As part of the University College’s Centenary celebrations, the Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement (CREU) held a symposium event at the Long Gallery in Stormont on Wednesday 23 November.
The event invited educators/practitioners, MLAs and guests to explore the question ‘How can civil society maximise educational opportunities for all and reduce educational underachievement?’.
Introduced by Principal Jonathan Heggarty MBE, the symposium began with some of the latest insights from CREU research, presented by Dr Noel Purdy, Dr Glenda Walsh and Dr Karen Orr.
This was followed by two panel discussions.
The first panel of education practitioners featured Joyce Logue (Longtower PS, Derry/L’Derry), Stephanie Gillespie (Shaftesbury Nursery School), Mary Montgomery (Belfast Boys’ Model School), Jackie Redpath (Greater Shankill Partnership), Máire Thompson (Hazelwood Integrated College) and Pilib Mistéil (Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh).
The second panel, chaired by Stranmillis Governor Peter Weil, featured Robbie Butler MLA (UUP), Connie Egan MLA (Alliance), Matthew O’Toole MLA (SDLP), Emma Little-Pengelly MLA (DUP) and Pat Sheehan MLA (Sinn Fein).
This was the first major event organised by CREU outside of the College campus, and was attended by 80 delegates from partner and stakeholder organisations.
For the first time since 2019, the Stranmillis Student Research Conference took place in person, and was attended by well over 100 B.Ed. and B.Sc. research methods students.
Dr Noel Purdy opened the Conference by welcoming Dr Rory McDaid, Director of Research, Marino Institute of Education, Dublin, as this year’s keynote speaker. Dr McDaid spoke of the growing recognition of the importance of students and educational practitioners as researchers and also highlighted some of his own and his institution’s recent research work.
There followed four short presentations by some of last year’s top research students: Lucy Millar (B Ed Primary) began by presenting her study entitled “Ready to share our very selves: An investigation into the nature and prevalence of church partnerships with controlled primary schools in Northern Ireland.” This was followed by Ellen King (BA ECS) who spoke on the theme of “Parents’ and Practitioners’ Perspectives on the Benefits of and Barriers to Effective Outdoor Play”. The third presentation on the “experiences of relationships and sexuality education (RSE) in light of criticisms of its heteronormative delivery” was delivered by Jessica Orr (B Ed post-primary) before Patricia Philips’ final presentation on her PGCE research assignment entitled “An evaluation of the appropriateness of play as a learning medium for young children.”
The Conference concluded with a panel Q&A session chaired by Dr Glenda Walsh and Dr Karen Orr, with questions submitted to all 5 presenters via Mentimeter from the audience. All agreed that it was a stimulating afternoon which showcased a wide variety of outstanding student research but also provided valuable support and guidance for current students about to undertake their own research for the first time.
The ECCE programme offers up to two years of free pre-school education and, since it was first introduced in 2010, more than 800,000 children have benefitted from it.
The core objectives of the programme are:
to provide children with their first formal experience of early learning prior to commencing primary school;
to promote better cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes for children; and
to narrow the gap in attainment between more and less advantaged children.
The review is being led by Head of Early Years at Stranmillis and Assistant Director at CREU, Dr Glenda Walsh, in collaboration with Dr Thérèse Farrell from Dublin City University.
The project will assess whether the ECCE Programme is meeting its core objectives and will identify any changes or improvements that can be made, informing work to introduce a universal legal entitlement to pre-school in the Republic of Ireland.
The appointment was made by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman.
Stranmillis project lead Dr Glenda Walsh said:
“I am absolutely delighted to be leading this significant research project where the end product is all about getting it right for our youngest children. The key stakeholders i.e. early years educators, parents and the young children themselves, will play a huge part in every aspect of this study, informing the way forward on what works already and what aspects of ECCE need to be developed.”
Dr Noel Purdy, Director of CREU, said:
“Stranmillis has a long history of teaching and research expertise in the Early Years, and I welcome this latest funding awarded by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to Dr Walsh and her team. I wish them well as they embark on this important review of the ECCE programme.”
The Review will be completed towards the end of 2023.
A lively discussion involving around 50 representatives from churches, schools and a range of other key organisations with a role in education took place in Portadown, on Friday (25th March) with a view to helping our children and young people to reach their full potential.
The study, which was commissioned and funded by the TRC, aims to go ‘beyond the stereotype’ of the well-documented challenge of underachievement among Protestant working-class boys from disadvantaged inner-city communities, and to ‘cast the net wider’ to provide a broader and more representative picture. Particular challenges in rural communities, which have not been reported extensively to date in previous studies, are identified with some school leaders speaking of the difficulty in motivating boys to work hard towards GCSEs.
Significantly, Beyond the Stereotype also finds that while pupils view educational achievement as largely related to success in external exams (such as GCSEs and A-levels), many school and community leaders (including employers) place greater value on a wider range of skills and abilities, and pupils’ mental and physical health, self-confidence, happiness and willingness to learn.
Dr Noel Purdy, who led the research through Stranmillis’ Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement, said: “We’ve certainly identified lots of challenges – there are big challenges facing controlled schools and indeed every school in Northern Ireland – but what we did see was a diverse, committed, community-orientated and innovative sector which is committed to maximising achievement for all children. In other words, allowing all the children in schools to stand tall and achieve to their full potential.”
The TRC represents its member churches in all matters of education in the region, and oversees the appointment of over 1,500 governors to controlled schools. The three churches transferred (hence the origin of transferors) their school buildings, pupils and staff into state control on the understanding that the Christian ethos of these schools would be maintained.
Dr Noel Purdy, the Director of Stranmillis University College’s Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement (CREU), has been appointed as Chair of the Irish Government’s Steering Committee to review its 2013 Action Plan on Bullying.
The Steering Committee met for the first time today at the Department of Education in Dublin, where the review was launched by the Irish Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD. It is intended that the review will take account of developments and relevant research since the 2013 Action Plan, considering areas such as cyber-bullying, gender-based bullying and sexual harassment. The Steering Committee will comprise senior Department of Education officials, external experts and representatives of advocacy organisations.
Speaking of his appointment, Dr Noel Purdy said “I am very honoured that Minister Foley has invited me to chair this important review of the 2013 Action Plan on Bullying. I look forward to working with colleagues in the south over the coming months to ensure that the revised Action Plan serves as a research-informed blue print to protect all children and young people from all forms of bullying.”
Dr Purdy is a longstanding member and former chair of the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum and has led a number of significant research projects on bullying, including cross-border studies on bullying and special educational needs, and a recent five-nation European project on cyberbullying among young people, the Blurred Lives Project. He recently chaired the Expert Panel for Educational Underachievement in Northern Ireland whose final report and action plan A Fair Start was published on 1 June 2021.
To find out more about the Steering Committee, read the Department of Education’s press release here.
A significant new research report into educational underachievement in controlled schools – commissioned and funded by the Transferor Representatives’ Council – has been launched by Stranmillis University College.
Beyond the Stereotype is based on group interviews with principals, teachers and pupils in eight primary and post-primary schools in suburban, town and rural areas, and also with school governors and other leaders in those communities. The study aims to go ‘beyond the stereotype’ of the well-documented challenge of underachievement among Protestant working class boys in inner-city areas, and to ‘cast the net wider’ to provide a broader and more representative picture. It raises important questions about the purpose of education and how we measure success.
The study finds that while pupils view educational achievement as largely related to success in external exams (such as GCSEs and A-levels), many school and community leaders (including employers) place greater value on a wider range of skills and abilities, and pupils’ mental and physical health, self-confidence, happiness and willingness to learn.
Particular challenges in rural communities, which have not been reported extensively to date in previous studies, are identified with some school leaders speaking of the difficulty in motivating boys to work hard towards GCSEs. Disadvantage across generations and a lack of educational aspiration, often associated with inner-city working-class contexts, are also reportedly strong features of many rural communities.
Beyond the Stereotype also finds that schools lack support in terms of sourcing standardised tests for pupils, which are bought in from private companies in the absence of government-funded tests. A resulting variety of approaches in testing at primary level mean that post-primary schools often test pupils within their first few days at their new school; this, in turn, adds to an impression among pupils that post-primary education is about tests and scores.
School leaders are doing “sterling work” in keeping education going throughout the pandemic with one positive consequence of this crisis being that “schools and families are often now better connected than ever before” due to the increased use of remote technology.
Many community leaders speak of their passion for supporting schools and helping local children to succeed. A range of perspectives – supportive and critical – on the role of Protestant Churches in education is heard; the study affirms that where school leaders are open to church involvement (which cannot be assumed) and where a local church engages meaningfully, tangibly and unconditionally in its local school, “there is enormous potential to improve educational outcomes.”