Teacher's PET


An insider's guide to education

Welcome to the annual Teacher's Pet Awards for services to education and the wider community.

The Good Value for Money Award goes to the ASTI, whose €200,000 settlement with Charlie Lennon was relatively modest. Most observers reckoned Lennon would walk away with upwards of €400,000.

Ordinary members may not thank them, but the ASTI lawyers did a very good job.

The PR Campaign of the Year goes to university presidents.

They somehow managed to push that most inaccessible of topics - research funding - on to the news and the political agendas.

The Maynooth president, Séamus Smyth, and his colleagues forced the Government to change tack. Smyth's expose on the "disconnect" between the rhetoric about a knowledge economy and the reality of cuts in research funding was masterful.

Rapprochement of the Year came between Noel Dempsey and his secretary general, John Dennehy. There was talk of some frisson between the two at first. But, happily, both have come to appreciate each other's many qualities . Dennehy is said to regard Dempsey as the best minister he has worked with. Praise indeed!

Gag of the Year is shared between Bernard Lynch of the ASTI executive and a little-known Northern trade unionist.

Proving that you can have a bit of fun, Bernard told the ASTI conference that he reserved a special compost heap in his garden for cuttings from The Irish Times education desk.

But the TUI conference was not amused when a representative from the teacher unions in the North told what was regarded as a risque joke at their annual conference. Oh dear!

The Heart of My Sleeve award goes to Noel Dempsey, whose determination to take on disadvantage and injustice in all its forms was so evident in 2003.

Dempsey is very much on the side of the angels. But it remains to be seen whether the college fees fiasco has damaged him. He proved his mettle by going out and facing down the ASTI at public meetings during the year.

The hope must be that he will be allowed press ahead with his reforming education agenda. Next summer's reshuffle will be closely watched in Marlborough Street.

Myth of the Year?

The continued belief that we have a " classless" education system. Forget it. The middle classes are moving in droves to the fee-paying schools, while some free public schools are feeling the pinch.

The taxpayer supports this with a €70 million subsidy to pay teachers in these schools. Meanwhile, there are still no cash incentives to entice the best teachers to poorer areas.

And finally, some predictions for 2004. . .

- Expect Hugh Brady, the next UCD president, to shake things up around Belfield, where things have become a little complacent.

- Expect John White, the interim general secretary of ASTI to bring some order to Winetavern Street.

- Expect Noel Dempsey at a hotel near you. His Education Roadshow to frame an education vision will begin shortly. You have been warned!

Many thanks to all of those who contributed to this column over the past year. Teacher's Pet will resume in January.

You can still email us, though, with any new education news and gossip at teacherspet@irish-times.ie