Quinn prepared to address junior cycle concerns but no change on exam

Teachers are ‘not the only experts’ in education, Minister tells Oireachtas committee

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has said he is prepared to address teacher concerns about the junior cycle reforms as best as he can  Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has said he is prepared to address teacher concerns about the junior cycle reforms as best as he can Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has said he is prepared to address teacher concerns about the junior cycle reforms “as best” as he can . However he said there would be no change in his decision to replace the Junior Cert exam with in-school assessment.

Addressing an Oireachtas committee, Mr Quinn said reform of the junior cycle had been on the table for 25 years, and all the education partners - except for the two teacher unions the ASTI and the TUI - were in favour of change.

“I think some may have suspected that I was going to make some kind of concession” at the teacher conferences but the policy decision had been made,” he said.

He had asked the unions to explain in writing what resources, and changes they would like but they had not engaged.

“I am prepared to address all of their concerns as best I can, provided that we maintain the momentum of the reform of the junior cycle as set out,” he added.

Regarding external monitoring of in-school assessment, quality control, and certification, Mr Quinn said: “I am prepared to discuss all of that. Third level colleges have external examiners who come in and do quality assurance... There are multiple models around the world we can look at.”

However, he said: “I am confronted with two unions which simply said: ‘No, we’re not doing it’, and they have said it before and they’ve said it for the last 25 years, and it was a principle that they would not be judges of their own students when in fact it’s happening both in primary... and third level”.

The teacher unions have argued that in-school assessment would be vulnerable to undue influence, and could lead to a lowering of educational standards when combined with the abolition of the state exam at the end of the junior cycle.

Asked did he regard teachers as experts, he replied: “Yes, I do. But they’re not the only experts, and not every teacher has a PhD in educational research... The level of expertise depends very much on a pedagogical skills they have acquired along the way and that varies”.

“And it varies much more in the secondary post primary space than it does with primary school teachers because the primary school teacher has gone in to be a teacher from day one. Not every post primary teacher wanted to be a teacher on day one when they went to university... There is a difference.”

Under questioning at the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection, Mr Quinn also defended his criticism of rote learning, saying he used the phrase with a particular meaning.

“You have to learn some things by heart but what you don’t have to do is memorise a prepared answer to an anticipated question. We have to do our times tables’, and we have to learn our history dates, and we have to know the significance of 1914, and that has to be carried in our memory, but sitting down as I saw my now 19 year old actually speed writing and getting down to a limited time a prepared answer to a question that was anticipated to come up in different languages...that’s the kind of rote learning we are talking about.”

In a statement afterwards, TUI President Gerard Craughwell said the Minister was being “a little disingenuous” by seeking unions to make a written submission on the resources needed to implement his reforms.

Instead, he said, the Minister should indicate his willingness to provide the necessary resources to create a new system that was “externally assessed and nationally certified” as sought by teachers.