Saturday 22 November 2014

Quinn drowned out in storm over reforms to Junior Cert

Published 23/04/2014 | 02:30

A protester produced a megaphone during Minister Ruairí Quinn's speech at the ASTI conference. Picture: Patrick Browne
A protester produced a megaphone during Minister Ruairí Quinn's speech at the ASTI conference. Picture: Patrick Browne

EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn sparked a war of words with the ASTI after suggesting the union lacked faith in its own teachers over controversial Junior Cert reforms.

ASTI members reacted with fury at their Wexford annual conference after Mr Quinn publicly challenged their stance on the new Junior Cert regime which begins on a phased basis from next September.

Mr Quinn had to stop his address four times after dozens of angry delegates interrupted him with shouts of "disgrace", "you are destroying us", "rubbish" and "Thatcherite".

One delegate interrupted him with a loudspeaker.

Mr Quinn later insisted he was not frustrated or insulted by the ASTI's angry reaction to his Junior Cert stance.

"I accepted their invitation to address them and I spoke deliberately about an item of which there is some controversy. I wanted to communicate that to them. I did not intend to be provocative but I did want to be open and honest."

Mr Quinn insisted that, while he remains open to discussing Junior Cert issues with teacher unions, the new regime will commence as planned in September.

His blunt comments came after the ASTI warned that nine out of 10 Irish secondary schools are not capable of implementing the new Junior Cert framework from September.

The new Junior Cert cycle is due to be introduced on a phased basis starting with English from next September and will be fully rolled out by 2020.

The first written exams under the new Junior Cert framework, which hinge on teachers assessing their own students, will be in 2017.

With the exception of English, Irish and maths, which for the initial years will continue to be marked by the State Examinations Commission, there will be no external examiners involved.

Mr Quinn said he trusted Irish secondary school teachers to make the new system work and challenged their union's position on the reforms. "I trust our teachers to act professionally and assess your own students without fear of favour to anybody," he said.

"Teachers already do that in further and higher education where the stakes are much greater. So why this fear of change in what is essentially a low stakes exam?" he asked.

"It begs the question: does your union have less faith in the professional capacity of you as teachers than I do?

Mr Quinn also criticised the ASTI for their stance on the new Junior Cert framework.

"It would be dishonest of me to pretend that your union has been fully engaged in the national (JC) working group," he said.

He appealed to both the ASTI and TUI to better engage with the consultation process over the new Junior Cert.

However, ASTI president Sally Maguire warned that teachers overwhelmingly believe schools are not ready to implement the changes with repeated pleas to the department to stall the launch being ignored.

"In our Millward Brown survey we found that nine in 10 teachers believe their school is not ready to implement the framework this September," she said.

"In separate ASTI and TUI ballots, 88pc of second level teachers voted not to participate in the planning and preparation for the new Junior Cycle.

"Why would they do that if they did not have serious concerns about it? No teacher wants to prevent change but 88pc of us are saying that this change cannot work at this time."

The ASTI boss said that 77pc of secondary teachers want the changes deferred for a year.

Irish Independent

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