Irish educators divided over junior cycle reform

‘Exam driven’ Junior Cert not providing 21st century teaching, says Dublin principal

Fintan O’Mahony, a teacher from Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, says the Department of Education must come up with a solution that suits Ireland, rather than focusing on education systems used abroad. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Fintan O’Mahony, a teacher from Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, says the Department of Education must come up with a solution that suits Ireland, rather than focusing on education systems used abroad. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

While over 730 secondary schools around the State close on Thursday for a second day of strike action over junior cycle reform, educators remain divided over which changes the Government should introduce to the Irish examination system.

Liam Wegimont, principal of Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Clontarf, Dublin, says the Junior Cert curriculum has become “irrelevant” and that reform is long overdue.

“[The Junior Cert] is exam-driven and doesn’t allow teaching and learning appropriate for the 21st century,” said Mr Wegimont. “In Ireland we haven’t ever had a full reform in education.

“There was a previous attempt in the 1980s which led to a change in name but no significant change in curriculum.”

Success witnessed

Mr Wegimont, who will not take part in Thursday’s strike, says he has already witnessed the success of a new curriculum at Mount Temple where changes were introduced in 2012 to the teaching of engineering, home economics and business studies.

“I won’t pretend it didn’t take time and additional effort from teachers, but our teachers are professionals. They chose to make the additional effort.

“We’ve seen increased engagement from students, teachers and parents. It gives teachers greater freedom and allows the school to determine how the students can be catered for.”

Fintan O’Mahony, an English and history teacher at Scoil Mhuire in Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, says the Government needs to stop focusing on educational practice overseas in countries like Finland, Australia and Scotland.

“I’d like them to come up with a solution that suits us in Ireland; that works here and suits teachers, parents and students, which we’ve devised ourselves, rather than importing ideas from abroad.”

Serious on reform

Mr O’Mahony, who is on the standing committee of the ASTI teachers’ union, says he hopes Thursday’s strike will show the Irish public that teachers are still serious about Junior Cert reform.

“I was on the committee that drew up the new [English] course. I like a lot of it, but I don’t want to assess it the way they’re asking,” he said.

“We would end up being too nice, everyone would end up getting an A in everything. You’d know the student who had struggled, you would make allowances for them.

External moderation

“I would like some way we could validate the student’s work with external moderation - the teacher would have some input, but it would have an external moderator.”

Declan Flanagan, who teaches in Ard Scoil Phádraig in Granard, Co Longford, says he’d welcome an increase in continuous assessment at Junior Cert level but says papers must continue to be marked externally.

If teachers were to mark their own students at exam level, he says the State exam would have “no currency”.

“The system that’s there is very fair and should be adhered to,” he says. “We have no problem with continuous assessment, as long as the papers are formulated and marked externally according to a system of national standards.”