School strike raises issues of principle and principals in Dáil

Dáil sketch: Joan Burton urges teacher unions to think about ‘our precious children’

Tánaiste Joan Burton: ‘I go into very well-off schools, fee-paying schools . . . Deputy McDonald would be familiar with them.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Tánaiste Joan Burton: ‘I go into very well-off schools, fee-paying schools . . . Deputy McDonald would be familiar with them.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

As secondary schools remained closed yesterday due to industrial action, a teacher-parent forum was held in the Dáil.

It took place under the umbrella of Opposition Leaders’ Questions. Former teachers Tánaiste Joan Burton, Labour Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Labour TD John Lyons and Independent TD Finian McGrath had roles. Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald represented parents.

McDonald got matters under way when raising the strike over junior cycle reform.

“I am sure the Tánaiste will agree that this causes huge disruption for families, students and teachers,’’ she said.

Burton put her teaching credentials on the record.

“For a long period I was a member of the TUI because I taught for a lengthy number of years as a senior lecturer in Dublin Institute of Technology.

“As somebody who set and marked my own examinations, and also took part in administering the examination structures of a number of professional accounting bodies, notwithstanding the deputy’s welcome commitment to reform, Deputy McDonald is mistaken on this issue.’’

This was the cue for former primary school principal Finian McGrath to intervene. “She is not,’’ he declared.

Burton stressed the importance of giving children the best education that could be provided, which meant implementing critical reforms. Book and rote learning had an essential part to play in education, but it was not the only way. Former secondary teacher John Lyons nodded in agreement.

Burton recalled the moves made by former minister for education Ruairí Quinn to improve literacy and numeracy in primary schools. Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley noted it was Burton who put an end to Quinn’s ministerial career when she took over as Labour leader. “We saw what the Tánaiste did to him.’’

Burton urged the teacher unions to pause and think again about what was best for “our precious children’’.

Former primary school principal Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, sitting on the Government benches with the Tánaiste, nodded in agreement.

McDonald then outlined her parental credentials. “I am interested to hear the Tánaiste’s exposition to teachers and me, presumably as a parent, on what is best for our precious children.’’

Barbed comment

The teachers returned to the fray. “The National Parents’ Council is in favour of this reform,’’ said Ó Ríordáin.

“The council did not consult parents,’’ replied McGrath.

In a barbed comment, Burton spoke of visiting schools. “I go into very well-off schools, fee-paying schools . . . Deputy McDonald would be familiar with them.’’

She said McDonald was like St Augustine: “Lord make me reform but not just yet.’’