Pressure is mounting on the ASTI to ensure that about 35,000 third-year pupils complete a crucial assessment in English next month, after exam chiefs made it more difficult for the union not to co-operate with it.
Students in about 400 schools where the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) represents teachers have not yet done the school-based, written assessment, worth 10pc of marks in the new-style Junior Cert English exam.
While about 25,000 other pupils, whose teachers are members of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) or are not a union member, did what is known as the Assessment Task in December, ASTI members have refused to get involved in new classroom-based assessments, as part of the union's opposition to junior cycle reforms.
The State Examinations Commission (SEC) is offering a second chance for students to sit the Assessment Task at the end of April.
In a significant move yesterday, the SEC dropped the requirement for students to have completed a separate, but linked, classroom-based assessment with their teachers, before sitting the Assessment Task.
Later, the Department of Education confirmed that it would be updating its official advice to schools, "which will be consistent with the requirements set out by the SEC in respect of the Assessment Task".
There was no comment from the ASTI, other than that the matter would be discussed at a meeting of the union's governing body, its 23-member Standing Committee, later this week.
The threat to 10pc of marks in English for more than half of third-year pupils has been a major weapon in the ongoing dispute between the ASTI and Government.
Now, the absence of the requirement for teachers to have first completed their classroom-based assessment with students before they sit the Assessment Task puts a chink in the ASTI armour.
The strong message from the SEC, in the guidance it issued yesterday for the April assessment, is that there is no justification for the ASTI not to co-operate with the Assessment Task.
According to the SEC, arrangements for the management and operation of the Assessment Task are in line with those applying for the conduct of externally assessed coursework components in a range of subjects, such as Junior Cert science or Leaving Cert history and geography.
In other words, ASTI members are already co-operating with similar assessments for other subjects - although not in the context of junior cycle reforms.
Under the new SEC arrangements, students would be marked out of 100pc for the written end of the exam in English - the traditional June exam would account for 90pc of marks.
However, they would miss out on a descriptor to be awarded by teachers for the classroom-based assessment, which the SEC says it is now not necessary to do.