Unions reject proposal to split junior cycle assessment in two

ASTI and TUI say ‘significant aspects’ of latest proposals unacceptable to teachers

Proposals aimed at breaking the impasse over the junior cycle dispute have been rejected by officials from the two unions representing post-primary teachers. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Proposals aimed at breaking the impasse over the junior cycle dispute have been rejected by officials from the two unions representing post-primary teachers. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Executive members of the secondary teacher unions have rejected a compromise plan in the junior cycle dispute under which students would be assessed by both teachers and external exams.

The ASTI and TUI, which together represent 27,000 post-primary teachers, said there were “significant aspects” of the new proposals that were not acceptable to teachers.

In a joint statement, the two unions said they were now seeking to re-enter discussions with the department of education, adding “substantial change, clarification and negotiation on the draft document are required before agreement is possible”.

Dr Padraic Travers who chaired marathon talks between the unions and the department last week circulated the plan on Thursday to both sides, describing it as the basis for “an honourable settlement”.

He proposed splitting the new junior cycle certificate in two, whereby one part would be marked by the State Examinations Commission through the traditional exam format.

The other part would then come from teacher assessments, carried out in the second and third year of secondary school.

The results would be recorded separately on a planned “Profile of Achievement”, which would replace the Junior Cert.

“Well-Being”

In addition, a planned new Science specification would be delayed until September 2016 to give teachers more time to adjust to the new system, and a new, compulsory programme of “Well-Being” would be made a central part of of the secondary curriculum.

This would incorporate Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE) which teachers had claimed was being downgraded under the reforms.

The plan went some way towards satisfying teachers’ demands that they do not assess students for State certification. However, there are remaining concerns about additional workload and general strain on resources within schools.

On the department’s side, there is concern that if school-based assessment is kept outside of State certification, schools will treat it as an optional extra.

This concern is shared by many education stakeholders, including the representative groups for parents and students which back more radical reforms.

The main points of Dr Travers’ plan are:

l Students will study a maximum of 10 subjects for state certification; each subject will require a minimum of 200 hours of learning other than English, Irish and Mathematics which will require a minimum of 240 hours of learning;

l Schools may offer students the opportunity to take a small number of short courses in areas like coding, Chinese or philosophy; these will be assessed by teachers and will require 100 hours of learning so that two short courses will be the equivalent of one subject;

l Students must also undertake learning in a new area entitled “Well-Being”, incorporating Physical Education, Social, Personal and Health Education (incorporating religious education) and Civic Social and Political Education, under a 300-hour programme;

l A number of school-based assessments - typically two - would be completed in second year and third year and reported upon to students and parents by schools;

l About 15 per cent of school-based components would be sent for external review to ensure consistency in assessment;

l A State-certified examination would be completed at the end of third year and the results would represent “a notional 60 per cent of the documented learning for the subject”;

l Students would receive a “Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement” at the end of third year documenting their achievement in exams and school-based assessments separately; the profile would also record completion of short courses and achievement in other areas including the “Well-Being” programme;

l Additional resources and teacher training will be provided following further discussions;

l Implementation of the agreement will be monitored by an implementation committee comprised of representatives of the parties involved and an independent chair.

Strike actions

The unions have already held two one-day strike actions over the planned reforms, and are threatening a third strike date. They are also refusing to cooperate with the roll-out of short courses.

In a letter accompanying the proposals, Dr Travers says they acknowledge many of the concerns of teachers while retaining some of the most progressive elements of the original reform plan.

“It is by no means an ideal solution, but it provides the basis for an honourable settlement. It demands compromise, movement and good-will from all sides.

“The alternative is continued unrest and untold damage to students, teachers and the education system. I commend it to the parties for their consideration.”

Significantly, Dr Travers notes that the response of teachers to the reforms has been “influenced by a range of issues - some related to the proposals themselves, others with deeper roots.

“A decade of rapid social, demographic and educational change followed by salary cuts, deteriorating career structures and casualisation have left many teachers alienated and distrustful, even of initiatives which may be to their professional benefit.

“Addressing such alienation lies beyond the scope of the current process but it is an urgent requirement for the well-being of our schools.”