Secondary teacher unions are to re-enter talks next week with Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan to see whether compromise can be reached on junior cycle reform.
More than 730 secondary schools closed today, affecting more than 333,000 students and disrupting plans for their parents and guardians.
It is the second one-day strike being held by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) which together represent 27,000 post-primary teachers.
Ms O’Sullivan reiterated her view that the strike was “disproportionate and unnecessary”, and said parents and other stakeholders deserve “equal recognition” in relation to curriculum reform.
“One education partner cannot be allowed to block this important reform. The voices of parents, students, school management and other partners are equally important in this debate.”
She noted the chairman of previous talks Dr Pauric Travers contacted both sides on Wednesday evening, proposing further discussions next week. “I welcome this initiative and my department will engage in these talks in a constructive manner.”
Criticising the threat of further industrial action, she said: “There is no reason to close schools today. The strike will only result in students missing a day’s teaching, disruption to parents and the loss of a day’s pay for teachers.”
The teacher unions said, however, that the second strike day had conveyed to the Minister the strength of opposition to plans to have teachers assess their own students for examination purposes.
ASTI president Philip Irwin said: "We believe a resolution can be found but teachers' serious concerns must be listened to and addressed. Teachers must have confidence in the change they are implementing in their classrooms."
The introduction of a component of school-based assessment in the new Junior Cycle Student Award is based on recommendations from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in 2011.
The Minister has proposed reduced this component to 40 per cent of final marks from the 100 per cent planned by her predecessor Ruairí Quinn.
But Mr Irwin said all project work should be externally assessed to protect the integrity of the process. “There are also serious and justified concerns over the capacity and school and system level to deal with the current proposals.”
The strike mandate for both unions allows for further industrial action to be taken without a further ballot.
The unions claim that parents are overwhelmingly supportive of their stance, despite the view of the National Parents Council, and they will use today to measure the public appetite for escalating the dispute.
In response, the parents council – along with organisations representing students and employers – have accused the unions of trying to veto much-needed reforms.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, commented: “As I said in the Dail yesterday, the people who really suffer here are the students. This is a small element of assessment in the Junior certificate examination. It’s got to change and be reformed. Everybody accepts that.
“Everybody accepts that the Minister has listened and engaged very carefully with the teachers, has put on the table a very realistic set of propositions and I would hope that when today’s strike is over that teachers will again sit down and get on with the business of doing a professional job for the pupils that they teach and upon whom they have great influence for the future direction of the careers of those children.”
Tony Donohoe, head of education policy at Ibec, said: "The world is changing, along with the needs of students. It is crucial that the teaching profession fully embraces these changes and is at the forefront of international best practice."
Irish Second-Level Students’ Union president Craig McHugh said focus needed to be taken off the narrow issue of assessment.
“I am extremely disappointed that the striking teacher unions have failed to reach consensus on these reforms and that a second day of strike action is taking place,” he said.
The reforms were “focused on building a more relevant, fair, engaging and progressive second-level education system. Our education is being affected by this. This is not fair on students,” he said.
Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on education Charlie McConalogue called on the unions to pull back from further industrial action but criticised the Government for allowing the current impasse to develop.
“This Government’s botched handling of negotiations between the Department and teachers is the main reason we have reached this stalemate. Former minister Ruairí Quinn’s approach to the situation was dictatorial and arrogant, and was central to the breakdown of relations,” he said.