Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection

Implementation of Junior Cycle Student Award: Minister for Education and Skills

4:00 pm

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Last November the committee gave consideration to the new junior cycle student award, JCSA, on foot of presentations from the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, ASTI, the Irish Human Rights Commission, IHRC, and the Irish Heart Foundation. At an earlier meeting we considered the place of history in the junior cycle. I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, to brief the committee on the status of the implementation of the JCSA.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to come before the committee and update members on the progress made to date on the implementation of the JCSA. I spoke to both Houses on these reforms shortly after the framework was launched in October 2012. I was very pleased that both Houses unanimously endorsed them. I also explained why I was making changes to junior cycle. Research, and particularly that of the ESRI, underlines the reasons change is necessary.

Under the current model a significant number of first-year students do not make progress, particularly in English and mathematics. A significant number of students in second year become disengaged from the learning process. Sadly, many of them drop out after or even before they reach the junior certificate. These students have, as I have said before, already entered the departure lounge from education.

The evidence also shows that choices made as early as first year of junior cycle, for example to take ordinary level rather than higher level, are almost impossible to reverse. These choices can limit the options open to young people for the leaving certificate for the rest of their lives. This is a particularly important issue for students in lower stream classes and those in disadvantaged areas. In third year the junior certificate examination dominates the experiences of students. The focus of learning narrows and the emphasis is on rote learning specifically for the examinations. By that I mean learning off prepared answers to anticipated questions, not acquiring a knowledge of times tables. For many students the examination does not lead to positive learning experiences and outcomes. Assessment practice at the end of junior cycle in Ireland is out of line with best practice in many countries with high-performing educational systems. In those countries, high-stakes public examinations are confined to the end of the senior cycle while school-based assessment is emphasised throughout the lower secondary cycle.

At the recent teacher conferences, I spoke about how we need to move away from judging students to giving them structured feedback on their own learning. This is known as “assessment for learning” as opposed to “assessment of learning”. We also need to move away from judging teachers based solely on how well their students jump the hurdle of a high stakes examination. Regrettably, the ASTI and the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, have both voted in favour of industrial action in opposition to school-based assessment. This action involves non-co-operation with continuing professional development, CPD, and other junior cycle reform planning. Over 90% of all English teachers and nearly 1,200 school leaders have already attended the planned CPD for this school year. The position of the teacher unions will create difficulties and pressures for schools and their students. We are working to resolve the outstanding issues, and to move forward positively. I welcome the positive and constructive engagement of school management bodies, parents and school leaders. They have acknowledged the need for this change, and worked to identify the steps and support necessary to implement it.

There is no need for an examination such as the junior certificate that is so important because it is not a terminal examination for people leaving school at the age of 15. As we do not want people to leave school at 15, it does not have to have the status of the leaving certificate. Over 90% of those who do the junior cycle examination go on to senior cycle and sit the leaving certificate, which is a high-stakes examination. The evidence shows the high-stakes examination is warping the learning experience of junior cycle students. It causes significant stress for students and has a negative effect on the quality of teaching and learning. By way of example of what our teachers can do, I point to the increased take-up of the optional Irish oral exam at junior certificate level. This involves teachers assessing their own students for State certification, and it is already working. While I understand teachers are nervous of change, I have a great belief in their capacity to deliver this change.

Concerns have been raised about maintaining standards in the new system. High-stakes examinations are not the only way to measure or establish standards. There are already safeguards for standards in the existing proposals. For example, for each subject the State Examination Commission, SEC, will set terminal examinations and provide a strict marking scheme. There will be CPD to provide teachers with the confidence to undertake new approaches to assessment. Teacher unions believe the current safeguards are inadequate. I have listened to their concerns and offered to discuss external supports for moderating student work.

In response to concerns from stakeholders, in January of this year I announced a number of changes to the implementation of the JCSA. I also established a national working group, and a number of associated sub-groups, which continue to work with the partners. I have slowed the pace of the proposed roll-out of the new JCSA. The full roll-out of all 21 subjects will not be completed until September 2019. It will be June 2022 before students will finish an entire cycle of the new programme. From the point of view of politicians, it is two general elections away. English is the only subject which will change this September. Short courses will be introduced from September only in schools which want to introduce them; they will not be compulsory. All other subjects remain the same as in the current junior cycle.

We recently issued a circular to schools outlining the limited changes which will occur in September. A full timetable for implementation up to 2019 is included in that circular, a copy of which has been provided to committee members.

In January I also announced additional continuing professional development, in line with requests received from education partners. English teachers will now receive an extra 1.5 days of CPD, which means English teachers will have a minimum of 4.5 days CPD. All other subject teachers will receive a minimum of four days CPD for each subject. On top of that, all schools will have one full day of CPD annually for each year of the roll-out of the JCSA. Schools can close to facilitate this CPD for all teaching staff. This measure has been welcomed by everyone involved in the process. In total, every single teacher of two subjects will now receive a minimum of 16 days of CPD during the roll-out of the JCSA, which represents a very significant investment in teacher education.

I am fully committed to resourcing the new JCSA appropriately. I have ring-fenced €4.8 million in budget 2014 for implementation. This will increase as more subjects are phased in. At the moment, I believe the concentration of new resources should be directed towards continuing professional development.

The subgroups of the national working group are focusing on issues such as the resources that will be needed for assessment, as well as looking at external supports for moderation. I welcome the comprehensive submission that this group has received from school management bodies. I again urge teacher unions to submit a written statement on what resources they think are needed. I think it is a lost opportunity for teachers if their representatives do not put in a comprehensive written statement of what resources teachers believe are necessary.

I again emphasise that these changes are based on the evidence available to us, evidence that tells us the lived experiences of our students. We have a responsibility to act on that evidence. There has been ongoing dialogue on the need to reform junior cycle. Before the reform was introduced, there was particular discussion through the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Understandably some time was lost along the way as a result of the unions’ consideration of the Haddington Road agreement, which had nothing to do with education and was about a public sector pay readjustment. However, I believe we have plenty of time left to resolve the outstanding issues.

I look forward to discussing these issues further with this committee and also with all the stakeholders in the education sector.

4:10 pm

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister and his officials for coming here to discuss this topic with us. My party supports junior cycle reform, and the previous Government established the NCCA working group which made the proposals the Minister has developed from there. However, although we strongly support this much-needed project, I take issue with how it has been handled in recent years. It is very unfortunate that the introduction of such an important reform to our second level education system is starting in a mess, with some of the partners necessary to implement it not on board. As the Minister mentioned, both second level teaching unions have voted not to co-operate and have voted for industrial action.

One of the key concerns expressed by teachers and parents relates to the issue of independent assessment. I have also engaged at every opportunity I have with students in classrooms to gauge their opinions. The Minister is changing from the NCCA working group recommendation regarding the 60% exam element of the new JCSA no longer being independently assessed. There is grave concern over why he is going down that route. It is positive that the junior certificate student award is lower stakes and will not dominate the first half of the student's second level education, which I support. However, I believe we can make that exam lower stakes without removing independent assessment.

There is considerable support among teachers, parents and students that if a student does an exam in my old school, Carndonagh community school, we should be able to have the faith that that mark is consistent with and of a similar standard to the mark of a student who does an exam in a Kerry or Dublin school. We are fortunate that at the moment there is good faith in the junior certificate even though it needs to be reformed.

However, in my view and that of many others, it is not good to have teachers as the final arbiters of that 60% exam part of the new junior certificate. The teachers also become the final arbiters of their own work because the assessment of the students' work is also a reflection on the teacher. With human nature being human nature, there is always an incentive when marking to give students the benefit of the doubt. If a teacher is not performing, there is an incentive for him or her to avoid having his or her class shown up with a poor set of results. I ask the Minister to outline why he has gone down that route. Will he agree to reconsider it and continue with independent assessment?

I wish to touch on a few other issues.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Deputy McConalogue has exceeded his three minutes. He can come in again afterwards.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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Could I just-----

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Very quickly.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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There has been considerable comment on how history will be placed in the new junior cycle. I will comment further later.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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I call Deputy O'Brien.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I will be brief as I have only three minutes.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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We are getting interference with the sound equipment. I ask members and those in the Gallery to check that their phones are on flight mode, safe mode or turned off.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister for coming here to discuss junior cycle reform. Deputy McConalogue touched on the NCCA recommendation for 60% external assessment by the State Examinations Commission and 40% internal assessment which would be moderated by the SEC. I have not heard the Minister explain why he chose not to adhere to those NCCA recommendations. I ask him to outline the rationale for that decision as a starting point.

I have a question on the ongoing assessment in terms of portfolios. I presume this will require some changes to school infrastructure in terms of security to store portfolios over a three year period. What resources will be allocated to enable schools to carry out that task?

I have a question about priority learning units, PLUs, the learning units for children with special needs. How many does the Minister envisage having? How will a student be assessed as having a need? Will schools share PLUs? How will they operate? What funding is being allocated to them?

The three points are: the reasons the Department did not go with the initial NCCA; the changes schools will need to undertake in terms of storing and security of portfolios; and the question on the PAUs.

4:20 pm

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister and the delegation. I wholeheartedly welcome the concept of reform of the junior certificate. I did one of the final intermediate certificates back in the day. I failed honours Irish, of which I am not proud, but I then obtained an honours degree in it. It is not a great benchmark and thankfully it did not stop me in my tracks. It shows the value of the junior certificate can be overegged.

The principle is very welcome and I do not have a difficulty with how it will be corrected, as it happens at third level where the stakes are a lot higher. Teachers at third level do not have an issue with subjectivity. Notwithstanding this, and if teachers still have difficulty, has the option of peer correcting been explored whereby a teacher from one town can correct the work of a teacher in another town? It would be a bit like what is done with the pre-leaving certificate and pre-junior certificate. This might be an option to be explored with the unions.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin North Central, Labour)
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I was in one of the first cohorts to do the junior certificate in 1992 and I got an A in honours Irish. It was the only A I ever got, so I thought I would throw it out there as my biggest achievement in life. To echo what has been said already, people always state they want change and reform, but when it comes, they can be uncomfortable with it. I very much welcome the changes. The main concern is coming from those we hope to empower to implement this change, who are the teachers. Their main question mark is over the balance between being adjudicators and advocates for their students and how this balance might be shifted. I accept the point that we ask teachers to assess their own students in first year, second year and fifth year, and now we hope to do it in third year and we do not want 15 year olds to go into the workplace. How do we strike the balance between advocacy and assessment?

I assume that over the course of time we want to change the leaving certificate. A problem at junior certificate is that 54,000 students do history at junior certificate level but only 11,000 do it at leaving certificate level whereas 54,000 students do honours geography at junior certificate level and 23,000 do it at leaving certificate level. There is a problem with students not continuing with certain subjects to leaving certificate. Is there a learning curve in this implementation as to how we might address the problem of the leaving certificate in the long term?

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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I thank the representatives from the Department of Education and Skills. As a former teacher, as many of us are, I cannot but welcome the changes which will be initiated from September. I understand much of the concern raised by the unions. We all received letters from the ASTI prior to this meeting raising concerns. The Minister has addressed some of them. One of the big issues is uncertainty about the change. We are a nation which can be slow to adapt to change. Much fear among teachers is that the change will undermine existing education standards. People need to be assured this will not be the case and they will certainly not be undermined. We must ensure the junior cycle student award will be of the same standard and standing as what we have at present when moving away from the national examination.

I have taught in vocational and secondary schools. In the vocational school I examined my own junior certificate students in 1994 and did not come up against any problem. However, I understand the concerns some teachers have. It has been suggested the exams should be given to other schools in the town to be corrected, but I see a huge issue with this because there is so much competition between schools within a town for numbers. This would be a huge problem.

I welcome that more time will be allocated for continuing professional development. Will much time be given prior to September as CPD should be given before the start of the new year and we are coming dangerously close to the end of the year? We need to raise teacher confidence as much as possible.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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I thank the Minister for giving us his time this afternoon. I do not believe rote learning and memorisation warps education or progress in education. I am in favour of it and I am in favour of the formalised mind. Once one's mind is formalised, one can be as creative as one wants. I wish to ask more general questions. I have absolute respect for the Minister and his office. Does he believe teachers are experts? Does he believe the Department of Education and Skills is more of an expert? What steps has he taken to resolve the outstanding differences with the teachers which continue to be evident? The Department has sent out assessment criteria for English but the teachers still state they will not do it. People always speak about change as though they are speaking about progress, but change does not always mean progress. There is a big impasse as 64% of the TUI rejected it and 45% of the ASTI rejected it. It was a 55% vote in all which is a big vote considering the Seanad was retained on 41%. How have these outstanding differences been resolved? Has there been contact? Does the Minister believe he has trust in them and they have trust in him?

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister and the panel. I am excited about the content, particular approach and capacity for creativity and critical thinking in the proposed new junior certificate and the reform. I do not agree with the Minister that we have plenty of time left.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Is that the Senator's phone?

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I do not have a phone. I do not believe we have plenty of time left. We are in a political stalemate. The unions have turned their backs on the Minister. We are in an information vacuum which is making the situation worse. I do not often say this but my PhD was in the area of instruction, curriculum and assessment. All of the models I examined believed in the integrity of the professional and the teacher. This follows what Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell stated, that we must have trust in their professionalism. However, in all of the assessment models I examined there was a recommendation for an element of external assessment. Will the Minister confirm he will examine an element of external moderation to ensure trust, confidence and, most especially, consistency of standard? My recommendation is that 80% of scripts would be marked by the school while 20% would be marked externally, State-led, to ensure consistency of standard.

Will the Minister confirm whether his Department is open to discussing the proposals for a robust and rigorous external assessment? Will he commit to engaging with the partners to break the current stalemate? Will posts be created to co-ordinate schools' internal assessments? There has been no word on this matter yet, but the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment recommended it. Such a measure could overcome the impasse. A co-ordinator of assessment post could be as important as a school's principalship. I do not agree with the Minister that there is plenty of time. He is embedding the problem by not moving.

The unions' banning of short courses is regrettable. I was involved in designing the curriculum for the short course on Chinese language and culture. I am appalled that the Minister is not providing teachers to roll out this course. Will he elaborate? What good is a curriculum without competent teachers? In Galway, 23 schools are teaching Chinese language and culture through a unique, voluntary initiative that involves intern teachers from China working alongside Irish teachers. There is an inequity. One of the aspects the Minister used to sell this reform of short courses was the introduction of, for example, subjects like coding and Chinese language and culture, but we must provide the right teaching competence.

Some 90% of children take the leaving certificate exam. The Minister has supported me in respect of early school leavers. It is not fair to the 10% of children - sometimes up to 16% - who drop out early that they will not have taken a State exam. It is a clear inequity. We should not turn our backs on them. They are the most disadvantaged children. There are links between dropping out and crime and other social ills.

4:30 pm

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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The Senator has gone well over her time.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I will conclude. What is the Minister's plan for these children if the junior certificate award does not have a State component of objective assessment, one that would give them credibility if they have to move?

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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People have different views on these issues, but it is ridiculous that we have come to such an impasse over changes that have been flagged for years and are ready to be rolled out to schools. Students are stuck in the middle. I understand that the teacher unions and the teachers themselves are nervous about change. Change in education can be exciting and important, but it should also be treated carefully. Each set of students only gets one run at first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth years. A great deal of research has strongly and uncontentiously made the case that we need to change the junior certificate. We have a serious problem with the grinds-focused leaving certificate. From the first year of the junior cycle, children focus on getting enough points, picking their subjects and making decisions on their third level courses. This will not change unless we are willing to examine the junior cycle. I support the idea of having fewer third level courses and shaking up the CAO system, but as long as there is a State exam for 15 year olds, 12 year olds will be thinking about it. That is wrong.

There must be a compromise. This is not neurosurgery. I am surprised that the process has fallen down on the issue of assessment. The real issue is resourcing. The Joint Managerial Body hit on this in its submission. The school managers have been discussing it as well. I am concerned about it. Will all schools have the resources to teach short courses? Will it be equitable? Will there be enough training? The Minister mentioned 16 days, but will that be 16 days over the entire period to 2022? Technology is another issue. All of these questions are more important than assessments. As Deputy Daly stated, the stakes in third level are much higher, in that one leaves with the degree that will determines one's job, yet exams there are marked by one's own lecturers.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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There is always an external assessor.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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That is why there needs to be a compromise. I do not know why schools cannot swap exam papers. They can be numbered, which is what is done in college. Sometimes, one is taking a small course and one wonders whether, despite the anonymous number, the lecturer will still have a good idea as to whose paper he or she is marking. There is external spot checking of papers to ensure there are no issues and standards are upheld.

There must be a way to break through the impasse. Third level has appeal systems and this is how it is done in other countries. This situation has grown ridiculous and students are getting caught in the middle. They do not know where they stand. They are hearing that their English course is being changed, but that their English teachers will not co-operate with that change. This is frightening for the young people to whom I have spoken.

I urge the Minister to listen to people's concerns. I call on the teacher unions to make a submission on the real issue, namely, resources. We all need to know where we stand. The next stage for our committee may be to hold a debate on the matter with the various partners. Let us invite the unions to tease out the issue of resources and ask them to make a presentation, just as the management bodies have.

Given the politics, it may be unusual for me to say I agree with the Minister, but I also agreed with and supported this reform when it was raised in the Seanad three years ago and I will not change my mind just because we are in a stand-off with the trade unions. Our children matter. They should be everyone's priority in this debate.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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I thank the Minister and his aides for attending. Many of my concerns have been raised, so I will await the replies. Most of those present are former teachers and I will bow to their knowledge and experience, but I am a parent and I know what children go through when facing exams. My son, who did 11 years in medical school between college and general practitioner, GP, training college, always says that the hardest exam he ever took was the leaving certificate.

Children get sick, their nerves can take over or they can just have a bad day at the office when they take their exams, but at least the continuous assessment element would give them a chance to catch up. It is vital for them to have that chance.

I apologise for arriving late and my questions might already have been asked. Students can change teachers a number of times during the three year period in question. Will their final exams be set by different teachers or by the initial teachers? It may sound simplistic, but the main concern parents have raised with me is the possibility that a teacher might not like a student. It is a major issue. It happens; there is no point in pretending it does not. Sometimes, a teacher believes that a child who is too cocky needs to be put back in his or her place. Perhaps the child has been disrespectful to the teacher. There may be a conflict between a teacher and a child. I presume an appeals system will be in place for those who believe that a child has been victimised, for want of a better word, by a teacher. Teachers are professionals and I hope they are above such conduct.

As has been stated, teachers already assess their own students at the highest level, that being, third level. That system has never failed. This reform will be successful if we can overcome the impasse. Some people embrace change while others reject it. In the heel of the hunt, the students will suffer if we do not get this issue sorted soon.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Many questions have been asked. Does the Minister wish to answer?

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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I will go through them quickly in the order in which I took notes on each contribution. There will be a little bit of repetition.

I will provide some facts first. The change to the junior cycle has been on the cards for the past 25 years.

The attempt to get the intermediate and group certificate merged into a new junior certificate was supposed to come with a change in the way the assessment would take place, but that did not happen, and the junior certificate basically became the new intermediate certificate. The original National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, advice was rejected by both the teacher unions and they did not support the idea in principle. They have been against the idea of a change in this system, which involves a change in the examination system, and they were opposed to the proposed changes in the curriculum. I recognise the debate we had before and the broad support in both Houses of the Oireachtas for the principle of moving on. Much of what has been said now was stated before.

Deputy McConalogue stated he is concerned for teachers, parents and pupils with regard to the independence of assessment, verification, certification and quality assurance. I am prepared to discuss all of that. Third level colleges have external examiners who provide quality assurance at the high, middle and low levels, and I have been involved with that with the school of architecture in UCD. There are multiple models around the world we can consider. This is what happens in different types of institutions at third level where there is continuous learning, and we are open to all such processes. I have been confronted by two unions which have stated they will not take part in the process, and they have been saying that for 25 years. It is a principle that they would not be judges of their own students but this is happening at the primary level, in so far as there is assessment at that level, and at third level, as we have heard.

On the specific question of history, we should nail a particular canard which, despite my frequent attempts, has not yet been dealt with. There is one subject which the Department of Education and Skills has stated is mandatory, which is Gaeilge. English and mathematics are required but not mandatory. There are approximately 730 post-primary schools, including those which emerged from the free voluntary sector made up of religious teaching orders, brothers and sisters etc., which made it mandatory for their students to do history and geography at junior level. They account for approximately 55% of the total number as there are approximately 400 of those schools. The reality is that 90% of students take history at junior level. I have not stopped history from being compulsory but if we start to make subjects mandatory, where would we stop? We would like students, teachers and schools to exercise choice, and despite what has been stated by numerous people, I have not made history non-compulsory. Anybody who knows me can see I take a particular interest in history anyway. We want students and teachers to follow whatever subjects they consider of interest.

We will return to the issue of resources but I will first deal with the short courses. We have introduced four voluntary short courses. These were to be compulsory, and in deference to the concerns expressed by teacher unions and school management bodies, they are now voluntary. We would like to get to the point where they can be available but we are not saying they are compulsory.

Deputy O'Brien raised some points regarding assessment. In June 2017, when the first year students starting secondary school next September sit the English exam, the paper will have been set by the State Examinations Commission, and 60% of total marks will come from that paper, which will be marked by the State Examinations Commission in the normal way. We can examine ways in which the process can be maintained to ensure a satisfactory transition. There are issues around assessment of portfolios and storage and we would like to discuss them, but it is very difficult to do that with people who argue they are opposed to the issue in principle and will not speak to it. Teacher representatives have come to meetings but unlike management bodies and others, they have not put in writing what they would like in terms of extra resources or different methods of assessment.

I am not sure of the precise nature of the question regarding special needs children for the priority learning units, PLUs. The PLUs focus on developing social, pre-vocational and life skills of students. There are five PLUs, which are communication and literacy, numeracy, personal care, living in a community and preparing for work. I will revert with further information on that.

Deputy Jim Daly asked how third level examinations are assessed by lecturers and teachers, and there are issues of quality assurance, anonymity and ensuring all the vulnerabilities arising from liking or disliking students can be addressed. We can borrow from international experience in that regard and see what is happening in our own post-leaving certificate courses and elsewhere.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin spoke about teachers wanting to be advocates and not judges. The language is strange as our children are not in a court of law or charged with anything. They are not being judged and they do not need advocates. They are getting very good teachers. Senator Power referred to some of the research on which the issue is based. These 12 year old students may come to a secondary school from different backgrounds, and the idea that they immediately have to get ready for the junior certificate in third year is distorting. We have evidence from the Economic and Social Research Institute to suggest it is distorting a student's behaviour, how he or she will act and the interaction with education. I have already addressed the issue of history and geography.

Senator Moran spoke about her response to the professionalism of teachers and the issue of communication from the two unions. I carefully wrote down what the Senator said, with teachers indicating this process would undermine the education standards existing at present.

4:40 pm

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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That comes from the address from the ASTI. It is arguing that point.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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We want to change the current education standards. That is what this is all about. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell mentioned rote learning. Some things must be learned by heart but students do not have to memorise a prepared answer to an anticipated question. We have to learn multiplication tables, history dates and the significance of 1914 etc., and that is carried in a person's memory for ordinary discourse. I saw my now 19 year old child writing at speed so as to achieve a particular time for a prepared answer to an anticipated question for an exam. That is the kind of rote learning we are talking about that.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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The Minister knows I was not talking about that kind of rote learning.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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The Senator used the phrase "rote learning".

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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There is nothing wrong with rote learning.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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It is a generic title applied to learning answers prepared by a teacher for anticipated questions. When we use rote learning, that is generally what is being referred to. Senator Moran spoke about competition between schools within towns, and this is something we could discuss. At an operational and professional level I would love to be able to sit down with my officials and teacher unions to ask about their fears regarding X, Y and Z and how they can be addressed. We will address those issues. Some people have suggested that oral exams could be done in different schools and there is competition in some towns among schools, particularly for the best students.

We cannot do so if people are saying "We are opposed to this in principle and I'm not going to talk to you."

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell asked me whether I regard teachers as experts. Yes, I regard them as experts, but they are not the only experts. There are other experts as well. Not every teacher has a PhD in educational research, but he or she may have a PhD in-----

4:50 pm

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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Sometimes the best teachers do not.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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There is a lot of expertise in the area of moderation, assessment, learning and pedagogy. I will outline one of the reasons we are changing, using as an example the area we are talking about, secondary school teachers. It is a highly unsatisfactory situation when a bright boy or girl, the star pupil - I am thinking of schools right across the country - leaves secondary school, goes to university, comes back after a three- or four-year degree, gets probated as a teacher in the same school, qualifies in that school, joins the staff of that school and stays there throughout his or her career, without any other experience. What I would like to see, and it will be a matter for discussion with the educational partners, is that somebody who wants to become a fully qualified secondary teacher, which is different from a primary school teacher for various reasons, will have experience of a wide range of schools before he or she is made full-time. I think that we need that kind of experience. We are also addressing the issue of employment conditions, which are outrageous at the moment.

Senator O'Donnell asked whether I regard teachers as experts. Yes, I do, but the level of expertise depends very much on the pedagogical skills that they have acquired along the way, which varies. It varies much more in the secondary or post-primary space than it does with primary school teachers, because a primary school teacher, generally, has wanted to be a teacher from day one. Not every post-primary teacher wanted to be a teacher on day one of his or her university education. Some of them ended up teaching - and have become very good teachers - but there is a difference.

Senator Healy Eames talked about a number of things. I know she has expertise in this area and it was her PhD topic. So much is based on experience and best practice around the world. All of which has been tapped into and is available to us. We do this in order to avail of what lessons have been learned and what mistakes have been made so that we do not repeat the mistakes of others. We are quite prepared to engage in all of that and to adopt an attitude of willingness to try something a particular way and if it does not work, as we anticipated, to be open to changes and modify things as we go along.

The Senator suggested a ratio of 20:80 for external moderation. These are the kinds of thing we could discuss. We could look at how it might be done regarding all of these issues. However, I am confronted with the representatives of the two teachers' unions who simply said: "No. We are opposed to this in principle and therefore we are not going to discuss the details."

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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Was it proposed to them? Has the Minister said to them: "Teachers and unions, I will work with you to ensure you have a component of external assessment"?

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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Yes, I have.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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The Senator will have an opportunity to come back in afterwards.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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I have already said why the short courses are not compulsory. It was felt that this was too much to ask at the present time, so we have made it voluntary, through nobody's fault. The Haddington Road agreement concerned public sector pay, in the main, and had nothing as such to do with education. One particular union found itself in a position in which it was reconsidering its attitude to the agreement, which put everything else on hold. Therefore, time was lost in that regard.

Senator Power talked about the very slow implementation of what we are doing. I will not repeat the other concerns she expressed. The Senator has consistently indicated her support for the steps we are taking.

It seems to me - this would be true for a number of people - that there are concerns around two issues: first, the system of assessment and its validation and objectivity; and second, catching something over three years of a child's education, from 12 to 16 years of age, as distinct from the once-off leaving certificate examination, as Senator Moloney mentioned, and at the same time being objective in how we do so. It is happening all around the world and it is happening in many other parts of our education system. There is enough for us to learn from and take the best practice. We will engage with the teachers' unions if they wish to get involved with us, and I hope they will consider doing so.

Senator Moloney made an observation about her son, who has spent 11 years in the education system studying medicine. On reflection, she thought the leaving certificate was the hardest exam of them all. There are issues, which Deputy Ó Ríordáin talked about. There will be knock-on changes to the leaving certificate as a result of two pressures. The first is changes that we have asked for regarding the universities. The CAO system will now have ten points of gradation instead of 14. Also, the marking system, whereby one can be 2.5 percentage points away from going up or down by 5 points, will change. We also hope that the third level institutions will reduce their bewildering number of level 8 courses. There are now more than 1,100 such courses on offer, which is bewildering. Ten years ago there were fewer than 500.

We commissioned research from the Oxford University research centre regarding the unacceptable predictability of certain questions in exams, which turned out to be less of a problem than we had originally thought. Oxford University is a near neighbour of ours and is on the other island, but it could not get over the amount of media coverage that surrounds the leaving certificate examination and the junior certificate examination, and the consequent pressure that puts on families. As many as 60,000 young people sit the leaving certificate examination, but about 0.5 million people sit the exam in this country when we include their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, etc.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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Can I ask the Minister about the trust idea? Trust is terribly important, as he will know, particularly trust between him and the teachers and between the teachers and him. Third-level education is one of the best examples of a situation in which people get educated in an organisation, qualify in an organisation, go back into the organisation and stay in it for the rest of their lives. That happens constantly in third level, where postgraduates end up teaching and never move, so second level is not a good example.

I want the Minister to talk to me about the trust idea. Trust is very important and it is something that has been mentioned in the media.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Before the Minister responds, I wish to remind him that Deputy Daly asked a question on peer correcting. Perhaps he will answer the Deputy's question as well.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Has the Department or the Minister floated the idea of peer correction with the unions? Peer correction is where a teacher from one school corrects the work of a teacher in a neighbouring town and vice versa, as is done for mock examinations.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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There has been all sorts of talk on the margins of different meetings. As regards a formal exchange of views, the answer is "No," because the union representatives have not been empowered by their members to engage ad infinitum. I hope I will say this accurately, because there are representatives present from the two unions involved. My understanding is that the unions are still at the point - members have seen the letter that was sent to every Member of the Oireachtas - at which they are opposed to this suggestion in principle and, therefore, are not going to discuss any aspect of the detail. I would like that to change. I am open to hearing their legitimate concerns. At the end of the day, they are expert in teaching and we are experts in politics in this room and this House.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Has the Department considered peer correction as an alternative?

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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Yes. The Department is open to and aware of all of these possibilities. If we get engagement, we will be prepared to explore ways in which we can address teachers' concerns. I recognise that people have legitimate concerns which are genuinely held. It is not some kind of negotiating position. These are legitimate and genuine concerns for many teachers. They are afraid of coming under parental pressure and school pressure from principals who want to maintain standards in schools and examination results. I have heard those things expressed to me by individual teachers from my own party and from other parties. I recognise that these are real pressures and, therefore, real fears. We are prepared to work to see how we can minimise them, if not eliminate them.

Photo of Brendan GriffinBrendan Griffin (Kerry South, Fine Gael)
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On a point of clarification, will the State or individual schools sign off on the award?

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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I am glad Deputy Griffin has raised the matter, because it has not been discussed. At the moment it will be a school certificate, similar to first year exam results or the report at the end of first, second or fifth year. Transition year does not have an exam in the same way. Many people have raised the concern that different certificates would not have the same standing - in other words, that one school in a town would have a better reputation or a stronger perception of academic excellence than another school, for example.

Given that we do not want people to leave school at 15 years of age, we do not envisage the certificate being of that significance for people going for a job. However, the concern has been expressed consistently by many people and I am open to discussing it.

5:00 pm

Photo of Brendan GriffinBrendan Griffin (Kerry South, Fine Gael)
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There is an element of prestige and, on the other side of that, schools in disadvantaged areas lack that element of prestige. The Minister could be taking away something from a student who has applied himself or herself equally well.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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I have listened to, and heard, that genuinely held and conscientiously held opinion. I am open to suggestions about how we can eliminate the perception of a school at one end of the town and the school at the other end of the town.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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On that point, when I initially heard about the reforms, my instinct was conservative. Now, I am an absolute advocate of the reforms, as proposed, to move away from the State exam. The more I thought about it and the more I read about it, the more in favour of it I became. My daughter is nine years of age and will be ten in the summer. I do not want her to have to be under the kind of pressure that goes with a State exam when she is 15 years old. I do not see the need for it and I do not understand why there needs to be that high-stakes exam at that stage. If there was to be a compromise, could it be the Finnish model? In that case, there is an external evaluation on a rolling basis, with samples that are moved through different subjects and different geographical areas.

Many voices in favour of it are not being heard, even among teachers. Schools involved in the pilot schemes, those involved in the process of planning for this and the consultation process organised by the NCCA and pupils are among those in favour of it. That side of the argument is not getting enough publicity.

I read a discussion document dealing with the transition from second to third level. Áine Hyland was the chair of the body involved. I was one of the people who found it very difficult to get used to the change when I went to third level. I struggled with third level although I came out of it okay and got my degree. When I look back, I realise retrospectively that the problem was the change from rote learning into the environment in third level. I felt I was thrown to the wolves and left to my own devices. I managed to deal with it but that is an awful lot to expect when there is such a structured approach at second level. The discussion document concerning transitions from second to third level said the reforms introduced in the junior certificate did not go far enough. Teachers involved in the system reverted to type. If we do not get rid of the State exam and really reform the system, everything will revert to type.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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I referred to trust, which is very important. Can the Minister regain the trust and the communicative trust in the 55% of teachers in the ASTI and the TUI? Maybe he does not want to regain the trust. There is an impasse. What moves has the Minister put in place to bring about that regaining of trust since the conference? That is the reality and is locked into the timeline we have been speaking about.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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I have never lost trust in the teachers and teaching profession, institutionally and from a personal point of view, having had three children of different abilities who have gone through the education system. I say this respectfully as a matter of record rather than opinion. The two secondary school or post-primary teaching unions have been opposed in principle to any change in this area for the past 25 years. The other stakeholders in this narrow space have engaged and have welcomed it in varying forms and sought clarification. I agree with the point made by Senator Power about getting resources into it. Resources will be needed to move to the system and it will be a challenge to get them. We are talking about over 350,000 young people in the junior or senior cycles. If we can engage in the detail of its implementation, I am open and flexible about the best way to implement it. It is difficult to deal with people who say they are opposed to this in principle and will not engage. When we look for participating schools through the NCCA to act as explorers of how it would be implemented, we sought 40 schools and got offers from 120 of the 730 schools in the system. Different management bodies and different groups expressed interest, along with concerns about how it might work, what is needed and the implications. These are all normal things and questions will continue to arise on matters we have not fully anticipated, coming from this starting point. We will engage, as is the normal way of doing business. Unfortunately, we are not in that place where we could start to explore those points. I slowed down the implementation because of the concerns about resources.

Senator Healy Eames referred to concerns about short courses. There are problems about that and we have made them non-compulsory. Given everything else that was happening, it was an additional burden and concern for management bodies and representative school leaders.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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The Minister has not addressed two points. Around the table, we acknowledge that resources are an issue. Will the Minister appoint the co-ordinators of assessments for different schools? When will the announcement be made?

How good is the JCSA to the 10% of students who drop out before leaving certificate? They are the most disadvantaged of the lot. The Minister has a duty to ensure there is a State component to the exam so that it stands up internationally. Our population is very mobile.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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We are prepared to talk about the co-ordinating posts for subjects. We have already raised the issue with the management groups but we have no one to talk to about this.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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Why does the Minister not make an announcement? That would show he is moving ahead. I am serious.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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The announcement I made was that we were going to reform after 25 years of stalling. That was a political announcement and I took responsibility for it. I said it at the ASTI conference last and, in so far as I was heard, at the conference this year I am open to discuss in detail the speed at which we travel, the best way to get there and the rest of it as long as no one has a veto on the destination.

With regard to the figure of 10%, I commend the committee on examining the comprehensive five-year further education strategy programme launched by SOLAS. For the first time in history of the State, we have an integrated and joined up further education system. It is arguable that, in many cases, the 10% who drop out of the school system do not necessarily get the junior certificate examination result in the first instance. There would possibly more appropriately move at 14 or 15 years of age into a vocational type combination of apprenticeship, on-the-job training and learning and off-the-job education, as is done in middle Europe and Austria. The German Minister for Education at federal level has said that Germany will not move to the European target of 60% having graduated from universities because it has an alternative parallel system that works much better. Youth unemployment and industrial output results in those countries are much better. What we launched yesterday in the Chester Beatty Library is a properly linked up system.

It will address the kinds of concerns many people - professional teachers in the area - have that the overtly academic approach to education, which is characteristic of the junior certificate in its present form, simply does not suit the interests and the attributes of those young people.

5:10 pm

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I have a follow up question on that point.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Can I bring up Senator Moran first and then I will go back to you?

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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It is linked to that.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Okay. Very briefly.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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It is really important because I agree with the Minister that some of those kids, who are not academic even at junior certificate level, need that parallel system into which they can move - that apprenticeship form. However, when one goes to the PLCs offering that, they cannot take students after junior certificate, so that needs to change.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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I have read it. I was showing off. It is like getting an A in Irish.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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The Senator does not have to compliment me on it because I did not write it.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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There is a lot I could question about it but anything that breaks down the caste system between vocational education and academic education is a very good thing and anything that is flexible and allows people to move from one to the other and creates a kind of living world and a living education is absolutely marvellous.

The Minister still did not tell me whether he thinks teachers have trust in him. How will he get that back? He is honest enough to say that at the moment, he has not had a lot of communication.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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I will put it to the Senator this way, because I got a lot of response to the teachers' conference in regard to the reception which I do not think did anybody any good, there are 87,000 registered teachers, registered in the Teaching Council. They were registered for the first time, following legislation passed in 2006. We do not do education reform on the trot, or very quickly, in this country. We do not sprint it. If a teacher is not registered with the Teaching Council, he or she cannot be paid from taxpayers' money. There were probably fewer than 1,500 delegates at the three conferences and of that 1,500, 1% to 3% caught the media in terms of response. I do not regard that behaviour or that manifestation of aggression towards me as representative. Every Minister for Education of whom I can think over the past ten to 15 years got not dissimilar treatment. It is a matter for the unions-----

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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It certainly was not last week when the Minister visited schools in Kerry.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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Hold on a minute. I am not talking about the behaviour, which was absolutely reprehensible. What went on was bad mannered. It was ridiculous, disrespectful and appalling. I am talking about re-igniting a conversation and an engagement. When will that happen?

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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All the other education partners and the wider community are broadly in favour of reform of the junior cycle. The two teachers' unions have a mandate from their members not to engage. I think some may have suspected that I was going to make some kind of concession at the conferences. We have established a working group, which the teachers' unions attend. They are engaged but are not engaged adequately. I have asked them to specifically state in writing what additional resources they would like, what changes they would like, etc. I respect they are representing a wide spectrum of members.

However, the other education partners have engaged. I have received documentation back from the joint management bodies, the leaders of the principals and deputy principals and others. I am prepared to address all of their concerns as best I can, provided we maintain the momentum of the reform of the junior cycle, as set out.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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I thank the Minister for clarifying that point. I asked a question about more CPD and what will be in place before September. That was not addressed. The headline in an NAPD press statement issued in 2012 read: "Let us be more courageous in our moves to reform Junior Cert". It is talking about teaching students to learn rather than teaching students to pass examinations and that needs to be the new focus of the junior certification. It is there in black and white.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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One cannot say that students who do examinations do not learn.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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One cannot but what it is saying is that there needs to be a new focus. What we need is critical thinking rather than rote learning, which was going on in my house last night. I listened to French conversations being learned off because it is presumed they will be asked. It is the same with Irish where there are so many picture stories, one of which will definitely come up in the examination.

What is talked about is the feedback. Marking copies or writing comments such as "work harder", "very good" or whatever are not sufficient. We need to make more comments and give a better assessment.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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I refer to a briefing by Dr. Alan Wall and the delivery of CPD to teachers over the past number of years in different forms. The format in which it was delivered to English teachers in this instance, because that is the cohort group about whom we are talking, was that a year before the process started, they got one day, based on the likely changes, and then one day on a yearly basis, as they needed it, for the following three years, because it is first year, second year and third year. It is tailored to the form in which they have received CPD in the past and it is, in total, four and a half days, which is spread out. If that is not sufficient and they can demonstrate that to me and if I can persuade the Minister, Deputy Howlin, or if we can look for resources within the rest of the budget, we can be open to that. If a convincing argument is made, I am open to it. I do not have the resources currently to do it. We have already made resources available. As I said in my prepared remarks, it is €4.6 million.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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I would like to put a question to the chief inspector on his report and the day we had the discussion on it. He made the point that day that assessment was not one of the strongest points in regard to the set of skills teachers currently have. That was something he particularly referred to in his report. Will he elaborate on that? Does he have any thoughts in regard to where that leaves us with the current proposals for the new junior certificate?

I mention the €4.5 million the Minister has set aside for next year. Will he give us a breakdown as to where that €4.5 million will go? The Minister mentioned that he is willing to talk to and work with others as long as it does not affect the momentum and that he can retain momentum. The problem is that there has not been momentum because it has not been moving smoothly. The Minister has been moving on but he has not been taking people with him.

Is the Minister committed to discussing with teachers compromising on the issue of the independent assessment? The concerns are very much about the maintenance of quality and standards in regard to the correction of the 60% element of the examination part of the new junior certificate. Is the Minster sending that message to teachers that he is willing to compromise and talk about that? That has not been forthcoming from the Minister. He said he has said that to teachers but neither I, nor I think teachers, have heard that before.

Like Senator Moran, I think a number of teachers at the ASTI conference let their colleagues down. I do not think it was really education politics but wider politics outside the issues which were being discussed. Unfortunately, they did a great disservice to other teachers at that conference by taking the focus off the important issues.

At the previous year's ASTI conference, the Minister described junior certificate reform as a personal political project.

I remember the Minister saying at that conference that the destination was not up for discussion but that he would discuss what was happening along the way. Unfortunately teachers believe that the Minister has been too authoritarian and dictatorial in his handling of this and that he has not been listening. It is important that such listening now happens so that everybody can get back on board.

I ask the Minister to clarify whether he is now willing to compromise on that point so that we can put a system in place which ensures consistent standards in terms of the marking of the new junior certificate student award.

5:20 pm

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Before I call Deputy Griffin, I should point out that proper procedure dictates that the Minister is the witness and the officials are here to assist the Minister. They may respond if they wish to but are not obliged to.

Photo of Brendan GriffinBrendan Griffin (Kerry South, Fine Gael)
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The important point about the "independent assessment" is that it is also anonymous and I would share the concern that, given the very few degrees of separation in this country, teachers will come under huge personal pressure following the issuing of results. Will there be some form of appeal or recheck mechanism in place for students who feel aggrieved? That could potentially defuse a lot of the difficulties and could take a lot of pressure off teachers subsequent to issuing results. There is a rechecking mechanism in place for the leaving certificate although there are problems with it, particularly in the context of timing.

The primary certificate was discontinued long before my time and now what we will have, potentially, is a system where the first standardised marking of a student's work will take place after 14 years of formal education. I have spoken to many people in the education system who believe that we should go back to having a standardised assessment after the first eight years of formal education, rather than after 11 or 14 years. Can we put some checks and balances in place because after 14 years, it is too late. If there is a glaring lack of performance by a student or number of students in a particular school, after 14 years it is too late for many of them to try to tackle that problem. How does the Minister envisage addressing that issue?

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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We need to use this meeting very productively. There is broad agreement around the table that education is losing out here, as well as our kids.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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I would not say there is broad agreement on that point, Senator.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I think there is in the sense that we want the issue to move on and the stalemate to break. I would like to propose a re-engagement with the teacher unions. We should call on the unions to re-engage on the basis of the new information that has been put on the record-----

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Senator Healy Eames cannot make such a proposal because she is not a member of the committee.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I appreciate that but I am just saying-----

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Such a proposal must come-----

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I was expelled or thrown out of the committee.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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The Senator should have consideration for those of us who are members of the committee, who come to all of the meetings and read all of the documentation.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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Anyone can attend a meeting.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Anybody-----

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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I know, but a lot of time has been afforded to Senator Healy Eames. I did not know she was not a member of the committee anymore.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I was a member of the committee.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Just to be clear, any Member of the Oireachtas is entitled to attend or speak-----

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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Members of the committee should be allowed to speak first.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Priority is given to committee members in terms of the ordering of contributions. It would not be appropriate for the Senator to propose-----

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I accept that completely and have no difficulty with that. However, we must be very careful when talking about who cannot participate at committee meetings. There are many committees which do not have enough participants. Let us have a little bit of realism around this.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Yes, but technically the Senator cannot propose-----

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I do not wish to be the proposer but would make the suggestion that it would be wise, in the interests of education, our children and of teachers who wish to move this issue on, to re-engage. The blockages can be addressed and a great deal of new information has been put on the record today that gives hope.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Does the Senator have a question? That is really what we are here for.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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Would the Chairman be open to that suggestion? Would the Minister be open to it?

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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The Minister has already indicated that he is willing to engage.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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Even though I would disagree with the Minister on many things, he has answered my question on the impasses and has tried to answer the question on engagement with the unions, to be fair to him. He knows it has to happen.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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That is what I am saying and in that context, it might be wise of this committee to make a proposal.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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The unions should not be sitting around waiting for us to make a proposal. The Minister wants to engage with the unions.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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I do not think it would be appropriate to accept such a motion, to be honest. I now call on the Minister to respond.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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I will respond as quickly as I can. We are all trying to achieve the same thing. Change is always difficult, particularly when we have gotten used to doing things in a particular way. In response to Deputy Griffin, there is constant assessment going on in our education system. Kids are assessed in terms of literacy and numeracy at different stages right through primary school and now will be assessed at age 14 in post-primary school. Many parents are aware of these assessments because they receive report cards every year.

I signed off on a document today, which is the education passport which will have four sheets of paper in it. I can provide copies to the committee members. It is for youngsters leaving primary school to go on to post-primary school when they have been accepted by that school. It has been refined to the point where the school will say "This is the level of young Brendan or young Rory", parents will be able to fill in a form outlining what they think are the strengths and attributes of the child and in addition, the 11 or 12 year olds can also fill in what they believe are their particular strengths. There is regular assessing and testing and I do not think one can be a teacher without doing that all of the time, to ensure that what one is trying to convey is being received at the other side. That is not the same as doing a formal examination which is marked. Every education system needs a form of assessment and a final examination. I am not entirely sure if Deputy Griffin is talking about an alternative to the current junior certificate examination. Am I correct in saying that the Deputy was a teacher?

Photo of Brendan GriffinBrendan Griffin (Kerry South, Fine Gael)
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I was a teacher, yes.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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I respect the Deputy as a professional. The question is whether one turns the assessment into a judgment that is used for third-party purposes by a student. There is deep concern about that issue. It is not the case that we do not have assessment until the leaving certificate at the end of 14 years. Assessments for 14 year olds will now be part and parcel of the process and it will be conveyed to parents how their children are doing in English, maths and science.

Regarding what Senator Healy Eames has said, I have said publicly on many occasions what I have said to this committee today. I am not saying anything new here today that I have not said already. I have simply said it repeatedly in response to different questions. I am more than happy to sit down and talk to representatives of the trade unions along with the other stakeholders to see how we can advance the project. Up until now, however, the union representatives have not engaged because they are opposed to this in principle. It is very hard to get into committee stage of any type of discussion if there is opposition in principle but I have heard the concerns expressed by the teachers.

After 25 years of trying to get a new junior cycle, I do not think it is presumptuous or precipitous to suggest that there should be agreement in principle. Deputy McConalogue attended the conferences where I said that I am prepared to negotiate how best to get there, at what speed, the navigation and so forth but the destination is replacing the current junior certificate State examination with a different kind of examination, which is set out in all of the documentation with which committee members are familiar. We can do it in such a way so that it is monitored as it proceeds. I have already slowed down the implementation of the process. As I have said, there will be two more general elections before this process is finally completed. In that context, I can hardly be accused of rushing it.

Finally, I would say to Deputy McConalogue - who is a member of Fianna Fáil - that I do not recall former Deputy Donogh O'Malley engaging in extensive consultation and negotiation before announcing free education.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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I think Dr. Patrick Hillery, when he was Minister for Education, said that it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

5:30 pm

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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I call Deputy O'Brien and Senator Moloney to follow.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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Much has been said about the reform of the junior cycle. My daughter will do her junior certificate in a couple of weeks and another daughter will enter post-primary education in September and will be one of the first students who will experience the changes.

I have spoken to parents who hold views at both ends of the spectrum. There are concerns which members recognise. The crux is that parents have respect for the teaching profession. Parents have great trust in what a teacher tells them about their child's capabilities, their academic ability. We go to the parent-teacher meetings. We get the results of the Christmas and Easter exams. We have faith and trust in what the teacher says, and rightly so, in my opinion.

The parents at the school gate are listening to this debate. Perhaps they do not get the nitty-gritty details of why the system is changing and the advantages of it, but they hear what the teachers say on the issues around the assessment and the lack of a State examination. The Department holds the opposite view, that the abolition of the junior certificate is in the best interests of educational outcomes and children. They are listening to two different messages. There is a danger that unless there is complete confidence in the new assessment procedures which are being proposed, eventually over time one will undermine the confidence in a school certificate or the changes the Minister is proposing. That could be detrimental in the longer term. There is a great deal of work to be done, not just between teaching unions and the Department but also convincing students and their parents that what the Minister is proposing is in the best interests of their children in the longer term.

If a teacher is saying that what is being proposed in terms of taking away the State examination element is not the way forward, there is a danger that it could undermine what the Minister is proposing. There is a job of work to be done. We have a role to play but I do not know how we will do it. The Minister has stated he is willing to engage with the unions, subject to the fact that it will not block the momentum. Speaking as a parent, I am not sure if that is the right course of action. It is almost setting a precondition to any negotiations. The Minister is saying that in terms of what is coming in and the timeframe for it, that it is happening in September 2014, he is willing to discuss resources and the concerns of teachers, but the Department is not changing its mind on what is being rolled out in September. I do not know if that is the right course of action. If everybody is going into negotiations and saying this is what we want to achieve, it may not be achieved by September. What really frustrated me and one of the real frustrations for me as a parent in setting up the consultation that did not take place in January was that we were told by the Department that we could not set up the consultation groups on the roll-out and implementation of junior cycle reform because the unions were still balloting on the Haddington Road agreement. I can understand the political context for that but parents at a school gate do not care if a union is involved in negotiations on the Haddington Road agreement, nor do they think it is right that the Department would not discuss the roll-out of junior cycle reform until a union signs up to it. I think that was the wrong thing to do.

Parents have significant concerns and I would not underestimate the potential of this concern to undermine everything the Minister is trying to achieve. Teachers are highly respected and valued members of the wider community. As one parent said to me: "I would trust what the teacher is telling me quicker than I will trust what a politician is telling me." That is the reality.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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I would say people would trust anyone rather than trust a politician. I asked at the previous meeting if I could raise an issue today. The Minister does not have to give me an answer today, but perhaps he will give a commitment to come back and discuss it. It came as a great shock to all members of the committee when the Minister announced at the INTO conference that it would be a requirement for a student to have honours maths to do teacher training. This is not on the agenda, but I ask the Minister to explain his thinking. If he does not wish to address it today, will he give a commitment to come back in the very near future to discuss it in more detail?

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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I know we will have to discuss this in private session, but let me repeat that it would be helpful for the committee to bring in the partners in education, the teacher unions, the Joint Managerial Body and the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals so that they are together in the room to try to tease out the issues. Perhaps we can play a role as a committee in helping to end this impasse.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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I suggested that before and I was turned down. I was told that the committee should not be getting involved in union business.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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We have heard where the Minister is coming from.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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We need to have these engagements more often and not just on junior cycle reform. I said at the meeting last week that the Minister and his officials should come before the committee once every three months. I know the Minister would be open to that suggestion, given his time schedule. The committee should consider inviting the Minister to discuss educational policy and have a question and answer session. Sometimes in the committee we do not get down to the policy issues, which we should be discussing. I commend that and I ask the Minister to fit it into his schedule once every three or four months when we can have an open question session.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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We are here nearly two hours. I am more than happy because I am learning all the time from what is being said. I am at the disposal of the committee and it is up to the Chair to decide. There is no reluctance on my part in that regard, as members will have seen over the past couple of years.
I have heard very clearly what Deputy O'Brien has said and I recognise that he is reporting accurately what he has heard. I respect that. One of the great strengths of our education system is the level of engagement that parents have directly with schools and with the teachers in those schools and the sense of trust that teachers have in parents and vice versa. I would be loth to put this at risk and therefore I am concerned.
Unfortunately, the fact that the Haddington Road agreement was a public sector pay deal for 300,000 public sector workers, including Deputies and Senators, got in the way of an attempt to get these things going. If we had attempted to keep talking, we would have run into a serious problem with the teaching profession or one of the unions in the teaching profession specifically because the other union in the post-primary sector had made a decision in relation to the Haddington Road agreement.
From the point of view of the parents, every subject the young person who takes first year classes next September does for the junior certificate in three years time will be the same with one exception, namely, English. The curriculum for English by and large is a bit more specific than it is currently but it is essentially the same. The exam they will sit in June 2017 will be set by the State Examinations Commissions and will be corrected and marked by the commission. The maximum marks they can get from that will be 60%.

Where we do not have agreement is on how the project work that makes up the assessment will be done. All of us make presentations - we do it as politicians. In any working environment there are presentations and collaboration. Any of our children could be great at group working, and researching for and making a presentation of a project. None of those attributes, which are essential for a maturing young person, are captured by our present examination system. We are trying to find a system that will do that. I will explore it with people. There are professional educators on either side of me here who know far more than I will ever know about these things. We are open to trying to capture what the modern 21st century young person's set of skill requirements is and how we assess that.

There is a proposal with the Teaching Council. We require our primary schoolteachers to have a higher-level qualification in Gaeilge but not in mathematics. The statistics from the State Examinations Commission that I was quoting show that 14 and 15-year old girls do higher level maths for the junior certificate examinations and then drop down to ordinary-level maths for the leaving certificate if they intend going to teacher training college because that is all that is required. Young people are very smart at navigating the mountain that is the leaving certificate. They will take the softest route. That is one of the reasons that agricultural science, for example, is a very popular subject in the midst of urban areas where nobody has ever been on a farm. It is because it is an easy subject to get high marks in the leaving certificate.

I was making the point that girls who have demonstrated the ability that they are well capable of doing higher-level maths and do it in the junior certificate, wanting to become schoolteachers decide to maximise their points - that may change with the with the incentivised extra 25 points now-----

5:40 pm

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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Why is it just girls?

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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Eighty percent of the entrants into initial teacher education are girls.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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We need to seek to encourage more men.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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It is feminisation. Ding, dong - it's the Avon lady.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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Of the men who go into primary school teaching, 80% go on to become principals.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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The Senator should ask herself that question.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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The Minister spoke about higher-level maths. While I might be somewhat biased, I believe the person going into primary school teaching with music skills, the person who is able to communicate with the child or the person with the sports skills will be considerably more beneficial than someone going in with higher-level maths.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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Would the Minister not agree that for a primary school teacher things like history and geography impinge more on other subjects than mathematics would?

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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The matter is with the Teaching Council, which will make a recommendation. All I said at the conference was that I was in favour of it because I feel we are not performing as well in mathematics comprehension compared with other countries as shown in international surveys.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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If we get rid of rote learning-----

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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With the project maths and the extra 25 points it might encourage people.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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It is already encouraging people.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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Will there be a second chance if someone does not have honours maths? For students wanting to do engineering, some colleges have a way around it. It would be important not to rule people out because they do not have honours maths.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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I was going to make a similar point. It is essential that teachers leaving our teacher training colleges at the end of their initial teacher education have a high standard of maths. I believe the Minister is coming at it from the wrong direction by changing the entry requirement from leaving certificate level. I know there are initiatives in Marino and elsewhere to try to get more disadvantaged young people involved in education because we need them as role models in our communities. However, some schools do not offer honours maths and that is an issue. Equally we could lose good young people who could be passionate and brilliant teachers by requiring honours maths. The best approach is through project maths and so that people are no longer petrified of honours maths and run screaming a million miles from it, leading to a problem with maths. However, we need to deal with the problem with maths separately and we need to ensure that teachers leaving the colleges have adequate maths.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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Now the Senator is talking.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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However, it is premature to tackle it at the leaving certificate level and it would damage too many other objectives we have.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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We are changing the whole way initial teacher education is being delivered over the four years. There are suggestions to the effect that there should be a greater concentration on mathematical teaching during that four-year period. The requirement for higher-level maths is one of many suggestions. There is no single solution for any of these issues; it is a mixture of all of them.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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As it would have repercussions in so many other areas, I do not believe it is the right way to go about it.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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I ask the Minister to comment on the issue of assessment from the chief inspector's report.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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I ask Mr. Hislop to deal with that.

Mr. Harold Hislop:

The point made in the chief inspector's report is that in general among the teaching population, compared with their knowledge of other areas of teaching and methodology, there is less strong knowledge about assessment. There is evidence in our inspections of teachers performing assessments, particularly the standardised tests. The standardised tests that one of the other members mentioned have been introduced at second, fourth and sixth class levels in literacy and maths.

As part of the junior cycle reforms they are also intended to be introduced at the post primary level in the year prior to doing the junior certificate examination - at the end of second year. We will include standardised assessment in science as well as in literacy and numeracy, and also Irish in Irish-medium schools. Based on the assessment information that comes out of standardised tests and other assessments, teachers have a poor ability to use that to plan the next stages of children's learning. In the chief inspector's report we pointed out that if this was to be an area of CPD and teachers' professional development, it is an area that should be given priority.

Within the junior cycle framework it is obviously necessary that much of the CPD will focus on assessment. Most of the content of the teacher training programme for junior cycle for the year when the students are in the first, second and third years of the programme will be about assessment. That is not just assessment in a terminal sense, but assessment as it goes along to support the learning of students. That will for a very important part of the CPD programme. The initial inputs for teacher CPD, such as what took place in this school year for English, had to concentrate on the changes to the syllabus - the content of the programme.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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I asked about the €4.5 million budget for next year.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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We will get the Deputy a full breakdown of the €4.5 million.

The joint committee adjourned at 5.59 p.m. until 1 p.m. on Wednesday, 28 May 2014.