Threat to Junior Cert sparks row over teachers working outside of school hours

Some Junior Cycle students may not receive all of their results due to disputes over teachers refusing to attend meetings after normal school hours.

A key question is whether teachers in schools with a half-day per week can be required to attend meetings on the same afternoon.

If the dispute is not resolved, after the first three years of secondary school, students will face gaps in the new certificate awarded to demonstrate their achievement – the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA).

The disruption to education and assessment caused by Covid has kept the dispute under control, but it is now reaching a crisis point.

The issue affects classroom-based assessments (CBAs), the results of which appear alongside exam grades in the JCPA in June.

CBAs such as presentations, artistic performances and projects were developed as part of the Junior Cycle reforms to allow students to demonstrate their strengths in skills other than the ability to memorize for an exam.

While Covid affected their induction, students are generally required to complete two CBAs in each subject.

The current crisis stems from a dispute between the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) over the timing of meetings known as Subject Learning and Assessment Reviews (SLARs) which sign off on CBA ‘grades’.

A 2015 agreement between the Department of Education and teachers’ unions allowed for a limited number of meetings to extend beyond normal school hours for part of the meeting’s duration.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) facilitates meetings outside of school hours, but an ASTI policy places strict restrictions on members’ attendance outside of school hours, including where a half-day has been built into the weekly schedule.

Within a month of the CBAs, a school’s subject teachers should meet for a two-hour SLAR to discuss student work samples and agree on quality standards. According to the SLAR, teachers determine the level of achievement they award each student using one of four grade descriptors—’exceptional’, ‘above expectations’, ‘according to expectation’ and ‘not yet meeting expectations’.

Schools must upload the descriptors to the Ministry of Education in the same school year.

However, due to differing interpretations of the 2015 agreement and the extent to which teachers may be required to attend meetings outside of class hours, not all schools have been able to hold SLARs.

ASTI is the main union in about half of secondary schools, but there is no data on how many schools are
or how many of this year’s 68,000 test takers might be affected by the dispute.

In June, the Ministry confirmed to schools that “only those descriptors that have undergone the SLAR process may be uploaded”. This confirmation crystallized the position that had been seething for years in a row.

The joint management body, representing the management of the affected schools, has confirmed that some schools “were unable to operate SLARs”.

The panel said the continued failure to reach an agreement on the reinterpretation of the SLARs agreement left school management and teachers “in an impossible position”.

She raised the issue in her pre-budget submission, expressing hope that the recent clarification “could move the department and teachers’ unions closer to an agreed position.”

The clarification provides flexibility for schools to continue uploading CBA scores through the end of December, but if the issue is not resolved by then, some students may receive a JCPA that does not fully reflect their Junior Cycle performance.

SLARs require a tremendous commitment of time, and schools were given additional teachers and hourly concessions to facilitate them without sacrificing classroom time.

Teachers should attend two SLARs per year for each subject. Most teachers have two subjects, which means a commitment of eight hours per year.

Each teacher was given 22 hours of “working time” per year, with the intention of using some of it for SLARs; To cover this, 670 additional teachers were hired. Threat to Junior Cert sparks row over teachers working outside of school hours

Fry Electronics Team

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