'Positive' meeting on education reforms
The first meeting between Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan and the second-level teacher unions about the thorny issue of Junior Cycle reform has been described as positive by both sides.
However, the unions remain adamant that they will not co-operate with replacing an independent Junior Cert exam and State certificate with teachers assessing their own students.
However, since last week teachers have been teaching the new syllabus for English, the first subject to be revised under the reform package.
Ms O'Sullivan said that she had wanted to "listen" to the unions and would use the coming weeks to reflect on their concerns. There will be a further meeting in mid-October. The union delegations included Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Pat King and president Philip Irwin and Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary John MacGabhann and president Gerry Quinn.
The unions welcomed the "opportunity to outline teachers' key concerns". As well as assessment, they spelled out their "serious concerns over the capacity of schools and teachers to meet the demands of such significant change in a resource-starved environment".
They would "be insisting that any change can only be implemented in a way that protects the integrity of the education system and also the young people in our schools.
"Any new version of the Junior Cycle must include a national certificate based on external assessment."
Ms O'Sullivan also welcomed the "positive engagement" and said while all sides recognised that reform had begun with the introduction of a revised English specification last week, further work was required to reach agreement on the overall reforms.
She said she would "consider what different forms of engagement might be considered to facilitate an overall agreement between the two sides."
Relations between the teacher unions and former education minister Ruairi Quinn had reached a point where no progress was possible on the reform agenda.
Now it remains to be seen whether the new ministers and the unions can build on their "positive" start.
While teachers are teaching the new English syllabus, they have refused to co-operate with the roll-out of short courses, such as Mandarin, originally pencilled in for this September. They are also refusing to participate in further training related to the change plan and strike action is also a possibility.