Change One Thing: TUI president Gerard Craughwell says the timeframe for Junior Cert reform should be changed
Gerard Craughwell, president of the Teachers Union of Ireland. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES
The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) recognises the huge importance of a high quality public education system. So, we believe, does the Minister for Education. We know that an ongoing process of development is essential to meet the needs of every individual student, of society at large and of the Irish economy. However, we believe that change that is rash, and for which adequate preparation has not been made, can cause lasting damage to the system and particularly to individual students.
While respecting that the curriculum should evolve, the TUI is adamant that we must not mimic the experience of England, where pendulum swings in policy have caused systemic damaged and have demoralised both teachers and students. Change must be properly planned, managed and resourced.
In three bilateral meetings since mid-October, the TUI has given the Department of Education and Skills every opportunity to provide hard, practical evidence that the current proposals for change in junior cycle, which start next September, will be properly resourced to enable effective implementation. The Department has consistently failed to supply such evidence.
The Junior Cert may not be a high-stakes exam, but it is an important record of a young person’s achievement and progress at a critical developmental stage of life. A “school crest” certification process runs the real risk of debasing the value of the certificate and reducing public confidence in the assessment system.
The TUI believes the retention of an appropriate form of external assessment and moderation and State certification is necessary to maintain standards, ensure consistency and support equity. In this regard, TUI has sought greater clarity in relation to assessment but regrettably, this has not been forthcoming. Teachers are concerned that they will be overwhelmed with administrative demands and diverted from their core responsibilities of teaching, resulting in a diminished student engagement and experience. Parents and teachers are rightly worried.
It would be folly for anybody, the Minister included, to ignore the scorched environment that austerity has created in schools. Every parent knows that schools have been stripped bare. Teacher numbers have been slashed, class sizes have increased, senior posts have disappeared, budgets have been dramatically reduced and thousands of key pastoral resources such as guidance counsellors and year heads have been lost.
Teachers, including principal and deputy principal teachers, have never been more stretched, with workloads already dramatically increased as a consequence of larger class groups, reduced staffing and a plethora of new bureaucratic demands and initiatives. Furthermore, the capacity of schools to raise any private funds has diminished significantly. Together, these factors represent a threat to the day-to-day operation of services in schools. A significant threat looms for many students in small, yet viable schools who will simply not have access to the diverse curriculum opportunities available in larger schools. Matters of curricular access and social equity have, therefore, not been addressed and we must avert a further layer of rural disadvantage or polarisation based on postcode or on a family’s relative wealth or poverty,
Whatever capacity to implement change that might have been there before the austerity cuts has long since been stripped out of the system. Every school is now considerably less well equipped to deal with radical change than five years ago.
At a time when schools lack the most basic resources, how can they be expected to provide the technical expertise, access to ICT, differentiated learning opportunities and other required facilities? Connectivity is needed; not just to broadband, but to a rooted sense of realism.
Gerard Craughwell is president of the TUI