Tag Archives: TUI

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.

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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.

 

 

A face for radio

January 22nd was an interesting day for those of us striking outside my school.  We got a heads up on the 21st that there would be a journo from the Irish Examiner (Niall Murray) there, as well as Paschal Sheehy along with an RTE camera.

I arrived in school about 11 AM to find the Journalist there already along with an examiner photographer and the RTE cameraman.  All very exciting, and a little bit nerve wracking.

The whole process is actually very interesting.  Niall Murray went around to all the staff who were happy to talk to him, and did his interview thing, using shorthand.   Really, I have never seen anyone using shorthand for real.  A little bit of witchcraft right there.

Along with Niall Murray was Denis Minihane, the Examiner photographer for the day.  He took hundreds of photographs.

And lets not forget RTE.  Their camera man took around about 45 minutes of footage, including one interview with yours truly.

So.  What did all this lead?

Niall Murray distilled his 8 or 9 interviews down to this article.  Quite a skill to take thousands of words and summarise the main ideas you’re after.

Denis Minihane’s photographs?  One of them ended up in this article.  That strikes me as a hard way to earn a living.  He also gave a few of us a chance to give a little speech on video, and some of that is in the first article linked.

And RTE?  Paschal Sheehy impressed us with his ability to interview in two languages.  The Irish language interviews were aired on TG4 and Nuacht.  But as for the English language interviews?  Not on the RTE news.  There was a 5 second clip of us picketing the school gate, but no interview.  That was saved for the Radio news.  So there you have it.  Even RTE thinks I have a face for radio.

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.

Striking Again?

I reckon Minister Jan O’Sullivan is beginning to think that us teachers are an ungrateful lot.  She’s in the job less than a year, and we’re heading towards our second strike.  Why?

Well that’s the core question.  Why should we go on strike again?  Why not just accept what the minister referred to yesterday as her ‘fair and reasonable compromise’?

Let’s take the question a step further.  Why go on strike when so many schools already had a day off yesterday?  At least that’s what this tweet suggests:

tweet

So there you have it.  The strike is about having a day off.

Seriously?

There is one core principle at stake in this strike.  That of assessment.  In Ireland the final assessment of a student’s grade is absolutely impartial.  It is a core value of our system.  And our government wants to squander this in a money saving exercise.  (more on that later)

Our state examination system is one of the few things in this country that we can truly say is impartial.  Money can’t buy grades or favours in the system.  When an examiner starts reading scripts, the only identification he or she will get is the exam centre number, and the candidate number.  Race, Gender, Ethnicity, Wealth, Sexuality or even Behaviour are not factors when it comes to having your exam corrected.

The same could not be said of a teacher correcting his or her own students’ work.  All of us teachers are human.  Any of us can end up liking one student over another for the simplest or stupidest of reasons.  And this could affect that student’s grade.

Let’s talk about the money.

At our first strike I was asked if this was about pay.  Would teachers accept the change if more pay was offered?  It was a fair question, and I probably didn’t give the best answer at the time.  But I’ve had time to think about it.

The strike isn’t about pay – but resources are part of the picture.

Schools, have suffered a brutal regime of cutbacks in the past six years, and our most recent budget had even more cutbacks in store.

  1. Remove Guidance Counsellors from secondary schools
  2. Increase the pupil/teacher ratio
  3. Cut capitation grants to schools
  4. Again, cut capitation grants to schools (and again for next year)
  5. Reduce supports for students with Special Educational Needs

Supports for students are constantly being cut.  Resources are being cut.  Student welfare is being cut.  And in the middle of all this the minister is trying to sell us a flawed product.  And she is trying to sell us something when our resources are being decimated.

The new Junior Cycle Programme is flawed.

One of the sad things about this situation is that the unions and the National Council for Curricular Awards (NCCA) had agreed a new Junior Cert in 2011.  All this trouble could have been avoided.

However, even if the Minister accepts our principle that teachers should not correct their own students’ work, and proceeds ahead with a productive vision of a new Junior Cycle, then she would then need to provide the proper resources to implement it.

The Junior Cert is flawed.  It does need to be revised, rebuilt.  But it needs to be done properly.  The current programme is not the way forward.

And that is why we teachers will again go on strike next week.

Next week I will stand proudly with my colleagues and we will make our opposition to the minister’s plans known.

 

More articles on the New Junior Cert:

The New Junior Cert

I don’t want to go on strike.  I need to go on strike.

Now you see it…

The Narrow Focus of Assessment

Education and Equality

6 Reasons why we’re going on strike

 

A Clear Voice

I was driving home last week and heard Liam Doran of the Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation debating with Matt Cooper.  Something struck me.  The nurses and midwives are very lucky to have such a well well spoken man to fight their cause.  Liam has the knack of taking whatever issues are important and presenting them in a clear way.  And that is a rare skill.  He has done a huge service to his profession in putting forward the nurses and midwives’ case.  This has served them very well in the public arena.

Unfortunately, I honestly don’t feel that we teachers are so lucky.  With all the attacks on education in the past 6 years, teachers have garnered little enough public sympathy for their cause.  There are a number of reasons why this may be the case:

  • The old joke of the three best reasons to be a teacher.
  • The perception that we clock off at 4.00 with a grand free evening ahead.
  • Everyone has an opinion about what teachers should be doing.
  • The perception that teaching is ‘chalk & talk’, that teachers are not innovators

Others can debate the validity (or not) of these reasons.  I’m more concerned with the fact that we, as a profession, have not countered these perceptions, that we have not been effective in the public sphere.

I think part of the explanation is the fragmentation of the teaching unions.

There are three Teachers’ Unions in Ireland

At the Easter Conferences of the Unions, it was mooted that the ASTI & the TUI should merge.  This idea makes a lot of sense for me, at least you would have one voice to speak with on behalf of second level.

However, a bigger problem, for me, is the fact we don’t have a publicly identifiable speaker who is as recognisable as Liam Doran.  While different presidents of all teaching unions have done well in their brief tenures, the nature of a presidency that lasts just a few years means that any president doesn’t build up the profile over time that Liam Doran has managed to do.

And what can we do about the profile of our unions or officers?

Maybe the merger of the ASTI and the TUI is a good first step, but I think we need to go a bit further than that.

  • I think that such a merger should bring a new General Secretary, one who is able to put educational issues across in a clear manner
  • The Union(s) need to adapt a more proactive stance with regards to the media.  Much of what they currently publish is legalistic, or a counter-argument to what the Minister is saying.  This doesn’t work very well.  It’s a tennis match where the other guy gets to serve all the time.
  • We could do with looking at how teachers use social media.  There is a hunger out there for debate (of the 10 top viewed posts in this blog, 9 are about education)
  • We need to increase public awareness of the challenges in teaching

The Unions have a huge job to do, but I think they need to step back and examine how they have been doing it so far.  The strategy is flawed and needs to be revised.  Otherwise the attacks by this government and its minister will continue.