The pace at which reforms to replace the Junior Certificate are being adopted is a major factor in secondary teachers’ rejection of the Haddington Road Agreement on public service pay, TDs and senators were told.
The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) is preparing to ballot members for a second time on the deal, which has been accepted by all other public service unions. Union leaders are recommending a no vote again.
The Oireachtas education committee heard that the complexities of the junior cycle overhaul driven by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn are very difficult to get to grips with.
ASTI assistant general secretary Moira Leydon said: “Teachers are saying, ‘hold on minister, can we engage, can we get down to brass tacks?’ Much of the rationale for the negative reaction of the ASTI members to the Haddington Road proposals was driven largely by that sense that we now have policy after policy pushed on us and nobody is listening to our legitimate concerns.”
Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue raised concern that abolishing state marked exams could lead to a loss of credibility for the new school-certified system, as teachers or schools might be reluctant to give their own students lower marks.
ASTI president Sally Maguire said teachers want to see some external benchmark to keep standards up, and do not want to damage the special relationships with students by becoming judges instead of their advocates.
The Department of Education is running training for teachers of English, the first subject for which new specifications take effect next September, but ASTI’s industrial action over the HRA means none of its 16,000 members can take part.
Ms Maguire said: “It’s a big culture change for teachers. To think that it can be done in one day, which is what is proposed for English ... is absolutely ludicrous.”
She said it is unfair to expect English teachers to explain a whole new way of teaching and learning to the entire staff in their schools on the basis of one training session.
“What we would like is the deferral of at least some aspects... until such time as teachers have confidence in it, until they believe in it, until they believe they can do it. They want to do it and they want to do it right, but right may not be right now,” she said.
Mr Quinn told the Dáil this week that any changes would be modified as reforms are rolled out, and English, Irish, and maths exams will continue to be set and marked by the State Examinations Commission for a number of years.
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