No Leaving Cert reforms without teacher input, union warns

Teachers must not be ‘stampeded’ into accepting changes, says John MacGabhann

TUI general secretary John MacGabhann: ‘If an idea has merit and is worth pursuing, it will survive the tests we apply and we can support it.’ Photograph: Tommy Clancy

TUI general secretary John MacGabhann: ‘If an idea has merit and is worth pursuing, it will survive the tests we apply and we can support it.’ Photograph: Tommy Clancy

 

The Government must enter into real negotiations with teachers on proposed Senior Cycle reforms, or else risk them failing, the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) has warned.

Speaking on the opening day of the union’s annual conference in Killarney, TUI general secretary John MacGabhann said that second-level teachers must not be “stampeded” into accepting changes to the Leaving Cert.

“Teachers are not just another constituency,” he said. “They constitute the critical constituency without whose support reforms, if attempted, will founder. Given past experience, it is likely that efforts will be made to marginalise the teacher union voice, but any such efforts will fail.”

An “abundance” of ideas for reform exist, he said: “They will range from good to daft, and there will be a super-abundance of advocates and zealots for those ideas.

“If an idea has merit and is worth pursuing, it will survive the tests we apply and we can support it . . . but we are duty-bound to interrogate proposed change,” he told delegates.

Meanwhile, Mr MacGabhann’s union colleague, TUI president Seamus Lahart, emphasised that TUI guidelines meant that teachers should not correct the exam scripts or projects of their own students, take on additional workloads or support new initiatives which are not “fully resourced.”

Warning

The TUI position is a warning shot for the Department of Education, which is in the early stages of discussions about reforms to the later years in post-primary and secondary schools.

Both the TUI and the Association of Teachers in Ireland are likely to insist that examinations should be externally marked and State-certified exams remain central to the process – a demand they made, and won, during a highly contentious battle over junior cycle reforms.

Given a growing economy and rising living costs, Mr MacGabhann said teachers should seek pay rises and oppose tax cuts. “The corollary of tax cuts is diminished public services and inadequate staffing,” he said.

The cost of rental housing and the homelessness crisis has “resulted in huge insecurity and extortionate costs for teachers,” he went on.

Schools, education centres, institutes of technology and technological universities urgent need capital spending, he said, adding that Budget 2019 failed to deliver.

“Technological university or institute of technology is an empty, ironic title if infrastructure is inadequate, facilities are run-down, students are denied key supports and lecturers are overburdened,” he said.

The loss of middle-management grades in schools third-level institutions has left them unable to provide academic pastoral and social support structures, while staff are struggling to make a decent living.

Meanwhile, he warned that the Government must quickly end two-tier pay grades for teachers created during the economic crisis, or else face the possibility of industrial action.

Today’s recruitment problems in schools is directly linked to the pay changes made in 2011, and helped to create precarious and part-time employment in education.

The Department of Education had come up with “a risible advertising campaign to woo qualified teachers to Ireland” just as the TUI were battling “trenchantly” against its opposition to appointing teachers to full-time jobs.