Maynooth University launches ‘Turn To Teaching’ initiative to encourage diversity in education

Pictured at the launch: Maynooth University graduate and teacher, James Cawley (centre); with from left: Peter Kirk - James’ PA, Maynooth Students and ambassadors Bianca Paun, Endurance Kalabor and Ryan Lynch.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018 - 14:00

Maynooth University today launched Turn To Teaching, a unique new programme that will support more than 100 students from marginalised backgrounds over 3 years in studying to become teachers. The programme is funded through a €750,000 award from the Higher Education Authority, with an additional €600,000 from Maynooth University.

Turn To Teaching will address the barriers faced by marginalised students in entering the teaching profession, such as those from the Traveller community, migrants, mature students, lone parents and students coming from schools listed under the Department of Education’s Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme.

Speaking at the Turn To Teaching launch this week, well-known education advocate Senator Lynn Ruane commented: “Diversity benefits us all and the perfect place to create the space for diversity is within the education system. Turn to Teaching is an amazing opportunity to make teaching more representative of both the classroom and society.”

“You cannot be what you cannot see, so to have teachers from various classes, races, and ethnicities and teachers living with a disability will have a massive impact on improving the numbers of kids going on to third level education. Teachers are the carriers of change and I am excited to see what change Turn to Teaching creates.”

The Turn To Teaching programme is made up of three educational interventions designed to support disadvantaged students, including modules that support Irish Language competency, teaching aspirations, and knowledge of Ireland’s complex higher education system.

On an annual basis for 3 years, Turn to Teaching will support the participation of 50 students from the most marginalised groups to become teachers through a one-year pre-university foundation course called “Think about Teaching.” 

It will also prepare 25 students per year who have experienced deep educational disadvantage, including Travellers, lone parents, migrants and students from DEIS schools, for entry to Initial Teacher Education (ITE) degrees. The programme will offer a wide array of academic, social and personal supports.

Another key part of the programme is the “Rising Teachers, Rising Leaders” initiative, which will equip 40 students in the senior cycle of DEIS schools – the Rising Teachers –  with the skills necessary to access ITE directly.

The Rising Leaders are 20 teachers from diverse backgrounds, currently working in DEIS schools, that Turn To Teaching will support and empower to become leaders within their community and to share their experiences with the Rising Teachers. 

Through a two-year mentoring programme and a national media campaign, the Rising Teachers, Rising Leaders programme will enhance the capacity of those involved to become teachers and leaders, while challenging the current model of ‘who is a teacher’ through a national media campaign.

Central to all of Turn to Teaching’s work will be “Tar linn ag Teagasc,” a programme that will provide all participants with access to a tailored Irish language competency based module to assist them in reaching the required entry standard for ITE and to encourage participants to become future teachers of Irish.

Commenting on the launch of Turn To Teaching, Maynooth University President, Professor Philip Nolan, said: “Maynooth University is renowned as Ireland’s leading teacher education institution, offering the full spectrum of teacher preparation programmes, from early childhood to adult education.  The Maynooth Access Programme also serves as a national model for widening participation in third level among students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This dual commitment to both diversity in education generally and our expertise in teaching training makes Maynooth an ideal home for the Turn to Teaching programme. We are delighted to be able to assist in preparing disadvantaged students to reach students like themselves through the power of education.” 

“Irish society can only benefit through having more diversity in the classroom, as teachers from different backgrounds send a clear message to young people that no one’s future is defined by the barriers they face when they are young.” 
Speaking about the importance of this programme at the launch, its coordinator, Maynooth University Lecturer and former access student Dr Katriona O’Sullivan, commented: “Currently 92% of our primary school teachers are young, white, middle class women. And while they do a great job we must ensure that our schools reflect the diverse nature of Irish society. Young people from DEIS schools, or communities where teaching is not considered an option, need to see people like them in their classroom. They need to be able to relate to their teachers, to think ‘if he can do it then so can I'.”

“This programme will help to change the face of the Irish classroom and we will begin to see more students from Tallaght, from Ballymun, from the Traveling community and the migrant community taking up the chalk and feeling that they too can teach the children of tomorrow.”