Students to wait for news of reforms

Students at half of the country’s second-level schools will probably have to wait until early 2016 to know if they will undergo new school-based assessments in the spring.

It depends on whether their teachers will begin work on a reformed junior cycle to which staff of other schools have already signed up. However, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) would almost certainly need another vote from its 17,000 members in order to implement the major reform programme.

ASTI members represent staff of around half all 720 second-level schools and work alongside Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) colleagues at up to 100 others. The ASTI leadership has given schools and local branches a month to let their union know what their main concerns are.

It will only be after feedback is received that ASTI will meet Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan’s officials for clarifications. Last month, a 55%-45% ballot result meant the union has still not signed up to the major overhaul of junior cycle education, which was accepted at the same time by the TUI by more than a two-thirds majority.

Around 1,700 teachers of English at around 250 schools run by education and training boards (ETBs), mainly TUI-staffed, are being invited to relevant professional development by the Department of Education’s Junior Cycle for Teachers (JCT) service from early November through to the second week of December.

The department said the schedule could still allow ASTI members be trained later if their issues are resolved, and in time early next year for school-based assessment in the spring. There is also an option to have the first such assessment carried out with students in the first term of the next school year.

Only 38% of ASTI’s 17,000 members voted on the deal finalised in July with unions and Ms O’Sullivan’s officials. The ASTI sent out questionnaires this week, asking schools and branches to reflect the outcome of discussions on teacher concerns.

The suggested issues for discussion include the impact of the reforms on teacher timetabling, the status of State exams, and proposed in-school meetings to review learning and assessment in each subject.

Also to be discussed at local meetings will be any concerns about the classroom-based assessment which teachers would undertake with their own students while the final Junior Certificate written exams, and another exercise based on the classroom assessments, would continue to be marked by the State Examinations Commission (SEC).

“I think there was uncertainty on what turned out to be a fairly long and complex document, which raised a whole list of questions for a lot of teachers, and that might explain the low turnout in the ballot,” said ASTI general secretary Pat King.

Ms O’Sullivan told the Dáil this week she is willing to listen to teachers’ concerns and offer whatever clarification she can on the plans but training and delivery of the reforms will move on..

“I am leaving some space in order to be able to give clarification to the ASTI, if it requires it,” said Ms O’Sullivan.


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