THE level of Government hypocrisy in our education system is astonishing. As a country, we need to get a lot better at spotting it.
And do you know who can best teach us how? Our children.
Young people are like sniffer dogs when it comes to hypocrisy. Dare say one thing and do another in a classroom of teenagers and you’ll quickly see their eyes sharpen with the combined force and scrutiny of a pack.
The one thing you must be as a teacher is genuine.
This isn’t particular to secondary school students. In fact, the lower down you go, the better they are at it. Have you ever dared to look at your WhatsApp messages having just told your kid to get off a screen? Children are expert nonsense spotters.
As adults, we become far too tolerant of it. We allow it to happen too often and say nothing. Sometimes this is out of kindness, but it’s frequently out of fear. This is why it’s a privilege to be around young people, to experience their truthfulness and share an authentic space with them, as unpredictable as that can be.
One of the best examples I can give of this is from my years in an international school. This highly competitive, high-pressure environment instructed staff and students to ‘exceed expectations’ at all times. Our staff room was a corporate space and classroom walls were filled with targets and mantras to motivate passers-by.
I left my first year-group assembly in tears, annihilated by the Michael Jordan clip and the emotive anecdotes shared about perseverance and grit. But as I settled my class to start the day, I sensed a cloud in the room, a staleness, an injected bitterness.
The students weren’t moved by the assembly — they were resentful of it. They’d endured these motivational morning workouts all their lives. They recognised that the school churned them out to maintain its reputation as a centre of excellence.
The students knew it didn’t come from a place of care. Ultimately, they knew it wasn’t about them. They were just pawns in a far bigger game.
When it comes to our education system in Ireland, us adults need to learn from these sharp, young observers. We need to call out the hypocritical. We need to highlight the nonsense and demand better.
Last week it was announced that a new special school is set to open in Cork this September. Taken in isolation, this is wonderful news. Parents have fought a long hard battle, pleading with the State to recognise their children’s fundamental right to an appropriate education. They have given interviews and have had to push their children into the glare of the media for this basic provision. They have earned this outcome.
But dig a little deeper, beyond the celebratory headlines and you’ll learn that the site so miraculously granted was the intended site of a new primary school — Owenabue Educate Together. For the last year, this school community has been planning and strategising, believing the promises of the Department of Education. Now, without an explanation or an alternative, they’ve been informed their site is gone. Their new autism class is left without a plan.
Make no mistake, whilst the Government is busy congratulating itself for providing one thing, they are busy taking away the same provision from somebody else. However, unlike savvy teenagers that might highlight the hypocrisy, or at least recognise it, we carry on regardless.
Is it because we don’t know about it? It seems clear to me that most parents aren’t aware that the Government has the power to instruct a school to provide additional provisions such as a special classroom if students require one. This was made possible by an amendment to the Admissions Act in 2018. And yet it rarely happens so, vulnerable children continue to fall through the cracks — again and again. And families continue to battle alone.
In a similar move, the Government is considering a catch-up programme for ‘disadvantaged’ students. This comes with only weeks left in the school year. Leo Varadkar informs us that the plan “will ensure that, no matter what the student’s background, they can fulfil their potential.”
At the same time, the Department of Education has already informed schools that there will be no change to the special education teaching allocation come September. This means there will be no increase in hours or personnel to counteract the impact of the pandemic. It also means that developing schools are set to increase their student numbers without any aligned increase in supports.
Adults must learn to read headlines with caution when it comes to this Government. While one hand is waving, the other is stealing prospects and possibilities from our most vulnerable students. As one colleague of mine pointed out this week, these children don’t need to be told they’re ‘disadvantaged’ in national papers, they don’t need the word blaring from their kitchen radios, they need to be helped in their classroom, by trained professionals, every day, every year.
Schools want what they ordered: long-term, forward-looking supports for their students and colleagues — without the hypocrisy.