TUI and ASTI committees to meet on junior cycle deal

Unions to discuss whether to recommend agreement with Department of Education

TUI president Gerry Quinn (l) and ASTI president Philip Irwin during  teacher protests earlier this month. The executive committees of both unions are meeting to decide whether to recommend acceptance of a new deal on junior cycle reform. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

TUI president Gerry Quinn (l) and ASTI president Philip Irwin during teacher protests earlier this month. The executive committees of both unions are meeting to decide whether to recommend acceptance of a new deal on junior cycle reform. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

The executive committees of the two secondary teachers unions are meeting on Friday to decide whether to recommend acceptance of a new deal on junior cycle reform.

The agreement was reached after intensive talks this week between union leaders and the Department of Education, which saw the direct intervention of Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan in discussions on Tuesday.

The negotiations were given added impetus by the start of the public sector pay talks this week.

Senior union officials had expressed fears that if the junior cycle dispute continued the issue would then become entangled with the pay talks, and potentially become linked to any productivity deal.

As it is, no ballot will take place on the junior cycle agreement until after the summer, because teachers will be on holidays.

In identical statements, the ASTI and TUI said their intention would be that a ballot would take place “as early as practicable in autumn 2015”, pending the approval of their executive committees.

The details of the agreement are set to be published on Friday, but both sides acknowledged that it centred on acceptance of five key principles, including “the necessity to give prominence and importance to classroom-based assessment”.

This appeared to represent a climb-down for the unions given that they have been resolutely opposed to any form of school-based assessment up until now.

Their public demand has been the retention of “external assessment of oral tests, projects, practicals” and other work.

However, union leaders who negotiated the deal believe the concessions they have made do not compromise the core objections of teachers.

It is understood the deal has departed significantly from the compromise plan brokered by talks chairman Dr Pauric Travers, in particular by scrapping the use of school-based assessment for a “notional” 40 per cent of grades in the new junior cycle award.

Four principles

The four other principles agreed between the two parties are:

- The need to recognise a wide range of learning;

- A requirement to reduce the focus on one terminal exam as a means of assessing students;

- Greater professional collaboration between teachers becoming a feature of our schools; - Both parents and students get a broader picture of each student’s learning throughout the whole of junior cycle.

The achievement of greater professional collaboration will be perceived by the department as a positive development.

A recognised weakness of the State’s education system is the lack of professional dialogue between teachers on classroom practices.

An OECD study in 2008 found the percentage of teachers in the Republic who had received an appraisal of their teaching, or feedback from their principal, was the lowest of 24 countries surveyed.

The agreement, however, represents a major climb-down on the initial proposal published by former minister for education Ruairí Quinn in October 2012.

These plans would have seen the abolition of the Junior Cert, and the creation of a new junior cycle award assessed by teachers, and certified by schools themselves, focusing on a range of skills that cannot be captured in formal exams.