Anton Trant — pioneering teacher made a unique contribution to education in Ireland

An Appreciation

Dr Anton Trant, pioneering teacher and founding director of the Curriculum Development Unit, who died on November 2nd, 2023, was an exceptional father, husband and professional who made a unique contribution to education in Ireland.

Born in Corclough on the Erris Peninsula in 1933, Anton was the third child of John and Margaret Trant from family of lighthouse keepers. Anton and his six siblings moved around the coast during childhood to be close to where his father was posted. He graduated from NUI Galway with a degree in Irish and history and subsequently obtained relevant teaching qualifications. In 1993, he was awarded his PhD from the Institute of Education, University of London.

After periods teaching in London and Malta in the 1950s and early 1960s, Anton returned to Dublin. In 1966, at just 33 years of age, Anton was appointed principal of a new school in Ballyfermot to cater for the hundreds of young people who would seek access to free second-level education in the west Dublin area.

During his six years as principal in Ballyfermot, Anton and his innovative staff demonstrated the positive impact a progressive school has not just for students but also for parents, families, and the wider community. Outdoor education, drama and the arts formed part of the curriculum; students went on hikes in the Wicklow Mountains as well as participating in sail training on the Asgard, the national sail training vessel, while performances in the school by the National Youth Orchestra and other professional art groups were accessible to the public and students alike.

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In 1972 Anton co-founded the Curriculum Development Unit (CDU) with the aim of stimulating innovative curriculum thinking in Ireland. The CDU operated under the aegis of the Department of Education, the School of Education in Trinity College, and the City of Dublin Vocational Educational Committee (CDVEC).

Over the next 30 years, Anton as director and his dynamic team pioneered many curriculum initiatives. He secured national and European funding for research into ways to combat early school leaving and to provide access to education for marginalised groups. Many of these initiatives like the Early School Leavers’ Project and the Dublin Inner City Education Project (DICE), were later taken up nationally as the New Junior Certificate Schools Programme and the national Youthreach programme.

The latter has now over 100 centres across Ireland while initiatives to identify and support potential early school leavers are operational in 220 schools.

Anton led the CDU in pioneering developments in civic, social, political and health education. These were subsequently adopted as part of the national curriculum, and the CDU was instrumental in bringing about the introduction of both the Leaving Certificate Applied and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programmes.

A core CDU project was the introduction of an Outdoor Education service across the City of Dublin VEC, with a water base on nearby Blessington Lake in Co Wicklow. Outdoor education was subsequently added to the curriculum of many schools and centres around the country. Anton also made a significant contribution to environmental education both in Ireland and the EU, directing the European Community Environmental Education Network from 1977 to 1986.

Another enduring legacy of Anton’s life’s work was his involvement in peace and reconciliation initiatives in Northern Ireland. From 1997-2004 he acted as Evaluator of the Wider Horizons programme of the International Fund for Ireland (IFI). During that period, Wider Horizons provided vocational training and work experience overseas to help promote reconciliation and employability for over 12,000 young people on the island.

Following his retirement in 1999, Anton published a book on his work and that of the CDU, Curriculum Matters in Ireland. Anton’s pioneering outlook permeates the book, and it continues to prompt robust debate and discussion in education circles.

As a husband, father, neighbour, and member of his local community in Manor Kilbride, Anton was an equally special person. Many people in Manor Kilbride still remember the “Kilbride All Stars” football club that Anton set up in the 1970s with his eldest son Maurice and local children. The great outdoors were not just a passion in Anton’s professional life: family and friends remember frequent hikes up the west Wicklow Mountains of Seefin and Mullaghcleevaun as well as kayaking on Blessington Lake while holidays in Wexford consolidated a love of water-based activities for both immediate and extended family members. And what the family most remember is the holiday tradition Anton created: a pre-breakfast swim, no matter the weather.

In the final 15 years of his life, Anton directed his attention to the latest research in biblical studies and shared this interest locally by organising discussion groups on the subject. He was part of a lively interfaith group in Blessington and was an active member of a men’s group.

Anton was an inspirational leader in all aspects of his life and encouraged the same kind of leadership in others. In both his public and private life Anton had an unassuming approach. He was an attentive listener, an engaging conversationalist and has left a lasting impact on all who knew and worked with him.

He is remembered with great affection by his wife, Kathy; his children, Maurice, Mary-Liz, Nick and Barbara; his daughter-in-law, Nuria; grandchildren Michael, Heather, Luke and Éanna; extended family and many friends and ex-colleagues.

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