Reform in Irish Education

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09004209 (Essay 1 from Section A)| EN4006
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Bachelor of Technology (Education) in Materials and Engineering Technology| Curriculum Studies - Orla McCormack|

Provide examples of effective (deep change) changes/reforms at post-primary level in Ireland and examples of ones that were not effective. Justify your selection of one change/reform from each category in some detail and propose related recommendations for the future.

It is extremely difficult to source a wide public or even professional consensus concerning the definitions of a change and a reform. Furthermore, changes and reforms can both be sub-categorised into two strains, they are; 1. Deep & 2. Surface. In addition, the words ‘change’ and ‘reform’ have two very different definitions when it comes to curriculum and schooling. To begin with, ‘change’ (in terms of education) can be vaguely described as a ‘bottom up’ alteration. Bottom up change is usually initiated by principals, teachers, parents and students. Change may be pursued by these people when they feel the must to respond to a need in their environment i.e. school (McCormack 2011). For me personally, being aware of these changes, past, present and potential, and how they come about is somewhat important as it can often be teachers that follow up any queries or matters parents or students may have. We, as teachers, play a vital role in initiating, and further to that, developing a possible change and seeking how it may be obtained. Following change, there is ‘reform’. Reform can again be imprecisely defined as a ‘top down’ movement. Contrary to change, reforms are imposed or enforced by the DES (Department of Education & Skills), the Minister for Education, Academics and/or Policy Makers – usually by means of legislation. (McCormack 2011) Consequently, reforms are beyond our control. If one day, I am posed with a reform suggested and put forward by the DES, I have no option but to comply. All other schools, principals, teachers and students must also comply with any new reforms implemented.

In order for revolution to happen as expected/planned, which is known as ‘deep change’, the following three areas need to be altered for the better. They are content, practice and most importantly beliefs & values, (Fullan 1991). Goodson 2010 also devised his own parallel areas that need to alter for deep change to occur; he refers to them as phases 1, 2 & 3. They are internal change, external change and personal change (resembling beliefs & values). In contrast, ‘surface change’ has a higher probability of occurrence. Adjusting content and practice can be done quite easily with research, effort and time. However, altering one’s beliefs and values is a totally new affair. As the hierarchy make plans for reform, this is their biggest impediment. Traditional ways (or what one is accustomed to) can often overwhelm new methods/ways which in turn will cause the reform to fall short.

As stated, educational reform/change is the process of improving education for the public. Minimal changes in education can have vast social returns, wealth and well-being. Historically, reforms have taken various manners because the incentive of reformers has fluctuated. Basically, they will either succeed or fail. So how can we measure the success/failure rate of a change/reform? How do we know what is needed in order for a ‘deep’ change/reform to occur? Research has found that successful educational changes occurred in situations where the schools were provided necessary support and were allowed discretion in determining how best to go about achieving the change (Seidman 1983). Measuring the success/failure rate of a reform/change is a complex process, Fullan (2001) observed, “The total time frame from initiation to institutionalization is lengthy; even moderately complex changes take from 3 to 5 years, while larger scale efforts can take 5 to 10 years with sustaining improvements still being...
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