Tag Archives: secondary

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

 

 

 

 

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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.

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!

 

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.