In Wexford today the Presiden tof the ASTI, Bundoran man Gerry Breslin, told convention delegates and the Minister for Education that teachers have serious personal financial pressures.
Many teachers, he said, are in negative equity, having taken out mortgages at the height of the property boom based on their then incomes which have since been severely reduced.
“New teachers have been singled out for harsh and unfair treatment in their pay. Part-time and temporary teachers have experienced reduced hours and/ or increased periods of unemployment. At least 50% of second-level teachers under 30 are on contracts of 1 year or less,” he said.
However, despite these concerns about pay and working conditions, almost half of this year’s Annual Convention is devoted to young people and their education. I believe this is testament to the deep personal commitment teachers have to positively influence the lives of their students.
On the proposals for Junior Cycle reform there is, he said, widespread appreciation amongst second-level teachers that Junior Cycle reform is needed.
“This I think debunks the myth that teachers and teacher unions are anti-reform and favour the status quo. I believe that most teachers are deeply committed to reform and improvement. This is what they are trying to do in their classrooms every day – improve lives, change lives. Teachers value their role as contributors to the lives of their students and to broader social and economic betterment. This is why they chose to become teachers.”
On Croke Park 2 the Bundoran man said his members felt betrayed: For the Government to now seek more, within the timescale of the existing agreement is a breach of Croke Park 1, and a betrayal of our members. To ask teachers to do an extra 49 hours on top of the 33 hours already given is an insult to our members.”
The speech in full is as follows:
Tuesday 2nd April, 2013
Minister, invited guests, colleagues. Welcome to our 91st Convention.
Today I had the honour of presiding over a lengthy debate on education. Minister, the 500 delegates you see before you, who teach in schools all over the country, have just spent several hours discussing Junior Cycle reform and your document A Framework for Junior Cycle. The passion and focus of the debate today underlines to me the deep commitment of teachers to ensuring that our students receive the best education that we can provide.
Teachers have a lot on their minds these days. Families all over Ireland are under financial pressure and this pressure is increasingly manifesting itself in schools. Students’ needs are changing and increasing, and more and more students are demonstrating challenging behaviour and vulnerability. This is happening at a time when schools are having to cope with reduced staffing and resources.
Of course, teachers have their own financial pressures – having taken a 14% reduction in pay in addition to the increased taxes and charges imposed on all workers since the start of the economic crisis. Yesterday we debated the threat of further pay cuts and a further erosion of our working conditions, something I will talk about later. Many teachers are in negative equity, having taken out mortgages at the height of the property boom based on their then incomes which have since been severely reduced. New teachers have been singled out for harsh and unfair treatment in their pay. Part-time and temporary teachers have experienced reduced hours and/ or increased periods of unemployment. At least 50% of second-level teachers under 30 are on contracts of 1 year or less.
Despite these concerns about pay and working conditions, almost half of this year’s Annual Convention is devoted to young people and their education. I believe this is testament to the deep personal commitment teachers have to positively influence the lives of their students.
Minister as you are aware last November the ASTI began a consultation process with our members on your document A Framework for Junior Cycle. We did this because teachers the length and breadth of the country were telling us that they had not been consulted on your plans and they wanted to be consulted.
We asked all 521 of our schools to call union meetings. We provided feedback forms with specific headings and questions. We distributed information on the key aspects of the Framework and we encouraged every member to read the Framework document for themselves. This was the first time that teachers were asked for their views on your Framework. We received what we believe to be an unprecedented response to this exercise. At the time of the deadline for responses, 320 schools had responded; still more schools responded after the deadline. We received thousands of pages of members’ professional opinions. Some schools sent a comprehensive collective response, others sent individual responses from each teacher. Feedback was also collected from branches and from the ASTI’s 180-member Central Executive Council. All in all, the feedback represents the views of over 10,000 ASTI members. We think this is an impressively high response rate when you consider the huge pressures on teachers’ time.
The good news for you Minister, is that there is widespread appreciation amongst second-level teachers that Junior Cycle reform is needed. This I think debunks the myth that teachers and teacher unions are anti-reform and favour the status quo. I believe that most teachers are deeply committed to reform and improvement. This is what they are trying to do in their classrooms every day – improve lives, change lives. Teachers value their role as contributors to the lives of their students and to broader social and economic betterment. This is why they chose to become teachers.
The ASTI itself has a long and proud history of campaigning for reform. The ASTI was a key advocate for free second-level education, a reform which has resulted in powerful social change, improving the lives of generations of young people and bringing Ireland closer to being the inclusive and equitable country we aspire it to be. More recently, the ASTI has campaigned for a repeal of Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, which allows schools to discriminate against an employee or prospective employee on the grounds that they might undermine the religious ethos. We have been campaigning against this since 1998 and Minister you will remember that we lobbied you on the issue when you were opposition spokesperson for education. Legislation to amend Section 37 is currently working its way through the Houses of the Oireachtas thanks to cross party support and inputs from the Dáil and the Seanad, including your own input Minister. I wish to express our appreciation of your support and the support of your colleagues across all parties, some of whom are here with us this evening.
Our consultation on Junior Cycle reform is published in the ASTI document Teachers’ Voice. It found that many teachers consider that your Framework has the potential to improve learning outcomes for students. The Framework’s focus on activity-based learning, with a strong focus on “learning how to learn” could lead to better student engagement and outcomes. A greater use of IT in teaching and learning would also be a positive development. Teachers identified a range of other positives.
However, the vast majority of members have grave concerns about the impact of your Framework in its current form on standards in education, equity in the second-level education system, and the nature of student-teacher relationships.
A significant number of teachers have told us that the decision to remove the experience of a State exam and State Certificate at the end of Junior Cycle will lower standards. Teachers believe that replacing the State Certificate with a school certificate – consisting of grades awarded by the students’ own teachers – will serve to demotivate students. Students will perceive the school certificate as nothing more than the usual annual school report card. The exams will be seen as just another set of in-house exams; no big deal. Students will no longer develop the resilience and self-management skills necessary to cope with a high-stakes State exam. This will lead to increased pressure at Leaving Cert level.
Teachers are equally adamant that assessing their own students for the Junior Cert will distort the student-teacher relationship, because it will give rise to perceptions of bias or favouritism. The holistic approach to second-level education in Ireland which encourages teachers to validate the whole student, regardless of academic ability, will be irreparably damaged and it’s not just relationships with students that will suffer. Teachers place a high value on the support and trust of parents. Indeed we believe that having the support and trust of parents is invaluable to the process of education. To the parents’ representatives present this evening, I say, we want to remain champions of your children, not judges.
These are just some of the views expressed by our members on the ground in schools all over the country. Given the depth of feeling amongst teachers, it will come as no surprise to you Minister that delegates here today adopted a number of motions opposing your Framework.
The motions are not exactly sound bites! As you can appreciate it is difficult to reduce the professional views of 10,000 teachers on a complex issue such as radical education reform to a sound bite. But I do hope that today’s debate will be portrayed fairly and accurately in the media. Teachers are not against education reform, but we do have a moral responsibility to critically question education policy and its impact on students. It is in society’s best interests that the concerns of teachers be listened to and examined.
I will try to summarise what I think is the key message to you Minister, from today’s debate. To use the language of rugby, which I know you are familiar with, the ASTI is asking that you Pause, Touch, and Engage.
Pause your plan for the implementation of your Framework. Touch base with the teachers. They are not with you on this one and you need them on board if you are committed to successful reform and not reform for the sake of reform. Engage with them. Teachers understand teaching and learning in the classroom; they know what works and what doesn’t work, and what can lead to improvement.
It is increasingly being recognised that teachers are key to successful reform in education. Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s special advisor on education, recently said that teachers need to be active agents, not just in the implementation of reform, but also in its design. He also said that the better a country’s education system performs, the more likely it is that that country is working constructively with its teacher unions and treating its teachers as trusted professional partners.
Minister, Pause, Touch, and Engage or your Framework will collapse.
Croke Park 2
I want to talk about the Public service proposals i.e. Croke Park 2. Reluctantly in 2011 we accepted the Croke Park 1 agreement and since we signed off on it we have fulfilled everything that was asked of us to the letter. The 33 hours were and are particularly difficult for teachers and caused much disagreement in schools where heretofore none had existed, they were divisive!
Minister Howlin, speaking on June 30th, said that maintenance of the commitments on pay and job security were conditional on change being delivered. We have delivered, not just what was asked in Croke Park 1, but in many other ways, many new initiatives and changes have been foisted on us in the meantime - changes in sick leave arrangements, changes in maternity leave and maternity benefits, introduction of School Self Evaluation and incidental inspections are just some examples. These have put enormous stress, both physically and mentally on teachers, but we have delivered change. For the Government to now seek more, within the timescale of the existing agreement is a breach of Croke Park 1, and a betrayal of our members. To ask teachers to do an extra 49 hours on top of the 33 hours already given is an insult to our members. The people who make these demands have no idea of the pressures under which teachers are working at the moment. Teachers are working way beyond these hours in class preparation and assessment, in planning, and the many other roles that we undertake on a daily basis. This is apart from the many hours of voluntary work that is done supporting pupils in games, dramas, musicals, debates, young scientist and many more activities. Teachers contribute so much without any expectation of reward because they realise the value of this work to the lives of young people. But it seems the people making demands on teachers for more hours and more bureaucracy, either don’t know or choose to ignore the reality of school life today.
Is it right that the Government should seek to cut the pay of teachers whilst it refuses to increase taxes on those earning more than €100,000?
Is it fair that they want to freeze the increments of our members on very low pay whilst multinational giants pay very little tax in this country?
Is it just that that they propose to take the S & S payment of our members whilst leaving the immoral pensions of failed bankers and politicians virtually untouched?
No No No. It is not fair, it is not right and it is not just and that is why we must reject it.
Minister last year you told us that we were not facing reality, that the finance is not there. Of course it’s not there if you don’t go after it. We, as a state, have been complicit in arrangements where multinational companies can avoid their responsibility to contribute through fair and responsible taxation to national and community social needs. Globally it is estimated that several trillion dollars of tax revenues are lost to national budgets annually through the use of avoidance techniques. International corporation tax competition has led to corporation profit tax rates falling from 45% to less than 30% in OECD countries. I am not saying we can solve this problem unilaterally, it will require a unified global response; however we have been one of the frontrunners in promoting lower corporation tax rates. You may be aware of the double Irish and the Dutch sandwich. This is a typical example of tax avoidance and is used by some of our better known MNCs. Briefly, if an MNC sells something (a product or ad. space) in Africa or maybe middle east, the profit is claimed by its Irish subsidiary where corporation tax is 12.5%. Even this amount can be avoided by transferring the profit, via the Netherlands, to Bermuda. It eventually returns to our shores, hence the double Irish, and virtually no tax is paid. This is happening globally and funds that should be directed towards public services like education and health are trousered by the rich and greedy.
Recently a well-known Irish pharmaceutical company sold 50% of its stake in one of its products for €2.4bn. The CEO commented: “While we may receive 2.4B. We do not expect to pay any significant cash taxes on this. This demonstrates yet again the enormous structural advantage of our Irish tax domicile.” He added: “We do not expect to pay any meaningful taxes for many years to come”!
There is enough money to provide quality public services, including fully resourced education. But this money is being denied to public budgets because of the lack of a meaningful tax contribution. Countries have also for decades been engaged in a race to the bottom, cutting corporation tax rates to ever lower levels. This is morally wrong, rather than cutting public expenditure, we should be telling global corporations to pay their fair share. And if the Government choses to prioritise education, they can continue to benefit from our highly educated labour market.
Of course we recognise the benefits of MNCs to our economy but that does not entitle them to virtually tax free status while public sector workers take the pain. As pointed out by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions since 2009, this kind of austerity takes away disposable income from workers and citizens, depresses consumer demand, and ensures the continuation of the recession.
Ireland’s austerity policy has failed, no less a body than the IMF has made this quite clear. If the Government cannot see the effects of an austerity programme, then we are all in big trouble.
This is why we must give a resounding No to the LRC proposals.
This is an important decision for our members. It will determine how we vote at national level as an affiliate of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Whatever the outcome at national level, the ASTI decision will remain. And we will decide on our own future direction based on that decision and any other decision we subsequently take.
I wish to deal with the situation regarding our young teachers, our non permanent teachers and the direction in which the teaching profession is being directed at this time.
The treatment of new entrants to teaching over the past number of years is nothing short of a betrayal. A betrayal of those young people who put years of study into gaining their qualifications. It is in my opinion a breach in principle of the Croke Park agreement. This has meant a downgrading of our profession and when the economic tide turns we won’t get the quality of teachers that our children deserve. The fact that we have at least three different pay scales will cause untold damage in the years to come, damage in our schools where teachers working side by side will be on different scales, resentment will grow and this will do untold damage to the collegiality that currently exists. I have heard of stories from other countries where lower salary scales were applied new entrants to a trade or profession, and where standards dropped. The children of the future deserve better.
The continuing spectre of casualisation is a cloud hanging over education and young teachers and our young teachers deserve better. I believe you Minister when you say that you are very unhappy with this situation, a situation where nearly 30% of our members are non-permanent. We have proposed the forming of a panel system for young teachers, this should not be contingent on the acceptance of the LRC proposals, these people deserve some dignity. Otherwise the message from the Government is ‘ we do not value you’, When we had our demonstration outside Dáil Eireann in October, the most depressing thing was the number of bright young people, young teachers and students who told me they had to emigrate, to teach in Boston rather than Bantry, to teach in Sydney rather than Sligo.
Those who are lucky enough to get work, face a challenging career where teachers and schools are increasingly being asked to be the cure for all the ills in society. A constant stream of new curricula, new initiatives, new work practices, and increased work load. There is a great danger that this country will repeat the consequences that developed in other countries. Prof. John McBeath (Cambridge Univ.) deals with this in his recent research paper for Education international: “The Future of the Teaching Profession”. He quoted Patrick Bramby of Durham University “in England, role overload and the ensuing time demands were identified as one of the top two reasons why those studying to become teachers did not take up the profession and why existing teachers considered leaving the profession”. Research conducted by the Health and Safety Executive in Cardiff found that teaching was the most stressful profession of all those surveyed; 40% of teachers indicated that they were highly stressed, twice the average for all professions surveyed. And in Canada, Professor Leithwood, (University of Toronto) reported a rise in stress in teachers, considerably exacerbated over the past two years in Ontario as a consequence of the speed with which changes have been introduced. It all sounds quite familiar, and if we are not vigilant that is the road we will be led down. Irish teachers are deeply committed to their students, to their wellbeing and to the standards of their education. We make a heavy emotional investment in our students’ care. “The more important that care is to a teacher, the more emotionally devastating is the experience of failing to provide it” (Hargreaves and Tucker, 1991). If current trends continue, schools and teachers will not have the capacity to deliver what is being asked of them, the warning signs are everywhere. It is time to slow down, take responsibility, see the long-term picture before serious damage is done. Minister I repeat the message from earlier: Pause, Touch, Engage: listen to the voice of teachers and school leaders before it is too late.
To quote Andreas Schleicher again: “All political players and stakeholders need to develop more realistic expectations about the pace and nature of reforms to improve outcomes”.
Remember colleagues, Education is a Public good, it is not a commodity, It is not simply an instrument of economic growth, the simplistic transfer of ideas from the corporate world will not advance the quality of our schools. I believe too much change is being driven by economic, financial and political concerns, not by an understanding of what teaching and education should be about in our country. We cannot allow a system to develop where Principals are school administrators and not education leaders and where teachers have to focus more on form filling and box ticking than on teaching and learning.
To achieve high quality education requires investment in the teaching profession, in the training of teachers, in the professional development of teachers, and indeed in the pay and working conditions of teachers. As we all know well, the excellence of the education system cannot exceed the excellence of the people delivering it.
Last year at a teacher union conference in Northern Ireland I heard Mike Nesbitt, now leader of the Unionist party, ask the very pertinent question, “What do teachers want to do?”. The answer he gave, and I think we can all agree with him, “Teachers want to Teach”. Please give us the opportunity to get on with what we want to do best.
Colleagues, it would be remiss of me today, before I finish, not to remember in 2013, the Lockout of 1913.
In this, the Centenary of the great struggle, we remember great leaders such as Larkin, Connolly and O’Brien. Larkin, writing in the Irish Worker said, “this great fight of ours is not simply a question of shorter hours or better wages, it is a fight for dignity”. One hundred years later we are threatened with lower wages, longer hours and redundancies. We too must defend our dignity. I have no doubt how those great trade unionists would vote in our ballot were they around today. . . . . NO, NO, NO.
Thank you Convention.