The Minister for Education is not going the right way about implementing change
Opinion: Junior Cycle reform requires more thought and better training for teachers
What will it do to the reputation of our education system if there is no independent verification of standards? Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Supposing you wanted to implement important changes in a very large and dispersed organisation. Would you opt to do it at a time when there are almost no resources available to carry out that change?
Would you do it when your workforce are weary, undermined and demoralised, having had several years of seeing vital supports for the people they serve disappear, and also having suffered wage cuts and increased hours and responsibilities? Would you demand it after piling new iniative after new initiative on them, while job security for new workers virtually disappears?
That, pretty much, is what Minister Ruairí Quinn is attempting to do with his proposed Junior Cycle reform.
Teachers are not opposed to reform. Given that they spend their time struggling with the limitations of a system that is overly focused on exams, they have strong incentives to back well-managed change.
However, the proposed method of implementation is causing profound fears.
I should declare an interest – I am a second-level teacher, and ASTI member, although I do not speak on behalf of either constituency.
However, because I teach English, I will be expected to introduce a radically new approach to teaching next September, because it is the first subject to undergo reform.
We are expected to move from a system almost entirely focused on a terminal exam to one where assessment is part of a toolkit to help the process of learning.
The Minister has loftily declared that we have four years to implement change, because the first examinations will not happen until 2017.
For someone who believes that we need to get away from terminal exams, it seems rather odd of the Minister to pick 2017 as the point where real change kicks in. Surely the new approach is all about the process, which is supposed to begin with first-year students in September 2014, that is, in 10 months’ time?
In 2013/2014, teachers of English will receive one full day of training outside of school, and two hours inside of school.
Yep. That’s it for this academic year. In that time, we are supposed to change our entire teaching methodology and focus, and inspire confidence in our incoming students and in their parents.
In contrast, when Project Maths was introduced, there were nine in-service days, even though there were no radical changes in assessment methods.
The post-primary management bodies, along with the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, have been politely and persistently requesting three things.
Firstly, rather than isolating teachers of one subject and letting them carry the burden of change, that there would be one day for the entire staff to absorb and digest the proposed changes. They also asked for funding for 10 hours a week per school to focus on how best to co-ordinate reform. The third request was for a panel of experts around the country, a kind of flying squad who could go to schools for short visits when problems emerge, as they already have.