Further talks key to Junior Cert deal

Further talks between teacher unions and the Department of Education over the next five weeks will be key to the chances of a positive outcome on changes to junior cycle education.

The executives of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) decided yesterday to call votes of their members on the agreement with Jan O’Sullivan, the education minister.

That agreement varies slightly — but in some crucial aspects — from the most recent proposals in February.

Union leaders will wait until those talks on resources for schools have concluded before deciding whether to recommend that their 27,000 members accept the historic deal hammered out earlier this week.

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A key commitment secured by unions is that no additional workload will be added to teachers by implementing the changes.

The new classroom-based assessments to which they would be signed up, would take place within their standard 22-hour class contract week, with provision being made for meetings and other collaborative activities within each teacher’s timetable.

Any likely resourcing implications are to be the subject of talks, which will also include school management bodies, scheduled to conclude by the end of June.

The only significant variation on assessment methods from the document put forward three months ago by Pauric Travers is that an additional element of externally-assessed work will take place in third year. That written assessment task will allow students to reflect on projects or practical work done during class time, but it will be marked by the State Examinations Commission in tandem with the final written exam.

Other than that, teachers would be agreeing by acceptance of the deal to assess their own students on a range of possible tasks, once in second year and again in third year. The requirement for further training has led to agreement that first school-based assessments can be deferred from next spring until the following autumn for students just finishing first year.

There has been no decision to suspend industrial action that includes a ban on training, but no effects are likely to be seen before the September ballots anyway. ASTI and TUI presidents Philip Irwin and Gerry Quinn said they will now begin further negotiations with the Department of Educationon the key issues of time and resources.

“The executive committees will then meet at an appropriate time to decide on issuing a recommendation on the proposals,” they said.

The Joint Managerial Body, representing over half the country’s second-level schools welcomed the prospect of leaving two years of disruption behind, but said time for planning and training are among priorities for implementing changes.

Education and Training Boards Ireland said the reforms are more innovative than expected with a welcome balance between final exams and school-based assessment.

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