Talks on junior cycle reform to resume on Monday

Talks about junior cycle reform are set to resume on Monday after the longest discussions in over two months between teacher unions and Department of Education officials.

But neither side had any official comment on the nature of yesterday’s talks or what progress was made.

While details were slim, however, the fact that union and department officials were in the same building for more than seven hours has suggested some ground may have been made.

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan did not take part in the discussions but senior civil servants spent the day at the city centre hotel where Pauric Travers again chaired proceedings. The ex-president of St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, has been facilitating discussions since autumn, and has met both sides together and separately on several occasions.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) were tight-lipped last night, only issuing a brief statement that confirmed talks had taken place and were adjourned.

It also confirmed that all sides will meet again, under Mr Travers’ chairmanship on Monday, in what will be the fourth such interaction since talks broke down in November. Since then, 27,000 members of the two unions have forced 720 second-level schools to close twice due to strike action, on December 2 and again eight days ago.

The discussions yesterday were also the first since November at which there was no definitive date for a strike hanging over the parties. But the unions have said they are prepared to call a third work stoppage if their grievances are not dealt with.

Their main issue of concern is the requirement that teachers should mark their own students for two pieces of coursework, worth 40% of marks, for a revised Junior Certificate. Although Ms O’Sullivan has agreed to maintain the external examination of final written papers by the State Examinations Commission (SEC), the unions say members are opposed in principle to any school-based assessment.

The impact on relations with students and the potential for uneven standards in marking between schools are the main grounds of opposition to the proposal. Ms O’Sullivan says teachers would be trained on the marking systems, and up to 15% of assessment would be externally moderated.

The unions say they do not oppose new methods of assessment for junior cycle, but have concerns about students’ own teachers doing the work. They are in favour of the wider reforms but say schools will have to be properly resourced to implement the changes.

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