2018 - Publications
The Place of language in a liberal education: implications for curriculum policy in Ireland
Williams, K. (2018) Irish Educational Studies, 38:2, 141-156. DOI: 10.1080/03323315.2018.1471410
This article attempts to expand, and to add to, one important aspect of the rationale for including the study of languages as part of a liberal education. Following criticism of the profile of the vocational rationale for language learning in Irish curriculum policy, the article develops recent research on the work of L. V. Shcherba to defend the role of language learning as part of a liberal education. The principal argument advanced and illustrated is that language learning has the potential to increase intellectual resources and, secondarily, to enhance literacy. This it achieves by introducing learners to new worlds of thought through revealing different linguistic maps for representing the world and by making them are aware of the nature of language. The argument is supplemented by reference to research in neuroscience that shows that knowledge of languages contributes to cognitive empowerment.
Is it all memory recall? An empirical investigation of intellectual skill requirements in Leaving Certificate examination papers in Ireland
Burns, D., Devitt, A., McNamara, G., O'Hara, J. abd Brown, M. Irish Educational Studies, 1-22. DOI
The terminal examination of post-primary education in Ireland, the Leaving Certificate, is often criticised for the reliance on memory recall over higher order thinking skills in the assessment process. In order to examine the evidence base for these critiques, this article presents an empirical investigation of the intellectual skills and knowledge domains implicit in the tasks in the written examination papers of 23 subjects in the Leaving Certificate in Ireland from 2005 to 2010. Data were collected from two sources: examination papers and student interviews. In an in-depth document analysis of the examination papers, 14,910 occurrences of command verbs were coded for the intellectual skill and knowledge domains required by the assessment task. As the same verb can require different intellectual skills in different subjects and in different tasks, each occurrence of every verb was assigned a specific value depending on its context. The article presents the frequencies and distributions of intellectual skills and knowledge domains within and across subjects. In light of key points in the literature search, the findings indicate concern regarding the level of challenge and stimulation for the development of students of the Leaving Certificate.
Irish migrant teachers’ experiences and perceptions of autonomy and accountability in the English education system.
Skerritt, C. (2018) Research Papers in Education, 1-28. https://www.tandfonline.
With many Irish teachers migrating to England, and with the Irish education system moving in a more neoliberal direction as accountability slowly permeates the landscape, this paper reports on Irish migrant teachers’ experiences and perceptions of autonomy and accountability in the English education system, where accountability is perhaps more high-stakes than in any other jurisdiction. The primary research consisted of semi-structured interviews with Irish migrant teachers in England. The qualitative data not only offer insights into their experiences and perceptions of teacher autonomy and accountability in the English system, but also shed some light on how similar policies and mechanisms would be received in Ireland by Irish teachers. Ultimately, the participants had overwhelmingly negative experiences and perceptions of the English education system. They reported a very one-sided autonomy/accountability balance and unsustainable workloads, and consequently a range of negative emotions due to the critical and unsupportive manner in which they were judged, scrutinised, and held to account. The participants did feel however, that there was a need for classroom practice in Irish schools to become more observable but they were thoroughly opposed to an accountability framework similar to England’s being adopted in Ireland - as they also envisaged the teacher unions would be.
Challenges and supports towards the integration of ePortfolios in education. Lessons to be learned from Ireland
Poole P., Brown M., McNamara G., O'Hara J., O'Brien S., Burns D. (2018) Heliyon, 4 (11). DOI
This paper reports on research derived from a one-year study on the integration of ePortfolios in education using Ireland as a case example. Through a series of interviews with school principals, teachers and members of the support service of the Department of Education and Skills in Ireland, this research explores the opportunities and challenges relating to the use of ePortfolios in Irish post-primary education. Evidence suggests that, whilst supports for the integration of ePortfolios are beginning to emerge, there are many unresolved issues. These include equity of access to broadband coupled with the disconnect between ePortfolios and the curriculum that need to be addressed prior to ePortfolios becoming a common feature of the Irish educational landscape. Although the findings are particularly relevant to the Irish context, they also have wider implications for other jurisdictions that are in the process of introducing ePortfolios into their education systems.
Adopting and adapting: school leaders in the age of data-informed decision making
Young C., McNamara G., Brown M., O’Hara J. (2018) 'Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 30 (2):133-158. DOI
The concept of data-informed decision making (DIDM), a term used interchangeably with data-driven decision making (DDDM) and data-based decision making (DBDM), is relatively new to Irish education and the school planning process. This research sought to clarify what data principals use and how they use that information for school improvement considering new school self-evaluation requirements. The paper begins by charting the rise internationally of data use in school planning, decision making and accountability. It proceeds to describe the policy context in this area in Ireland and then reports recent research with school leaders around how data is collected and used in their work. Although the paper focusses on Ireland, it is tentatively suggested that school leaders, teachers and policymakers in other countries, and there are many, which have come late to the expectation that school improvement and accountability should be heavily data-informed may find the efforts of Irish principals in this regard of interest.
Integrated co-professional evaluation? Converging approaches to school evaluation across frontiers
Brown M.;McNamara G.;O'Hara J.;O'Brien S.;Faddar J. (2018) 'Integrated co-professional evaluation? Converging approaches to school evaluation across frontiers'. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 43 (12):76-90. DOI
This paper posits that almost all inspectorates are now following, if to varying degrees, a similar overarching ideology and methodology for school accountability and improvement. The first part of the paper provides an analysis of recent changes to school inspection policies across Frontiers. Using Ireland as a case example, the next part of the paper provides an analysis of Irish school inspection policies and practices that appear to mirror other school inspection systems. To test these assumptions, the paper then provides an analysis of a key informant interview with the Chief Inspector of schools in Ireland. The evidence suggests that there is an increasingly convergent approach to school evaluation discernible across all inspection frontiers. Among the many aspects of this changing landscape is the rapid pace at which schools have accepted school inspection frameworks and the emergence of a genuinely co-professional as opposed to co-existent mode of evaluation between the inspectorate and schools.
Inside the Autonomous School: Making Sense of a Global Educational Trend
Skerritt, C. (2018) British Journal of Educational Studies, 1-3. https://www.tandfonline.com/
Education governance and social theory: interdisciplinary approaches to research
Skerritt, C. (2018) Journal of Education Policy, 1-2. https://www.tandfonline.
An Analysis of Day to Day Activities of a Sample of Primary School Principals in Ireland
Stynes, M.,McNamara, G., and O'Hara, J.
There is a vast quantity of research into principalship, mainly concentrating on macro level theorising about concepts such as ‘instructional’ leadership, ‘distributed’ leadership and a myriad of other notions of the role. In contrast there is very little work done on the messy and demanding day to day and hour to hour work of school principals and the experience, knowledge and skills that this requires and the intense stresses and strains placed on school leaders. In Ireland, as elsewhere, primary school principals meet the challenges of teaching, community leadership and on-site management in an era of continual change, in most cases with limited or no formal preparation. The rationale for this work is to balance research in the field by focusing on the micro tasks that make up the bulk of the principal’s role and to examine how school leaders cope with the job and how they respond to it. Research methods: A diverse group of 31 primary school principals from schools across Ireland generated data from the self-observed minutae of researcher-driven diaries and from a colourful spectrum of personal reflections in follow-up semi-structured qualitative interviews. Coding in NVivo and the querying of emergent themes through conceptual frameworks provided detailed evidence of a myriad of daily activities and experiences. Findings: This paper offers an exploration, in narrative form and with supporting evidence, of principals’ encounters with the constant minutiae of administration, dealing with the unexpected and interacting with staff. The daily practicalities of school governance and community leadership demand a considerable investment of time and personal interest and often little time for consideration of higher level macro theories of leadership. Implications for Research and Practice: As the boundaries between principals’ professional and personal lives blur significantly in the narrative, the evidence supports a generally held understanding that life’s journey as a school principal is demanding but worthwhile.
Reflection-on-action in qualitative research: A critical self-appraisal rubric for deconstructing research
Stynes,M., Murphy,T., McNamara,G. and O'Hara,J.. (2018) Issues in Educational Research, 2018, Vol 28(1), 153-167
In this paper, four critical friends meet to discuss qualitative research practices. Together they put one of their own case studies under the knife and deconstruct it to investigate the possibilities that knowledge work is complicated not only by the dynamics of socially constructed enterprises and the actors involved therein, but by the positioning of the researcher. The case describes an evaluative study of a university program where students engaged in directed experiential learning in group-integrated learning settings. The researcher was also the course lead-tutor and this gave rise to some concern, on later reflection and in discussions among critical friends, when issues of researcher positioning were considered. Together, through questioning the topic, the literature, the research experience and the role of the researcher, we developed a reflection-on-action rubric. In a research arena where subjective, interpretative and messy examples abound, as they should, this paper offers an example of our own work, an honest self-appraisal, a rubric for readers' consideration and a discussion that adds to the perpetual flux of knowledge work.