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Striking is not the answer, says deputy principal as school's out for 350k pupils

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Sr. Liz Smyth

Sr. Liz Smyth

Sr. Liz Smyth

The deputy principal of a Dublin secondary school has spoken out in support of the new junior cycle reform and said she will not be joining her colleagues on strike today.

Sister Liz Smyth from St Dominic's Secondary School in Ballyfermot said she respects the democratic vote of teachers' unions and will not be crossing the picket line.

However, she believes the strikes should not have gone ahead and will be carrying out her school duties from her home today.

"I don't think that striking is the answer. I think the minister has met teachers half way and I believe that the reforms to the new Junior Cert are important for students," she said.

"I believe that this is the time for us to undergo the type of reform that will help our education system to assess for learning rather than focusing on assessment of learning."

exam

Today's strike sees more than 730 secondary schools closing for the day with over 330,000 students effected. The unions have asked principals to close schools in their entirety rather than allowing non-teaching staff on site.

The new proposals would see 40pc of Junior Cert marks awarded through school-based continuous assessment with the remaining 60pc coming from the state exam.

Teachers' unions believe the new system will undermine the "credibility, transparency and fairness of the examinations process".

The president of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) Gerry Quinn said a system of teachers assessing their own students for state exams will "significantly change the relationship between the teacher and student".

"We agree with the minister that new modes of assessment such as practical work and portfolios are an important development. We support this," he said.

"However, we want all state exam components to be externally assessed. In recent months we have exhausted all available avenues in an effort to have our concerns addressed."

The ASTI teachers' union said six years of austerity cutbacks have left educators with concerns about the ability of the school system to deal with the "magnitude of change" the new system will involve.

Sr Smyth agreed that greater investment was needed, however she said the Junior Cert is "not a high-stakes exam" and as such is a good opportunity to "try this out".

"I think most educators are in agreement that students today need to be taught the skills to take responsibility for their learning with us as teachers continuing to be learners with them," she said.

"The new Junior Cert schools award does give us the opportunity to move away from teacher-led instructivism to learner-led constructivism."

Responsibility

She rejected the ASTI assertion that the new system will affect the student-teacher relationship.

"Teachers are professional. It is about knowing your students and knowing your teacher. I don't really accept that there will be a big difference," she said.

"We already assess our students. It happens in other countries. It is up to us to make sure that in our classroom we are teaching our students to take responsibility for their own learning.

"Every student has the same possibilities and every teacher in the country has gone through the same training. We should all be able to teach and assess our students in the same way."

Another one-day strike is planned for January unless a compromise can be reached in the meantime.

hnews@herald.ie

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