Tag Archives: Jan O’Sullivan

Standing up to the Pesky Unions

Well done to our Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan.

She has had the guts to face down the Secondary School Teachers Unions and is pushing ahead with the pet project of her predecessor Ruairi Quinn.  (Junior Cert Reform, with teacher assessment)

So, she has faced down our strikes, and is holding fast. So she has courage – well done, Minister, take a bow.  Her stand is all the more impressive as she is adamant that all this for the good of the students.

Let’s ignore for a moment the implicit bit that suggests that teachers are not interested in students.

Instead let’s celebrate that we have a minister who is willing to stand up to vested interests.  A minister who is willing to risk popularity in order to do the right thing for students.

Therefore…

Minister, I look forward to the day when you will do the following to support our students:

Reduce class sizes.  This is an incredibly simple measure, but one that has a huge impact on the dynamics of any classroom.  I wrote before about how my daughter was for a time in a class of 34.  This is a ridiculous situation and one that should never be allowed to happen.  This does have the downside of costing money, but the minister has assured us that the evaluation farce was not about money, so maybe there’s room for maneuver. Call me cynical, but I won’t hold my breath.

Restore Guidance Counsellors.  This is another incredibly simple measure, and again has a huge impact on students.  Our guidance counsellors do incredible work with students.  Apart from the obvious help in subject and college choice, guidance counsellors sit with students in times of crisis.  Again, this one would happen to cost money, but I’m sure that the minister will stand up for what’s right, yes?  Actually no.

Restore School Budgets.  Again, a simple thing to do.  Schools get a budget to operate, and this budget is based on the number of students enrolled.  For the past few years this budget has been cut, with a further 1% cut due in September.  Another simple thing to reverse.  But again this isn’t about the money, is it?

Restore resources for Students with Special Educational Needs.  Another simple thing. Really, isn’t this not only simple but ethical?  Are those with special needs already at enough of a disadvantage in educational terms?

Have an effective budget for book rental schemes, and IT in the classroom.  OK.  This is more complicated, and requires some real thinking and procedures to go into place.  Some real work required here.  But it is so necessary.  Books are incredibly expensive, and each new school year brings stress to many families trying to dig out extra money for books and uniforms.

As regards IT – there is no cohesive policy, and what you get from school to school can vary radically.  So our students do not have a level playing field when we talk about ICT in the classroom, and technology in education generally.

So, so much is just about money, and we have a minister who is willing to stand up to others.  So surely she’ll stand up for these principles?

Surely, now that the Minister has shown her mettle in standing up to the unions she will show equal courage standing up to the bean counters?  She will stand up to those who have a view that education can be budgeted down to the minimum possible, and then blame the teachers for failing?

But let’s be honest – the minister is showing little enough care for the reality of life for so many students from disadvantaged areas.  It is about the money, and there’s no point in pretending anything different.  The Minister is failing us, is failing our students – and trying to shift the blame.

 

 

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I don’t want to go on strike. I need to go on strike.

Some of our students are very clued in.  On Friday one of my leaving certs approached me with his phone and gave me the news of the upcoming strike.  Good for him.  He’s interested in what’s going on in the world.

And yet he represents one of the many students who I will walk out on, come December 2nd.  He’s a great guy, his classmates are great, and I’m sure this is replicated across the country, and yet here we are.  We, the members of the two secondary school unions have voted for strike.  Here’s the joint statement from the unions.

So.  Why are we going on strike?

There is one core issue.  Assessment.

You see, up until now the Junior Cert has been assessed externally.  This is important because it means that little Johnny from Mayfield is on the same playing field as Alistair from D4.  It’s an incredible logistic feat, but when a student sits a state exam, their paper goes to a different part of the country, and the examiner knows nothing – nothing about that student.  This is a vital part of the integrity of the system.

In his time as Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn wanted to do away with this and replace the Junior Cert with the JCSA and have it assessed in-house.  This was a sea change and, if accepted, open to abuse.  A JCSA certificate from my community school would not carry the same prestige as one from an up-market fee-paying school.

Our new Minister, Jan O’Sullivan has tried to reach a compromise in this.  She has offered 40% internal assessment, with an oversight element.  This is still not good enough.  For a number of reasons:

  1. We have still broken from the principle of external assessment for the exams.  This would still mean teachers marking their own students work.  Who is to say that this isn’t open to abuse or manipulation?  What pressures will be brought to bear on some teachers to bring up the marks of their students?
  2. The syllabus is due to change.  And where are the resources to implement a new syllabus?  Syllabus change and development is necessary.  I think that all teachers accept that we need a revision of the Junior Cert.  In fact, we had agreed to this in 2011, and had a plan in place.  But any change of this magnitude needs proper resources.  Teachers need training, updating in their skills.
  3. Building a project for assessment.  Have you ever tried to get 25 students to complete a project?  It can be… interesting.  There is a balance to be struck between driving the students and spoon-feeding them all the answers.
  4. Time.  When is the marking of this 40% due to happen?  A teacher with 33 class periods in a week is already struggling with time pressures.   If that teacher has students sitting the state exam, then he/she ends up having to correct the work for the state in an unpaid manner.
  5. Where is the educational merit of the decision?  Why does the minister not want to move on the 40% number?  Money.  The less work that is corrected by the State Examinations Commission (SEC), the better.  It saves money.  In it’s original form, the JCSA appeared to be a precursor to phasing out the SEC.

Look at some of what’s been done (in the name of educational reform)

  1. Remove Guidance Counsellors from secondary schools
  2. Increase the pupil/teacher ratio
  3. Cut capitation grants to schools
  4. Again, cut capitation grants to schools (and again for next year)
  5. Reduce supports for students with Special Educational Needs

I’m being a bit long-winded, so back the core issue.  Why are we going on strike?  Because teachers should not assess their own students for a state exam.  Add to that, (speaking for myself) I don’t trust the motivations behind these measures.

So. It’s time to act.  It’s time to let the Minister and her government know that enough is enough.  Education has been attacked long enough.  I don’t want to go on strike, but I need to.