Saturday 25 November 2017

Quinn facing tough battle over plans to shake up Junior Cert

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn. Photo: Frank McGrath
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn. Photo: Frank McGrath
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn is facing a battle with teacher unions over controversial plans for radical reform of the Junior Cert.

The Junior Cert as we know it will disappear under a plan to be implemented over about seven years.

A key change will see less emphasis on the traditional June exams, with up to 40pc of marks awarded by teachers for work done by their students over a two-year period.

The planned overhaul puts a cap of eight on the number of subjects students will study for exam purposes. The new qualification would be called the National Certificate for Junior Cycle Education.

Mr Quinn is keen to introduce change, but faces a number of challenges, including resistance by teachers to assessing their own pupils, as well as finding the money to fund the changes.

A Department of Education spokesperson said there was no comment from the minister, who had not yet seen the final proposals from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

Massive

The reform plan will mean a massive and costly teacher training programme, while schools will also need administration and IT support.

But teacher unions say the funding necessary for that is not there in the current economic climate, and also question other aspects of the plan.

The reform moves have been driven by concerns that Irish teenagers are so caught up in learning "off by heart" for the exams, that they don't learn how to think for themselves.

It is being blamed for a decline in the performance of Irish 15-year-olds in international literacy and numeracy tests.

Under the new arrangements, students would carry more responsibility for their own learning, through building portfolios of work, and presenting them for assessment.

The NCCA warns that the current junior cycle "is falling short of what students need" and "that continuing as we are will probably make things worse for our young people".

It insists that change must begin with the exam, because classrooms have "become rehearsal spaces and students focus on learning the script for the performance, rather than on the learning itself".

The introduction of continuous assessment by teachers, may be radical in Irish terms, but it would bring Ireland more into line with international practice and countries such as Australia, Canada and Scotland.

With fewer subjects -- 12 has become the norm -- the focus will switch from "covering the course" to deeper learning and building key skills for life.

Pat King, general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), said capping the number of exams starting as early as next year would cause a headache for school authorities, who planned well in advance.

He said it would also cause confusion for parents and students and he wanted to know who would decide what eight subjects students would take

Mr King said that ASTI opposition to teachers assessing their own students had not changed, although it recognised that the NCCA moved closer to its position by retaining 60pc of marks for an external exam.

"We still have serious concerns that proposals don't go far enough to meet our concerns."

He said the union also had a major worry about the availability of the necessary resources to help schools implement the changes.

Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary Peter McMenamin gave a broad welcome to the development, but also questioned whether the necessary resources would be forthcoming.

While the TUI is not opposed to teachers assessing their own students, he said it retained the view that they should be paid for this function.

Irish Independent

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