Friday 19 July 2019

Teachers strike threat still on as peace plan rebuffed

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan
Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Up to 350,000 second-level students still face the threat of another one-day school closure after teacher union leaders rebuffed a plan to settle the row over Junior Cert reform.

The unions say proposals issued by mediator Dr Pauric Travers did not form the basis for an agreement, as they currently stood, although they said they were open to further discussions.

The response from the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) falls short of a rejection, but Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan expressed disappointment at their initial reaction.

The possibility of ongoing unrest, including a third one-day strike in the current school year, remains open, unless and until the unions agree a basis for resolving the long-running dispute over plans for them to assess their own students in a new-style Junior Cert.

Unions are opposed the idea of assessing their own students for a State certificate, arguing that it will compromise the integrity of the exam and lead to inconsistencies in results.

Dr Travers said while his proposals were not an "ideal solution" he believed they would allow for an "honourable settlement", the alternative to which was "untold damage" to pupils and the education system.

His proposals support the minister's plan for teachers to take on some responsibility for assessing their own students. However, in a bid to break the impasse, Dr Travers suggests that the results of in-school assessments be treated separately from the results of the traditional exams, which would still account for the equivalent of 60pc of the overall marks.

The former president of St Patrick's teacher training college, Drumcondra, has set next Thursday as a deadline for acceptance or rejection of his proposals.

The executive bodies of the two unions, which met in joint session for several hours yesterday, said "significant aspects" of the document were not acceptable to teachers. "The ASTI and TUI believe that substantial change, clarification and negotiation on the draft document are required before agreement is possible" they stated, but did not elaborate on what clarification they needed.

The unions said they would continue engagement in the negotiations and the focus will now switch to the nature of discussions they are expected to have with Dr Travers ahead of next Thursday.

The minister said Dr Travers would be available to both sides for clarification next week.

Ms O'Sullivan said she was "positively disposed" to the Travers Report. "Having considered Dr Travers document, I believe it goes a long way to framing a fair and equitable solution to the issues regarding the implementation of Junior Cycle reform," she said.

"While I will seek clarification on some points, it is a positive development."

Her officials met a number of education partners including students' representatives, the National Parents Council and management bodies to brief them on the document,

The minster said while they have yet to give full consideration to the report, "the general view was very positive".



Who thinks it is a good idea for teachers to assess their own students?

An array of top organisations and individuals in the education field, including the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, university presidents, professors of education.

It already happens in a lot of high-performing education systems around the world.

Why is it regarded as a good idea?

Rote learning is a problem among Junior and Leaving Cert students because of the perceived need to cram for the June exams, perhaps without understanding it. Having teachers do some of the assessment in class would ease the pressure and allow the educator who knows the student best to offer timely feedback.

So why are teachers so opposed?

They fear moving from the role of advocate to judge and jury will damage their relationships with students. They are also concerned about inconsistencies in results between teachers and schools.

Why is there such a row about it now?

It has been on the stocks for 40 years but teachers would not agree and reformists insist it cannot be delayed any longer.

Irish Independent

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