Appeal to Quinn on Junior Cycle proposals

Minister tells delegates that union turned down chance to make input on reforms

 Sally Maguire of the ASTI: members want “a fair, equitable, transparent State-assessed examination system” rather than the planned in-school evaluations. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Sally Maguire of the ASTI: members want “a fair, equitable, transparent State-assessed examination system” rather than the planned in-school evaluations. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

The main union for secondary teachers has made a fresh appeal to Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn to retain some form of State examination as part of the Junior Cycle.

President of the Association of Secondary Teachers Sally Maguire said there were “ a lot of very exciting changes in the new Junior Cycle proposals, a lot of aspects which are welcomed by teachers”. However she criticised Mr Quinn for what she described as insufficient consultation “before setting those proposals in stone”.

She said members wanted “a fair, equitable, transparent State-assessed examination system” rather than the planned in-school evaluations that will go towards a new Junior Cycle award. Teachers wished to remain “advocates for our students, not to be turned into their judges”, she said.

Resources were also needed to implement the proposed curricular changes, including middle management positions and investment in technology. “Teachers want this to work. They want to implement your plans, but they are the experts so they know the training they need; they know what tools they need and they know that it is essential to have independent objective evaluation of their students’ work.”

Ms Maguire was speaking in response to the Minister’s address on the opening day of the congress. His defence of the Junior Cycle plan was repeatedly interrupted by hecklers. Mr Quinn said the union had been given the opportunity to have input in the reforms but had turned it down. There was still time to discuss the matter and he said he would encourage the ASTI “to take the chance to put your mark on this significant change”.

However, delegates shouted that Mr Quinn was presenting them with a “diktat”. Defending his plan for teachers to assess students at Junior Cycle level rather than rely on an external exam, Mr Quinn said: “I trust you as our teachers to act professionally and assess your own students without fear or favour to anybody.”

A loud chant came from the floor: “No! No! No! . . . ”

In her responding speech, Ms Maguire said the ASTI was open to talks but only if the Minister took its concerns seriously. She said one positive element of the reforms was that they would recognise the variety of passions and strengths of pupils “because the present obsession with judging schools by league tables which only measure one thing – academic performance – is seriously flawed. It is not fair to judge one school over another by its academic results or by the number of students who progress to university.”

In a conciliatory tone, she also supported the Minister in his new admissions policy aimed at creating greater fairness in enrolment practices but stressed these also needed to be enforced. Schools found in breach of the protocols should be “challenged and severely reprimanded”.

“I no longer want to see a situation where a student with special needs is in one school and his or her sibling is in a different school because the school down the road ‘would better suit his or her needs’.” Ms Maguire also referred to the uncertainty faced by LGBT teachers “who find themselves having to constantly fight for their rights”.

At the opening of the conference’s public session yesterday, Ms Maguire acknowledged the death last January of Irish Times education editor Seán Flynn whom she described as a “great stalwart” of ASTI conferences. The tribute was met with warm and sustained applause.