Transforming Education Through Dialogue (TED) Project

Short summary

TED is specially focussed at linking Higher education expertise with local DEIS schools and is specifically targeted at Limerick DEIS schools and surrounding rural DEIS band schools. The main of TED is to provide support to schools via consultation, advocacy, training, research, partnership working on a range of initiatives and through this partnership to encourage positive attitudes to education and increase participation in education. It also provides avenues for multi-agency working and consultation on a range of educational. issues. Initiatives that are promoted and supported by TED are targeted at DEIS communities, particularly those in Limerick City, via schools to create positive attitudes towards education and build capacity within DEIS schools and communities. 

Context of good practice

The Transforming Education through Dialogue (TED) Project is located in the Curriculum Development Unit, a Directorate of the Faculty of Education in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. Since it was established in 1998, TED has sought to improve and enhance educational outcomes for children. It is primarily focussed on providing guidance, research support and support for initiatives to DEIS schools. It is also involved in coordinating research projects that are directly focussed on school communities. For instance, TED employ research staff (who are primarily qualified teachers) to work with DEIS schools on a range of initiatives, for example, English as an Additional language project (EDNIP project) and the LEGO project. They would also provide some funding for initiatives such as the Studio Art project, MIC Choir and the LEGO DEIS project.  

TED is a strategic partnership between Mary Immaculate College and schools, agencies and organisations of the Limerick region and beyond. The TED project facilitates a connection between the specific expertise of MIC staff and the identified needs of schools and voluntary and statutory groups within the local community and at national level. Through dialogue and collaboration, TED seeks to unlock the enormous potential within DEIS schools and communities. It seeks to improve outcomes for children through harnessing the expertise of MIC in the service of children, parents and teachers, primarily in DEIS contexts.

TED has created a significant footprint within the Limerick area with schools and statutory and voluntary agencies both at a local level and nationally within the broader education community. TED has developed expertise that facilitates working in partnership with a variety of stakeholders to identify and respond to relevant educational issues in schools and communities. Key staff in TED sit on DEIS schools Board of Management and organisations such as Bedford Row project (focussed on children who have a parent in prison). TED has been working to promote educational attainment and access in the following ways: management and facilitating of DEIS networks, delivering workshops on literacy and numeracy, developing CPD activities for school staff, advocacy, training and research. 

Main characteristics of the challenge, description of the target group

There is a range of challenges faced by the target group. Some families are homeless or live in poor housing. Families may also live in neighbourhoods with poor social amenities or where there may be some criminal activity in the local area. Parents may be unemployed or in poorly paid jobs. Children from one-parent families may also face additional difficulties. DEIS schools would also have children from Traveller families and migrant families, some of the latter may have poor or no English.  Children may have no or poor role models, for instance, some children may have parents who are in prison. There may also be issues of drug and alcohol abuse, poor physical and mental health. Parents may have poor or no educational attainment and feel they have little prospect of change for the better, and consequently may feel isolated and ignored by society.  

Cultural and Social Capital – the Irish educational system is academically focussed and children attending DEIS schools may be entering the school system with poor or no educational preparation. For instance, parents may lack the know-how to seek help or there may be poor literacy tradition within families. 

Structural inequalities – Limerick city is quite divided geographically and some DEIS communities may experience discrimination based on their address.

Success factors and processes

1. Preparation: identifying the problem and outlining resolution (necessary tools, etc.) 

Generally, TED works with DEIS schools to identify an issue and/or a need. TED would use its contacts within MIC to develop CPD etc. to meet that need.  For instance, LEGO education initiative developed from DEIS schools indicating they would like children to avail of robotic education in after school clubs.  TED works in partnership with schools and the local community.   

2. Description of main activities; the approach used (necessary tools, timeframe, etc.)

TED facilitates three school networks: PLUS, Cur le Chéile and OSCAILT. The school networks grew out of a need for information sharing and support amongst principals of DEIS schools. The networks serve as a central pivot of TED work and have been the seedbed for development and delivery of TED initiatives and intervention programmes. Schools’ concerns with absenteeism and behaviour issues, for example, led to TED seeking funding to conduct action research and to develop and publish resources addressing these issues. Network activities also provide for peer and inter-school support. Furthermore, they enable the sharing of good practice and the design and delivery of workshops and information seminars. TED also advocates on policy issues. The TED work is enriched and informed by inputs from teachers, parents, pupils and others. This influence extends to undergraduate teacher preparation modules and the delivery of summer schools in MIC. TED also provides workshops to schools and research (for example, How are Our Kid’s project, Bedford Row project).  

The Literacy Community of Practice grew out of research conducted by TED in 2013 with education providers servicing the needs of young people aged 12-18 to explore how TED could support positive literacy outcomes for this age cohort of students. Membership includes DEIS post-primary schools, Youthreach Centres and a Youth Encounter Project. This has now expanded into a numeracy project.  

EDNIP Project: This project is co-financed by the European Commission under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and supported by the Department of Justice and Equality. EDNIP is a partnership initiative, which aims to promote and support migrant integration into school and community life, working across five DEIS band 1 primary schools in Limerick city. 

Other projects include League of Legends, Community Choir, and Studio Classroom Art & Research Project. 

3. Useful competencies of a problem-solving team to reach main aim (necessary tools, etc.)

The coordinator is strongly invested in the TED project and together with a project worker, they nurture and maintain networks throughout the Limerick DEIS community. They sit on a range of local school management boards and in this way are very connected to education at the ground level. There is a strong community engagement feature to their work.

4. What is the estimated timeframe of implementation? Is this a quick solution or a long-term investment? When is it recommended to be carried out? TED is a long term initiative which seeks to link HEI (in this case a Teacher Education College) to Limerick DEIS schools.  

Impact of measures taken

TED has been responsible for bringing MIC and DEIS schools and communities closer together in a range of ways.  School principals and teachers from DEIS schools provide lectures and CPD opportunities for initial teacher education students at MIC. These sessions help challenge student bias towards DEIS communities. Similarly, though TED MIC staff provide CPD and additional support to DEIS schools.

TED has facilitated the development of a positive attitude towards DEIS communities. It has helped promote and support diversity and highlighted the wealth of experience within the community, which is not just education. TED has been successful because it has worked at the ground level and is willing and keen to listen to and build partnerships with DEIS schools and communities.  It has through its work (facilitation and research) sought to listen to different viewpoints and encourage shared leadership and partnership with schools. Most importantly, it has sat on a range of local education and non-education boards and committees to influence decision making.

Lessons learned

The need for funding to be permanently allocated to the TED project would be an annual issue, and in an era of pressure for funding in education it is imperative that projects such as TED are recognised for their success. Sometimes those successes are felt at an individual and school level and not that easy to quantify. For instance, the social, emotional, academic and cultural advantages gained by children who are involved in the MIC choir for instance, are not that easily measured. TED is dependent upon obtaining external funding for a lot of its initiatives and in this way has to balance its outreach and partnership work within an economic model.

Sometimes staff are employed for the duration of a project and once the project is finished or funding period is completed, they often move onto other employment etc. Therefore, building and sustaining knowledge is an issue. TED is managed by the Director of the Curriculum Development and the TED coordinator and there would be a risk of continuity if they were to leave TED for other roles.  Similarly, there is significant expertise built up by the TED project worker. These individuals are hugely committed to DEIS communities and to some extent the survival of TED is dependent upon these key people. Similarly, when school leadership changes, this often requires the TED team to start building networks again.  Initiative fatigue amongst DEIS schools and teachers could also hamper multi-agency work and the work of TED.

Resources needed

Initiatives such as TED require time to be implemented and embedded in DEIS schools and communities. There also has been long term sustained commitment from the Higher Education Institution (MIC),policy-makers, funding agencies and most importantly the DEIS schools themselves.  Most importantly, there has to be buy-in from schools and the DEIS communities. It also needs to involve a range of community and statutory organisations who are committed to DEIS communities. 

TED is dependent upon schools and staff willing to share ideas and information. This would be the case, particularly for the school networks. There is also a gradual building and sustaining of knowledge and experience and a willingness to think outside the box. There also needs to be a willingness to challenge attitudes and practices, and to experiment with something different.  Similarly, good communication and willingness to work together are essential. Additionally, staff need skills in facilitation, advocacy and research. They need to be empathic to the DEIS community and principles underpinning DEIS.  

Any other information

A selection of IRLS TED project (some with multiple references: in no particular order and subject to revision)

Transforming Education Through Dialogue Project (TED) s part of the Curriculum Development Unit.  The CDU is a centre of excellence in terms of curricular design and innovation.  Link to the CDU can be found here: https://www.curriculumdevelopmentunit.com/

All the information on TED can be found here:  https://www.mic.ul.ie/faculty-of-education/ted?index=0

Information on the school networks, Bedford Row project, EDNIP and the Literacy projects are all on that site.  It also contains all their research reports and evaluations (Bedford Row,

Some interesting reports include:

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Target group of good practice:

School leaders & Teacher educators

Country:

Ireland

Keywords:

Author:

Dr Ann Higgins

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