Further strike looms as talks fail to resolve exam reform row

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan says the junior cycle reform dispute will not be advanced by another strike by teachers that looks almost certain to go ahead at 720 second-level schools next week.

Two hours of talks between unions, Ms O’Sullivan and Department of Education officials failed to bring resolution any nearer.

The row has already seen schools shut six weeks ago by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI).

Hopes of a breakthrough were already slim ahead of yesterday’s discussions, whose chairman told the minister last week major division remained between the sides.

The unions said last night they would proceed with a second strike next Thursday, as they remain opposed to any element of a revised Junior Certificate being marked by students’ own teachers.

Although Ms O’Sullivan said in November she was willing to allow final written exams continue to be assessed by the State Examinations Commission, she wants teachers to mark their own students on second-year and third-year coursework worth 40% for all subjects.

Both sides had indicated there would be no pre-conditions to talks, which Ms O’Sullivan asked Mr Travers — former president at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra — to try to reinstigate before Christmas. But after two hours inside the Department of Education, where the minister joined her officials, union leaders said considerable difference remained between the sides and next Thursday’s strike is still scheduled to proceed.

“Both sides agreed to engage in further discussions. However, we remain resolute in our opposition to significant elements of the proposals, a position overwhelmingly supported by 27,000 second-level teachers,” a joint ASTI-TUI statement said.

But Ms O’Sullivan said industrial action should cease as she believes more detailed talks can result in progress. She said she is still waiting on the unions to respond in kind to what she said was a fair and reasonable compromise she put forward in November.

“This action is entirely disproportionate. It will result in our second-level students missing another day at school, cause inconvenience to parents and result in teachers losing another day’s pay,” she said.

“There is no basis for this strike action. I have moved significantly to achieve agreement and both sides should seriously engage in negotiation on that basis. This dispute will not be advanced one iota by continued strike action,” the minister said.

Although the unions support most curricular changes and related reforms, they believe assessing their own students would raise questions about standards and damage student-teacher relations. They are also pushing for more resources for schools to implement the changes.


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