Teachers will oppose proposed reforms to the Leaving Certification unless they are guaranteed not to assess their own students, following a vote by delegates at the Teachers Union of Ireland conference.
Dozens of delegates silently held posters that read “no to teacher-based assessment for state certification,” as Education Secretary Norma Foley began her address to delegates in the conference room.
In a speech that focused heavily on senior cycle reform, Ms Foley said the range of skills and types of learning that can be assessed would expand if teachers assessed their own students.
She said the issues that concern teachers can be addressed by working with schools and teachers.
“I know as a teacher that you will all be very aware of the need to protect the school-level relationships you have with your students,” Ms Foley said.
“Internationally, we see that those relationships can be protected and strengthened. There will be safeguards and a balance has to be struck in both the way the teacher and the student are protected in a teacher assessment model.”
Ms Foley said teachers should be involved in co-designing the curriculum and assessment for the revised and reformed Senior Cycle Program and the Leaving Cert exam.
“We will draw lessons from past experience. I know that moving to externally moderated, teacher-based grading formats will cause some educators to have reservations or concerns [but] the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and State Examinations Commission will liaise extensively with educators and other stakeholders.”
Ms Foley said the reformed senior cycle would focus on “empowering students, enriching the student experience and embedding wellness” into the curriculum.
Earlier in the day, however, delegates unanimously opposed the assessment of their own students.
TUI chairman Martin Marjolein received several standing ovations from delegates when he told the minister that teachers had serious concerns about some aspects of the proposed changes.
“The TUI has always supported additional student assessment components to show the range of their abilities and achievements,” he said.
“Teacher-based assessment was not in the NCCA’s recommendations” [and] there was no prior consultation. Our history and current affairs are littered with evidence that who you know is and always has been far too important to determine life chances in Ireland.
Delegates heard that teachers, especially those in smaller towns, teach the children of their friends and family, and that they feared subtle and overt pressure would be put on them to give higher grades to the children of those in power to most pressure.
Ursula O’Connor, a TUI representative in Donegal, said the assessment of teachers would lead to further inequalities in the education system.
“We hear that houses for sale are ‘near good schools,’ and we all know that this is the code for a self-perpetuating cycle of privilege,” said Ms. O’Connor, a teacher at a designated underprivileged (DEIS) school.
“There is much to be welcomed in the proposed senior cycle reform, but unless sufficient funding comes in we will end up with a two-tier system stacked against those born into economic deprivation.”
Mr Marjolein also reiterated teachers’ concerns that moving papers one and two in Irish English and Irish to the end of the fifth year would not give students the opportunity to fully develop their critical and creative capacities.
In her address to delegates, Ms. Foley also said that the department recognizes the need for teachers to perform leadership activities, expanding coaching, mentoring and dedicated ongoing professional development opportunities.
She added that primary school teachers will gain access to a new postgraduate course in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and in particular Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), with course costs covered by departmental funding.
“The learning for participants will be based on an approach that affirms the right of children and young people to a comprehensive and inclusive SPHE that includes all genders, sexualities, ethnicities, religious beliefs, social classes and skills and disabilities,” Ms Foley said.
The minister said her department will spend more than a quarter of its total education budget this year on providing additional support to children with special educational needs, and promised that the 2004 Epsen law – which does not yet protect the rights of persons with special educational needs fully established – would be reviewed.