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School class politics… July 19, 2018

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

I wonder is this a surprise to anyone?

Children from middle-class families are more likely to outperform those from less well-off homes from before they even begin primary school, according to a major new study.
An Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) analysis of how more than 9,000 children adjusted to primary school finds evidence of a significant gap in children’s language development as early as three years of age depending on their socio-economic background.
At age five, children from disadvantaged backgrounds had more negative attitudes towards school, more socio-emotional difficulties and poorer literacy and numeracy skills than those from other backgrounds.

Still, I’d point to a countervailing factor – commitment. The school the creature goes to is a local N.S. in a working class area of Dublin. The commitment of parents to attend meetings, engage with teachers and so on, and I mean the majority of parents , is very noticeable. Parents in the main want their children to do well in school.

And as one of the authors notes:

Prof Emer Smyth, the report’s author, said the development gap between children based on their socio-economic background was significant but not insurmountable.

And it suggests:

The report recommends a number of steps to help children in the transition to primary, such as better information from pre-school staff on a child’s skills and challenges.
It also says increasing play-based activities could promote learning and engagement among young children. There is evidence that this declines in senior infants in many schools.

One huge plus, most of the children, up to 95% in primary school at the age of 5 or so like being there. That’s something isn’t it?


1. ivorthorne - July 19, 2018

A few years ago, some friends of mine and I were working on a project for a number of schools and other organisations in IC Dublin.

One class, I believe the children were 7/8, could not label all of the letters of the alphabet. That is none of the children could name them all. The children had few of the pre-requisites for classroom learning but the teachers taught the lessons you’d normally teach a 7/8 year olds. The children were failing to learn what they were trying to teach but they kept going like a tape recorder someone forgot to press stop on.

There’s an expectation that children have certain skills when they enter school. It’s what teachers expect and many fail to adjust to the fact that not ALL children have these skills. Worse, even many of those who want to adjust do not know how. I suspect that some children may have had those skills but they were not using them. After all, what kid is going to sit at their desk for 20//40 minutes at a time when few people around them are doing so and when they’re ignored if they do?

Fast forward if you will to the secondary school where my friends were also working. It was unruly. Many of the students also seemed to lack some of the pre-requisites for the skills our teachers expect them to have. The teacher had a meltdown one day. He shouted at the class “What’s the f*cking point, anyway! You lot are all only going to end up on the dole or in the Joy!”

Now, some of the girls in the class left school because they were pregnant. They still didn’t have the skills they’re expected to have – except in a rudimentary form – after 12 years of schooling. So how are they supposed to teach those skills to their now 4/5 year old children?

Our education system is centred on the middle class. We teach our teachers to be able to teach middle class, emotionally stable, able children. The solution to those “others” is specialist supports – often outside the classroom. These children are viewed as the problem rather than the way classes are taught or the education system is structured.

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2. An Cathaoirleach - July 21, 2018

The report can be accessed here http://www.esri.ie/pubs/BKMNEXT360.pdf

It is interesting and raises a lot of issues. From my own experience of Boards of Management at both National school level and latterly at post primary, much of it rings true.

It raises major questions around a lot of the DEIS spending, some of which Ivor Thorne rightly refers to above. Most of it has been spent on employing additional teachers, who clearly have not added a huge amount of value. Indeed the Drumcondra report on the predecessor of DEIS, “Breaking the Cycle”, raised serious questions about whether there was any results from the significant expenditure involved.

The report makes just one reference to Gaelscoileanna, which have for the most part, consistently outperform their local peers. As most teachers in such schools have made a conscious choice to teach there, that additional commitment seems to pay off. A recent study by Dr. Pádraig ÓDuibhir of St. Pats/DCU “Immersion Education: Lessons from a Minority Language Context.” The child in such a school is challenged from day 1 and the results suggest most thrive.

The first criterion in almost all enrolment policies is priority for siblings. In an oversubscribed school, taking both boys & girls, very few places tend to become available annually, effectively ensuring that the school remains a haven for children of a similar background.

Unless there is a common link between children, sport in the case of boys, I don’t remember too much mixing of children from different social backgrounds even at very young ages. The option of deliberate “mixing” of schools is questionable.

Many parents have an educational road map planned in advance for their children. That map involves choosing the right national school, which feeds into the post primary of their choice. Unfortunately in many cases, this involves avoiding certain schools as much as positive decisions.


WorldbyStorm - July 21, 2018

Thanks AC, that’s a very comprehensive run-down of various aspects of the issue. It’s very difficult to break out of structural locks on uniformity of backgrounds. I went to school in Kilbarrack at the Community School there in the 1970s and very very early 80s. A new school, a new very enthusiastic staff, a broad intake from the communities around made for a pretty good degree of social mixing and it definitely worked (particularly important in my view in the context of a community where there were serious tensions between Corporation and ‘purchase’ estates).


An Cathaoirleach - July 22, 2018

Unfortunately, I think there are far less schools, which are socially mixed now than even 20 years ago. You cannot blame parents wanting the best for their children, but I have been consistently surprised by how many poorly managed schools there are, with mediocre leadership whether in the form of the “accidental manager” as Principal & weak Boards. Good management attracts better staff and keeps them motivated. Boards in many middle class schools attract people with a wide range of skills, while despite the best efforts of patrons,many schools in disadvantaged areas do not have that advantage.

The failure to face up to the very large number of mediocre & poor schools is a disgrace. Indeed the current enrolment controversy is being used as a smokescreen, rather than tackle the issue head-on.

If you went back and looked at Kilbarrack now, you would see a very different educational vista.


6to5against - July 22, 2018

My own experience is of schools that overwhelmingly try to do the best for their students. I have seen very little over the years to support the good schools / bad schools narrative. But there are many failures nonetheless.
Some of this is simply down to resources: the whole structure of classroom life is based on a group broadly keeping pace with each other. Where somebody falls away they should be helped with one-on-one support. This does not happen on anything like the scale required, and that’s mainly due to a lack of staff.

Another deeper issue – and an international one – is that secondary schools are essentially structured around the preparation of students for university. Where this does not meet the needs or the ambitions of the students involved, the whole thing can quickly fall into futility.

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WorldbyStorm - July 22, 2018

I’d similarly be deeply dubious about the idea that there are ‘bad’ schools. I repeated my leaving in a fee-charging school. I was astounded after coming from a mixed-school in a working class area to a single sex extremely middle class and upper middle class school at how abysmal discipline was, how out of control the students seemed, how all this was regarded as business as usual. I saw teacher bullied in ways that would have been inconceivable in Kilbarrack, and students likewise. And yet, from the outside, and for those sending their children there, this was a premier school etc, etc. And all this before we even get to the curriculum (in fairness it was run by a reasonably progressive religious order who tried to bring in issues of social justice to relatively limited effect).

Re Kilbarrack now, well, one major error made was a lack of investment in terms of outreach by the school to the community (talking to a teacher from the NS I went to across the road they said that not once in decades did the community school send teachers in to talk to prospective students which seems incredible). I think it coasted somewhat on its reputation and then there was a sort of gentrification too so that come the 90s people tended to send their children elsewhere and numbers fell precipitously. It’s currently a PLC/FE which isn’t the worst outcome and yet seems a pity if only because it was a solid school.

Definitely agree re lack of staff, and of course how we measure outcomes is crucial. And also agree re university – I’m the last person to argue people shouldn’t go, anything but, but simultaneously the point about ambitions of students is crucial. Some don’t want to go on to a further 3/4 years of education, and in some instances who can blame them?

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ivorthorne - July 23, 2018

I worked in the general Kilbarrack area a few years ago. I had the opportunity to visit one primary school semi-frequently and interact with other schools.

One thing that struck me was that there were excellent practices and excellent staff co-existing alongside examples of the worst of 1980’s Irish teaching (minus the corporal punishment). What appeared to be good principals and good boards regarded the practice of some teachers as beyond their control.


WorldbyStorm - July 23, 2018

Obviously without details would you say age was a factor in this – old as against young teachers?


Joe - July 23, 2018

“What appeared to be good principals and good boards regarded the practice of some teachers as beyond their control.”
Close relative of mine was a primary school principal. There were two or three ‘problem’ teachers and my close relative spent years managing those problems. One individual had mental health issues and, fair enough, they were supported and managed and facilitated until eventually the health issues became too much and they had to go on ill health retirement. At least one of the other ‘problem’ teachers was a bloke who ran a taxi company and other businesses and regarded the day job as a safe salary and pension – did the minimum, turned up mostly but didn’t attempt to inspire or do anything beyond the bare minimum. Nothing, under the current system, could be done to change that.


ivorthorne - July 23, 2018

I suspect age was a factor.

But it’s too easy to focus on the individual and their characteristics.

The problem, as I could see it, was that some of these people had not developed any new teaching skills in their (probable) decades of teaching. They were not obliged to. And for whatever reason, the line management system/school inspection system seemed incapable of addressing this.

In a properly working system, poor practice does not require a principal or inspector to bravely intervene. Corrective action is the natural consequence of a failure to do what you’re supposed to be doing.

Like the taxi-driver Joe describes, I think that the current culture within the education system is one that sometimes privileges staff over students. Sometimes, it is not a case that principals and boards cannot do anything about “bad” teachers as much as it is too much hassle and the social consequences of any action would make tea in the staff room difficult.

It is a little bizarre when you see schools where forward thinking principals introduce new policies and ways of working that will allow for greater inclusion of people with disabilities etc. but their plan to deal with teachers who engage in disguised compliance or who just ignore the guidance given to the entire school team is to wait 5 years for them to retire. That could mean 100-150 students are denied the benefits of a that policy, technique etc. but they’re okay with that.

They care enough to take on lots of new work themselves and to monitor/train the junior teachers etc.but they won’t even attempt to address the actions of those they manage. Such a strange culture.


WorldbyStorm - July 23, 2018

“I think that the current culture within the education system is one that sometimes privileges staff over students.”

And not just in second level, or primary. In academia it’s rife. And one point I’d make about the school in Kilbarrack, the community school, as time went on it seemed to me that the staff seemed more important than the children. It didn’t start out that way but it seems to me to have gone that way.

School management is bizarre. And very true re the lives that impacts on. Another thought, career breaks given out with no regard to how that inflects the continuity of education. Bad enough at ordinary teacher level but for those with posts of responsibility it’s a much bigger problem.

Not that I want to beat up on teachers. What we are all describing are systemic failures where small numbers of not great individuals game it. But the responsibility for that failure runs upwards.


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