Junior Cycle reforms here to stay, Quinn tells teachers

Minister asks ASTI why there is fear of change

Ruairí Quinn: the Minister was criticised for referring to ‘a highly feminised audience and profession’. Photograph: Patrick Browne

Ruairí Quinn: the Minister was criticised for referring to ‘a highly feminised audience and profession’. Photograph: Patrick Browne


Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has told secondary teachers that they are out of step with educational experts both nationally and internationally in a robust defence of his Junior Cycle reforms.

In a speech that was labelled “disgraceful” by delegates who jeered and booed throughout his 30-minute address, Mr Quinn questioned their union’s willingness to engage in meaningful discussions.

“It would be dishonest of me to pretend that your union has been fully engaged,” he told the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) annual congress in Wexford.

‘Structured feedback’
While there was still an opportunity to shape the reforms, the Minister stressed that he was not for turning on his key decision to replace a State examination at the end of the Junior Cycle with a type of school-based assessment that provided pupils with “structured feedback on their learning”.

Amid speculation that Mr Quinn faces a new portfolio in the planned Cabinet reshuffle, he told reporters after his speech yesterday that he hoped to have “pushed the boat out so far” on the Junior Cycle reform “that it can’t be recalled” irrespective of whether he remained as Minister.

He added: “I think we have won support for that position for the change in the Junior Cycle right across the spectrum from the world of education and from other commentators as well.”

Mr Quinn drew particular ire when he told delegates: “I trust you as our teachers to act professionally and assess your own students without fear or favour to anybody.

“Teachers already do that in further and higher education where the stakes are much greater. So why this fear of change in what is essentially a low-stakes exam?

“It begs the question: does your union have less faith in the professional capacity of you as teachers than I do?”

A delegate shouted from the floor: “That is disgraceful. How dare you”, and there were other chants throughout the address of “No, no, no” and “Shame”.

Honours maths
Earlier, Mr Quinn sparked another controversy when he floated a new policy at the INTO annual conference for honours maths in the Leaving Cert to be made a requirement for entry into teacher training.

The Minister said he “will be in discussions with the relevant bodies on this issue shortly”, adding the rationale would not be lost on “a highly feminised audience and profession”.

Some delegates construed this as a slight against women teachers, many of whom came through an education system that discouraged young girls to do honours maths.

The number of girls opting to take maths at higher level has risen steadily in recent years, with 21 per cent of girls opting for it in the Leaving Cert last year – just behind the 23 per cent of boys who did so.

Mr Quinn said research showed many girls decided against taking the subject at honours level because it was not a requirement for entry to teacher training.

But Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman Charlie McConalogue claimed the comments were an insult to “the thousands of female teachers we have at the moment”. The comments “were extremely ill-judged and bordering on sexist”, he said.