School bodies back longer time frame for junior cycle reform

All three groups representing second-level schools say they support delays to some assessment by teachers of their junior cycle students — to help resolve an ongoing dispute.

School bodies back longer time frame for junior cycle reform

Although one is more cautious, the three management bodies say Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan may have to hold off for a period on requiring teachers to mark their written exams for the Junior Cycle Student Award (JCSA).

The positions of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS), and the Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) — whose member-ETBs run 250 vocational-sector schools — emerged after a group representing almost half of all second-level schools called for the compromise.The Joint Managerial Body (JMB) suggested Ms O’Sullivan allow final written exams for the JCSA continue to be marked by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) for five years, while coursework in second-year and third-year would be assessed by students’ teachers.

This was the recommendation to her predecessor Ruairi Quinn in 2011 by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). But he announced two years ago that the final exam, worth 60% of marks, should also be assessed in schools, except in the initial years for English, Irish and maths.

The JMB said the minister should revert to the NCCA proposal to break the impasse created by the attitude of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland to the new junior cycle framework.

ACCS general secretary, Eileen Salmon, said it seemed a fair compromise that would still allow a system of external moderation of school-based assessment of coursework. The management bodies proposed earlier this year how a system of moderation, in which samples of schools’ marking of their own students would be evaluated in other schools, could alleviate concerns about differences in marks awarded by different schools.

“An awful lot of the reservations by teachers are a lack of confidence and experience in assessing their own students. I think when they start engaging in the process, their confidence will obviously grow, and in five years’ time, it shouldn’t be the issue it is now,” Ms Salmon said.

ETBI general secretary, Michael Moriarty, said dramatic change breeds dramatic resistance and he would support a longer timeframe, once the key aim of schools taking responsibility for their own learning environment was not eroded. Department of Education chief inspector, Harold Hislop, had a similar message this week about the ability to improve teaching and learning through properly-moderated assessments of students by their own teachers.

But ASTI president, Philip Irwin, yesterday urged members to vote in their ballot for power to escalate industrial action, saying it would give the minister a clear message on their concerns about abolishing the state exam at the end of the junior cycle. “Without an independent state exam, like we have with the Junior Certificate, it is highly likely that an A in one school will differ from an A in another school,” he said.

Since April, ASTI and TUI members are refusing to take part in training or planning for the JCSA, with first assessment of coursework by teachers scheduled for summer 2016.

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