Industrial action could see pupils lose exam marks

Students whose teachers are in Asti have not done an assessment task worth 10% of Junior Cert English

More than half of Junior Certificate students could still lose out on 10% of marks in English as their teachers’ union insists they will not pause industrial action to facilitate a new assessment.

The standing committee of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (Asti) meets on Thursday and Friday to decide its next steps after members voted narrowly to reject settlement proposals in their pay and junior cycle reform disputes.

But while Education Minister Richard Bruton suggested yesterday that union leaders could allow an exemption for members teaching English from a ban on co-operating with the revised junior cycle, Asti president Ed Byrne firmly shut the door on the idea.

Third-year students whose teachers are in Asti have not done an assessment task worth 10% of Junior Certificate English, and now face being marked out of a maximum of 90% in the subject.

The minister said yesterday morning that he would expect, in light of Asti leaders’ comments that they were conscious of the stress on students at this time of year, that they would facilitate the necessary work for all students to be on a level playing field.

“This doesn’t require teachers to do what the Asti objected to, evaluating and marking their students’ work. This is a test that they just have to facilitate, that will be marked by the State Examinations Commission,” he said. “So I take it that they will co-operate with the implementation of that because it’s an integral part of the exams,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland radio programme.

But Mr Byrne told the Irish Examiner that the minister seemed to be ignoring the fact that the Asti’s industrial action includes a ban on a classroom-based assessment (CBA), around which the assessment task Mr Bruton referred is based.

“It wouldn’t be possible because [our members] don’t do the classroom-based assessment. If we’re not doing a CBA, how can a student write the assessment task?” the Asti president said.

He said CBAs were one of “red line issues” the union has previously told the Department of Education it would remain firm on.

“That’s why there wouldn’t be a derogation given. If the minister has a proposal, he should make it with clarity,” Mr Byrne said.

Rose Callan, president of the National Parents’ Council-Post Primary, said it is unfair that students in different schools may be eligible for different marks. Rather than take sides in the dispute, she said, parents just want it sorted out.

“We want equality for our children, who are very upset. It’s a very stressful time, and it’s so important for them to feel supported and not have uncertainty,” she said.

“Parents weren’t really aware of it, or thought it would be resolved. But as the Junior Cert gets closer without that happening, people are becoming more and more concerned,” Ms Callan said.

A statement last night from the State Examinations Commission tried to offer some reassurance. It said that guidance it plans to send schools will make clear how the assessment task can be done and students complete all elements for the Junior Certificate.

But the manner in which this can be done in spite of the Asti’s industrial action is unclear. It is thought to rely on the requirement that students would still complete the project work for the CBA as part of the curriculum which teachers are obliged to deliver.

Even if Asti members remain unwilling to mark the work, students would then still be able to write about it in the assessment task, which itself is not covered by the union directive.

However, this is likely to be strongly contested by Asti leaders.

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