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‘The Top 400 Secondary Schools in Ireland’… March 11, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

There was a certain fascination for me a while back in reading the Sunday Times league tables for “The Top 400 Secondary Schools in Ireland” (note that ‘Ireland’ excludes the North). First up was the yardstick used. A successful school in this state is measured, according to the ST, by the number of people it sends not to third level, why no, but…

‘…by the average proportion of pupils gaining places in Autumn 2008 and 2009 at one of the nine universities on the island of Ireland, main teacher training colleges, Royal College of Surgeons, National College of Art and Design or any English, Welsh or Scottish university or equivalent’.

So there.

For those whose offspring arrive at more humble ‘Institutes of Technology’, or what have you, there is a ‘% in Third Level’ figure given in a column to the right of the more exalted ‘% at University’.


In the accompanying article the text argues that;

‘Assessing schools by their progression to university alone may seem unfair to some, but Department of Education procedures mean this is the only way to compare performance’

Er… yeah. Except they had the choice to go with the broader % in Third Level definition as their means of ranking.

For those who send their children to fee-paying schools (surely they mean fee-charging?) the results are in bold… And so, it will come as little surprise to those of us who argue class is a significant functional element in this society, perhaps the most important one, that with but three exceptions after No. 190 fee charging schools are clustered in the highest reaches, including No.1 of the chart. Indeed of the top 10, 8 are fee-charging, of the top 20, 14 are fee-charging, of the top 30, 19 are fee-charging, of the top 50, 27 are fee-charging.

After that there simply aren’t enough fee-charging schools to go around.

Another obvious thought that strikes one on reading it is that for the most part those schools clustered in the Top 20 are Dublin based. And not just Dublin based, for look at the non-fee charging Colaiste Iosagain and Colaiste Eoin, both Gaelscoileanna, both in the Top 20, both in Booterstown, both with 100% of their students going to the more broadly drawn ‘Third Level’. That’s a pattern that is seen elsewhere.

So, what lessons can we draw? Nothing terribly new. Class structures replicate themselves through the transmission belt of education. Those in fee-charging schools will predominantly go on to third level. Their children will predominantly, no not predominantly – overwhelmingly and almost exclusively, go on to third level. And so on. Those who enter the system from beyond the middle classes and upper middle classes will be… a minority. That money remains a massive functional element in all this. That little of it makes sense in terms of our class demographics, that it makes no sense in terms of social equity, social stability, increasing social mobility and so forth and is a living riposte to the notion that we’re beyond such matters as class. And if that isn’t an issue that not just leftists are concerned about, it bloody well should be.

And other schools, those below Number 400… (Patrician High School, Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan), or one close enough to where I live, Number 399… (St. Joseph’s CBS, Fairview, Dublin 3) who see respectively 85.5% and 67.2% of their students go on to ‘Third Level’, aren’t even at the races. Those schools and students, presumably feeding out much much smaller numbers of Third Level students, let alone ‘%’s at University’ don’t even get a mention.

How many of them are there? Well, there are 715 state funded secondary schools in the state (although the table only included those with more than 100 students on the role). So that’s 315 schools.

I have to smile too, at the heading on the section, ‘Parent Power’. Given that fees in Gonzaga (Number 1) are €5,030 per annum and at Glenstal Abbey School in Limerick (Number 3) €15,000 one wonders what tht phrase actually means. And if you think I’m over-emphasising the issue of fees, well, reflect upon the fact that the main article in the supplement is headlined ‘Fee-paying gamble pays rich dividends’. For those as have it… well, there’s no gamble there at all.

By the by, I’ve mentioned it before, I have an experience of both fee-charging and non fee-charging areas alike. I spent five years and did my leaving in a community school. I then repeated said leaving in a fee-charging school which I’ll leave nameless – to protect the blameless and those entirely to blame. It was in part a sort of experiment between the community school and the fee-charging school, both of which were nominally Jesuit, perhaps to see if a specimen like myself could be transplanted from one to the other. Did it work? No, not really. I’ve no animosity towards the school (indeed read my original piece for some positive aspects of it), but…

I can genuinely say that that if Kilbarrack shaped my politics in one way, the experience elsewhere in the secondary educational system reinforced that. An irony? I got almost precisely the same marks in both sets of exams. A further irony? I didn’t need either leaving as such, bar getting a standard level, in order to go where I ultimately wound up.

And one final thought, I don’t recall, albeit I’ll have to go back and check, as to whether there was any mention of grade inflation in the ST article. But that would hardly be the point, now would it?

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1. Crocodile - March 11, 2010

The definition of ‘top’ schools by the newspapers links this post to your recent one about private sector bias in the press. You pointed out that the precarious nature of most journalists’ employment means that they prescribe the same for everybody else – indeed that’s the very point of your post’s title.
The ‘top schools’ are identified by the same private and business-oriented papers. Their criteria are entirely consumerist. Schools are praised as ‘feeders’ to universities, not for what they offer themselves. Ironically, the guy (in Limerick? can’t find reference) who set up his own business while at school and sold it for millions will show up as a liability on the ‘top schools’ balance sheet, because he’s not going on to an Irish university. A place like the Institute of Education, which offers little beyond exam grinds, gets an easy ride, because it buys advertising and has none of those nasty unions that the education correspondents identify as the rot in the system.
The ‘consumer’ in all this is automatically taken to be the parent, not the student. Much is made of ‘choice’, but no attention given to the many reasons why families would choose a school, apart from its leaving cert results. We have threshed out before on this site the geographical and denominational reasons why, say, a Wexford Protestant would find the money for Kilkenny or Newtown.
Finally a point re grade inflation that I haven’t seen in all the recent discussion. Someone in my household marks Leaving Cert English – and she has seen the real grade inflation take off since the introduction a few years ago of the right of candidates to view their corrected scripts. Now, understandably, markers want a hard-and-fast list of what to award marks for in, say, a Yeats essay: if the ten points they’re looking for are made, however garbled and poorly understood, they get the marks. There’s no reward for insight or originality. Why does that not get an airing in the media discussion of ‘dumbing down’ and grade inflation? Because the right-to-view is part of the consumerist agenda, another act of homage to the great god Accountability. Pity about the student who really deserves that ‘A’.

HAL - March 11, 2010

Is there a link anywhere to have a look at this list.

WorldbyStorm - March 11, 2010

There probably is on the ST site, but I was working off the printed edition.

2. irishelectionliterature - March 11, 2010

A couple of things that bug me about these tables (and like wbs I had spells in a private and a community school) .
How many of the top private schools cater for students with special needs?
What is the aim of a school? is it to get children into university or to educate.
I often feel that a schools retention rate is far more important for society than the number of pupils it sends to Trinity.

3. Jim Monaghan - March 11, 2010

Let us have a real debate. There are problems with the school system and grade inflation is part of it.
I agree that retention should be a measure of quality. Could I suggest that some integartion os social services and the school system is called for. Attendence at school is one indication of usually other problems.
Being cynical I am dubious about all the other non quantifiable things schools are supposed to be doing. I see little evidence of this and I live in a middleclass area and I worked in workingclass areas.
One of the weekend papers had oit that a number of School Principals walked the plank over failures.From Tallaght Hospital to the schools noone appears to be responsible for anything.

4. CMK - March 11, 2010

“From Tallaght Hospital to the schools noone appears to be responsible for anything.”

Exactly, but with one major caveat. That is that responsibility is a class issue here. Plenty of ordinary workers are sacked for ‘not taking responsibility’; look at the vindictiveness being show to Aer Lingus cabin crew. It seems to me that the higher up the social class ladder you get in this country, the more ‘responsibility’ you are supposed to assume, but the less you are actually held responsible for anything. One of the privileges of class, Irish style.

Re: Tallaght – it looks like a scandal to dwarve all scandals. Were any of the referral letters not opened, allegedly, so to protect consultant’s private work. I’m sure they would regard it as a disaster to have to promptly treat thousands of oiks with cancer, when they could be perfecting their golf, keeping their property portfolio in a healthy condition, etc. The best solution to that dreadful prospect: ignore GP referral letters.

I said here before: the only way to health equality in this state is to break the medical profession. Let the f**kers emigrate; I don’t anywhere else would put up with them…

5. Jim Monaghan - March 11, 2010

Agreed the lower down the more discipline and the less the awards. The responsibilty rets on top but it filters down. But I feel my point still stands. Principals in many cases do not do their job. They preside over the schools.
I think we need to have a hard look at what we are doing in the schools. There is a lot of hogwash about teh best educated in Europe. I am sceptical about this.
I am of course sorry that cabin crew are paying the price of previous mismanagement. But there is a lesson there for the rest of us,actually more than one.
The one I would like to stress for the moment is that we have to sell goods and services internationally to survive.This means having a world class educational system withhigh standards,here I would include cognitive skills as well as rote learning.
In 2 third level bodies I am connected with there are remedial classes in english and maths.I am not talking about honours type stuff but what should be expected with a pass Leaving Cert. In UCD the science faculty have in effect decided not to assume maths at Leaving Cert.level has been achieved.(I could phrase that better).
There needs to be an assement of performance at primary as well. Many secondary school colleagues tell me that their schools spend until Xmass assessing first year entrants as progression through the Primary system is no indication of genuine achievemnet.
I know this upsets but our school year at all levels is too short. This is disguised in middleclass areas as the children are sent to summer schools, grinds etc. to make up the shortfall.Look at the comparative indicators across Europe and the world. Sorry just look North where they have a longer school year.
And it is not just a matter of privat versus public, the league tables I saw a few years ago showed that Cork public schools held their own against the elite private ones in Dublin.

6. kirghiz - March 11, 2010

Using the % that go to traditional universities skews the result so much as to make it worthless, except that it probably increases the market value of fee-charging schools, and confirms the prejudices (and eases the pain of expenditure) of those who send their kids to them.

An unfortunate side-effect of this kind of flawed analysis is that it tends to become self-reinforcing. The effects of this feedback mechanism are very visible in the UK.

It might be more appropriate to use a weighted formula incorporating the number of points required for entrance in each course for each third-level institution. If the points system is a pure supply/demand calculation, this would seem to be a more scientific, if imperfect, way of doing the computation.


(S1 * P1) + (S2 * P2) + … + (Sn * Pn)

This would mean that a country public school with a lot of hardworking prospective engineers/software developers or whatever that tends to send its students to the local IT to do high points courses would score well in relation to the students from a Ladies’ College who all go to TCD to do arts (fine a thing as that may be to do).

Here’s the next question: does anyone know if the raw data are available from the Dept of Education for a little re-crunching? Seems a few hours with a spreadsheet could be amusing if my hunches about data skew are correct. I can think of a few schools (rural and urban) with formidable intellectual traditions that scored rather low down on the ST list.

WorldbyStorm - March 11, 2010

I genuinely don’t know if that data is available. The ST list was FOI’d as far as I remember. But that’s an interesting point you make.

HAL - March 12, 2010


Dont know how to post a link but that’s the address to Sunday Times list.

Amanda - March 11, 2010

kirghiz, your formula would be a big step forward.

However I think your wrong about that specific example. There isnt an Institute of Technology software course in the entire country with higher points than Trinity Arts. In fact most would have less than half the points.

7. CL - March 11, 2010

Is it possible for a small country like Ireland to have 400 top secondary schools? Its sorta like Lake Wobegon where everyone is above average.
Meanwhile the graduates of these 400 top schools are apparently not going on to computer science at third level.
“We would like to do more in Ireland but we are restricted because the quality of talent coming out of computer science is not what we would like,” he said.

LeftAtTheCross - March 12, 2010

“We would like to do more in Ireland but we are restricted because the quality of talent coming out of computer science is not what we would like,”

crap in = crap out

The smart kids in second level aren’t applying to those courses and hence the points requirement drops, so the more average kids are entering the science and engineering streams. (By smart / average I mean in terms of maths / physics subjects, aptitude if you prefer.)

I think we had a discusssion here a few months ago on that subject so I won’t resurrect it again, only to say that changing how maths is taught, or allocating double points for honours maths, isn’t going to turn ireland into a nation of technical geniuses to make life easier for the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.

8. sonofstan - March 11, 2010

This would mean that a country public school with a lot of hardworking prospective engineers/software developers or whatever that tends to send its students to the local IT to do high points courses would score well in relation to the students from a Ladies’ College who all go to TCD to do arts (fine a thing as that may be to do).

A pedant writes: you can’t actually do an ‘Arts degree’ as such in TCD – you have to choose two subjects at the time of application, and points are pretty high for all combinations – higher than most sciences, and in some cases, Law – so it’s not an easy option. And ‘Ladies College’? …..is this related to the very dubious notion that education must have gotten easier seeing as girls are doing so well now?

9. Dr. X - March 12, 2010

I think it’s more likely related to the fact that daughters of the ghastly middle classes are all too often farmed out to do underwater basket-weaving courses while waiting to marry some poor eejit from a rugby playing school.

While I deplore the phenomenon, I also acknowledge its existence.

As to the points system, it’s one of the few things that works properly in this godforsaken howling wasteland of a country. Can you imagine if admission was via interview, as in the UK system? It. Doesn’t. Bear. Thinking. About.

The major problem with the points system of course is that points for various courses go up or down according to their popularity, a popularity rarely based on the content of those courses or the extent to which the country needs more, say, underwater basket weavers.

LeftAtTheCross - March 12, 2010

I don’t know if it’s still the case but DIT used to interview applicants for the engineering courses in Kevin St., to get a feeling for vocational aptitude, in addition to having minimum points requirement.

Not suggesting that interviews are a better measure than points, just that I wouldn’t rule them out altogether as a useful tool in assessing aptitude. The point about subjectivity and possible abuse of the method is valid none the less.

Jim Monaghan - March 12, 2010

Nonsense. It is intersting that the % of doctors and lawyers and other prestigious professions is far more equal. The upper middleclass are now quite happy to have theri daughters follow them into the profession.

10. sonofstan - March 12, 2010

As to the points system, it’s one of the few things that works properly in this godforsaken howling wasteland of a country. Can you imagine if admission was via interview, as in the UK system? It. Doesn’t. Bear. Thinking. About.


I do remember rather enjoying explaining to the mother of an American friend, that, yes, all universities in Ireland were ‘free’ -yes, even Trinity the one she’d heard of – and state financed, and that, no, you had to do well in the same exam that everyone else did to get in no matter how rich your parents were, and, yes there were a few private colleges, but they were for dummies…

And then I explained that I’d recently had an operation and the whole thing had cost me 60 euro, and no, I didn’t think I needed health insurance.

(Obviously, the amount of mental footnoting that was going on in my head -where else?- would have filled volumes, but still……)

11. Crocodile - March 12, 2010

I have witnessed the US ‘system’ at first hand. If you’ve ambitions to go to, say, Columbia, your last two years at high school are consumed by the assembly of a ‘resumé’ which shows you have edited the school paper, played Olympic standard lacrosse, made inroads into ending world hunger etc. And that’s to have any chance of being allowed to pay $50,000 a year.
The pressure on kids and schools puts our ‘points race’ in the ha’penny place. Then, no matter how deserving you are, you’re quite likely to lose out to some twerp whose father endows the college cafeteria. It’s all brutal, arbitrary, Hobbesian. A perfect preparation, in other words, for Wall St and corporate life generally. No wonder the chief execs of US corporations think our education system is for wimps.

12. Jim Monaghan - March 12, 2010

“There isnt an Institute of Technology software course in the entire country with higher points than Trinity Arts. In fact most would have less than half the points.”
Crude but the outcomes will probably/certainly be different. Therefore the BSc from an Institute will not be the same as one from Trinity. It is not just snobbery. Foreign multinationals (I ahve worked for them) lack any knowledge of the local snobberies.
We have room for 2/3 really high level 3rd and 4th level. Our stansdards for teh rest have to be brought up. Too much backslapping of “are we not all great.”
It starts at primary level. That is why knowledgable parents send their kids long distances at least in part.

Amanda - March 12, 2010

On the multinationals not knowing the local snobberies, it came out last week that Google in Barrow Street were blacklisting all colleges except Trinity, UCD and UCC. Maybe more greylisting than black.

Not sure it was snobbery only though. I think there are quality issues in the ITs. Must be an issue if you can get in on not much more than 200 points (= 5 D3s and a fail).

And lads, go easy on TSM in Trinity. Yes its female dominated. But underwater basketweaving it most certainly is not.

13. sonofstan - March 12, 2010

Our system falls uneasily between a few stools i think: we’ve bought into the US (and latterly, the UK) idea that ‘at least’ half of the available cohort should go to university and more again into other third level, without fully working out what this entails – in this we’re more ‘Boston’ than ‘Berlin’, where about 20% go to university (and nobody complains about Germans not being educated)

Unlike Boston, however, we still hold, notionally, to the idea that all universities and all degrees are the same, in the way that a leaving cert done in Gorey is the same as one done in Blackrock: and, crucially, we don’t have fees. This isn’t entirely fictional – the gap (perception and actual ‘quality’) between TCD/UCD and, say, DCU/UL/ UU is not anything like as great as between Harvard and a community college (or even some state universities) or between Oxbridge and the post ’91 batch in the UK.

This is set to change. Fees will return, and, sure as you’re reading this, a push for differential fees, such as the Russell group have secured in the UK will come next. Trinity and UCD have explicit plans to position themselves as world players – the concentration in both on lucrative and prestigious research and on ’4th level’ teaching – itself a money spinner, because you can charge fees – is already a distinguishing feature.

In a way, though, Jim is right: Ireland needs, at most 3 full scale, research intensive universities, that can compete for staff and students as the equal of the likes of the Russell group – TCD/ UCD and Queens. (incidentally, in a lot of areas and a lot of faculties the two Dublin colleges are beginning to set up joint schools and research ventures – Donagh O’Malley was on the right track when he wanted to amalgamate them back in the ’60s). Other colleges, instead of trying – and failing – to compete on scale and on scope, ought to specialise – either as ‘liberal arts’ teaching- only colleges on the US model, or as science led technical institutes.

On the point of equality of access: elite universities in the US always claim that anyone who is able to go to one will get in, irrespective of income – they all have so much money, they can support poorer students adequately: and places such as Harvard claim to be more socially mixed than many less prestigious colleges. Here, although TCD seems, form the above exchanges, to be everyone’s notion of an elitist university is actually much more socially diverse than UCD, for example – UCD really is nearly half populated by the products of South Dublin fee paying schools, at least at undergrad level. However, both will offer a version of the US model to offset the effect of higher fees when the time comes: it’ll be very informative to see the effect – TCD already has an established and – relatively – effective access programme.

WorldbyStorm - March 12, 2010

Yeah, TCD gets a bad rap, but I always think (and by the way I never went there) that there’s a good breadth to its programmes.

14. Jim Monaghan - March 12, 2010

A depressing though Griffith College has 3 times as many student as IT Tallaght with less that half the staff. So I was told my an ITT staff member. With HETAC the results comparison can be seen.
No room for complacency

WorldbyStorm - March 12, 2010

I’ve often wondered why one would go to Griffith in particular. I don’t mean that in a sneering way, I’m genuinely curious.

15. Captain Rock - March 12, 2010

To be educated by people who are sound on the national question…

16. KevanB - March 12, 2010

To head back to the original post, I would like to point out that fee paying in Ireland means the parents pay a little bit and the state pays even more. The 15K a year in Gonzalla costs at least another 15K to the rest of the country. To send the little darling to Eton, to Roedean, or Winchester, will cost at least 45K a year by the time you have paid the add ons. At least that is honest. Here it it a piece of bullshit for the aspiring middle classes subsided by the rest of us.

If fee paying were separated truly from State provided then this might bring more pressure from parents to improve the quality of the education given to our kids.

As it is, the parents most likely to complain of the failings in the State system, are segregating their children away in a mostly paid for by the State schools and getting the top scores as a result. As the ones who make the money in this odd little country are lawyers, accountants, and other brands of gombeen men they send their kids off to another place from the commonality to make replicas of themselves.

It is, I think, different when it comes to third level, as the playing field is more level once you are in. Snag is that the entry is so dependent on the school you went to. And the grant sytem is terrible. You only get the grant if you are from a poor family and if you are as poor as the grant suggests how the hell do you support the child as it doesn’t just want an education but wants feeding.

WorldbyStorm - March 12, 2010

KevanB, I’d largely see it much that way. Third Level does seem to me to be reasonably okay once you’re in. Primary isn’t so bad. It’s at secondary where the problem of access and indeed elitism (to use an old-fashioned word) is most evident. And it is irritating to have a system that is, as ever, part-private in terms of state support.

17. Seán Ó Tuama - March 12, 2010

“To be educated by people who are sound on the national question…”

Well certainly, I think Niall Meehan’s stuff is better than that of the vast majority of historians in the “traditional” third level sector. And I am not merely saying that because I agree with his line on the national question. I think he is also better empirically and revisionist “myths” need undermining as much as nationalist “myths”.

18. Bartholomew - March 13, 2010

The sentence that lingered in my mind from the whole grade inflation hoo-ha was this:

“We believe it is imperative that the integrity of our third level education system is maintained and we are pleased that the Minister is looking into this,” said Google Ireland chief executive John Herlihy.

I’m still trying to get my head around who exactly is ‘we’ and ‘our’ in that quote, and what the different possibilities imply either about the education system or about Google in Ireland.

19. Jim Monaghan - March 13, 2010

“If fee paying were separated truly from State provided then this might bring more pressure from parents to improve the quality of the education given to our kids”
Like across teh water. Fee paying schools are only part opf it.Middleclass parents, including lots of teachers< pay for grinds. Send their kids to teh Gaeltacht and on European language courses.
We need more money spent in schoold intelligently. We need a longrt school year where there is time to cover the curriculum. We need to end the mantra of "the best school system in the world". It is simply not true.
I am for a properly funded state system but even if there were no grants, teachers pay, etc. paid to private schools and it was diverted to state ones it would not solve the problems.
We need a classroom assistent in every class rather than the mantra of just reducing the ratio. We need to end the system where you progress through the system one year at a tme ebven if you missed or did not absorb what was taught.

WorldbyStorm - March 13, 2010

I’m not sure that sending people to the Gaeltacht is just restricted to the middle classes. In Greendale a fair few working class parents sent their children to the Gaeltacht IIRC.

Crocodile - March 14, 2010

What evidence do you have, Joe, that a longer school year is required? The best school systems, like Finland, have fewer hours of teacher/pupil contact per annum than we have.

20. Budapestkick - March 13, 2010

No column for students who went on to apprenticeships I notice. I went to University myself but it seems to me that the skill, expertise and commitment involved in apprenticeships is considerable and should be recognised, even though most of those finishing apprenticeships will be exported as Irish capitalism has no need for skilled tradesmen and artisans. My own secondary school was generally geared towards trades so I’m guessing it finished way down the list for producing so many successful carpenters, plumbers etc.

WorldbyStorm - March 13, 2010

Adding to that, I’d agree, I’d say that those who went to 3rd level from Greendale, and indeed many (but clearly not all) community schools were in the minority… most people managed to get by without being filed in the first or second column.

21. Amanda - March 14, 2010


The Finns spread those hours over more school days, thats the difference.

Remember the advice we all got when studying for the leaving? Many short study sessions are much more beneficial that a few really long ones.

Same applies to the school day. The last lessons of the afternoon are much less beneficial than the first few in the morning if too much has been crammed into the day. What we need is longer breaks and more sports and supervised free study time during the day and slightly fewer classes. These could be made up with shorter school holidays. No need for 3 months off in the summer, two months or even 6 weeks would be enough for the kids to recuperate.

LeftAtTheCross - March 14, 2010

“two months or even 6 weeks would be enough for the kids to recuperate.”

Being married to a secondary school teacher, I have to raise the issue that the teachers also need time to recuperate.

ejh - March 14, 2010

Working as I do in schools, I think I’d like to extend the school holidays. I’m bleedin’ knackered.

Amanda - March 14, 2010

Course they do. Should have said both teachers and kids.

Do you disagree that 6 to 8 weeks would be long enough for teachers to recuperate?

Leaving the other holidays as they are of course, xmas, easter, halfterm etc.

LeftAtTheCross - March 14, 2010

I do disagree, the 12 weeks summer holidays is an essential part of what makes teaching a family friendly profession, and is a necessary compensation for the intensity of the job.

I also think that teenagers benefit from getting away from the school environment for the summer.

WorldbyStorm - March 14, 2010

Surely a shorter school day, longer school year could potentially be more difficult for parents than the current schema?

22. Jim Monaghan - March 14, 2010

The afternoon session is referred to by trainers at least as the graveyard shift, ;little is absorbed.
12 weeks is too long. As is in the time given off so students can study at home for the Leavinbg Cert. There has been a huge attrition of contact time since my time. With a longer school year there might be time for sport and drama etc.
Yes, many workingclass and poor parents send their kids to the Gaeltacht and make lots of sacrifices. I would say, alas, that this is alos a recognition of the failing in the system.
Teachers get tired, so does many in other jobs.SIPTU with some reason have said that those in physical labour jobs and dead end jobs with little or no prospects) should have a preferential retirement age, I would add shorter hours with more reason than many who have shorter hours.. I am more sympa to this.
Family friendly, whose family?. The days lost to snow where there was an agreement that they would be made up. This was forgotten.Sure the middleclass can make the time up by sending the kids to the Institutes.
We are sleep walking into having the worst educated population in Europe. And I am not taliking about creating wage slaves only.

WorldbyStorm - March 14, 2010

Jim I think you take a rather pessimistic view of the education system. Sure, the school year could be longer, but the evidence that this is a problem seems to be somewhat scant, whatever about Obama etc appearing to worry about it. The outcomes for longer school years don’t seem to me to be significantly better over the length of year we have now.

I don’t have infinite patience for teachers, perhaps because I come from a family of same and I’ve always felt that there was some over-egging of the pudding as regards how tough a job it is, etc. But… having also some personal experience of teaching at second level I also know that it is a tough enough job and that that isn’t just rhetoric and hot air. And depending on school it can be very very tough indeed.

As for the ‘failing system’, I worry that that is in considerable part a media construct. This isn’t to say there are no problems. There clearly are, as with any system. There is nonsense as you point out, scheduling of teacher parent meetings, etc, days off for snow, and so on. But I’m not convinced that due to that we’re on our way to the worst educated population in Europe.

There’s also another point. Anyone who has sat in parent teacher meetings, at whatever hour they’re held, will know that the percentage of those parents who don’t turn up, particularly in schools dealing in deprived areas, is significant and disturbing. I don’t mean this as whataboutery, many of the points you’re raising are valid. There are parents in this equation as well as students and teachers. And they’re not just subjects, but also players in their own right.

23. Amanda - March 14, 2010

Left at the cross,

what about primary teachers, they make do with 8 weeks in the summer despite a more intense job and more female dominated (so with more primary childraring responsibility).

A balance is needed between teachers lifestyles and the needs of kids & the wider community.

I dont think theres any extra benefit to the teens in hanging around the shopping centers for an extra 4 weeks. There minds would already be perfectly clear and refreshed after the first 6 or 8 weeks.

WorldbyStorm - March 14, 2010

As I indicated above, I’m not averse to a shortening of holidays, 8 – 10 weeks would seem okay… but… there’s a part of me that feels that this is simply a push to makes schools even more de facto child minders, that it’s yet another area where society rather than facing up to an issue seeks to – for want of a better term – socialise issues that are the result of commercial pressures. To me it’s all of a piece with a workplace context that – for many – offers 21 days holiday a year, often inclusive of Christmas/Easter breaks (by the by, I’m on 22 days pa).

And the needs of kids seem to me to go way beyond simply keeping them in schools because the alternative is four weeks hanging around shopping centres. Or to put it another way, those are two completely different issues being elided.

Mark P - March 14, 2010

Yes, talking about lengthening the school year is a silly diversion and mainly stems from the school/childminder confusion.

Extending the school year would mean either (a) paying teachers more, which is certainly not on the agenda of any mainstream political party, or (b) forcing them to work longer for the same pay.

LeftAtTheCross - March 14, 2010

“To me it’s all of a piece with a workplace context that – for many – offers 21 days holiday a year”

Yes, I’d echo that. All part of a pattern to keep workers busy and tired, don’t want them having time and energy to devote to thinking outside the box after all.

Brings to mind the book “‘More Work! Less Pay!’: Rebellion and Repression in Italy, 1972-77″ (http://www.moreworklesspay.com/). I think it was reviewed on ILR last year, or maybe somewhere else, can’t recall where.

How norms, and ambitions, have changed since that era…

24. Amanda - March 14, 2010

Well we always complain about the advantages private school kids have over public. Remember many private schools have a longer week, for ex Kings Hospital have classes on Saturdays. Now I know someone will write, thats just so Mummy & Daddy can go play golf (the childminding thing). But think about it, it might be just those extra classes which make space for all the games, debating, model UN and whatnot. Which really do benefit the kids. Course opening on Saturdays wouldnt be a goer for public schools. But opening for June could be more doable.

Crocodile - March 14, 2010

There is a fair amount of evidence that the best way of improving any given school system is to increase the teachers’ pay, but I don’t hear many people advocating that at the moment. Still, maybe that’s the ‘public service reform’ I hear so much about.
The teacher at my elbow (glad to hear you have one too, LATC) remarks that one of the few things that unites right and left in this country is that they’re all willing to tell teachers how to do their jobs. It’s the one profession on which everyone’s an expert.

Amanda - March 14, 2010

Irish teachers arent badly paid on average though, are they?

LeftAtTheCross - March 15, 2010

Croc, you’re right there, everyone has opinions on how teachers should do their job. There’s a strong element of projection in that, people who have unresolved issues with their own experiences in school, who leave the educational environment as angry teenagers and park their issues for 15 years before jumping back in a generation later with baggage attached when their own kids enter the system.

Amanda, can you give us the comparative pay and conditions figures for teachers in say the EU-15 states? The UK is always trotted out as the comparison point, but I doubt if anyone here would identify the UK education system as one we should aspire to replicating in this state.

WorldbyStorm - March 15, 2010

Amanda, I know someone close to me who did teaching practice in KH before winding up in a rather different sort of school. Their recollection is that far from all staff members worked Saturdays. Now they couldn’t recall what the rationale for selection was, but… perhaps that example needs to be considered in greater detail before drawing too many assumptions one way or the another from it.

Amanda - March 15, 2010

Ah yeah, no doubt the younger ones bare the brunt.

But I wasnt looking at it from the point of view, oh look how productive the private sector teachers are! The question was more whether the extra classes are a key part of the advantage private school kids get. If so maybe we can level the playing field by extending the state school year also. I dont think working Saturdays would be best for either kids or teachers. But making the secondary school year the same length as the primary one should be possible. I read somewhere the only reason the secondary school hols are so long here is because in the 1920s and 30s, the teens were needed to work on the farm.

LeftAtTheCross - March 15, 2010

Kids spend long enough in school, they learn plenty, and having them taught more over longer hours or more days doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll learn more. We’re talking about second level here, it’s an intermediate step for those who will go on to attend third level, and for those who don’t is there really any point in extending the hours when many of the lids don’t want to be there in the first place.

As has been raised a few times here in the past, reform of the education system is far from a taboo subject here, but the call for longer terms is simplistic and unimaginative, you haven’t been very clear about what benefits you might expect to occur as a result of such a change?

25. Jim Monaghan - March 15, 2010

“There’s also another point. Anyone who has sat in parent teacher meetings, at whatever hour they’re held, will know that the percentage of those parents who don’t turn up, particularly in schools dealing in deprived areas”
This is a society problem. It is probably for a mix of reasons, apathy, not feeling that they can help, and these are supposed to be evening meeting and that is a joke. People deprived of an education generally feel helpless in these matters. I worry that the respect for education as an enabler of progression for communities and individuals is in decline across the western world and that a lumpen attitude is becoming the norm a sort of “we don’t need no education at all” . Why do poor people in say Leitrim have a stronger presence in third level than Ballyfermot.The bourgeoisie probably see less need to educate people when they can go abroad for skilled and educated labour anyway. They are banned again anyway.Oh on a footnote my partner went to our secondary school to meet the form teacher on a scheduled meeting. She was casually informed by this person that she dod not know our child becauses she had not had him in her class ( she taught French) ands also she had not bothered to ask about his progress or lack of it from her colleagues.She was pai extra for this work. On my partner expressing surprise at this and the waste of her time she was dismissed in an arrogant tone. The principal though this was ok was well.This and similar are quite commonplace around our school system.
A longer school year would allow the non assessed things like sport, drama etc. to become part of the school. I remember teachers claiming that they do all these things. Maybe some do as hobbies but the vast majority do not. I have not seen a demand by the INTO in the North for parity of school year with the South.
I do not have comparative figues for across Europe. The French are on lower pay. The French year is longer and includes lots of extra stuff like visits to museums etc.
A longer school year.
Sport and drama and lots of other good things added especially in afternoons where traditional absorption of knowledge is difficult.Imagination here might make parts of teh school day interesting for the unmotivated. Eg If you do teh boring bits you can access the music rock school subject, whatever.
An applied Junior Cert. for those for whom academic subjects are a big yawn, with the provision that there not be a wall where like in the grammar school system one test pushes you in a certain direction.
Summer schools geared to those who need extra help to catch up with their year group. Boston has this.
An NCT test for teachers say every 5 years.. Like every other job/profession there are those who are burnt out for whatever reason and have to be either helped or moved. Even doctors are subject to peer evaluation I see no reason why any profession should be excluded. Those who cannot coipe should be offered redeployment on similar salaries into other parents of the public service.
Teachers to be employed by school districts where they can be redeployed within reason.This would stop the middleclass areas getting the best teachers. I would love to see Breda O’Brien redeployed to Neillstown ( I have a touch of nastiness).
Democratic controll by councils or council sub scommittee. Parents in Ireland are too scared of sanctions on theri kids to do any real questioning.
I await the mantra of teachers as the most oppressed section of the workingclass.
The question of pay and condoitions are there for negotiations.In every other sector these are open for periodic review.

WorldbyStorm - March 15, 2010

Jim, I’d be interested to know the type of secondary school your child attends. Again, my knowledge and that of those I know who work in this area is that a form teacher simply shouldn’t get away with what is a disgraceful lack of attention to a student directly under their care. And the response of the principal is equally abysmal.

But… I wonder if you’re not mapping an instance, that while not unknown, isn’t the norm onto the situation. I also think you’re being extremely negative, understandable given that instance you cite but something to consider nonetheless, towards teachers in general. Most I know are assiduous and hard-working, often in extremely tough conditions. Now, it is true that most teachers I know work in inner city schools or deprived areas and encounter a profile far from more middle class or suburban schools. But even those who don’t are far from workshy.

I’d also be a bit dubious that most teachers don’t do extra-curricular activities.Again in my experience most teachers actually do do extra-curricular voluntary activities, and it’s expected of them. And I wonder if you’re not eliding a number of different issues… for example, you say sports and drama aren’t assessed. That depends on the school type to some extent. As for visits to museums they most certainly do occur during term time, and I myself have organised same to facilitate teachers in second level.

I think it’s fairly evident why Leitrim might have a greater number attending 3rd level than Ballyfermot. Basic reason is that less of a premium was set by the working class on 3rd level, or 2nd level after a certain stage given that the option of moving into apprenticeships was both more immediately remunerative and more socially acceptable than it would have been to the middle classes.

As regards a longer school year, well what to say that hasn’t been said already. The evidence that this is an unvarnished good for students remains spotty. I’ve no problem personally with an extension of the school year that incorporates school like activities into the Summer, but again these aren’t unheard of either in many VECs and secondary schools. Stay in School programmes and such like explicitly attempt to extend the school year, particularly to those most vulnerable to leaving after the Junior Cert.

Finally whole school assessments are now the norm and all schools, VEC or secondary can expect inspectors to descend upon them, and rightly so, to assess every aspect of the school, and this happens with increasing regularity.

The idea of a school district is a good one and one I strongly agree with, but the reality is not that teachers are against it – although no doubt some are – but that the societal pressures against diluting the ‘ethos’ of schools is the barrier. A universal school system seems to me to be the only way to implement that.

26. LeftAtTheCross - March 15, 2010

Jim, your points about what could be included in a longer school year are valid and something that not too many people would disagree with, including I suspect most teachers and most students. However, and unfortunately, the present education regime is pushing for more and better teaching of core subjects, i.e. a more intense rota of classes, rather than appreciating a more holistic and student/staff friendly approach which you are describing.

You’re right in saying that some teachers perform non-core duties on a voluntary basis while many/most do not. Those that do may be motivated by career-furthering desires as much as by a spirit of volunteerism or a wish to provide aspects of education that aren’t addressed by the formal curriculum and school timetable. There is room for improvement there and a huge part of that has to be to address the hierarchical and paternalistic nature of school management and consequent industrial relations culture.

I’m not sure where your comments on a lumpen attitude amongst the bourgeoisie are coming from. My kids attend a rural national school, as mixed a class base as you get out in the sticks, and I don’t see any evidence of an anti-education attitude amongst the majority of parents. My wife’s experience of PT meetings in her VEC-run community school also points to parents who if anything are very uptight about the education of their kids. I’m sure mileages will vary, and maybe the situation you describe is more prevalent in the more mono-class urban areas.

27. Jim Monaghan - March 15, 2010

Possibly my post was somewhat confusing.
It is a fact that many communities alas in poorer areas tend not to place as much importance in education as they should. Signs are failure to attend parent teacher meetings, failure to send kids to school. There is a marked difference in the outcomes from Leitrim secondary schools and many urban areas, so it is not just poverty. There is probably a serious urban/rural divide here. It is interesting how well Cork does in most league tables with non fee paying schools.This is a growing problem in the western world.
Second point I feel that now that labour is very mobile as is capital the bourgeoisies do not feel the same need to develope the local/national human resource.This was a major factor in Ireland.A FF minister, I think McEntee stated that there should not be investment in education above a certain amount as the country only needed so many doctors, vets, craftspeople etc.
The taechers unions stated that their membes did all this extra work and they should be paid.I feel it is your won business if you are active in the GAA and whether you are a plumber or teacher you should not expect extra payment.
I feel that the posts of responsibility are in msot cases a joke and an excuse for extra payment.Sorry for being harsh but that is the truth.
Time off school, alas, most students welcome this, when they are 30, 40 or 50 and unemployed with few skills they might not appreciate.
I like the holestic stuff, but in practice it amounts to hogwash. The Leaving Cert.may not measure everything but it is at least a measure. I want objective measurement of outcomes which would include retention.The end of the Primary Cert supposedly to destress kids gave us a system where there is little evaluation of the outcome.
I see no examples of the imaginative approach so I will stick to having a longer school year with time to do extra stuff not on the exam list like sport and drama. Attractive options like this might/would attract the cohert of potential dropouts to bear with the “boring” bits
The core group of the Irish poor did not escape poverty (ok social welfare went up marginally) during the boom.The employers brought in labour with better skills.It depresses me when I see the failure of measures in say Ballyfermot to shift any significant number to access 3rd level.Oh While I live in the middleclass area I worked and was involved in the poorer areas.Like traditional lefties of decades ago I believe the route totrue freedom lies in education as well as ending the domination of Capital.
Oh I am not fixated with 3 rd level, the crafts etc are legitimate outcomes. I remember suggesting that when the Financial centre was built that the communities should have bargained for apprenticeships.Alas,they were given the sop of short term well paid general assistent jobs.A craft lasts for ever.
When this recession ends the goalposts will have shifted to an economy which will need higher education and skills than at present.A quantum change. And whether Joe Higgins or a rightwing scumbag is in power we need to trade goods and services in the world economy to pay for everything.This necessitates we act and act fast and intelligently. Alas, the culture of complacency will probably triumph.
To reuse an old adage, Socialism is nationalisation of the commanding heights with a great education system

28. Amanda - March 16, 2010

Left at the cross

They learn plenty all right, but of all the wrong stuff. Those in charge of third level, like that Ferdinard von Thingy of DCU, are always harping on about the same thing in the media. The kids just arent prepared for the challenges of college. Remember this isnt just the elite students, we aim to have 70% going on to 3rd level, so its the majority. Employers say the same thing, the leaving is not a good preparation for the modern workplace.

So we need to start plugging the gaps, but the skills the kids are missing (team working, presentations, critical thinking, solving unfamiliar problems) all are best leaned by doing. And that is slow and timeconsuming. All those private schools dont invest so much time into sports and debating and drama and the model UN and the maths olympiad just for the good of there egos. They know well that the kids develop important skills doing those activities.

The question you ask about teachers pay. I can google like the next person and it seems theres a heated debate on whether Irish teachers are the best paid in the world or just slightly above average. I dont think anyone seriously claims there underpaid though.

And I havent unresolved issues about my own education thank you very much. I had a uneventful and relatively positive experience in school, did a good leaving and went onto college. So no projection of my own insecurities.

LeftAtTheCross - March 16, 2010

Amanda, I wan’t alluding to yourself on the projection thing.

Your comment about employers view of the education system probably encapsulates the different views in play here. For some people life is about getting ahead, implicitly at the expense of others, as life is seen as a competition in which the best prepared and hardest working will win the day. In that worldview education is preparation for work, and employers views are important. Many people don’t buy that model. Life is for living, education is for broadening the mind, learning useful information and skills, and yes for conditioning people to fit into society to some degree or other of course, including soft skills.

Jim might jump in at this point with comments about how we need to up our average education level in order to compete globally and trade in the smart economy. But I’d make the point that competition in the workplace / economy, whether as the individual level or at the national level, is a hiding to nowhere, it’s running a race that has no finishing line, and is at the root of the inequality and exploitation in the capitalist system.

sonofstan - March 16, 2010

So we need to start plugging the gaps, but the skills the kids are missing (team working, presentations, critical thinking, solving unfamiliar problems) all are best leaned by doing. And that is slow and timeconsuming.

Would you think that the UK system of A -levels with a more intense immersion in fewer subjects – and much more continuous, project based assessment – might foster these qualities more than the Leaving?

LeftAtTheCross - March 16, 2010

SoS, I don’t have the figures but I was of the impression (happy to be corrected) that the proportion of students who complete A-levels in the UK was significantly less than the equivalent here who sit the LC. The implication being that premature specialisation is off-putting for many kids and that the broad LC approach is better at keeping kids in the education system for longer.

29. sonofstan - March 16, 2010

I think it used to be the case alright: from a quick google it would appear though, that the proportion of 15-18 yo in education or training now is about identical between here and the UK. although the ‘or training’ bit of that might mean proportionately more in apprenticeships and fewer in school.

I don’t really agree with your conclusion about the relative merits of the LC or A levels in keeping kids in education though: I think the former disparity is much more to do with the fact that in the UK, historically, there was far more available and relatively well paid industrial employment for early school leavers than here, where either domestic service or emigration often formed the entire range of career choices. So staying in school made a bigger difference.

In this regard, its well worth looking at the differences in educational – and attitudes to same – obtaining in NI between the two ‘communities’. Because heavy industry was largely reserved for the Unionist/ Loyalist communities – the ones who went to state schools – there was a marked difference in school completion rates and a consequently greater degree of upward social mobility from those attending Catholic schools.

LeftAtTheCross - March 16, 2010

I’ll buy into your analysis there, makes sense. Thanks.

30. Amanda - March 16, 2010

Son of Stan – I think the A levels might be just a bit too narrow, while the leaving is too broad and shallow. Maybe the International Bac is somewhere in the middle.

But definitely yes to the project work and continuous assessment. Now I know someone will write, but what about Prince Harry cheating in his art project! Yes thats a problem, but I still think the usefulness of the fairness of the leaving is overstated. So, we can sure what Johnny wrote on his exam script was learned off by heart by him and him alone. But so what, what real use is that? We now know Johnny is very good at learning someones stuff off my heart and writing it out against the clock. We know nothing else. The someone could be himself (if he prepared using his own resources only) or his state school teacher (if he was given model answers to learn off) or his private grind school grindmaster (where apparently notes with near mythical status are handed out to the kids).

Its a bit like getting around the drugs in sport problem by having olympic sprinters compete at trivial pursuits instead. Yes we can be sure the EPO and steroids didn\’t help the fella who wins the gold medal. But the gold medal itself becomes meaningless.

Left at the cross – I do agree that education broadens the mind and is worthy in and off itself. However if we are serious about the knowledge/smart economy we need to take into account what employers need. This is not selling out to the evil capitalists. This is pure realism. Without a healthy economy we simply cant pay for all the social goods we want and need. You could view it as competing at someone elses expense, or competing on behalf of someone else. That someone being the weaker in our own society, who need a strong economy to fund the benefits they receive. And you can be sure that if we dont compete for the new generation of jobs, then some other country will. There not all going to step aside in a gentlemanly way just because we have decided to be idealistic. The socialism I know doesnt require your country to be poor (but broad of mind!) Certainly the Nordics dont think that way.

31. LeftAtTheCross - March 16, 2010

“This is pure realism”.

Sigh. Do you mean There Is No Alternative?

“Without a healthy economy we simply cant pay for all the social goods we want and need.”

And with it we can??

“The socialism I know doesnt require your country to be poor”

We have different socialisms in that case. Mine says that the global issues of a broken economic system, social inequality, population growth, food/water limits, unsustainable energy consumption, will lead to a future that looks more like Cuba than Scandanavia.

My views on education fall out of those expectations.

Amanda - March 16, 2010

Do you mean There Is No Alternative?

No the TINA thing is about NAMA and the current budget cuts.

And with it we can??

Yes, if we choose to do so. Put it another way, without a healthy economy we definitely cant pay for those social goods (no sugar daddy in Moscow to bankroll us)

We have different socialisms in that case.

Well, we must do. I think we can make progress at a local level without solving all those global problems you speak of. Some are out of our control, for some we are only a small part of the solution needing global coordination and leadership from the US, China, India etc. And we certainly cant impose a vision of social equality on other societies. Look to Eastern European history to see where that leads.

LeftAtTheCross - March 16, 2010


TINA is about accepting “realism” and discarding alternative options, it’s not a mindset that is confioned to NAMA.

Agreed that global issues are global. But as for being out of our control, well that’s being defeatist (where you might say “realist”).

Eastern European history, yes, it’s interesting for sure. I won’t for a minute try to disagree that post-WWII Stalinist imperialism had many negative effects. But if you’re claiming that the 1917 revolution was “a bad thing” of itself, then yes we have different socialisms.

32. sonofstan - March 16, 2010


Just on the A-levels thing, and as a further response to LATC, I think the UK system is actually better at retaining poorer kids in education than here, and, much as it is (often justly) derided and disliked by teachers, NuLabourist target obsession has, maybe despite itself, produced some tangible results in this regard.

33. Jim Monaghan - March 16, 2010

“Many people don’t buy that model. Life is for living, education is for broadening the mind, learning useful information and skills, and yes for conditioning people to fit into society to some degree or other of course, including soft skills.”
First there is the necessity of earning a living both as individuals and as a people. Then (and it is very important) culture etc. It is hard to enjoy and appreciate the finmer things of life when you struggle (Peoples as well as individauls) to put bread on the table.I would allude to my claim that a longer school year enables schools to go beyond the core subjects.I am a bread and roses socialist

Jim might jump in at this point with comments about how we need to up our average education level in order to compete globally and trade in the smart economy. But I’d make the point that competition in the workplace / economy, whether as the individual level or at the national level, is a hiding to nowhere, it’s running a race that has no finishing line, and is at the root of the inequality and exploitation in the capitalist system.

So like North Korea we can opt out of the world market. This is what you are saying.I can see it we resign from the EU etc/. and operate a barter system with the rest of the world. Socialism in one country.
Aside from vulgar economics I would add that our education system is not especially good on the arts.

34. WorldbyStorm - March 16, 2010

Couldn’t agree with you more that arts have been squeezed, in part due to an emphasis on the business language areas…

35. Dylan - June 2, 2013

I’m in a non-fee paying school in south dublin which is the most expensive place to live in Ireland and I know for a fact that fee paying schools do better because of their parents. The parents who can afford to pay the fees are the ones who actually give a shit about their children. My parents don’t care but I do so yeah I get all As. Bye :)

WorldbyStorm - June 3, 2013

This may come as a shock, Dylan, so brace yourself – the vast majority of parents who can’t afford to pay fees actually give a shit about their children. It’s not the financial capacity to spend money that characterises giving a shit about education but the willingness to invest interest and time and energy in children. The situation you cite in relation to yourself undermines your own argument (let’s – for the crack – assume you’re not trolling or wasting our time). In this instance you’re the one investing time and energy and interest in yourself.

‘do better’ by the way is a loaded term. Do better in what sense, access to university? There are non-fee charging schools which do equally as well.

Dr. X - June 3, 2013

A relative who teaches in one of the fee-paying schools tells me she regularly gets cases of kids whose affluent parents don’t see the need to provide them with any emotional support at all, and in fact appear to regard them as a nuisance and an irritant.

So are the “parents who can afford to pay the fees are the ones who actually give a shit about their children”?

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