Tag Archives: #edchatie

Fair and Equitable?

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.

A Lonely Road

So here we are at the start of a new year – still fighting the inequalities that were imposed on younger teachers in 2011/2012.

Currently, teachers are paid according to three different pay-scales.  Yup.  Just because any colleague of mine that had the misfortune to take up a contract a few years later than I did he/she would receive less pay for the same work.

Not only that, he/she will not receive any allowance for achieving excellence in their degree. (and let’s not forget that instead of a H.Dip.Ed, new teachers need a Professional Masters in Education – 2 years in college, and all the extra expense that second year adds up to)

You may remember that last Easter the issue of different pay scales was raised at the various conferences of the Teacher Unions.  The ASTI (of which I’m a member) gave a mandate that should the Government not address the issue of inequal pay by the end of August, then the union should take further action.

August is now behind us, and our newer colleagues still receive less pay for equal work.

The ASTI announced here that the union is to ballot members on taking strike action.

I’m proud that our union is taking this stand, and I will be more than happy to stand on the picket line to support my colleagues. (I know I’m assuming the result will be for a strike)

Yes, this will hit me in the pocket, but it is the right thing to do.  However much I have lost in pay (and I have lost a lot over the past 8 years), I am still better off than my colleagues.  This is beyond unfair – it is simply unjust, and must be fought.

Of course this won’t be easy.  At the moment only the ASTI is taking on this fight.  It’s going to be a lonely road.

And the government is ready to fight back.  Just look at the ferocity of the government’s reaction to the ASTI decision to not do any more Croke Park hours:

  • A threat not to pay increments in pay that are due
  • A threat to not pay for Supervision & Substitution (one of the cuts made early in the crisis)
  • A threat to deny new teachers a Contract of Indefinite Duration after 2 years of service.

Don’t think that the Government will accept the ASTI strike action and simply remove the 3 tier pay system.  They have the hated FEMPI, and they have shown they are willing to use it.  Expect them to retrench and hope to wear down the union.  Because if teachers get pay scales restored for new entrants then there are a lot of other members of the public service (who are also suffering) who will want to follow suit.

The INTO and TUI have their own battles trying to improve the lot of new entrants:

  • The INTO has given this update on their negotiations.  (in brief, the issue has not been resolved)
  • The TUI has given this update on their meetings with government negotiators.  (and they also have nothing resolved)

The other teaching unions may at some point decide that protracted negotiations are not getting new teachers any closer to an equal and just payscale, but in the meantime ASTI members may feel very alone on the picket line.

Stand Up

 

 

 

 

Richard Bruton and his Cup and Ball Trick

A few days ago our new Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton announced an increase in the number of Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) in the Irish School System.  Not just one or two, but 860 new SNAs.

This sounds brilliant, and a lot of it is good news.  But I have a fear that there is a lot of plastering over the cracks going on.  Why?  Well there are three main areas that are glossed over in the reports:

 

Population increase.

Ireland’s Population is on the increase.  The 2008 population of Ireland was 4.46 million, and the 2015 population was 4.63 million according to this site. That’s an increase of 170,000 people.

The CSO estimated that the primary school population would go from 502,300 to 556,500 in the period from 2011 to 2016.  In the same period the secondary school population was to grow from 342,400 to 368,600.  That’s a total increase of 80,400.  I think it’s fair to assume a number of those students will need the help of an SNA, don’t you?

 

Shifting Goalposts

In this Irish Examiner article I found the most misleading statement from the Minister to be that every child who needs an SNA will have one.  However, the Department of Education has shifted the goalposts regarding what constitutes “need”.  This article from RTE mentions students who need help with toilet or mobility issues.  The entitlement is restricted to those students with physical needs.

Really?

Yes, students who have physical needs require and deserve support, but what about the student with ADHD, the student who is diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder?  What about students with a range of conditions that prevent them from functioning to their best ability in a mainstream classroom?

Students who would have qualified for an SNA ten years ago are denied access to an SNA under the new regime.  This fact is being buried under an announcement that highlights a necessary increase, but does not address the very many students who have no support.  And this can only hurt their educational achievement.

 

It’s all about the Money, Money, Money

Minister Bruton has said that the money for the extra SNAs will come from his existing budget.  That really doesn’t bode well.  The Education budget has seen some brutal cuts over the past eight years.  I doubt very much that it will be possible to strip assets from one area without causing significant damage.

As it stands the Irish Government seems to be pursuing a policy of Education by budget rather than by aspiration.

And as for Minister Bruton?  He has, rather cleverly, diverted our attention to a good news story so as to distract us to the ongoing affect of continued Austerity in Education.

cup-and-ball-trick

 

Labour & FG. Supporting Inequality

A lot of us remember the gloomy days near the end of the previous government.  Brian Cowen was in power, and was denying anything was wrong – even though every economic commentator was warning of a crash.  The optimists, God Bless ’em, were talking about a soft landing.

Around this time I became politically active for the first time in my life.  I joined FG, I canvassed for my local guy, went to the meetings and did my part.

My part included believing that FG would be good for people across the country.  They had a plan for free health-care, for better services, to turn the economy around.

It all ended as so many love affairs do.  With Disillusionment on one side, and confusion (What did I do wrong?) on the other.  I left Fine Gael in 2013.

As we face the final week of the latest General Election Campaign, I’ve decided that I cannot give a #1 to Fine Gael or Labour.

And why?  Well, I see inequality has greatly increased during the tenure of this government.  And, rather than put that in vague terms, lets look at how far this inequity has spread.  You see, despite the claims that the recession is over, Austerity still rules in Education.

In Education the cuts of the past 5 years have been brutal.  But these cuts have not hit everyone equally.

equity-vs-equality

School budgets have been repeatedly cut

But if you go to a school in a middle-class area, then the school can ask for “voluntary contributions” that will go a long way towards making up the shortfall.  In a poorer area schools don’t have this option, or at least the amount that they could legitimately ask for is far less.  So, a school in a disadvantaged area will be hampered in what it can offer its students.

Students with Special Educational Needs.

These students are hit in two ways.  The most obvious is that the number of Special Needs Assistants was cut.  The criterion were tightened up.  Think about this.  These students are already disadvantaged, and this particular cut could only affect those who were already at a disadvantage.

The other way in which these students were affected is in the area of class sizes.  Prior to 2007 secondary schools operated with maximum class sizes of, usually, 24.  Very often this maximum is exceeded, with class sizes of 27, 28.  At primary level it’s worse, with class sizes of over 30 being relatively common.  Again, those at an educational disadvantage are hit hardest by this.  Think of trying to give individual attention to a child with dyslexia when you have 27 other students to keep engaged.  Certainly they may have ‘access’ to an SNA, but the reality is that the same SNA may be working with a number of students across different class groups.

Access to Educational Supports

How do you know if someone has dyslexia?  Their teacher may suspect it, based on a student’s written work.  But a teacher’s word is not enough to get access to an SNA.  No, for that you need a report from an Educational Psychologist.  The National Educational Psychological Service provides these assessments.  And this assessment goes to the DES to get access to an SNA approved. But guess what?  NEPS have had their resources cut as well.  So a given school will be allocated a certain number of assessments each year – and students with needs may have to wait longer – and fall behind further – because of a lack of funding.

Being Ireland there’s always a back-door.  If you can afford it you could get your child a private assessment , then that assessment will work for the DES.  Those who are better off are less affected by the cuts.

Student Supports

One of the bluntest instruments used by the current government was getting rid of Guidance Counsellors.  Another was the removal of posts of responsibility.  These posts provided teachers with the option of taking on extra responsibilities in a school, and getting paid for them.  Year Heads, Programme Coordinators, Special Duties.  They are all being cut, and other teachers have to pick up the slack, or the buck is passed onto school managers who are already being overloaded.  But, if you are in a school that can afford it, the Trustees will find some extra money to provide the needed supports for students.

This is nothing against these trustees. They are doing the right thing by their students.  It’s just that schools in poorer areas often don’t have these resources.

I could go on.  And on.  The point is that even though the same cuts have been applied across the country, the cuts have had a greater affect on the poorer among us.  Simply because they don’t have the safety blanket of spare money.

Suffice to say I’ve been disillusioned.

I look at the parties vying for my vote, and I find it easy to dismiss lots of them.

From what I can see only one party is actually talking properly about reversing some of the damage done to the public service.  That party is the Social Democrats.  I’ll be voting #1 for them.

As for #2, I’m open to suggestions!

 

My new chromebook – a review

I’ve been without a laptop for a while now – and have been doing a lot of thinking about what to get.

My previous machine was a mac – and  I loved it.  Out and out loved it.  I loved the Operating System, the reliability, the freedom from viruses, the quality of the build – I got 6 years good work out of it.

I didn’t love the price.  It would cost me about €1,200 to get a mac now.  As a teacher for whom the economic crisis is still in full swing, well, I can’t justify spending that kind of money on a laptop.

At school I’ve worked with PCs for years.  And they have their good points.  The MS suite is powerful, there is a huge choice of hardware – across a large price range.  There are also the downsides – regular downtime for updates, needing third-party anti-virus software, cheaper machines can be really slow to boot, old machines get unreliable.

So when I went shopping I wanted a machine I could use and be reasonably cheap.

And so I came to check out Chromebooks. As the administrator of Google Apps for Education in our school, I’m already very comfortable in the Google ecosystem, but it was still a bit of a gamble for me.  I’ve never used the chromebook previously – and I don’t get to see too many of them around.

So I went with the machine I’m using now.  A Toshiba Chromebook 2.  And the price was amazing.  I got it for €279 in Argos.

cb2The build Quality

The laptop has a 13.3″ screen.  So you’re talking about a full-sized laptop here.  The downside is that the screen doesn’t have the same punch as a more expensive machine, but it works perfectly well for my purposes.  And if I want to watch a film – there’s always Chromecast.

The machine is very plastic – and not the expensive stuff.  I suspect that in a year of heavy use I can expect to see some of the silver begin to fade from the edges.   Again, this is a fully functional machine for €279

The keyboard is very nice to use, and after a day of getting used to it, the trackpad seems to be very reliable and easy to use.

Storage is very limited.  There were 2 models of the Chromebook 2.  One has a HD screen, 4 Gb ram and (I think) 32 Gb of storage.  The option available in Ireland has an SD screen, 2 Gb ram and 16 Gb storage.  And that’s the one I have.

The 16 Gb hasn’t been an issue as my school Google account has unlimited storage (yup) and the Chromebook links to it seamlessly.

The Battery is very impressive.  I’m getting 8-10 hours from a single charge.  In practice this means that I can bring it to work for 2 days and not worry about the charger.

The Operating System

The first time I turned on the computer I thought I was in for a disappointment – it took over an hour to get going.  Eventually I contacted Google customer support and they rang me back within 60 seconds of my submitting my form.  A real person phoned me!

Anyway – the delay was an update being applied – and I’ve had no problem since.
The Chromebook is INCREDIBLY fast to start.  A cold start to the login screen is about 8 seconds.  Once you get your password in, it takes about 12 more seconds to be ready to work.

Google say that they take care of virus protection and updates.  The upshot of this is that I have sometimes noticed a little notification to remind me to restart in order to finish an update.  But the update is done in seconds.

The system itself circles around the Chrome browser.  And it’s a dinger.

I’m typing with 7 different tabs working at the moment.  2 different mail accounts, 2 different Drive accounts, tweetdeck, a search window, and wordpress.  There is no lag that I can see.  I have also worked with netflix chromecasting to the TV, with my kids watching a film, and me able to work on the same machine.

Pretty impressive.

There are a number of apps available on the Chromestore.  At the moment I have evernote, tweetdeck and a range of Google apps running.

Obviously Google Docs are very easy to work on this.  Plenty of options available – but some features that you may like in the MS suite are just not available here.

Some bits they don’t tell you about

There is no Caps Lock button.  That’s replaced by a search Icon that will open up a window showing you what apps you have available.  CAPS LOCK – is actually available press <alt> and the <search> buttons simultaneously.search buttonThe Search Button

There are no ‘Function’ keys.  In their place is a list of keys that can move forward and back between pages visited, refresh the browser, go full screen, show all screens in miniature, adjust brightness & sound.

Skype is not supported – so if you like that, then this isn’t the machine for you.  I haven’t yet used hangouts on this, so can’t report on that.

End Result?

I’ve had this machine for a month now – and I’m extremely happy.  It’s fast, it’s reliable and the price is incredible.  It has needed  me to embrace Google Apps fully – but I was already on that path, so no burden there.
A great buy.

Austerity in Education

We are well into our new school year, and hopefully any teachers reading this are doing well – within their classrooms and within themselves.

And while we all get on with our jobs we are being told that the recession is pretty much over.  The headlines are great!  Economy creates 1,000 jobs a week; Tax take €1.4 Bn ahead of forecast.

One of the things that I reckon has slipped under the radar this September is that the capitation for schools was cut by a further 1% this year.  This is 4 years in a row that the budget for running schools has been cut.

But the headlines tell us things are great.

We are now at the point where extra supports have been cut wherever the Government thinks they can get away with it.  We have lost language supports for foreign nationals.  Because they are magically better at English now?

And the headlines still tell us things are great.

We have lost supports for students with Special Education Needs.   Think of that.  Those who need the most support – denied it in the name of Austerity.  We have had cutbacks to the National Education Psychological Service. Students who may have an undiagnosed condition may fall through the cracks – because NEPS don’t have the resources to provide enough assessments to schools. Again, it’s those who need the most help are the ones who suffer.  Another support – Guidance Counsellors – has been removed altogether.  Students need as much help as possible to make intelligent subject and college choices.  But Guidance Counsellors do so much more on a personal level with students.  But, with the stroke of a pen they became casualties of the recession.

But we’re told the recession is over.

One of the early cuts was to teacher numbers.  Classes are larger – and by necessity this means that teachers can give less attention to individuals.  All students suffer.

And they have the gall to celebrate the ‘success’ of Austerity.

Teachers have had their pay slashed – and they have been divided.  Anyone who received a contract after 2011 is paid on a different scale.  They are paid less than their equally qualified counterpart who was lucky enough to land a job in 2010 or earlier.

Forgive me if I see little to celebrate in our Government’s performance in Education.

Any successes that have appeared recently are down to the sheer hard work of so many professionals who are exhausting themselves because they love their jobs and they love teaching.  Part of me wonders if the Government knows this and that is why they are not afraid to keep on cutting.

Many teachers are exhausted – and a number have retired early simply because of the level of cuts enforced upon them.

Maybe it’s time to cut back.  The election is coming, and I very much doubt that I will be sending any votes the way of our current Government.

Let’s see them celebrate that.

For any teachers who are feeling burned out – or worried about their own ability to cope – please consider contacting Carecall – where counselling support is available for free

http://www.carecallwellbeing.ie/About-Carecall-Ireland-6894.html

 

Standing up to the Pesky Unions

Well done to our Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan.

She has had the guts to face down the Secondary School Teachers Unions and is pushing ahead with the pet project of her predecessor Ruairi Quinn.  (Junior Cert Reform, with teacher assessment)

So, she has faced down our strikes, and is holding fast. So she has courage – well done, Minister, take a bow.  Her stand is all the more impressive as she is adamant that all this for the good of the students.

Let’s ignore for a moment the implicit bit that suggests that teachers are not interested in students.

Instead let’s celebrate that we have a minister who is willing to stand up to vested interests.  A minister who is willing to risk popularity in order to do the right thing for students.

Therefore…

Minister, I look forward to the day when you will do the following to support our students:

Reduce class sizes.  This is an incredibly simple measure, but one that has a huge impact on the dynamics of any classroom.  I wrote before about how my daughter was for a time in a class of 34.  This is a ridiculous situation and one that should never be allowed to happen.  This does have the downside of costing money, but the minister has assured us that the evaluation farce was not about money, so maybe there’s room for maneuver. Call me cynical, but I won’t hold my breath.

Restore Guidance Counsellors.  This is another incredibly simple measure, and again has a huge impact on students.  Our guidance counsellors do incredible work with students.  Apart from the obvious help in subject and college choice, guidance counsellors sit with students in times of crisis.  Again, this one would happen to cost money, but I’m sure that the minister will stand up for what’s right, yes?  Actually no.

Restore School Budgets.  Again, a simple thing to do.  Schools get a budget to operate, and this budget is based on the number of students enrolled.  For the past few years this budget has been cut, with a further 1% cut due in September.  Another simple thing to reverse.  But again this isn’t about the money, is it?

Restore resources for Students with Special Educational Needs.  Another simple thing. Really, isn’t this not only simple but ethical?  Are those with special needs already at enough of a disadvantage in educational terms?

Have an effective budget for book rental schemes, and IT in the classroom.  OK.  This is more complicated, and requires some real thinking and procedures to go into place.  Some real work required here.  But it is so necessary.  Books are incredibly expensive, and each new school year brings stress to many families trying to dig out extra money for books and uniforms.

As regards IT – there is no cohesive policy, and what you get from school to school can vary radically.  So our students do not have a level playing field when we talk about ICT in the classroom, and technology in education generally.

So, so much is just about money, and we have a minister who is willing to stand up to others.  So surely she’ll stand up for these principles?

Surely, now that the Minister has shown her mettle in standing up to the unions she will show equal courage standing up to the bean counters?  She will stand up to those who have a view that education can be budgeted down to the minimum possible, and then blame the teachers for failing?

But let’s be honest – the minister is showing little enough care for the reality of life for so many students from disadvantaged areas.  It is about the money, and there’s no point in pretending anything different.  The Minister is failing us, is failing our students – and trying to shift the blame.