An Academic Intervention Model

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There is a social division that lies at the heart of Irish second level education. Students from deprived or lower socio-economic groups tend to predominate in the vocational education sector while students from the higher social strata seem to veer towards voluntary education (religious) sector. In England, at the end of a child's primary education, usually at the age of 12-14 years the Eleven plus examination is administered to students. The purpose of the Eleven plus examination is to test a student's ability to solve problems using verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning mathematics and English. The purpose of this examination is to determine which type of school the student will attend on completion of their primary education: a grammar school, a secondary school, or a technical school. In Ireland, the Primary Certificate examination became compulsory for pupils in sixth standard in 1943, consisting of three written papers in Irish, English and arithmetic. It was subsequently abolished in 1967 leaving no equivalent system of streaming. The progression from primary school to secondary school in Ireland has its own (less overt) selection process. The selection process is that of the parents and the students themselves deciding which kind of secondary school they will attend. Second-level education in Ireland comprises of voluntary secondary, vocational, community and comprehensive schools. All of these schools offer the Certificate courses prescribed by the Department of Education and Science, enter their students for the same national examinations and are subject to inspection by the Department.

The decision, therefore, on which school to attend, is based on the community's cultural perception of that particular school. There is a class-structured view of education which prevails very much within second level education. This class distinction between the voluntary secondary school and the vocational secondary school is very prevalent. The division has a culture which associates the more academically capable student with the voluntary secondary school and the less academic student to the vocational secondary school.

A Brief History of Vocational Education in Ireland

{In order to understand how this division is present today, when both schools operate the same course curriculum, offering the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations. We must look at the evolution of vocational education in Ireland since the late nineteenth century.}

The Vocational Education Act of 1930 was the first major education initiative of the then Irish Free State. Even today, this Act has a strong influence on the implementation of current educational policy. The purpose of the Act was to establish vocational education in Ireland that would offer "technical and continuation education." Vocational Education Committees were established in every county and the schools they ran were known as 'technical schools.' The technical school offered an alternative to the more academically focussed syllabus of the voluntary secondary schools.

Up to 1967, the Primary Certificate was the recognised qualification awarded to students between the ages of 12 and 14 on completion of primary education. Today, the Eleven Plus continues to exist in a more voluntary capacity but more as an entrance exam into a specific group of schools, unlike in the past where it was compulsory in nature In 1924, the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate programmes were introduced into secondary education. The Intermediate Certificate exam was taken by students after a three year cycle. Students then progressed to the Leaving Certificate, which was completed after a further two years. The Leaving Certificate was and still is the selection test used to gain access to third level education.

In 1947, the two-year Group Certificate was introduced for the vocational schools. It included practical assessments and teacher assessments of the students' work. This was very different from the single-exam Intermediate and Leaving Certificates. The purpose of the Group Certificate was to prepare students for the employment. Prior to the introduction of the Group Certificate, students would have left education without any formal qualification.

The introduction of the Group Certificate reinforced the social differences between the two education sectors, the vocational and the academic. The practical element of the Group Certificate assessments and examination reinforced the perception of vocational education as being of a lower value than that of the academic voluntary secondary school. Writing about vocational education in Ireland in the 1950s, John Coolahan in his book Irish Education, History and Structure (1981, p103) has this to say about the Group Certificate: ' [it] …was of a terminal character with little or no transfer value to further formal education.' He goes on to acknowledge the negative perception of the vocational system. Seán O'Connor in his book, Post-primary education: now and in the future (1968) felt that by comparison to the numbers attending voluntary secondary schools that:

A small number of parents, by preference, sent their children to vocational schools-mainly in the midlands-so that they might earn the Group Certificate, which offered well-paid jobs in Bord na Mona and the ESB. Otherwise, parents with any ambition for their children did not use the vocational system.


The need to address this imbalance resulted in the introduction of the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate into vocational schools in 1966. The curriculum was also expanded to include subjects such as Building Construction, Agriculture, Economics, Engineering and Business Organisation. Although this went some way to address the educational disparity between the two education sectors, vocational education was still thought of as inferior by Irish social attitudes in their valuation of technical education.

The appointment of Donagh O'Malley in 1967, as Minister for Education, brought reform and significant changes to Irish education. He broadened access with the introduction of free second-level education. He abolished the Primary Certificate, which resulted in the ending of the narrow focus on the three Primary Certificate examination subjects of Irish, English and Arithmetic. The initiative greatly increased student enrolment in second level education. In 1972, the school leaving age was increased to fifteen.

By the late 1980s, society's need for this form of technical education pertaining to trades, manufactures, commerce and physical training was changing. This was further emphasised in 1989 by the Department of Education who introduced the Junior Certificate into vocational schools. . The introduction of the Junior Certificate into vocational schools addressed part of the qualifications disparity between the two educational sectors. For the first time since its enception vocational education had equal status at the Junior Cycle as the voluntary secondary schools.

Unfortunately, the perception of vocational education as being of a "lower class" is still evident even today. Irish social attitudes still tend to associate vocational education as manual and practical-type education. Middle-class parents see voluntary secondary education as more prestigious academic-type of education which they feel will fundamentally lead to their child securing greater opportunities at third-level education and ultimately a white-collar job.

Vocational schools still make up a significant percentage of secondary schools. Of the 730 second level schools in the country, 250 are vocational schools, catering for 30% of all second level students (Department of Education and Science 2010).


Roscommon Community School, previously called Roscommon Vocational School, was in reality a low achieving school. Morale and expectations among students and teachers and parents was low. The appointment of the current principal caused the attitude of students and teachers to improve considerably. Through a series of changes instigated by him through consultation with the students, parents and teachers addressing areas such as student discipline, general housekeeping: school uniform/appearance, homework, attendance, punctuality and general behaviour, staff training, staff motivation etc. order returned to the school improving with it staff and student morale. The school has now reached a plateau, and an opportunity has been created so that the politics of divisiveness has been neutralised. Staff now have the skills, attitude, vision, and willingness to develop creative ways to teach more effectively, mentor and engage parents and improve academic achievement of the school.


This thesis will attempt to identify the factors that ensure the effective running of a school and investigate how the "Academic Intervention Model" she developed, together with the staff and students, and the encouragement of parental involvement can develop social interpersonal skills, self-esteem, academic self-image, academic achievement and teacher, parent and student views and attitudes.

A schools ranking in the National League Tables is the flagstone of national and community perception of a school. It is a constant challenge for a school to project itself in a positive light. School marketing, good student grades and the number of students progressing to third level helps to keep the student enrolment numbers up.

In the research study, I will use my current place of work as the 'action research project' and will work with a group of 40 fifth and sixth year students and their parents over a two-year period. Throughout the research the school will be known by the pseudonym of Fairhill Community School. Based on school records such as Leaving Certificate results, CAO, FAS and Job Applications it is evident that the school does not produce many high achieveing students . Graduates of the school would take up employment, apprenticeships or attend an institute of technology and only 5% of students would secure a place at university. The author feels that an action research approach would best suit the research intended. Ernest Stringer states that:

A fundamental premise of community-based action research is that it commences with an interest in the problems of a group, a community, or an organisation. Its purpose is to assist people in extending their understanding of their situation and thus resolving problems that confront them … Community-based action research is always enacted through an explicit set of social values. In modern, democratic social contexts, it is seen as a process of inquiry that has the following characteristics:

It is democratic, enabling the participation of all people.

It is equitable, acknowledging people's equality of worth.

It is liberating, providing freedom from oppressive, debilitating conditions.

It is life enhancing, enabling the expression of people's full human potential.

(Action Research, 1999, page 17)