What do Droichead, Irish Water and the Junior Cert Reform have in common?
In my opinion, the answer to the above question is the same. I know some people won’t agree with me, but I believe all three are a good idea in theory. Taking them in reverse: the Junior Cert is a ridiculously outdated examination that no longer has any purpose. It is simply a practice for the Leaving Certificate and, in my opinion, that also needs to go. I don’t want to comment too much on why but it can be summed up by the following oft-shared cartoon:
I also believe Irish Water is a good idea in theory as I believe the more water you use, the more one should pay for it. However, this is a primary education blog, so not going to go into this much further. Finally, Droichead: I also think it’s a good idea in theory and I’ll go into more detail later in this article.
However, despite all three of these concepts being good ideas, they have been rejected by the majority of the country. Why are there more people marching the streets of Dublin against a €60 charge than there are marching for homelessness? Why did secondary school teachers reject Junior Certificate reform by 90% in one of their ballots? Why have 4 out of 5 principals stated they will not get involved with Droichead in its current form? They have all failed in change management. Despite all three of these concepts coming to a point where they are possibly close to being palatable, because they all started off in an aggressive manner, all of them have been mostly rejected.
Let’s talk about Droichead. In my opinion, Droichead has a lot of merit. It gives newly qualified teachers a chance to get structured mentoring in their school for their first year. When it was first touted by the Teaching Council in the form of CEPP, principals were going to be expected to sign off on a newly qualified teacher’s career. There was to be no money, little training, and effectively, principals were simply expected to take over the role of the inspector, for free. Harold Hislop told the IPPN conference that it was happening and there was nothing we could do about it, and apart from the strange u-turn from the INTO, (who must be the only union that welcomes extra workload for no pay and huge changes to working conditions), almost every principal in the country is dead set against it.
Despite CEPP becoming Droichead, the changes that keep coming down the road have done little to inspire confidence in most principals. Their latest escapade, which could have been seen as sinister as it was announced in the middle of the election process, was to change the role of the school to induct NQTs rather than probate them. This seemed to have the knock on effect at INTO congress but thankfully an emergency motion was allowed through leaving both the INTO and Teaching Council facing a ballot of non-cooperation with Droichead in June. The whole process is in tumoil and what started off as an excellent mentoring scheme is on the verge of collapse.
The saddest thing about Droichead is that it is almost at a point that would be beneficial for everyone. Removing the probationary requirement for schools was one of the biggest problems with Droichead. In fact, it is now really close to being an excellent system for any teacher coming out of college. We nearly have the capstone in Droichead in the right place. We trust the colleges to train teachers properly (under the criteria outlined by the Teaching Council) and we mentor the NQT properly for his/her first year (under the criteria outlined by the Teaching Council) and once that’s done, a teacher is inducted. There doesn’t need to be any sign off. The problem is that this isn’t going to happen any time soon because of the way Droichead has been imposed on schools.
Despite offering consultations, the Teaching Council ignored the various calls from agencies and pressed on with what they wanted to do. They even tried divisive tactics by giving money to schools for taking on their “pilot” (this is a pilot where no one failed to get probated on their first attempt) and even gave schools a fancy title of “Droichead Schools” to make them seem to be more elevated than schools who did not take on the project. Worse, they refused to allow schools to take on mentors unless they signed up to the pilot.
Furthermore, the Teaching Council cannot guarantee that schools will receive the funding or resources they will need to run Droichead. Schools have had severe cuts dealt to them with very few schools having proper in school management teams, capitation and ancillary grant cuts and swathes of wage cuts to all teachers since the recession. Rather than try to help bargain with the government to introduce Droichead in exchange for the recovery of all of these cuts, they use the excuse of having no role in negotiations to simply press ahead.
If only the Teaching Council could have introduced Droichead properly, we could have had this fully in place already with almost the full support of the profession. I’m really not sure if there is a way out of this mess for the Teaching Council even though I really hope there is. I would like nothing more than to remove the current set up of probation and would welcome a good bridge between training college and teaching.
So much damage has been done at this stage that I think Droichead needs to be retired and maybe the profession will give the Teaching Council a third bite at trying to introduce induction. They have a good start with the excellent NIPT set up. They now need to use this mentoring system and extend it to induction. To do this, they will need to consult with teachers and principals properly. They also need to ensure that the Department of Education is going to provide enough resources for it. I have provided a number of ways for this to happen within the final year of teaching training college, which would allow small schools take part in the scheme.
I have always stated that I think Droichead could be an excellent system of getting trainee teachers across the barrier towards becoming a fully probated/inducted teacher. The Teaching Council have only themselves to blame for why it hasn’t happened by now. While their defenders will claim otherwise, the facts do not lie: the biggest fact of all being that all primary school Teaching Council candidates were elected to the council on their opposition to Droichead. There is a lot more talking to be done and it needs to be done soon.