Tuesday 23 July 2019

ASTI rejection throws Junior Cert into turmoil

Dr Orla McCormack, lecturer in education at University of Limerick, speaking at the ETBI annual conference in Galway
Dr Orla McCormack, lecturer in education at University of Limerick, speaking at the ETBI annual conference in Galway
Fr Michael Drumm, chairperson of the Catholic Schools Partnership
Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Plans for Junior Certificate reform have been thrown into turmoil again after Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) members rejected a deal agreed by union leaders.

The 18,000-member ASTI voted 55pc-45pc against the proposals and in favour of resuming industrial action, with only 38pc of members casting a vote.

The other second-level union, the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), has accepted the deal by a substantial 69pc-31pc, in a ballot in which 60pc of its members turned out.

The ASTI decision will cause major headaches about the status of the reforms, for which schools are already preparing.

It is not decided what form of action the ASTI might pursue - general secretary Pat King said the union's executive would meet today to consider the matter.

To date, industrial action has mainly taken the form of a refusal to co-operate with training or other preparations for the planned changes, although there have also been two days of strike action.

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan described the ASTI result as "deeply disappointing", while she welcomed the TUI outcome. She said she hoped that ASTI would reflect on the decision.

Ms O'Sullivan said the plans for teacher training would go ahead. On the issue of ASTI members continuing to refuse to engage, she said she did not think it appropriate for a teacher union to ask its members not to upskill.

Michael Moriarty, general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), representing one in three second-level schools, said it was "a devastating result from ASTI".

He said all the education partners and the Department of Education had "bent over backwards to accommodate teachers' unions. It seems to me now that it is the ASTI way or no way".

After a three-year campaign against the original reform package, the union leaderships signed off on much diluted version of the proposals during the summer and agreed to put it to ballots.

Much of the union opposition centred on a requirement for teachers to take on some responsibility for assessing their own students, but this was effectively removed from the final deal.

Earlier this month, the Department of Education issued a detailed programme to schools about the implementation of the changes. The first major reform would see second-year pupils doing in-class assessments in English next spring.

ASTI president Máire Ní Chiarba said that, while the latest proposals addressed a number of significant issues, in an era of education cuts, diminished resources for students and increased teacher workload, teachers did not have faith in the Government.

She also said ASTI members had expressed concern about the lack of clarity in the latest proposals.

"ASTI members are committed to educationally sound reform of the Junior Cycle. We have participated in a robust campaign, including two days of strike action, which led to significant advances in negotiations. The ASTI will now engage with its members in order to consider how best to pursue the outstanding concerns of teachers," she said.

On the other hand, TUI president Gerry Quinn said its key objectives were attained in the deal. "Our principled position has been protected.

"The document explicitly acknowledges that significant change must be appropriately resourced from the start," he said.

Irish Independent

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