I thank Senators O'Donnell and Craughwell for raising this issue. Since my appointment as Minister, I have consulted widely with all education partners on the proposed reform of the junior cycle. I have met with parents, students, management bodies, school leaders and teachers' unions. To progress the debate, it was agreed that Department officials would meet with the teachers' unions. Dr. Pauric Travers was nominated by the teaching unions to act as an independent chair for these discussions, and I accepted the timeframe and terms of reference for those talks which were proposed by the unions. The talks began on Friday, 7 November and concluded on Tuesday, 11 November without agreement.
I believe that I tabled a fair and sensible compromise proposal at the discussions, and I thank Senator Craughwell for his acknowledgement of the progress that I did make. I met the teachers' unions again this morning. However, I regret to note that there has been little movement in their position. A significant gap still remains. I reiterated my proposal which was presented to them last week. I highlighted that I am anxious to engage with them in relation to the resources required to support the implementation of these reforms, but based on my compromise proposals.
The previous framework proposed the removal of state certification from the junior cycle and would have seen 100% of marks assessed by the class teacher in most subjects.
The main elements of my compromise proposals included final examinations in third year accounting for 60% of junior cycle marks, which would be set and marked by the State Examinations Commission; a State certificate would issue to every student on completion of the junior cycle; 40% of junior cycle marks would be awarded for project or portfolio work during second and third year, which would be assessed by classroom teachers, and the State Examinations Commission, SEC, would check 10-15% of these marks to ensure consistency and fairness; and well-being would be a compulsory element of junior cycle, encompassing areas such as physical education, SPHE and CSPE.
Evidence shows that the current structure of the examination does not serve the best interests of students. The skills young people need for life - such as communications, teamwork and problem-solving - cannot be tested by a final written examination. Assessment practices must change to measure these broader skills. School-based assessment will give students the opportunity to demonstrate their many skills, other than those assessed through a written terminal examination. Unless assessment changes, teaching and learning practices in the classroom will not change. If it is only knowledge that we assess at the end point of three years, then the development of skills and attitudes will be, at best, incidental. Our students need these skills to create new solutions to problems, to be confident in themselves, to apply their unique abilities in different situations, to contribute to society in meaningful ways, and to assist Ireland in the future to compete in a global market.
Teachers will be given specific support to enable them to confidently and competently mark their own students and to participate in school-based moderation. This will be done through the continuing professional development, CPD, programmes run by the Junior Cycle for Teachers, JCT, along with National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA - apologies for all the acronyms - resources, including the assessment and moderation toolkit. It will also include checks of 10% to 15% of material by the SEC to further ensure consistency and fairness.
Having a substantial element of school-based assessment encourages the teaching and accrediting of a broader range of skills. Similar reforms have been introduced in Scotland, Finland, Australia and New Zealand - all countries with high-performing education systems. In Ireland we have been talking about junior cycle reform for nearly 30 years. It is high time that we took action. I am convinced that my proposal will allow for the broad range of skills achieved by students at second level to be assessed and reflected in their results. It will also respect the concerns of teachers. It is regrettable that the union leadership is not prepared to engage with the opportunity my proposal presents. I am willing to engage further with teacher unions on the reform of the junior cycle. I hope they will reconsider the decision to take strike action, and will re-engage on the compromise proposals which have been tabled.