Teachers will resist proposed reforms to the Leaving Certification unless they receive assurances that they will not be required to assess their own students, following a vote by delegates at the Teachers Union of Ireland conference.
Dozens of delegates silently held posters stating "no to teacher based assessment for state certification" as Minister for Education Norma Foley began her address to delegates in the conference hall.
In a speech heavily focused on senior cycle reform, Ms Foley said that the range of skills and types of learning that could be assessed would be broadened if teachers assessed their own students.
She said that the issues of concern to teachers could be addressed through working with schools and teachers.
“I know, as a teacher, that you will all be very conscious of the need to protect the relationships at school level that you have with your students,” Ms Foley said.
“We can see internationally that those relationships can be protected and strengthened. There will be safeguards and a balance to be struck in both how the teacher and student are protected in a teacher assessment model.”
Ms Foley said that teachers should be involved in co-designing the curriculum and assessment for the revised and reformed senior cycle programme and Leaving Cert exam.
"We will learn lessons from previous experiences. I know that in moving to externally moderated, teacher-based forms of assessment some teachers will have concerns or reservations [BUT]the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and State Examinations Commission will have extensive engagement with teachers and other stakeholders."
Ms Foley said that the reformed senior cycle would focus on “empowering students, enriching the student experience and embedding wellbeing” into the curriculum.
Earlier in the day, however, delegates unanimously expressed opposition to assessing their own students.
TUI president Martin Marjoram received several standing ovations from delegates when he told the minister that teachers had serious concerns about some aspects of the proposed changes.
“The TUI has always supported additional assessment components for students fully to display the range of their abilities and achievements,” he said.
“Teacher-based assessment was not in the NCCA recommendations [AND]there was no prior consultation. Our history and current affairs are littered with the proof that who you know is and always has been far too important for determining life chances in Ireland.
Delegates heard that teachers, especially those in smaller towns, teach the children of their friends and family, and that they feared subtle and overt pressures would be put on them to award higher grades to the children of those with the power to exert most pressure.
Ursula O’Connor, a delegate from the TUI’s Donegal branch, said that teacher assessment would lead to further inequality in the education system.
“We hear of homes for sale being ‘near good schools’ and we all know that is code for a self-perpetuating cycle of privilege,” Ms O’Connor, a teacher in a designated disadvantaged (DEIS) school, said.
“There is a lot to be welcomed in the proposed senior cycle reform, but unless proper funding is put in place, we will end up with a two-tier system stacked against those born into economic disadvantage.”
Mr Marjoram also echoed the concerns of teachers that moving paper one English and Irish to the end of fifth year would not give students the chance to fully develop their critical and creative capacities.
In her speech to delegates, Ms Foley also said that the department recognised the need for teachers to engage in leadership activity, by expanding coaching, mentoring and dedicated continuous professional development opportunities.
She added that post-primary teachers will be provided with access to a new postgraduate course in teaching social, personal and health education (SPHE) and particularly relationships and sexuality education (RSE), with course fees covered by department funding.
“The learning for participants will be grounded in an approach that affirms the right of children and young people to a comprehensive and inclusive SPHE that is inclusive of all genders, sexualities, ethnicities, religious beliefs, social classes and abilities and disabilities,” Ms Foley said.
The minister said that her department will, this year, spend over a quarter of its total education budget on providing additional support for children with special educational needs, and promised that the 2004 Epsen Act - which outlined the rights of persons with special educational needs but has not fully been enacted - would be reviewed.