ASTI concerns about JC reform


LEFTFIELD:IN 2010 THE National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) published a discussion paper, Innovation and Identity: Towards a New Junior Cycle. Following in-depth analysis of the discussion paper, the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) formulated a policy position on Junior Cycle reform and has maintained this position ever since.

The ASTI’s position includes:

* The ASTI is in favour of junior-cycle reform. For a number of years, the ASTI has expressed concerns that content overload and the dominance of the Junior Certificate exam are having a negative impact on teaching and learning at junior cycle. The ASTI has always accommodated the broadening of assessment methods to complement final written examinations.

* The ASTI believes that a fully costed implementation plan (with funding ring-fenced) is a necessary first step to transforming the junior cycle. To date, there is no evidence that the proposed reforms will be accompanied by appropriate resources and funding, including funding for essential IT hardware and supports and for continuing professional development for teachers. In the current period of cuts to public expenditure, the ASTI has little confidence that the proposed new junior cycle programme will be adequately funded.

* The ASTI insists that all schools must be in a position to implement reforms on an equal basis in order to ensure equality of opportunity for students. The proposal for short courses has the potential to exacerbate social inequality as some schools are in a far better position to fund the design, development and delivery of such courses.

* A major policy position for the ASTI, and one that predates discussions on junior-cycle reform, is that the introduction of any element of marking or grading by teachers of their own students for State exam-certification purposes is not acceptable. ASTI members are advocates for their students and believe that any move that places them in the role of judge will distort the existing professional relationship between teachers, students and parents.

The ASTI has reiterated its policy position at every stage of the NCCA junior-cycle reform process.

The two ASTI representatives on the NCCA Council (2009-2012) – former ASTI president Joe Moran and education officer Moira Leydon – were consistent and forthright in espousing the ASTI’s position during their term. This included making direct contact with all NCCA Council members for the purpose of explaining the rationale behind the ASTI’s position. It also included making statements at NCCA Council meetings. At one such meeting, in September 2011, the ASTI representatives had their concerns read into the record of the meeting.

Despite these expressed concerns of the ASTI, the meeting adopted a set of proposals for junior-cycle reform contained in the document Towards a Framework for Junior Cycle. These proposals were presented to the Minister for Education and Skills in October 2011.

In the weeks that followed, the ASTI met with the Minister and with representatives from his department in order to reiterate the ASTI’s concerns.

The Minister later referred to these “genuine concerns” in a speech in the Dáil. The Minister established an implementation group to explore the feasibility of the proposals and address the concerns of the ASTI and others.

The ASTI has appointed its president, Brendan Broderick, and education officer, Moira Leydon, as its representatives on this group, and has called on the Minister and the department to convene the group so that this urgent work can begin.

Pat King is general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland