Tag Archives: Guidance Counsellors

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.

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The ASTI and I – Convention 2016

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:

ASTI Tweet

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.

ASTI Tweet 2

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:

ASTI Tweet 3

 

Some Other Issues –

Croke Park Hours

The ASTI rejected the Landsdowne Road Agreement in a ballot of members.  As the Haddington Road Agreement will expire in June 2016, we then intend to not do the 33 hours of Croke Park any more.

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.

Superannuation

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.

Ex-Quota Guidance

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.

 

An Overview

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.

 

EDIT:

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.

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.

 

 

Doublespeak

George Orwell’s ‘1984’ scared me.  Yes for the references to Big Brother, and yes, for all the totalitarian references and the image of a world at war.

But  1984 also scared me for the concept of ‘Doublethink’.  Orwell nailed it when he had his politicians twist words so as to make their constituents think whatever it was they were supposed to think.

One who had displeased the party became a ‘nonperson’ and all reference to them was wiped out; the Ministry of Peace tested hand grenades on prisoners; and newstalk was used to indoctrinate the population.

The book is listed as fiction, but seems to have been taken as an instruction manual in the political life of ‘The Best Small County In The World To Do Business’.

Take our successive Education Ministers.  To listen to them, life is only getting better for our students, and they think that we should be happy to swallow their bitter pill.  I think they are hoping for a version of the last line of 1984 where the protagonist, Winston, ‘loved big brother’

Why am I even talking like this?  Lets take a few examples.

Guidance Counsellors.

Guidance Counsellors, for decades, were an important part of Irish schools.  Guidance Counsellors have helped hundreds of thousands of students in subject choice, college choice, and ultimately, career choice.  But that is only part of the work they do.

For years now Guidance counsellors have also done a huge amount of counselling work.  They have helped students who have suffered abuse, bullying, depression, suicidal thoughts, rape.  They have supported, they have referred and they have grieved.

And just like that the government got rid of them.  2 years ago in the budget.  Hidden in the nitty gritty, with the stroke of a pen.

And now that we are told the recession is over, Minister O’Sullivan has no plans to reinstate guidance.  And she calls this good news.  She believes “that it is desirable to give schools some discretion on how to use these increased resources” .  She conveniently forgets to mention that to put in guidance, schools need to lose a teacher in another area.  But that’s ok, because the schools have discretion.

It’s pure Doublethink.  Change the story, and repeat it so much that you believe it yourself.  Minister O’Sullivan also referred to the 2015 budget as being the first budget increase in Education in many years.  More Doublethink.

Why?

Here’s the spin.  Yes, there is an increase in funding, but it’s in the capital spend.  There has been a raft of new building measures proposed (because we love property).  This extra capital is only to ensure school buildings meet increased population demands.  This extra spend does nothing to improve pupil/teacher ratios.  It does nothing to reverse cuts to those who have special needs.

The downside of the budget is that it was published in a year that schools have their capitation budgets cut, and have been promised, wait for it, another cut next September.

So the Minister talks about an increase in the Education Budget and hopes that we all forget the ongoing cuts and buy the party line.

Sadly, in our media driven society, those who can keep their message going loudest and longest will be the ones remembered.  Successive Ministers for Education seem to have taken this lesson to heart.