Wednesday 17 January 2018

New talks bid to forge deal on Junior Cert reforms

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn
Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

NEW talks are planned in a bid to reach agreement over Junior Certificate reform, although there is no expectation of an early breakthrough in the row over teachers assessing their own students.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is inviting the two second level teacher unions to meet him after the Leaving and Junior Certificate exams are over.

The timing of the meeting has been deliberately fixed to avoid any associated controversy during the annual State exams, which start next Wednesday.

If Mr Quinn loses out in the expected Cabinet reshuffle in July, this would represent a final opportunity to advance his plans for the new school-based Junior Cycle Student Award.

The minister indicated that the invitations would be going out, as a Working Group set up in January to address a range of issues associated with the introduction of the new-style Junior Cycle produced its report.

He said that notwithstanding the fact that both unions had voted in favour of industrial action on the matter, he welcomed that "they say they are not against educational reform or Junior Cycle reform."

Mr Quinn noted that the report stated that further engagement with all the education partners would be necessary and inviting the two unions to talks in the first instance was how he believed it could be best progressed.

The unions, which have already banned co-operation with certain aspects of the plan, welcomed the proposed invitation but with reservations.

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Pat King repeated their concerns about the plans to replace the Junior Cert with school exams marked by students' own teachers.

A Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) spokesperson said despite participating in the Working Group, key questions posed by TUI on standards, capacity and equity had not been answered.

The Working Group report outlines discussions that took place on matters such as the need for extra resources in schools to deliver the changes, teacher training and determining at what point during the three years of Junior Cycle the proposed school-based assessments should take place.

It also refers to the proposal tabled during the talks to offer some independent support to school-based assessment, such as sampling by the State Examinations Commission in the interests of ensuring consistency in standards.

The Working Group heard from Norman Emerson of Education Scotland who made a presentation on the experience of implementing similar reforms in Scotland.

Despite the dispute over replacing the traditional State exams with teachers assessing their own students, the first of the reforms will go ahead in September.

English is the first subject to be revised to fit with the new approach to teaching and learning, which is aimed a switching away from a culture of "rote learning". There will be a new focus on enabling students to think for themselves.

Irish Independent

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