Some junior students may not get their full marks due to a dispute over teachers refusing to attend after-hours meetings.
The 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, students will face gaps in the new certificate awarded to show their achievements – the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA) – after the first three years of post-primary school.
The disruption to education and assessment caused by Covid has kept a lid on the row, but it is now reaching crisis point.
The issue is in-class assessments (CBAs), the results of which appear on the JCPA alongside the June exam scores.
CBAs, such as presentations, performance art and projects, have sprung up as part of the junior cycle reforms to allow students to demonstrate their strengths in skills other than the ability to rote learn for a exam.
While Covid has affected their rollout, students are generally required to do two CBAs in each subject.
The current crisis stems from a dispute involving the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) over the timing of meetings, known as Subject Learning and Assessment Reviews (SLAR), which endorse ABC ‘grades’.
A 2015 agreement between the Department of Education and teachers’ unions allowed a limited number of meetings to take place beyond normal school hours for part of the duration of the meeting.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) facilitates meetings outside school hours, but an ASTI directive strictly limits members’ attendance outside school hours, including when a half-day has been integrated into the weekly timetable.
Within a month of CBAs, teachers of a subject at a school must meet for a two-hour SLAR to discuss samples of student work and agree on quality standards. After the SLAR, teachers finalize the level of achievement they assign to each student, using one of four grade descriptors – ‘outstanding’, ‘above expectations’, ‘meets expectations’ and ‘still to meet expectations.
Schools are required to upload the descriptors to the Department of Education during the same school year.
But not all schools have been able to hold SLARs due to differing interpretations of the 2015 agreement and the extent to which teachers may be required to attend meetings outside of class hours. .
ASTI is the main union in about half of post-primary schools, but there is no data on the number of schools
or how many of the 68,000 candidates for this year‘s exam might be affected by the dispute.
In June, the department confirmed to schools that “only descriptors that have gone through the SLAR process can be uploaded.” This confirmation crystallized the straight stance that had been bubbling for years.
The Joint Management Body, which represents the management of the schools concerned, confirmed that some schools “have not been able to exploit the SLARs”.
The body said the continued failure to reach agreement on the reinterpretation of the SLAR agreement left school management and teachers “in an impossible position”.
He raised the issue in his pre-budget submission, expressing hope that the recent clarification “could bring the department and teachers’ unions closer to an agreed position.”
The clarification offers schools the option to continue uploading ABC results until 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 achievements in the junior cycle.
SLARs require an enormous time commitment, and schools have received additional teachers and time concessions to facilitate them without interfering with schooling time.
Teachers must attend two SLARs per year for each subject. Most teachers have two subjects, which means a commitment of eight hours per year.
Each teacher received 22 hours a year of “professional time”, with the intention of using some of it for SLARs; to cover this, 670 additional teachers were recruited.