Proposals on junior cycle reform agreed

A potential breakthrough in the long-running teachers’ dispute over junior cycle reforms will be considered by union leaders tomorrow.

The executives of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) are expected to recommend acceptance in an autumn ballot of new proposals that emerged from talks over the past week with Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan.

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Their 27,000 members closed 720 second-level schools twice in the past five months in the row, which largely centres on questions around assessment of students by their own teachers.

Both sides were keeping details of the deal confidential until after tomorrow’s union meetings.

But the positive language in a joint statement from all sides suggests it has the backing of ASTI and TUI presidents Philip Irwin and Gerry Quinn.

“The leadership of the ASTI and the TUI, along with Minister O’Sullivan, have committed their support and strong endorsement of these clearly stated proposals,” they said.

The document entitled Junior Cycle Reform: Joint Statement on Principles and Implementation will be published tomorrow. It will also be presented to other education stakeholders for discussion with the Department of Education.

Significant variations are understood to have been made to proposals that emerged in February from talks chaired by Pauric Travers, elements of which were opposed by the unions.

The minister had accepted his plans and begun implementing them, including training sessions for teachers of English that were largely unattended due to ASTI and TUI industrial action.

The potential breakthrough followed contact from unions to the department, responding positively to the minister’s speech to school managers three weeks ago. She had outlined five principles on which she said she could not compromise, which were the need for:

  • Recognition of a wider range of learning than at present;
  • A considerably-reduced focus on one final exam to assess students;
  • Greater professional collaboration between teachers within schools;
  • Parents and students to get a broader picture of each student’s learning through the whole junior cycle;
  • Prominence and importance to be given to classroom-based assessment.

These formed the basis of talks between unions and department officials last Friday, and again on Tuesday when the minister was also present. It is as yet unclear if the minister has made further concessions on the question of assessment, having already agreed teachers would not have to mark their own students for State certification. Instead, the Travers proposal was that school assessment results and Junior Certificate results be combined in a Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement, along with details of optional short courses and extra-curricular activities.

The backing of the plan by members could vindicate the unions’ year-long industrial dispute, as any resolution will be based on a significantly-diluted version of what was on the table less than a year ago before Ms O’Sullivan replaced Ruairi Quinn. But union leaders were also aware continued action could jeopardise the benefits of any deal to emerge from national pay talks.

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