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Blog: ISSU Education Officer

Hi! My name is Joanna Siewierska and I am the Education Officer for the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union. As the ISSU Education Officer, my term in office has consisted of having to do a lot of research about the JCSA. From training days and chats at conferences, to reading news articles and press statements, having studied the reforms and different opinions about them, I have become a passionate advocate in their favour. I do realise that they are not perfect, but I really believe that they will be better for second-level students in Ireland.

However, keeping up with the debate about the reforms has become tiresome for me recently. You see, the teaching unions initial threats and then real industrial action have switched the conversation about the reforms to addressing their concerns, namely, it has switched to assessment related discussion and it’s been like this for quite a while now. I do think that this is very important because any reforms to the education system will essentially be brought in by teachers to the classroom. However, I feel like the media have continually focused on one aspect of the Junior Certificate reforms, and that is assessment. This has taken people’s attention from the rest of the changes, and people who aren’t aware of the full picture have now focused their views on internal assessment instead of giving each aspect of the changes their time.

I can understand the concerns around assessment. Honestly, upon hearing about exams being graded by class teachers I too was slightly concerned. But now, I can see that my initial reaction didn’t take into account the circumstances which caused the Department of Education and Skills to propose these changes in the first place. It took a lot of time and research for me to finally understand exactly why internal assessment is an absolutely crucial part of the reforms, and I really wish that more people were able to spend this amount of time getting to understand the JCSA.

It seems like I’m part of a minority. Strikes and issues over assessment are pretty newsworthy and this sometimes makes me a feel a bit isolated with my views. I love reading interviews with Dr Pasi Sahlberg, such as this one http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/refusal-by-teachers-to-assess-students-is-a-step-back-says-finnish-expert-1.2062095. Sahlberg’s views and suggestions are very interesting. In the above article, he comments that the whole concept of assessment needs to change, even beyond internal and external assessment models, so to suit Irish needs. There are more interesting comments made later by Ms Salmon, general secretary of Community and Comprehensive schools which support ISSU’s stance that without changing assessment the reforms will become ‘redundant’.

So the students have spoken, the Principals have spoken, parents and other partners in education have spoken. We are all in favour of the JCSA reforms and in favour of changing the assessment structure for the benefit of our second-level students.

So what is the problem? Why haven’t we moved forward in relation to the JCSA? I do not want to condemn teachers or anyone who disagrees with just one aspect of change. I want to listen to their concerns and the Department of Education and Skills to address them too. However, there are now barriers in place so we as the ISSU cannot meet with the teacher unions to discuss our differences. Something has to happen to address this.

If this blog has left you questioning your own opinion of the JCSA reforms or has drawn your attention to them and you would like some more information about them, in particular something designed for second-level students, then check out the JCSA Document that ISSU has written up and/or request our JCSA toolkit for member schools. They will explain to you in more detail what our union’s stance on this topic is, how it is so and why. Hopefully that will help you in shaping your own opinion of these reforms and understanding the different opinions of various partners in education.

And remember, we are always keen on hearing back from students, so if you have any comments or questions drop an email to me (joanna@issu.ie) or our secretariat (info@issu.ie) and we’d be delighted to get back to you.

All the best,

Joanna Siewierska

ISSU Education Officer

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