Privacy Policy GDPR
0 0

No products in the basket.

Tackling Educational Disadvantage through Greater Creativity

Martin Hawkes
Trustee, Burren College of Art

Two events this year saw educators and policymakers meet at the Burren College of Art to address critical issues in Ireland’s education system. The Gamechanger Dialogue focused on educational disadvantage, while Towards a More Creative Education System was a series of symposia designed to nudge the education system in a more creative direction.

Gamechanger Dialogue

Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI) was established by the Irish government in 2015 with the express intention of funding tailored, innovative programmes emerging in the non-profit sector. The SIFI Education Fund has been in operation since 2016 and has funded several pioneering projects in the sector, focusing on educational inequality and disadvantage in Irish society.

In May 2019 around seventy education innovators, stakeholders, and policymakers gathered for the Gamechanger Dialogue, hosted by SIFI at the Burren College of Art (BCA) in Ballyvaughan, County Clare, to address critical issues in the existing education system. Its aim was to build enduring strategic relationships centred on precise actions, and to share solutions to tackle systemic blockages and urgent problems facing Ireland’s education system. 

Recognising the need for collaborative efforts to tackle educational disadvantage, SIFI worked with partners to further dialogue and focus action. The result was the Gamechanger Dialogue, conceived and created in the SIFI Education Fund, in partnership with the Teaching Council of Ireland, the National Association for Principals and Deputy Principals, and Trinity College Dublin. These symposia were hosted by the Centre for Universal Creativity at the BCA in September 2018 and 2019 under the banner ‘Towards a More Creative Education System’ (see below).

Participants from State institutions included representatives from the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Tusla, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, Education and Training Boards Ireland, and the National Council for Special Education. A wide range of key stakeholders also participated, including from universities, trade unions, and education, children, parent, and youth bodies.

Throughout the three-day programme, participants were facilitated in creating a safe, respectful, and creative dialogue to explore issues of social exclusion in Ireland’s education system. Each day of the Gamechanger Dialogue was scheduled so that delegates had opportunities to listen, learn, and participate in plenary group sessions and three cluster group discussions. Delegates spent most of their time together working in three thematic cluster groups, which engaged in targeted areas of work to foster a more inclusive education system:

Cluster 1: Pathways and Inclusion: establishing and supporting viable pathways to and through basic, further, and higher education for people from marginalised communities.

Cluster 2: Getting to College: improving educational progression rates in under-served communities, junior and senior cycle reforms, integrated working across departments, and new partnerships.

Cluster 3: Alternative Education: giving appropriate priority to young people not in mainstream schools, building on models that work, and exploring the potential for funding to follow the young person.

Throughout the three days, participants worked creatively in these groups to deeply consider issues that are ‘stuck’ in our education system. Several cross-cutting themes emerged:

  • Parity of Esteem: the need for greater equality of regard and esteem across the education system, including between teachers, students, parents, and communities, and between mainstream and alternative education.
  • Education as a Human Right: The legally binding obligations found in international treaties that Ireland is party to, and Article 42 of the Irish Constitution, enshrine the right to education and the responsibility of the State to provide for it. Participants spoke about how approaching education as a right for all learners empowers all those working in the system to overcome seemingly entrenched barriers.
  • Care and Wellness: Issues of care and health, particularly mental health, were repeated throughout the conference. The various and intersecting pressures of operating in the education system were seen to contribute to ill health. Framing these issues as causing negative effects for both adults and children was seen as key to improving health for all.
  • Changing Understandings of the Education System: Much discussion took place on the issue of mainstreaming innovative approaches – instead of seeing it, for example, as the duty of the providers who work on the margins to incorporate with mainstream provision.
  • Collaboration: as a vehicle for organising for sustainable change in the system. This includes the use of existing networks and developing new ones. It was widely agreed that work to change the system needs to be approached in partnership with the relevant stakeholders.
  • Overhauling Assessment of Learning: including reform of senior cycle and increasing opportunities for alternative and life-long learning. Participants said the present focus on the CAO points system is not working for too many learners (for example, only 13% of Travellers completed the Leaving Cert in 2018). An overhaul of assessment of learning across the system would also include revitalised pathways to further education, and a consideration of how teachers’ training is assessed.

Towards a More Creative Education System

The Gamechanger Dialogue complemented the symposia hosted by the Burren College of Art in September 2018 and 2019 under the banner ‘Towards a More Creative Education System’. The ambition of these creatively facilitated gatherings over three days was to nudge the education system in the direction of greater creativity which the twenty-first century VUCA context (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) demands. This ambition echoes the OECD’s current focus on greater student agency.

A notable feature of these events was the processes employed. A scoping exercise with over fifty interviews was conducted in advance, revealing a latent desire for a system-wide conversation hosted in a manner that ensured safety. There were no formal speakers – the process relied on the creative engagement of the participants themselves. In this it modelled the change being sought in the wider system. Participation reflected a cross section of the education system, from policymakers to students, the latter having a particularly powerful impact overall.

The process was remarkably effective in catalysing initiatives, with leaders stepping forward to take responsibility for projects with the support of other participants (their ‘tribes’). Among the notable initiatives were:

  • BEACONS: The BEACONS (Bringing Education Alive for Communities on a National Scale) project is being driven by the director of the Teaching Council and aims to bring together the parents, teachers, and students in the schools serving particular communities for creative engagement on their hopes and aspirations for the kind of education they seek for their communities. Following a successful prototype event with five schools in Ennistymon in May, a series of conversations involving thirteen schools is scheduled for Dublin before the end of 2019, with a number of review and evaluation events also planned. BEACONS has the capacity to shine a light on the ambitions of communities across the country for the future shape of education.
  • CAFE: CAFE (Citizens’ Assembly for Education) is a project driven by the former deputy general secretary of the INTO, Catherine Byrne, which is seeking to have the political system commit to a Citizens’ Assembly as part of the programme for the next government. A high-leverage question which focused on the philosophy and purpose of education at this time would provide a mandate for the direction and speed of change that is required. This initiative has garnered huge support, and it remains to be seen whether the political parties will recognise what those in the field of education do: that conditions are ripe for a fundamental shift in a system which on the basis of surface criteria may appear to be performing satisfactorily but in reality is no longer fit for purpose. That the disconnect between the traditional system and the demands of the modern world has reached critical proportions is evident from the crisis of mental health affecting students and the extent to which teachers feel overwhelmed.
  • Other Impacts: Evaluative feedback indicates that the symposia are affecting the work of many practitioners and innovators in the field of education. Such latent effects cannot be measured with any precision but are likely to be considerable. The decision of the Inspectorate to devote its 2019 Conference to the theme of creativity is a case in point, with the involvement of students from the Burren marking the connection. The showcasing of the SIFI Gamechanger projects at the Burren College of Art acknowledges the power of the creative processes involved with the symposia. The role of place-based learning, pioneered by the Burrenbeo Trust, is getting wider recognition through the symposia for the vital role it has to play at a time of climate and environmental challenge.

An important takeaway from these symposia is the potential of creative process combined with skilful facilitation and an environment such as the Burren College of Art to catalyse transformative initiatives in education at a time when conditions are ripe for change. A second lesson is the potential for a bottom-up process, as exemplified by BEACONS, to inform and complement a national-level dialogue such as a Citizens’ Assembly for Education.

Copyright © Education Matters ®  | Website Design by Artvaark Design