Teacher's Pet

Tue, Oct 30, 2012, 00:00

AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO EDUCATION:The big talking point after last week’s teacher protest outside the Dáil was the relatively small attendance.

Only about 2,000 brave souls joined the protest, most of them newly qualified teachers, student teachers or graduates struggling to find work. It was a disappointing turnout. The teacher unions have always been very successful at mobilising the troops for these protests. For example, more than 100,000 teachers took part in the INTO’s protest campaign against education cuts and larger classes three years ago. Does the small turnout signal a breach in the teacher solidarity that has always been so strong in the profession?

In fairness, the young teachers on last week’s protest were joined by many older trade unionists, many of them horrified at how the leadership of the INTO, the TUI and Asti appear to have rolled over as the Government targeted vulnerable young teachers to create a two-tier teaching profession.

On the platform, there was fighting talk from union leaders and declarations that the pay cuts for new entrants would be reversed. But the younger teachers seemed sceptical. They want to see the fighting words backed up with robust action.

As it is, many young teachers see the teacher unions more focused on protecting the €600 million in teacher allowances than on combating the 24 per cent cut in pay for new entrants.

While some on the protest said they were grateful for the support of the unions, others claimed they had been abandoned. One pointed to the various union executives which remain dominated by older teachers who share few of their concerns.

Privately, some in the teaching unions concede they will “pay a heavy price” in the long term for their perceived failure to protect young teachers. Many teachers in staffrooms all over the State are appalled at the treatment of their younger colleagues. Some claim there has been a distinct lack of old-fashioned trade union solidarity. All of this is a huge challenge for the unions. The INTO, the TUI and Asti say they will not rest until the cuts are reversed.

Now, they must deliver on this promise.

* Our favourite placard at the teacher protest last week? “Quinn: training teachers for Australian schools since 2010”

* While young teachers suffer . . . The Department of Education told the Public Accounts Committee last week how older teachers can earn up to €55,000 per year in allowances payments on top of their salary.

Sounds hard to believe but here’s how it is done: The example cited by the Department related to a teacher on the the maximum point of the scale with the following allowances;

+ H Dip (Hons) – €1,236

+ PhD qualification allowance – €6,140

+ Supervision and Substitution – €1,769

+ Principal of a large post-primary school - €42,469

+ Secretary to the board of management – €1,572

+ Basic salary – €59,359

Total value of allowances – €53,186

= Total gross salary – €112,545

Value of allowances as a percentage of salary – 47 per cent.

* Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn’s amendment to the Universities Act, which requires colleges to comply with Government pay rules, is causing consternation across higher education.

Mike Jennings, the astute head of the Irish Federation of University Teachers, sees it as the “biggest threat to university autonomy in decades”. The move was prompted by that controversy over unauthorised payments to academics in UCD and elsewhere. Between 2005 and 2009, some €7.5 million in unauthorised allowances were paid out by the universities. The amendment is also targeting the likes of TCD which refused to comply with a recent Labour Court ruling because of its deepening funding crisis.

Quinn’s move will be popular with voters but is it counter-productive?

Prof Bill Powderly, head of UCD’s medical school will leave his post in January to return to the US while Prof Dermot Kelleher, Dean of Medicine at Trinity is heading to Imperial College London in June.

Here’s a prediction – expect more departures and a continuing brain-drain as those government cuts bite.

Teacher’s Pet is compiled by Sean Flynn. sflynn@irishtimes.com. Twitter @SeanFlynnEd

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