No excuses...

I had the privilege a while back of attending the Pendulum Summit in Dublin, compliments of our good friends at Aer Lingus. It was a wonderful two-day leadership and self-development conference that oozed professionalism and high quality.

With so many brilliant speakers, there were many learnings that I took away with me, but one that still resonates with me is “No Excuses”.

The ‘No Excuses’ sentiment came from the great Brian Cody, manager of the Kilkenny senior team hurling since 1998, where he has since become the county's longest-serving manager and most successful ever, in terms of major titles won. Cody is regarded as the greatest manager in the history of the game. He spoke of hard work and passion, but he was very adamant that in his changing room there was absolutely no room for excuses.

At our Annual Women in Business Chair’s lunch, with over 250 business women and men, where we talked all things education, I think we must adapt and apply the manta “No excuses”.

Guest speaker at the lunch, Professor Deirdre Heenan shared an analysis on Northern Ireland’s current political and economic situation. She explained specifically how the “jewel in our crown”, our education system, is severely underfunded.

Deirdre drew upon findings from the Education Training Inspectorate 2017 report which highlighted that 1 in 3 children in post-primary schools are receiving a ‘not good enough’ standard and boys are still consistently performing below the standards of girls at GCSE level.

This persistent under-achievement demonstrates the inability of the system to tackle fundamental problems. For decades we have been perpetuating an arrangement that ‘isn’t fit for purpose’.

Studies have found that 41 percent of children in non-grammar schools are entitled to free school meals compared 14 percent in grammar schools. We need to end the distinction between schools. The political division still remaining in our society also means that only 6 percent of our schools are designated as integrated. We must use education as an instrument to balance out social inequality.

Our children need to be able to apply their learning and develop skills that will be crucial to future success. Yes, core knowledge is essential but being able to regurgitate facts in order to get good grades is not acceptable. We must end the focus on memorising and recall and focus on evaluating, validating, creating and applying.

So, I ask, is this really how we want to educate our children? Are we happy with the stats shared by Professor Hennan? The answer from the room, was a resounding no!

Curriculum change in primary education is essential to allow for the nurturing of creativity, confidence and curiosity of our children coupled with a culture of equality, innovation and enterprise. Student loans must be made available to school leavers interested in starting their own business, equivalent to those available for university goers.

Education is crucial. Crucial for our economy and our society. We cannot, and must not, remain silent on this. We have a duty to raise our voices – no excuses.

With the Assembly down and this ridiculous idea that nothing can change here until after Brexit, the people of NI are being neglected by our politicians. This is impacting not only our children’s education but also on our health service, and our economic development.

My sense is that we all know we have a problem, and I am talking here about the Ministers, the civil servants, the teachers, the pupils and the parents. And we probably all have a good idea what we need to do to fix it … so why is it not fixed? Excuses, excuses, excuses… well it’s time to do a Cody.
No excuses allowed in this changing room - just change!