Junior Cert: 40,000 pupils can avoid penalties with agreement - Bruton

Penalties in exams avoidable if teachers back proposals to avert industrial action - Minister

Minister for Education Richard Bruton (left), with Fine Gael TD Jim Daly, who worked on development of an Education Ombudsman, which is being incorporated into the new Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for Education Richard Bruton (left), with Fine Gael TD Jim Daly, who worked on development of an Education Ombudsman, which is being incorporated into the new Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Up to 40,000 Junior Cert students could avoid penalties in their summer exams if teachers support new proposals aimed at averting industrial action, Minister for Education Richard Bruton has said.

This week thousands of students are taking part in a new assessment task which is linked to new junior cycle reforms.

This task - worth 10 per cent of next summer’s English exam - is aimed at providing a broader snapshot of students’ skills.

However, two out of three Junior Cert students will not have this opportunity due to a dispute involving the Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI).

The union has banned its members from co-operating in any way with classroom-based assessments and insists teachers should not play any role in assessing their own students for work linked to a State exam.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Bruton said new proposals being considered by the union would allow for students being taught by ASTI teachers to sit the assessment task in February.

“What we have provided for in the discussions with the teachers’ unions is that there would be a window in February - and that is now going to ballot by the ASTI,” he said.

“The set of proposals being balloted upon by the ASTI contain the solution for Junior Cert student who will get an opportunity in the new year to fulfil that extra part of the exam.”

No fault of their own

However, Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne has called on Mr Bruton to ensure children are not penalised through no fault of their own.

“Minister Bruton has been extremely slow to deal with the unrest surrounding the Junior Cert,” he said.

“This 10 per cent could be the difference between a pass and a fail for many students. It is simply unacceptable that some students will be placed at a significant disadvantage due to something that is completely outside of their control.

“There is a risk that this dispute could bring the whole State examinations into disrepute.”

Mr Byrne said any prospect of students losing marks as a result of this dispute should be taken off the table.

“ The department will have to devise a new method of assessment for students in ASTI schools and I plead with all sides to act with the interests of these students in mind,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Bruton has published details of draft legislation aimed at giving pupils and their parents greater involvement in schools.

All schools will be required to produce a legally enforceable “parent and student charter” which will set out how they should be consulted over running of schools and handling complaints.

Parents could be consulted through the use of online polls on issues such as school uniforms or the use of “voluntary contributions”, for example.

Proposals for the full or partial involvement of students in boards of management at second level are also being considered.

The role of the Ombudsman for Children will be expanded under the Bill and schools will be required to consider any suggestions, guidance or recommendations made by the Ombudsman.

Mr Bruton said the new Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill would set out principles to guide how schools, students and parents engaged with each other, and would place the student at the centre of school life.

‘Open and progressive’

“The charter sets out a partnership approach. It will ensure that the interaction between students, parents and schools is always done in an open and progressive way.”

Under the legislation, the Ombudsman for Children will have greater powers to investigate complaints made against schools even when they are still under consideration.

In addition, the Minister may direct schools to comply with guidance or recommendations made by the Ombudsman. This is a modification of another Bill proposed by Fine Gael deputy Jim Daly and accepted by the Government.