'It's punishing children': Students could be penalised over dispute about Junior Cert English exam

Students taught by ASTI could end up losing 10% of their overall mark, it is feared.

Updated 10.05am

SOME JUNIOR CERTIFICATE students are at risk of being penalised by losing 10% of their overall English result over a dispute about the curriculum.

The Education Minister Richard Bruton has been criticised as being “exceedingly slow” in dealing with the issue, which is due to a dispute between the teachers’ union ASTI and the Department of Education over reforms.

ASTI teachers have not signed up to the classroom-based assessments in the new English curriculum so their students will not be completing that part of the course, which contributes 10% to their overall score.

The Department of Education said that English teachers who are ASTI members have been directed by their union that, while they are to teach the new specification for the curriculum, they are not to undertake classroom-based assessments (CBAs) with their students.

It added:

It should be noted that earlier grounds for objection of the ASTI to the new Framework have been addressed. Under the 2015 Framework agreed with the unions, teachers are now not involved in assessing their own students for State certification purposes. 100% of assessment for State Certification purposes will be performed by the State Examinations Commission. Only CBAs will be assessed by teachers for Junior Cycle subjects and short courses.

Thomas Byrne, who is Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Education and Skills, said in an interview with yesterday:

“[Richard Bruton] has been exceedingly slow on dealing with the Junior Cert issue. I don’t think parents are aware that students of English who are doing the Junior Cert this year in June and the following June and the one after… are going to be docked 10% if they are in an ASTI [school] which are traditionally voluntary Catholic schools.”

He continued:

That is not sustainable, that’s wrong. That’s punishing children and I have been repeatedly asking the minister questions in the Dáil and in the media to deal with this and it hasn’t been dealt with.

He said that the Minister “really has to come out to say the kids won’t lose 10% – that’s the bottom line and I’ll have my row with the ASTI”.

“At the moment the children aren’t getting the benefit from the new curriculum, that’s one thing, but the idea that they could lose 10% and for the minister to stand over it like he did today in the committee is wrong,” he said.

Meeting with officials

Byrne was speaking after Minister Bruton appeared before the joint committee on education and skills. Bruton told the committee that he thinks it is “extremely unfortunate” that the ASTI has not participated in the roll-out of the new junior certificate English curriculum.

“I have met with the ASTI, my officials continue to meet with the ASTI and we are very keen to see that the ASTI would come on board and that students wouldn’t be put at risk in respect of the 10% of marks,” he said.

The 10% refers to the pupils’ own submission of papers on their experience under some of the modules on the course.

He said that he could not guarantee that students would not lose the 10%. “That depends on the schools completing certain projects and those have to be done. I can say absolutely clearly to the committee that where this is being done the response by both pupils and teachers is extremely positive.”

Bruton said he has asked the ASTI to give a derogation in respect of the English exam while talks on the Junior Cycle proceed, “in order that current third year English students of ASTI members are no longer unfairly and unjustifiably disadvantaged. The ASTI have yet to respond to this request”.

His Department said that through the new Junior Cycle, “students will have better learning opportunities”.

“We have invited the ASTI to consider lifting their blocking in respect of the English [exam] in particular so students coming to exams in June won’t be handicapped,” he added.

The Green Party accused the government of failing Junior Cert students on the issue.

Green Party Deputy Leader and spokesperson for education, Catherine Martin TD, who was also at the committee meeting, said:

Minister Bruton today confirmed there’s a chance that Junior Cert students will be punished for a dispute that has absolutely nothing to do with them. This is completely unacceptable, and horribly unfair for thousands of students up and down the country. Whatever dispute the government are having with the ASTI, students should not suffer as a result.

She added: “We could well end up with a situation where one student in a school gets a higher grade than another student in the same school for the exact same quality of work. How can the government stand over that? How is that fair or acceptable on any level?

Martin said that the Department of Education “needs to outline what steps it is taking, outside of the industrial dispute, to ensure that innocent students are not unfairly penalised”.

Byrne noted that the classroom-based assessment has also started this year for Science and Business Studies, which will be examined in June 2019.

“It is appalling and just plain wrong that students are being punished depending on whether their teacher is in a particular union,” said Byrne.

Members  of the ASTI, which is the country’s largest secondary school teachers’ union, rejected the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

The union announced it will ballot members on industrial action over the issue of pay and measures imposed on them after they rejected the agreement.

- Additional reporting Christina Finn. The ASTI has been contacted for a comment. 

Read: ’We’re prepared to strike’: Union to ballot secondary school teachers for industrial action>

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