Tuesday 23 January 2018

ASTI refusing to write new school reports

Delegates Ciara Kinsella and Marian O’Neill of the Stillorgan Branch pictured at the ASTI annual convention in Cork. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Delegates Ciara Kinsella and Marian O’Neill of the Stillorgan Branch pictured at the ASTI annual convention in Cork. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Secondary teachers have thrown another spanner into the works of junior cycle reform.

The latest move by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) plunges plans for long-awaited changes to the learning experience for students into a new level of chaos.

Having won the battle about not assessing their own students for a State certificate, the ASTI now says its members won't even assess their pupils for a proposed new school certificate.

Instead of parents receiving detailed reports on how their child is doing in school, they will get blank pages on their progress, when the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA) replaces the Junior Certificate in 2017.

A vote by delegates at the ASTI conference effectively blocks meaningful engagement between the union and the Department of Education on reaching agreement on the new arrangements for junior cycle.

There was strong support for a motion calling on members to refuse to assess their own students for school certification, proposed by Mark Walshe of Dublin North East branch and a member of Fightback, a group of activists within the ASTI.

However, ASTI executive member Noel Buckley warned about the danger of opening up hostilities with the Government on too many fronts.

The ASTI is also threatening a strike on junior cycle reform from September, a ballot on industrial action over lower pay rates for newly qualified teachers and another ballot on withdrawing from working the 33 Croke Park hours.

The other second-level union, the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), has dropped its opposition to junior cycle reforms and its members are preparing to roll-out changes in their schools in September.

Any hope that the ASTI - whose members teach in two of every three second-level schools - was moving in the direction of a resolution has suffered a serious setback.

It opens up the prospect of a two-tier system, with pupils in TUI schools experiencing modern approaches to teaching, learning and assessment, while in ASTI classrooms they do not.

A key focus of the overhaul of junior cycle is an end to reliance on a single set of exams, and more continuous assessment in schools to measure other skills, such as oral communication.

The ASTI and TUI ran lengthy campaigns against the reforms, their opposition largely based around the original proposal for teachers to take over assessing their own students for the State certificate. They argued it would put undue pressure on teachers to awarding high marks, and would ultimately cause standards to drop.

Last year, the unions won a major concession when Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan agreed to a dual system - retaining State certification for traditional exams, but also having separate school certification on pupils' progress, including reports on two new classroom based assessments to be conducted by teachers.

The two certificates would combine into the JCPA that would be issued in the September after the students have sat the State exams.

At the time, the ASTI described it as a "significant achievement" and stated that there would be no link between classroom based assessment and State certification. But the motion adopted yesterday represents a major departure from that position.

Recently, ASTI general secretary, Kieran Christie talked about a "window of opportunity" to address outstanding issues, but progress now looks to be in jeopardy.

Irish Independent

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