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Children 'being used as pawns' in teachers row

Parents have accused teachers' unions of using students and "pawns" and "scapegoats" in a row over reforms to the Junior Cert.

Secondary teachers have been urged to call off their planned strike action which is scheduled to take place in December and January.

The move will affect up to 300,000 students and their parents.

Delegates attending the annual conference of the National Parents' Council Post-Primary conference in Tullamore showed strong support for the new curriculum's emphasis on project, portfolio and practical work.

Secondary teachers have refused to call off two strikes unless Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan tables a new offer on plans to make them mark the Junior Cert.

One of the major bones of contention over the changes is the requirement for teachers to assess 40pc of their own students' work for the exam that will replace the Junior Cert.

Teachers' unions claim that the move is aimed at saving money and say that the current system of external assessment should be maintained.

Sean O'Foghlu, Secretary General at the Department of Education said in his address to the parents council conference, that Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan had consulted widely with all partners in relation to the proposed reform of the Junior cycle.

"Reform of the Junior cycle has been discussed in Irish education for almost 30 years, since the mid-1980s.

"Reforms of the type now being implemented were first proposed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in 1999," he said.

Mr O'Foghlu said that children born in 1999 sat their Junior Cert this year.

"We cannot wait for another generation to pass through our schools before making necessary changes," he said.

Members of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) executive committees voted last week to hold work stoppages, which will take place on December 2, and another date in January, which has yet to be decided.

TUI deputy secretary general John MacGabhann told delegates attending the Tullamore conference that teachers support the new curriculum, but remain deeply concerned about assessment.

Meanwhile, Minister O'Sullivan has invited the ASTI and TUI to discussions on Wednesday.


But she will insist that unions make some compromise.

The minister has said she made significant concessions by asking them to correct just 40pc of their students' work, rather than all of it.

Unions said an original proposal by former minister Ruairi Quinn that they mark the entire exam was done on the basis that they do it for free.

However, a spokesperson for the minister said the issue of payment had not been discussed yet.

"The minister wants to engage and believes the package she has offered would have the capacity to deliver reform and address teacher concerns.