Secondary teachers opt against escalating dispute with Quinn

Asti hopes to persuade other stakeholders to back campaign against changes to Junior Cycle

Annette Dolan (left), deputy general secretary; Colm Kelly,  assistant general secretary and John MacGabhann, general secretary TUI pictured at the TUI Conference at the Newpark Hotel in Kilkenny. Photograph:  Dylan Vaughan

Annette Dolan (left), deputy general secretary; Colm Kelly, assistant general secretary and John MacGabhann, general secretary TUI pictured at the TUI Conference at the Newpark Hotel in Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan


Secondary teachers have decided against escalating their dispute with Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn over Junior Cycle reforms, opting instead to try to persuade parents to back their opposition to the plan.

A proposed motion that would have seen the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) order its members not to teach the new English curriculum in September was withdrawn by its central committee today.

Officials warned the motion would have amounted to a form of industrial action which members had already rejected at a meeting last February.

Speaking after the decision, ASTI president-elect Philip Irwin said a strike threat was still an option but the union would first seek to persuade other stakeholders to back its campaign against the plan.

Mr Irwin said there were aspects to the English syllabus that the union was “not in opposition to” but it remained firmly opposed to teachers assessing their own students for a planned new Junior Cycle certificate.

“The issue of strike action will be something we will consider again in the autumn depending on how things go.”

Teachers’ Union of Ireland delegates were warned on Wednesday by their union’s general secretary, John MacGabhann, that they could run the risk of being sacked by schools if they refused to implement the changes in September.

“Let’s not make sacrificial lambs of some of our teachers, where the first thing they are asked to do by the union is lose their job,” he told TUI annual conference in Kilkenny.

He was speaking during a motion - that was ultimately defeated - to ballot members against teaching the new syllabus.

The ASTI congress closed today with committee elections and a debate on school inspections. Delegates were divided on the merits of incidental inspections which have increased in frequency - from 92 at secondary level in 2011 to 342 in 2012.

A further 80 Whole School Evaluations (WSEs), which involve more detailed inspections, took place in 2012.

Supporting an ultimately defeated motion that would see a minimum notice period of one week for incidental inspections, Mark Walshe of the ASTI Fightback group said they were designed “to keep teachers in a constant state of fear and terror”.

He said they were “all about the tick-box approach” to education which fed into league tables and other performance-based initiatives modelled in England.

But retired science teacher Lily Cronin, Co Kerry, said teachers had nothing to fear from the so-called “drive-by inspections” and giving people advanced notice would only create “added stress”.

She said the Whole School Evaluation system was far more unwieldy, recalling one such evaluation at her school in 2011.

On the final day of a conference disrupted by protests and infighting, Mr Irwin informed delegates that he had ordered an investigation into allegations of bullying and a death threat made against general secretary Pat King.

The president-elect said “neither I nor any officers of the association were aware” that Mr King planned to disclose these allegations in a public statement on Wednesday.

He added: “I am unaware of any formal communication from the general secretary to the president and the officers on these matter between January [when Mr King raised it at committee level] and this public statement yesterday. “However, in view of the statements about the death threat and bullying yesterday I believe that it is incumbent on us as a union to investigate the matter in line with our duty of care to our employees.”

Earlier Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn said he will not do a “single thing to undermine” the independently run Leaving Certificate examinations.

However, teacher unions said they are “seriously worried” about how students will make the transition from the new Junior Cycle style of learning to the Leaving Certificate curriculum.

Following a week of conflicts with teachers over his proposed reforms, Mr Quinn said the Leaving Certificate would remain independent and a state examination.

In an interview on Newstalk radio Mr Quinn said the examination was “treated with respect and viewed as incorruptible”.

“Of course we will keep the Leaving Certificate. Of course it will be a State examination marked independently,” he said.

Mr Quinn also said he was open to discussions with the teachers’ unions.

Teachers Union of Ireland president Gerard Craughwell said he welcomed the opportunity to speak directly to the Minister and explain teachers’ concerns about the reforms.

Mr Craughwell said he had “serious concerns” for students moving from the reformed Junior Cycle to the Leaving Certificate.

“I cannot see how students would make that transition, it would be fairly traumatic on them,” he said.

“You can’t have a Junior Cycle reform and not the deal with the senior cycle as well. There’s no way I can see the two working independently of each other.

“Is this about education or about a legacy for the Minister himself?”