Hacking away at education resources will 'prove counterproductive' for State


PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS:THE FUTURE of education cannot be left to economists, technocrats and corporate voices, ASTI president Jack Keane told the union’s conference yesterday.

In declaring his determination to stand up for a quality education service, Mr Keane said we could not condemn a generation of children and young people to a third-rate education service because of the need to meet financial targets imposed by the EU-IMF bailout.

Teachers, he said, want to be on the road to recovery. “We recognise the need to contribute to the rebuilding of our country and to maximise the strengths of the education service. But we will not be manipulated by a preoccupation with the economy at the expense of our public services.” Hacking away at education resources – either blatantly or discreetly – will prove to be counterproductive for the State, he said.

Outlining the contribution of teachers to national recovery, he said that in the past three years schools have had to cope with:

An increase in the pupil-teacher ratio with the loss of 1,000 posts at second level;

A ban on promotions which has dismantled middle management in schools;

The withdrawal of resource teachers for Travellers;

Reduced subject choice for students;

Loss of English-language teachers;

Cuts to school funding and to special needs education.

Mr Keane also praised the “holistic approach” adopted by schools. “Despite external pressures to run ‘pressure-cooker’ schools that will perform well in misleading league tables in newspapers, teachers still care deeply about student wellbeing.”

This is why teachers, he said, become defensive when calls are made for schools to deliver for the labour market above all else. “We do not see our main function as producing worker bees for industry . . . The ill-informed and biased commentary on teachers’ work and working conditions shows no regard for holistic education and the development of whole person.”

Mr Keane said the attitudes of ill-informed media commentators and certain sections of the media should not obscure the widespread support for the profession.

An independent survey commissioned by the Teaching Council found teachers had the second highest level of public satisfaction after nurses. More than 70 per cent said teachers do a good job.

On literacy and numeracy, Mr Keane said the decline in standards reflected in the recent OECD rankings was “largely due to the significant changes in the student cohort in Ireland over the past decade. Students with special education needs have been mainstreamed in schools and now make up approximately 18 per cent of the student cohort. Increased numbers of vulnerable and disadvantaged students are progressing through the education system and completing second level.”

It is therefore disappointing, he continued, that the very students who require the most support with literacy skills are those who are most lacking in support.

The most recent education cuts include the withdrawal of resource teachers for Travellers, the replacement of a cap on English-language support teachers, and the “pausing” of resource teaching hours for students with special education needs.

On the Croke Park agreement, he said that while it had many flaws, teachers had to consider the alternative, which included continued threats of pay cuts and the loss of hundreds of jobs through redundancy.

Turning to Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn, he said: “Minister, we kept our side of the bargain. We expect the Government to keep its side. A deal is a deal. In the event of any attempt by your Government to deviate from its terms we absolutely reserve the right to withdraw from all aspects of the agreement.”