September 2011

Thursday Thoughts:

Check out our new blog post from AHEAD Director, Ann Heelan:

You get what you measure


Staff Picks:

Bright spark: Dublin student wins top European young scientist prize

EU higher education gets with the programme

Ireland’s first ever international disability film festival abära commences this october

RTÉ Player

Two for the Road:  Episode 5

Higher & Further Education News & Views

Can Higher Education Be Fixed? The Innovative University

And the award goes to . . .

LIT graduates set off for NASA

UCD opens €5m environmental research facility at Belfield campus

The graduates: where are they now?

Disability Headlines

Is Having Autism A Defense For Hacking?

Diary of a Schoolteacher: The spiralling human cost of axing Special Needs Assistants

I’m SNA for two kids in two rooms

Special education council publishes allocation list

General Education Stories

Gene Kerrigan: Furthering inequality in divided society

Awkward truth of assessing portfolios

Quinn set to back ‘radical’ plan for new Junior Cert

Muslims say they cannot get into schools

Irish language pack for schools stresses rights

Please sir, will you be my Facebook friend?

In my opinion: School policy has as much impact on pupils’ achievements as curriculum

Facebook and texting guidelines part of new teachers’ code

Irish teen wins top EU science prize

One-third of people teaching maths not qualified to do so

350 fewer resource teachers

Quinn ‘powerless’ to get teacher details

Mental Health in the Media

Central Mental Hospital staff to vote on industrial action

Funds plea for woman to get care in Britain

‘More resources’ for mental health

Employment Features

IBEC calls for integrated language education policy

Good worker morale is essential to a successful enterprise

Google announces €75m new investment in Ireland

You get what you measure 


I attended two separate but related events this week which raised serious challenges for the education system.  The first was the Transitions Conference organized by the HEA and the NCCA which looked at changing the Leaving Certificate and its relationship to college entry, the CAO points.  There was great emphasis put on the backwash impact  the CAO process  is having on teaching and learning in secondary school and how the Leaving Certificate as an assessment instrument, has become the tail that wags the curriculum dog. On the basis that you get what you measure, the Leaving Certificate, particularly when combined with the CAO college entry selection criteria, does not encourage or nurture the learning of the generic skills that all young people must have to negotiate their way in an ever changing world of knowledge and technology.  Skills such as independent learning, analysis of information, problem solving, critical thinking and on and on…


Yet there was also recognition of the integrity and public perception of fairness embedded in the Leaving Certificate and CAO system which it was felt must be preserved in any change initiative.


But it was blatantly obvious from the presentation of research findings delivered by the ERSI and from many speakers, that the present system does not suit very many learners and the existence of the HEAR and DARE schemes are evidence of the inherent unfairness of the system for many groups, never mind those young people who complete the Leaving Certificate Applied which is not recognized by the CAO, or the many young people who simply drop out of school.


It begs the question, which is more important,  an education  system designed to equip all young people for life, or,  a system that is fair, reliable and has public confidence, or indeed are the two mutually exclusive?


The answer is obvious if not simple.  There can be no ifs and buts.  Now is the time to go back to the drawing board and design a system of assessment based on principles of universal design that would enable all students a fair opportunity to develop their potential, to learn generic skills and to demonstrate what they know.  Such a system if designed around the learning needs of all students would include a range of robust assessment instruments including portfolio’s, projects, group work, exams, competency based observations would be fair, transparent, reliable and engender integrity.  Flexibility and integrity can go together and are not mutually exclusive.


The Government already has a policy of inclusive education in place and now is the time to enact it by designing a universal system of curricula and assessment that would benefit all students (including those with disabilities).  Such an inclusive approach would than take away the need for inappropriate and inefficient add on schemes such as HEAR and DARE as all candidates would be assessed fairly within a framework of assessment designed precisely to measure the skills and knowledge they were designed to measure. A system of Universal Assessment would encourage and bring a wider range of pedagogical methods into the classroom with the capacity to genuinely engage the student and encourage the generic learning skills needed for life.  We have many models for such a system already in colleges of Art and Design and in the successful FETAC model of assessment in operation in the vocational sector.


The second event I attended brought the need for universal design in education home even more. I spoke at a Labour Party event in the Mansion House on disability where there were many parents of deaf and blind children talking about their experience of negotiating a basic education for their children.  In spite of the government rhetoric around a consultative process with parents, they feel un-listened to.  Most describe a whole confluence of systematic barriers to learning for their children starting at birth and persisting right through the education system.  The result is a generation of bright sensory impaired young people who leave school ill equipped in basic literacy to progress on to education or employment because their needs have been systematically ignored.


A student centred system of education, according to recent ESRI research engages students and ensures their retention within the system and serves the different learning needs of all children by offering flexibility and creativity in teaching.  It makes no sense to change the activities within the classroom and continue to examine everything thought written examinations.  This is the right time to change the Leaving Certificate, we have heard about it for years and Minister Ruairi Quinn we hope is taking the reins and embracing a move to change.


We support his efforts wholeheartedly.


Ann Heelan

Executive Director


Every new invention changes the world — in ways both intentional and unexpected. Historian Edward Tenner tells stories that illustrate the under-appreciated gap between our ability to innovate and our ability to foresee the consequences.

Staff Picks:

State of our education system is a national emergency

Response to Job Bridge ‘significant’

Startup Hires Autistic Adults

RTE Player – Two for the Road: Episode 3

Higher & Further Education News & Views

Funding crisis pushing Ireland down global college tables, warns provost

Timeline for upgrade of Waterford IT to university sought

Irish universities have said there is a need to reassess the third level points system and its impact on learning at second level.

We’ve got to look at CAO system, but there might be nothing better – universities

Course choices influenced by race for CAO points

Call for college year to be extended

Cork has its head firmly in the clouds

Mexican government honours UCC academic


Students missing career chances by working for money rather than experience

College staff face Garda checks under bill terms

Number of courses puts pressure on students

UCD engineers a better entry route for students

Disability Headlines

Hear the word on the street

People with autism thrive as software testers

Doting father’s ‘crusade’ for daughter with CF

Asperger’s syndrome gets in way of work? Not at this startup

1 in 5 has long-term disabilities

Burton highlights isolation of young disabled people

Cork blind solicitor to feature in documentary

Forever young: Scientists figure out how to renew muscle tissue

General Education Stories

Still waiting for a classroom

In defence of fee-paying schools

Time to end this divisive debate on private education

Teachers Pet Column

Almost 50% of Leaving Cert pupils take grinds

‘Lack of consultation’ on points system review

80pc of students pick ‘easy’ Leaving Cert subjects, says study

Leaving Cert students study 4 hours a night

Entry system puts students ‘constantly under strain’

Points system ‘has negative impact’

1,000 primary teachers out of work due to cutbacks, says INTO

School boards decide who to hire and fire, says Sherlock

Quinn wants CAO forms filled after exam results out

Delay filling 475 special needs posts defended

Grinds ‘give unfair advantage’

Science is a rap for science students

It’s the final chapter for bulky textbooks

In my opinion: The problem is not maths itself, but the culture of fear growing around it


Mental Health in the Media

TDs attend suicide awareness workshops

Employment Features

Questions raised over Tesco eligibility for intern scheme

Teachers bring touch of Silicon Valley to Shannonside school

Who wants to be an agripreneur?

As a student with disability I can honestly say that progressing to third level education was the best thing I have ever done. My name is Gerard Gallagher and I have just earned a Social Science degree from University College Dublin.

I have a physical and learning disability; this has meant that I have had a different and somewhat challenging journey through the Irish education system. In order for you to get the full picture I will start my story from the beginning.

I have cerebral palsy. This has resulted in limited mobility, and as a result I now use a mobility scooter on a full time basis. I also have dyslexia this has meant that as well as physical barriers I have had to learn and study different ways throughout my time in education.

I grew up in Donegal Town where I attended one of the local primary schools. I was lucky to begin with my twin brother who was in the same class as me. As well as being an aid in those tough first couple of weeks he later served to be competition for me. We both adhered to the mantra “anything he can do I can do better.” As well as school being a new and daunting experience for me it should also be noted that the teachers were in a similar situation, as for the first time they had a student with a disability in the classroom.

In 1995 educational supports for students with disabilities were at the very early stages of development. For the first few years my parents fought tooth and nail to ensure I had the supports I needed to put me on a par with my peers. By third class I had shared access to a part time Special Needs Assistant and regular learning support classes. I would argue that these early supports played a very significant role in me achieving my potential in later years.

As well as the challenges in terms of educational support, I also faced the even greater challenge of dealing with other students’ reaction to my disability. I remember on one occasion somebody from the class laughing at me and asking “are you handicapped?”After this incident I was upset and went home to tell my mother what had happened. She simply said “You are different because you have cerebral palsy…that is nothing to be upset about.” From that day forward I have taken the positives from that incident and have referred back to it on a number of occasions when I have had to fight for extra support in second and third level.

Second level posed a set of exciting new challenges.  For the first time I was moving from class to class as such the supports I needed to allow me to fully participate in everything that second level had to offer also needed to be reassessed. Up to this point I was using walking sticks to get around the place. After two days struggling with my bag of books and new laptop it soon dawned on me that it would not be possible to carry on like this! I then switched to using a wheelchair. Once again it became apparent that I must be practical when knowing what I could and couldn’t do.

The staff of my secondary school were accommodating although for the first few weeks there was by now familiar look of uncertainty when I entered the class room in my wheelchair with my SNA. Certain teachers were unsure how to act as for the first time with my SNA in the room they had to share their classroom with another adult. Shortly however this unease soon changed and everything was just accepted as normal. My second level education proved to be the grounding I needed for third level as it was a second level where I began using a scribe and also assistive technology.

When it came to third level I had learned that preparation is the key. It is for this reason that I took my time to first choose the course which I wanted to study. After I had decided on my chosen course and college I decided to get in touch with the Disability Support Service in UCD to arrange a meeting prior to filling out my CAO form. This was a fantastic decision as I got loads of information on the supports available in UCD and also the DARE scheme (Disability Access Route Higher Education).  This meant that I was able to focus on my Leaving Certificate safe in the knowledge that I would get the supports I needed once I got to third level.

After I got my exam results I was offered my place in UCD. As I ticked the box acknowledging my disability on the CAO form, the DSS in UCD were aware that I needed supports. As such I organized an appointment with them so that a needs assessment could be carried out by them. This was self directed so I had the opportunity to decide what support I availed of.

I began with a full time Personal Assistant and Notetaker. I also had a laptop provided which had assistive technology installed on it which was chosen for my specific needs. Over the following three years I customized these supports to better suit my needs and reduce the number of PA hours which I had. I availed of extra tuition and the extended loan service in our library.

There is also much more to college life than the academic said of things! It was with this in mind that I decided to live on campus for my first two years of college life. This was great for my independence; it also gave me the freedom I needed to grow up. During this time I became Auditor of the Inclusion Participation Awareness Society in UCD and I later became involved in the national student movement.

I am now about to embark on a new and exciting journey as I begin my year as a Equality Officer with the Union of Students in Ireland. I am certainly looking forward to the challenges ahead and I am honored to be position where I will represent students with disabilities.

To those of you thinking of beginning third level education, simply, go for it! It really is a life changing experience. Secondly always remember that we will all face tough days from time to time but remember that help is at hand when you ask for it.

Exam accommodations such as additional time and alternative formats are the most common reasonable accommodations used by students with disabilities within school or college. There has been little or no consideration given to environmental accommodations for these students and how it impacts their academic performance within an examination context.

The purpose of this article is to introduce the concept of environmental accommodations for 3rd level examinations. This is based upon an identified need within a cohort of students with sensory defensiveness (SD) (also known as sensory over-responsiveness), which is experienced by some students with ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), and Developmental Co-Ordination Disorder (DCD) as well as some mental health difficulties. Students with SD can become over-loaded by sensory stimuli (e.g. sound, light, touch, smells, and movement) and can have great difficulty in completing their everyday academic and non-academic tasks in college.  Environments such as lecture halls, restaurants, libraries and examination venues can be overwhelming, leading students to avoid them.

A survey of students registered with Disability Service availing of exam accommodations in February 2011 found that although the majority of students were satisfied with the venues a considerable number reported that they were experiencing great difficulty with the environment in these venues (Fig. 1).

Figure 1

An audit of the exam venues used for students receiving exam accommodations was then conducted by two Occupational Therapists (OT) working within Unilink Service, Trinity College (which is part of the DS Service).  Based upon this audit the therapists recommended to the examinations office that they use low-distraction venues (Figure 2) on a pilot basis and they would give advice on how to develop them.

Figure 2

Students who were deemed appropriate for using these low distraction venues were assessed by the Occupational Therapists within the Unilink Service using the Adolescent / Adult Sensory Profile (Brown & Dunn, 2002).

An investigation was then carried out by the DS staff on the low distraction venues in order to ascertain if they were effective during the examination period.  Invigilators were asked to complete questionnaires and students were asked for feedback by email following the examination period.

The results showed that all stakeholders found the setup of the low-distraction venues to be a positive experience and an improvement on the traditional group venues.  However, some students still experience sensitivity to auditory and visual distractions. The locations of the venues remain to be reviewed and the setup refined.  The pilot shows promising results and the venues will be used over the coming academic year and their effectiveness further assessed.


Brown, C. & Dunn, W. (2002) Adult/Adolescent Sensory Profile: User’s Manual. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.

For the full article please download this file: TCD Exam Venue Full Article

Authors: Kieran Lewis, Occupational Therapist, Unilink Service. Dr Clodagh Nolan, Unilink Service Director. Declan Treanor, Disability Service Director, T.C.D.


Email: klewis[at]


For more information on Unilink:

Staff Picks:

Disability hate crime begins with verbal abuse

The economics of college

Can a quality education be delivered online?

High on aspirations, low on funds

Miles is top dog in Seanad — by a whisker

Tyndall develops pain-free glucose test

Sarah scores ‘brailliant’ grades despite impairment

Slam PhD forces academics to get to the point


RTE Player:

Behind the Walls – Documentary – Part 2

Two for the Road – Series – Episode 3


Higher & Further Education News & Views

Cabinet uncertainty over Waterford IT status

Government clarifies stance on proposed ‘technological university’ for Waterford

‘Career zoo’ attracts variety of species

John Drennan: Trinity upgrades staff to ‘professors’

Bright future ahead for new students at renowned college

UCC says €22k fee for five-star rating is worthwhile

UCC research offers blood pressure treatment hope

University intakes – Education must mean employability

DCU to offer more online learning

Warning about ‘avalanche’ of VEC teacher retirements

Trinity decision on professors to ‘disadvantage other lecturers’

Unfilled posts put vulnerable at risk

The American way: so much spent on so few graduates

Minister meets CIT’s first cloud computing masters students

If students are consumers, why doesn’t HE practise good customer service?

Disability Headlines

Parenting: Blind mum keeps her kids in order

Eleanor’s big success is clouded by loss of her special assistant

Broadcaster never let disability stop him from pursuing his vision

Intellectually disabled excluded from digital age

Further detailed analysis of CSO disability survey

Transplant teen hospitalised as condition worsens

Many disabled people see harassment as inevitable, says equality watchdog

Bid to tackle ‘routine’ disability hate crime in Wales

Rally denounces cuts in special needs provision

Call for disability funding

Rights agency warns about impact of cuts in Republic

Welfare cuts leaving the disabled ‘prisoners’

Eye-controlled wheelchair developed for handicapped

Jab ‘linked’ to sleeping disorder is scrapped

General Education Stories

Parents get stuck in

Project Maths sees increase in higher level exam uptake

4,300 pupils took oral Irish despite ban

Teachers take 7 days paid marriage leave

Results day comes a week before changes ratified

Concerned parents nix Friday release

New Maths curriculum a hit in the Junior Cert

57,000 teens prepare to open Junior Cert results

Lots to celebrate as students everywhere proclaim shock and delight at results

Quinn seeks details on maths teachers

Fifty unqualified maths teachers in survey

Schools celebrate as classy students steal show with 12 As

Kenny presses minister on crisis in maths

Improving maths levels ‘will take 10 years’

Nine children start full-time classes as staffing row resolved

‘Education will not be spared’

Chance to grow school choice ‘lost in boom’

Up to 35,000 wait on back to school payments

Second-level schools crying out for leaders

Mental Health in the Media  

Accept mental illness as part of human condition

Prevention of suicide remains a low priority

Self-harm more likely to lead to suicide in young men

Group to lobby Taoiseach over psychiatric unit

HSE to accelerate mental health plan

450 people hospitalised 10 times in 7 years by self-harm

Mental health provision for children delayed by outdated laws

Activist confronts doctors’ diagnosis

The merits of knitting in treating depression

Employment Features

1,124 people placed in job internships

54% of jobless have been without work over a year

250 jobs created at IT firm

800 jobs on the way, claims embattled IDA

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