Teacher-pupil assessment ‘is like asking a driving instructor to test clients’

Teacher Liz Farrell. Photo: Arthur Carron

Katherine Donnelly

Liz Farrell has said that expecting teachers like her to assess their students for the Leaving Cert would be like driving instructors testing their own learners.

It would change the nature of the important relationship between teachers and pupils – for the worse, she added.

Ms Farrell believes it is vital to keep the separation between the person teaching the subject and developing students’ potential and the person who assesses the student’s work.

“I am a mentor for my students, I am an advocate for my students. This would change the relationship from being an advocate to being an arbiter,” she said.

Ms Farrell added that many elements of the reform plan are progressive and worthy, but she called the teacher assessment aspect “regrettable and regressive”.

She speaks for many in her profession who are opposed outright to the move proposed by Education Minister Norma Foley as part of a recently announced overhaul of the Senior Cycle.

For Ms Farrell, who teaches English and history at Coláiste Eoin, Hacketstown, Co Carlow, part of the reason for her resistance is that Ireland is a small country and she teaches in a small rural school.

“But even in larger schools, it changes the relationship from being an advocate to an arbiter,” said the member of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) executive.

She said the objectivity, validity and reliability of the existing system must be continued by having external assessment by the State Examinations Commission (SEC).

It was a point touched on by TUI president Martin Marjoram in his address to the union conference yesterday when he recalled the pressure placed on teachers when calculated grades replaced the Leaving Cert was “immense in some cases”.

He said “a number are still ostracised by parents who have convinced themselves of some wrong-doing against their child”.

Ms Farrell recalled that when the minister launched her proposals, she said “we must not rush, but we can’t delay”. “But then look at what happens with English and Irish,” she added.

This was a reference to the move for students to sit paper one in both subjects at the end of fifth year.

The department has since clarified it is an interim measure until subject specifications are updated.

The change takes effect for students starting Senior Cycle next year, but Ms Farrell said even as an interim measure she sees “no value in moving the exams”.

Rather than easing pressure, it will add to the stress of having language exams at the end of fifth year when students are not developed in their own voices.

“It is going to cause transition year to be used for academic preparation, which defeats the purpose of making it available to everyone.”