Unions eye compromise but teachers’ strike to go ahead

Secondary teacher unions have begun initial discussions on a possible compromise on junior cycle reform but have resolved to put the talks on hold until after tomorrow’s strike. The ASTI and the TUI, which together represent 27,000 second-level teachers, have had initial talks between themselves about allowing a school-based assessment similar to that currently used in the Leaving Cert Applied extended to the junior cycle.

The proposal has come from TUI officials, although the leadership of both unions have publicly denounced the concept of teachers marking their own pupils at junior level. In the Leaving Cert Applied, students accumulate credits in school over two years of study and combine these with marks from the externally assessed Leaving Cert exam.

Different teaching styles are advocated and completion of student tasks is verified by the school authorities. The model shares features of that proposed for the new junior cycle certificate, ostensibly a lower-stakes qualification.

While the ASTI and TUI are presenting a united front, questions are being asked internally about their long-term strategy. Dissenting voices have queried whether the unions can rigidly oppose continuous assessment for the junior cycle when it happens in several other education settings. Just short of 3,000 students sat the Leaving Cert Applied in 2014, compared to 54,000 who sat the standard Leaving Cert exam and 60,000 who sat the Junior Cert.

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has described school-based assessment as integral to reform of the junior cycle. She agreed to reduce the portion of marks assessed by teachers from 100 per cent to 40 per cent but says no further diminution is possible. Her stance is being supported by the National Parents Council (Post Primary), the umbrella group for parents associations, a range of educational experts and industry groups.

The employers’ group Ibec said there should be no “row back” on the plan.

“An overhaul of the current over-crowded and rigid curriculum, with teachers taking on the responsibility of assessing their own pupils, is long overdue,” said Ibec’s head of education policy Tony Donohoe.

“If done right, it could prove to be the most important education reform of recent years. Young people face a highly uncertain and constantly changing future. The new curriculum could equip them with the skills and appetite for continuous learning that will help them to fulfil their potential as workers and citizens.

“While the curriculum will undoubtedly make greater demands on teachers, it has the capacity to enrich their professional lives in a way that a mechanistic exam focused regime does not. Opposing much-needed reform through industrial action will only disrupt student education and inconvenience parents.”

Article courtesy of Joe Humphreys of The Irish Times

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