Minister welcomes move by ASTI to rejoin talks on Leaving Cert

The ASTI said that its concerns had been addressed by Minister for Education Norma Foley.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 13th 2021, 2:53 PM

THE ASSOCIATION OF Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) has rejoined talks with the Department of Education on this year’s Leaving Certificate after pulling out earlier this week.

The union is reentering the talks after receiving assurances from Minister for Education Norma Foley on several of its concerns. 

Teachers will not be asked to rank their students in order of merit, which was a requirement last year, the union was told.

ASTI said it will “constructively engage to seek to ensure ways are found to facilitate this year’s Leaving Certificate students in moving on with their lives”.

In a statement, the union said that after it withdrew from talks on Thursday, it raised concerns with the minister about “doubts that had been put forward regarding the staging of additional component elements of this year’s Leaving Certificate examinations (coursework, orals, practical exams, etc.) and the consequent relegation of the Leaving Certificate to a secondary position”.

“The Minister was unequivocal in her statement of commitment to holding the Leaving Certificate this year. On that basis, the ASTI believes that doubts regarding the staging of additional component elements of this year’s Leaving Certificate Examinations have been substantially alleviated,” ASTI said.

“We expect the Minister to ensure that they will take place,” it said.

“The ASTI also raised the issue of a lack of data available in many schools to base and inform the parallel/corresponding measure which the Minister is seeking to put in place alongside the Leaving Certificate. The Minister has committed to working with stakeholders to strengthen the position in this regard.

“In addition, the ASTI has been assured that the requirement for teachers to provide a list of their students in rank order of merit, like they did last year, will not feature in any corresponding/parallel measure that may be implemented this year.

The move was this afternoon welcomed by Minister Foley.

In a statement, the department said she noted the ASTI’s “willingness to engage on the agenda that has already been set out in the process”.

“The Minister wishes to thank the TUI, parent, student and managerial bodies for their constructive engagement which continues over the weekend as the issues continue to be worked out,” the statement said.

“Intensive engagement is continuing  with the education stakeholders to advance progress and provide certainty and clarity at the earliest possible time.”

ASTI withdrew from Leaving Cert talks on Thursday on the grounds that the plan in development by the department would not provide a “meaningful leaving Certificate” for students.

At the time, Foley said she was “both taken aback and disappointed” and that the union had not indicated its intention to pull out during that day’s discussions.

“Fairness and certainty for the class of 2021 is at the centre of what we want to achieve in these engagements. We are happy to engage with all concerned to achieve this objective,” she said.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Saturday with Katie Hannon today, ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie said that it had raised “major concerns that the Leaving Cert was being relegated to play second fiddle” to a calculated grades process.

Christie said that in addition to written exams, components such as orals, practicals and other coursework are “crucial” to examining subjects.

“The minister was very strong and we hold her to her words that the Leaving Cert will run,” Christie said.

He said that the ranking of students in their classes last year was “bitterly resented by students, bitterly resented by teachers” and that it “had no basis in any education programme and is very much a red line issue for us this year”.

Work on the plan is to continue over the weekend and into next week, he said.

However, Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) General Secretary Michael Gillespie said that the assurances referenced by ASTI in its decision to return to the talks were already underway during the week.

“I’m surprised at the suggestion that anything has advanced,” Gillespie said.

“We were working on a very complex set of negotiations in terms of fitting in the second components of assessment, orals, practicals, and other coursework,” he said.

Gillespie said that its teachers would be prepared to return to schools if Leaving Cert classes were to resume as part of a phased basis from 22 February along with additional steps in the return of special education.

“The earlier the Leaving Certs can return, the sooner we can start working on… the second components of assessment,” he said.

“There’s a lot of work being done online by teachers but face to face is still the best place.”

In a further statement issued by the TUI this afternoon, it said that one of its key priorities – that the other components of assessment such as orals and practicals be held – have been “significantly advanced” following proposals it had made in talks. 

“As nothing has been or can be achieved outside the process, TUI will continue to represent the views and concerns of teachers in good faith,” the union said.

No date has been set for the return of Leaving Cert students to schools, or when a further decision can be expected.

Minister of State for Local Government and Planning Peter Burke said that the government “cannot under these circumstances make a simplistic statement saying with certainty we can reopen next week or the week after”.

“We’re not in that gap, but we are getting there,” Burke said.

“I do believe that towards of this month we will be in a position to reopen our schools on a phased basis.”

With reporting from Sean Murray

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