Teachers hold silent protest on pay during Minister’s speech
Richard Bruton faced sea of placards during debut speech at INTO conference
Minister for Education Richard Bruton also highlighted a plan to change how resource teachers are allocated. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins
Teachers held a silent protest over the unequal pay structure for new and younger teachers as the Minister for Education addressed the second day of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO).
In his first speech to any teacher conference as Minister, and the first Fine Gael minister for education in almost three decades, Richard Bruton faced a sea of placards calling for equal pay for equal work.
He said that he recognised the teachers’ campaign and their concerns, adding that the Department of Education has moved to close the pay gap and provide new teachers with contracts of indefinite promotion as well as better access to promotion and flexibility around working hours.
There is demand for greater diversity and choice
Speaking on the issue of the school choice, the Minister said that the denominational system of Ireland, where approximately 96 per cent of primary schools are controlled by Catholic or Protestant churches, “is not the one we would choose if starting out afresh”.
“There is demand for greater diversity and choice and we have a number of initiatives under way, including the transfer of schools and improving how parents can gain access to local schools [if their children are not baptised].”
He said that there was a need for more diversity in the teaching profession which has become dominated by white, middle-class women, adding that a new fund of €2.5 million would encourage teachers from less privileged backgrounds to enter the profession.
Mr Bruton acknowledged that parents face a burden in the cost of sending their children to school and said that his department had issued a directive obliging them to reduce the cost of uniforms and introduce book rental schemes.
However, June Tinsley of children’s charity Barnardos said that while that his circular was a small positive step, “it is completely insufficient and lacks any vision or recognition by the State that schools are totally underfunded... it would cost just €103.2 million to guarantee a free primary education for all children in Ireland.”
Mr Bruton also highlighted a plan to change how resource teachers are allocated to schools, dispensing with the need for diagnostic assessments and encouraging a whole-school approach. However, this led to dissent from the crowd, with teachers claiming that better school funding is the best way to support children with special needs.
He said that there was an urgent need to reform how Irish is taught in schools and that his department had set up a special Gaeltacht unit.
Mr Bruton outlined his ambition for Ireland to have “the best education and training service in Europe” within a decade. “We need to develop the competences of discerning citizens and creative workers, recognising that there are huge pressures on young people through social media; we have to be able to help them sift through evidence and make judgements,” he said.
He said that Ireland has already made significant process in improving numeracy and literacy, and that Ireland is ahead of our European neighbours in supporting children who arrive in school without competency in the English language.
“We need to nurture innovation within schools and among schools, but I believe the best ideas won’t be designed in [the department of education on] Marlborough Street but will come from teachers working on the ground with children who can recognise the issues in their local schools and share their experiences.”
However, he was criticised by INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan for asking teachers and principals to implement changes without the adequate resources. She called for the restoration of pay to teachers and said that primary teachers are being actively recruited by international schools who can offer better pay and conditions. “Pay the teachers or they will leave,” she said.