Voice for Teachers @voiceforteacher have asked if Jan O'Sullivan will do anything about the news in today's Irish Times that "the social class of a school is a greater determinant of whether a Leaving Cert student will go to college than his or her family background". This is from an ESRI report and states that "social class differences in aspiration to third level were evident as early as junior cycle".
What Jan O'Sullivan plans to do, by her own admission, is to carry on the work of her predecessor, Ruairi Quinn. Quinn's plan to tackle the problems faced by schools in disadvantaged areas was to give these schools flexibility in the curriculum. Instead of being faced with delivering the same academic curriculum taught in schools with a majority of middle-class students, schools will no longer have to bother with history and other boring stuff and can instead deliver relevant, interesting courses like Minding my Animal.
These are Quinn's words, delivered at a speech to the NCCA
" I welcome the aspects of the proposed curriculum that will allow schools something that they currently do not have. It will allow schools flexibility to design their own Junior Cycle programme. This will empower schools to meet the interests, and the needs, and indeed the curiosity of their students. This is how we can accommodate difference in our society. This is how we will begin to address the question of inequality in our society."
We're going to tackle inequality by making it less visible by abolishing curriculum-wide, subject-based independent assessment. We'll give all kids an Award and pretend that they've all Achieved with a capital A. As for differences in students interests, these are not to be overcome, but rather accommodated. It's important to realise that the differences Quinn is referring to are not differences in ability between individuals. It's the differences between school populations, and by extension, the different social classes from which students are drawn. The implications are that a child's chances of studying the Renaissance, or the German language or the structure of an animal cell, could depend on the social background of their classmates.
My question for Minister O'Sullivan is this; how will you guarantee that children of all social backgrounds have access to an academic education? An education where the content taught is informed by the school's professional judgment and not the child's passing and necessarily limited interests? An education that will enable them in time, should they choose, to progress to third level education.