Still plenty of work to be carried out before Junior Cert makes the grade
There has been a lot of talk about the Minister for Education and Skills' plan to abolish the Junior Cert and replace it with a school-awarded certificate based on grades given by teachers.
Second-level teachers disagree with the minister's proposal. In fact, teachers disagree with the proposal so much that they have voted to take industrial action to demonstrate their opposition.
Teachers are very reluctant to disrupt school life. But they believe education standards are under threat and that they must take a stand.
The minister has said that his proposal to abolish the Junior Cert will address the issue of student disengagement, which research shows increases for second-level students in their second year.
However, there is no evidence that removing the Junior Cert will do this. In fact, many teachers believe the Junior Cert provides a goal and focus for students and that its abolition may actually exacerbate disengagement. It is likely that students will perceive exams graded by their own teachers as less important and valuable than externally graded State exams.
The minister has said teachers are competent enough to assess their own students at Junior Cycle level. This misses the point. Teachers assess their students all year round and provide feedback in a constructive and affirming way – it's called assessment for learning. But classroom assessment does not carry the weight and status of a State exam, does not allow for national grade standards to be maintained across the country, and puts the teacher in the role of judge instead of champion of his/her students. The current externally assessed Junior Cert delivers on the criteria for transparency, validity, accountability, fairness and reliability and doesn't interfere with the student-teacher relationship.
The minister has said that students sitting the Junior Cert experience exam stress. Teachers are also concerned about exam stress among Junior Cycle students and believe that reforms such as broadening the range of assessment methods and spreading assessment out would help to address this issue. Despite these key disagreements, almost everyone who has contributed to the debate on Junior Cycle reform – including teachers, their unions, parents, the minister, and Department of Education representatives – agrees on one thing: that the Junior Cycle needs to be reformed. There is still a window of opportunity for the minister to initiate discussion on the concerns of teachers. If this does not happen soon, second-level schools will open their doors in September amid unnecessary uncertainly – for students, parents and teachers.
PAT KING IS GENERAL SECRETARY OF THE ASSOCIATION OF SECONDARY TEACHERS IRELAND (ASTI)