Change one Thing: Teaching needs to be restored to a profession of secure, full-time jobs
Around 30 per cent of teachers – and half of those under 35 – are part-timers, writes Gerard Craughwell, TUI president
There remains a common but utterly flawed perception that all teachers are in full-time jobs and secure employment. In Ireland’s second-level education system, this bears not even passing resemblance to an increasingly harsh reality.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) conservatively estimates that around
30 per cent of our membership, and as much as 50 per cent of our membership aged under 35, are in part-time employment. Where once teachers applied for full-time, permanent positions, now they apply for fragments of jobs with no guarantee of being retained from year to year. Many struggle to get by and meet even the most modest of financial commitments. As if this was not bad enough, those who entered the profession after 2011 are on a severely cut salary scale.
While a small number may be part-time by choice, the overwhelming majority aspires to whole-time work.
For students, the result is that they are often taught a particular subject by a succession of teachers over the Junior Cycle. Teaching continues to attract graduates of a very high calibre, but there is a clear risk that the absence of viable career paths and financial security will damage Ireland’s capacity to attract and retain such graduates.
This culture of casualisation emerged over the past decade following transposition into Irish law of EU directives designed to protect employees. These were intended to limit the use of part-time and fixed-term working, but perversely, ended up worsening the problem.
This has been exacerbated by the actions of some local school managements, who have sought to exploit the vulnerability of those teachers in part-time or fixed-term (that is, temporary) employment. These teachers can be made feel excessively beholden to school management. For example, they are very susceptible to being pressurised into undertaking additional unpaid duties in schools. So what can be done to tackle this multi-faceted problem?
As a first step, a mechanism must be established to accelerate the augmentation of the part-time contracts of existing teaching staff. Where hours become available in their subject areas, these must be assigned to them rather than appointing yet more part-time staff to teach these hours. This mechanism should be mandatory and directed by the Department of Education and Skills.
More generally, there must be a return to the sound, educationally-valid practice of making initial teacher appointments on a permanent basis. Before the damaging drift to casualisation, the proportion of part-time teaching staff was, on average, about five per cent.
Clearly, every school needs to be in a position to offer its students a broad curriculum, and some schools do not have the teaching allocation to facilitate this. Consideration should be given to the employment of teachers to provide some minority subjects across a number of schools within an appropriate geographic area. This would facilitate schools in offering the necessary broad choice and would also allow teachers of these subjects to have viable careers.
The TUI has prioritised the cause of new and recent entrants to the profession. In addition to tackling casualisation, we are campaigning for the elimination of the discriminatory attacks on the conditions of recent entrants to the profession. Future pay negotiations will have to address this issue.
Politicians across all parties regularly assert the importance of education. They also pay lip service to the centrality of teaching in our education system. It is high time that they recognised and explicitly demanded a viable career structure.
Teaching must be restored to a profession of secure, full-time jobs.
Gerard Craughwell is president of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, whose annual c ongress starts in Kilkenny today