Science teachers told to ignore consultation on Junior Cycle course

Unions reject claim of U-turn after agreeing with stakeholders that process should go ahead

A science course to be taught under the new Junior Cycle programme has been put out for consultation but teachers are being ordered by their unions not to take part.

The surprise directive comes just days after the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), which includes representatives of the teacher unions, agreed to go ahead with the consultation.

Senior officials in the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI), which is one of the unions represented on the council, have ruled that participation in the process would breach its mandate of non-co-operation with Junior Cycle reforms.

The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) has since backed the stance of its sister union.

The decision, which has yet to be communicated to teachers, means that industry and business groups will input into the design of the new Junior Cycle science specification but those due to teach the course will be excluded.

Explaining the change in heart after last week's NCCA meeting, a spokeswoman for the ASTI said the union's standing committee subsequently reached the view that co-operation in the consultation process was a breach of its directive on industrial action.

“We have not communicated that to members because we feel our directive states that anyway. But if teachers ask us for clarification once the letter about consultation goes into schools we will explain that, yes, it’s banned under the directive.”

The union participated in a previous consultation process – for the new English Junior Cycle specification – but its members are currently being balloted on whether to escalate its dispute up to and including strike action.

TUI general secretary John MacGabhann said its executive committee had yet to meet on the matter but it would concur with the ASTI's stance.

Operating principle

“The operating principle that the two unions have decided on is that the directive means the same thing for the members of each union. So you can take it the TUI position is the same as the ASTI standing committee.”

Asked whether this was a U-turn, given that both unions had been party to last week’s NCCA decision, he replied: “No. The council makes its own sovereign decisions and then stakeholders, when they go back to their parlours, make their own decisions.”

John Halbert, director of curriculum and assessment at the NCCA, described the ASTI's decision as "unfortunate" but said the consultation would go ahead.

Views are being sought through an online survey and a planned one-day special conference. About 150 teachers attended the English specification conference, and Mr Halbert conceded that for science “it will be less than that now, which is not ideal”.

Some teachers may choose to contribute to the consultation anyway, and latest figures show that 2,475 science teachers have already registered for training in the new Junior Cycle programme. This training is due to begin after the next NCCA meeting next month.