3. November 2019
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School Worldwide: Part 1 Ireland

Im Zuge eines Seminars des europäischen Dachverband für Schüler_innenorganisationen kurz OBESSU hatte ich die Möglichkeit die International Officer Nadine Toye der irischen Schüler_innenorganisation ISSU zu interviewen.

Hello, Nadine! You are the International Officer of ISSU. The only Irish Second Level Students’ Union. I assume you are very familiar with the school system in your country.

Would you explain me the Irish School-System: How does it work?  

School in Ireland starts when you are 4 years old and by law you cannot leave it until you are 16. You start secondary school – similar to high school – when you are 12 or 13 and people usually finish when they are 17-19. We have six years in total in high school, where you can choose some of your subjects. So, everybody has Irish, English and Math and after that you can choose others as well, like science, geography, economics and business etc.


What are the biggest struggles in the Irish’ School System?

At the end of school, you have to do these really big exams which are very important, because if you don’t do well in these exams, it is very hard to go to college. And so, the biggest trouble is to do well in these tests: There are 10 in total that have to be done within three weeks. Those exams decide your grades for the whole six years of high school. But imagine being sick and not being able to do the exams: you just can’t get enough points for college.


How does your grade system work? Do you have grades from 1 to 5 or a system with specific points or something else? 

We have two different kind of subjects, the harder or the easier level. The harder level is called ‚‚H’’ and the easier one is called ‚‚O’’. What means you can have 1 to 8 in both categories depending on your results from exams and tests. For instance: you get 90% on a test. Hence, you are in H1 or O1.


You are in a school students’ union named ISSU. What are you currently working on?

We are working on a lot of things! Especially the exams I told you about. They are very hard on students.

There was once a girl, who had surgery two hours before the exam, but she still had to write them – in the hospital. Because doing it another time wasn’t possible. Now we are doing a campaign trying to change this, as it is very crucial for the everyday life of students.

But we are working on another project as well: ‚‚Seeds for Integration’’. It is an OBESSU Project, and it’s all about the inclusion of minorities coming in our school-system. Coming to the country as a refugee, you can find very bad conditions in the education system and a very discriminating one. Through our project we are trying for people to understand it is very hard for minorities and of course we want to change something.


Just that I can understand it better: What are the biggest minorities in Ireland? 

We do have a lot of immigrants. And then we have a group called ‚‚Travellers’’. They are Irish but have a long tradition of travelling through the country and they are often discriminated under the guise of ‚‚having a bad reputation’’. In our school-system they can be mistreated. They are a minority as well, but a lot of people do not see them as a minority, which is a problem, because their issues are being ignored. People also say, they stop going to school at a very young age.

And we are working on that. So, one of our Officers tries to include the traveller’s history in our education system. Because in History we are thought about Irish, French and American History, but we never learn about Traveller History. There is no Traveller Representation in our Education System, at all. You never learn about them.





You live near the border to Northern Ireland. Could you explain why this could be interesting to some of our readers? 

Almost a hundred years ago, we were still owned by Great Britain, what means we were part of the UK. However, there was a rebellion and we gained independence, but there were still six counties in Ireland that belonged to the UK. There is a small island which marks the border between the UK and Ireland. We have two main religions, which are both Christian religions: Catholicism and Protestantism. Protestants were seen as British and the Catholics as Irish. And this was a big conflict. Because the Catholics wanted to be part of Ireland, and the Protestants wanted to be part of Britain, which caused a war for years. And just over 20 years ago it finished. There is still a lot of worry, that this could happen again, but we don’t know.

Although the conflict has stopped, and it isn’t very bad at the moment, there still is stigma left.

(Editor’s Note: The TV-Show Derry Girls explains this conflict in a humorous way.)


Brexit. What are you thinking?

The economic perspective: As Ireland’s main trading partner is Great Britain, we would suffer a lot as well. I think it benefits neither Great Britain nor Ireland. What already happened is that the British Pound lost a lot of value.

And it is also not benefiting students, especially in third level. We do have a lot of students from Great Britain and the problem is, if Brexit goes ahead there is a risk of losing tuition, meaning instead of paying 3000 Euros, they have to pay the international fee of more than 15.000 Euros.

I think we definitely should be a part of the European Union. We have gained a lot of this, only looking at agriculture. Not being part of the EU would just be… stupid (laughing).


If you would be minister of education for one day, what would you do first?

There is one thing we have been working on in ISSU for years, and it looks good that is going to happen soon. (Nadine tells that her friend has to leave the table, because it is top-secret.)

We are trying to get the minister of education to set a circular, a notice to every school, that will say that ISSU is the one representative for all second level students in Ireland. But at the minute, we are in a discussion and not sure if it’s going to happen. However, if I would be minister of education, that would be the first thing I would do.


What means being politically active in the field of education on a European level to you?

If you work in Ireland in order to change the Education System, you can try your best and see how you get on. But sometimes it becomes disheartening, because you get the feeling you can’t change things. However, if you are active on an European level you can connect with people from other countries and get inspired by how they handle and have done things. You get the feeling that, when other people have done this already, of course you can do this too. I mean- why couldn’t you?

So when you go to the Secretary of Education and ask for funding, and the answer is ‚‚that doesn’t work’’, you can say: ‚‚No, it already worked with AKS, Azubih and SV Bildungswerk’’.


Thank you for your answers. But one last thing: Is there something you want the students in Austria to know?

That they should join AKS (both laughing).



Nadine Toye and Alexandra Seybal have one thing in common: Both their organisations are part of OBESSU, the Organising Bureau of European School Students Unions. Together they attended a training in Brussels in October concerning Inclusive Schools.

For more Information about OBESSU you can click here: obessu.org, and for ISSU here: issu.ie


Nadine Toye Foto: Nadine Toye


Nadine Toye is the International Officer of ISSU the (only) Irish Second-Level Students’ Union.