Saturday 20 July 2019

On Junior Cert assessment, less of a bad idea is still a bad idea

Barry Hazel

The argument over the new Junior Cert exam seems to be rumbling like distant thunder in the hills. You hope it will pass but in your heart you know you will get wet.

The argument seems to be stuck on the assessment issue. The Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O'Sullivan, has moved to a 60/40 model of State/school assessment but as far as the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI)/Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) is concerned, less of bad idea is still a bad idea.

Having been on the losing side in many ballots over the last few years, I believe I am on the winning side on this occasion and that we won't be assessing our own pupils for the Junior Certificate.

Against this optimistic view, we have the ghosts of disputes past: Will the TUI and ASTI maintain a united front? We do have solid support from the members but that evaporated somewhat in the last ballot, albeit aided by mixed messages from head office and a trade union leadership neutered by too many partnership deals.

We have the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), representing managers in voluntary secondary schools, and National Parents Association post primary (NPCpp) against us.

So, why do I believe that teachers won't end up assessing our own pupils?

Firstly, the general public are on our side as the message of a principle being broken has largely been accepted.

Secondly, I have yet to find a student who thinks it's a good idea. This should matter, because we are constantly told it's for the students and that it is as a result of disengagement by students that we are embarking on this journey.

Thirdly, teachers have had to deal with mountains of dubious paper work and initiatives over the last few years. They are now saying: "Enough". Take the literacy strategy - more time is spent writing reports than actually getting kids to read, But, hey so long as we have a report who cares?

The arguments around teachers assessing their own pupils have been well rehearsed but I'm still hearing new angles. A union colleague recently opined that, as it stands, we do a ton of work getting projects ready. We dot every "i" and cross every "t", but we don't want to give the final mark. It's not about work load as such. We just want someone who has no knowledge of the student to be the final judge. Somebody who might stand up to school authorities where a temporary teacher cannot. Is that so much to ask?

We also have issues around how we would co-ordinate this continuous assessment. Please don't tell me it will be through subject heads! The only person who can direct a teacher under current law is a principal. Even if not a subject head, you probably teach two or even three subjects, making it impossible to attend all subject meetings. Tom Collins, former president of NUI Maynooth (now Maynooth University) might argue that universities correct their own pupils' work but I doubt he or any other academic works under the same conditions as second-level teachers.

There is not a teacher in Ireland who is not doing work for which he or she was previously paid. I don't resent everything that has happened in schools the last seven years: there has been some good change, but a lot of useless stuff too and this is more of it.

* Barry Hazel is a teacher and member of the central executive of the ASTI.

Irish Independent

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