Sunday 25 September 2016

Jan O'Sullivan criticises unions as teachers miss training courses

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

Published 08/04/2015 | 13:10

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan
Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan

EDUCATION Minister Jan O’Sullivan has criticised teacher unions for banning members from attending training courses starting next week for the new-style Junior Cert English exam.

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The minister said the directive issued by the unions “sit uneasily with real  commitment I know you have to openness to knowledge and learning”.

Ms O’Sullivan made the point in an address to the annual conference of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), one of the two second-level teacher unions.

She told the delegates that the Junior Cycle reforms presented an opportunity to make a “step -change” in the quality of the future learning experience for students.

She said she was ready and willing to engage with the unions on the range and extent of resources needed to implement proposals out forward recently by Dr Pauric Travers

However, that would require the unions to suspend industrial action, including their ban on training of teachers to equip them for the reforms.

Earlier, leaders of both the TUI and the ASTI reaffirmed their opposition to co-operation with the junior cycle reform programme.

In a joint statement, union president, Gerry Quinn and Philip Irwin, said teachers of English would find it “professionally repugnant” to assess their own students in an oral exam as envisaged in the reforms.

An oral communication project  – such as a Powerpoint-style presentation by a student on a topic of choice – is one of two school-based assessments being proposed for English in the revamped curriculum.

English is the first of the  junior cycle subjects  to undergo revision  and, since last September,  first years  have been  studying the new syllabus.

But the ban by the unions has stopped any further co-operation with the changes, including teacher training to prepare them for assessing their own students,  due to start in the next school year.

Key to union resistance is the proposal that they taken on some  responsibility  for assessing their own students for the new-style Junior Cert.

The proposed school-based assessment would be  in tandem with the  traditional June  exams , which would account for only 60pc of marks.

The 60-40 split was included in  recent  proposals from Dr Pauric Travers, former president of St Patrick’s teacher training college, Drumcondra, for settling the dispute, which the unions have rejected.

In today’s joint statement, the union presidents said that  Dr Travers’ proposals included an unacceptable precondition  to accept major flaws  and to suspend their directives banning further co-operation with the reforms.

They said for teachers of English, this would involve training to prepare for school-based assessment if an oral communication project which was professionally repugnant of them.

Despite the unions’ ban, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan has announced that training for English  teachers is resuming and invitations have gone out to individual teachers to attend sessions from next week.

TUI president Gerry Quinn said they believed that very few,  if any teachers, would attend the  training, which will be picketed by the  unions. Unions are also planning another lunchtime protest outside schools this month.

Mr Quinn told the minister that she could not proceed with implementation of the junior cycle changes as long as teachers “willingly and enthusiastically implement the non-cooperation directives”.

Referring to  cutbacks to education , the TUI president said  there would be “more trouble on the horizon” if Government policy makers “pushed teachers around even further”.

He said they would not be “reduced to passive units of production rather than proud and  conscientious professionals that we are”.

Mr Quinn referred to the “scorched earth of relentless cuts” to the education system, that were impacting on teachers and lecturers and their pupils.

He warned:  “As the current industrial unrest proves, and if these policy makers, under your direction, don’t learn from their mistakes, then there will be more trouble ahead”.

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