Tag Archives: school

Action On Two Fronts

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that we are now very close to a crisis in our secondary schools.  This week members of the ASTI will undertake the first of seven proposed strikes. This action has been flagged for quite a while.

Before I go any further allow me to state my own belief – this is a totally justified strike.  I am proud to be a member of a union where we are standing up for our (mostly) younger members.

At the ASTI conference in March delegates listened to newly-qualified teachers who are paid less for the same work.  They are on a different pay scale, and are losing thousands of Euro a year simply because they had the misfortune to become a teacher after 2011.

(For clarity, it’s not just the different pay scale – it’s the fact that degree allowances are now gone.  All this when the same teachers have to train for longer -a 2 year master’s degree on top of a primary degree being a basic requirement).

 

Following this, the members present voted overwhelmingly to support industrial action if the government did not restore pay parity for new teachers by September.  Of course there was no move, and the union has taken the action mandated by its members last March.

So, this action is hardly a surprise, is it?  The only possible surprise is that the union decided to take such a strong action in support of NQTs.

However, this is not the only action we’re facing at the moment.  ASTI members are not going to cooperate with Supervision and Substitution from November 7th.

Last year, the members of the ASTI voted not to become part of the Landsdowne Road agreement – we would complete our obligations under the Haddington Road agreement, but did not see enough of benefit in the Landsdowne Road agreement to make it worthwhile to sign up for it.

This meant that we would no longer undertake the famous Croke Park Hours.  Those punitive hours that were regularly denounced as being unproductive (especially seeing as out-of-school activities did not count).

Once the Haddington Road agreement ended and the ASTI did not join Landsdowne Road the government had what could be described as a hissy fit.  Though their actions may also be described as those of a bully.  Younger ASTI members were targeted specifically with having to wait 4 years for a CID, and the part-offer of removing the post 2011 payscale was rescinded.

Then things got nasty.  Part of the Haddington Road agreement was that the government would return S&S pay to teachers.  It was removed from ASTI members in a clear breach of that agreement.

The union response is this – you promised to return payment for S&S, you broke the promise, so we won’t do S&S from November 7th. This has the potential for far more disruptive than the 7 strike days.  We face the possibility of the indefinite closure of a number of schools from that day.  The biggest crisis to face schools in my lifetime.

And this particular dispute could have been avoided – but for the actions of a government determined to bully.

These are two huge fights to be taking on – and it will take a lot of determination and energy to succeed.

Even if we win there are still a number of issues between the ASTI and the government:

  • The Junior Cycle Campaign
  • Posts of Responsibility
  • Class Size

 

Some members of the ASTI have been vocal in stating that these are too many fights to take on.  These voices need to be taken seriously – there is sense in being strategic in how we deal with these issues when faced with an increasingly hostile government.

 

 

 

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Senior Cycle Debates

Today I was teaching Religion with a group of of Senior Cycle students, and we were looking at ‘The Search For Meaning & Values’.

I’d stumbled on the following interview with Kurt Cobain.  At one point he talks about his friendships with women, and how he felt that women were oppressed. (The clip is only 5 minutes long – and worth watching)

As a group we then started debating more about whether the group felt that women were actually oppressed in the modern world.

Unsurprisingly, the girls in the class all said ‘yes’ that women are oppressed.  Interestingly for me, they focused on the idea of women being expected to stay at home to cook and clean.  The guys felt that women were not oppressed.    And chaos ensued for the next few minutes!

The idea that women are not treated as equal was new (and news) for some of the lads gathered.  But, fair play to them, they were willing to listen and consider the implications.

I added the idea that oppression becomes apparent when women are excluded from top jobs in some companies.  But what really opened up the discussion was when we spoke about the Stanford Rape Case.  I brought up some sections of the victim’s letter (The full version is here), and it really brought up a good discussion among the students.  (Students?  They are young adults.  Some of the class are 18 years, and all have a maturity way beyond that which I possessed when I was their age).

What becomes tricky is how to handle such a debate when you have a group of young adults.  I have a particular set of values – and no guarantee that the students share them with me.  Of far more importance is the fact that students could be affected by what we were discussing.  When guiding such a debate you need to be familiar with your group.  The debate may not be appropriate or possible depending on who’s sitting in front of you.

I was so impressed by the quality of thought process of the students.  And of the basic goodness of many of them.  They dealt with many of the issues brought up by the letter in such a mature manner.

It’s a good start to the year with them, and I’m looking forward to many more debates.  Hopefully they will examine their own values in a conscious manner, and actively take part in developing their own sense of Meaning and Values.

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

 

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.

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