Teacher unions will draw their battle lines over Leaving Cert reforms today.
Education Minister Norma Foley will continue her round of teacher conferences and defend her plans for the most radical overhaul of the exam since it was introduced almost 100 years ago
Yesterday, at the annual conference of the Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI), she received a stark warning not to push ahead with changes without proper consultation and agreement.
Ms Foley’s senior cycle reform package is a major topic at the conferences of the ASTI and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI).
Each will debate motions today that will decide their position on discussions on the implementation of proposed changes.
A major sticking point for unions is the move to require teachers to assess their own students for 40pc of the marks in each subject – something to which they are fundamentally opposed.
The TUI motion warns it will resist the imposition of teacher-based assessment for State certification purposes.
It also warns of a ballot for industrial action if certain assurances and resources they are seeking to underpin the changes are not met.
A motion at the ASTI conference raises the prospect of the union refusing to engage in the discussions until a “full, open and transparent study of the Junior Cycle has been conducted and its findings made public”.
Ms Foley got a flavour of union anger when she attended yesterday’s ASTI conference. She will address the TUI today.
Outgoing ASTI president Eamon Dennehy warned any change needed to be incremental and delivered only through negotiation and agreement.
He reminded the minister that specific commitments were given to teachers during the pandemic, when they assessed their own students for the Leaving Cert for the first time. They were told it was only because of the exceptional circumstances.
“We took those words in good faith,” he said. “We regard any attempt to go back on these commitments given to our members, who acted out of a sense of duty and commitment to their students, as unacceptable and counterproductive. As the collective voice for teachers, let me say this: there can be no change to our working conditions without negotiation.
“The cost of driving through senior cycle reform without proper research and reflection could be very high and lead to a fall in the standard, status and credibility of our second- level education system.
“The policy makers must tread carefully when it comes to changing the Leaving Cert.”
Ms Foley vowed teachers would be central to the reform process.
She said the entire impetus of the reform was to ensure “our students are empowered to meet the challenges of the 21st century”.
Ms Foley added she wanted to “salute the sterling work” by teachers in finding a way forward for Leaving Cert students in 2020 and 2021.
But she insisted there was no comparison with accredited grades or calculated grades during the pandemic: “One hundred per cent of the mark there was awarded by the teacher – that is not the case and will not be the case as part of the senior cycle.”
Teachers would be co-constructors of the new specifications for each subject, she said.