Friday 15 February 2019

Teachers run risk of delaying Leaving Cert

Teachers on strike at Newtown Park Road, Blackrock.
Teachers on strike at Newtown Park Road, Blackrock.
Teachers on strike at Colaiste Eoin, Stillorgan today.
Teachers on strike at Colaiste Eoin, Stillorgan today.
Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Parents have warned that the ongoing school strikes run the risk of affecting this year’s leaving and junior cert exams.

Almost 350,000 students are locked out of school today for the second time in two months as 27,000 teachers stop work in the row over Junior Cert reform.

Teacher unions have warned that their campaign will continue and already have plans for a third strike day in the country’s almost 730 second-level schools, on a date still to be decided.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) are taking action in opposition to plans for teachers to assess their own students for 40pc of the marks in a new-style Junior Cert.

ASTI president Philip Irwin and TUI president Gerry Quinn insisted last night that the industrial action was to protect education standards, equity and fairness.

But Don Myers, president of the National Parents Council Post Primary (NPCpp), said it was “absolutely outrageous” that the unions were planning more stoppages.

He said it was “most unfair” to students, and particularly tough on this year’s 60,000 Leaving Certificate candidates.

He said “very serious questions” would have to be asked if the unions went ahead with the threat of further action.

Teachers on strike at Colaiste Eoin, Stillorgan today.
Teachers on strike at Colaiste Eoin, Stillorgan today.

“Would that force us into a situation where the State Examinations Commission would have to postpone or delay the start of the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exams?” he asked.

Concern about the impact of the teacher stoppages on this year’s Leaving Cert exam candidates was also expressed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

In a significant compromise in November, Ms O'Sullivan abandoned an earlier plan for teachers to take over 100pc of the assessment of their own students for the Junior Cert. and said she would retain the traditional exams for 60pc of the marks.

But the unions say any school-based assessment by pupils' own teachers will damage the integrity of the exams and also say schools don't have the capacity to deal with the proposed changes.

They say they support more school-based assessment once it does not involve students' own teachers.

In a statement last night the ASTI and TUI presidents said: "We have an independent, objective, transparent and rigorous State examinations model which maintains public trust.

"We want a first class Junior Cycle education for all students. We fully agree that project work, portfolio work, practical work, and other methods of evaluating student learning are vital elements of a modern, forward-looking system, but we believe that they should be externally assessed for certification purposes.

"There are also serious and justified concerns over the capacity at school and system level to deal with the current proposals. Teachers' serious concerns must be listened to and addressed. Teachers must have confidence in the changes they are implementing in their classrooms."

Today's strike is going ahead after failed talks last week between Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan and the unions.

Mr Myers said it was very disappointing that the most recent attempts to resolve the dispute failed, but that did not justify the "unnecessary" strike action which was creating a very disruptive environment for students preparing for their mocks and oral exams. It was also causing serious problems for many working parents who had to take a day off to ensure their children are looked after, he said.

The Taoiseach made an 11th hour appeal for the teachers to call off their action.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, a former teacher and Education Minister, said nobody had a veto over plans to reduce the final Junior Cert exam to 60pc with the other 40pc given by teachers on a continuous assessment basis. But he said successful implementation of changes involved a "buy-in" by teachers, parents and pupils.

The employers' organisation, Ibec said the Government must not row back on the reforms.

Ibec Head of Education Policy Tony Donohoe said it was crucial that the Irish system applied best international practice and said the changes were vital.

"Junior Cycle is no longer fit-for-purpose and without reform Irish students risk falling behind their international peers.

"Class assessment is an integral part of the teacher's role and is the only practical way of developing the higher order communication and problem-solving skills, which cannot be adequately captured by standardised tests" .

Irish Independent

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