Welcome for Leaving Cert reforms, but ASTI and TUI opposed to teachers assessing their own students

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Plans to involve teachers in assessing their own students for the Leaving Cert will meet a stiff challenge from their unions.

Otherwise the reform package announced today has received a general welcome from groups including the unions, school managers, Opposition politicians and business.

One of the key planks of the package would see teachers awarding up to 40pc of overall marks for exam components, such as practicals, projects and orals.

The teacher marks would be moderated by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) through a mechanism that has to be agreed, and the SEC would sign off on the final grade. The detail of how that might happen has not been worked out.

But Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Kieran Christie said the assessment issue was a “substantial” one for the union and could prove to be a “sticking point”.

ASTI president Eamon Dennehy said it was “longstanding ASTI policy that certification in the state exams is entirely externally assessed.

“This must be retained in all aspects of the development of the Leaving Cert. It vital that the integrity of the state exams system is maintained.”

Teachers Union of Ireland (TU) general secretary Michael Gillespie said his members were fundamentally opposed to assessing their own students for state certificate purposes.

Mr Gillespie also cautioned that there was “a lack of realisation of the capability of the system to deliver senior cycle reform given the teacher recruitment and retention crisis and the shameful underinvestment in education over many years”.

Among the positives he noted were the removal of barriers and ‘ringfencing’ of Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Leaving Cert Vocational Programme (LCVP), which would “give parity of esteem and promote equity across all schools”.

In welcoming other aspects of the package, Mr Dennehy said the ASTI acknowledged the retention of the existing broad subject range and the addition of two new subjects and the continuation of the Transition Year programme.

Paul Crone, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), recalled that in 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of Children recommended that Ireland reform the Leaving Cert because of the disproportionate stress it caused to young people.

The Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents management in about half of second-level schools, said it looked forward to working towards bringing the vision and principles articulated in the report to reality.

The Irish Universities Association (IUA) said it looked forward to engaging with the department and other stakeholders with regard to the implementation of the proposed changes.

It noted the core principle of ‘students at the centre’ of the reform plan and urged the minister to bring forward the timing of the final exams and results so as to allow students sufficient time to make choices about further study or other career options.

SInn Féin education spokesperson, Donnchadh Ó’Laoghaire, also welcomed the reforms but said the plan must be matched by resources.

He said the announcement was “still quite vague in some respects”.

“We need more detail from the minister on what teacher-assessed-but-externally-moderated continuous assessment will look like. It is important that the relationship between teacher and student - that is at the heart of the Irish school system - is preserved.”

Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the experience of predicted grades and continuous assessment the past two years had proven that change and a better approach are possible.

While he welcomed the introduction of new subjects, he said this must go hand in hand of the capacity of every school to deliver these subjects.

The business organisation, Ibec, also welcomed the plan.

Ibec’s Meadhbh Costello described it as “a positive step towards creating a Leaving Certificate that helps young people to become active citizens and prepare students for the future of work”.

She welcomed that the core principle of the reform was to keep students at the centre of learning and said opportunities for continuous assessment would give them several chances to showcase knowledge and skills and better capture the broader experience of learning.

“Appropriate resources must now be made available to facilitate curriculum and teacher development.”