EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn has promised that the pace of Junior Cert reform will reflect the capacity of schools and teachers to take on change.
Mr Quinn made the comments as the ballot by secondary teachers on the Haddington Road pay and productivity deal draws to a close. If the ballot is rejected, about 500 schools will close.
While Junior Cert reform is not part of Haddington Road, the two issues have become entwined amid concerns that education cuts make it difficult for schools to take on the level of change involved.
The new Junior Cert cycle will see a gradual replacement of the traditional state exams in June with teachers assessing their students over two years.
Meanwhile, the outcome of the ballot by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) will determine whether second-level schools face chaos when they reopen in January.
The ballot finishes on Wednesday and, in the event of a "no" vote, the Government has warned that it will impose changes in terms and working conditions on ASTI members from Friday, January 17.
From that date, all ASTI members will be required to do supervision and substitution work, and for no pay.
If the ASTI resists the changes on January 17, about 500 schools will close and the union's 17,000 members -- and some non-union teachers -- will be taken off the payroll.
Mr Quinn has also announced that the first meeting up of a special working group on Junior Cert reform will take place on January 17.
The group will consider and make recommendations on concerns raised by unions and management bodies relating to the introduction of the new Junior cycle.
These concerns include whether there will be adequate teacher training and whether sufficient resources are being made available to schools to implement the reforms.
Changes are due to be phased in from next September, when a new English syllabus will be rolled out for first years.
Mr Quinn said changes were being phased in up to 2020 and "the intention is to move at a rate commensurate with the capacity of the system to change".
He said he had already secured significant resources for reform and this funding was ring-fenced.
He said that "while all teachers I speak to are supportive of the need for change, I am also aware that many of our teachers have legitimate concerns about how the new changes will be introduced in schools."
Mr Quinn said a radical overhaul of the Junior cycle was essential if it was to reflect the social, cultural and technological changes that have taken place in the last 25 years.