PART THREE: My Reservations about the New Primary Mathematics Curriculum
Post date: Mar 30, 2018 7:45:35 PM
The Role of the INTO
In late January and early February, I published two posts detailing my reservations about the New Primary Mathematics curriculum (you can access the first one here and the second one here).
When I originally published these posts, I also forwarded the links via twitter to the NCCA, the INTO, the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, and to the educational spokesperson for each political party (excepting those who did not have a twitter account). I also forwarded on the links to all the educational correspondents of all the major newspapers in a separate email. I received no responses.
At the end of February, I became aware via a tweet (note: not originating from the INTO) that the INTO had announced (on 13/2/18) that they were organising a number of consultative meetings at district level, around the country, during the last days of February and the beginning of March (I'm not sure if all of these went ahead or not, since some of scheduled dates coincided with the "Beast from the East" snowstorms). I eagerly went looking on the INTO website for a notification of a consultation meeting in my own district; there was none mentioned.
I contacted my INTO school rep, who made enquiries on my behalf. It transpired that the possibility of holding a consultation meeting had been briefly mentioned at the local INTO branch meeting that was held in early January, but as there was little interest expressed, none was organised. We were told that for members in districts where there was not going to be consultation meeting organised, that they could communicate their views on the Primary Maths Curriculum via email to firstname.lastname@example.org and that these views would be included in the INTO submission on the same.
Below is the transcript of the email that I duly sent on the 27/2/18.
My name is Claire Corroon and I'm a primary teacher in Westmeath. I have specific knowledge and expertise with regards to primary maths and have worked closely with teachers and schools to help support them teach this subject, introducing them often to new methodologies and approaches.
The NCCA has published a new primary maths curriculum, with which I have major concerns and reservations.
And while I have voiced and penned my concerns quite widely, and while I have the support of a significant body of teachers, it appears that this will be brought in and forced upon primary schools, irrespective of the negative and long-term effects that this may have on maths education in this country.
Firstly, I would ask that you consider the points made in my posts (from links below), and the accompanying comments from teachers, and to include these concerns as part of the INTO submission regarding this maths curriculum:
Secondly, I would like to point out the following:
The lack of publicity and information about this curriculum and the NCCA consultation process (prior to the publication of my posts) is very noticeable. Most teachers I know didn't know anything about it and I'm still meeting teachers who haven't heard anything. I believe the INTO had, and has, a responsibility, on our behalf, to research/investigate such matters and to inform members on changes coming that will impact on their jobs on a daily basis. And the INTO should have been communicating this information to members through as many channels as possible.
The INTO have also been very noticeable by their lack of participation in any widespread debate, discussion and dissipation of information. I understand there was a meeting held about this new curriculum sometime around the end of Jan, beginning of Feb? Where are the publications, notes, reports from that? Information for members?
The INTO has only since 13/2/18 announced upcoming consultation meetings with the members (but announcement was on website only and wasn't even tweeted about - why not?) and even then these are limited to certain districts (4,6,8,9) with almost all of these occurring after the NCCA deadline of 28/2/18. These should have been organised in every district, well before the deadline date, advertised widely, and not just to collect the views of teachers, but to inform them of the implications for them and their students.
I have heard, that in the case of my own district, there was very little "interest" expressed in holding a consultation meeting when discussed back in January. I put it to you that it wasn't the case that teachers were not interested, rather that they were uninformed, and didn't appreciate the major implications for them, and maths education, in relation to this matter. Again, should it not have been the responsibility of the INTO to inform the members at this juncture and impress upon them the importance of consultation in this matter?
Since the publication of my posts, I have been contacted by three teachers from separate schools who are involved in the piloting of this curriculum. They are all quite unhappy with the curriculum and the feel that their concerns are "falling on deaf ears". When I urged them to submit their comments publicly and/or allow me to quote them, they were unwilling, and some felt there might be "repercussions". I find this whole idea of fear preventing free speech very unsettling in this day and age. And if the union are not going to defend and protect these teachers, who will?
I am 100% supportive of the INTO in their efforts to obtain equal pay for all and to reinstate post-holder positions lost since 2007. That said, these issues do not affect all teachers, but this new curriculum will affect all teachers and all primary pupils, which includes two of my own children. For the sake of the education of our children, this issue should now take priority over all other issues.
To be honest, I feel very let down by the INTO's role, or rather lack of involvement and leadership, in this whole issue of curricular reform. It shouldn't be just left up to individual teachers, like myself, to fight the fight.
At best, I feel the INTO has been grossly negligent of their responsibilities to members in this regard.
At worst, I wonder is there collusion between the INTO, DES and NCCA to bring in this reform with as little fuss and bother as possible, irrespective of the long term implications for schools, teachers and pupils?
On 20 March, I received a response from Deirbhile Nic Craith, Director of Education & Research, INTO. I am not very of-fay with the legality of copying and publishing publicly another's email, so to err on the side of caution, I will not print it in full here. But I did respond to this email, and my response is below. In parts, I am responding to points made by Deirbhile in her email and thus I had to retain these quotes as the meaning of my response would be lost otherwise.
Thank you for your email and for the information regarding the background to the current curriculum, and, in particular, the INTO's role and involvement in the same. Because, I must confess, I wasn't aware of the extent to which the INTO was involved, and I would be very confident that the majority of the INTO membership are also not aware, as many have been communicating with me in recent weeks since the publication of my first post on this, and have been enquiring where is the INTO in all this? (c.f responses to my Facebook Posts: https://www.facebook.com/PrimaryCPD/posts/1930788330328228, https://www.facebook.com/PrimaryCPD/posts/1909857349087993 and https://www.facebook.com/PrimaryCPD/posts/1909859359087792)
Recently, I have even spoken to INTO school reps who admitted that they know very little of the purpose and function of the INTO Education Committee. So perhaps the INTO needs to better publicise the work that the Education Committee does on the behalf of its members, myself included.
I note with interest that you mention that "The INTO requested that the revised mathematics curriculum should not be introduced until it was completed until 6th class. This has now been agreed". At the Primary Maths consultation seminar, that I attended on 1/2/18, the NCCA representatives mentioned that they, too, had suggested to the DES that they thought it would be preferable if the maths curriculum was released in a single specification for infants to sixth classes. So, now that this has been agreed, (announced on 28/2/18), I guess both organisations will have to share the credit for that decision.
You mentioned also that this delay will mean that "there will be a further opportunity for consultation either later this year or early next year". I think the point that you may have missed from my earlier posts is that this is not truly a consultative process, as made clear when I attended the aforementioned seminar. When I repeatedly enquired to what exactly was still up for negotiation at that point, I was told that the structure of the curriculum i.e. as a curriculum framework, based on a continuum of progression milestones, was not up for negotiation, and that it was only the exact wording of the specific learning experiences/statements that could still be changed at that stage. So, it is unlikely that this will be any different, when a new consultation process begins later this year or early next year.
You referred, in your email, to a significant body of research conducted by the INTO into primary maths, numeracy and specifically teachers views on the same. Can I enquire, in any part of the research, were teachers' views sought in relation to a curriculum framework versus a prescribed curriculum for each class level? Because, this is the main issue that I am concerned about here, that and the issue of the vagueness of the learning outcomes that are being laid out for the end of each two year block, i.e. senior infants, second class etc.
While you may be correct in saying that "There is a challenge in ensuring that teachers are aware of curriculum developments and of opportunities to offer their views", I feel that this is a challenge that the INTO should be working harder to overcome. We are the teachers, working at the "chalk-face", implementing the curriculum in schools around the country. And, sometimes, we are so busy trying to maintain the high quality of education provision that the children and parents in this country have rightly come to expect, while also trying to balance our own lives and families along the way, that it becomes very difficult trying to keep up with the changes being discussed, and to digest them and appreciate the implication these changes may have for the jobs we do on a daily basis. And I do firmly believe that the INTO should have been "banging the drum" on our behalf and calling us to attention, in a much more obvious manner, to inform us of what was being discussed.
In particular, INTO consultative meetings should have been organised in every district, and it should not have been left to members to have to request these or express their desire to hold consultative meetings. Let's face it: if I'm requesting that a consultative meeting should be organised, then it's likely that I am already somewhat informed; if I'm not aware of the proposed curricular developments, then I'm not going to request a meeting on something that I don't know is even happening.
And not only should the INTO have organised consultative meetings in every district, they should have ensured that the notification of the same was distributed via every media means available to the organisation. I, personally, could only find information on the consultative meetings being held in certain districts by searching for that information on the INTO website; again I had to know in advance what I was looking for, and to go looking for it! There was no mention, from what I could see, of any of the INTO consultative meetings, in any district, on either the INTO Facebook or INTO Twitter accounts.
As you mentioned, the INTO offered its members the facility to email their views, which I believe will form part of the INTO submissions on the Primary Maths Curriculum. I understand that this will be available on your website shortly, and I will look forward to reading it. However, this submission will not reflect the views of all of the members since, once again, it will only be those who had come across this debate and discussion who will have had informed views.
This opportunity to email views, does little to enlighten those who are not aware, whereas consultative meetings in each district would have allowed these members the opportunity to come along and listen to the views of others and in-turn to become informed.
You asked that I encourage those teachers with concerns, who are working in schools involved in the consultation process, to contact you. I will certainly do that, but considering the level of hesitation, and almost fear, which accompanied their private communications with me, I would imagine that this is unlikely.
I appreciate your point that curriculum success is contextual and I agree that ultimately we need to arrive at a redeveloped curriculum that suits the Irish context. And, I agree, that there is much to learn from curricula in other countries. But surely, we should be looking closer at the structures of the curricula that are proven to be successful, and to not be just distracted by what appears to be the latest trendy-thing in curriculum design, ie a curriculum framework over a prescribed curriculum. I would also point out that in the case of some of the countries (eg Maldives and Finland), which are now using a curriculum framework, their curricular re-development is so recent that it is too soon to ascertain how successful it has been, and in other counties where a curriculum framework has been in-situ for a longer period (eg Scotland and New Zealand), there are already major concerns about slipping standards.
In your email, you stated that "I do not accept your view that INTO has ignored curriculum developments or that the INTO is in collusion with the DES and the NCCA."
Please note that I did not say that the INTO had ignored curriculum development, rather that I felt they had been negligent in their responsibilities to their members, and by that I was specifically referring to their responsibility to inform their members i.e. to ensure the widespread dissipation of information via consultative meetings, social media etc, etc.
In the aftermath of the publication of my posts (which reached an all time record high on my social media accounts) significant debate and discussion was generated among teachers. Teachers, whom I don't know personally, have emailed me and contacted me via social media to thank me for spreading the word. Teachers have told me that they have written letters to the INTO and to politicians on foot of my posts. Teachers have told me that my posts were discussed in their staffrooms and I was told that my posts were "all over" the IPPN forum/network. None of this would have happened if the information in these posts was just "old news". Rather, it struck a chord with a significant body of teachers, including principals, who must have had little or no prior knowledge about these curriculum developments up to that point.
As I stated in my previous mail, "It shouldn't be just left up to individual teachers, like myself, to fight the fight." And, considering that a single individual, like myself ,was able to reach so many INTO members, then this surely shows that the INTO was capable of reaching a far wider audience if they had fully utilised the various communication channels that are available to such a large organisation.
And it was for this reason (ie the INTO's non-visible, non-evident role in the dissipation of this important information to teachers) that I wondered if there was some collusion between the INTO, DES and NCCA (but, note that I did not state that there was such) to bring in this reform with as little fuss and bother as possible, almost under the radar, so to speak.
So, while I appreciate now that this was not the case, it does not change the fact that the INTO needs to examine how they plan to inform members of future developments and how they plan to ensure this happens in an effective and widespread manner.
You stated, "The INTO has endeavoured to influence all aspects of curriculum development, to inform members through Intouch and through our education conferences and to represent the collective views of teachers". I would argue that your efforts to inform members, and to represent the collective views of teachers has, in this case, been lacking and not very effective.
I sincerely hope that the INTO plays a more visible and audible role in the coming curricular developments, and that it works harder to become more successful and effective in communicating this vital information to its membership and in representing our views.
I'd love to hear your views also:
Were you at any of the INTO consultative meetings? What did you think?
Did you come across any of this debate via an INTO group/branch/meeting?
Are you aware of the role of the INTO Education committee? Have you ever been involved?
Were you ever involved in any of the INTO's research into numeracy and/or the Primary Maths Curriculum?
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