VIDEO: Teachers’ unions reject second vote on exam plans

Unions are refusing to re-ballot members on revised junior cycle proposals as they force students to stay at home from 720 second-level schools today and threaten a third strike.

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan’s department will save about €4.8m in docked pay as 27,000 members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) picket schools. Around 340,000 students are being disrupted for the second time in seven weeks in the ongoing dispute over junior cycle reforms.

Union leaders are standing firm in their opposition to the minister’s requirement that teachers assess their own students for coursework in a revised exam system.

National Parents’ Council-Post Primary president Don Myers said it was students who were suffering most, particularly those preparing for mock Junior and Leaving Certificate, and for the oral exams.

“The minister has given something but the unions haven’t,” he said.

“We still think they should put the new proposals to their members.”

However, ASTI president Philip Irwin said there were no plans to re-ballot members on moderated proposals made in November, in which Ms O’Sullivan took the idea of teachers marking their students’ written exams off the table.

“No, the status quo is that the Junior Certificate is externally assessed and there can be no half-measures on this,” he said.

Mr Irwin said teachers support reforms and new assessment methods, but only as long as examiners continue to be hired by the State Examinations Commission (SEC).

The teachers strike in Bandon, Co Cork.

While resources are also needed for schools to implement changes, he said, they would not be enough to end industrial action.

The unions say another strike will be organised if there is no resolution to the dispute. Schools were already closed on December 2, costing full-time teachers at least €100 each in gross pay, and the same again today.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny made a last-ditch plea in the Dáil for today’s strike to be called off, saying Ms O’Sullivan had already listened carefully to teachers’ concerns.

“The people who are mostly discommoded are the young students, who are in many cases preparing for examinations later on in the year,” he said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin blamed the stand-off on a “ham-fisted and appalling manner” by Ms O’Sullivan’s predecessor Ruairi Quinn trying to push reforms through.

He said she should take a fresh approach even though, he acknowledged, she has already partly compromised on the question of who marks students.

A Sinn Féin motion to have the minister delay implementing changes until the dispute is resolved was defeated in the Dáil last night.

Employers’ body Ibec backed the minister’s stance and said class assessment was the only way of developing higher-order communication and problem-solving skills that could not be properly captured by standardised tests.

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