JC reforms to go ahead despite fears

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan insists junior cycle reforms will go ahead as she prepares to re-enter talks with teacher unions over opposition to marking their own pupils.

At a conference of school leaders in Galway, she was asked what principals could tell parents of first-year students who ask what is happening with assessment of the English course being taught for the first time this term.

It is the first subject in which a new course has been brought in. Teachers will be expected to mark their own students on coursework in late 2016, and eventually in the final written exams, although not for the first few years in English, maths, or Irish.

In a ballot concluded last week, Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland members gave their leaders the same authority as that given to the Teachers’ Union of Ireland — to escalate industrial action on the issue to possible strikes and school closures.

Mary Finnegan-Burke, principal of Coláiste Dún Iascaigh in Cahir, Co Tipperary, had said parents think schools do not know what is happening, when the uncertainty is actually coming from the Department of Education.

“Are we going ahead with teacher assessment or how far have you got with the discussions with unions?” she asked Ms O’Sullivan following her speech to National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals delegates.

Ms O’Sullivan said she would meet both unions again next Wednesday, after hearing their concerns about assessment at initial talks last month.

“I think you can firstly advise parents that the reforms are going ahead, that it has commenced, but there is an issue around the assessment as teachers have concerns in this area,” she said.

“I’m meeting them next week and I don’t think it would be helpful to predict the outcome, but I do intend to ensure we have very positive engagement.

“I hope we will be able to give you more information for your parents in the very near future. But the reforms have commenced and there’s a timetable for its rollout which is what we intend to continue with.”

Earlier, NAPD president Padraig Flanagan said school leaders backed reform, but there were issues other than assessment which needed resolution, such as a requirement for proper IT support, extra leadership capacity, and other resources in schools.

He said reforms at senior cycle should also be examined, and asked why there could not be continuous assessment like that used in third-level colleges, such as conducting practical tests or project work for Leaving Certs in fifth year.

Ms O’Sullivan also announced that a €7m tendering process to replace computers and software for schools teaching Leaving Certificate design and communications graphics began this week.

Last month, second-level management bodies suggested Ms O’Sullivan delay assessment changes in the Junior Cycle Student Award, which would be awarded by schools instead of the Junior Certificate, for up to five years. They say it would allow wider reforms come in gradually, giving more time to address teachers’ concerns.


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