A row over plans to replace the Junior Certificate has deepened as Education Minister Ruairi Quinn accused teachers of seeking to keep a system that puts teenagers under unacceptable pressure.
He was responding to a request by the two second-level teaching unions that members join a lunchtime protest next month in support of their campaign against the pace and details of his reforms. The 27,000 members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) at 730 schools will still be voting on possible industrial action on the proposals when the half- hour walkout is planned on March 11.
Union officials say there will be no disruption to students, and supervision cover will be provided as normal, but they want teachers to rally at school gates to spread information about their concerns. Their main issues surround the planned scrapping of the Junior Certificate — with schools set to mark their own students — as well as difficulties with planned teacher-training levels and resources for schools to implement the changes.
Mr Quinn agreed last month to additional training days, and to reduce the number of subjects for which the changes will take effect in the initial years, but revised assessment systems for English are still due to begin for students starting first-year in September. A working group of department and union officials, parent and school management bodies and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has met a number of times, including a meeting on professional development yesterday.
The minister said ASTI and TUI have not set out any proposals to address their concerns on the Junior Cycle Student Award, the name for the new qualification, despite several meetings since January.
“Despite repeated requests from officials to do exactly that, the unions have so far not engaged constructively. It is now time for them to move beyond expressions of frustration and calls of protest to using the forums which have been especially created to address their concerns,” he said.
He said the lunchtime rally is premature, particularly given their planned ballot on industrial action relating to the Junior Cycle Student Award. The results will not be known until March 26 but if it passes, teachers would not co-operate with professional development, school-based assessment, short courses, standardised testing or planning for the new system.
“Given the unions’ continued resistance to reforming the junior cycle, it seems clear to me that they are intent on keeping a high-stakes exam for our 15-year-olds, which places unacceptable pressures on young people and their families,” Mr Quinn said.
Placards and details of the March 11 protest will issue to teachers when the country’s 730 second-level schools reopen after mid- term next week. An ASTI spokesperson said they want to send a message to parents, including those of primary pupils, of how strongly teachers feel about the issue. “It will make the Government aware how widespread the concerns are, and that it’s not just a small group of union activists,” she said.
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