QUESTION & ANSWER
Q: I have a degree and an H.Dip, and recently did some substitute teaching in a national school because I am finding difficulty getting a secondary teaching job. To my amazement I was only paid the same amount as an unqualified person with nothing more than the Leaving Cert. Does my teacher training count for nothing? - Cork teacher.
A: It is true that your H.Dip training is not taken into account at all. There are two levels of payment for substitute teachers, one for trained and another for untrained. Only qualified national teachers or teachers with Northern Irish or British primary teacher qualifications plus the Scrudu Cailiocht are deemed to be `trained'.
Everyone else is "untrained" and it does make a big difference financially; the trained rate is £64.23 per day and the untrained rate is £42.33. There is a considerable a shortage of subs and schools often have to employ people with no qualifications beyond the Leaving Cert in substitute roles.
The INTO operates a substitute placement service and it will register only trained primary teachers on its `A' list; trained second level teachers (H.Dip, Ceard Teastas or Mater Dei) and those with the three year full time Montessori qualification from Sion Hill go on a `C' list and must produce a reference relating to teaching experience in the past five years.
However, being accepted for the register makes no difference to what a secondary teacher is paid for primary substitute work; it is still the untrained rate.
This does seem unfair; after all you have been trained as a teacher and you do have some teaching experience, albeit at secondary level. It is, of course, true that your training specifically concentrated on subject teaching such as geography, English or whatever (you don't say what your degree is). National teachers, on the other hand, get a broad general paedagogical education. Their training extends over three years while the H.Dip is only one year. They are also specifically trained to educate younger children while your training was for teaching teenagers.
This would all be fine if we had enough trained national teachers available to do subbing work, but it appears that we do not. Under these circumstances, it seems to me - that people with teaching experience like yourself should be paid more than someone with no teacher training at all. It seems even more unfair that teachers who have had three years primary teacher training in the Montessori method and teaching experience with younger children should also be treated as `untrained'.
Perhaps there is a case for three levels of pay?
Q: My son was timetabled to do his Leaving Cert oral Irish test on Friday last week, but he was suddenly called in on Thursday with no warning. This threw him off his stride entirely as he had lined up practice conversations for that night and he feels he did very badly. Have we any recourse? - Midlands parent.
A: I don't think that anything you do at this stage will change your son's grades for oral Irish - which at 25 per cent of the total exam is quite a significant factor.
According to the Department of Education, it is usually the school which timetables the students for the oral exam. It is then up to the school and the examiner between them to work this out in practice. The reason why it might be necessary to adjust the timetable would usually be that some students did not show up for the oral they might be ill, or lose their nerve or have decided they were going to fail Irish anyway. But the Department is of the opinion that "normally an examiner should have worked out the number of students she or he would take in a day and that there would not consequently be much change.
A spokesman said that if you felt that a real injustice had been done to your son, you should take the matter up with the school principal who should then contact the exams branch of the Department.
The oral examiner was in your son's school for a week, I understand, and the students had been timetabled for different days and given their day in advance. You say in your full letter that it had been reiterated to him on both Monday and Wednesday that Friday was still his test day.
It is totally understandable that this should have an effect on him. Students are psychologically geared for a particular day and everyone lays down specific revision and preparation strategies for the day before an exam - oral tests are no different. It's not that your son would have learned any more Irish in the 24 hours, it's more that he was not psychologically prepared to do it on Thursday.
In the written exams, nobody would expect to be asked to sit biology on Thursday, if it had been timetabled for Friday, for example.
On the other hand I understand the dilemma of the examiners who have a heavy workload of oral testing to get through in a few days, and if there are "no shows" there is no point in the examiner sitting there and doing nothing.
But the students should know in advance that this could happen; if they did, then they would be it. I think you up with the principal or write to the exams branch in Athlone.
Q: You keep reading references in your column to the importance of parents on school boards - but what about teachers? I work in a school where teachers are not members of the board of management. Would you agree that there is a greater need for teachers to be represented? - Dublin teacher.
A: I completely agree. I think it is scandalous that there are still schools which do not have enough regard for their teachers to ensure that they are represented at board level. I don't see how you can run a school properly if the staff is not involved in the major decision making affecting the school.
All national schools must have boards of management under existing regulations - indeed that goes back to the 1970s and all must have one or two teachers on the board depending on school size.
But at second level some 30 per cent of schools still have no management boards at all. All community schools must have boards with teacher representation but some vocational and some secondary schools do not have boards.
In Catholic schools, under an agreement with the ASTI, if there is a board it must have two elected teachers on it. So, if you teach in a Catholic secondary school which has a board, it cannot exclude the teachers from it. However, until the Minister for Education's new Bill becomes law, there is nothing to stop them having no board at all.
Protestant secondary schools do not have any agreement with the ASTI, consequently it is not uncommon for Protestant schools to have boards in place with no teacher representation and, a last count, some 21 Protestant secondary schools have no elected teachers on their boards. Why the ASTI tolerates such an anti democratic situation in Protestant schools - a situation which it would not tolerate in Catholic schools - is puzzling. What is even more startling is that some vocational schools - touted as the most democratically and publicly accountable of all schools - do not have boards and consequently no vehicle for teacher representation in decision making.
I presume you're probably a member of the ASTI. Kick up a fuss at your branch, get the union moving on your behalf.
Q: Some students in my son's school are leaving after the Junior Cert to go to one of those private sixth form colleges and avoid the Transition Year. We wonder if we should perhaps do the same? - worried parent, south Dublin.
A: Don't. Your son is, I gather from your letter, happy where he is, so I'd say "leave well enough alone". Transition Year will give him space to mature and develop and he will arrive at the Leaving Cert cycle much better prepared. You'll probably find that doing Transition Year produces a much better spin off in terms of Leaving Cert points in the long run, than putting him into a pressurised Leaving Cert environment straight away.