In 1995 the Irishgovernment published the White paper on education, “Charting our EducationFuture”. The White Paper describes a comprehensive agenda for change anddevelopment. It seeks to give an empowering sense of direction to all of thepartners in education. It outlines policy directions and targets for futuredevelopment including significant organisational developments. Within anenabling framework, it seeks to allow for flexibility to meet particular needsand circumstances, respects legitimate rights and responsibilities among thepartners and the different levels of the educational system, and clarifies therole of the Minister and the Department of Education in educational policy andprovision. It also indicates the manner in which an appropriate legislativeframework will be provided for key aspects of educational provision in thefuture.
This White Paper heralds a major programme of legislation.This paper outlined a planto radically improve the education system in Ireland. It contained five coreprinciples, namely quality, equality, inclusion, partnership, andaccountability. The focus of this essay will evaluate the two main principalobjectives: creating a more equal education service and creating a moreinclusive education system. EqualityBuilding on thefoundations of primary education, post primary education aims to provide acomprehensive, high-quality learning environment which enables all students tolive full lives, appropriate to their stage of development, and to realisetheir potential as individuals and as citizens. It aims to prepare students foradult life and to help them proceed to further education or directly toemployment. Educational objectives at this level promote the right of eachstudent to full and equal access, participation and benefit from educationalprovision, in accordance with her/his ability. Whatever their socio-economicbackground, gender or special educational needs, individual students areencouraged to reach their full potential as they advance through the educationsystem.
The education of each student is valued equally, despite a wide rangeof individual differences in background, abilities or early experiences andachievements. Over the past fifteenyears schools and classrooms across Ireland have undergone exponential changein terms of student diversity (Conway and Sloane, 2005; INTO, 2004; NCCA,1999a). There has been a significantly large increase of the number of studentspresenting with special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream schools, and alsoa decline in the number of special schools (Ware et al. 2009; Stevens andO’Moore, 2009). The changing population of Ireland has also meant a growth instudent numbers from a minority ethnic and/or minority language background, whowould not traditionally have settled in Ireland.
There is also the challenge ofincluding students who experience educational disadvantage.The principle of equalityis at the heart of the protection of individual rights and the promotion ofcommunity well-being. Where participation and achievement in the educationsystem are impeded by physical, mental, economic or social factors, the Stateshould seek to eliminate or compensate for the sources and consequences ofeducational disadvantage. As the Report on the National Education Conventionstated, “the key concern is to enable each and every pupil to make themost of their potentials; to overcome limitations wherever this is possible; tomitigate their effects wherever it is not” (National Education Conventionstated). The education system for the future should have a philosophy thatembraces all students, female and male, on a basis of equality.
A sustainingphilosophy should seek to promote equality of access, participation and benefitfor all in accordance with their needs and abilities. Measures to promoteequality will include allocating resources to those in greatest need, providingappropriate support systems, and changing the tangible and intangible qualitiesof the system itself to cater for the diverse educational needs and interestsof the population. It will also include strategies for the earliest feasibleintervention to support children at risk of educational failure and willdevelop specific measures to continue special supports for such childrenthroughout their education. Irish policy documentsrelating to special education have adopted the philosophy of the SpecialEducation Review Committee (SERC) (Government of Ireland, 1993) report infavouring “as much integration as is appropriate and feasible with as little segregationas is necessary”. Since the Education Act 1998 (Government of Ireland, 1998)established the right to an appropriate education for all children there hasbeen a large body of legislation which has influenced thinking, policies andpractices around inclusive education.
These include the Employment EqualityActs 1998 and 2004 (Government of Ireland, 1998b), the Equal Status Acts 2000to 2004 (Government of Ireland, 2000), the Education Welfare Act 2000(Government of Ireland, 2000a), the Education for Persons with SpecialEducational Needs Act 2004 (Government of Ireland, 2004) and the Disability Act2005 (Government of Ireland, 2005). These have been complemented by circulars,research and task force reports and curricular, planning, policy and practiceguidelines. There has also been a radical change in the level of resources inthe system in terms of learning support, resource, language support teachers,special educational needs organisers and special needs assistants. In additionthere has been the creation and expansion of bodies such as the NationalCouncil for Special Education, National Educational Psychological Service, theNational Education Welfare Board, the National Council for Technology inEducation, the Special Education Support Service and the Primary ProfessionalDevelopment Service.In the last decade,issues of educational disadvantage and educational achievement have moved tothe centre of policy-makers agenda and academic debate. Underachievement isparticularly recognised as a major problem with some of the lowest levels ofachievement found in schools serving a disadvantaged urban community (Kelly,1995; 1996; Demie, 1998; Mortimore and Whitty, 1997).
In Ireland, educationaldisadvantage has been the subject of much debate and action over the past 15years and this has resulted in legislative change, curricular reform andvarious intervention measures including Education (Welfare) Act, (2000) whichestablished the National Educational Welfare Board, and the Qualifications (Educationand Training) Act (1999). Following much consultation a detailed outline of howservices, supports and resources were to be deployed to target educationaldisadvantage was published in 2005. Delivering Equality of Opportunity inSchoolsAn Action Plan for Educational Inclusion (DEIS) (DES, 2005b) aims tointegrate eight existing programmes under a new programme called the SchoolSupport Programme (SSP).
Many of the measures of the past 15 years have focusedon providing additional human and financial resources to address such issues asearly education, literacy and numeracy supports, the role of the family and thecommunity in education and early school leaving. A recent review ofimplementation of the literacy part of the plan by the National Economic andSocial Forum (2009) raises many issues of concern. At primary and secondarylevels, the most vulnerable students have been particularly affected byeducation cuts. Funds for traveller education projects have been reduceddrastically. Support for students with disabilities and those who do not speakEnglish as a first language have also been restricted. It is hard to see howeducational outcomes for these students will not be negatively impacted bythese policy decisions. Already, there is evidence to suggest that somestudents are losing out: Children with disabilities are being turned away frommainstream schools because these schools lack the supports to cater for them;Traveller children are disproportionally affected by the withdrawal of extraschool transport assistance, as they often have to travel long distances toschool due to discrimination.
The DEIS school programmewas designed to combat educational disadvantage by providing supports tostudents in disadvantaged areas. The need for such a programme encompassingsome 852 public schools at primary and secondary levels is indicative of thefact that Ireland has a two-tier educational system where inequality ofeducational outcome is the norm. However, the success of this scheme indelivering equality of opportunity in education has been and to a certainextent still is undermined by cuts to programmes such as the Student CompletionProgramme and third-level student grant supports. Ensuring that childrenreceive a good quality education that leads successfully to higher educationand training for all students should always be at the centre of policydecisions if the Government is intent on realising its human rightsobligations.For third-level students,the rise in registration fees has been substantial and has meant a greatertransfer of education costs to individuals. At the same time, eligibility forthe student grant scheme has been restricted .
These changes have majorimplications for the ability of students from disadvantaged backgrounds to accessthird level. Delays in approving students for the grant scheme also appear tobe forcing them to drop out of third-level courses.Furthermore, thedisparity in rates of progression to third level for students from differentsocio-economic backgrounds indicates that equality in education of access hasnot been achieved. The current dispensation most favours students frombetter-off backgrounds whose parents can invest in school fees or extra tuitionto achieve optimum exam results. Current education policy is not in keepingwith Ireland’s human rights obligations to make education generally availableand accessible to all by every appropriate means.
The net result ofdiscouraging people from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend third level is ahuman rights failure and means that one of the core purposes of our educationsystem is not being realised. This group is being locked out of highereducation, calling a halt to one of the most effective means of socialprogression.To fully vindicate humanrights in the context of the right to education under Article 13, Ireland needsto remove financial barriers to education that are disproportionately affectingstudents from disadvantaged backgrounds. The State must provide adequatesupports to families to cover the cost of a new school year, or to young peoplewho for financial reasons cannot progress to third level and realise theirpotential. InclusivityIreland has become hometo a significantly large number of very diverse populations of immigrants sincethe early 1990s. This is predominantly as a result of increased economicprosperity, European Union expansion and freedom to travel.
Within this contextminority language children, or their families, have arrived in a number ofdifferent ways to Ireland. They have entered the country as refugees or asylumseekers, immigrant workers or the children of immigrant workers, or in someexceptional circumstances, unaccompanied minors or children. However many areasof Irish life such as health service provision, and education were perhaps slowto react to the ensuing rise in the rate of inward migration, which has takenplace over the last two decades. Murphy (2006) places these changes in abroader context suggesting that Ireland is becoming a more inclusive pluralistsociety, a society where individualism and subjectivism prevails. The educationsystem has been the place where this ‘cultural shift’ has impacted most andthat ‘the school, which is also a ‘microcosm’ of society and the medium throughwhich culture is transmitted, has been undeniably affected by changing culturalcontexts.
Consequently, no major institution has been more subject to changethan the education system (Murphy 2006) with school being the place where’younger citizens are introduced to the world outside their immediate family(and the place which) is particularly influential in shaping children’s worldviews, expectations and aspirations’ (Includ-ED, 2007). The Includ-ED researchcontends that education systems play a pivotal role in promoting respect fordiversity and difference but can also be ‘sites of confrontation wheredifferent values and world views collide and where majority values canundermine all others (Includ-ED, 2007). Lalor and Mulcahy suggest that in Irisheducation contexts the challenges presented by the rise in inward migration areof particular importance ‘as our systems try to cope with immediate issues suchas attempting to create intercultural classrooms in a system that is almostexclusively denominational and where the ethos of the school is underpinned bythe predominant faith, in this instance Roman Catholic’ (2011). However,changes in the Irish demographic landscape are part of the continuing narrativeof diversity in Ireland adding to ‘the rich diversity that always existed inIreland’ (Kropiwiec and Chiyoko King-O’Riain, 2006). Keogh (2003, p.3) suggeststhat while such ‘cultural diversity is not new in Ireland…our response to thatcultural diversity through the development of interculturalism is justemerging’.
As many schools inIreland are de facto denominational (to a large extent Catholic) and thissituation calls for particular attention to be paid to the needs of students ofminority faiths. Although such pupils are not obliged to attend religiouseducation, the issue of providing alternative religious education or a form ofreligious education, which embraces all faiths, needs to be considered. Wintinan educational context, the Integration Statement (2008, p.
59) outlines themeasures taken by the Irish government including the setting up of a dedicatedIntegration Unit within the Department of Education, the translation ofinformation on the school system into other languages and in-service trainingfor language teachers. However, it should be noted that some of these measureshave been rowed back on in light of the recent negative change in the economy.In 2010, the Department of Education and Skills published its InterculturalEducation Strategy 2010 to 2015.
This strategy was concerned to ensure that allstudents experience an education that ‘respects the diversity of values,beliefs, languages and traditions in Irish society and is conducted in a spiritof partnership’ (Education Act, 1998) and that all education providers areassisted with ensuring that inclusion and integration within an interculturallearning environment become the norm. The Strategy was created in consultationwith a range of actors and agencies working in the education sector and was aresponse to the changes that have taken place in Ireland over the last twodecades. The Strategy has set itself what it calls high-level goals to beachieved by the end of 2015. These are to Enable the adoption of a wholeinstitution approach to creating an intercultural learning environment Buildthe capacity of education providers to develop an intercultural learningenvironment Support students to become proficient in the language ofinstruction Encourage and promote active partnership, engagement and effectivecommunication between education providers, students, parents and communitiesPromote and evaluate data gathering and monitoring so that policy and decisionmaking is evidence-based The Strategy advocates a whole school approach todeveloping an Intercultural education environment by building the capacity ofthose who work in such environments and supported by a rigorous research-basedapproach to monitoring and measurement.
The Strategy is supported byconsiderable financial and Department support but as of yet no details havebeen released with regards to interim progress towards these goals. Statepolicy in this area is also driven through various acts of the Oireachtas. The1998 Education Act, for example, aims ‘to make provision in the interests ofthe common good for the education of every person in the state’ in a systemthat is ‘accountable to students, their parents and the state’ and which’respects the diversity of values, beliefs, languages and traditions in Irishsociety and is conducted in a spirit of partnership’ (Education Act, 1998, p.5).Other approaches in Ireland to policy in the area include the White Paper onEducation ‘Charting our Education Future’ (1995) and the Education Act (1998).The Act outlines the responsibilities of the Boards of Management of schoolsparticularly in relation to the establishment and maintenance of school ethos’the board also has a responsibility for supporting and monitoring thecharacteristic spirit of the school, which is determined by cultural,educational, moral, religious or social values and traditions’ (Education Act,1998, p.
19) with the paper setting out its view of ethos in a school being ‘anorganic element, arising, first and foremost, from the actual practices whichare carried on in that school on a daily, weekly and yearly basis (Department ofEducation, 1995, p.11). The White Paper goes on to highlight the school’sresponsibilities to the broader community ‘while each school may properlynurture and support its particular ethos, it is also obliged to acknowledge andreflect the principles and requirements of a democratic society, respecting thediverse beliefs and ways of life of others’ (Department of Education, 1995,p.11). The State’s vision for education is further developed through itsprimary school syllabus which claims to offer an education which will ‘enablethe child to develop as a social being through living and cooperating withothers and so contribute to the good of society’ and ‘to enable children todevelop a respect for cultural difference, an appreciation of civic responsibility,and an understanding of the social dimension of life, past and present'(Primary School Curriculum, 1999, p.34). The Department of Education andScience in its Intercultural Guidelines 2006, states that schools are one 55 ofthe institutions that have a role to play in the development of anintercultural society’ (NCCA, 2006, p.
ii) based on ‘a belief that we all becomepersonally enriched by coming in contact with and experiencing other cultures,and that people of different cultures can and should be able to engage witheach other and learn from each other’ (NCAA, 2005, p.3). According to theguidelines, schools play a crucial role in developing an intercultural societyand have ‘an important contribution to make in facilitating the development ofthe child’s intercultural skills, attitudes, values and knowledge’ where ‘thedevelopment of Ireland as an intercultural society based on a shared sense thatlanguage, culture and ethnic diversity is valuable’ (NCCA, 2005, p.4).