‘Children think teachers don’t like new Junior Cycle system’

To Be Honest: A Parent Writes....what do students make of the protests?

“As we all know, credibility is key when it comes to getting children to 
knuckle dow
n.” Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

“As we all know, credibility is key when it comes to getting children to ‘ knuckle dow ’ n.” Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times


As a parent of a child about to enter the new system, I worry about ongoing protests by teachers about the proposed changes to the Junior Cert. From what the Minister for Education has said in the media in recent weeks, this reform is coming, one way or the other. The students know it is coming and they are forming their own views of the new system according to what they hear and see now.

When my children saw the teachers protesting last week they asked why the teachers did not want to bring in the new Junior Cert. I tried to explain it from the teachers’ point of view, as I have gleaned it from media reports, but I know that the overall impression the children come away with is simple – the teachers don’t like the new system; they think it’s unfair and badly organised.

Maybe there’s some truth in that, but consider a young student starting this programme with that impression in mind. As we all know, credibility is key when it comes to getting children to knuckle down. Many people see the current Leaving Cert as unfair and badly organised, but we do the best we can with it so that that students can have as positive an experience as possible, and can believe that what they are doing is worthwhile. If teachers are entering the new regime with a negative attitude, children will pick this up and it will be more difficult to sell the idea to them.

There are two ways of looking at this. Perhaps the Minister needs to do something to assuage the concerns of teachers so that they can come to the programme with a positive attitude that will then be communicated to the students. I’ve no doubt that [teacher] unions would argue that that is the only solution.

However, there are so many aspects of these reforms that the unions have criticised: in-service training; resources for ICT; school-issued certificates; teachers assessing their own students; certain subjects becoming electives; and the question of how teachers will be able to deliver the diversity of subjects proposed in the new system. If the Minister met all these concerns, his reformed programme would be decimated. It would be business as usual. Yet the teachers say they support reform.

In this context, I think we need to consider the message that is communicated to students with these protests, because, after all, this new system will be the centre of their worlds for three years of their young lives.

The students need to believe in it to make it work. So the teachers need to enter this process in a positive frame of mind. We all go through difficult periods of transition in our working lives and we often feel like our employers have thrown us in at the deep end. However, ultimately we succeed or fail because of our mental attitude to change.

It will no doubt irritate many teachers reading this to be told that if they believe in their ability to make it work, then it can work. But don’t we expect our students to accept that message all the time?

This column gives a voice to those with an interest in education. Contributions welcome to education@irishtimes.com

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