Addressing delegates at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation’s (INTO) annual conference in Kilkenny, the Minister outlined some of the areas where progress is already being made and welcomed the commitment of INTO to contributing to improvements in educational standards.
Mr O’Dowd said: “Raising educational standards has been a clear priority for me as Minister and I know that it is a priority that you all share.
“I welcome the work that is being taken forward by my Department and the Department of Education and Skills to examine new and innovative ways of doing this. I am encouraged that our Cross Border co-operation continues to develop and there are a number of areas on which we can already see the benefits of this collaborative engagement.
“Many of you will have heard of the Middletown Centre for Autism, which is an all-island body, which supports children with complex autism, their families and educational professionals. The training that they have delivered to over ten thousand professionals in venues across Ireland has been very positively received.
“Whilst both education departments provide a range of services that meet the needs of the majority of children with autism, there are some children with the most complex forms of autism for whom traditional methods have not been sufficient. I am therefore delighted that Middletown is currently expanding its direct support for children from the Centre’s multi-disciplinary team of specialists.
“I believe that Middletown Centre has been making great progress in helping these children. Indeed, this has been endorsed by a joint inspection report that described the quality of provision provided by Middletown as ‘outstanding’.
“The Inspectorate is another area where there has been positive cross-border engagement.
“I am pleased that successful and productive inspector exchanges are ongoing between the Education and Training Inspectorate in the north and the Inspectorate in the south. Without exception, all of the participants, over the years, have spoken positively about the experience and the benefits that the programme had provided to them individually and to their organisations.
Mr O’Dowd also welcomed the news that two Higher Education Insttiutions in the south, Trinity College and Dublin City University, are considering reviewing their entry requirements for northern students.
The Minister continued: “I have said before that the current system used by universities in the south to admit pupils from the north is inequitable.
“I would actively encourage both universities to implement a more equitable solution that will enable northern students to compete on a level playing field and I hope this will encourage other universities in the south to follow suit.
Students from across the island of Ireland should have equality of access to Higher Education as a right.”
Finally, the Minister spoke of the current process of area planning in the north and stressed that, in certain areas, cross border solutions would be required. Mr O’Dowd said: “I am committed, through area planning, to ensuring that schools are at the heart of the communities they serve and are easily accessible to all pupils.
“This is the first time that area planning has taken place on this scale and it is clear that it is complex and requires careful consideration, co-ordination and pragmatism.
“It will also in certain areas require a Cross Border solution.”
In conclusion, the Minister thanked INTO for the work the Union was undertaking to improve the conditions of the teaching workforce and to help raise educational outcomes for all pupils.