Monday 16 December 2019

Second-level teacher unions reject Education Minister's Junior Cert reform compromise

Waterford IT and Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan
Waterford IT and Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Second-level teacher unions have rejected a compromise on Junior Cert reform put forward by Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan.

But the minister is holding firm and said that the unsuccessful conclusion in talks would “not scupper the much-needed reform on the Junior Cycle”.

The minister said that in talks over recent days she had “offered teachers a fair and sensible compromise”.

Key to teachers’ opposition of the reforms are plans to replace the traditional June exams with teachers assessing their own students.

Under the compromise proposals, the State exam would be retained for 60pc of the marks, while teachers would be responsible for the other 40pc.

The deal on the table  would also have seen the retention of the State certificate, rather than replacing it with a school-based award to which teachers were opposed.

Ms O’Sullivan restated her commitment to what she described as “the necessary and important agenda of junior cycle reform.”

She said  her compromise was  designed to retain the progressive elements of reform while addressing concerns expressed by the teaching profession.

“It is regrettable that the second-level teaching unions have failed to engage positively with the proposal”, she said

The minister stressed the need to reform the Junior Cycle warning that the  structure of the exam at present did not serve the best interests of students.

“The skills young people need for life – skills such as communications, teamwork and problem solving – aren’t skills that can be tested by a final written exam.

“ We are also placing enormous pressure on young children by having such a reliance on written exams taking place over a short number of weeks. “

“Having a substantial element of school-based assessment encourages the teaching of a broader range of skills and results in a much more rounded picture of a young person’s capabilities being fostered and assessed.

“ Similar reforms have been introduced in Scotland, Finland, Australia and New Zealand, all countries with high-performing education systems.  In Ireland we have been talking about junior cycle reform for nearly 30 years.  It's high time that we took action.”

She said she was  “convinced that the framework I put forward at these talks will result in a better educational experience for students at second level, while also respecting the concerns of teachers regarding reform.

 “It is regrettable that the leadership of the second-level teaching unions was not prepared to move from its pre-talks position and grasp the opportunity that the significant movement by the Department presented. “

The minister said she was still willing to engage with teaching unions adding that  the breakdown of these talks will not scupper the much-needed reform of the junior cycle.

“ Over the coming weeks I will be looking at how that agenda is advanced and I would ask the second-level teaching unions to re-engage on what is a fair basis for agreement”, she said

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