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:
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- Remove Guidance Counsellors from secondary schools
- Increase the pupil/teacher ratio
- Cut capitation grants to schools
- Again, cut capitation grants to schools (and again for next year)
- 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.