Teachers’ dispute: Why I’m on strike today

We must preserve what is really valuable and fair for pupils in second-level education

 

The concept of advocacy is central to the relationship between second-level teachers and students. We bat on their behalf until they are old and mature enough to stand on their own two feet.

At second level, we see our role as formative and accept teenagers are in development. So it is appropriate that we sometimes help them to get back on track when their youth and immaturity cause them to perform far below expected standards, either in their academic or personal lives.

When it comes to evaluating their level of success or otherwise in State exams know that, due to the anonymity of both the Junior and Leaving Certificates, they will be assessed fairly. This certainty is the bedrock of our second-level education system and we will strike to preserve it.

We have seen in the UK how various exam boards compete for custom, leading to varying levels of attainment. As teachers we are determined not to allow that in Ireland.

That is why we refused to accept the decision to terminate the Junior Cert as an externally assessed exam. Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has unravelled some of the changes her predecessor Ruairí Quinn introduced. But she has stopped short of meeting our basic demand which is that we will prepare students for assessment but will not become the judge of their success, because to do so would fundamentally change our relationship with them.

The argument that our TUI colleagues in the post-Leaving Certificate sector do so without difficulty ignores the fact that these students are all over 18 and adult members of our society.

As teachers, we welcome innovation in both what and how we teach to ensure our students are best prepared for the demands of adult life. Project work is a welcome educational tool to complement a written exam. The vast majority of teachers respect the professional boundaries between supporting a child’s project work and doing it for them, or accepting a project that is patently not the child’s own work.

Where the State Examinations Commission has identified situations where such work has fallen outside the boundaries of these high professional standards results have been withheld until the matter has been investigated.

To ask the teacher to be the judge of their own students’ work is a step backwards. Firstly, the intimate nature of many Irish communities would lead to severe pressure on teachers to ensure a good result for all children.

I am aware of situations where teachers have been encouraged by management to reconsider grades awarded in a Christmas or summer test based on the fact that the school did not want to offend parents, particularly if they were making a considerable financial contribution to the school. What would it be like in a State exam?

As we picket outside schools today, forgoing a day’s pay while braving the elements and parental frustration, be assured we are doing it not out of a sense of being self-centred but rather a determination to preserve the integrity of both our relationship with our students and the results they achieve.

Project work is a very useful educational tool. We use it across a wide range of subjects and correct it externally. Let’s extend that to all subjects in the Junior Cert to assess a wider range of skills than a single, terminal exam can ever achieve.

l Brian Mooney, is a guidance counsellor, ASTI member and Irish Times education analyst.

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