Teachers' unions criticise Junior Cert plan


The country’s main teaching unions have both described the plan to overhaul the Junior Cert examination as “deeply regrettable”.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn today announced sweeping changes to the current Junior Cert format, with the end-of-cycle exam being replaced with a school-based model of assessment.

The most controversial element of the plan is a proposal for teachers to assess their own students.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (Asti) warned the removal of an externally-based assessment model will impact negatively on the perception of impartiality of exam grades.

Asti general secretary Pat King said: “While there is an overwhelming consensus that the current Junior Certificate needs to be reformed, it is most regrettable that the Minister has announced the end of what is for students, parents and teachers a credible, independent, objective and fair examination and certification system”.

“The Junior Cert is seen as having a high status by students, parents and teachers. It is this ‘high status’ which provides a focus for student motivation, learning and achievement at Junior Cycle level”.

Mr King criticised the manner in which today’s announcement regarding the exam was made, claiming it was done without consultation with the education partners including parents and teachers.

TUI general secretary John MacGabhann also raised concerns about the downgrading of the Junior Cert from a high stakes exam to an internal school assessment process and also described the plan as "deeply regrettable".

“Any changes introduced must maintain the credibility and integrity of the assessment to ensure public confidence,” he said.

The union also claimed the reforms were driven by budgetary rather than educational rationale.

“Schools have had their resources routinely asset-stripped by successive governments and there is a genuine fear that fee paying schools and those schools based in affluent communities where fundraising is an established practice will have a distinct advantage over those schools in areas ravaged by socioeconomic disadvantage where too many students are often without basics such as textbooks,” Mr MacGabhann said.

The general secretary of Irish Vocational Education Association, Michael Moriarty, however, said doing away with the Junior Cert as a high stakes exam, "should make it possible for students to engage more with their teachers and with curriculum".

Ibec, the group that represents Irish business, welcomed the reforms with head of education policy Tony Donohoe stating that the reform, if handled correctly, “could prove to be the most important education reform of recent years.”

“Business needs employees with the capacity to analyse, communicate, be creative, manage information and work with others. The new curriculum should provide an opportunity to develop these types of attributes and skills from an early age,” Mr Donohoe said.

The pledge to introduce standardised testing in the area of science was particularly welcomed by the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland who have consistently called for science to be made compulsory for Junior Cert students.

The changes were also welcomed by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD). “There will be some anxiety among the partners, but the principles and values at the heart of the Junior Cycle framework will stand the test of time and Irish Education will be the richer for this reform,” said NAPD director Clive Byrne.

Students were also pleased with the proposed changes.

Education officer of the Irish Second-level Students’ Union, Brendan Power, said: “The new Junior Cycle has the capacity to revolutionise the educational experience of future second-level students in Ireland. I firmly believe that the new Junior Cycle will result in a more practical and functional education for students and prepare them for life and future education, rather than train them for exams.”

Ferdia Kelly, general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) said: "Supports such as availability of time and continuous professional development must be provided for school management and teachers if the introduction of the new Junior Cycle is to succeed."