Volunteerism of teachers keeping society going, says Cody

Union president sharply critical of Minister for Education over cuts to pay and resources

Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody addresses the INTO Conference in Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan.

Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody addresses the INTO Conference in Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan.

Tue, Apr 22, 2014, 01:04

The volunteerism of teachers is “essentially what is keeping our society going”, Kilkenny hurling manager and school principal Brian Cody said in a speech backing his union’s critique of Government policy.

Addressing the annual congress of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation in his home city, Cody praised fellow members for the work they did outside office hours in sport, music, drama and community or charity work.

Volunteering by teachers was “happening all over the country”, he said. “I think we are all duty-bound to pass on that sense of volunteering to the children we work with every single day because if that volunteerism ever disappears from our society then we are really going to be in a sorry state; then we will really have a recession.”

Cody was invited to speak in response to the INTO president’s address, which was strongly critical of Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn for overseeing cuts in teacher resources, increasing pupil-teacher ratios in small schools and creating “initiative overload”.

Opening the INTO’s 146th congress, Brendan O’Sullivan told the 800 delegates Mr Quinn was contributing to low morale in the classroom by being “overly negative” about the quality of teaching and learning.

“I am not saying everything in the garden is rosy . . . but I would call for a balanced assessment that doesn’t smack of a cowboy builder trying to talk up the state of disrepair in a job to give a misleading impression of his own work.”

Mr O’Sullivan cited as a good news story the recent Pisa survey results showing Ireland’s 15-year-olds were the fourth most literate in the OECD and were performing significantly above the OECD average in mathematics and science (13th and ninth respectively). Yet the Minister focused only on areas of criticism from the study.

Mr Quinn is due to speak to INTO delegates this morning before travelling to the conferences of the other two teacher unions, the ASTI and the TUI.

Informing the Minister of the likely reception he would receive, Mr O’Sullivan said: “In my nearly 40 years teaching I do not believe I have ever witnessed a more demoralised teaching force.”


‘Drowning in reports’
He called for a “moratorium on initiatives”, saying teachers were “drowning in . . . the reports and paper trails which are their inevitable consequences”.

The INTO president challenged the Government’s claim that class sizes had not increased, saying schools with one-four teachers had endured class size increases over the last two years. This was an issue that could “feature strongly in the forthcoming local elections”, he remarked.

Resources to children with special needs had been cut by 15 per cent, while teachers’ salaries had fallen by about 20 per cent on average. This represented a choice by the Government to “visit pain” on ordinary workers “rather than levy a tax on wealth”, introduce a financial transaction tax, or seek “a fair contribution from the multinationals”.

Of the president’s address, Mr Cody said: “I think he stole some of my speech”, and went on to talk about the importance of being ambitious as a profession and to set the highest of standards. He noted one of the things he learnt from sport was “excuses are a dangerous thing”, and it was better to banish them and instead “look at the reasons why you weren’t successful”.

A survey of INTO members published yesterday showed nearly two thirds were dissatisfied with their pay levels and conditions of employment, while half said they did not have enough time for additional non-teaching responsibilities.