Tuesday 23 July 2019

A system divided by years of rows

Former Education Minister Ruairi Quinn. Photo: Tom Burke
Former Education Minister Ruairi Quinn. Photo: Tom Burke
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The current Junior Cycle row has dragged on for almost four years. It had been talked about for decades but teacher opposition to assessing their own students meant the idea was parked by successive ministers.

Former education minister Ruairi Quinn dusted it down in October 2012 but annoyed the unions by announcing he was going ahead with it, without the usual consultations.

He was met with stiff resistance, including strike action, and made no progress. A new minister brought a softer approach to relations, but not enough to win the day against the hardliners.

A significant dilution of the proposals in the middle of last year finally broke the unified union position, with the TUI accepting, and now cooperating with change.

Meanwhile, ASTI opposition continued and continues, although it is a mandate based on a low turnout in ballots, raising questions about where rank-and-file ASTI members really do stand.

Major developments in second-level education would not normally go ahead without consensus among the unions. So, the decision of the minister to progress with change with only one union on board is leading the education system into uncharted waters.

English teachers in one in three schools, where the TUI has sole rights, will be ready for the first of the new classroom assessments on schedule in May, and, unless there is change of heart by the ASTI - and no reason to believe there will - others will not. Schools have the option of delaying the May assessment until next year, but that only kicks the can down the road.

With an election about to be called, it seems unlikely that much progress will be made in the weeks ahead.

It will present the next minister with an early and almighty headache on whether a divided system can be allowed to develop, with teachers and pupils in some schools doing one thing and teachers and pupils elsewhere doing something else. If not, how and when is it to be resolved?

Irish Independent

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