From the Literature Review Report: profile of CReLES in Ireland

Introduction and Background

The Irish government has implemented several initiatives to integrate migrant children in the Irish school system by addressing the issues of multilingualism, multiculturalism and multi denominationalism. The two most significant measures among others are the appointment of the Minister of State with responsibility for integration and development and the implementation of National Action Plans for social inclusion (DES, 2011). These significant steps have led to the provision of English language support teachers in the schools who give exclusive coaching in English language skills to children whose first language is not English through immersion classes to develop their English language proficiency so that they perform in all subjects and professional development for the mainstream teachers to support children’s learning in second language context (DES, 2011; Eurydice, 2004). According to an OECD report (2010), the training provided in EAL is widely recognised across Ireland as indispensable and has become widespread. However, there is still minimal support in continuous professional development as well as initial teacher education programmes for teachers to teach in a multicultural school environment. Special modules are organised in some teacher training institutes in Ireland to train teachers for an intercultural approach entailed by providing teachers with guidance and teaching materials which emphasise the importance of the intercultural approach in education (Eurydice, 2004).

Culturally Responsive Leadership in the Irish Education System

At  a policy and regulation level, it is not a requirement for school leaders to be culturally responsive. However, Education Act Part V section 23 shares a broad expectation of the school principal to ensure inclusivity and equity.

…be responsible for the creation, together with the board, parents of students and the teachers, of a school environment which is supportive of learning among the students and which promotes the professional development of the teachers.

In theory, school leadership is meant to be consultative and distributive as described in The Education Act, 1998. Visibility of principals is higher in local communities in small towns, rural areas and primary schools as compared to urban areas and secondary schools. Almost all school principals are Irish as far as their ethnic and cultural affiliation is concerned. Schools in Ireland have considerable autonomy with respect to how they meet the needs of immigrant children (Eurydice, 2004). Moreover, there are no recommendations from the central or top-level education authorities about organising intercultural activities. It is at the discretion of the school leadership team to employ whatever strategies they deem necessary in the context of their school.  However, Looking at Our School, the quality frameworks for primary and post-primary schools’ features fostering a commitment to inclusion, equality of opportunity and the holistic development of each student as one of the indicators of quality leadership practice. In a way, although not explicitly stated, school leaders are made aware of their responsibility to be culturally responsive.

In terms of curriculum development and summative assessments, these quality instruments are mainly the responsibility of a state agency, National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) though schools manage formative assessment in secondary schools and most assessments apart from standardised tests in primary schools. Among twenty-four statements of learning for the primary curriculum, one relates to cultural responsivity; the learner ‘appreciates and respects how diverse values, beliefs, and traditions have contributed to the communities and culture in which she/he lives’. Similarly, one of the critical issues addressed in primary education is ‘pluralism, respect for diversity and the importance of tolerance’ in line with the changing profile of the population. The school leaders and teachers may not have a direct role in curriculum design but taught curriculum is undoubtedly their responsibility, and without cultural responsivity, these principles cannot be imbued in the day-to-day learning of children. It is again the responsibility of the school leaders to provide professional support to teachers to meet this challenge.

Despite the frequent acknowledgement of these themes, culturally responsive school leadership or managing multicultural schools are not included in any of the training programmes for school leaders. Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDSL), Joint Management Body (JMB) and Centre for School leadership offer a range of training for newly appointed principals, deputy principals, as well as middle leadership. Some of these programmes include sessions on values, vision, equity, Current Educational issues, Leading Learning and Dynamics of Change management where it is quite likely that the issues of multicultural classes, social inclusion, and integration of migrant students may come under discussion.

Along with school leaders and teachers, another essential position in schools is of Guidance Counsellors who can understand students’ cultural values, beliefs and channelise their diversity for improved life chances for them. Section 9 of The Education Act 1998 states that a school shall use its available resources to

(c) ensure that students have access to appropriate guidance to assist them in their educational and career choices

According to the Department of Education, ‘Schools are encouraged, therefore, to develop a comprehensive guidance plan as part of their overall school development plan’(2005, p.4). The guidance plan is to be developed in consultation with guidance counsellors. The schools may also seek support ‘from the National Centre for Guidance in Education 4), the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), the Department of Education and Science (DES) and other relevant agencies’ (Department of Education, 2005, p.4) if they need to. The Guidance Plan encompasses three interlinked areas: students’ personal and social development, educational guidance and career guidance.  For this purpose, the plan is required to have a range of activities that help students to develop self-management skills which enable them to make effective choices and decisions about their lives (Guidelines for Second Level Schools, 2005).

In response to increasing cultural diversity, one promising initiatives is the opening up of national community schools (CNS) in urban areas of Ireland by the Education and Training Boards (ETBs). There are twenty-three schools where children are provided equal learning opportunities in a setting of diversity and inclusion. The distinctive feature of these schools is their multi-belief and values education curriculum, Goodness me, goodness you. Through this curriculum, children learn to appreciate other children’s religions and beliefs and to engage in inter-belief dialogue.