Irish News

Saturday 2 August 2014

Quinn says teachers heckling 'wasn't very enjoyable'

ASTI understands 'anger and high emotion' of teachers

Louise Kelly

Published 23/04/2014|09:08

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The president of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) said she understood the frustrations of hecklers during Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn’s speech at yesterday’s conference.

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Sally Maguire told RTE Radio 1 that she does not condone the behaviour of the some of the union members but the minister “hasn’t given any leeway on the Junior Cycle proposal”.

Yesterday, Mr Quinn was booed and heckled by ASTI members at their conference in Kilkenny over the issue of Junior Cert reform.

He also received a frosty reception when he addressed the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) conference in Wexford.

“People did sit and listen to what the Minister said but a lot of what he said was what he has been saying all along,” Maguire said, adding there is a lot of anger and high emotion among teachers at the moment. 

“We told him very clearly what we wanted yesterday  - and have been saying it very clearly all along. However, the minister appears to be not returning and that is very unfortunate.

There is a window of opportunity between now and September for the minister to return on some of his decisions and defer the Junior cycle for another year.”

According to the ASTI president, the exam system is one of the systems which the country has the most confidence on and so members may be reluctant to change their marking methods.

Maguire cites recent poll results that suggest that only 38pc of Irish adults have faith in the political system while as many as 78pc are confident in Ireland’s exam system.

“Irish parents believe that the exam system is objective and  impartial; they want to hold on to that,” she said.

“There are a lot of good thing about the Junior cycle proposal. The teachers are very excited about it but the assessment proposal just overrides everything.”

“But there is huge pressure on Leaving Certificate students at this time of the  year. Their teachers have a great relationship with them and want to continue being their advocates.

They don’t want to be turned into their judges.”

Maguire has also confirmed that a merger between the country’s two second-level teachers’ unions TUI and ASTI is being considered.

"The TUI are talking about it, we're talking about it, and really it makes no sense to have two unions at second level, because most issues we're very united on.

"And I think it's time. Now, it's very early stages, but I do think it's time that we should be working on joining forces and becoming one strong union for all 27,000 second level teachers," Ms Maguire said.

Following the behaviour of some of their members yesterday, Minister Quinn said that ASTI must consider what impact this has on their image as a union.

Mr Quinn said that the experience "wasn't very enjoyable" for him and "it was difficult to keep talking".

"From that particular union, [heckling] goes back a long way. Even at times when there was a lot of money around," he told RTE Radio 1.

"They are an important group and I wanted to communicate with them but a small number were very disruptive. It was an opportunity to respond to this group but I think it is difficult to be treated in that way."

He reiterated that his department and the teachers unions "are still not in agreement" as to how the Junior Cycle programme is to be implemented.

"We are not going to defer the Junior Cycle. I have slowed down the programme so we have plenty of time to adjust," he said.

The minister added that his comments that girls make a conscious decision to drop honours maths before their leaving Cert, regardless of their ability, were misconstrued.

"I went off script and I believe my point was not fully understood," he said.

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