Pay increases key to addressing teacher supply crisis, says union head

Agreement at ASTI conference to campaign for abolition of classroom-based assessments in junior cycle

The teacher supply crisis can be addressed if pay increases and teachers have promotional opportunities, according to the general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI).

Addressing delegates at the union’s annual conference, Kieran Christie said pay scales, offering permanent teaching jobs and doubling the number of middle-management posts in schools would lead to better outcomes for students and teachers.

“We have arrived at the point at which teaching as a career is not sufficiently attractive anymore,” he said. “Years of botched curricular reform, multiple inspections and evaluations, innovation overload and work intensification have taken their inevitable toll.

“A good start to retrieve the situation would be an announcement by the Minister for Education [of] a pay review for teachers focused on shortening teacher pay scales, a reduction of the professional masters in education course from two years to one, an offer of a permanent and secure teaching job on initial appointment, and a commitment to doubling the level of posts of responsibility in schools.”


Mr Christie said rising inflation has substantially undermined the living standards of all workers, with housing issues leading to emigration and deterring some teachers from moving to take up work.

Teachers at the conference also called for an alleviation of Croke Park and Haddington Road hours which, in 2010 and 2013 respectively, increased the working week for civil and public servants.

Andrew Mayne, a delegate from Monaghan, said that working additional hours made him less, not more, efficient.

“I am not doing these hours and then going home to do planning and corrections,” he said. “If I have to spend my time sitting on pointless committees, I won’t have time to volunteer for [school] extracurricular activities.”

The ASTI is to campaign for the abolition of classroom-based assessments in the junior cycle, in a move that is likely to impact senior cycle reform.

Teachers at the conference debated whether the union should campaign for no more than one classroom-based assessment (CBA) per subject, spread across second and third year, or whether they should push for them to be abolished altogether. The latter motion won out.

Keith Cassidy, a delegate from south Dublin, said that if the union does not campaign against CBAs, they are likely to become a feature of the senior cycle, which is currently under review.

Maura McCall, a delegate from south Dublin, said there should be no more than one CBA per subject, spread across second and third year.

“Some students may be doing up to 20 CBAs,” she said. “This is not continuous assessment but constant assessment. There is heightened anxiety for students and I know of one case where the amount of CBAs meant that students pulled out of the school musical.”

But Ann Piggott, a delegate from the Cork south branch and a former ASTI president, said they should be abolished altogether. “They are box-ticking, paper-wasting and time-wasting… taking away from what should be covered in the curriculum. It stresses students and they end up with a ‘profile of achievement’ that nobody knows what to do with.”

She added that CBAs crystallised how junior cycle reform had failed because teachers were not adequately consulted.

Speaking on the issue of curriculum, Mr Christie said the learning outcomes approach undertaken at junior cycle level has been “entirely discredited” and “does not enjoy the confidence of teachers”.

Teachers at the conference also backed a call for the ASTI to enter negotiations with the Department of Education to reduce class sizes to 24 across the board, except where current class size limits – such as in home economics – are already smaller.

Sinéad Moran, a delegate from Fingal and an SPHE teacher who focuses on wellbeing, said large class sizes make it harder to support students. “We need wellbeing in schools, but we can’t do it with 30 in a class: it’s not fair and it doesn’t work.”

Noel Buckley, a delegate from Tipperary, said that the average class size in Spain is 25.4, 23.9 in Germany, 20.1 in Poland and 19.1 in Finland, compared with an average of 30 in Ireland.

Richard Egan, a delegate from Tullamore, said that recent curriculum changes requiring more experiential learning and classroom-based work were very difficult to implement with large class sizes.

“Large class sizes inhibit learning, and there is a chronic lack of investment at second level,” he said. “But the Minister has not announced anything about reducing the pupil-teacher ratio [at second-level].”

Adrieanne Healy, a delegate from Dublin Northwest, said large class sizes are a barrier to inclusion and have a detrimental impact on students with special or additional educational needs. “Teachers are worn out with the lack of training and planning, and large classes are one of the biggest challenges.”