Thursday 21 February 2019

Compromise agreement will come as a relief to everyone

The fact that the five key principles listed by Ms O’Sullivan have been endorsed by ASTI president Philip Irwin and TUI president Gerry Quinn will carry a lot of weight
The fact that the five key principles listed by Ms O’Sullivan have been endorsed by ASTI president Philip Irwin and TUI president Gerry Quinn will carry a lot of weight

John Walshe

Third time lucky for Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan. The Junior Cert row has gone on too long but the end is nigh, much to everybody's relief. The last thing anyone wants is to start the new school year in September with threats of more industrial strife and continuing uncertainty over the reform agenda.

So who won and who sacrificed their basic principles - the unions or the minister? The inevitable spinning from both sides when the deal is unveiled tomorrow will suggest that both did.

The unions will say they have retained the integrity of the largely written Junior Cert exam which will remain a rite of passage at the end of three years in secondary schooling.

Ms O'Sullivan will argue that the union leaders have signed up to the principle of what's now called classroom-based assessment.

In other words teachers will assess other skills not captured in the Junior Cert exam and report to parents.

These skills which include team working, communications, problem solving etc are increasingly important in modern society.

The key principle accepted by the teacher leaders is to give prominence and importance to classroom-based assessment. They have also agreed that greater professional collaboration between teachers will be a feature of schools in the future.

The hope is that teachers will increasingly recognise that assessing students does not undermine their professionalism and that this form of assessment will take on ever growing importance.

School self-evaluation and inspection visits will help to reinforce this message and whittle away opposition as time goes by - or at least that's the hope.

Yesterday's carefully crafted statement followed various attempts to break the logjam. The fact that the five key principles listed by Ms O'Sullivan (pictured inset) have been endorsed by ASTI president Philip Irwin and TUI president Gerry Quinn will carry a lot of weight.

The ASTI in particular had taken a very hard opposition line to what was initially proposed by Ruairí Quinn and subsequently revised by Ms O'Sullivan.

The initial proposals were clearly too much for the unions to accept, moving away from a state exam to a school-based combination of assessment and written papers.

A recession is often a good time for introducing change, but teachers were clearly feeling the brunt not just of change but of cuts.

This was acknowledged in the report from Dr Pauric Travers who was asked by Ms O'Sullivan to try to break the deadlock.

In his report in February he wrote that a decade of rapid social, demographic and educational change followed by salary cuts, deteriorating career structures and casualisation have left many teachers alienated and distrustful, even of initiatives which may be to their benefit.

Teachers may not be wildly enthusiastic about the latest set of proposals but are likely to go along with them, if only because the alternative is unthinkable. Their leaders have already rejected two sets of proposals without ballots but it should be a case of third time lucky for the minister.

John Walshe is former special adviser to former Education Minister Ruairí Quinn

Irish Independent

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