Little hope talks will avert teachers' strike
A SECOND one-day strike by teachers that will force almost 350,000 students out of school next Thursday is expected to go ahead, despite talks taking place today.
There is little hope that the latest discussions - concerning plans for teachers to assess their own students in the Junior Cert - can avoid the January 22 stoppage which will affect more than 700 second-level schools.
Students are facing even further disruption in the weeks ahead, following agreement by two second-level teachers' unions for a third one-day stoppage. Further stoppages cannot be ruled out.
The ongoing interruptions to school life are coming at a crucial time in the year for Leaving and Junior Certificate candidates preparing for the state exams this year.
Next week sees the start of optional oral tests in Irish, French, German, Spanish and Italian for the Junior Cert.
These are conducted by students' own teachers, so schools have flexibility about how they are scheduled.
But if the stoppages continue, they have the potential to cause serious disruption to oral and practical exams.
These are carried out by examiners appointed by the State Examinations Commission, and take place in the weeks up to Easter and beyond.
The Leaving and Junior Cert "mocks" - which students rely on to guide them in their pre-state exam preparations - also take place in coming weeks.
Today's talks in the Department of Education are being headed by mediator Dr Pauric Travers, former president of St Patrick's Teacher Training College, Drumcondra.
In his invitation to the sides to return to talks, Dr Travers acknowledged the "deep" division between Education Minister, Jan O'Sullivan and two unions, the Teachers' Union of Ireland and the Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland, on key Junior Cert reforms.
There was no optimism on either side that today's talks - which will be attended by Ms O'Sullivan if Cabinet business allows - will provide a basis for averting next week's stoppage.
Teachers are being asked to grade their own students for 40pc of the marks in a revamped Junior Cert, in a move to get away from reliance on terminal exams for 15-year-olds, and the rote learning they encourage.
Ms O'Sullivan diluted the original proposal that would have required teachers to take over sole responsibility for grading Junior Cycle students, but unions insist that the introduction of internal assessment will compromise standards.