Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where Have All The Passionate Physics Teachers Gone?

This excellent piece first appeared yesterday on the Guardian Science Blog. It is written by Alom Shaha, a physics teacher in the UK, and he asks simply "where have all the passionate physics teachers gone" and pleas for more physicists to become teachers. An excellent post from one of the UK's best teachers and an inspiration to us all. This post has been published here with the author's permission.

My name is Alom Shaha and I am a physics teacher. Far too often, the response I get from introducing myself like this is, "I hated Physics at school", to which I usually reply, "You wouldn't have if I had taught you!"

I'm not just being cocky. Physics is a stimulating, beautiful, exciting subject and I don't think it's that hard to get schoolchildren to appreciate at least some of those qualities. It depresses me that any physics teacher would do such a poor job that his or her students leave school "hating" a subject that covers some of the most interesting and important ideas humans have ever had.

I fear I'll be meeting more and more people who will tell me they hated physics at school – and it won't be their fault. And it won't be the fault of their physics teachers either, because, strictly speaking, these people won't ever have had an actual physics teacher. They will have been deprived of this because of a crisis in English education: there simply aren't enough physics teachers to go round. Instead, the subject is far too often being taught by "non-specialists", teachers who are usually qualified in chemistry or biology. Many of these teachers have not studied physics beyond GCSE and some even actively dislike physics.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Shattering the Myth Of A World Class Education System

In today's Irish Times, Education Editor Seán Flynn takes at how Ireland fares in the most recent OECD report - and apparent we're not "ticking all the right boxes".

The latest OECD findings expose the Irish education system for what it is – a lot less successful than we like to tell ourselves

In the dark days – and there has been a good number of late – we could at least find comfort in the quality of our education system. For years, ministers for education and the teacher unions told us we could take pride in our “world class” education system. It was the magnet that helped to draw inward investment to our shores – and it was something that differentiated us from troubled education systems in Britain and elsewhere. When it came to education, the land of saints and scholars could mix it with the folks at the top table.

It’s not an exaggeration to say this portrayal of the Irish education system was almost entirely based on one authoritative study. In 2000, the OECD/Pisa* survey of 15-year-olds ranked Ireland fifth in literacy, well above the OECD average. This glowing report helped to stifle much-needed debate about the quality of the Irish education system. Naysayers could be rebuked and brought to heel by reference back to that OECD survey. Over the years, the mantra from the Department of Education and the teacher unions became familiar: “We can’t be doing much wrong if we are in the top five in literacy.”

The truth, of course, was more complicated. Ireland performed well in the 2000 literacy survey because it had an inherent advantage, a homogenous school-going population with few migrants. In simple terms, the task of imparting literacy in Irish classrooms was less challenging than that facing teachers in inner-city Paris or in central London.

Monday, December 6, 2010

SCC English Shortlisted for Three Edublog Awards

Our esteemed English department colleagues over at SCC English has been shortlisted in three categories in this year's Edublog Awards. The winners are decided by a public vote and voting is now open! SCC English is shortlisted in the following categories:
  • Best Group Blog (which SCC English won in 2008 and came third in 2009).
  • Best Educational Use of Audio for their excellent "Patterns of Poetry" series.
  • Best Resource Sharing Blog.
You can vote in a few seconds by going to the Edublogs site here, or via the individual links on SCC English here.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Easy Grade Pro

Easy Grade Pro is a suite of software, from Orbis Software designed for educators at all levels and institutions who want powerful but easy to use tools to manage their student results, homework, attendance, efforts and other information. This suite consists of software for desktop and handheld computers. There is now a new web version which means you can access your information from anywhere. I have been using the desktop version on my laptop for the last six years, and honestly would be lost without it. I can easily record attendance and homework / test performance and create both written and web reports for parents. It isn't freeware, but a single licence costs just €34. This can be used year after year, without needing to buy bulky teacher journals. You can find out more information or download an evaluation copy by clicking here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Snow Days!

I must admit, I am feeling particularly lucky to be teaching in St. Columba's College this week. While the snow does mean that getting in and out of the college is practically impossible (given its elevated position on the foot of the Dublin Mountains), it does make the place look rather pretty! Yesterday I spent a few minutes running around the campus (between classes) and took a couple of snaps.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Heathrow Welcome Home Party

This video has absolutely nothing to do with teaching or education but I felt that, with talk of education cuts, our failing economy and the dreadful weather, we could all do with a bit of cheering up. Possibly the most cheerful and hope filled three minutes and six seconds on the web, it's the T-Mobile welcome home party!

Friday, November 26, 2010

No!!! to a Two Tier Teaching Profession


On reading our government's Nation Recovery Plan I have become extremely dismayed. Their savage cuts in education are going to hit the most vulnerable in society - a reduction in third level grants, student fee increases, reduction in teacher numbers in both primary and secondary, a 10% reduction in "new entrants" into the teaching profession, a reduction in support staff, a reduction in the number of resource teachers for traveller children, a cap on special needs assistants, a loss of language support teachers and an overall cut of 360 million Euro over 4 years.

But it is the creation of a two tier teaching profession that worries me most. There can be no situation where a "new entrant" into the teaching profession can be valued at 10% less than someone with one more year's experience. This is truly a disturbing development and one which must not be allowed to come to fruition. It's worth noting that the government have yet to state if new TD's will suffer this 10% cut but it is widely believed that they won't. There is another issue too - that of the definition of "new entrant". It is being claimed that a "new entrant" not only includes new public servants but also individuals who are returning to the public service after a break of more than 26 weeks. If this is true a situation could arise where an experienced teacher, who may have left the profession for a short period, would return to the lowest increment and suffer a 10% on top of that - effectively cutting their entitled wages enormously. 

There are also concerns for privately paid teachers, including myself. I am not a public servant but am paid the same pay scale as someone on my state wage with the same level of teaching experience and qualifications (I incidentally pay into the Teacher Superannuation Scheme too). So, should I decide to return to a public school or indeed be moved onto the incremental staff of my own school, will I suffer the same consequences too? - a return to point one on the scale and a 10% pay cut on top of that? All this needs to be clarified immediately and is a serious worry!

We cannot allow our staff rooms to be split into a two tiers, with one side paid 10% more than the other, and I certainly don't wish to be put in that position. The professional integrity of the teaching profession needs to be kept intact. For this reason I call on the Teaching Council, who's role is to "to promote teaching as a profession at primary and post-primary levels, to promote the professional development of teachers and to regulate standards in the profession", to stand up for teachers and not allow the government introduce these grossly unfair amendments to our terms of employment. To date few teachers are seeing the value of the Teaching Council and look to their unions to defend the integrity of profession. If the Teaching Council cannot do this or deems it outside their remit, then I see little value in its existence either.

National Recovery Plan

Well done to the SCC English team for quickly assessing our government's National Recovery Plan and creating a Wordle on its contents. A wordle, for those not familiar with the term, is a word cloud where the most common words used in a document are displayed larger than those used less frequently. Note the lack of the words "bank", "jobs", "recovery" etc! SCC English also have a brilliant series of Wordles on the works of Shakespeare.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Edublog Awards 2010 - Nominations

Here are my nominations for this year's Edublog Awards

Best individual tweeter - @sccenglish
Best group blog - SCC English
Best educational tech support blog -
Best new blog - The Catlin Coverslip
Best educational use of audio - SCC English Audio Boos - Patterns of Poetry

Friday, November 19, 2010

Frog Blog Wins Eircom Spider Award

A huge thank you to everyone who voted for my other website, the Frog Blog, in this year's Eircom Spider Awards. I was delighted (and extremely surprised) to accept the Big Mouth Award at last night's gala event along with my St. Columba's College colleague Jeremy Stone. I'm sure many were as shocked as I was when the winner was announced but I am delighted that so many took the time to vote for us and recognise that "big mouths" can shout about more than just politics, economics or business. It is great to see someone shouting for science and education being recognised by the Irish public. Thank you all so much!

Recommended Apps - Leaving Cert Papers

Leaving Cert Papers is an essential app for any pupil sitting their "big summer quiz". It contains a complete stock of exam papers and marking schemes for 32 subjects from 1996 to 2008 (not sure why 2009 or 2010 aren't included but it's still great) allowing you quickly and easily access exam archive material on your iPhone, iPod or iPad. The app permanently stores the exam papers and marking schemes on your mobile device without the need for costly and time consuming downloads. At just €3.99 it is a fraction of the cost of buying individual printed examination papers. A very useful app and highly recommended - click here to view on iTunes and to download!

Monday, November 15, 2010

10 Centuries of European History in 5 Minutes

Here is a brilliant animation which history teachers might find useful which shows the changing face of European borders over the last 1000 years - all nicely wrapped up into a five minute presentation.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

New Formula for Changing Mathematics Education

In this very short video from, Arthur Benjamin gives his new formula for reform in mathematics education. Benjamin is a mathematician and magician (he coined the term mathemagics to amalgamate his two passions) and sees calculus as having little influence on our everyday lives. However, he sees one area of mathematics that can aid our understanding of economics, financing and business - statistics and probability. Do you agree with him?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Top 100 Best Paid in Education

In today's Irish Times, Education Editor Seán Flynn along with Peter McGuire exposes the extraordinary high levels of pay in the upper echelons of Irish educational administration. Below is an extract from Seán's article (with kind permission from the author) outlining the top 10 Irish earners in education. For the full article click here.

At a time of unprecedented budget cuts and the possible return of third-level fees, SEAN FLYNN and PETER MCGUIRE reveal the salaries of the highest earners in Irish education

OVER 75 per cent of the €8.59 billion education budget is absorbed by pay and pensions. This means that all other education services must be funded from the €2.14 billion non-pay element of the budget. Overall, Ireland has one of the lowest levels of education spending in the OECD. It is ranked close to the bottom of international league tables when it comes to spending in relation to GDP.

The consequences of this under-investment are evident throughout the sector. It can be seen in dilapidated classrooms, lack of adequate support for information technology, meagre investment in early childhood education, lack of basic school facilities, and so on.

But a striking feature of the Irish education service is the relatively high rates of pay for academics and bureaucrats – especially at senior levels.

Today’s survey of the high earners in education comes amid increasing calls for a €100,000 cap on public service salaries. Many of those featured on this page point out they have already taken pay cuts and absorbed the public service pension levy. The universities say they need to pay the best to attract the best. But the top earners also include senior figures from the huge number of education quangos.

In all, more than 60 staff in the education sector earn more than €150,000, according to The Irish Times survey. A further 476 staff earn more than €110,000. In all, 497 people are on the professorial salary scale, €113,573–€145,952.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Frog Blog Nominated for Eircom Spider

Woo hoo! My educational science website, the Frog Blog, has been nominated for an Eircom Spider Award, within the Big Mouth category. The Big Mouth award is given to the "most influential voice online in Ireland ... who commands the biggest tribe, who’s a trusted source in their community?" (So you can imagine our surprise at our inclusion). The list of nominee contains an impressive list of active Irish bloggers, online journalists, "Facebookers" and tweeps, and they cover a wide range of topics from science to politics. The winner will be decided by a public vote so click here to vote for the Frog Blog and make us a a surprise winner!

A special mention also to Eoin Lettice from the Communicate Science blog and Ronan Palliser from my favourite photo blog who are also nominated within the Big Mouth category. Eoin has also been a guest blogger on the More Stress Less Success - click here to read his guest post - and is a brilliant ambassador for science in Ireland. It is brilliant to see two blogs within this category that are shouting for science!

Relabelling Teachers?

Is it time to relabel the term "teacher"? With everything that goes on in the modern Irish school (both primary and secondary), I often feel like actual classroom "teaching" causes the least amount of stress in my working day. All the other aspects of being a "teacher" seem to be what makes the job so bloody exhausting! So I ask, is it time to relabel the term "teacher" and replace it with a word that more accurately describes the multi-faceted nature of our role?

The last few months I've felt like I've been chasing my tail at work, trying to balance my time and efforts between the classroom and  the other essential roles that "teachers" play in schools. Just some examples of what I need to juggle during my week- JCT rugby coach (and referee), guidance counsellor, house tutor, a bit of TY coordination (my official title is the "Deputy Assistant Coordinator"), maintaining the careers library, local facilitator for agricultural science, frog blogger, tweeter, homework supervision, webmaster for the website ooh, and science teacher (full time for those who think my guidance role might let me off a few hours). Put simply "teaching" is bloody exhausting, - no wonder so many give it up to become politicians!

So I ask you - is there a need to re-brand the position and call it something new? Should we officially recognise the other aspects of our role in schools (the aspects we rarely get credit for from Joe Public).  Many people still believe we actually work 22 hours a week - I recently clocked up my time and I was working for more than 60 hours a week. Of course teaching is the principle responsibility of the job but it doesn't tell the whole story. Any suggestions?

No More Republic of Average

Below is a very interesting article from Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes, who suggests 10 ways to break "the grip of smugness" within our educational system.

I enjoyed my time over the past three years as Fine Gael’s education spokesman. Every day close to one million people in the Republic are in some way involved in education as either providers or students. From the teaching unions to parent representatives, I met great people who are committed to educational excellence. As a politician it’s one of the few areas of public policy where you can make a direct difference. Unlike being at, for example, the Department of the Environment or the Department of Transport, EU directives don’t really stand in the way of what you’d want to do if you were to arrive in Marlborough Street as minister for education.

Our economic recovery and educational reform here in Ireland go hand in hand. The current crisis provides us with a great opportunity to push through the type of reform agenda that is required.

The former Intel chief, Dr Craig Barrett, was right when he said that average isn’t good enough any more. But Irish education is exactly that: average. What’s needed is a new higher standard, underpinned by radical reform. When the Finnish economy crashed after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, educational reform was seen as crucial to rebuilding Finland. Over 10 years Finland went from being a basket-case to a smart economy where new technology replaced old.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Exploring Learning Through Virtual Worlds

How can virtual world software open our eyes to new types of learning? This animated video explores the potential of hypergrids in education - a fascinating concept. Fore more information click here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

ICT Funding Announced

Minister for Education and Skills, Mary Coughlan, has annouced that €20 million will be made available over the coming weeks to secondary schools to fund the purchasing of ICT equipment for their classrooms. The funding is the first tranche of funds to be made available to secondary schools under the government's Smart Schools - Smart Economy strategy. The funds will be available to nearly 700 secondary schools with each will receive a basic grant of €1700 along with €63.45 per pupil. While this is not a huge amount of money, it should be enough for schools to purchase a number of computers and projectors - for the ambitious some iPad's, iPods, interactive whiteboards or visualisers. So far, €42 million has been provided to both primary and secondary schools for ICT equipment since the November 2009 announcement, but is still somewhat short of the €150 million pledged. The Minister said she was committed to providing further resources to schools stating "these new grants will enable post-primary schools throughout the country to equip their classrooms with appropriate technology, to enhance teaching and learning". The fund announcement coincides with the launch of the very first Irish Teaching and Learning Festival which gets underway this morning in the Citywest Conference Centre, which is sure to provide plenty of information on what to spend this money on. 

While these funds are gratefully received, ironically the government are expected to make significant cuts to education in their upcoming budget. Read my previous post on why cuts to education never heal.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Irish Teaching & Learning Festival

The Irish Teaching and Learning Festival is the first ever interactive conference and exhibition focusing on the future of education in Ireland. It takes place this weekend in the Citywest Conference Centre, on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th October. The event consists of a large exhibition centre, with displays from a wide range of commercial, teaching and learning organisations including 3M, the Centre for Talented Youth, Edco, Gointeractive, and many many more. In fact there over 80 exhibitors displaying their wares at the festival, aimed at all sectors of education including primary and secondary teachers, parents, principals, parents and management. There are also a whole series of workshops and seminars to allow everyone involved in the educational process in Ireland to air their views and share ideas. Many of these workshops will focus on the incorporation of technology, using podcasting, animations and film making, and on the effective use of interactive whiteboards in the classroom. Here are the seminars I'm most looking forward to:
  • Friday 12pm - Advice for schools on purchasing ICT equipment - Tom Lonergan - NCTE - Creativity Suite
  • Friday 2pm - Enquiry Based Learning Instruction in Junior Certificate Science - Joanne Broggy UL - The Promethean Demonstration Suite
  • Friday 3pm - Keynote Address - Lord David Puttman - Keynote Theatre 
  • Saturday 10pm - “Why doesn’t anyone tell me anything around here?” - How Cloud Computing is transforming schools - Simon Lewis Anseo - Creativity Suite
  • Saturday 1pm - Interactive White Boards: A Literature Review, National and International - David O’Grady - UL - Promethean Demonstration Suite
  • Saturday 3pm - Virtual World Primary Schools Project - Using 3d Immersive Technology for the Support of Exceptionally and Twice Exceptional Students - Margeret Keane & James Corbett - - Keynote Theatre
The event is sure to be an excellent opportunity for teachers to explore new ways of bringing innovation into their classroom and to share ideas with teachers with similar aspirations. I'm certainly looking forward to networking with peers with similar ideals. To obtain free admission, delegates must register their interest on their website: For a complete programme of events click here or here to read their latest press release. I hope to see you there! Follow the ITL Festival on Twitter here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Phil Beadle's Teaching Tips

Following on from Julian Girdham's review of Phil Beadle's "How to Teach", here is a short video of Phil outlining his "Top Tips for Teachers". Just a quick few words on Phil Beadle - he's an English teacher, a former United Kingdom Secondary Teacher of the Year in the National Teaching Awards, and a double Royal Television Society Award winning broadcaster for Channel 4's 'The Unteachables' and 'Can't Read Can't Write'. He writes a column called 'On Teaching' for Education Guardian. How to teach is his third book. His first was serialised in The Telegraph and his second has been used by Liverpool and Manchester United football clubs. He has been on Richard and Judy twice - now that's and achievement! I currently reading "How to Teach" and enjoying every sentence.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Guest Post - Phil Beadle's "How to Teach" Reviewed

To celebrate World Teachers' Day 2010 Julian Girdham, from the award winning SCC English blog, has prepared a guest post for More Stress Less Success reviewing Phil Beadle's wonderful book "How to Teach". Julian's blog won the International Edublogger Award for Best Group Blog in 2008 (coming third in the same category in 2009), picked up nominations for the prestigious Golden Spider Awards in 2008 and 2009 and has been nominated for an Irish Blog Award in 2009 and 2010. It's an essential tool for the modern English teacher. Visit or  and explore!

It feels appropriate to be writing a quick review of Phil Beadle's How to Teach on World Teachers' Day. One month into the school year, the new teachers to whom it is directed may already be feeling besieged and panicky, and old lags like this reviewer may have found that that giddy post-summer-holidays-everything-is-going-to-be-different-this-year feeling has dismally trickled away. The very title of Humphrey's blog suggests that one of the key things that teachers have to combat is stress of different kinds: well, no better way to do this at the start of October than to treat yourself to Beadle's book.

First of all, behind the bland dull title (surely not the author's own), this is a several-laughs-a-page read. It's also hilariously cynical, brutally honest and helpfully practical about the profession. The chapter headings are also dull - 'Management of Students', 'Methods and Organisation' and the like. But then you start reading. If you're a new teacher, you're delighted to hear a voice that isn't ridden with educational jargon or management-speak. If you've been in the classroom for some years, you chuckle and nod, knowing that he's so often simply right. In fact, you'll nod so much your head might fall off. The book has been written for the British market, and bears the scars of his deep frustration with a system which has messed those teachers around for decades, but Irish teachers shouldn't be complacent. Our inspection system might still be relatively benign, but things can change, and current economic and public pressures see Irish teachers under increasing externally-imposed pressure.

World Teachers Day 2010

Today is World Teachers' Day, an annual event to celebrate and recognise the work of teachers worldwide. The day is organised by UNESCO and Education International and it is described as a “significant token of the awareness, understanding and appreciation displayed for the vital contribution that teachers make to education and development”. World Teachers’ Day aims to mobilise support for teachers and to ensure that the needs of future generations will continue to be met by teachers. This year's tag line is "Recovery Begins With Teachers" and looks at how the work of teachers can help in alleviating the hardship of social, humanitarian and economic crises worldwide. 

Obviously, as a teacher, I completely support this concept and often feel that the Irish public don’t truly appreciate the work of teachers and the role they can play in bringing Ireland out of recession and build our economy going into the next decade. Saying that, I believe teachers, their unions and the pointless Teaching Council are extremely inept at promoting our profession and the work we do. But today is not about moaning, it’s about patting each other on the back and saying “good job”. It is also a time to remember our 30 million colleagues worldwide, many of whom have to work through hardship and crisis in order to carry out their role as educators. While it's easy to complain about the lack of resources in Irish schools, it is important to remember those that teach without chalk, copies, pens or even classrooms. These are the true teaching heroes. To send an appreciative message to a colleague or teacher you know, why not fill out a E-CARD on the World Teachers’ Day website! Visit!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Recommended Apps - QS University Ratings

Finding the right university and course can be challenging sometimes and we often need help to separate the good from the bad, particularly if you're an Irish pupil looking to go abroad. Now there is a new app from QS World University Rankings which allows you quickly and easily see how your chosen university fares against the rest. The app is free to download for your iPhone or iPod and easily allows you see the newly released world rankings categorised by world, region and subject. There is detailed information on each of the top 50 universities world wide (including TCD, UCD, UL, DCU, UCC, NUI Galway, DIT and NUI Maynooth). You can link directly to the universities website and you can create a short-list of your favourite universities to keep for later. I'd recommend this to anyone sitting their Leaving Certificate this year and to Guidance Counsellors, especially is you are not too familiar with the UK institutions.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Digital Schools Week

The much anticipated Digital Schools Week has arrived! At last! Well, actually, nobody knew it was taking place at all! But it's here anyway. 

I believe it to be the brainchild of Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan and the idea is a fine one. This could be a great opportunity to highlight the work of certain schools around the country on how they have integrated smart technology into their teaching methods. It is also a great opportunity to organise events around the country demonstrating these smart technologies to teachers. It is also a brilliant chance to promote the use of ICT in schools and maybe even launch a new government initiative for the promotion of smart technologies. 

But unfortunately little of this seems to be happening. I only heard about it yesterday evening from Simon Lewis (from the brilliant via Twitter, when he just found out about it. There is nothing in today's papers (correct me if I'm wrong) so I'm wondering what the purpose of the exercise is? One must also question the PR surrounding the non existent "event" as no one seems to know anything about it, especially teachers - who are undoubtedly the most significant factors in the incorporation of ICT in schools after state funding (I certainly hope no one got paid for it). However, Silicon Republic does have a website about the week long "event" with several articles on some of the schools that have successfully integrated smart technologies into their classrooms and quite a lot on government policy in the area. I've contacted Minister Ryan to find out more about the event and I await his reply. To be fair to him, he does seem passionate about the incorporation of such technologies into teaching and learning but this week seems to have been flung together last minute.

Innovative teaching and smart schools need more than just rhetoric - they need funding, support, training, hardware & software and this week could and should be focused on these, rather than the promotion of government policy.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Guest Post - Are Exams Getting Easier? A Leaving Certificate Rant!

This guest post is written by fellow Frog Blogger Jeremy Stone. Jeremy explores grade inflation in the Leaving Cert and asks what really is the true purpose of our education system

As a teacher, this has been the most successful year of my life - at least in terms of the exam success of my pupils (as was last year... and the year before that... and the year before that...). Indeed if we use overall exam performance as the arbiter of academic success then, each succeeding year, pupils all over the world must be working harder and harder, and must be getting increasingly more intelligent (perhaps it’s something in the water).

In the UK the A-Level pass rate rose in 2010 for the 18th year in a row, and overall GCSE results improved for the 23rd year running. In Ireland research by Martin O’Grady (of Tralee I.T.) compares Leaving Certificate grades in 1992 and 2006, and finds a very strong case for grade inflation. For each of the 24 comparable Higher Level subject exams there was an overall 55% increase in the percentage of A and B grades achieved in 2006 – compared with 1992. The level of A1s awarded overall increased by over 300% during the same period. The increases in achievement at Ordinary Level are even higher.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Budget 2010 - Cuts to Education Never Heal

As the government look to make at least €3 Billion in savings in their December budget, through tax increases and a significant reduction in public spending, they must resist the urge to make any cuts in education and, if possible, look to increase funding in this sector. While potential cuts look like an easy option, they go against publicised government policy and could damage our economic recovery and international reputation.

Smart Economy
The government's economic and job creation plans are based around the development of a knowledge based "smart" economy, centred around the formation of jobs in science, engineering, manufacturing, as well as research  and development. To attain the ambitious goals outlined in their policy document, significant investment must be made in education, particularly in secondary education (science and maths), third level (university sector) and in continued education and training (ideally through some other organisation instead of FÁS). The government's own policy document on the formation of the smart economy states that "Ireland is already laying the foundations of the ideas economy by investing significantly in education". However, the recent OECD report contradicts their assertions.

OECD Report
The recently published OECD annual "Education at a Glance" report suggests that in 2007 Ireland was spending just 4.7% of its income on education, placing us 30th out of the 33 OECD countries. The average spend was 5.7%. The report also shows that from 1995 to 2007 the proportion of GDP that went to education in Ireland fell by half a percentage point and, at the height of the boom, Ireland was spending significantly less of a proportion of its income on education compared to other OECD countries. The most significant disparity occured in the third level sector, with Ireland only spending 1.2% of income in this area, 0.3% below the average. The report continued to pluck holes in the governments retoric - Irish class sizes are amongst the highest in the OECD and second highest in the EU and that 39% of Irish teachers receive no evaluation on work performance, the highest of all OECD countries. (For the full report, click here.) Of course, the report does not include the dramatic cuts in education seen in last year's budget, which saw funding for free books for poor children withdrawn in 90% of schools, equipment and resource grants for resource teachers working with special needs children abolished, funding of €4.3m for Traveller children slashed, €2.1m gone from school library grants and pupil teacher ratios increase across all schools. So government policy and action clearly don't match up. These facts highlight that we need to increase funding in education in Ireland, and most certainly not make further cuts.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Recommended Apps- UCAS

For pupils applying to the UK for a university place it might seem that all their time is taken up with the exhausting process that is a UCAS application. Waiting for a decision can be nerve wracking but now there is an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch that makes tracking your application easy and mobile. You can only use the app once your application has been processed but it has many useful features. You can easily see which universities have offered you a place, see if further information is needed on your application and view any replies you’ve made. Find out the key dates in the UCAS calendar and get the answers to your questions in the FAQ section. Unfortunately it doesn't have a teachers tracking facility hyet but maybe that might be something they will look at releasing shortly. Best of all the UCAS app is completely free. To download the UCAS app click here.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Teachers! Tweet, Blog, Connect.

What are your new back to school resolutions? For me, it's learning to organise my time more effectively and to prioritise! It's the same resolution made every September but this year will be different - I'm sure of it! But can I be so bold as to make some suggestions for your back to school resolutions: Tweet, Blog, Connect!
What is Twitter? Twitter is a micro blogging social network which allows users write short snappy messages (just 140 characters) which then appear on the user's profile page (Click here to see mine). Users follow other people on Twitter who may be friends or have similar interests. Sounds kinda pointless until you see how tweets can allow you share resources, web-links, videos, photos, interesting stories or classroom tips. It's an excellent way to expand your view on how your subject can be taught and to connect with other teachers from around the world. I would go as far as saying that Twitter is an essential tool for newly qualified teachers. We all know the web is a brilliant resource and Twitter allows you to share the best of the web with like minded people. It is so simple to join and start tweeting. Just visit and get stuck in. You might find it useful to follow these teachers to start connecting: Me, Patricia DonaghyJulia Thompson, Maryna Badenhorst, Pajo, ScoilNet, Nicole Galante and Julian Girdham (from SCC English) to name but a few. Here are few useful links on how Twitter can help you become a better teacher: here and here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Standards in Maths and Science

Since the publication of this year's Leaving Certificate results on Wednesday, numerous commentators and multi-national companies have been commenting on the low standards in mathematics and science amongst this year's cohort. They are saying that the failure rates for maths and science subjects is unacceptably high and that this will have an negative effect on the government's plans for the development of a "smart economy". Such a smart economy is based around the facilitation of science, engineering and manufacturing companies employing well educated and well trained Irish graduates. This is a significant issue, but there is a clouding of the facts which needs to be addressed.

It is true to say that the numbers sitting Leaving Cert maths at higher level is too low. It is also fair to say that the failure rates in maths are too high. But I have a level of sympathy for the Department of Education and Skills on this issue. Firstly, maths is a compulsory subject at Leaving Cert level and the standards set are very high - comparable with Scottish Highers but slightly below the standards of A-Level (where pupils sit only three subjects) or International Baccalaureate (IB). This means that when comparing the results obtained by Irish pupils in mathematics with those in English, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales or those sitting the IB, Irish pupils simply won't match up, as none of these system require compulsory mathematics in their terminal exams. Ireland is very much the exception rather than the norm in insisting on all pupils sit mathematics. In the UK, only 77,000 of the 310,000 pupils (around 24%) sitting A-Levels did mathematics, of which over a ridiculous 40% achieved an A grade (an A grade in Ireland is reserved for pupils obtaining 85% or above while in the UK a pupil achieving over 70% obtains an A grade). You simply cannot compare the two. If maths was to be made optional at Leaving Cert level, I am sure our standards would compare much more favourably with our nearest neighbours. Project Maths, the new initiative piloted this year, did produce slightly higher percentages of A grades and lower failure rates - but I think everyone expected that to happen. Whether this was because of a better understanding of the principles or a more lenient marking scheme, I don't know, but I do welcome a more practical and relevant approach to teaching and learning about mathematics. 

Recommended Apps - Awesome Note

Teachers return to the classroom shortly and will soon be neck high in homework to read, copies to correct, tests to mark, phone calls to make, emails to send and some might even have blogs to write (go on - get blogging with your pupils this September). All this means that busy teachers will need to get organised and Awesome Note is a brilliant app for the iPhone that will help you do just that.

Awesome Note is an innovative note taking application and "to-do" manager that allow you to combine notes with to-do flexibility. Users are able to customise how they want their notes categorised by creating different folder icons, which can be further customised with colours, fonts and backgrounds. The app is very versatile allowing you create simple scheduled notes to notes with photo attachments, To-Do's to organise your day and post-it style quick "memos" to quickly jot down your thoughts. You can even send notes with photos as emails to friends and colleague and synchronise your notes to Google Docs or your Evernote account. Awesome Note allows you easily jot down your ideas, thoughts and memos, and create daily diary, travel diary, email box, checklist, shopping list, to-do list, scheduler and anything else you want and sort them into custom categories. You can even protect some folders using passwords (I have a very handy PIN's & Passwords folder).

To download Awesome Note click here. The full version costs just €2.99, but you can download a free "lite" version to trial. Click here to download the "lite" version. Awesome Note is an excellent, simple but powerful app that works for me and hopefully it will work for you too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Leaving Cert - Should it stay?

Reports in our national newspapers yesterday informed us that pupils sitting the Leaving Certificate are stressed! Shock horror! Who knew? 

Well apparently it took a new ESRI study (working on behalf of the NCCA) to find out that more than half of female Leaving Certificate pupils are stressed out in sixth year compared with about a third of their male peers. This is not news! News, by definition, needs to be new. In fact, I am surprised the figures are so low. It is no secret that pupils undergoing terminal examinations undergo stress - they should be worried - these are important examinations that will very likely have an effect on their future career path. But the same is true of pupils sitting A-Levels, SAT's and even university exams (which I found personally far more stressful than the Leaving Cert). Stress is a universal effect of such examinations and, for many, it can serve to greatly improve study habits and exam performance. Teenagers get stressed for many more reasons other than their Leaving Cert too, and the ESRI study didn't clarify if the stress suffered by these teenagers was solely caused by the Leaving Cert.

But there is a more pressing question around this issue - should the Leaving Cert remain in its current format? The answer is plainly no. Over the last decade or more the Leaving Cert has evolved into a university entry system rather than a measure of the educational process in secondary schools. For this purpose the Leaving Cert succeeds - the CAO system is very fair, unbiased and non-judgemental - far more so than the UCAS system in the UK. The universities set the standards, the pupils apply anonymously and those that meet the standards (generally) get a place. Our university entry system is good and only requires tinkering - like increased use of aptitude tests and interviews. The "points system" is not the problem here. We need to change how the points are calculated not the entry system itself. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Counting the Cost of "Free" Education

I'm sure by now every pupil and teacher is getting slowly excited about the prospect of returning to school in a couple of weeks. The little ones are surely deciding which school bag to get - Ben 10 or Hannah Montana - and whether or not a new set of colouring pencils are required. Some are excited because maybe they'll have Mr. Jones for biology? Others will groan at the prospect! My fellow teachers are probably ordering their new mark books, purchasing new whiteboard markers, new shiny pens (blue, green and red of course) or maybe even a new laptop for those technically minded individuals! Some teachers may be deciding what to teach their new class groups in the first term while other will follow the "whatever worked for me last year" rule! Either way, there is a level of excitement about returning back to school, even if we don't really want to admit it!

But for Mammy and Daddy it is surely more of a stress. The Ben 10 or Hannah Montana back packs don't come cheap. Those new colouring pencils are a luxury, not a necessity, and the amount of copies the wee ones go through seems to increase exponentially every year. And then there are those horrid textbooks which can't be passed from kid number one to kid number two because in the three years between them, three more "new" editions have been released - each new edition costing €40 or so. For little Johnnie sitting ten subjects in his Junior Cert next June that €400! Oh, but don't forget the workbooks - he'll need those for his homework! Add another €50 to the bill! And damn puberty too - because little Johnnie isn't so frickin little any more! New trousers, new jumper, new white shirts, new tie (oh he lost it during the summer), new shoes and a year's supply of deodorant to last through September! All this adds up. By now Mammy and Daddy are wondering what exactly is "free education" because surely they have spent close to €1000 on each of the kids. Then comes the kick in the teeth - the school voluntary contribution. Bam, another €200 or so. In fact, a recent Bank of Ireland survey suggested that the annual cost of sending a secondary pupil to school over the entire year comes to nearly €13,000. Private fee paying boarding schools seem rather good value now don't they? 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Primary Schools Set for Change

An Tánaiste and Minister for Education & Skills, Mary Coughlan, today announced that a number of church run primary schools across the country could soon be under state control. Currently, some 91% of Irish primary schools are currently under Catholic patronage, but this proportion looks likely to be reduced over the coming years after the government today published a list of potential schools which may be transferred to state control. Forty three areas around Ireland were mentioned today including major towns like Arklow, Athlone, Ballinasloe, Birr, Killarney, Tramore, Dublin 4, 6 and 8; Portmarnock, Malahide and Whitehall in Co. Dublin. Schools in these areas will now undergo a "consultation stage" which will see parents, teachers, church figures and the local community discuss the pros and cons of such a change. Senior Catholic figures have seemed to come out in support of the move. A statement of the Catholic Bishops read:
"In looking to the future the Church has made clear the commitment of Catholic communities throughout Ireland to providing denominational Catholic education to parents who desire such for their children. Catholic schools in Ireland are caring, inclusive communities, which offer quality in teaching and learning, and which have made, are still making, and will continue to make an outstanding contribution to society and Church in Ireland. However, the Catholic Church in Ireland does not see itself in the future as the sole or dominant provider of schools.
In fact, in 2007 the Irish Catholic Church formally detailed such a view on future provision at primary level in our document Catholic Primary Schools: A Policy for Provision into the Future. But of course the church is still very committed to providing a denominational service to those who want it and I can't imagine them moving too quickly on the matter - particularly without consultation with parents and community members.

There is no doubt the time for such change is here, with the social platform of Irish society shifting further away from Catholic teachings. With the success and popularity of Educate Together schools across the country, this is surely the beginning in a major shift in the Irish educational arena. Maybe this will also see the provision of Educate Together secondary schools in the not so distant future? 

Students Opt for Engineering and Science in Hope of Finding Work

Below is an article from today's Irish Independent by Katherine Donnelly, which explores how science and engineering courses have increased in popularity amongst this year's CAO applicants.

STUDENTS are choosing to study engineering, computing and science in ever- growing numbers as the fashionable careers of the boom years such as architecture and law lose some of their gloss, new figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal.

Even in a bumper year for college applications, three disciplines regarded as cornerstones for the so-called smart economy are outpacing other areas. Although these disciplines are recovering from a long spell in the doldrums and a very low base, it is a major step on the road to having enough skilled graduates for key industries such as green energy and mobile phone apps.

The trend has emerged in an analysis of this year's applications carried out by the Higher Education Authority (HEA). It follows widespread concerns expressed by major employers who highlighted a severe shortage of skilled graduates in these key areas of growth. This year, the CAO, the centralised college admissions service, is dealing with an all-time high of 77,126 applications, compared with 65,883 in 2007 before the downturn, when plenty of jobs were on offer.

But even within the record figures, the picture for engineering, computing and science is even more dramatic, with all of them capturing a greater share of first preferences than they did in 2007. School-leavers, as well as the rising number of mature students now seeking to go back to college to acquire new skills, are obviously heeding the advice of the Government and industry experts about where the jobs will be in the new economy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

HPAT and Teacher Promotion

There are a couple of things on my mind today and that can be potentially dangerous. Firstly is the Irish Independent’s story today that teachers will be elevated to more “higher-ranking” positions based on merit rather than seniority from September in a new “shake up” of teacher promotion. The second is the whole HPAT thing – it’s really getting on my wick!

Wow, you might say that is a lot to think about when you are on your summer holidays Humphrey. And it is, but there is no better time to think about the would-be flaws in our education system.On the whole teacher promotion thing, have teachers really been promoted solely on seniority up until now? Didn’t their merit always count for something? In my experience, merit was always a factor and it was unlikely that schools purely went on seniority – but please correct me if I’m wrong. In my school meritocracy rules supreme for most roles. If schools have been promoted based solely on seniority then shame on you! But I welcome this “shake up” although I think it is a bit ironic that they are introducing a new means of filling A and B posts when there is a moratorium of such positions being filled! But I think teachers who work hard, have particular skills and “do a little extra” should be rewarded.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Guest Post - When is an Experiment Not an Experiment?

This is a guest post from Eoin Lettice, a lecturer in plant science and zoology in UCC. Eoin manages his own blog - Communicate Science - which contains excellent articles on a range of science topics. In this piece, Eoin outlines his views on science pupils entering third level after "successfully" completing second level science syllabi. This post is also posted on the Frog Blog.

Just under sixty thousand students have just finished some of the most important exams they’ll ever face. As Leaving Certificate students around Ireland await their results, it may be useful to examine just what these students have gained, particularly when it comes to the sciences.

About 30,000 students sat an exam in biology this year, with twice as many females as males taking the paper. In physics, 5,246 males took the exam with just 1,751 females studying the subject. This brings the total for physics to just under 7,000. In a country where science and engineering are seen to be at the forefront of our national recovery, these physics numbers especially are disappointing. Over in the chemistry department, about 8,000 students took the final exam, with the genders much more evenly divided. About 6,000 students took an exam in agricultural science.

The statistics beg the question as to why so many students are attracted to biology rather than chemistry or physics. Perhaps they believe it to be easier, but colloquial evidence suggests that students who take another science exam other than biology often find biology the more demanding of the two. There may well be a large number of students who take biology as a means of ensuring they have that “one science subject” in case they wish to study science at third level.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Appliances of Science

The article below, written by yours truly, also appears in the Science Today section of today's Irish Times 

The development of Apple’s iPhone has revolutionised our perception of the mobile phone. But how can it help us learn more about science?

Since its release, the iPhone’s potential as a multi-purpose device has been realised with the development of applications or apps, software programmes designed specifically for your mobile phone. Last year, there were 2.5 billion app downloads worldwide and this is expected to rise to 4.5 billion this year, 82% of which will be free.

The development of apps for the iPhone led other mobile phone manufacturers to alter the way they structured their operating systems and recently developers have expanded their apps to serve Nokia, Blackberry and Android Smartphones. And now, with the imminent release of Apple’s latest offering the iPad, apps are about to get bigger and better.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bad Teachers

A lady, called Zenna Atkins, has said that every school needs a "bad teacher". She outlined that poor teaching staff gave pupils the invaluable experience of coping with incompetent people later in life. Who the hell is this moron? Well, Zenna Atkins currently holds the chair of the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) in the UK, essentially putting her in charge of inspecting schools in the England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and ensuring they live up to standards. As a teacher, society should not tolerate bad teachers one bit! It is not good enough to suggest that they have a role in our children's social development! Poor teachers make good teachers look bad! Full stop!

I firmly believe that teachers play a vital role in society and to allow schools to be filled with teachers below a certain standard does little to promote our fine profession! It is my opinion that bad teachers should not be tolerated. In Ireland, teachers only complain about wages. Class sizes might be mentioned once or twice a year and the ASTI or TUI will utter something about behaviour every couple of years. But we (generally our unions) don't dare mention the elephant in the room - standards! Maybe if our unions addressed the standards issue it might make our claims for addition reward more compelling. I think we all need to be accountable for the work we do. I don’t believe we should be judged on the results our pupils attain in terminal examinations necessarily but I do believe we need to have some level of assessment – even if internally. Our inspectorate does little in this regard and their reports are often vague, never highlighting very poor or, possibly even more importantly, exceptional practice. We need to assess how teachers perform and reward the teachers that go beyond the minimum standards.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Recommended Apps - Dropbox

Over at the Frog Blog I have been posting on recommended iPhone apps for science teachers, pupils or enthusiasts. But there are loads of other great apps that are available to download now for your mobile device, which are not science related, but would be extremely useful to the busy teacher. First up, in what I hope will be a series of posts, is Dropbox.

Dropbox is an excellent app which is available for iPhone, iPad, Android and, very shortly, your Blackberry. It provides an easy way to sync, store or share documents, presentations, spreadsheets between computers and mobile devices. All you have to set up a free account at, install Dropbox on your PC or laptop, then on your mobile device and away you go. To use, just drag a file into the Dropbox folder on your PC or laptop and hey presto - it's also on your iPhone or Android phone! Have all your frequently used files on your mobile when you need them! You can also access your files on any computer in the world! It is an absolute essential for the busy teacher! And best of all - it's completely free!

Click here to download Dropbox for your iPhone, here for iPad and here for the Android version!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Reading Time - Ian McEwan's Solar

One of the best things about being a teacher are the holidays - no one will deny that. But I feel they are a just reward for putting up with smelly snotty nosed teenagers for nine months of the year. Most of my friends  are envious of my holidays but still wouldn't do my job even if the pay was doubled. Holidays are the only time I get a chance to read (something other than over priced textbooks anyway) and having just received my well earned holidays last Saturday, I quickly got stuck into my first novel of the summer - Ian McEwan's Solar. 

I'm not a prolific reader but I do try to tackle a few during the intermittent breaks over the year. When I do get a chance, I generally keep it light. However, McEwan's novel is both light and dark, and it is a testament to his writing talents that he manages to pull this off. His most potent tool in accomplishing this is humour, but not in your face short snappy humour but much more subtle dark and drawn out humour. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Inventing a Creative Education System

While a few years old now (TED 2006), this talk by Sir Ken Robinson still makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures, rather than undermines, creativity. Robinson asserts that children are exceptionally innovative and that schools suppress this creativity as children pass through the educational system.

Personally I don't believe "schools" suppress creativity. By that I mean the physical buildings or the teachers. I believe that it is, in fact, the creativity of schools and teachers that are suppressed, which may in turn to lead to the undermining of children's' creativity and innovation. Government policies, poorly constructed syllabi, lack of facilities, terminal state exams, a general lack of funding, uninspiring buildings, disputes over salaries, public perception of teachers and schools, all contribute to this stifling effect. Some schools, my own included, try to overcome these barriers and do manage to promote a sense of wonder in education through innovative approaches to teaching and learning. However, not all of these can be overcome by schools alone.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Why I Love My iPhone ... and its apps!

I've had my iPhone for a few months now and it has changed me! Sounds dramatic I know, but I think it has. I must confess - I love my iPhone. My previous phone was a HTC Touch - a powerful Windows mobile with everything I needed - email, Internet, calendar. So I thought I didn't need an iPhone - no one needs an iPhone - but it has made my life so much easier. What makes the iPhone brilliant is the abundant supply of apps - apps for everything. Simple apps like Awesome Note, Calendar, the new Irish Times app, EvernoteSkype and the brilliant Quick Office make everyday easier, especially in work. When I'm bored I play Touch Physics or Angry Birds. When I want to be informed I click on the Guardian app, RTE News, the TelegraphTreehugger or the ITN app. When I feel like connecting I open up FacebookTweetdeck or Blogpress. I'm never off the damn thing. And then there my role as a science teacher - oh yeah nearly forgot that - and the iPhone offers plenty to keep me occupied here too. To be a good science teacher you need to be informed about what's happening in the world of science and there are plenty apps which let me do that. The picture over shows some of the science related apps on my iPhone, I emphasise the "some". NASA has become cool again (at least in my eyes anyway), the Hubble app mesmerises me with wonderful images from deep space, the Planets app has given me a sore neck from looking up at the night sky, Discovery News lets me know when a new frog species has been discovered (I'm kidding), Speed Anatomy makes sure I know my arms from my elbows and Science Dump contains brilliant videos from YouTube of scientific interest - all great. Then there is the amazing Sky+ app, which makes sure I will never forget to record that documentary on the BBC when I'm out again! The iPhone is here and here to stay and with the new software update making it easier to use, it's getting better. But the iPhone didn't arrive empty handed - it has brought loads of wonderful apps to play with. Never to bored, misinformed or disorganised again!