If one is to believe his appearances on news programmes recently, Our Dear Leader is a champion of all things ‘Fair and Equitable’. In the government’s current spat with the ASTI Enda Kenny has resorted to a regular set of phrases designed to make the ASTI position appear to be, simply unfair (and possibly inequitable).
It really is a genius piece of spin. Had we stayed within Lansdowne Road then younger members would benefit financially. However, this is “contingent on the introduction of certain reform measures” (have a look, paragraph 2 of the press release). This all glosses over the simple fact that even with this increase, new teachers (within Lansdowne Road) are still paid a substandard starting salary in comparison to their pre-2011 counterparts.
The government is excellent at trumpeting good news in a manner to hide underlying facts. The recent announcement regarding extra SNAs is really just a Cup and Ball Trick.
But I digress – Enda’s language got me thinking that if Fine Gael really is the arbiter of what’s fair and equitable in Education, then maybe FG policy is a shining example of how to treat the Education Sector with fairness. So let’s have a quick recap of FG policies in relation to Education:
Repeated cuts in School Capitation
Capitation is the basis for a school budget. Each school depends on capitation to pay the bills, hire the busses, get the books, repair the leaks, etc. While all schools have had their capitation cut – this is inequitable. Schools with a wealthier catchment area can rely on parents to subsidise some of the expenses. Schools in a disadvantaged simply don’t have this option.
Increase the Pupil Teacher Ratio
In a larger classroom students don’t get the same level of attention. It’s that simple. Anyone who is claiming that a larger P/T ratio does not affect students is either untruthful or deluded. Students benefit when their teacher can pay attention.
Get rid of Guidance Counsellors
It’s not easy to discern what you want to do with your life, and how to pick the best subjects and college courses for you. That’s the job of guidance counsellors, and apparently one that the Government thinks we can do without. Sure, they’ll argue that schools can now allocate resources as they see fit. Really? The choice is no guidance counsellor or yet larger class sizes. Unless the school has the wealthier catchment area, in which case it may have the resources to fund a guidance counsellor.
Reduce supports for students with Special Education Needs
Fewer SNAs, fewer resource teachers. Think about this one – the group of students with the greatest challenges in school have had their supports cut. How about that for fairness?
Strip resources for the National Educational Psychological Service (via the moratorium on employment)
NEPS provides huge support to schools. One facet of this support is assessment – schools get access to a NEPS psychologist, and can provide some assessments during the year. (Well, since the cuts, that now means ONE assessment for many schools). Again, this is inequitable – some families can afford private assessments, some cannot.
Removal of middle management posts (Assistant Principal and Special Duties)
In any career people like to have the option of professional progression. The removal of posts has removed that option for the vast majority of teachers. Schools now depend on goodwill to get a number of jobs done – and this is putting more stress on principals and existing post holders.
Cut Teachers’ pay (in a number of ways – USC, Pension Related Deduction, Freeze increments)
Any teacher can look at his or her payslip and see all the extra deductions that are there. The PRD grates as we have always paid into our pension, and have viewed a pension as ‘deferred pay’. All workers suffer under the USC. For a number of years we have had increments frozen. The net affect of all of this is that teachers are still being paid less now than they were in 2007.
Cut Pay for the youngest teachers
I honestly don’t know exactly how this one happened. Some say that the unions sold out the younger workers, and others say that this cut was done under FEMPI, beyond the control of the unions. Maybe the unions were simply out-manoeuvred. The simple fact is that our younger colleagues are on an inferior scale, and our government is unwilling to accept the principle that NQTs are entitled to equal pay for equal work.
Cut the rates and allowances for working for the State Examinations Commission
Just about every teacher has worked for a while correcting exams. My first time doing it I was told I was about to undertake ‘the best inservice training ever’. And it was. The money was also pretty good. However that has all been cut -and a number of experienced teachers have given up. Come June and you will find the SEC posting ads for some positions that have not yet been filled.
Cut mileage and conference allocations
Attending conferences is good for professional development. However, new rules mean that many of these conferences now take place on weekends, and any allowances for getting there are cut. The fact that the conferences are still taking place is a testament to the professionalism of teachers who are giving up free time to improve their professional practice.
Change the sick pay entitlements
Nobody wants to get sick – but it is nice to know that if you get sick then there is a safety net to help. However the length of time this support is in place for has been cut. Something that adds to the worry and stress of any teacher facing a serious illness.
Add to all of this we have a Taoiseach who has repeatedly been unwilling to give a straight answer to the question if he would be prepared to accept the principle of equal pay.
So, it’s a bit rich when Enda talks about his government working constantly for what’s ‘Fair and Equitable’. His policies speak far louder than his words. Fine Gael has overseen years of cuts in education and appears to have no intention to reverse these cuts. Fairness and Equality have nothing to do with their policies. The only thing that seems to matter is to balance a budget.