More issues than marking exams

Jan O'Sullivan: Junior Cert reforms will go ahead.

Teachers say there are wider issues than who mark students behind their opposition to the replacement of the Junior Certificate with a new qualification.

Ahead of her meeting today with leaders of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan told second- level principals last week that the reforms would go ahead to the timetable already set out, but she hoped there could be positive engagement.

ASTI’s and TUI’s 27,000 second-level members have refused to take part in training, school planning or teaching short courses for the Junior Cycle Student Award since April, but both unions have mandates to escalate the industrial action to strikes.

Philip Irwin and Gerry Quinn, presidents of ASTI and TUI, said their main opposition to the reforms relate to the planned removal of national certification and external assessment, which provide status and credibility to the assessment process.

With the junior awards, certification would be by schools instead of the State Examinations Commission, whose use of paid external examiners in the Junior Certificate would be replaced by teachers marking their own students, except in the initial years in English, Irish and maths.

“Such credibility is linked with the high level of public trust in our education system. Indeed, a recent OECD survey placed Ireland first among countries measured for public confidence in their education system,” wrote the two presidents in a letter in today’s Irish Examiner. But they also outline other issues of concern to teachers about the junior awards, published by Ms O’Sullivan’s predecessor Ruairi Quinn two years ago, a year after the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment advised retaining SEC marking of final written exams but that teachers mark their own students’ coursework in second and third years.

Among these are the further pressure they say will be imposed on schools’ ability to provide quality education after several years of cuts, none of which were reversed in Budget 2015 last week. They say there will be detrimental effects from changed subject provision, with what they say is the downgrading of subjects such as civic, social and political education, history and geography to optional status.

“Such detrimental change will hinder the development of students as informed and active citizens,” they wrote.

Students need only be examined in as few as six full subjects, if they also complete coursework assessments on short courses in four others. The main aim of the changes is to remove the high-stakes nature of the Junior Certificate and focus the three-year junior cycle on learning instead of exam preparation.

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