Teachers’ action over junior cycle to continue

Teaching unions insist they will continue industrial action to achieve further changes to junior cycle reforms that have already been significantly moderated.

As thousands of teachers protested at school gates around the country, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan repeated her call on the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) to return to talks.

The lunchtime protests aimed, without disrupting classes, to highlight opposition to changes the minister says she will implement. The plan set out by independent talks chairman Pauric Travers in February suggests that the Junior Certificate would be based solely on a final third-year exam, but that students would be assessed separately for in-school assessments by their own teachers.

ASTI president Philip Travers acknowledged that Ms O’Sullivan has made concessions on the position of her predecessor, Ruairi Quinn, who proposed abolishing the Junior Certificate entirely. However, he said teachers want all modes of examination for a final state certificate to be externally assessed to include orals, projects, and portfolio work.

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“We want the external assessment because we want the objectivity of it, and the fact you can compare grades across schools of whatever type,” he told Pat Kenny on Newstalk radio.

“Given the cutbacks across the system over the past six years, given that you now have a situation where one in three teachers are part-time and temporary, you don’t have the consistency of a teacher year-to-year for [this] type of change.”

Ms O’Sullivan has begun talks with school management bodies about questions of resources and structures in schools. She says unions are welcome to take part in those discussions once they accept the Travers proposals which proposed suspension of industrial action.

Her department recommenced training programmes last month for teachers of English, in which first assessments under the new system are scheduled for second-year students next spring. However, union directives have meant only very small numbers attended, a move Ms O’Sullivan said was concerning, as the unions were stopping teachers from improving their own education.

She said the proposals are reasonable and address concerns on both sides, but that she has moved considerably already and needs to see movement by teachers.

“They need to get over the hurdle of saying that they have an absolute veto and they won’t engage in the fundamentals of what we’re trying to do,” she said.

Unions have said they did not wish to interrupt Junior and Leaving Cert students’ preparations with another strike this term. They closed schools in two one-day strikes in December and January as part of the dispute.

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