Teachers unions differ on exam reforms

The potential for division between the two second-level unions on strategy in relation to junior cycle reforms will be watched closely by the Department of Education this week.

Teachers unions differ on exam reforms

Although Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan was not invited to this year’s Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) convention, she will offer her views on the dispute to Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) congress delegates in Wexford tomorrow.

Before her address, more than 400 delegates will have voted on motions in which continued opposition to reforms is urged. However, there have been significant developments since those motions had to be submitted by TUI branches before Christmas, with a final series of proposals in last February the current subject of disagreement.

While the ASTI and TUI both remain opposed to many aspects of the reforms put forward by talks chairman Pauric Travers and accepted by the minister, differences exist between the unions.

Some within TUI’s leadership would have been satisfied to suspend industrial action and accept the deal, allowing them to enter talks on the resources needed for the changes, with the option to resume action if progress was not made.

The department will begin negotiations with school management bodies next week, but unions say publicly that this crucial issue should be finalised before they can ballot 27,000 members on any final deal.

The only motion on the issue for 480 ASTI delegates in Killarney will be put forward tomorrow, when the convention will be asked to direct the union to refuse co-operation with any school-based assessment for State certification, a motion whose wording may be superseded by events of recent weeks. Mr Travers’ proposal that school-based assessment by teachers be reported separately by schools to the results of State Examinations Commission-marked final exams overcame union opposition to teachers marking their own students for State certification.

An emergency motion on the issue at ASTI convention would require a meeting of the union’s standing committee to be scheduled to allow it on the agenda.

Although tensions are understood to be growing between the two unions in recent months, ASTI president Philip Irwin is hopeful they can remain united on the question of strategy.

“We have differences within, as well as between, unions as regard tactics, even in the last month as to whether we’d have another strike day or not,” said Mr Irwin last week.

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