Plans for reopening second-level schools and a compromise Leaving Cert are now facing hardline resistance from the secondary teachers’ union.
In a shock move, the Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) has pulled out of talks on how to assess 63,000 Leaving Cert students this year, throwing the process into chaos.
That came less than 24 hours after it set itself apart from the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) by formally rejecting the broad plan to underpin the phased return of second-level schools in coming weeks.
The ASTI said the plan, which covers issues such as infection control measures and contact tracing and testing for school staff, was “unacceptable” but has not explained what additional measures it is seeking.
The twin moves by the union cast a dark shadow over hopes of getting 350,000 post primary students back into the classroom in coming weeks and providing exam certainty to Leaving Cert candidates.
Any setback to progress in reopening schools will cause widespread devastation.
Meanwhile, the Irish Second Level Students Union (ISSU) said the ASTI withdrawal from Leaving Cert talks had “caused stress, anxiety and worry to skyrocket amongst students”.
Amid the ongoing uncertainty about school reopening, the National Women’s Council (NWC) said it was being contacted on a daily basis by women “at breaking point”.
NWC director Orla O’Connor said women across the country were struggling to provide full-time care to children at home while doing their paid work from home or on the frontline. She said it was critical the Government prioritise the full reopening of both primary and secondary schools.
“Women are at the end of their tether as they continue to provide additional childcare and home schooling while closures remain in place,” she said.
While schools remain closed, the loss of formal supports, such as support services for disabled people and loss of informal care supports previously provided by grandparents and others has compounded the pressure on women to manage childcare, Ms O’Connor added.
The ASTI was engaged in discussions about the Leaving Cert yesterday and gave no clue that it was going to withdraw from the talks.
The Department of Education expressed “shock and disappintment”.
Later, Education Minister Norma Foley invited both the ASTI and the other second-level teachers’ union, the TUI, to separate meetings today. Both unions have accepted the invitations.
The ASTI said the proposal being worked on for the Leaving Cert was “not viable”.
ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie said it was unacceptable a plan was being developed that would “effectively see students preparing for two versions of a Leaving Cert, with calculated grades being the dominant option, and the Leaving Cert exams filling in assessment gaps”.
He said the process was being developed in a manner that would see the Leaving Cert “relegated to a secondary position with Calculated Grades the premier option
“We entered a process in good faith to explore the position whereby if the Leaving Certificate or elements of it do not go ahead, a fair and credible choice or option would be available to students,
“It is clear to us that the approach being developed would not provide the meaningful Leaving Certificate experience this cohort of students deserve.”
The TUI is staying in the Leaving Cert talks
TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie said the union was “keenly aware of the need for clarity as a matter of urgency in relation to all assessment elements of the Leaving Certificate programmes, including the written examinations and the additional components of assessment.
“We are committed to allaying the anxiety currently being felt by students, their families and teachers.
“Resolution of key issues is critical for students, teachers and the integrity of the process.
He said the union believed that “engagement in these intensive negotiations is the best means of ensuring that the views of teachers are central to this process and its outcome.”
The ISSU said this was a time when students needed cooperation between all stakeholders. Students have been through a horrendous year and now may face an uphill battle: “We need to show them compassion, we need to provide clarity, and the ISSU position remains that students deserve a choice.”