In of Education in educational policy and provision. It

In 1995 the Irish
government published the White paper on education, “Charting our Education
Future”. The White Paper describes a comprehensive agenda for change and
development. It seeks to give an empowering sense of direction to all of the
partners in education. It outlines policy directions and targets for future
development including significant organisational developments. Within an
enabling framework, it seeks to allow for flexibility to meet particular needs
and circumstances, respects legitimate rights and responsibilities among the
partners and the different levels of the educational system, and clarifies the
role of the Minister and the Department of Education in educational policy and
provision. It also indicates the manner in which an appropriate legislative
framework will be provided for key aspects of educational provision in the
future. This White Paper heralds a major programme of legislation.

This paper outlined a plan
to radically improve the education system in Ireland. It contained five core
principles, namely quality, equality, inclusion, partnership, and
accountability. The focus of this essay will evaluate the two main principal
objectives: creating a more equal education service and creating a more
inclusive education system.

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Building on the
foundations of primary education, post primary education aims to provide a
comprehensive, high-quality learning environment which enables all students to
live full lives, appropriate to their stage of development, and to realise
their potential as individuals and as citizens. It aims to prepare students for
adult life and to help them proceed to further education or directly to
employment. Educational objectives at this level promote the right of each
student to full and equal access, participation and benefit from educational
provision, in accordance with her/his ability. Whatever their socio-economic
background, gender or special educational needs, individual students are
encouraged to reach their full potential as they advance through the education
system. The education of each student is valued equally, despite a wide range
of individual differences in background, abilities or early experiences and


Over the past fifteen
years schools and classrooms across Ireland have undergone exponential change
in terms of student diversity (Conway and Sloane, 2005; INTO, 2004; NCCA,
1999a). There has been a significantly large increase of the number of students
presenting with special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream schools, and also
a decline in the number of special schools (Ware et al. 2009; Stevens and
O’Moore, 2009). The changing population of Ireland has also meant a growth in
student numbers from a minority ethnic and/or minority language background, who
would not traditionally have settled in Ireland. There is also the challenge of
including students who experience educational disadvantage.

The principle of equality
is at the heart of the protection of individual rights and the promotion of
community well-being. Where participation and achievement in the education
system are impeded by physical, mental, economic or social factors, the State
should seek to eliminate or compensate for the sources and consequences of
educational disadvantage. As the Report on the National Education Convention
stated, “the key concern is to enable each and every pupil to make the
most of their potentials; to overcome limitations wherever this is possible; to
mitigate their effects wherever it is not” (National Education Convention
stated). The education system for the future should have a philosophy that
embraces all students, female and male, on a basis of equality. A sustaining
philosophy should seek to promote equality of access, participation and benefit
for all in accordance with their needs and abilities. Measures to promote
equality will include allocating resources to those in greatest need, providing
appropriate support systems, and changing the tangible and intangible qualities
of the system itself to cater for the diverse educational needs and interests
of the population. It will also include strategies for the earliest feasible
intervention to support children at risk of educational failure and will
develop specific measures to continue special supports for such children
throughout their education.


Irish policy documents
relating to special education have adopted the philosophy of the Special
Education Review Committee (SERC) (Government of Ireland, 1993) report in
favouring “as much integration as is appropriate and feasible with as little segregation
as is necessary”. Since the Education Act 1998 (Government of Ireland, 1998)
established the right to an appropriate education for all children there has
been a large body of legislation which has influenced thinking, policies and
practices around inclusive education. These include the Employment Equality
Acts 1998 and 2004 (Government of Ireland, 1998b), the Equal Status Acts 2000
to 2004 (Government of Ireland, 2000), the Education Welfare Act 2000
(Government of Ireland, 2000a), the Education for Persons with Special
Educational Needs Act 2004 (Government of Ireland, 2004) and the Disability Act
2005 (Government of Ireland, 2005). These have been complemented by circulars,
research and task force reports and curricular, planning, policy and practice
guidelines. There has also been a radical change in the level of resources in
the system in terms of learning support, resource, language support teachers,
special educational needs organisers and special needs assistants. In addition
there has been the creation and expansion of bodies such as the National
Council for Special Education, National Educational Psychological Service, the
National Education Welfare Board, the National Council for Technology in
Education, the Special Education Support Service and the Primary Professional
Development Service.

In the last decade,
issues of educational disadvantage and educational achievement have moved to
the centre of policy-makers agenda and academic debate. Underachievement is
particularly recognised as a major problem with some of the lowest levels of
achievement found in schools serving a disadvantaged urban community (Kelly,
1995; 1996; Demie, 1998; Mortimore and Whitty, 1997). In Ireland, educational
disadvantage has been the subject of much debate and action over the past 15
years and this has resulted in legislative change, curricular reform and
various intervention measures including Education (Welfare) Act, (2000) which
established the National Educational Welfare Board, and the Qualifications (Education
and Training) Act (1999). Following much consultation a detailed outline of how
services, supports and resources were to be deployed to target educational
disadvantage was published in 2005. Delivering Equality of Opportunity in
SchoolsAn Action Plan for Educational Inclusion (DEIS) (DES, 2005b) aims to
integrate eight existing programmes under a new programme called the School
Support Programme (SSP). Many of the measures of the past 15 years have focused
on providing additional human and financial resources to address such issues as
early education, literacy and numeracy supports, the role of the family and the
community in education and early school leaving. A recent review of
implementation of the literacy part of the plan by the National Economic and
Social Forum (2009) raises many issues of concern.


At primary and secondary
levels, the most vulnerable students have been particularly affected by
education cuts. Funds for traveller education projects have been reduced
drastically. Support for students with disabilities and those who do not speak
English as a first language have also been restricted. It is hard to see how
educational outcomes for these students will not be negatively impacted by
these policy decisions. Already, there is evidence to suggest that some
students are losing out: Children with disabilities are being turned away from
mainstream schools because these schools lack the supports to cater for them;
Traveller children are disproportionally affected by the withdrawal of extra
school transport assistance, as they often have to travel long distances to
school due to discrimination.

The DEIS school programme
was designed to combat educational disadvantage by providing supports to
students in disadvantaged areas. The need for such a programme encompassing
some 852 public schools at primary and secondary levels is indicative of the
fact that Ireland has a two-tier educational system where inequality of
educational outcome is the norm. However, the success of this scheme in
delivering equality of opportunity in education has been and to a certain
extent still is undermined by cuts to programmes such as the Student Completion
Programme and third-level student grant supports. Ensuring that children
receive a good quality education that leads successfully to higher education
and training for all students should always be at the centre of policy
decisions if the Government is intent on realising its human rights

For third-level students,
the rise in registration fees has been substantial and has meant a greater
transfer of education costs to individuals. At the same time, eligibility for
the student grant scheme has been restricted . These changes have major
implications for the ability of students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access
third level. Delays in approving students for the grant scheme also appear to
be forcing them to drop out of third-level courses.

Furthermore, the
disparity in rates of progression to third level for students from different
socio-economic backgrounds indicates that equality in education of access has
not been achieved. The current dispensation most favours students from
better-off backgrounds whose parents can invest in school fees or extra tuition
to achieve optimum exam results. Current education policy is not in keeping
with Ireland’s human rights obligations to make education generally available
and accessible to all by every appropriate means. The net result of
discouraging people from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend third level is a
human rights failure and means that one of the core purposes of our education
system is not being realised. This group is being locked out of higher
education, calling a halt to one of the most effective means of social

To fully vindicate human
rights in the context of the right to education under Article 13, Ireland needs
to remove financial barriers to education that are disproportionately affecting
students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The State must provide adequate
supports to families to cover the cost of a new school year, or to young people
who for financial reasons cannot progress to third level and realise their



Ireland has become home
to a significantly large number of very diverse populations of immigrants since
the early 1990s. This is predominantly as a result of increased economic
prosperity, European Union expansion and freedom to travel. Within this context
minority language children, or their families, have arrived in a number of
different ways to Ireland. They have entered the country as refugees or asylum
seekers, immigrant workers or the children of immigrant workers, or in some
exceptional circumstances, unaccompanied minors or children. However many areas
of Irish life such as health service provision, and education were perhaps slow
to react to the ensuing rise in the rate of inward migration, which has taken
place over the last two decades. Murphy (2006) places these changes in a
broader context suggesting that Ireland is becoming a more inclusive pluralist
society, a society where individualism and subjectivism prevails. The education
system has been the place where this ‘cultural shift’ has impacted most and
that ‘the school, which is also a ‘microcosm’ of society and the medium through
which culture is transmitted, has been undeniably affected by changing cultural
contexts. Consequently, no major institution has been more subject to change
than 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 world
views, expectations and aspirations’ (Includ-ED, 2007). The Includ-ED research
contends that education systems play a pivotal role in promoting respect for
diversity and difference but can also be ‘sites of confrontation where
different values and world views collide and where majority values can
undermine all others (Includ-ED, 2007). Lalor and Mulcahy suggest that in Irish
education contexts the challenges presented by the rise in inward migration are
of particular importance ‘as our systems try to cope with immediate issues such
as attempting to create intercultural classrooms in a system that is almost
exclusively denominational and where the ethos of the school is underpinned by
the predominant faith, in this instance Roman Catholic’ (2011). However,
changes in the Irish demographic landscape are part of the continuing narrative
of diversity in Ireland adding to ‘the rich diversity that always existed in
Ireland’ (Kropiwiec and Chiyoko King-O’Riain, 2006). Keogh (2003, p.3) suggests
that while such ‘cultural diversity is not new in Ireland…our response to that
cultural diversity through the development of interculturalism is just

As many schools in
Ireland are de facto denominational (to a large extent Catholic) and this
situation calls for particular attention to be paid to the needs of students of
minority faiths. Although such pupils are not obliged to attend religious
education, the issue of providing alternative religious education or a form of
religious education, which embraces all faiths, needs to be considered. Wintin
an educational context, the Integration Statement (2008, p.59) outlines the
measures taken by the Irish government including the setting up of a dedicated
Integration Unit within the Department of Education, the translation of
information on the school system into other languages and in-service training
for language teachers. However, it should be noted that some of these measures
have been rowed back on in light of the recent negative change in the economy.
In 2010, the Department of Education and Skills published its Intercultural
Education Strategy 2010 to 2015. This strategy was concerned to ensure that all
students experience an education that ‘respects the diversity of values,
beliefs, languages and traditions in Irish society and is conducted in a spirit
of partnership’ (Education Act, 1998) and that all education providers are
assisted with ensuring that inclusion and integration within an intercultural
learning environment become the norm. The Strategy was created in consultation
with a range of actors and agencies working in the education sector and was a
response to the changes that have taken place in Ireland over the last two
decades. The Strategy has set itself what it calls high-level goals to be
achieved by the end of 2015. These are to Enable the adoption of a whole
institution approach to creating an intercultural learning environment Build
the capacity of education providers to develop an intercultural learning
environment Support students to become proficient in the language of
instruction Encourage and promote active partnership, engagement and effective
communication between education providers, students, parents and communities
Promote and evaluate data gathering and monitoring so that policy and decision
making is evidence-based The Strategy advocates a whole school approach to
developing an Intercultural education environment by building the capacity of
those who work in such environments and supported by a rigorous research-based
approach to monitoring and measurement. The Strategy is supported by
considerable financial and Department support but as of yet no details have
been released with regards to interim progress towards these goals. State
policy in this area is also driven through various acts of the Oireachtas. The
1998 Education Act, for example, aims ‘to make provision in the interests of
the common good for the education of every person in the state’ in a system
that is ‘accountable to students, their parents and the state’ and which
‘respects the diversity of values, beliefs, languages and traditions in Irish
society 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 on
Education ‘Charting our Education Future’ (1995) and the Education Act (1998).
The Act outlines the responsibilities of the Boards of Management of schools
particularly in relation to the establishment and maintenance of school ethos
‘the board also has a responsibility for supporting and monitoring the
characteristic 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 ‘an
organic element, arising, first and foremost, from the actual practices which
are carried on in that school on a daily, weekly and yearly basis (Department of
Education, 1995, p.11). The White Paper goes on to highlight the school’s
responsibilities to the broader community ‘while each school may properly
nurture and support its particular ethos, it is also obliged to acknowledge and
reflect the principles and requirements of a democratic society, respecting the
diverse beliefs and ways of life of others’ (Department of Education, 1995,
p.11). The State’s vision for education is further developed through its
primary school syllabus which claims to offer an education which will ‘enable
the child to develop as a social being through living and cooperating with
others and so contribute to the good of society’ and ‘to enable children to
develop 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 and
Science in its Intercultural Guidelines 2006, states that schools are one 55 of
the institutions that have a role to play in the development of an
intercultural society’ (NCCA, 2006, p.ii) based on ‘a belief that we all become
personally enriched by coming in contact with and experiencing other cultures,
and that people of different cultures can and should be able to engage with
each other and learn from each other’ (NCAA, 2005, p.3). According to the
guidelines, schools play a crucial role in developing an intercultural society
and have ‘an important contribution to make in facilitating the development of
the child’s intercultural skills, attitudes, values and knowledge’ where ‘the
development of Ireland as an intercultural society based on a shared sense that
language, culture and ethnic diversity is valuable’ (NCCA, 2005, p.4).