, students will usually respond to the question of ‘How did you get on in the Leaving Certificate?’ with the reply, ‘I got X number of points’. Let’s hope that the new proposals will lead to an improved system of college place allocation and less student stress over points scoring.

Follow and Share:

Evening Courses for Autumn

There was a time (not far gone) when we were privileged enough to move from one job to another; now we exist in a recessional world that is characterised by high unemployment. Many of us can no longer afford the luxury of taking a career break for further study. However, rather than forgo further study for professional or personal reasons; many people are turning to short-term, evening courses (either on-site or via distance learning) to satisfy their professional, educational and personal requirements.

Most VECs and educational institutions (who run evening courses) have Adult Guidance Officers who can offer guidance in the right course direction. Along with VECs, there are secondary schools, private colleges and distance learning providers who offer a comprehensive range of evening courses – all up-dated annually. They also have websites with in-depth information and some have downloadable evening course brochures. Higher Education Institutes also offer an array of exciting evening courses. This gives students the opportunity to experience learning on a college campus and avail of other college services.  HEIs offer everything from classical Greek to psychoanalysis.

Of course, evening time learning is the ideal time to learn if you are committed to a day-time job, have children or other time demanding commitments. There is also the shorter evening which often entails lounging and flicking through mindless television with little personal development and productivity going on.

The hunger for learning and progression is truly reflected in the choice and diverse range of classes available and they continue to grow every year. As they say, there is something for everybody: IT, business skills, first aid, languages, car maintenance, DIY, crafts, community development, criminology, sustainable development, counselling skills amongst others. They cater for hobby, leisure and professional needs and there are a range of professional and accredited qualifications on offer.

In terms of popularity, it is little surprise to see the constant and increased demand for computer related courses – whether to keep up with IT savvy children at home or to learn simple tasks like copying and pasting to sending an email. Evening courses start from the very basics to the more advanced. Web and graphic design courses are also increasing in demand.

With the media keeping a close eye on future skills needs – it is little surprise to see that people have a new found interest in learning languages. Employees and graduates with a second and third language are hard to find and students see an evening course as their first step to building language skills and impressing employees for undertaking such a course for professional development.

Another growth area is the area of personal development and counselling skills. Aside from an interest in ‘helping skills’ for professional reasons – people also have a healthy awareness of how the mind works and wish to attain skills to perhaps deal with their own or family mental health issues, phobias or sometimes they wish to acquire counselling skills to help them in their own workplace.

DIY courses and car maintenance courses are also growing in popularity as with little disposable income, people want to learn how to tend to their own DIY and car servicing themselves.

Evening courses are usually short term; however there are evening courses that go on for an academic year or even several years and these usually lead to a professional accredited qualification. Some evening courses entail getting a FETAC award, whilst others award certificates of completion, diplomas and degrees (NUIG for example offer longer term options for attaining degrees in several fields of study). The cost (aside from the longer courses) tend to be minimal and are often subsidised and there are reduced rates for those on social welfare payments.

Motivation is the ability to move or to find something that makes us move forward. The range of Autumn courses offered nationally are just that; they are there to assist us move forward personally and professionally. It is nice to leave the Winter behind with a new skill or course under your belt.

The settings for evening courses are friendly with a diverse range of age groups all with different life experiences and backgrounds. Learning is made digestible and fun and for those who have had a past negative experience in an educational setting; this is the ideal way to introduce yourself to a new and enriching life experience.

Learning gives us a renewed confidence and it is ideal for meeting new people and making new contacts. This is relevant if you have moved to a new area or have recently being made unemployed. In terms of seeking employment; it can demonstrate transferable skills like determination, motivation, and independent learning to a future employer.

Evening courses allow you to sample different courses over a short period of time – a course that might one day lead to setting up your own business or being successful at a job interview and going on to finding that job of your dreams.

They say schooldays are the best days of our lives; that would make evening classes the best evenings of our lives.

Find Evening Courses on

Follow and Share:

Dorset College Announces New Scholarships for Business Students

Dorset College Dublin has announced two scholarships in their Bachelor of Business, Level 7 programme to celebrate 30 years in training and education.

The Bachelor of Business, recently validated by HETAC will commence in October 2012 at Dorset College’s three locations in Dublin 1 (Dorset Street, Belvedere Place and Mountjoy Square). The programme is three years in duration.

Speaking about the degree, Programme Head Mr. Fergus Moore said:
“This degree has been specifically designed with industry expert consultation to provide graduates with pragmatic business skills to join the job market. The degree culminates in a entrepreneurial based business case to industry experts, allowing students to highlight both their potential intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial skills.

Another key aspect of this degree is that graduates will be placed by the college on internships every summer allowing them to forge their own industry connections, and graduate with almost a years work experience under their belt.”

The Scholarships are available to incoming first years on the Business degree programme. Scholarships will be awarded to one full-time and one part-time student on the basis of their application and interview – which includes completion of a 500-word essay.

The college will hold a number of Open Evenings every Wednesday from 5pm – 7:30pm from the 22nd of August for five weeks. Application forms are available on the colleges website and the deadline for scholarship applications is 5pm, 6th September.

Follow and Share:

What Next? When the points don’t add up – post leaving certificate options

Last Wednesday saw 56,000 receive their leaving certificate results; a celebration for some and a disappointment for others. Today’s leaving certificate grades are measured in terms of CAO points and for the majority of leaving certificate students; that is the only place where their grades have meaning and value. What might appear on the surface as a healthy leaving certificate result might leave students short of the necessary points for the course they chased with hard work during their leaving certificate course.

There are endless anecdotal stories of past leaving certificate candidates who failed to get their number one or even number two CAO choice; those who never made a CAO application and others who just didn’t pay much heed at all to the race for grades, places and points. Many went on to be very successful in their own right without attending a higher education institute.

However, there are students who know that their results are not a true reflection of their ability and of their effort made; there are those who know if they worked that little bit harder they could have got the grades they wanted and needed. These are the cohort who would rather face it all again to get that course of their dreams as regret is too much of a burden to carry for the rest of their lives.

The decision to repeat is not to be taken lightly; it requires reflection and it requires professional advice. Afterall, there is no guarantee that going back will lead to higher grades. Some students will realistically reflect and know they didn’t do well because they just didn’t put in the work. However, there is no point in going back if the attitude to work remains the same. The year has to be one of motivation, dedication and commitment to specific grade aims.

Aside from repeating, there are some really excellent alternatives: a gap year, which can be filled with work experience, volunteering, work in itself or undertaking some part-time courses to explore what you really want to do. VECs and third level colleges offer an excellent programme of part-time and evening courses where the fees are minimal and the commitment required is usually one evening a week for a few weeks.  Future employers look favourably on Gap Years when they are structured and well-thought out and where there is evidence of development and learning and skill acquisition.

Post Leaving Certificate Courses are also a credible way of gaining FETAC qualifications. PLCs still have vacancies at this time of year on some of their courses. They usually continue interviewing up until the end of August. These courses can be a stepping stone into a Higher Education Institute or they can lead into direct employment. Some PLC courses offer many students an alternative entry into the CAO course that they initially missed out on in the first place.

When all options are considered; sometimes repeating the Leaving Cert can be the better option but there needs to be a definite plan in place to ensure there is no further disappointment. Some students choose not to go back to their original secondary school and choose to attend a school that specialises in the leaving certificate programme. There are some secondary schools that have a special leaving certificate class set up for repeat students. These classes are extremely focused, where the students are treated more like first year college students.

If you do choose to repeat and the reason you are repeating is to maximise points; look at your choice of subjects and establish where you can gain points. Remember, you cannot combine two leaving certificates for points purposes but you can use one leaving certificate results for minimum entry requirements, which means you can take up a new subject if you think you could get a better grade in it aside form sitting a required subject again. For example, if you have a C in maths or any one of the required languages, you could drop it and take up another subject like Home Economics if you believe you could get a better grade in home economics than you could in your maths or languages. You must be extremely motivated and dedicated to complete a two year course in one year.

There are repeat leaving certificate students who will relay personal stories of how happy they were to repeat and how much they actually enjoyed the leaving certificate experience second time around. And there are others who will tell you that what seemed like a curse at the time of getting a disappointing leaving certificate ended up being a blessing in disguise – when it changed their course and career path for the better.

Follow and Share:

Farmers Assets targetted to Save on Cost of Education Grants

In 2011 there was an indication that farmers could lose their means assessed entitlement to education grants in the much feared and severe austerity budget. That indication could shortly become a stressful reality for the country’s farmers, who are abhorred by the idea of having to sell land to pay for their children’s. Others argue that the farmers’ fears are fears that most PAYE workers escape; with no land to sell, many in this category struggle to cope with the cost of third level education – especially the ones who marginally fail to meet the income criteria. Many do perceive that for years struggling PAYE workers are refused the grant, while the children of many asset-rich farmers get the full allowance. It is a contentious argument that divides politicians, parties, farming and non-farming families, and with the recent government announcements; this argument will only continue to escalate.

The Education Minister, Ruairi Quinn seems to be planning an imminent change to the means test for the third level grant – which means that farmland and business assets could soon be included for the first time as part of income. Farmers suspect that these measures might mean that all farming families will become ineligible for third level maintenance grants – even those farmers who are in receipt of social welfare to supplement their farm incomes; especially if assets and income are taken into account and not just actual income alone.

Currently, a student’s qualification for a student grant is based on their own income or the income of their parents (if they are under 23). But this new eligibility criteria could mean that in addition to their income, farmers will have the value of their capital – farm buildings, machinery and land included as part of their means. This would push most farming families over the income threshold and would rule out all farmers’ children from being eligible for third level grants.

Minister Quinn believes that there is unfairness in the current grants system, claiming it favours farmers and the self-employed. His argument is based on the current means test, which assesses the income of a student’s parents in the previous tax year. There has always been a widely-held view that children of farmers and the self-employed enjoyed a disproportionate percentage of college grants compared to PAYE workers. The possible and often realised reality is that farmers and the self-employed can be creative with their accounts to escape being refused the grant in a way that PAYE workers cannot. This can be achieved by increasing spending, such as on farm machinery, in the year before applying for a grant, in order to reduce their income and meet the qualifying criteria.

The Minister for Education is meeting considerable political opposition to his proposed means assessment changes. The Agricultural Minister, Simon Coveney, in sharp contrast to Mr.Quinn, has come out in defence of farmers and is adamant that assets remain separate to actual income. He argued that in Ireland, the revenue commissioners and the Department of Social Protection – use a person’s income rather than assets for means testing. He also has outlined that contrary to what the Minister of Education believes; only 6% of people who get grants at third level actually come from farm families, which is in contrast to Ruairi Quinn’s arguments of farmers getting preferential treatment when it comes to educational grants.

Maintenance grants are worth, on average, about €3,000 per college year which works out at around €90 per week – to students whose parents’ income is below a certain threshold. Now with the minister planning on taking farm assets into account in the means test, farmers will almost certainly be above this threshold.

Those close to the Minister say that his primary motivation for broadening the means test was to find a fairer way of ‘accurately targeting increasingly scarce resources to those who need them most’. With the draft report on grant assessment submitted to cabinet members; the results of their assessment will be made known by mid-September.

Therefore, only time will tell, whether or not farmers’ assets will be included as part of the grants means assessment. If Mr. Quinn’s educational grant amendments do go ahead; he faces a severe backlash from rural Ireland – a formidable lobby group.

Follow and Share:

Institutes of Technology – Industrial and Student Engagers

Dundalk Institute of TechnologyIt was realised from the inception of Institutes of Technology, that they could play a significant part in developing a modern knowledge-led economy through a pro-active, creative and innovative approach to third level education. Their key to success and future success is a sustained focus on research, innovation and technology, and linking enterprise with research institutions in order to deliver innovative market-led products. The government has faith in their crucial role in economic development and recovery; their continued investment in the institutes is testament to this belief.

Institutes of Technology were first established in the 1970s with a view to focusing on the needs of students, enterprise and the wider economy. Their principals were based on fulfilling specific needs of students and ensuring that they were being taught in a way that would mould them into productive employees, leaders and researchers of the future. Their reason of being is based on encouraging and promoting interaction between themselves and external parties such as businesses, government and the community at large. They interact in ways that are unique and individual to them. Many ITs have developed niche areas of advanced research competence and have enhanced their engagement with local industry, and Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME’s) in particular. Today, the 13 Institute of Technology’s have a lot to offer local industry and have built up excellent contacts and relationships with R&D performing companies.

They continually look for new and innovative ways of engaging with enterprise and have made significant contributions to the development of best practice in this area, through various initiatives such as Education in Employment, The Accelerating Campus Entrepreneurship and The Roadmap for Employment Academic Partnerships. Engagement with enterprise is central to everything that they do and it is at the root of the outstanding achievements for the ITs and their graduates – linking them together to create productive and beneficial partnerships.

ITs are now growing in popularity with school leavers and those engaging in lifelong learning because IT graduates are furnished with excellent knowledge, skills and experience so that they can gain employment in their chosen career. Institutes of Technology don’t just deliver the academic to their students; they ensure they are equipped with a toolbox of competencies, including: creativity, teamwork, innovation and entrepreneurship; key transferrable skills that define a successful professional in the workplace.

Students choose Institutes of Technology for well-founded reasons:

1. Graduates enjoy excellent prospects: Up to 97% of those who graduated from some ITs go onto further study or are employed. Up to 75% of these secure a permanent job.

2. Large number of Internships: A large number of IT programmes feature internships or practice placements, which give students an ideal opportunity to put into practice the material they are learning in the lecture theatre, while simultaneously building relationships with potential employers.

3. Postgraduate study opportunities: They offer an increasing array of taught and research-based postgraduate opportunities.

4. More people complete their studies: Some ITs have the highest retention rates in higher education along with completion rates for courses – often 6% higher than the national average.

5. Proven track record in securing research funding: ITs have a proven track record in securing substantial research funding, to the value of millions.

Ireland’s Institutes of Technology are flexible and dynamic university-level Institutes. Employers recognise that they are focused on teaching/learning, purpose-driven research, and public service. They are recognised as a major success story in Irish education and they are beginning to free themselves from the stigma of being the poor cousin of Universities in this country. The idea that a university degree has a higher value is now proven to be ill-founded; in fact many IT graduates have been successful over University graduates in securing positions. Many employers often favour an IT degree because it is more practical based and graduates have a more ‘hands-on’ work experience and work ethic. The Institutes provide programmes that reflect current and emerging knowledge and practices and promote self-management, critical analysis, decision making and entrepreneurship. They foster graduates ready to undertake roles, responsibilities and challenges in business, industry, the professions, public services and society. However, it has to be acknowledged that a university degree is valued and often chosen in preference to an IT degree for its own individual merits.

With such a high drop-out rate from some first and second year programmes from the University sector; an added advantage to ITs is that they operate a unique system in that they allow students to progress from two year programmes (associate degree programmes,) through to primary degree, to Masters and PhD level. Institutes of Technology awards are integrated with the highest award levels of the Irish National Qualification Framework which in turn is aligned to the Bologna Framework.

IT Students and graduates cite numerous positive personal experiences associated with being an IT student. There are also a number of advantages to taking the IT route when it comes to higher education: smaller class-room based lectures, which allow for relationships to be built up with ease; lecturers knowing if students are present or not; the practical approach to third level education; the support students receive (mentoring, study and personal support), even after graduation if needed; the sense of belonging to an intimate community of learners and lecturers regardless of the size of the Institute in question, and finally their connections and relationships to both industries and leaders in business – which IT students benefit from, in terms of work-experience but also in realising design and research ambitions.

Institutes of Technology are to the forefront in ensuring that Ireland’s modern economy continues to have the requisite array of leading-edge skills demanded by our knowledge and skilled based industries.

Follow and Share:

Psychology Taster Weekend

Have you always been interested in Psychology?  Would you like to find out more about it?

Join Dr. Derek Dorris for a Taster Day where he will introduce you to the many strands of Psychology and its application.

Date: Saturday 18th August
Time: 10am-1pm
Venue: PCI College, Corrig House, Dublin 22.
Fees: €15 *

*This fee is deductable if you continue onto the Postgraduate Certificate in Psychology.

Brief outline of the day:

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • The many strands to Psychology
  • Psychology as a research science
  • Career choices within Psychology
  • The PCI Postgraduate Certificate in Psychology


Dr. Derek Dorris

(B.A.), Masters (M.Litt.), and PhD in Psychology
Head of Psychology

Dr. Derek Dorris is one of Ireland’s leading cognitive scientists who previous to coming here held the position of College Lecturer in University College Cork for five years. Dr. Dorris is a graduate of University College Dublin where he obtained a degree (B.A.), Masters (M.Litt.), and PhD in Psychology. He has published in top ranked international peer-reviewed journals and in 2007 he was awarded the prestigious IRCHSS Postdoctoral Fellowship. His background is in cognitive psychology with specific interests in self-regulation, motor cognition, and sport psychology.

You can now enrol on this day online.

If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact us on or 01-4642268.

Follow and Share:

New Grant Scheme by Trinity College

Trinity College Dublin (TCD), which is ranked as 65th in the top 100 world universities, has launched a new scheme in conjunction with the Bank of Ireland that will help parents cover the cost of the student contribution fee. The scheme is the first of its kind to be offered by an Irish university and is designed to ensure school leavers are able to access quality higher education, by removing a financial obstacle for some to higher education. The student loan programme is designed to help individuals afford the €2,250 annual Student Contribution Charge for undergraduates. Parents will be able to use the TCD Finance initiative to spread the cost of university through payments of €100 per month.

Trinity College Student’s Union worked with the college authorities and Bank of Ireland to develop and implement a financial package that will help alleviate some of the financial pressures faced by students of the college in the present climate and help ensure equality of access in the coming years. The Students’ Union is conscious of the fact that sustained increases in the Student Contribution Charge have led to a rise in the number of prospective students being excluded from third level education. The student contribution charge continues to rise; it is expected reach the figure of €3,000 by 2015.

Speaking at the launch of the initiative, outgoing Student’s Union President Ryan Bartlett, said: ‘This development will help a lot of students who were struggling with the annual increase in the Student Contribution Charge. The Students’ Union is delighted to have worked on an innovative scheme that will maintain access to Trinity College for current and prospective students. The partnership with Bank of Ireland has delivered a creative option to ease the problems of student financing.’

While TCDSU welcomes the new loan scheme, incoming President Rory Dunne has made the point that the union will continue to demand significant contribution by the government to both undergraduate and postgraduate education. ‘There are currently no financial support mechanisms for those under 23 who are autonomous from their parents and the union will continue its fight to ensure full equality of access in all third level institutions.’

Trinity College is a University conscious and mindful of the burdening financial difficulties faced by students and their families in financing a university education in a time of recession. In contrast, many feel that the Government is overlooking the harsh reality of how students are funding this charge and dismissing the students that are denied access to higher level education because they cannot afford this fee.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has written to higher education institutions requesting that they show flexibility and consideration to students awaiting a decision on their grant application and/or payment of grants for the current academic year. The minister of Education, in defence, said that it was at his request that the HEA sent a reminder to institutions requesting that flexibility be shown to students for the next academic year and to request that students be allowed pay the charge in two instalments if required.

As part of this new loan scheme; Parents of Trinity College Dublin students are to be offered low cost loans to cover the contribution fee from this autumn. The bank said it is working with other interested universities to roll out this product for students who are required to pay the full student contribution charge. Loans for the scheme will be offered by Bank of Ireland at a lower rate than standard lending products (5.1 per cent variable APR). Once the student graduates the loan amount increases and reverts to the standard graduate rate of 9.7 per cent variable for three years. In order to qualify parents must meet the standard lending criteria and students are not eligible to apply for the loan. However, the debt will be transferred to the student on graduation, which is probably a welcome relief for parents and guardians!

Follow and Share:

A Questionable Government Cut to Languages

The exorbitant amount of job alerts and job advertisements looking for graduates with one or more foreign language has become a common sighting for job seekers. A large percentage of unemployed graduates came from a school of thought who viewed learning a foreign language in secondary school as ‘boring’ and far from ‘necessary’.  This perception, coupled with languages not being compulsory in our education system resulted in a majority making great efforts to avoid languages for the leaving certificate.Roll on to 2012, and we have a critical shortage of language skills in Ireland. However, ask a primary school child who has been learning French, German, Spanish or Italian as part of the Governments 14 year modern language ‘pilot’ scheme and they will tell you how much they looked forward to their one and half hour dedicated to learning a new language every week and more than likely they will be able to greet you bi-lingually!Therefore, it comes as a shocking surprise that The Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative (MLPSI) was wound up in June, to save a meagre €2.5 million, without a thought to the potential language graduates it would have produced one day, not to mention well-earning tax payers. Also, in the government’s well-informed knowledge of present and future skills needs shortages, with languages being a prominent one; how do they justify withdrawing funding for such an essential language scheme? More than 500 primary schools throughout the State have been participating in the initiative – officially a “pilot” programme – since 1998 which provided funding for the teaching of French, Spanish, German or Italian to fifth and sixth classes.

Last August a national languages strategy published by the Royal Irish Academy called for the initiative to be integrated into the mainstream primary curriculum, as was strongly recommended by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs back in 2005. However, rather than extending the opportunity of learning a modern language to all children from the age of 10, the decision was made to stop the scheme.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Skills, explained that the decision was made due to difficult economic circumstances and that the money being saved is going towards the implementation of a literacy and numeracy strategy, which is costing €19 million a year and will benefit all primary schools.

Deputy Micheál Martin, said: ‘The decision by the Minister for Education and Skills to abolish the modern languages in primary schools initiative was extremely regressive and short-sighted. After benefiting 550 primary schools and thousands of young children for 14 years, this positive initiative will shortly come to an end. The benefits of the scheme far outweigh its cost. In times of financial difficulty, initiatives such as this which provide excellent value for money should be kept in place rather than dismantled. A legitimate case can be made for expanding the programme in light of its value for money.’

In stark contrast, to our own Government, the British Government announced that all children are to be taught a foreign language from the age of seven, under reforms to their national curriculum. The introduction of compulsory language teaching in primary schools in England is aimed at boosting the numbers of students taking languages as exam subjects at secondary level.

School principals are quick to respond to the shocking cut, and they acknowledge that it is a step backwards where those who get exposure to a foreign language will be those coming from better socioeconomic backgrounds. It has been proven that giving children at a young age a taste for languages, often leads them to studying languages in higher education. IBEC have also come out to say that the decision is ‘unhelpful’, but hopes that the Government has an alternative plan for languages in the future.

It is a challenge to implement a programme for foreign languages at a time of financial crisis; but, to reap, you must sow. Failure to plant the seed for languages in young minds will continue the unfortunate cycle of a low up-take of languages in secondary school as a leaving certificate subject. This is regrettable as Ireland will possibly continue to fall behind other European countries when it comes to language skills and qualifications.

Follow and Share:

Going to College in Recessionary Times

There are those who predict that the Bleak Economy will have far-Reaching effects on Higher Education: in terms of increased competition between HEIs; the future of courses on offer, the changing make-up of the student population (age wise and socio-economic background), along with students considering: is college worthwhile?

The now redundant promise that ‘getting a good education will automatically lead to economic success’ will force colleges to rethink their strategies if they are going to remain relevant to a recession affected student population, and remain competitive with colleges at home and abroad.

The daily papers often carry anecdotal letters to the respective editors from graduates lamenting the lack of opportunities after years of study and sacrifice. It’s the case of between a rock and a hard place: being overqualified for some vacancies or not having the relevant qualifications for others. What awaits a significant percentage are dole queues or government sponsored internships. An article of faith in this country has been that college is the gateway to a better life. So deeply held is this belief that many students will invest thousands to attain that ‘better life’. Parents will remortgage their homes or dip into life savings, even with the new-found knowledge, that the college payoff could be a long time coming — if it comes at all.

There was always going to be a price to pay for further education: a monetary and a time one. There are always the ‘ones who got away’ from college life, who went on to work their way up the ladder or who became self-made successful business people. With the cost of going to college on the increase and no guarantee of secure employment post-graduation, prospective students are considering travel, emigration, going into direct employment, and simply opting out of higher education.

To date, there has been no significant drop in application to CAO from leaving cert students; however it remains static. Around 80% of those who sit their leaving certificate are seeking a place in college. However, Universities and institutes of technology have seen a huge increase in applications from ‘mature students’. Widespread redundancies, the shrinking jobs market, and the demand for new and higher skills in the workplace are all factors in the surge in interest. The downturn has triggered an overall 7.5pc increase in demand for a college place, to a record 73,982 applications this year, according to the latest figures from the CAO. But, compared with the overall figure, applications from the over-23s have jumped by 31pc to 12,291. One in six applicants for a place in college is over 23, which is up from, one in eight last year.

College could be worthwhile if you are clever: clever about the course you pick and the relevancy of your choice to the employment market. There is also the necessity to be astute about how you manage financially and how to reduce the financial burden of pursuing higher education. It is often the case that students will opt to go to college in a popular city to do a course, despite the same course on offer in a city/town with a significant reduced living cost.

At this stage, we know that ‘Free Education’ is not necessarily free when it comes to the Irish education system. According to research carried out by a number of financial institutions, the costs of sending a student to college is more than €40,000 if a child is living away from home and that does not include college/student registration fees (which continue to increase).  Whilst, the Union of Students, in Ireland, has put the average cost of going to college for a year at €9,000.

If you are considering going to college or returning to college as a mature student: familiarise yourself with the costs involved and how you will be able to afford such costs. If you want to make college worthwhile for you: research the industries and sectors with current or predicted skills shortages. Look at your current skills/abilities and identify gaps in your qualifications; look at all the ways to fill these skill gaps. It does not always take a degree to make you employable: look to Distance learning providers, evening course providers, PLCs and adult education centres.

What is evident is that a number of industries have collapsed and show little sign of a revival. These include the construction industry. Therefore there isn’t much demand for skilled workers related to this area. Also, keep in mind the cuts to areas like education and how those cuts will affect the recruitment of new teachers. If you are interested in law – keep in mind the amount of law firms which have closed or have reduced their working hours. But, in contrast, there is a huge demand for graduates with a background in IT, Science, Business and languages.

Is college worthwhile? According to national statistics: graduates are less likely to be unemployed compared to those who have a Leaving Certificate. In addition to this: spending a few years studying towards a beneficial degree is not a bad way to pass away this recession.

Follow and Share:

Leading Environmental Educators Visit the Burren

Landscape charity, the Burrenbeo Trust, will host some of America’s and Europe’s leading thinkers and practitioners specialising in place-based learning from August 22nd – 24th 2012 in Kinvara, Co. Galway. Titled ‘From Apathy to Empathy – Reconnecting People and Place’ this unique symposium was launched by the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD in June, and has come a key time in Ireland’s need to re-focus on its sense of place.

Place-based learning encourages the use of the local environment as a learning resource. It immerses individuals in local heritage, culture and landscape, encouraging them to become more aware of their place. With over 20 talks and interactive sessions, this symposium will have something for everyone. Leading experts from the States, David Sobel (author, practitioner) and Prof David Orr (author, lecturer), and the UKs Gordon McKellan (Creeping Toad) and Tony Kendle (Eden Project) will be joined by our own place based educators such as John Feehan, Michael Gibbons, Katy Egan, Nessa Collins and many more as they participate in workshops and on-site demonstrations as well as guided walks and cultural events. Participants will be immersed in one of the nation’s most inspiring places and challenged to engage fully with this place and the issues that impact on them, learning lessons and techniques which can be adapted to their own place and its needs.

A spokesperson from Burrenbeo said ‘this is an exciting time for learning in Ireland, a time to get back to basics and focus on what is truly important. The Burren is an incredible place to experience some or all of the various aspects that go into creating a ‘sense of place’. Here we have a readily accessible range of cultural and natural heritage attributes – a wonderful ‘outdoor classroom. Ireland’s most perfect environment for place based learning and a landscape that truly supports us as we create a vision for our future.

The Learning Landscape Symposium will feature a combination of keynote lectures at the Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan, themed workshops in venues across the beautiful village of Kinvara and site based workshops in the stunning Burren landscape. Areas that will be explored during the event include: what are the benefits, for people and places, of place-based learning? What is best practice worldwide in engaging and inspiring people with regard to their place? And how can the Burren, Ireland’s ultimate outdoor classroom, be better utilised and developed as a learning landscape?
This exciting event is open to everyone but booking in advance is essential. Further details on The symposium costs €150 with discounts for Burrenbeo Trust members.

The symposium has been supported by the Heritage Council.

Follow and Share: