Thursday 14 December 2017

Junior Cert peace plan will see exam split in two

Confidential document: teachers to 'assess' pupils but this won't count toward final grade

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan
Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

TEACHER unions say new proposals for settling the row over Junior Cert reform do not provide the basis for agreement, as they currently stand.

Union leaders say  "significant aspects  of the document are not acceptable to teachers".

They say while the document presented by mediator Dr Patrick Travers forms the basis for discussions,  significant issues remain. 

 ASTI  president Philip Iron and TUI president Gerry Quinn delivered their joint response after joint and separate meetings of the unions' executive bodies. 

" The ASTI and TUI believe that substantial change, clarification and negotiation on the draft document are required before agreement is possible ", they stated

 Both unions re-iterated the "importance of the maintenance of education quality and standards in any agreement".

A confidential document was being put to teacher union leaders today with a message from the mediator that it represents the basis for an "honourable settlement".

Dr Pauric Travers admits it may not be an "ideal solution", but the alternative is "continued unrest and untold damage to students, teachers and the education system".

His proposals offer a new formula to address union opposition to teachers grading their own students.

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan had been pushing for students to be graded with a State exam worth 60pc of marks, and 40pc from ongoing assessment in school.

Dr Travers backs the idea of a 40-60 split between in-school assessment and the traditional written exam. But he says these two aspects should effectively be kept separate, even when the final certificate is awarded.

Dr Travers suggests a new Junior Cycle Student Profile of Achievement award - this would give one grade for the traditional exams, then list separately what the student achieved in school.

Combining the two aspects into one grade is off the table, at least for the moment. Aggregating the two sets of results into a single overall grade would require further discussion, says Dr Travers.

The executives of the second-level teacher unions, the ASTI and the TUI, meet today to consider the document. Teacher unions are not bound to put the proposals to a ballot - but there is likely to be pressure on them to do so.

Dr Travers says that if his proposals are acceptable, further discussions will be needed to finalise matters and make arrangements for their implementation.

In order to allow space for that, he suggests that the minister delay introduction of the new Junior Cert Science syllabus, currently slated for roll-out in September, and that the unions suspend their industrial action. Almost 350,000 students in the country's 730 second-level schools have already lost two tuition days this year because of strike action. The unions argue that introducing school-based assessment for a State certificate would compromise the integrity of the exam and lead to inconsistencies.

Dr Travers empathises about the impact of cuts on the education system, which, he says, have left teachers "alienated, distrustful, even of initiatives which may be to their professional benefit".

Addressing such alienation lies beyond the scope of the current process but was an urgent requirement for the well-being of our schools, he says.

But he also argues that the proposed reform of Junior Cycle is based on the "need for fundamental changes in our approach to curriculum and assessment to improve the learning experiences of students". While he states that not all elements need to be State certified, teachers, parents and students "would legitimately expect assurances and support to ensure that it was consistent, equitable and fair". His document goes on to address a range of union concerns directly, including the argument that school-based assessment for State certification would expose the teachers to undue pressure.

Teachers could be supported, for instance, through an independent Assessment Support Service and a sampling of 15pc of student assessments.

He backs the proposal for two-school based assessments, one in the second year and another in third year - with the results initially reported to students and parents by schools.

Dr Travers says that such assessment would be undertaken within the normal school day, to a national timetable. He does not elaborate on this, but it is possible, for instance, that time currently given to "mocks" could be used for this purpose.

There is no mention of payment for such work, but any claim would likely be addressed in negotiations to reverse pay cuts of recent years. No marks would be awarded for school-based assessments, but student achievement would be measured by descriptors - perhaps "merit" or "distinction", although Dr Travers' document does not use those two words.

Students would also sit traditional exams in June of third year, for a "notional 60pc of the documented learning for the subject", and these would be set and marked by the State Examinations Commission. A Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement would be awarded, listing all student achievements separately. Any move to combine the results of the two separate assessments "into a single overall level of achievement for each subject would require further discussion and consideration", Dr Travers states.

Irish Independent

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