Some Junior Cycle students may not get all of their results because of a row over teachers refusing to attend meetings after normal school hours.
One key issue is whether teachers in schools with a weekly half day can be required to participate in meetings that same afternoon.
If the dispute is not resolved, pupils will face gaps in the new certificate awarded to show their achievements – the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA) – after the first three years of post-primary school.
The disruption caused to education and assessment by Covid has kept a lid on the row, but it is now reaching crisis point.
The problem surrounds classroom-based assessments (CBAs), the outcomes of which appear on the JCPA alongside the June exam grades.
CBAs, such as presentations, artistic performances and projects, came about as part of Junior Cycle reforms to allow pupils to demonstrate strengths in skills other than an ability to learn by rote for an exam.
While Covid affected their roll-out, students are generally required to do two CBAs in each subject.
The current crisis stems from a dispute involving the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) over the timing of meetings, known as Subject Learning and Assessment Reviews (SLARs), which sign off on the CBA ‘grades’.
A 2015 agreement between the Department of Education and teachers’ unions allowed for a limited number of meetings to run beyond normal school tuition hours for part of the duration of the meeting.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) facilitates meetings outside tuition time, but an ASTI directive puts a strict limit on members’ participation outside school hours, including where a half day has been built into the weekly timetable.
Within a month of the CBAs, subject teachers in a school should meet for a two-hour SLAR to discuss samples of students’ work and agree quality standards. Following the SLAR, teachers finalise the level of achievement they are awarding each student, using one of four grade descriptors – “exceptional”, “above expectations”, “in line with expectations” and “yet to meet expectations”.
Schools are required to upload the descriptors to the Department of Education in the same school year.
But not all schools have been able to hold SLARs because of the differing interpretations of the 2015 agreement and the extent to which teachers may be required to attend meetings outside tuition hours.
The ASTI is the main union in about half of post-primary schools, but there is no data on how many schools
or how many of this year’s 68,000 exam candidates may be affected by the dispute.
In June, the department confirmed to schools that “only those descriptors which have been subject to the SLAR process may be uploaded”. This confirmation crystallised the position in a row that has been bubbling for years.
The Joint Managerial Body, which represents the leadership in the affected schools, has confirmed some schools “have not been in a position to operate SLARs”.
The body said the continuing failure to achieve accord on the reinterpretation of the SLARs agreement was leaving school management and teachers “in an impossible position”.
It raised the issue in its pre-Budget submission, expressing hope that the recent clarification “may lead to the department and teacher unions coming closer to an agreed position”.
The clarification offers flexibility to schools to continue uploading CBA outcomes up to the end of December, but if the issue is not resolved by then, some students may receive a JCPA that does not fully reflect their Junior Cycle achievements.
SLARs require a huge time commitment, and schools were given extra teachers and hours concessions to facilitate them without interfering with tuition time.
Teachers should attend two SLARs a year for each subject. Most teachers have two subjects, which means a commitment of eight hours per year.
Each teacher was given 22 hours a year “professional time”, with the intention some of it would be used for SLARs; to cover that, 670 extra teachers were recruited.