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The Iona Blog

Minister Quinn could learn from the Catholic schools of Northern Ireland

Author: John McBride
Date: 13th December 2012

Ruairi Quinn (pictured) will be noting again the amount of time spent teaching religion and Irish in our primary schools.

The results of the latest international school literacy and numeracy tests conducted among 50 countries were released this week.

Ireland is doing well, but perhaps not well enough. Ireland was very near the top in reading literacy (10th) and not too bad in maths (17th) and science (22nd).

The best-performing countries were generally Asian, which tells us something as traditional teaching methods (and values) have been retained there to a much greater extent than in Europe. Among EU27 countries only, Ireland came 4th in reading and 10th in maths.

But Ireland scored much higher than Norway, Australia and New Zealand in all 3 subjects.

Ireland scored much higher than France in reading (France didn't take part in the other two).

Ireland scored much higher than Sweden in reading and maths.

All of these countries are frequently cited by the likes of Ruairi as countries with secular education systems that Ireland should aspire to. I doubt that they spend much time teaching religion in schools in those countries.

No doubt Ruairi is once again thinking that the explanation for our less than absolutely worldclass results lies in the amount of time spent teaching religion and Irish. However, how does he explain why the countries cited above did so badly?

But, the real clincher is as follows: the country that came top in Europe in maths was Northern Ireland. It came 6th in the world. The five countries that beat it were all Asian. Northern Ireland was miles ahead of any other European country in this subject. Northern Ireland also came 5th overall in reading in the world and 2nd among EU27 countries.  

As it happens, close to 60 per cent of Northern Ireland primary school pupils attend Catholic-run schools. In those schools, the time spent teaching religion and Irish (and indeed Gaelic football, as results in recent years would indicate) is similar to that in the Republic.

So, I wait to hear Ruairi's explanation of how Northern Ireland performed so well. Catholic schools in Northern Ireland are the epitome of everything the Dublin 4 liberals and secularists hate about an education system.

The secularists may say that the state sector in Northern Ireland is larger than in the Republic (a bit over 40 per cent of primary school pupils, overwhelmingly Protestants, attend this sector). However, this cannot possibly explain Northern Ireland's good performance. Numerous other studies have shown Catholic schools in Northern Ireland performing better than the state (Protestant) schools. For example, here is a link to one such report from earlier this year.

If Ruairi wants to study a good schools model for teaching reading and maths in the Republic, instead of sending his officials at great expense to the far-flung corners of the earth, he should save money and send a team of officials on a short journey across the border to study Catholic schools in Northern Ireland.

I doubt he’ll do that though.

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