She was speaking after telling Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) members of her disappointment that their leaders plan to picket training centres where continuous professional development (CPD) is set to begin for English teachers next week.
"I think that your decision to prevent your members accessing professional learning sits uneasily with the real commitment that I know you have to an openness to knowledge and learning," she told over 400 delegates in Wexford.
She later told reporters that "it is somehow or other disturbing" to her that a teaching union like the TUI would seek to prevent its members from learning or expanding their own professional development.
"I think they shouldn't block their members from upskilling and from attending the training that's being provided. I just think it's not appropriate that theyr'e being told they can't go," she said.
She hopes there will be a rethink but she does not know why they are so determined that members would not attend training.
"I know there can be an issue aroound secondary picketing, which i think is the term used where it's not your own specific place of work. But that wouldn't be a point which I would particularly be sticking on as minister. Mu concern is that techers will upskill themselves so they will be able to deliver the junior cycle programme," she said.
The picketing plan was confirmed bo members of TUI and ASTI by their respective presidents, Gerry Quinn and Philip Iriwn, at their annual conferences yesterday. Mr Quinn said on Tuesday that the union is confident there is legal provision for the plan as those would be the designated workplaces of teachers invited to the CPD sessions.
The union leaders said the junior cycle row is at a critical stage and, while they have secured concessions from the minister on some issues of concern in recent months, a number of fundamentally important matters remain to be resolved. These include the need for all subjects to have projects externally assessed for State certification, and not by their own teachers for a school-issued reports as proposed, and the issues of teacher workload and school resources.
"At this stage it is vital that our directive on CPD is adhered to and that members hold firm. In order to further protect teachers of English from unfair pressure, CPD centres will be picketed," Mr Quinn and Mr Irwin both told their combined 900-plus delegates.
The Department of Education said attendance at any CPD is voluntary and the sessions at 21 regional educaiton centres will take place over the next two weeks, beginning next Monday. Schools were issued invitations for named teachers or English, with the planned attendance of teachers to be confirmed by schools to the department's Junior Cycle for Teachers support service.
However, a spokesperson said the numbers that had been confirmed to date are not known, although further registrations could take place closer to planned CPD dates at different centres.
"It is not possible to provide this breakdown until next week due to the Easter holiday period," she said.
The unions have suggested that very few teachers of English have actually signed up and they insist that their industrial action mandate justifies the action. Since last April, after both unions balloted their members, 27,000 teachers have been directed from taking part in any training, meetings or other work connected to the disputed reforms.
The minister received a polite welcome and applause on some aspects of her speech to TUI delegates yesterday, but saw delegates rise to their feet on several occasions during Mr Quinn's 45-minute response outlining various issues of ongoing concern to members in various sectors.
On the junior cycle issue, TUI executive member Seamus Lahart earlier described the current proposals as a project jungle, in which an average sized school could see 2,000 projects a year being submitted for assessment by second-year and third-year students. Teachers, he said, would have to moderate and assess each one several times.
"Simplicity itself, colleagues. I think not," he said.
He said those living in the real world foresee the absolute chaos and mayhem that will result, those teaching in crowded classrooms filled with children with widely varying needs and abilities.
"Children coming from perfect homes with supportive parents, broadband, libraries, folders and a wide variety of coloured pens and markers, and unfortunately a lot of those children who have none of the above," he said.
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