‘Beyond unhelpful’: Ministers condemn ASTI exit from Leaving Cert talks

Union says negotiations with Foley today are not indication it is re-entering process

Ministers have criticised the decision by the ASTI to pull out of talks on the Leaving Cert. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Ministers have criticised the decision by the ASTI to pull out of talks on the Leaving Cert. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Ministers have criticised the decision by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) to pull out of talks on the Leaving Cert last night but welcomed plans to resume exploratory negotiations today.

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said it was “beyond unhelpful” anyone would walk away from the process.

Niall Collins, Minister of State in the same department, said “the country looked on in shock” at what happened last night

The ASTI decision to leave discussions has threatened to derail the Government’s plans to provide clarity for tens of thousands of students next week.

The president of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said it would remain at the table.

Exploratory talks aimed at resolving the row between Minister for Education Norma Foley and the ASTI are due to begin this afternoon, but the union stressed the talks were not an indication it was re-entering the process.

Its general secretary, Kieran Christie, said plans being discussed were unacceptable on the basis that calculated grades would become a “dominant option” and the Leaving Cert exams would end up “filling in assessment gaps”.

On Newstalk Breakfast, the ASTI’s president, Anne Piggott, said her union was committed to finding a solution as quickly as possible to find an exam that would have standards.

Mr Harris was asked about the situation at a press conference where he announced new online further education courses for workers in the pandemic-hit hospitality sector. He said when it comes to the issue of the Leaving Cert “the most sense has come from the mouths of the students”, adding “they need clarity. They need a plan. They need this uncertainty to be taken away from them.”

The Minister said Ms Foley is working 24/7 to deliver that and is engaging with all stakeholders, very intensively.

Mr Harris said: “It is has beyond unhelpful that anyone would walk away from that process.”

The Minister added: “Look that was yesterday, and today is a new day. I’m very pleased that the ASTI have accepted an invitation from Minister Foley to meet with her this afternoon.”

He said the message from Government is “get in a room, get this sorted and stay in a room until it is sorted”.

Mr Harris said there are no perfect solutions in a pandemic but that Ms Foley is trying to “find the best possible way forward that serves students well and that has the confidence of teachers”.

The Minister said he still hopes and expects the issue can be resolved in the coming days.

Mr Collins questioned why a participant in the talks would “walk away without giving any advanced notification”.

He said the ASTI has not been asked to give up it midterm break, reduce Easter holidays or push the Leaving Cert into July.

“What we’re trying to achieve is what the students have asked for, which is a choice. And I think everybody has to pull it together really,” he added.