This Easter I went to the annual Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland’s Annual Convention. It was my first time going, and it was a bit of an eye opener.
There was a reasonable amount of Media Coverage of the whole event – but some themes were not covered fully, and I thought I’d expand on a few ideas.
So – What are my thoughts on the whole thing?
A LOT of Paper
In advance of the conference I received the following documents:
- The minutes and report of the 2015 Convention
- The Statement of Accounts
- Convention Reports (basically reports from different bodies dealing with a number of issues in Education)
- The Convention Handbook (agenda, standing orders, members attending, etc)
The impression one gets before the convention even starts is that a lot happens at convention. It feels a little overwhelming, with lots of areas to be dealt with.
Terrible, really terrible, timekeeping
Us teachers can be strict lot when it comes to timekeeping. You come late to my class then I’m going to mark you late. If I’m clamping down, I may even take those five or ten minutes back, and detain you during your (and mine) lunch break.
The same doesn’t seem to apply to convention. The first afternoon began twenty minutes late, with pretty much every session thereafter beginning 30 minutes late. By the end of the convention we had lost about 2 hours of time. I personally found this incredibly frustrating. I tweeted about this during the convention and got a great reply:
It’s one thing to be frustrated just by the loss of 2 hours time, (a guess on my part – did anyone keep track?), but it’s another issue entirely when motions that are due to be discussed get skipped totally. On Thursday 31st two motions (62 & 63) were skipped. These motions related to Continuous Professional Development – an important part of any professional’s development. And they were skipped, binned, deferred. This need not, should not, have happened.
The Big Issue – Newly Qualified Teachers
The earliest votes were the most emotive. On Tuesday we debated the issue of pay for NQTs. There were some great (and emotional) contributions from teachers who are new to the profession, and are being penalised for this. Estimates for the difference in pay put the difference at 22%.
We were unanimous in the principle – equal pay for equal work. There was tangible emotion in the room at what has been done to younger teachers. The name I would put on that emotion is anger. Some directed at the Government, and some directed at the Union itself.
Many people believe that the management of the public service unions sold out new members in allowing these cuts to happen.
The President and General Secretary of the union did address this and state that they didn’t sell out- this particular cut had been set up by Fianna Fail in the run up to the Troika arriving on our doorstep.
I don’t know the facts, but I suspect the statements by the union leadership won’t stop the fingers from pointing in their direction.
What I do know is the strength of feeling. We were voting for strike action, and everyone felt strongly that this was a worthwhile cause. We felt that it’s worth losing some pay in order to show solidarity for our colleagues. We felt that this was the right thing to do. (This turned out to be an issue that we would refer back to many times over the course of the convention)
The unity of purpose in this wasn’t lost on some of the journalists present:
Some Other Issues –
Croke Park Hours
These hours of meetings have been described as ‘Teachers’ detention’, but behind the light tone of that term, the hours have been responsible for sucking goodwill out of many staffrooms. It is hard to escape the perception that, in telling teachers to do 33 hours of meetings outside of school time, the Government is displaying a lack of trust in teachers; that teachers do no work outside of classroom hours.
That’s a pension scheme, don’t you know. Prior to Budget 2011, the pension for teachers was based on the final year of salary. Following Budget 2011 the pension for a teacher was based on a career average. This posed a number of problems:
- The average would inevitably drag down the level of pension that a teacher would get
- Many teachers are on sub-standard contracts (less than full time). Their career income will be so low as to further reduce their pension level.
- Following various cuts, new teachers have an income far lower than their colleagues who were lucky enough to receive contracts before 2011. Again, their pension would be cut.
- Now that Posts of Responsibility have been cut, the chances for teachers to climb a ladder have been cut. This also affects their earnings – so any career average will be hurt.
It seems that newer teachers are being hit on a number of fronts. Hit their wages, hit their conditions, hit their pension when they finally get to retirement.
Well, at convention we voted to develop a campaign to restore proper pension rights for all teachers.
I have argued that one of the cuts that has hit disadvantaged students more is the removal of ex-quota guidance counsellors. As with many other actions, we voted overwhelmingly to chase a reversal of this decision.
Posts of Responsibility
I mentioned above that Posts of Responsibility have been cut. This effectively means that teachers have very little chance of promotion during their careers. Many teachers like the opportunity to take on more responsibility – to contribute in a different way to the life of their school.
We have voted to reinforce the union instruction for members not to undertake the work of posts unless they are paid for it.
Many of the issues that we discussed were those that arose following various cuts by the government: Guidance counsellors; pay scales; pension rights; posts of responsibility; sick leave; qualifications allowances; allowances for correcting state exams; supervision and substitution payments.
It strikes me that we have spent a lot of energy fighting to reverse the damage done by numerous cuts. So, here’s a radical idea. If you want to reform in Education – invest properly in it.
I personally believe that the fight to support Newly Qualified Teachers should be at the top of our agenda as a profession and as a union.
The cut put on the (mostly) youngest members of our profession is unjust and must be fought. I’m not looking forward to losing a day (or more) of pay – but it is the right price to pay.