Junior Certs may miss out on full exam mark with teachers in dispute over assessment changes

Most third-year students could lose 10% in marks in Junior Certificate English next year. Their teachers are in dispute over assessment changes.

As classes resume this week, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) is planning further protests to highlight its opposition to the junior- cycle reforms. Following numerous ballots, its 17,500 members have been banned from undertaking training related to the changes, or from carrying out in-school assessments of their own students.

ASTI members account for most staff at the country’s 370 voluntary secondary schools, and at dozens of others jointly staffed with members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI).

English is the first subject in which new junior-cycle assessments have been rolled-out, and although ASTI members are teaching the revised syllabus, they refuse to carry out the related, classroom-based assessments.

While two of these are to be marked internally in schools, one element of the externally-assessed Junior Certificate is based on students’ experience of the work involved. This will be worth 10% of the overall Junior Certificate mark in each subject, including new business studies and science courses being taught to incoming first years from this week.

Launching the courses yesterday, Education Minister Richard Bruton said the new junior-cycle framework gives students a chance to develop a wider range of knowledge and skills: “It gives students better learning opportunities, and rewards, and recognises non-academic performance and achievements, with a central focus on the student’s quality of life, well-being, and mental health.”

But teachers of both subjects, among ASTI’s 17,500 members, have not undergone any of the training, which began earlier this year for the new courses.

The reforms have been revised a number of times since the first plans were published in 2012 by previous education minister, Rúairí Quinn, leading to the TUI accepting the final agreement a year ago.

ASTI’s outstanding concerns relate to the removal of ordinary or higher-level options in most subjects, lack of externally-assessed oral exams in Irish and modern languages, and the inclusion of standardised testing of students as part of the junior-cycle framework.

While the union met with Mr Bruton and Department of Education officials over the summer, it has decided to escalate its campaign of industrial action this autumn, coinciding with any further negotiations.

“This is essential, so as to bring about a resolution and to protect teachers of English, who have been teaching the framework for junior-cycle specification for English since September, 2014, while, at the same time, refusing to carry out the classroom-based assessment element,” says the latest edition of the ASTI’s magazine, Astir.

A number of days of protest, or other action, are expected. Before the TUI signed up to the reforms, in September, 2015, the two unions forced the closure of 700 second-level schools, with two one-day strikes over the junior-cycle dispute, in late 2014 and early 2015.

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