Ruairí Quinn rejects claims he ‘talked down’ education system

Minister for Education responds in the wake of criticism from the INTO, ASTI and TUI that he was overly-negative about the profession

Minister Ruairí Quinn, TD speaking at the ASTI conference. Photograph:  Patrick Browne

Minister Ruairí Quinn, TD speaking at the ASTI conference. Photograph: Patrick Browne

Fri, Apr 25, 2014, 01:00

Minister for Education Ruair í Quinn has rejected claims from teachers he used this week’s round of trade union conferences to “talk down” the education system.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio yesterday, he said teachers had been part of the “success” of Irish education. “They are doing a fantastic job. All the indicators are, internationally and nationally, is that we have an above-average education system with a growing population.

“I have paid tribute repeatedly to that,” he said. “That kind of comment sadly does not get the kind of news that a mistaken reference to feminisation did get.”

He was commenting in the wake of criticism from teachers across the three unions – the INTO, ASTI and TUI – that he was overly-negative about the profession. Dubbed by some as “the Minister for Announcements”, a common refrain was that he was introducing reforms without adequate consultation.

Mr Quinn strongly rejected the claim but pointed out that some people regarded consultation as the same as negotiation. “The reform of the Junior Cert is a political decision I took following advice from a whole array of informed academics and educational experts. How it’s implemented – the way we approach it and the way we can do it – is of course open to consultation.”

‘Highly feminised’

Asked about his reference to primary level being “highly feminised” when speaking about the proposed introduction of a higher-level Leaving Cert maths requirement for trainee teachers, Mr Quinn agreed it was a misstep.

“I would have said it differently if I’d had a second chance to say it. What I was trying to say was in fact a compliment to young women, young girls of 15 who do higher-level maths in the Junior Certificate and if they want to become teachers then recognise, even though they have the ability to do higher-level maths, that they don’t need it currently to get into teacher-training colleges.”

‘Positive response’

He rejected the suggestion he “antagonised” primary school teachers.

“The secretary general Sheila Nunan made great play on the particular point but in fact it was a very successful encounter and a very positive response that I got overall from the teachers of the primary school sector.”

Speaking on Newstalk, Mr Quinn assured secondary teachers his Junior Cycle reforms would not do a “single thing to undermine” the independently-run Leaving Cert exams.

The Leaving Cert was “treated with respect and viewed as incorruptible” and “I wouldn’t do a single thing to undermine it in any way,” he said.

Both the ASTI and the TUI have voted to withdraw co-operation from the Junior Cycle framework, which is due to be introduced from a phased basis in September.