History of vocational education in ireland

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Using An Academic Intervention Model, School Effectiveness And Parental Involvement To Enhance Academic Success In An Irish Community College


As a member of the vo cational teaching profession the author reflects often on the There is a social division that lies in at the heart of Irish second level education. within the Irish education system. 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. Unlike the English education system , the Irish systems no longer uses a selection function such as the ‘Eleven Plus' to explicitly select the top 20 per cent of students nationally in terms of academic excellence. However, tThe progression from the primary school to the secondary school in Ireland lends itself tohas its own (less overt) selection process. The selection function usedprocess is that of in the decision the parents and the as to which school a students themselves deciding which kind of wishes to attend during his/her transition from primary school to 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.

Th e 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 decision … 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 state runeducation 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 with its primary focus tothat would offer “technical and continuation education.”. Each county established its own Vocational Education Committees were established in every county and the schools they ran were known as resulting in the need for over 38 committees to maintain its operations. During this time the second level schools were awarded the title “Technical Schools” ‘technical schools.'. The technical school was established to offered an alternative to the more academically structured focussed syllabus of the Catholic controlled voluntary secondary schools.

There was great similarity at this time between Up to 1967, the Primary Certificate selection test ( was the recognised qualification awarded to students between the ages of 12 and 14 twelve to fourteen years of age on completion of primary education. awarded to students between the ages of twelve to fourteen years of age) Today, { and 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 natureselection test that operates today within the English education system. } During In 1924, the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate programmes were introduced into voluntary secondary schoolssecondary education. The Intermediate Certificate exam was completed taken by students after a three year cycle. years where sStudents 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.

Much later i In 1947, the two-year Group Certificate was introduced into for the vocational schools. after the completion of two years cycle. The Group Certificate contained aIt included practical assessments and an element of teacher based assessments of the students' work. which very much differentiated itThis was very different from the single-exam Intermediate and Leaving Certificates. The purpose of this examinationthe Group Certificate was to prepare students for the employment. market, who would in the pastPrior to the introduction of the Group Certificate, students would have left education without any formal qualification.

The adventintroduction of the Group Certificate reinforced the class 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 status value than that of the academic voluntary secondary school. Writing about vocational education in Ireland in the 1950s, First Name John Coolahan in his book Title of Book Irish Education, History and Structure (1981, p103) address this perception of has this to say about the Group Certificate: within the vocational education in the 1950s when he states …of two years' duration and ‘ [it] …was of a terminal character with little or no transfer value to further formal education.' (p. 103). He also addressesgoes on to acknowledge the negative perception acknowledged byof the vocational system. because of the Irish social attitudes that preferred the more professional occupations. First Name Seán O'Connor in his /her book, Title of Book Post-primary education: now and in the future (19868) reiterates this opinion when he states 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. (p.28).

The need to address this imbalance resulted in the introduction of the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate into vocational schools in 1966. The expansion of the curriculum allowed for the inclusion of more vocational basedwas 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 judged thought of as inferior by Irish social attitudes in their valuation of technical education.

The appointment of Donagh O'Malley I in 1967, as Minister for Education, brought there was reform and significant changes to Irish education.through a reforming Minister for Education (Donogh O'Malley). He enhanced the provision of education and broadened its access by with the introduction of free second- level education. This resulted in the abolition of He abolished the Primary Certificate, which greatly reduced which resulted in the ending of the narrow focus on the three main targetPrimary Certificate examination subjects of the examination: Irish, English and Arithmetic. Theis initiative greatly increased student enrolment inat second level education. By 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 phy sical training was changing. This was further emphasised in 1989 by The author feels that t T he most significant initiative the Department of Education who introduc ed the Junior Certificate into vocational schools. to bridge the gap that persisted between the two educational sectors was the introduction of the Junior Certificate in 1989. It was with tThe introduction of the Junior Certificate into vocational schools which addressed part of the qualifications disparity the class differentiation of the between the two educational sectors at Department of Education level. 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.

However, v Vocational education schools still holds make up a significant percentage of second levelsecondary schools. According to the Department of Education and Science (2010), in 2006/2007 of Of the 730 second level schools in the country, 250 arewere vocational schools, catering for 30% of all second level students (Department of Education and Science 2010). students as compared to 389 voluntary secondary schools, catering for 55% of second level students.

New Section

When the author commenced work with Roscommon Community School, (rebranded: previously called Roscommon Vocational School, ) five years ago, it was very evident that the schoolwas perceived in reality as a low achieving school. with low mMorale and expectations among students and teachers and parents was low. The appointment of Through a gradual programme initiated by the current principal caused the attitude of students and teachers has to improved 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 divineness divisiveness has been neutralised. It is felt by the author that the current sStaff has now have the skills, attitude, and the sense of vision, whereby there is aand willingness to develop creative ways to teach more effectively, mentor and engage parents and hopefully move improve academic achievement of the school. into a more academically perceived school.

New Section (Definition And Description Of The Concepts)

The author's This thesis therefore will need attempt to identify the factors that ensures the effective running of a school and investigate how the “Academic Intervention Model” she developed, together with the staff and students, an effective school and the encouragement of parental involvement can develop social interpersonal skills, self-esteem, academic self-image, friendship patterns, 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 the a school. There It is a constant challenge within for a schools to project the schoolitself in a positive light. using local media on a continuous basis. School marketing, good student grades and the number of students from a school who progressing to third level; helps to keep the student enrolment numbers up. , in turn takes some of the pressure off the school in maintaining student enrolment numbers.

For this In the research study, the authorI will use her my current place of work -as the “ ‘action research project'” and will work with a group of 40 Ffifth and Ssixth Yyear students and their parents over the course of a two- year period. in a second level school, whichThroughout 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 Ttheis school does not produce many is in the VEC sector, which has a reputation for not producing high achieveing students effective good results. 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. First Name Ernest Stringer 2003 supports the authors view when he statedstates 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.

( Title of Book Action Research , 2003 1999 , page 17 )