TEACHERS say they won't co-operate with changes to the Junior Cert if they are not happy with how it will work.
Their warning comes as talks involving the Department of Education, teacher unions and school managers on the reform process are about to begin.
The overhaul of the Junior Certificate is due to start in September, when a new English syllabus for first-year students will be introduced.
Reform will mean new subjects and new ways of teaching and learning, with an emphasis on encouraging students to think rather than learn "off by heart".
A key feature will be the replacement of the traditional June exams with continuous assessment of students for a new certificate, to be called the Junior Cycle Student Award (JCSA).
Each school will award its own JCSA to students based on teachers grading their pupils.
While the reforms will be phased in over the next seven years, there is concern about the scale of change.
Even with promised training, many teachers are worried about grading their own students as schools say cuts have stretched them to the limit.
A Junior Cycle Working Group has been set up to deal with concerns; its first meeting takes place tomorrow. It comprises representatives from the unions, school management bodies, parents, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and the Department of Education.
Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) president Gerard Craughwell said that adequate preparation had not been made for the change.
He said they had significant concerns and, with only nine months to go, the department had failed to provide the concrete and practical details that they had repeatedly sought.
If concerns were not addressed, he said the TUI would ballot members to secure agreement not to co-operate with the implementation.
There are also concerns within the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) but the union has not yet adopted a formal position.
The matter will be high on the agenda during meetings of high-powered ASTI committees over the next few days.
The ASTI standing committee meets today and tomorrow. Its central executive committee meets on Saturday.
ASTI general secretary Pat King said their concerns included inadequate professional development for teachers, lack of resources at school level and the potential to exacerbate inequalities between schools.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said the new JCSA would be introduced at a rate that would allow schools, students and teachers the time to embed the changes.
Michael Moriarty, general secretary of Education and Training Board Ireland (ETBI), representing the former VEC, said the new name clearly conveyed that the emphasis of the new junior cycle programme was on individual achievement and not on performance in public examinations as had been the case.