Plans to split Junior Cert exam might settle dispute
HOPES for peace in the long-running row over Junior Cert reform rest on new proposals to split the exam in two.
A confidential document is being put to teacher union leaders today with a message from the mediator that it represents the basis for an "honourable settlement".
Dr Pauric Travers admits it may not be an "ideal solution", but the alternative is "continued unrest and untold damage to students, teachers and the education system".
His proposals offer a new formula to address union opposition to teachers grading their own students.
Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan had been pushing for students to be graded with a state exam worth 60pc of marks and 40pc from ongoing assessment in school.
Dr Travers backs the idea of a 40-60 split between in-school assessment and the traditional written exam, but he says these two aspects should effectively be kept separate, even when the final certificate is awarded.
Dr Travers suggests a new Junior Cycle Student Profile of Achievement award, which would give one grade for the traditional exams then list separately what the student achieved in school.
Combining the two aspects into one grade is off the table, at least for the moment. Aggregating the two sets of results into a single overall grade would require further discussion, says Dr Travers.
The executives of the second-level teacher unions, ASTI and TUI, meet today to consider the document. Teacher unions are not bound to put the proposals to a ballot, but there is likely to be pressure on them to do so.
Dr Travers says that if his proposals are acceptable, further discussions will be needed to finalise matters and make arrangements for their implementation.
In order to allow space for that, he suggests that the minister delay the introduction of the new Junior Cert Science syllabus, currently slated for September, and that the unions suspend their industrial action.
Almost 350,000 students in the country's 730 second-level schools have already lost two tuition days this year because of strike action.
The unions argue that introducing school-based assessment for a state certificate would compromise the integrity of the exam and lead to inconsistencies.
Dr Travers empathises about the impact of cuts which, he says, have left teachers "alienated and distrustful".
Addressing such alienation lies beyond the scope of the current process, but was an urgent requirement for the well-being of our schools, he says.
But he also argues that the proposed reform of the Junior Cycle is based on the "need for fundamental changes in our approach to curriculum and assessment to improve learning experiences of students".