Mark Their Words




The new Junior Cert Cycle.

It’s going to get very ASTI.

Seamus Keane writes:

I appreciate that you don’t normally do this but I’m one of a group of activist teachers in the ASTI union, we call ourselves ASTI Fightback. We’ve long campaigned against the cuts in education, class sizes etc., often clashing with our own unelected officials who we think have been compromised by years of Social Partnership and feel more at home in Government buildings with their peers than in the classroom with ordinary teachers.

We normally agitate for change within our own union and in conjunction with our sister unions but feel that recent developments in education necessitate bringing our concerns to a wider audience while trying to raise funds to aid our campaign.

Our members will be voting on the new Junior Cycle in a few weeks and we feel that this path the mandarins & bureaucrats in Government wish to lead us down is precisely the one that has ruined the education system in the UK, i.e. an outcomes-based curricular model promoting an instrumental, tick-box approach to the curriculum.

Their ultimate aim is the commodification of education where schools will be in competition with each other once league tables are published (the stated aim of Harold Hislop Chief Inspector Department of Education & Skills).

This will ultimately be achieved by doing away with the anonymous, number only exam marked by the State Examination Commission (flawed, yes but incorruptible in the sense that no one can corruptly bring influence to bear on the mark their son/daughter/nephew etc. will achieve).

If we accept this it means that soon schools will assess their own students for the purpose of certification which opens the door to pressure from parents & management for the best results possible. This system has been manipulated in the UK by school managers to corruptly facilitate their climb up the school league tables, a practice that has been exposed by the ITV ‘Exposure’ programme:

We are currently engaged in producing a document highlighting the failings of this system to post to every secondary school in Ireland (700). It is a costly endeavour (stamps alone will cost €476)  I was hoping you might post the link to our crowdfunding page [below] – Please also feel free to look at our Facebook page: ASTI Fightback to see what we’re all about…

*Flings duster*

New Junior Cycle Campaign (


61 thoughts on “Mark Their Words

    1. Seamus Keane

      Our fees go towards the union’s officers, admin & industrial relations staff and expenses for elected teacher representatives basically. We are a group of activists who are ordinary members of the union, + a few elected representatives, and get no money from the Union in the pursuit of our principled aims.

      1. bisted

        …surely this is a hoax…even teachers couldn’t have such hard necks. Any advocacy group worth their salt could find a TD to embrace their cause – printing and postage sorted.

        1. Seamus Keane

          Did you not get the bit about us being against using influence to achieve something (like better grades or favours)?

      2. mike

        my INTO fees go on a fairly bullsh1t glossy mag, it has to be said. mind u I agree with a lot of the above. having taught in both systems, I find targets driven, jargo filled approaches generally spearheaded by aloof quangos dont really help teachers equip young people with skills and abilities to have a haopy and comfortable life

        1. Continuity Jay-Z

          Irish unions are ridiculous. They are the biggest waste of time money and effort ever. They run around shouting the odds for all these random causes but as soon as they have a fight on their hands they roll over for a belly tickling.

          Also to a man and women the executives of the majority of the unions are overpaid. No union official should be paid more that the average salary of the people they represent.

    1. Cluster

      Maybe but the cynical reading is that all teachers will now have to do more marking rather than a smaller number of teachers voluntarily being paid extra to mark.

      That being said, I agree that the changes to the system arent the right ones. It does leave teachers open to intimidation (however subtle). The value of independent, anonymous, state-wide correction is massive imo. It keeps schools/teachers honest and strips away almost any suggestion of bias from results.

      There is some merit in considering how the exam is set (does it demand info to be regurgitated in a small amount of time or is it about problem-solving/original thinking?) – or even whether it is all fine by exam. This, however, smacks of money-saving only

      1. Kieran NYC


        In Ireland we need *less* ‘who ya know’ cute hoorism, not the possibility of more.

        In fact, if employees’ CVs were initially selected anonymously (pre-interview stage) we might be a better country all round.

  1. newsjustin

    I’ve committed all my crowdfunding cash to helping that young teacher from last week get her PhD, sorry.

    1. fosull

      What was the story with that, by the way?

      I stepped away from the laptop for a few hours and when I came back, the funding page, as well as the BS post, were both gone, as if they had never existed??

      If anyone can fill me in, I would be very grateful…

  2. Spaghetti Hoop

    Firstly, the tagline on their image is only going to invite the ‘but ye’ve three months off to de-stress!’ brigade.
    Apart from that, there are some good points here.

    1. Seamus Keane

      Good initial point, I realise that the tagline will do us no favours but I had meant to also point out that the UK haemorrhages teachers at an absurd rate with teachers leaving after a few years because of the system.

      1. Mister Mister

        Shouldn’t be too much of a problem here as there’s a pile of young teachers looking for permanent jobs, many held by some of your colleagues our on ‘sabbaticals’.

  3. phil

    ‘corruptly bring influence to bear on marks’ Sure that would be terrible, but out here in the private sector if you are unable to do your job effectively , you will not be doing that job for long, no matter what your qualifications are. And thats no bad thing usually, who wants to go to work everyday doing something you hate in a job you are totally unsuited to.

    Get back to me when parents and maybe politicians, can have a reasonable influence on what goes on in the education system , or the day we hear about one, just one teacher, being fired for incompetence …

    If one wants to make lazy generalisations about politicians who were teachers not bending the knee to teaching unions, I can make a lazy point about the the state of the country v’s the amount of ex-teachers who are involved in government for the last 30 years…

    1. mike

      jesus spare me another “well in the private sector…” dribbles. get a loan, train to be a teacher and get a job as one if its so good.

    2. Mark Dennehy

      Yeah, it’s very competence-driven “out here in the private sector”… just ask Denis O’Brien. Or Donald Trump. If you can tell them apart long enough to ask, that is.

      1. Kieran NYC

        Who got their leg-up through daddy’s money and corruption (allegedly) respectively.

        Not a good example of most in the private sector.

      2. curmudgeon

        Mark you usually talk sense, are you having an off night or what. Also I think you’ll find that the average private sector work did not inherit billions and unlike the teachers we don’t hear from them because they don’t have several unions and a state backed pension with three months off to mull and whine.

    3. Cluster

      I agree that there should be a more effective means to remove poorer teachers and more regular Japanese/Finnish kaizen-style evaluation & training.

      All that bring said, your response is a rather strange one, Phil, to a specific campaign about a specific issue. do you really believe that we should ignore the issue of education until there are more flexible firing rules for teachers?

      Anyway, being in the private sector myself, I can confirm that there are sadly many ineffective workers dotted around the place, surviving for long periods of time.

  4. Dubloony

    I actually agree with them on the anonymous thing. I’m from one of the more colorful areas of inner city Dublin. Our teachers were largely from rural areas and made no bones about hating Dublin and all the little Dubliners they had to deal with.

    The exams help students from teacher bias that isn’t mentioned in the original article.

  5. veritas

    I don’t see the line in the article telling us you are only doing it for the children,nothing to do with salary.Or the one where all the parents fully support the teachers(they don’t).
    How come we never hear from the teachers about the injustice of requiring pupils be baptised ?.

    1. Cluster

      The answer ( I suspect) is that although it is symbolically a bad thing, in reality religion plays little real part, or poses little real problem, in the education of Irish youngsters.

      I say this as someone who wants all state schools to be completely secular & who spent time in both Catholic and non-denom schools.

  6. nellyb

    Fundraising has rules and one of them is to keep potential donors informed to establish trust and maximize donations. What I found on
    – Letter isn’t accessible, if on the donation site at all
    – No word about why cost effective distribution channels not considered – delivery in person by teachers to respective school principals or via email.
    But maybe this site is a PR broadcast rather than a fundraiser, which is understandable.

    Well, despite all, I wish Seamus luck. Hopefully Fightback has a solid researched alternative to what they are fighting against.

    1. Seamus Keane

      Hi, it’s our first attempt at fundraising and I’ll admit that it’s rather amateurish (I take full responsibility for that). You make some fair points: I’m not sure what letter you’re referring to that’s not on the donation site but I’m assuming that you mean the document we intend to post to the schools. it’s in the process of being finalised now but draft excerpts of it can be viewed on our ASTI Fightback page. We had initially just intended to bring notice to the fundraising campaign on our page, which we assume is ‘liked’ by like-minded teachers in the hope that their likes would translate into Euros. I made the impulsive decision to sent this post to Broadsheet as I love the site but have never had anything posted on it before and was shocked at the speed of its appearance.
      The 700 schools are spread all over Ireland and we don’t have e-mail addresses for teachers who would be willing to circulate the documents. Sending it directly to the school or Principals might also prove problematic as they might not look favourably on a negative critique of the new Junior Cycle as their representative Management Bodies are broadly in favour of the changes.
      Sorry for the confusion, it was not my intention to be disingenuous but yes I was also trying to generate a bit of PR.
      Thanks for wishing us luck

      1. New Person A

        Fair play to you in fairness

        Not sure I entirely
        With your post in
        But kids + government bean countin
        = roastin

  7. The Wizard's Sleeve

    Broadsheet = 90% gay / 23% too ugly / 1% innumerate.
    Nobody here will ever have kids, ever.

    You’re on the wrong site pal, but I wish you luck.

    1. New Person A

      0.9 * 100/23 * 100 = 391

      The rest of us here comprise the majority assuming broadsheet have about 10,000 unique visitors a month

        1. New Person A

          According to wizards sleeve there are 391 fuggly failed homosexual fine arts graduates here.

  8. Clo

    Whatever about the means of marking student work, it is also concerning that the new junior cert will downgrade subjects like history and geography which not only provide an important grounding for students in understanding the world around them, but also try to teach students how to reason and think and how to form and defend argeuments. Not the current curricula in these subjects are great, but it is terrible to think that students may have no access to them.

      1. Clo

        They’re not bad in terms of content, but History in particular focuses on teaching ‘facts’ rather than interpretation, and on learning these ‘facts’ off by heart. And then, years later, students get to third level and are still repeating these like a mantra. Leaving cert is also based too much on rote learning and on a very limited curriculum that means again at 3rd level students are reluctant to tep outside the comfort zone of 20thC Ireland and Europe.

  9. Just sayin'

    Maybe its good the Junior Cert was degraded. It took over from the Inter Cert which was often the final exam a kid did in school. Now, as pretty much no one leaves school after the Junior Cert, its importance is diminished and it probably should be tested locally.
    Regarding the anonymous marking, I find this disingenuous. Are teachers saying they are not professional enough and honest enough to mark their own students honestly?

    1. classter

      I’m sure some teachers are not honest enough – the many scandals around teacher cheating in standardised tests in the US would suggest that under pressure & temptation teachers are capable of the same sorts of failings that the rest of us are.

      Putting that aside, all humans suffer from cognitive biases. It is next to impossible to ignore the fact that W has had a bad year or that you go walking with X’s mother twice a week or that Y is an impudent little sh!t or that Z is actually a very clever, well-read student even if his finished work doesn’t reflect this. Even if you think you have ignored this.

      There is also a benefit for the student of being able to say – good or bad – this was marked anonymously by teachers elsewhere so excuses about teachers not liking you or doubts that the teachers favour you are put to bed.

      Also there is a whole process around standardising the markers. This is much more difficult if being carried out nationwide. No doubt everyone here has stories about a teacher who gave you 95% for spelling your name correctly whereas others meanly conserved marks no matter how deserved. How would the process work for ensuring a relatively fair & equal marking everywhere?

      1. Just sayin'

        Yeah, but its only the Junior Cert! If the State can save millions by downgrading it though cutting outside marking and supervision, I don’t see the problem. Its well known that senior teachers finance their foreign holidays through the extra income earned through supervision and grading.

        Having said that, it is a tough job and I don’t envy them.

        1. classter

          I see your point on downgrading but that would mean that students would go through six years of secondary school before facing an objective, independent evaluation of their educational attainment.

          IMO that would be a retrograde step.

          The JC & LC keep schools & students honest. Largely this has worked & their results are trusted in a way that few government pronouncements are. I think we need to think carefully about reforming what we are learning & how it is tested but these reforms are not that,

  10. Barry the Hatchet

    I’m really struggling to understand issue here because, on the face of it, this kind of blanket opposition to the proposed reforms just seems like stubborn fear of change.

    Is it that this will be more work for teachers? Because that’s a fair point, but it’s a reason to campaign for better pay and conditions as part of Junior Cert reform, not to campaign against the reform itself.

    Is it that continuous assessment is actually worse for students than a terminal exam? Because, if that’s the case, I’d be interested to see some actual evidence, instead of a bunch of paranoid guff about “mandarins and bureaucrats”.

    Is it that you believe teachers, as a group, are so unprofessional that they are just unable to mark their students’ work objectively? Because, if that’s the case, then you have much, much bigger problems to worry about than Junior Cert reform. That’s a terrible indictment of your own profession.

    Is it that you believe the system will reward schools for pressurizing their teachers to behave unprofessionally? Or are you concerned that the standard of marking will vary from school to school? Because that seems like a reason to engage with the reform process and campaign for better safeguards and stronger accountability in the new system, rather than to point-blank campaign against continuous assessment.

    1. Christopher

      I agree with all of this- if there was any expectation that teachers in Ireland actually cared about education and not protection of their profession above all else they might get more sympathy for their causes. We all don’t want to go to the UK system but, I’m sorry teachers are overpaid for a job that is basically part-time, permanent and comes with a very generous pension.

      And don’t start with “Well why don’t you become a teacher if it’s so easy!” crap. I have other interests and that’s what I based my career choices on NOT on holidays and job security. It doesn’t mean I can’t point out that teachers have it very good in this regard and should weigh up how their moaning and ridiculous union conference rabble goes down with the general public who came through our education system and knows VERY well how bad a lot of the teachers in our cushy system are.

      1. classter

        ‘ if there was any expectation that teachers in Ireland actually cared about education and not protection of their profession above all else they might get more sympathy for their causes’

        You are talking about how teachers should be perfectly objective yet you do not to be able to diassociate the topic at hand & your own prejudices of teachers generally.

        We are discussing a specific set of reforms to a certain state-run examination. I am not a teacher but I personally feel that this is a mistake.

        And Barry, if you are proposing major changes to the stus quo, then the onus is on you to provide evidence of how it will be beneficial – other than, we think this will save a few quid.

    2. classter

      ‘Is it that you believe teachers, as a group, are so unprofessional that they are just unable to mark their students’ work objectively?’

      Yes, because they are human. Public sector contracts & architectural competitions are often scored anonymously for similar reasons. There has been a huge amount of evidence in recent decades about the unthinking biases of parole boards, of juries & of professionals of all kinds.

      This is especially true in a small, cohesive society like Ireland.

    3. Seamus Keane

      No one mentioned anything about “blanket opposition” to any reforms. The majority of teachers are very much in favour of reform in teaching and learning.
      I don’t believe the points I made are “paranoid guff.” This reform is very much driven by “mandarins and bureaucrats” , their overzealous desire to replace the examination system with Assessment for Learning (AfL), which they claim will, “dramatically improve learning” is questioned by many academic researchers, “the magnitude of commonly made quantitative claims for effectiveness is suspect, deriving from untraceable, flawed, dated or unpublished sources” (Bennett 2011)

  11. CupofTea

    I think a lot of people are missing the point that teachers are already continualy assesing their students in the form of end of term tests. the new cycle would add a little more work for the teachers but not much.

    Imagine if you were a teacher in a dissadvantaged school where a lot of kids only did the JC. the type of school where parents arrive in for meetings drunk or on drugs and with anger issues. Now imagine you fail a kid on their Junior cert and that parent knows that it was you who failed their child. They know where you work, they can confront you in the street and you just ruined their kids life becaues “insert childs excuse wny the teacher doesn’t like them”.

    So what would you do? Would you pass the child so you dont get stabbed leaving school? Would you fail them regardless?

    1. Barry the Hatchet

      “Imagine if you were a teacher in a dissadvantaged school” “Would you pass the child so you dont get stabbed leaving school?”.

      Wow. Way to grossly stereotype people in disadvantaged areas there.

      1. CupofTea

        I’m sorry I didnt mean to steryotype anyone. I dont have much experience with the more advantaged schools so I can only speak from experience with disadvantaged schools. Have you ever seen a parent with anger issues arrive to a parent teacher meeting chewing the face off themselves and hurling abuse at a teacher because their child told them they were being picked on?. It only takes one really bad egg.

        Read the below statement by INTO stating that there is a rise in verbal and physical attacks on teachers and tell me I am wrong to worry about the physical wellbeing of the teachers.

  12. Bonkers

    What I don’t get about the teachers opposition to marking their students work along continuous assessment lines. As far as I know this is what they use in Finland which is often touted as a best practice model.

    Teachers seem to be saying that they will be under the influence of parents but are they not professionals at the job they do, can they not rise above this? How did the Finnish system manage to solve this problem and why can we in Ireland be mature and solve it in the same way?

    1. Seamus Keane

      We have no problem assessing our own students but we do have a problem doing it the purposes of certification. There are no national qualifications in Finland and no Standardised testing.
      In Finland they trust their teachers to know their students through collaboration, networking and partnerships. In contrast, many other countries are allocating resources to generate increased competition, nationwide testing of students and subsequent school rankings.
      Furthermore, Finland does not rely on test-based accountability. Their system relies on the expertise and professionalism of teachers who are committed to educating all students. As a result, Professor Lavonen says the output of their system is trust and autonomy from quality teachers who undertake rigorous courses.
      In Finland, there are also no ‘standards’ for teachers to demonstrate, no external appraisals, no inspections of classes and no national testing of students.

        1. Seamus Keane

          We’re talking about the Junior Cycle here and school assessment for the purpose of certification but thanks for pointing out that they have a matriculation exam to get into University, which I think you’ll agree is an entirely different thing.

          1. classter

            Is that not effectively what the Leaving Cert is though?

            They also take it aged 16 so in a way it is like a combination of JC & LC, no?

            You said, ‘Finland does not rely on test-based accountability’ which would look to be false, even if the evaluation model for teachers is not directly linked to this exam. Or am I reading this wrong?

            Seamus, you’ll see from my comments above that I am generally supportive of your position, It will be a lot easier to get behind you if you don;t come across as a lazy steward worried only about the teachers. One of the interesting features of the Finnish system are strong but generally non-confrontational unions.

  13. Seamus Keane

    Okay, again my argument is with teacher’s assessing their students for the purpose of State Certification which they have tried to introduce into the Junior Cycle. Ruari Quinn wanted 100% assessment by teachers, Jan O’Sullivan rolled back on that saying 40% would suffice, now she’s saying we’ll bring the new system in but the teacher assessment part will not count towards the final mark which will be based on a terminal exam. Our problem is that with the new system in place there is nothing to stop them in a few years time getting rid of the terminal exam and using the teacher assessment as a the grade, hence teachers assessing their own students for the purpose of state certification. And then why stop there? Let’s get rid of the State Exam Commission altogether and run the Leaving Cert like this. It will be just like the UK system and it smacks of a money saving exercise.
    I did not mention Finland in my original post but tried to deal with another comment posted, using my limited knowledge of the Finnish system, and I was trying to point out that there are no standardised tests for students in Finnish schools and teachers or schools are not judged on results, a path we believe the Irish system is going down.
    I struggle to try and engage with the developments in teaching and learning in this country, whilst trying to give my students the best education that I can, it is a labour of love, I am no expert on any education system but am continuously learning. I am also a Trade Unionist cognisant of the politics of the Irish education system. I do object to you personalising this argument by saying I come across as a “lazy steward worried only about teachers”. I also believe that the very nature of the Irish system demands confrontation to stand up for education, it must be easy for the Finnish unions to be non-confrontational when their members are granted so much respect & autonomy and are not subject to the range of inspections we have in this country.

    1. Seamus Keane

      PS I accept your point that you’re comments are generally supportive of our position. I just got the impression that you were googling Finnish education in an effort to be deliberately antagonistic. It was late, I was tired, the ‘lazy steward’ bit got to me.

      1. Cluster

        Tbf if you are proposing/fighting reform then you should know all about (in great detail) what is being done elsewhere – including in the allegedly the best system going – and not just the bits that appear to support your argument.

        There are also evaluations for teachers in most schools in Finland unlike what you suggested above. It is also interesting to ponder whether their system could work if they were less academically selective in terms of entry to teaching, as we are for secondary teaching? They also had many of the features of other systems until the mid 90s. Did their stratospheric improvements occur before or after or both? Etc

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