Teachers hoping for new talks before Christmas
Productive discussions could avert January one-day strike
TALKS are expected to take place before Christmas aimed at averting another one-day strike by 27,000 second-level teachers in January.
But unions will go into the anticipated talks armed with the date for another stoppage in the row over Junior Cert reform.
More than 720 second-level schools closed yesterday, leaving 350,000 students without tuition, because of opposition to plans that teachers take on some responsibility for assessing their own students for the exam.
The prospect of another one-day stoppage in January - and perhaps even more after that - would cause huge disquiet as leaving and junior certificate students, in particular, return to the classrooms.
After yesterday's strike, there was no indication of any softening of positions by either side on the crux issue of teachers assessing their own students.
However, both Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan and the general secretaries of the two second-level teacher unions displayed a firm willingness to get back into talks.
The January strike date will be set when the executives of both the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) and the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) meet separately on Friday, December 12 to consider their next step. TUI general secretary John MacGabhann told the Irish Independent that the date would "concentrate minds" and it was "inconceivable" that they would not be back in talks the following week.
"It seems to me our members, and the public, would wish us to talk," he said.
ASTI general secretary Pat King agreed: "The minister's door is open, our door is open; it will happen very quickly."
He added: "If the discussions are productive then there could be a question mark over the date" for the January stoppage.
While the main obstacle to agreement between the minister and the unions is the question of teachers assessing their own students, there is a growing focus on the issue of resources available to schools to embrace the scale of change involved. The unions say schools don't have the capacity to implement the reforms, not least because of the education cuts of recent years.
School managers, who disagree with the unions on the issue of teachers assessing their own students, agree with them on the resources question.
Ms O'Sullivan has refused to discuss resources unless and until the teachers concede the principle of assessing their own students for 40pc of the marks in the new Junior Cert.
Previous minister Ruairi Quinn proposed that teachers be entirely responsible for assessing their own students, but in a recent compromise - rejected by the unions- the minister retained traditional exams for 60pc of the marks.
While the minister said yesterday that the unions' "veto" on assessing their own students had to go, the unions were insisting that the resources that would be made available to support the reform plan had to be put on the table.
Ms O'Sullivan said she was willing to negotiate on a number of related issues but insisted that the unions first must move.
"The issue around assessing their own students is central. This is about a new type of learning for students. It is about valuing things like project work, things like creative thinking and a number of intelligences that are not examined by an end-of-term written exam. This is a fundamental element of this change."
The unions say they support school-based assessment, once it is not done by the students' own teachers, but by other teachers - and, logically, that would involve payment
It would be similar to what happens in about 14 Junior Cert subjects including science, but teachers are paid by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) for that.
Asked whether he would expect that teachers to do such work for nothing, Mr MacGabhann said "that would be negotiated" while Mr King said "no one is talking about payment".
Both union leaders said they needed discussion on the time available in schools for any such work.