Quinn forges ahead with reform of Junior Cycle despite protest
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is forging ahead with arrangements for Junior Cycle reform despite opposition from teacher unions.
The minister showed his determination on the eve of today's protests by teachers in up to 730 second-level schools aimed at highlighting their concerns about the proposals.
Mr Quinn responded by choosing yesterday to issue formal instructions to schools confirming that change would go ahead in September, and how it will be implemented.
Today's lunchtime rallies are not aimed at disrupting classes, but they will serve as a taste of what lies ahead if teachers vote to withdraw co-operation with Mr Quinn's plans for reform.
The overhaul involves radical changes in teaching and learning, with technology taking a central role and a greater emphasis on students thinking for themselves rather than engaging in rote learning.
There will be a bigger choice of subjects with opportunities to study short courses such as Chinese, computing and artistic performance.
Key to the reform is the abolition of the traditional Junior Certificate exams and continuous assessment of students by their own teachers, for a new Junior Cycle Student Award (JCSA), issued by schools.
The process of change is due to start with introduction of a new English syllabus for first years in September, while other changes will be phased in over a number of years.
As part of the reform plan, standardised testing will be introduced in key subjects of English, maths and science.
Standardised tests, which are already carried out among second, fourth and sixth class pupils in primary school, tell how a student is doing compared with other children of the same age.
But the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) are balloting their 27,000 members on a range of actions designed to stymie the introduction of change.
The ballots end on March 26 and a 'yes' vote will clear the way for action, such as a ban on teacher training for the proposed changes and a refusal to teach the new 'short courses' that schools have an option of introducing from September.
The TUI is also asking its members to vote on possible strike action.
The two unions are also seeking a mandate from members to ban co-operation with the assessment by teachers of their own students for the new JCSA.
The abolition of the Junior Cert is a key bone of contention, with the unions also claiming that a JCSA awarded by one school may be seen as more prestigious than one from another in the same area.
They have also criticised the lack of resources to implement the changes, including inadequate technology, with schools at "breaking point" as a result of cutbacks.
In January, Mr Quinn announced a slowdown in the pace of change and also promised additional resources and other measures designed to ease the transition.
But the unions said it did not go far enough and made arrangements for their ballots and today's protest
And yesterday, the minister made clear his intentions as his officials issued formal instructions to schools – known as a circular – confirming the new arrangements for Junior Cycle for incoming first years in September and the revised timetable for other changes in the years ahead.