Parents’ group says teacher unions using children as pawns

ASTI president tells convention that strike action is only option available to members

Secondary teachers have been urged to call off industrial action scheduled to take place in December and January.

Delegates at the annual conference of the National Parents’ Council Post-Primary in Tullamore yesterday accused teachers’ union representatives of using students as pawns and scapegoats in the battle over junior cycle reform and of “hitting the easy target in a cowardly way.”

There was strong support among delegates for the new curriculum’s emphasis on project, portfolio and practical work.

Rebecca Hemeryk, from Dublin, said the new approach would be "fabulous for every child" because any pupil with special educational needs can be assessed all year.


Her two sons have dyslexia which requires special supports for written exams and one attends the DCU Centre for Talented Youth. However, they want to be assessed like everyone else in their class, she said.

Julie Kilroy, from Knocklyon in Dublin, urged teachers to engage fully in discussions which are scheduled to resume on Wednesday.

“You can’t walk out when you’re not getting your own way. If you have students’ best interest at heart and care about them, you don’t walk away from them,” she said.

TUI deputy general secretary John MacGabhann told delegates that teachers support the new curriculum. However, they remain deeply concerned about assessment, citing a major difference between national standards for thousands of junior cycle students, and the work done by TUI members who are college lecturers setting their own courses and marking their own students to a standard set within the college.

He welcomed the Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan’s move to state certify the new junior cycle award, but accused her of banning discussion of resources during recent negotiations.

While funds have been ring-fenced to train teachers, there is insufficient IT hardware and software and a lack of administrative and pastoral back-up to implement the programme, he said.

Responding to the minister's comment on RTÉ radio's Saturday View programme that the negotiaton ball is now in the teacher unions' court, ASTI president Philip Irwin said teachers' key objectives have not yet been addressed, and with all avenues exhausted, they have no option but to escalate industrial action.

However teachers remain available for direct discussion on how their concerns may be met, he said.

Ms O’Sullivan said she had significantly moved from the position set out by her predecessor Ruairí Quinn who wanted teachers to assess all of their own students’ work at junior cycle.

She has proposed that 40 per cent of work assessed by teachers and monitored by the State Exams Commission, with the remainder assessed externally by the commission.

Unions have a principled objection to assessing their students at any level, she said, and accused them of failing to engage with “the specifics of what’s on the table.”

Mr Irwin was attending a closed ASTI convention in Athlone where delegates agreed to new measures increasing union supports at school and branch level.

However, a motion that retired members would lose their right to vote in ballots on issues other than industrial action was defeated.