Teachers committed to system that focuses on assessment

The document agreed by union leaders and Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan includes substantial elements of previous documents that had the support of all parties, but varies on some significant elements.

In its six pages and a two-page summary, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland commit to a system that has a focus on assessment, and less emphasis than currently rests on the final written Junior Certificate exam.

In order to allow for full training for teachers of English, schools will be allowed to defer until autumn 2016 the first school-based assessment scheduled for next spring. This means students who have just finished first year may still undertake a classroom-based assessment in second year, but their schools can opt to do the work instead in the first term.

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The plan on the table includes the following details:

  • Students will study no more than 10 subjects for State certification, each requiring at least 200 hours of learning, or 240 hours for English, Irish, and maths. Civic, social and political education will also be taught to all students, part of a new area of well-being that also includes physical education and social, personal and health education.
  • Schools can offer short courses over 100 hours (half the time given to a full subject course), but may be advised to limit the number they offer.
  • External exams of up to two hours will take place in June of third year, set and marked by the State Examinations Commission. Students will receive a grade in each subject rather than a narrative description of achievement as previously proposed.
  • In second year and third year, each student will undertake a classroom-based assessment for each subject; for example, a project, oral language task, investigation, practical or design-and-make task. These will be chosen from a number of options for each subject defined by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
  • Rather than grades or numerical marks, they will be assessed by class teachers and result in descriptions of achievement, yet to be decided. Examples of work standards for each descriptor will be set out by the NCCA.
  • An additional element of the third year classroom-based assessment will be a formal written assessment task, to be specified by the NCCA. Written in class time, it will allow students to reflect on the knowledge and skills developed during the classroom assessment, or describe how their learning might be applied to new situations. It will be inserted with the June written exam for external assessment.
  • Training will be provided for teachers to give developmental feedback and to report back to parents on students’ learning and progress.

In addition, there is explicit recognition that the changes will impact on the structure of school and teacher time and planning. The document says provision will have to be made for meetings and other collaborative activities between teachers, to be accommodated within each teacher’s timetable.

“It is agreed that the reforms will not impose additional workload on our teachers. It is also acknowledged that teacher practice will adapt and develop significantly as a result of these reforms,” it says.

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