O’Sullivan rejects criticism of reforms

Minister rejects union claims that Junior Cycle plan a money-saving exercise

Jan O’Sullivan: “I do understand that the teachers have concerns and I have listened to them” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Jan O’Sullivan: “I do understand that the teachers have concerns and I have listened to them” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons


Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan says she believes a compromise can be reached with teachers on the Junior Cycle reforms, but she rejected union claims that the plan is simply a money-saving exercise.

“It isn’t going to save any money that I know of,” Ms O’Sullivan said. “I’ve never been told that it’s going to save money.”

Speaking to The Irish Times as this year’s Junior Cert results were released, she said: “The curriculum reform is something that has been in embryo for a long, long time and I’m committed to it.

“I do understand that the teachers have concerns and I have listened to them. But I think if you actually talk to teachers, it’s not that they don’t want to reform but they have very specific concerns around it. I would certainly hope we will be able to reach something that will work.”

Asked if she agreed that the system would be corrupted if teachers assessed their own students, she replied: “No, I actually don’t. But I do understand they want to ensure that people continue to have confidence in the exam and that’s why they’re raising these concerns about assessing their own students.

“So I think we have to find a way that we can balance that concern around external monitoring, whatever way it shall be done, and having the opportunity to measure different kinds of learning, different ways of doing things in groups, etc.”

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“I wouldn’t know about the details of the relationship” with the unions, Ms O’Sullivan said, “but I know Ruairí hugely values teachers and still has a huge passion for education, and for reform. I want to continue the reform measures that he was working on.”

Next month the teachers unions are due to meet Ms O’Sullivan for discussions on the reforms, which would see the Junior Cert abolished and teachers made responsible for assessing their students through a combination of portfolio work and an assignment at the end of third year, to be administered and marked in school.

The new programme is aimed at reducing the focus on rote learning and “teaching to the test”, but teachers argue that they will be subjected to undue influence from parents over assessments, and claim the Government is simply trying to save money by abolishing the State exam.

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English is the first subject being taught under the new framework, starting from this month for first-year students, followed by science next year, and Irish and business studies in September 2016.

Results for this year’s 60,327 Junior Cert students were made available yesterday through their schools and online at examinations.ie. There wasa widespread welcome for the increased number of students taking Mathematics at higher level – up from 48 per cent of candidates in 2012 to 54 per cent in 2014.

Joining that praise, the employers group Ibec said it showed that Project Maths was delivering. It expected the trend to translate into greater numbers taking the subject at higher level in the Leaving Cert.

“Young people need to develop the ability to interpret and analyse numerical and statistical data,” said Ibec senior policy executive Kara McGann. “However, further investment in this area and in teachers’ professional development is still necessary.”