Improving Second-level education

Irelands Economic and Social Research Institute published Improving Second-level Education: Using Evidence for Policy Development as part of its Economic Renewal series this week (36 pages PDF here).

The bibliography includes one hundred and twenty two references, including some from 2011 publications.

Part of the abstract states

The paper reviews…evidence in a number of key areas: ability grouping, school climate, teaching and learning methods, and curriculum and assessment. 

I tend to approach these documents looking for keywords or phrases like Information and Communications Technology, digital and social-media or  eLearning, none of which appear in the document. This intrigued me, in that the Intels and Googles of our economy, would have technology at the heart of education, remembering for example, the 2009 Report of the ICT in Schools Joint Advisory Group to the Minister for Education and Science (here).

The authors are at pains to point out that they want to learn from international policies rather than borrow the policies themselves and offer a vision of how to learn from policy research, including what I consider as key – an understanding of context.

The paper offers an interesting critique of the PISA reports, looking at other evidence (negative in the main) from the Irish educational system e.g. teaching to the test, disengaging teaching methods, inequalites etc.

The authors analyse existing research, attempting to understand what works, under the following headings

  • School Effects,
  • Teacher Effects
  • Curriculum and Assessment

Practitioners will find Teacher Effects interesting, with in my view a realistic discussion of Teacher Characteristics and Teaching Methods (p13-p17). The authors cite Smyth, Banks and Calvert, From Leaving Certificate to Leaving School (2011) stating

Student reports of classroom practices further indicate the continuing reliance on teacher‐centred approaches in second‐level classrooms, with exam years in particular characterised by teachers doing most of the talking, less use of group work, less active student involvement and an emphasis on practising previous examination papers... (p16).

The paper sees the  2014 Junior Cycle reform as promising, in that there is an opportunity for teachers to develop their practice.

I see digital media as playing a very important role here. It offers opportunities for active teaching and learning and serious engagement with our subject areas.

I have embedded below what some of you have looked at before – the combination of the traditional, the artistic, the linguistic and the use of technology: engaging teaching and learning!

This is the type of project that a genuine reform of education will bring about. It will require support and the paper is clear on this. It is also clear that the changes at Junior Cycle will also have to take place at Senior Cycle – this is where it will get interesting. The stakes are higher as the Universities may flex their muscles as to what they require form second level education.

I am surprised at the lack of mention of parental involvement in terms of improving second level education. PISA recently produced What can parents do to help their children succeed in school? I blogged about it here.

Improving Second-level Education: Using Evidence for Policy Development is well worth reading!

Smyth E. and McCoy, S. (2011) Improving Second-level Education: Using Evidence for Policy Development. Dublin: Economic and Social Research Institute.

Thanks to Emer Nowlan @emernowlan and David Clarke @cypselapals for bringing the paper to my notice so quickly!


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  2. Noel Cunningham

    Hello Donal,
    Thanks for this – I wasn’t aware of the publication and was unlikely to ever get around to read it, so appreciate the summary.
    As teachers we do need to communicate more so any step in this direction has got to be a good thing.