Wednesday 22 November 2017

This honourable compromise offers real chance of progress

Former Education Minister Ruairi Quinn
Former Education Minister Ruairi Quinn

John Walshe

THE Travers deal is a compromise - but can the union leaders sell it to their members? Much depends on what line the executives of the TUI and ASTI take. They really have little option but to put the package to a ballot. They can do one of three things - recommend acceptance, recommend rejection or put it out without a recommendation.

Neither union wants to be outflanked by the other in taking the hard line which has worked from their point of view. They forced one concession from the minister and have now secured another compromise.

It's a cleverly written document, acknowledging the mood music in school staff rooms. It refers to a decade of rapid social, demographic and educational change followed by salary cuts, deteriorating career structures and casualisation which have left many teachers alienated and distrustful.

"Addressing such alienation lies beyond the scope of the current process but it is an urgent requirement for the well-being of our schools," writes Travers, who then details the principles argued by both sides before offering his compromise option.

It manages to do the seemingly impossible task of retaining the integrity of the principles of both sides.

It's a long way from what former minister Ruairi Quinn initially proposed. He wanted teachers to assess their own students for 100pc of the marks on written papers and other components such as projects; orals; presentations; artefacts; artistic performances; scientific experiments or other suitable tasks. His plan was supported by many leading educational experts but not by the people who matter - the teachers.

Industrial action was stepped up last year and relations deteriorated.

The new Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan then said the State would continue to set and mark written papers for 60pc of the marks, with the remainder coming from teachers assessing their own students on projects etc. Even that was unacceptable. Now Dr Travers proposes that the 40pc would still come from school-based assessment but, crucially, would not form part of state certified results. Instead they would be issued alongside the state results.

This neatly addresses the unions' concerns that members would not certify for state exam purposes - but it does introduce a significant measure of teachers assessing their own students and marking them. The Travers plan leaves open the possibility that at some stage in the future teachers may assess their own students for state exam purposes. But that's a long way off.

The forthcoming changes are not just about assessment. They also allow schools to take a range of short courses in areas such as Chinese and coding. And all students will have the option of taking a new programme called 'Well-Being' which will incorporate physical, social, personal, health, relationships, sexuality, civic and political education.

The plan is not perfect and much needs to be teased out. But if it breaks the stranglehold of a centralised national written exam at the end of junior cycle, it will be an advance.

Forty years ago a report recommended school-based assessment at this level. At last we have a real chance of progress.

John Walshe is an education consultant and former adviser to Ruairi Quinn

Irish Independent

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