Lessons need to be learned before we change Junior Cert
Fascinatingly, he showed that Finnish teachers at this level have some of the shortest teaching hours in Europe – far, far lower than Irish teachers. Also, in the graph of OECD countries which Sahlberg used, Finnish students have the lowest number of instruction hours, 12 places lower than Irish students.
Finland has no league tables. Finland has no school inspectors. There is a terminal exam at 18, but before that the only “quality control” involves sampling of 8 to 10 per cent of students, and results are not disclosed.
While allegedly following Finland’s example, we are instead packing more students per teacher into the classroom and demanding that teachers work more hours. More “productivity” is being demanded of teachers, a market-driven concept that is anathema to the Finnish system.
Respect for teachers is very high in Finland. They take for granted a broad range of supports for students with any kind of educational difficulty, and they abhor standardised testing.
Few people have noticed that while abolishing the State- certified Junior Cert, standardised testing for 13-year- olds in English, Irish and maths has been introduced. Those tests will cause anxiety levels to skyrocket, and teachers will end up “teaching to the test” again.
I want to welcome the new Junior Cert, but I am sceptical about whether the resources needed to properly implement it will follow. If teachers are to design their own curriculums and assessments that have the same credibility as the current regime, they will need a great deal of in-service training. (No doubt to be carried out in their own time?)
And I have huge worries about teachers assessing their own pupils. A teacher in a small town is likely to be accosted in her local supermarket and queried as to why Johnny did not get an A. There will be immense demands on teachers to award high marks automatically. The honest teacher will find himself under pressure not to “let down the side”.
Coursework and portfolio work is wide open to abuse. In Britain they had to abandon it for that reason, replacing it first with “controlled assessments” done in exam conditions, and, recently, dumping coursework almost completely.
I am sorry to be a curmudgeon. I am very open to seeing the new system develop and work, as are most teachers. But a great deal of thinking, consulting and most importantly, resourcing, still needs to be done.