O'Sullivan challenges union ban on reform training
The row over Junior Cert reform has heated up after Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan announced that teachers are being invited to a training day next month, in contravention of a union ban.
The minister threw down the gauntlet when she laid out detailed plans for the introduction of change, including arrangements for face-to face training for English teachers in April.
It represents a direct challenge to the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), which have directives in place banning members from participating in training linked to the reforms.
But the minister said she could not "wait indefinitely" for the support of the unions, as she revealed that invitations are already being sent to teachers for the forthcoming training day.
"It would be deeply regrettable if individual teachers and school leaders are put in a position where they feel obliged to decline to avail of the rich learning experiences and dedicated time for learning.
"It is simply wrong of any union, in my view, to seek to deny opportunities for personal professional training and development to their individual members," said Ms O'Sullivan.
The minister described the union directives as "unjustified" because they were based on ballots conducted when the reform proposals were very different from what was on the table now.
There was a strong reaction from the ASTI and the TUI to the minister's move. In a joint statement, the unions described it as "extraordinary and unacceptable" that the Department of Education and the minister were proceeding with the further implementation of proposed changes without agreement from second-level teachers and their representative bodies.
It remains to be seen whether any teachers will defy the instructions of their unions and attend the training.
The minister's announcement comes with a little more than a week to go to the annual teacher conferences, and is certain to inflame debate among delegates.
The new syllabus for English, which was rolled out last September for first-years pupils, is the only element of the reform package to have been introduced to date.
But the teachers involved had only one day's training before the union ban came into place and will need more when the first cohort of students studying the new syllabus move into second year in September
Crucially, the latter end of second year is the time when teachers will be required to start assessing their own students for a new junior cycle award - the very element of the reform package to which unions are opposed.
Ms O'Sullivan set out her stall yesterday at a seminar on the implementation of change, attended by representatives of school managers principals, parents and the unions.
She announced earlier this month that she was going ahead with the reforms without the agreement of the unions, after they declined to accept settlement proposals drawn up by mediator Dr Pauric Travers, former president of St Patrick's teacher training college, Drumcondra
Since then, online training has been made available and the minister said that, in the first three weeks, 1,200 teachers had accessed the website.
Ms O'Sullivan also said that an online planning seminar for English teachers took place earlier this week, with space for 100 teachers, and that it was oversubscribed.