Quinn heckled during ASTI conference address

Secondary teachers union calls on Minister to retain State examinations as part of Junior Cycle

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn addressing delegates at the ASTI conference in Wexford. Photograph: Patrick Browne

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn addressing delegates at the ASTI conference in Wexford. Photograph: Patrick Browne


The main union for secondary teachers has made a fresh appeal to the Minister for Education to retain some form of State examination as part of the Junior Cycle.

ASTI president Sally Maguire said there are a lot of very exciting changes in the new Junior Cycle proposals but criticised Ruairi Quinn for what she described as insufficient consultation “before setting those proposals in stone”.

She said her members wanted “a fair, equitable, transparent State-assessed examination system” rather than the planned in-school evaluations that will go towards a new Junior Cycle award.

Resources were also needed to implement the proposed curricular changes, including middle management positions and investment in technology, she said.

“Teachers want this to work, they want to implement your plans but they are the experts so they know the training they need, they know what tools they need and they know that it is essential to have independent objective evaluation of their students’ work.”

Ms Maguire was responding to the Minister’s address to delegates at the opening day of the ASTI congress in Wexford. Mr Quinn defence of the Junior Cycle plan was repeatedly interrupted by hecklers.

Mr Quinn said the union had turned down the opportunity to provide input in the reforms. There was still time to discuss the matter, he said, adding that he would encourage the ASTI “to take the chance to put your mark on this significant change”.

But delegates shouted that Mr Quinn was presenting them with a “diktat” and said the main thrust of the reforms were not open for discussion.

Defending his plan for teachers to assess students at Junior Cycle level rather than rely on an external exam, Mr Quinn said: “I trust you as our teachers to act professionally and assess your own students without fear or favour to anybody.”

A loud chant came from the floor: “No, no, no…”

In her responding speech, Ms Maguire said the ASTI was open to talks but only if the Minister took the union’s concerns seriously.

She said one positive element of the Junior Cycle reforms was that they planned to recognise the variety of passions and strengths of pupils “because the present obsession with judging schools by league tables which only measure one thing – academic performance – is seriously flawed. It is not fair to judge one school over another by its academic results or by the number of students who progress to university.”

In a conciliatory tone, she also supported the Minister in his new admissions policy aimed at creating greater fairness in enrolment practices but she stressed these also needed to be enforced. Schools found to be breaching the protocols and “cherry picking” pupils should be “challenged and severely reprimanded”.

Ms Maguire also referred to the uncertainty faced by LGBT teachers “who find themselves having to constantly fight for their rights”, and welcomed the Minister’s decision to amend Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act. Further work needed to be done to ensure LGBT teachers had the right to work “without the constant worry of possible discrimination”.

But Ms Maguire said such progress was being undermined by cuts in resources, including those for Traveller students, for students for whom English is not their first language and for those with Special Educational Needs.

Stressing the need to invest in education to drive the economy, Ms Maguire said: “Only when adequate investment takes place, can education be instrumental in giving this country every chance to emerge from the abyss of recession into a new dawn of economic progress”.

She told Mr Quinn: “It is not fair to expect teachers to deliver a quality education service with less and less resources, more and more initiatives and continuous pay cuts. That is not fair, Minister, in fact it is disrespectful and very short-sighted.”

At the opening of the conference’s public session, Ms Maguire acknowledged the death last January of Irish Times education editor Sean Flynn who she described as a “great stalwart” of ASTI conferences. The tribute was met with warm and sustained applause.