Unions welcome ESRI call for 'sea change' in secondary school teaching

Ireland's largest teachers union has welcomed an ESRI report which has called for a "sea change" in the way secondary schools teach.

The report called for a move away from "rote learning" to more group projects and independent thought.

The study also points to the importance of guidance counsellors in working class schools, where students are far less likely to apply to higher-education.

With 55,000 Leaving Cert students awaiting their results tomorrow, many of their forerunners say their experience left them "underprepared" for college or work.

More than 90% of those now in higher education said their learning experience is "very different" to second-level, and the ESRI said it is time for a "sea change" away from rote-learning.

Dr Emer Smyth of the ESRI said the Government's Junior Cycle reform will help, but the Leaving Cert. is also in need of an overhaul.

She said: "It would certainly better equip young people for life-long learning and for the world of work if they had more exposure to the kinds of skills they'd need around project work, around team work - the things they're going to be using for the rest of their lives."

ASTI General Secretary Pat King says he would welcome the change.

He said: "What the recommendations are, that there should be more concentration on project work or self-directed learning - in other words helping students to learn how to learn - we would agree with and we're very much in favour of that."

Just half of those in working class schools applied to higher education, compared to 94% from a middle class background.

Report author Emer Smyth says more should be done to bridge that gap, including improving the social mix.

"That would be one aspect, but the other aspect would be the teaching and learning, and there would be issues around ability grouping," she said.

"A lot of more working-class schools have very strong streaming at junior cycle; and we found from earlier research in this group that the lower stream class then tend to under-performs and they're more likely to leave school early."

Also on the agenda are guidance counsellors at working class schools, where many students don't have the network of family members to encourage them to go to university.

TUI President Gerry Quinn said it underlines the impact of cutbacks to guidance services.

Mr Quinn said: "The cut in guidance counselling, will and is doing huge damage.

"It's a very important service in a number of different respects and it's another cut that just simply needs to be reversed."

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