Written answers

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Department of Education and Skills

School Textbooks

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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243. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will issue best practice guidelines to teachers on the best way to approach textbooks that contain racist language or racial slurs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29888/20]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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The role of the school is to provide an appropriate education for all its pupils. A stable, secure learning environment is an essential requirement to achieve this goal. Schools have autonomy in choosing the resources and programmes that best support the work within their own classrooms.

While respecting schools' autonomy, my Department has introduced a number of measures to assist schools as they become more inclusive of all cultures and ethnicities, celebrate diversity and challenge racism and discrimination.

My Department continues to address the areas of anti-racism, identity-based bullying and cultural awareness through a suite of supports including the recently revised ‘Stay Safe Programme’ and within Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to teachers at Primary and Post-Primary level and in initial teacher education. It will ensure that such programmes enable teachers to deal with teaching and learning needs of all students from all cultural backgrounds and provide support for pedagogical practices that promote inclusion.

In addition to the supports already available to teachers through current CPD programmes, the Junior Cycle for Teachers (JCT) History team are planning a number of continuous professional development opportunities for teachers in the school year 2020-21, to support them in teaching topics that include race/overcoming diversity. Work is underway to develop webinars and podcasts that support teachers in exploring diverse human histories with students and to develop resources on controversial issues such as racism and privilege in History.

My Department's ‘Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice (2019)' acknowledges that schools provide opportunities to develop friendships and to respectfully encounter diversity and access support structures. The policy promotes the provision of a whole-school approach at both primary and post-primary level to supporting wellbeing, an approach that has been found internationally to produce a wide range of educational and social benefits for individual children and young people, including increased inclusion, greater social cohesion, increased social capital and improvements to mental health.

The Action Plan on Bullying, published in January 2013, sets out my Department's approach to tackling bullying and promoting an anti-bullying culture in schools. It recommended 12 actions that focus on support for schools, teacher training, research and awareness raising and aims to ensure that all forms of bullying including identity based bullying are addressed. National Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post Primary schools, were published in September 2013 and are being implemented in all 4,000 primary and post primary schools throughout the country. The procedures are designed to give direction and guidance to school authorities and school personnel in preventing and tackling school-based bullying behaviour including identity based bullying amongst their pupils. The procedures make clear that the definition of bullying behaviour includes identity-based bullying such as racist bullying. The procedures require that the prevention of bullying must be an integral part of a school’s anti-bullying policy.

In addition, curriculum at both primary and post-primary aims to foster inclusivity where equality and diversity are promoted. The Primary Curriculum acknowledges the importance of a balanced and informed awareness of the diversity of peoples and environments in the world. Such an awareness helps children to understand the world and contributes to their personal and social development as citizens of a global community. The curriculum promotes tolerance and respect for diversity in both the school and the community. The Social Personal and Health Education Curriculum (SPHE) supports students learning in the areas of inclusion, diversity and counter racism. The SPHE content is complemented by the work carried out in social, environmental and scientific education (SESE) at primary SESE enables the child to live as an informed and caring member of local and wider communities.

The Junior Cycle curriculum is designed in terms of learning outcomes, so it allows the flexibility and room for innovative approaches to content to suit the context of a given classroom. Learning outcomes from the junior cycle can be related to many topical issues. In addition, there are twenty four statements of learning which should inform the programme designed by all schools. One of these statements is: (The student) appreciates and respects how diverse values, beliefs and traditions have contributed to the communities and culture in which she/he lives

As a result of the learning outcomes approach, teachers can facilitate discussion around diversity, prejudice, discrimination and racism, as well as the many other topical issues which might arise during the course of a class. For example, in Learning Outcome 1.2 (JC History) students are asked to consider contentious or controversial issues in history from more than one perspective and discuss the historical roots of a contentious or controversial issue or theme in the contemporary world

The two Classroom-Based Assessments (CBAs) in the junior cycle specification allows students to explore topics that are interesting and relevant to their own lives. There are often opportunities for these projects to be exhibited or shared with classmates or with the school, so that there is greater awareness and understanding of the issues discussed.

As part of the Department’s ongoing curricular reform consideration of issues in relation to inclusivity/diversity etc. will be considered as part of the ongoing reviews in relation to the primary curriculum and senior cycle at post-primary.

In terms of textbooks used within a classroom setting, the Department has no role in promoting any particular text or resource used in the delivery of the curriculum, apart from a list of prescribed texts for Junior and Senior Cycle. A diverse range of authors, including poets and playwrights, is included in the prescribed lists of texts and schools have the autonomy to choose any text from these lists, in order to best serve the needs of their learners.

A variety of factors influence the selection of prescribed texts, including the aspiration to achieve social and cultural diversity and inclusivity, the age appropriateness of texts, the merit of the text on grounds of excellence, as well as practical factors, such as availability and cost.

As prescribed lists are developed from year to year, additional factors come to the fore and influence the choices made. In addition, newly published authors are considered for inclusion. Contemporary issues and world events also impact on prescription.

It is the intention that prescribed texts for are diverse and inclusive, and meet the needs of teachers and students.


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