Saturday 16 December 2017

New proposals from teacher unions may end Junior Cert reform dispute

Minister for Education & Science Jan O'Sullivan.
Minister for Education & Science Jan O'Sullivan.

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

Efforts to settle the row over Junior Cert reform has entered a new phase after teacher unions gave the go ahead for the preparation of proposals that may help to end to the dispute.

The unions will not be bound to accept any new proposals, but the move does represent a break in the impasse between the unions and Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan.

Almost 350,000 second-level students have already lost two school days in the current academic year because of the dispute, and Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI)  have threatened at least one more 24-hour stoppage.

At the kernel of the row is union opposition to teachers taking on any responsibility for assessing their own students as part of a new-style Junior Cert.

They say they support the replacement of the traditional reliance on a single set of exams with  more  in-school assessment of students but insist it cannot involve students’ own teachers.

Teachers are also concerned about the capacity of schools to embrace the changes envisaged, particularly after the education cuts of recent years.

The task of coming up with proposals that may form the basis for progress rests with Dr Pauric Travers, former president of St Patrick’s teacher training college, Drumcondra .

The minister appointed Dr Travers as an independent mediator last last year to see if there was a basis for the sides to reach an agreement , but his terms of reference did not extend to developing proposals.

After the second  one- day stoppage by members of the ASTI and TUI  last month, Dr Travers invited the sides back to talks and said, based on a meeting he ad with the sides  on January 13, he thought that further talks might be “more productive”.

It was the most optimistic note struck in the row that started in October 2012, when former Education Minister Ruairi Quinn rolled out  the initial Junior Cycle change package.

After the January 22 stoppage, two more days of discussion led to the proposal that Dr Travers’ terms of reference be widened to allow him to present proposals, a move supported by both union executive bodies today. The minister is also in favour.

In a joint statement, the unions stressed that the  range of possibilities that Dr Travers may bring forward were “non-binding”.

The unions will meet Dr Travers next week to clarify their position on all issues before he finalises any proposals.

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