What will Ruairi Quinn’s Legacy be?
Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, announced his resignation today. The announcement was met with mixed reactions from different circles, no more so than from teachers. I follow a number of teacher groups on various social media platforms and it was interesting to see the diverse range of reactions to the resignation.
A lot of focus, I would imagine, will centre on Quinn’s attempts to reform second level education. I am still baffled as to why secondary school teachers were against the reform but I am not a secondary school teacher and, therefore, I’m sure there are plenty of genuine reasons. However, I want to focus on primary education and how Ruairi Quinn affected us.
Tackling Religion in Schools
For me, the main thing I will remember Ruairi Quinn for is that he was the first Minister for Education to open up discussions on the imbalanced nature of our schools. With over 90% of schools run by one particular church and very few people out there giving out about this, this highly emotive topic was a sacred cow in more ways than one! While Quinn probably didn’t go as far as he would have liked, he opened the pathway for discussions where it is expected that there might be better balance between denominational and multi-denominational schools within a couple of generations.
With around two-thirds of Ireland’s schools having four or fewer teachers in them, this was another big issue to take on. Up until this point, cuts to education might have affected minority groups, e.g. Traveller Resource Teachers, Modern Language Teachers, etc., which was wrong in itself, but this cut affected pretty much every rural school and community. It’s unfortunate that Quinn will probably be remembered for a number of school closures and this cut may have been one too far.
Speaking of which, Quinn may also be remembered for cutting resources for children with Special Needs. I really wish instead of making the cuts, he would have reformed the NCSE, which is in danger of becoming an education equivalent of the HSE. While Quinn did a u-turn after trying to slice 25% of children’s resource hours, there are still a large number of children who require resources that still haven’t got them. Quinn did not inherit a healthy SEN model but he didn’t improve it.
Under Quinn, lots of schools got nice new buildings, (including my own school), or big new extensions. I don’t think too many ministers were able to do this in the good days. Considering the huge financial barriers, this was a massive achievement. Sadly, I don’t believe people will remember that their new building had anything to do with Quinn’s policies so he won’t get the credit for such a good job.
It is shocking that no Minister before Ruairi Quinn decided to tackle LGBT issues in schools. It is astounding how homophobia is still rife in primary schools, mainly through the fact that many gay teachers cannot be open about their sexuality. Thankfully, Quinn passed the legislation that stops teachers getting fired on the basis of their sexual orientation. In the future, we will look back at this in the same way we look back at the time, where married women had to resign civil servant positions, and cringe at our society back then. Quinn also included homophobia in the new anti-bullying procedures.
For 20 years, schools had to follow an anti-bullying policy that was becoming out-of-date. While I think Quinn’s policy is a little bit too dictatorial, it may be a positive thing for parents, teachers and children to know where they stand when it comes to bullying in any school they send their child to. The biggest problem, however, is that although these procedures have been in place since April 2014, no proper training has been provided to schools and there are number of unanswered questions.
One thing that has increased since Quinn took charge is the amount of paperwork expected from schools. I’m all for accountability but we have been subjected to more form-filling than ever before. With the onset of POD coming our way, we could find ourselves even deeper in paper.
The End of Untrained Staff
Ruairi Quinn finally did what no other minister was able to do: he finally made it impossible for unqualified people to stand in front of a classroom of children and get paid for the privilege. Hopefully the immediate impact of this will be a more professional approach to primary education. This might be something that isn’t heralded but I’m not sure another Minister would have done this so quickly in the end.
W, S and E are three letters that strike fear into many teachers but SSE makes me shudder even more due to the paperwork. The whole concept of School Self-Evaluation is, in theory, a very good one, and now that we’re about to enter our 3rd year of it, some schools might even be seeing the benefits of the approach. It’s certainly given schools a focus if they get the dreaded brown envelope for the WSE.
Ruairi Quinn wanted parents to have more power in decision-making in schools. From uniforms to enrollment policies, Quinn wanted schools to give control to the demands of parents. Many schools will have found this completely normal, whereas others probably couldn’t remember a time where they asked parents for their opinion on educational matters. Whether Quinn was right or not, I’m sure depends on the school you’re associated with.
A New Curriculum
The curriculum is 15 years old and is in bad shape in many subjects, particularly language. A new language curriculum will be ready very soon and teachers have been asked for their input. What will be published, who knows? Whatever it is, we’ll probably blame Quinn for it, (unless it’s good of course!)
Colleges of Education
I have no real opinion on whether Quinn was right to re-organise the colleges of education but it seems to me that this was a good decision. It’s also good to see that some of these colleges are embracing multi-denominationalism properly, which is a first.
The Croke Park Hour
This is one policy, which I think backfired on Ruairi Quinn and I’m fairly sure he would have done something different given a bit more time. Irish primary schools are almost unique in that teachers are not paid for non-contact time with pupils. This time is potentially invaluable for planning, meetings, etc. which is currently done on a goodwill basis by teachers. The Croke Park Hour was meant to address this but I have yet to meet a teacher who did all his/her planning, meetings, extra-curricular activities, etc. in an hour a week. It left a bad taste in teachers’ mouths and made them feel untrusted.
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Personally, I liked Ruairi Quinn. I didn’t like everything he did as Minister for Education but, I think, overall, he has contributed positively to our education system. He has paved the way for lots of reform in education that was badly needed and asked lots of questions of our education system. I did not think I would ever see a day when patronage would even be discussed or even the ultimate sacred cow of the Leaving Cert would be even considered as a possible casualty. I loved the fact that he was interested in education and really wanted the portfolio and I loved the fact that he was the only minister that ever took questions at any of the conferences I ever attended and tried to answer them as best he could.
Despite financial constraints, he managed to keep the pupil-teacher ratio the same, which no other Minister would have done, in my opinion. He had to make cuts as part of his job and he made them to my pockets but I don’t think anyone in Ireland really got away scot-free (except for the very rich who always did and probably always will.)
And, yes, he did do some daft things too. However, I think his positives may win out when history judges him. Can we possibly say we’d prefer Batt O’Keeffe, May Hanifin or Mary Coughlan back in charge of education?
My big worry is who is next. Already Jan O’Sullivan is being touted as the favourite to step into the breach. I don’t know much about her but I haven’t seen her at any education-related conferences and have never heard her speak about education despite her background. The only politician that I think should take over is Ciaran Cannon. I have seen him speak at several education conferences and he really gets education. He also seems very interested in education reform. The one thing I hope is that we don’t get somebody who simply reverses all of the good but unpopular decisions that Quinn made. However, if he/she gets my wage back up a little to where it was, I won’t complain either! Seriously, though, I hope that the next minister continues much of the good work Ruairi Quinn put in since taking on the role. He has made some very brave decisions and while I’m sure he doesn’t read this blog, maybe someone will tell him that at least one teacher is going to miss him when he’s gone.