Teachers may strike before Christmas

Second-level teachers could begin closing schools with strikes before Christmas, despite significant concessions by Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan on Junior Cycle-reform plans.

The Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (Asti) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) are holding out for a full reversal of Junior Cycle assessment changes, after a breakdown yesterday evening at independently-chaired talks with her officials.

The Irish Examiner understands both unions will look at possible strike dates in the country’s 730 second-level schools — perhaps this side of Christmas — on Friday morning when they consider escalating their industrial action in the Junior Cycle dispute. The move will be an effort to increase pressure on the minister to ensure their 27,000 second-level members do not have to mark their students for any part of state exams.

She made unexpected concessions on the reform plans through Department of Education officials at the second day of talks overseen by former St Patrick’s College, Dublin president Pauric Travers on Monday, including removal of the most controversial proposal.

Her predecessor Rúairí Quinn proposed in 2012 that teachers mark their own students on final written exams for a new Junior Cycle Student Award (JCSA).

However, Ms O’Sullivan reverted to the 2011 National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) proposal to Mr Quinn that those exams continue to be marked by the State Examinations Commission (SEC). She also conceded to union demands that any award at the end of third year be state-certified, rather than a school-issued certificate as Mr Quinn had proposed to reduce the high stakes element.

But her insistence that teachers would still have to mark their own students on coursework worth 40% of final marks in second and third-year was rejected by Asti and TUI leaders. They are now seeking direct talks with Ms O’Sullivan.

“The minister must sit down face-to-face” and engage, said Asti assistant general secretary Moira Leydon. But the minister said she had made a fair and sensible compromise, having listened to teachers’ concerns in September. While she was happy to meet the unions, she said there was no point in doing so if there was no movement on their part.

“I have moved considerably from where the situation was when I came into office. The fact that the SEC would come in on a regular basis to spot-check [coursework marking in] a proportion of schools should, I think, give comfort to people that there is a common standard,” she told the Irish Examiner last night.

The two unions’ 27,000 second-level members have been engaged in industrial action since April, refusing to take part in training, school meetings or teaching of short courses for the JCSA, but a new English course which would be the first to be examined for the new award is being taught to first-year students since September.

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals’ said the minister appears to have gone some way to address unions’ concerns, but the proposed changes suggest agreement can eventually be reached.

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