Reducing class sizes would build on work to improve literacy and numeracy

Research has shown that reducing class sizes can help improve learning outcomes, especially for young children. Irish primary school class sizes are above the EU average. Reducing class sizes would build on the recent improvements in Literacy and Numeracy levels of children in primary schools, and support the implementation of the National Literacy Strategy.  In 2014 the National Assessments of English Reading and Maths found that the targets of the National Strategy to Improve Literacy and Numeracy among Children and Young People 2011-2020 had already been reached. The Assessments showed the first improvements to literacy and numeracy levels in over 30 years. One question which the Educational Research Centre Report on the National Assessments does not answer is whether or not the National Strategy on Literacy and Numeracy  has been a factor in the improvements found by the National Assessments.  The Report does set out what parts of the National Strategy were implemented before the 2014 Assessments and it makes recommendations in relation to the implementation of the remainder of the Strategy. More information about the National Strategy to Improve Literacy and Numeracy among Children and Young People 2011-2020, launched by Ruairi Quimn when he was Minister for Education and Skills, is at this link

The National Assessment Report is here


EU languages and the Leaving Cert

Leaving Certificate students who are originally from another EU  member state can sit a paper in their mother tongue even if that language is not on the Leaving Certificate curriculum. To be eligible a student must have followed a programme for the Leaving Certificate and be taking Leaving Certificate English.  According to the State Examinations Commission exams were offered in 2015 under this provision in Latvian,  Lithuanian, Romanian, Modern Greek, Finnish, Polish, Estonian, Slovakian, Swedish, Czech, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Portuguese, Danish, Dutch and Croatian. These are referred to as non curricular EU language subjects. 700 students took an exam in Polish in 2012*.  Students register to take the exam in their mother tongue through their school or as an external candidate. This facility has been put in place to be in line with Article 149 of the Treaty of Nice which states that “Community action shall be aimed at developing the European dimension in education, particularly through the teaching and dissemination of the languages of the Member States.”

French, Germanian, Italian and Spanish are Leaving Certificate Curriculum subjects.

More information is available on the State Examination Commission’s website at this Link

* Oireachtas Joint Education and Social Protection Committee Meeting on ‘Multilinguism in an EU Context’ 17 April 2013

5 things for parents to know about school admission policies

There are proposals to change the law regulating school admission policies. This follows considerable consultation with stakeholders and the public and recent campaigns for change. While reforms are needed, draft legislation that has been published is unlikely to be passed in time for children starting school next year. However there are already laws in place regulating schools in relation to admission policies that give rights to parents and children and impose obligations on schools.  Parents who are applying for a school place for their child  should find out about the admissions policies of the schools they are interested in and make sure they know the closing dates for application, the school’s catchment area etc.  To help parents inform themselves of their rights and school obligations under the current law, here are the main provisions:

1) Schools must establish and maintain an admission policy which provides for maximum accessibility to the school and this policy must be published. A school’s admissions policy should include the policy of the school relating to admission and participation by students with special education needs. A school cannot refuse to admit a child to the school except where the refusal is in accordance with its published admissions policy. These and other requirements for school admission policies are set out in the Education Act 1998 and the Education (Welfare) Act 2000.

2) Where a board of management of a school or a person acting on behalf of the board refuses to enrol a student in the school there is a right to appeal that refusal under section 29 of the Education Act 1998. The parent of the child, or in the case of a student that has reached 18 years of age – the student, may appeal to the Secretary General of the Department of Education. In the case of an ETB school an appeal must be made in the first place to the ETB before an appeal can be made to the Secretary General. When a school refuses to admit a child they should inform parents of their right to appeal under section 29.

3) TUSLA – The Child and Family Agency, may also make a section 29 appeal. Where a child is refused admission by a school board or a person acting on behalf of the board Section 27 of the Education (Welfare) Act imposes a duty on TUSLA to make all reasonable efforts to have the child enrolled in another school.

4) The Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2012 apply to primary and post primary schools and provide that a school cannot discriminate in its admissions policy on the nine grounds contained in the acts but with exemptions – single sex schools may discriminate on gender grounds and denominational schools may give preference to applicants from one faith over others, or refuse an applicant a school place, if it can prove that refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school.

5) Section 10 the EPSEN Act allows for the NCSE to designate a school that a child with special needs can attend but this section has yet to be enacted. The School (Admissions) Bill 2016 proposes to repeal this section and to replace it with a similar provision that would also give TUSLA powers to designate a school for a child.

Where to get advice and support about your and your child’s rights under the legislation regarding school admissions policies:

TUSLA – Child and Family Agency
Phone 01 7718500

NCSE – National Council for Special Education
Phone 046 9486400

Information about the current draft legislation -the  Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 – which prohibits first come first serve admission policies and requires more transparency of schools is here

The Report of the Oireachtas Education Committee (which I chaired) which made recommendations on a General Scheme of a School Admissions Bill published when Ruairi Quinn was Minister is at this link

Labour has proposed an Equal Status (Admission to Schools) Bill aimed at limiting discrimination against local children not brought up in the faith of a denominational school  Click


DARE to HEAR: routes to college aimed at improving equality of access

The HEAR and DARE programs are access routes for students to apply to go to college.

HEAR (Higher Education Access Route) is a program aimed at individuals who come from a low socioeconomic background, which makes it easier for them to meet the points criteria for university courses. In some circumstances the program also provides extra financial support towards students for books, transport and accommodation depending on a student’s needs. If one meets the criteria for HEAR it is highly recommended to apply.

DARE (Disability Access Route to Education) is a program that is aimed at individuals with learning difficulties, or mental illness (such as depression and anxiety disorders). Like HEAR it makes it easier for students to meet the criteria for a university course, but also allows students access to significant educational supports. These supports could come in the form of additional time to do assignments, examination supports and in certain cases it may allow for additional financial support for a student.

Where can I find out more information about these programs?

Go to for more information

by David Eaton

It’s time for equality for part time students

One of the proposals in the Report of the Export Group on Future Funding for Higher Education (Cassells Report) is that, whatever the funding model chosen, part time students should be funded in the same manner as full time students. The report also proposes an extension of student supports to part time students.

I welcomed this proposal in a recent statement I issued on behalf of the Labour Party.

I’ve long believed that part time students should not be treated differently when it comes to Third Level fees. I also think that our Third Level education system, in terms of how it is delivered,  should blur the boundaries between part time and full time education more and that we should have a more flexible model of education that allows a student move freely between part time and full time, and daytime and evening study. There have been some improvements in this regard but more needs to be done and treating part time and full time students equally when it comes to fees and grants would go along way to achieving more flexibility for students as to how they want to access education. The concept of  lifelong learning should also underpin how a Third Level education is delivered. There should be no barriers for people who need to take time out from their studies resuming their studies at a different stage of their lives.

When I was a Senator and Labour spokesperson on Education in the Seanad I often made the point that the issue of access to Third Level education did not just concern the latest crop of school leavers. It also concerned the many adults who had lost out on a Third Level Education in the past. In a Labour Party document that I helped draft in 2004, ‘Tackling Educational Disavantage’, we wrote: “Flexible models of education are crucial to ensuring that those who have been failed by the more traditional model genuinely have further opportunities and chances in our educational system”.’ In that document we proposed that part time Further and Higher Education should be treated in the same way in respect of fees, grants and student supports, as full time  Further and Higher Education.  Much of what was proposed by Labour in the 2004 document is still relevant today (see below for link to the document online).

The Cassells Report in respect of its general remit of proposing options for the funding of  Third Level is as one blogger and University Professor put it a “masterpiece of objectivity”.*  It lays out the three options it proposes as a funding model but does not favour one over the other two options. But it is very clear where the report stands re part time students and that they should be treated equally when it comes to Third Level fees and grants. Its proposal re part time students is a truly radical one and could transform how Third Level education is delivered to students and help bring the concept of lifelong learning and equal access to education closer to being a reality.

The report is available on line here

Labour  ‘Tackling Educational Disadvantage’ document

*Professor Brian M Lucey’s Blog

My Press Statement

How to study online at a college of your choice for free

Many colleges and universities that normally charge for courses are now offering free courses online. These courses are of a high quality and are offered by some of the most prestigious universities and Institutes in the world. These courses are MOOCs. MOOC is an acronym for Massive Open Online Course.

MOOCs have come to Ireland with some of our Institutes of Technologies and Universities offering them. But you don’t have to stick to MOOCs run by Irish colleges. You can go online and sign up for MOOCs run by colleges from all over the world. There are also courses run by international bodies such as UNESCO (which currently has a course on FutureLearn Climate Justice: Lessons for the Global South). You can take your pick from subjects that are diverse. Want to write a film script? There is a MOOC to teach you how to do this. Would like to find out more about Biochemistry? You can take a MOOC run by Harvard about this subject for free. From Digital Marketing to Ancient History to Music there is a whole world of education to be explored. FutureLearn, edX and Coursera are platforms that host courses for hundreds of colleges and universities. Some colleges run MOOCs independently.  The courses are usually short, some running for as little as 2 weeks, others run for several weeks or are self paced. The courses do not lead to qualifications but it is possible for a fee to get certificates showing participation or achievement from most of the colleges that run MOOCs. Some of the courses even help students earn credits towards a qualification. Self Discipline is required take these courses. Its entirely up to you the amount of time you spend doing the course though there are recommended numbers of hours study a week.

One of the claims by advocates for MOOCs is that they disrupt and democratise education. The phenomenon of MOOCs also have their critics and there are questions about their sustainability in the long term.  The majority of people who sign up for MOOCs do not complete them though a significant minority do. According to FutureLearn its courses have a completion rate of 22% although internationally the figure is less than that.  It’s hard to tell at this stage if MOOCs will remain free in the long term or will something take their place? Will the cost of running the courses outweigh the benefits for a university of raising its profile and attracting students from abroad or from other parts of the country to its mainstream fee charging courses? There is no state funding for these courses. It’s notable that some of the platforms for MOOCs have started to introduce an element of fee charging courses.  But while MOOCs last in their present form they provide a great opportunity to study for free at a college of your choice at home or abroad from the comfort of your home.

Here is a sample of some MOOCs currently open to applicants run by Colleges in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland:

  • Strategies for Successful Ageing This is a 5 week course run by Trinity College , Dublin, and according to the Trinity College Website it will present world leading research in successful ageing, which may challenge many of the assumptions you have about growing old. The course is starting on the 26th September 2016. For more information go to
  • Webpage Development This course can be studied at any time at your own pace and includes an introduction to HTML5 and goes through the various stages of developing a website right up to the final stage of creating a website. For more information go to
  • Critical Listening for Studio Production This 6 week course is from Queens University Belfast and aimed improving critical listening in a music studio context. Start Date to be confirmed but is open for registration. More information at this link:

Useful websites:






International Literacy Day

8th of September is International Literacy Day.

1 in 6 Irish adults have difficulty understanding basic written text. 1 in 4 find simple maths calculations difficult.  There are lots of supports available to help people with literacy. Here is a list of national organisations that are helping improve literacy levels in Ireland. Each have online resources, outreach in communities and information packs aimed at raising awareness and teaching reading, writing, maths and computer skills:

AONTAS – the National Adult Learning Organisation ph: 01-4068220 website:

NALA – National Adult Literacy Agency ph: 1800 20 20 65 website:

Right to Read Campaign – Libraries Ireland website: