Junior cycle reform is not a money-saving exercise: Minister

Claims that disputed junior cycle reforms are a money-saving exercise have been rejected by Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan.

About 27,000 teachers will strike on Tuesday, forcing the closure of 730 second-level schools, as the stand-off continues between their two unions and the minister over who should assess students on new coursework planned to form part of the new three-year programme.

Ms O’Sullivan said anybody who argued the changes were about saving money was wrong.

The reforms include a requirement on students’ own teachers instead of external examiners to mark work worth 40% in each subject.

In the Dáil yesterday morning, the Sinn Féin education spokesman, Jonathan O’Brien, said that in the absence of a convincing argument in favour of school-based assessment, it appears to be a money-making exercise for the minister and the Department of Education.

“I am calling on the minister to revisit this issue as a matter of urgency and desist from her attempts to paint teachers as unreasonable,” he said.

Ms O’Sullivan told second-level managers at the Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) conference that she had made significant compromise by reverting to the previous recommendation that the award at the end of junior cycle continue to be state-certified, and that the final written exam would also still be marked externally by the State Examinations Commission.

She said the reforms were not intended to deliver savings, and would not do so. “Indeed, next year alone, the additional budget being provided to support junior cycle reform will amount to €9.3m. That is €5m more than was available during 2014,” she said.

Attempts at talks failed last week, following the refusal over a fortnight ago of Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) leaders to discuss the plans as long as there remained a requirement for members to assess their own students on coursework proposed to take place in second-year and third-year. They say teachers fear the impact on relations with students, as well as being concerned at perceived inequality between standards of marking in different schools.

The minister repeated an assurance that 15% of all school-assessed work would be externally moderated to ensure uniformity. She added to ETBI delegates: “Having this material assessed by class teachers, rather than an anonymous external reviewer will allow students to benefit from rich and regular feedback — much more important to how they learn than a simple A, B or C.”

Also in the Dáil, the minister rejected the criticism of Fianna Fáil education spokesman, Charlie McConalogue, who said her insistence on compromise by unions as a pre-condition to talks was “a barrier to real negotiations”.

The unions say the minister is wrong to suggest they have not moved, as they have always accepted the plans to introduce new systems of teaching that will also mean more work for their members and extra costs for schools.

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