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Teachers and opposition parties attack Quinn's Junior Cert reforms

Teachers’ unions say they weren’t consulted about the changes, while opposition parties are sceptical of their need.

Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

THE TWO TRADE UNIONS representing Ireland’s secondary school teachers have criticised plans announced by education minister Ruairí Quinn to reform the Junior Cert system – with the traditional end-0f-third-year exams set to be dumped by 2020.

Both the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) and the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) criticised the plans, which were announced by Quinn yesterday, and which will see the terminal exams replaced with more regular assessments graded by a pupil’s own class teacher.

“We are disappointed that teachers as practitioners were not specifically consulted with on these proposals,” TUI general secretary John MacGabhann criticised, saying the failure to engage with teachers was ”poor practice in the formulation of educational policy”.

MacGabhann also suggested that the moves were driven more by budgetary concerns than educational need, and said the union now had serious concerns about teachers’ workloads when the changes were taken in the context of resource cutbacks and reduced staffing allocations.

His ASTI counterpart Pat King argued that the move to continual assessment, which will now be in the hands of a student’s teacher, was a step backward from the current regime where papers are marked by an independent teacher who does not know the student involved.

The current examination model was “a credible, independent, objective and fair examination and certification system,” King said, arguing that having a child’s own teacher grade their marks was a regressive move.

Mixed opposition response

There was a mixed response from opposition parties to the moves, with Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman Charlie McConalogue saying the proposed timetable for the rollout of the new systems – which will adopted on a phased basis over the next eight years – showed a failure to plan properly.

“If this reform plan was prepared thoroughly with the extensive consultation of all the relevant stake-holders, there would be absolutely no need to wait until 2020 for its full implementation,” McConalogue argued.

Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien was more positive, however, and argued that Quinn deserved credit “for implementing radical changes to an exam that is of key importance to young people during their first four years at secondary school”.

O’Brien expressed concern that teachers may not have the adequate resources to assess their own students’ work – a response which Quinn yesterday played down, arguing that teachers already graded their own students’ work in summer tests at the end of First Year and Second Year.

Student representatives were less qualified in their support for the reforms. The Irish Secondary Students’ Union welcomed the plans, which follow the union’s submission of its own programme for educational reforms last year.

ISSU president Dylan Grace said he was particularly glad “to see that science will become one of the core subjects in the new standardised tests to be taken at second year”.

“Science education is a key building block for future economic growth, and this will ensure that all students have a basic grounding in scientific principles which will benefit them for the rest of their lives,” he said.

IBEC’s head of education policy Tony Donohoe was similarly welcoming of the plans.

“If done right, this could prove to be the most important education reform of recent years. It presents a real opportunity to move away from the dominance of rote learning and support the development of critical thinking in students,” Donohoe said.

Read: Formal Junior Cert exams abolished under new system

Poll: Do you support an overhaul of the Junior Cycle?

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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