ASTI chief warns junior cycle reform dispute could simmer

Philip Irwin: Minister targeting English teachers in phase one of planned change

Second-level teachers have already staged two days of strike action in protest at the Governent’s proposed changes to the junior cycle

Second-level teachers have already staged two days of strike action in protest at the Governent’s proposed changes to the junior cycle


The dispute over the Government’s junior cycle reform will continue into next year if the Minister for Education persists in her intention to move ahead without agreement, the president of the second-level teaching union, ASTI, has said.

In his address to the union’s annual convention in Killarney, Philip Irwin said the Minister was seeking to target English teachers in the first phase of implementation of the planned reforms.

He said the union would not agree to any training for the new initiatives put in place prior to an overall agreement being reached with the Government.

“We will support and protect our English teachers,” he said.

Mr Irwin said further to this – and in view of the approaching examinations for students – the ASTI, in conjunction with the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, would be organising a national lunchtime protest of 27,000 second-level teachers for the end of this month.

Second-level teachers have already staged two days of strike action in protest at the Government’s junior cycle reforms and, in particular, in support of their demands for the retention of State certification and external assessment.

Mr Irwin said the proposal advanced by independent chairman Dr Pádraig Travers for an assessment to limit the State cert to the terminal exam with everything else being school reported was “ not acceptable or good enough”.

“In ways it is a step backwards – we never sought such a limitation and contrary to the Minister’s unfair characterisation of us as not having moved – we have always sought the inclusion of projects/portfolios in the state cert and less reliance on the end exam.”

Mr Irwin said that in short the ASTI wanted the Junior Cert exam modernised and made fit for purpose into the future.

“This is where the ground for resolution lies. The centrality of student-teacher relationship and the maintenance of the advocacy role of teachers on behalf of their students has to be understood and supported by the Minister if progress is to be made.”

Damaging austerity

The ASTI president said the union was always suspicious that the origin of the Government’s plans to abolish the State-certified Junior Certificate examination were driven by austerity.

He suggested that this was confirmed last December when The Irish Times published material obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that showed that the former government in 2008 and 2010 considered abolition of the Junior Certificate examination as part of budget cuts.

Mr Irwin also said that cuts and austerity measures imposed on the education system over the past seven years had not only damaged and undermined it, but if they were not reversed the prospect for any reform programme was bleak.

He said the State exam system, external assessment and administration by the State Exams Commission, was “an important sticking plaster holding this underfunded and poorly resourced education system together and ensuring that national standards and equity for all students are maintained”.

He said that in 2011 the Government cut pay for new teachers by 10 per cent and in 2012 it abolished qualifications allowances for new teachers. He said this was “ an anti-education move if there ever was one”.

“ Due to the work of the teacher unions there has been some clawback on these unfair cuts.”

However, he said the conference would be calling for the restoration of the common basic scale for all teachers “and we will be further calling for the reinstatement of qualifications allowances for new entrants to teaching”.

“In view of the heralded economic recovery we will be calling for the end of the pension levy for all teachers which was introduced under [financial emergency] FEMPI legalisation.”

Mr Irwin also said the teaching profession had been undermined by casualisation and an “hours culture” which had accelerated during the economic crisis.