Junior cycle reforms in doubt as no talks have taken place

The future of major reforms of the junior cycle looks uncertain as outgoing Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has failed to reach any compromise with teacher unions.

He had announced plans in late May to invite the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and Teachers’ Union of Ireland to direct talks on the key question of who should assess students for the Junior Cycle Student Award.

Despite hoping to chair such discussions after this year’s Junior and Leaving Certificate exams ended three weeks ago, they have not taken place.

With Mr Quinn stepping down, it leaves a difficult situation for his successor, according to Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue.

“Unfortunately, because of the manner in which the minister has handled the issue, the position as he leaves office is far from ideal.”

Mr McConalogue told the Dáil on Tuesday it is entirely unacceptable that no talks have taken place less than two months from the start of the new school year and implementation of the junior cycle reforms.

While first-year students from September will be taught a new curriculum in English, the first subject in which changes are being rolled out, Asti and TUI industrial action means their 27,000 members will not take part in any training, school planning, or other activities connected with the Junior Certificate replacement.

The unions accept the need for reform but insist Mr Quinn’s plan that teachers assess their own students on all aspects of the new qualification are not acceptable.

Mr Quinn announced in October 2012 that, apart from English, Irish, and maths in the first few years, the final written exams should be marked in schools. This went against the advice of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, which had recommended school-based marking of course work worth 40% for each subject, but that external assessment of terminal exams should continue.

It is understood that summer changes to the officer boards of the unions were a factor in the inability of arranging meetings with Mr Quinn.

Junior Minister Ciarán Cannon replied to Mr McConalogue in the Dáil, saying that the two second-level unions have failed to give written submissions on how they believe reforms should be implemented. He said they had not yet taken up Mr Quinn’s invitation to meet him.

“He has continually stated his door is open, but the unions have yet to walk through that door. Until they do, we cannot move on,” he said.


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