Thousands of teachers protested again on Thursday over Junior Cycle reform as Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said none of the issues at stake would be solved at the school gates.
The lunchtime demonstrations, organised by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), were mounted to highlight objections to how students would be assessed under a reformed Junior Cycle.
A spokeswoman for the ASTI said up to 27,000 teachers from about 750 schools across the country took part on Thursday.
TUI president Gerry Quinn said the external assessment protected standards, equity, quality and fairness for all students.
“Clearly, there is a roadblock around certain fundamental issues,” he said.
“We accept the move towards projects and portfolios and so on are necessary educationally to alleviate the stress and strain on students preparing for an otherwise sole terminal exam.
“[But] assessment points, tests, projects and exams should be externally assessed and there’s no compromising on that.”
Mr Quinn said there would be no action taken that would disrupt teachers and students in the upcoming exams.
Boycott of training
However, he said teachers would continue industrial action to boycott training for a new syllabus until an agreement was reached.
Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said negotiations needed to happen “at the table”, with flexibility on both sides.
“Across the community there’s a total understanding that the Junior Cycle needs to be reformed, that the total reliance at the end of three years, very important years, is not doing justice to what we need to measure.”
Ms O’Sullivan said there had been a lot of changes to the reforms since the unions had originally held ballots on them.
She said she had moved considerably to address teachers’ concerns.
ASTI president Philip Irwin said teachers were united and determined to continue to defend the education system at Junior Cycle level.
“We’ve had to go past one Minister for Education, and we’re prepared to go passed another on this particular issue,” he said.
“We see this as something to maintain equity across schools and maintain standards in the system, so therefore we won’t be backing down on this one.”
Mr Irwin said he welcomed talks with the Minister and hoped “common ground” could be found on the issues.
Breda Lynch, a teacher in Dominican College in Donnybrook who was at the protest, said teachers were happy for change to happen but standards needed to be maintained.
“We’re open to talks and we’re open to discussion, but every teacher that I know in the country feels very strongly on the external assessment issue. It is the crux of it all,” she said.
Ms Lynch said although it was a busy time of the year for teachers with exams in a few weeks, there was enthusiasm for the protest to proceed on Thursday.
“We’re happy to move away from the terminal exam and we’re happy to go with project work, orals and other components. But we feel very strongly that we want to maintain that standard that we have at the moment of external assessment,” she said.
“Compromise is one thing - but you can’t compromise on standards.”
Following the protests, a spokesman for the Department of Education said while no talks had yet been scheduled, Ms O’ Sullivan said she was confident an agreement was within reach.
“The scheduled Junior Cycle training will continue to be rolled out. However, the Minister stated her belief that agreement is within closer reach than at any point over the last few years, and with a little more effort on both sides, she hopes to close the remaining gap in the near future,” he said.
ASTI general secretary Pat King said the dispute should not drag on until next year.
“We’ve had it for long enough, let’s solve it. The crunch issue is assessment,” he said.
“I’m worried that teachers of English are now going into their second year of this new programme without the dispute being solved.
“Students studying English deserve absolute certainty about the programme they’re following. It is essential for them that this matter is put to bed finally.”
National Parents' Council Post Primary president Don Myers said parents appreciated the protests were arranged so there were no disruptions to students preparing for examinations.