Teachers agree to mark classroom work but not for Junior Cert grade
Coalition cave-in on Junior Cert reforms
Published 21/05/2015 | 02:30
Teachers are set to call off all industrial action after the Government watered down plans for Junior Cert reform.
The idea of teachers assessing their own students as part of the Junior Cert exam has effectively been taken off the table.
Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan wanted to introduce a 60:40 split in the marks between written exams in June and classroom assessment.
Under the new deal, teachers will still be expected to assess work completed in school - but it will not now count towards the pupil's final grade.
Instead, they will communicate the results directly to parents.
The row-back means an end is in sight to the long-running dispute that saw teachers walk off the job twice this year.
The proposals in a document called "Junior Cycle Reform: Joint Statement on Principles" are a long way from what was initially suggested by former education minister Ruairí Quinn in October 2012.
However, for the first time second-level teachers will embrace new forms of classroom-based assessment of their own students.
This is the what education experts say is needed to get Irish teenagers off the treadmill of learning by rote for a single set of written exams at the end of three years of junior cycle.
The reforms will mean that in future years:
÷ Students will be able to take short courses, such as Chinese, Coding and Drama.
÷ Students will be marked on a maximum of 10 subjects - there is no limit at present.
÷ Written exam papers will be shorter.
Separately teachers will assess pupils on other skills such as communications, teamwork, problem solving and communicate results directly to parents.
This morning, Mr Quinn described the new deal as a "significant breakthrough" and he said the minister should be commended in relation to getting people to accept that school is more than "just an external exam".
"We're moving away from a single point in time every three years" where students are examined, he told RTE's Morning Ireland.
"This reform of the Junior cycle has been on the agenda for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment for the last 20 years."
"Teachers concerns are being addressed, and they are being consulted by their unions," he said.
The plan will be presented to a special meeting of the 180-member ASTI central executive tomorrow in Dublin's Gresham Hotel and separately to the 22 TUI executive members who will meet in the union's head office in Rathgar.
The minister will be pleased to have gotten a form of classroom-based assessment 'over the line'.
The breakthrough will not affect the 60,000 pupils who begin their Junior Cert exams on June 3.
In 2012, Mr Quinn sought 100pc classroom-based assessment by teachers to replace the traditional exams, but that infuriated union leaders who argued that abolishing an independent system would damage the integrity of the process. They insisted that they would not grade students for a State certificate.
Then last year, in a bid to end the impasse, Ms O'Sullivan offered a major compromise with traditional exams being retained for 60pc of the marks and added to the results of teacher assessments.
That was further diluted in proposals that followed a mediation process earlier this year, which suggested that, while the results of both sets of assessments appear on the same award, they would not be aggregated.
Now the plan is for the classroom-based assessment to happen, but not to appear at all on the award. Instead reports from the assessment will go directly to parents as part of a broader information package about how their children are doing in school.
First-year students are already studying the new-style English syllabus and the plan is for classroom-based assessment to start in that subject next year, when they are in second year.
While the latest proposals may still meet resistance from some members, the support of ASTI president Philip Irwin and TUI president Gerry Quinn will be a key influence.
The reforms are intended to end the reliance on a single set of exams after three years of second-level education - which is blamed for encouraging rote learning - with a switch to system where students are supported in developing a broader range of skills than memorising text.
Discussions leading to the proposed resolution followed comments made by the minister at the recent annual conference of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) for secondary schools.Ms O'Sullivan outlined five key principles which, she said, must underpin any reform of the Junior Cycle, including the need to recognise a wide range of learning.
She said there was a requirement to considerably reduce the focus on one terminal exam as a means of assessing our students and a necessity to give prominence and importance to classroom-based assessment.
Ms O'Sullivan also called for both parents and students to get a broader picture of each student's learning throughout the whole of the junior cycle.
The unions wrote to the minister after her speech and "sought engagement on how they might be implemented in a mutually acceptable and appropriately resourced way".
The union leaders have now signed up to the principles outlined at the JMB meeting.
The document going to the executives tomorrow "outlines a foundation for reform of the junior cycle, within the context of those principles", said an statement from both sides.