4 things wrong with the ASTI (and one way to fix them)

img_8776

George Orwell: In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

In recent times the reputation of the ASTI has fallen off a cliff. Repeatedly our decisions have been based on emotion not on the facts available to us and on a desire to deliberately disrupt, not engage in negotiation. The ASTI has moved from a hard won position of authority and defence of Irish education to a laughing stock.

There is a pressing need for a modern, radical teacher trade unionism, more energetic and progressive than either the ‘toys out of the pram’ reactive, conservative union we have become or an old fashioned ‘just do pay and conditions’ union. Where is it? – this is what is at the heart of the ASTI’s ongoing crisis.

 

  1. DYSFUNCTIONAL LEADERSHIP

A trade union has to exercise leadership before, during and after a campaign of any sort. It traditionally  uses its power by both leading and at the same time following the members of the union. The power to lead is not enough, exercising that power and continuing to lead are also essential. Members accept or reject the ideas, values and leadership offered not because they have been tricked or indoctrinated, but because they have placed their hope and their trust in decision makers. When those members, those teachers, are separated, deliberately in some instances, from those decision makers, we find ourselves in a union that can claim thousands of members, but, in reality, the overwhelming majority of them have no knowledge of, interest in or accurate information on the decision making process. (The dearth of elections to Standing Committee, the inactivity of members and the difference between an active and inactive member of the ASTI will be the subject of a future post.)

Spoonfeeding members the bald ‘vote yes’ or ‘vote no’ without the whole picture denies them the opportunity to find out the truth about what is going on for themselves.

 

  1. DISENGAGED FROM MEMBERS, DISENGAGED FROM EDUCATION

In a functioning, democratic organisation, everything from a state to a workplace, the use of power is readjusted and re-negotiated all the time. The type of leadership we have now instead tries to secure the consent of ‘the membership’ through their inaction, their emotion or their fear. This kind of leadership constructs a consensus built on sand: a contract between leader and led built on deceit and incomplete information. That is what we have now. (I dealt with this in a previous post about the ballot on Croke Park Hours.) Making decisions based on emotion, as we did on Croke Park hours, without all the consequences in the open undermines a union in the eyes of its members because it allows people to absolve themselves of blame when events take a turn for the worst.

So this leadership has persuaded members to accept its bona fides on strategy (though this ‘strategy’  seems unachievable, if not invisible, to many of us). This strategy seems to assume that one can promise as much as one wants without any clear idea of what that is, or any acceptance of the compromises ahead. (This is what scuppered the acceptance of the outcome of the Junior Cycle: by not having a clear idea of what we wanted, it became very easy to say what we got wasn’t enough.) So now, members have been induced into moving outside a pay and conditions agreement by using the emotive decision on Croke Park hours. We now have leadership without consequences.

The current culture of disengagement needs to be challenged because unless it is dismantled, it is facilitating decision making that has worsened the conditions, and pay, of every member of the ASTI. It has allowed the union to exit a series of pay agreements and put the work of the ASTI as a trade union in jeopardy, sending us down a political blind alley. This lack of engagement extends beyond our own members though, it is a feature of the recent leaders to be distrustful and dismissive of external education parties of all descriptions. The way to ensure isolation is to aggravate and worsen relations with other unions, education bodies, officials and of course the public. It started with the NCCA. A body designed to advise, engage and research in education has become the enemy because of Junior Cycle reform. My attitude to the NCCA and Junior Cycle is easy to find elsewhere on this blog, but I have long advocated making common cause with that body in order to take on the Department of Education. That hasn’t happened at isn’t likely to. This isolationism extends to other unions. Despite the common perception that paid officials are the ones who oppose teacher unity, it is this group of pretend trade unionist who ‘wouldn’t trust the INTO as far as I’d throw them’, or ‘expect nothing better from the TUI, always let us down’. It even extends to turning down requests for support from other non-teaching unions who have members employed in education. And of course we have no sympathy in the DES. Personal relationships matter, but when the prevailing attitude is that any talk is collaboration, not having the back channel contacts means no movement, no solutions, no friends.

 

  1. TRUTHINESS AND DISSENT

We need to explain ourselves truthfully, not with the truthiness that seems to expect action without consequences: it is common sense, it is said, that if ‘they’ attack us we should react. Except there was no attack. If you were paying rent to landlord and were required to keep the flat clean and presentable, a job you resent but know your accommodation depends upon, you would probably, begrudgingly, do it. If you decided to stop doing it, even if your rent was up to date, your landlord would be able to show you your contract, point to the rubbish piling up, and say I can’t renew your tenancy. Is the landlord attacking you? There’s a common sense answer here of course, and it isn’t picketing the entrance to the property.

The way those who lead the ASTI now define the outward facing view of the ASTI is accepted by a core of (loud) members as common sense, the only ‘sensible’ way of seeing the issue at hand. In that climate discussion is rubberstamping, some meetings would remind a history teacher of those old newsreels of the Stalinist Politburo, and any one or group who present an alternative view is marginalised, as I well know. An attitude has developed of  “tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato” (everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State) where to criticise or question decisions is seen to be traitorous. I have had the experience of being admonished for questioning decisions at Standing Committee, for asking questions at CEC, for for even writing on this blog about how flawed the most recent ballot was. (Details on request.)

What I won’t do here, or anywhere is say one thing to your face, or on this blog, and another when a door closes behind me and a decision has to be made. It has always amazed me how people vote against something on a Friday at Standing Committee and in favour of the same proposal on Saturday at CEC. (This happened on my proposal for a ballot for strike action on Junior Cycle.) The only answer to the question of why this happens is obvious: populism. The unholy alliance of older conservatives with younger populists has turned the ASTI away pragmatic action. It has led to the policy of isolation led from the top. How does this breed a motivated, engaged membership? How is the ASTI reaching out to teachers? Beyond the 4 or 5% of ‘active members’ who knows what is going on?

 

  1. CONSERVATISM , POPULISM

So call it what is, conservatism: the attitude that the past is where we belong. That what we have we hold, no change, no modernisation, no engagement. An unholy alliance of older Ian Paisley types whose ‘no, no,no’ attitude and those who conceive of the ASTI as a vehicle for confrontation when it should be a vehicle for the betterment of Irish education and those who deliver it.

Teachers by nature are not this kind of conservative, they move all the time, they bridge the divide between the knowledge they have and their students all the time. They change, upgrade, improve and plan ahead all the time, but this leadership doesn’t want any of that. The leadership has set itself against CPD for Junior Cycle (let’s face it we won that battle on almost everything), they have set themselves against planning, against supervising their students, they have set the ASTI against some of the core activities teachers do. And they have done this out of spite. Some have even suggested it is a battle to bring down the government! There is also the great irony of all this coming from people who display the essence of conservatism while claiming to be socialists.

A union, any organisation, has be have ideas and an ideology, those ideas create the climate for positioning and movement and also prevent the organisation from straying too far from its ideals. In both my failed election campaigns (the ones where I was being told repeatedly that I was too young in my mid forties to be elected Vice-President) I called for a written statement of policies and positions to be published by the ASTI. That will not happen because having ideas that are porous, flimsy and easy to recast is easier than having things you might have to stand by: marshmallow is easier to digest than the stuff that’s actually good for you. (Rule 4 outlines the objects of the Association, click the link and see if you think we’re fulfilling even half the things our forebears wanted us to be concerned with.)

 

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

Dédiabolisation is a word coined in French for the process by which a group removes from its number those members or those ideas that have caused the group to be vilified. The time has come for dédiabolisation in the ASTI. We have prioritised acquisition over ideas, over education itself. That is why we now need, the repositioning of the ASTI as an outward facing, open organisation of professionals, interested in education, intent on the best conditions and pay for members, prioritising those worst off, in the ways its members approve most of. That’s what teachers do.

 

Orwell: All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.


This is the first of three posts about the ASTI today.

 

Fintan O’Mahony

CEC member 2003-16

Standing Committee 2011-16

ASTI member since 1993

Responses/comments welcome as always

twitter: @levdavidovic

email: natnif2@yahoo.ie
Image credit

Fact checking the current ASTI position

img_8433

Over the summer there has been a rewriting the history of the ASTI. Members have been given several lines of argument on why we find ourselves where we are now. Let’s fact check those lines.

 

Line one: Cuts to the pay of new entrants were imposed over the heads of unions

The Croke Park Agreement was accepted by a ballot of ASTI members in February 2011 by a margin of 2:1. It clearly stated that it applied to serving teachers only. There has been an attempt to airbrush this from history but even if one checks the extensive Q&A on the ASTI website, no-one asked about that word serving. Uncomfortable, but subsequent to the union accepting this agreement, FEMPI enabled the cuts to entrants pay.

Line one is not accurate.

 

Line two: this dispute is all about Pay Equalisation

Standing Committee set up a sub-committee to devise a strategy on pay equalisation and agreed to put the return to a single basic pay scale and the reinstatement of cuts to allowances at the heart of every negotiation. (This is what led to changes to the pay scale in HRA and the Ward report on the issue of casualisation in teaching, more below). There was an unwillingness among some on Standing Committee and CEC to take action to support new entrants, even after further cuts to allowances in 2012. One comment I noted from the time summed up their mood: ‘why should we go to a student demo, they’re not even ASTI members’. The contrary view consistently advanced at Standing Committee and CEC (e.g. someday one of the new entrants will be sitting around this table making decisions about your pension) was brushed aside, as was most of the work of the sub-committee. The procrastination of the ASTI in finding a solution on Junior Cycle Reform, HRA, or LRA, along with  the delay in appointing a new General Secretary have all meant that pay equalisation never appeared on the agenda of Standing Committee in 2014 or 2015.  I checked. It was discussed, but it was never of sufficient urgency to make it an agenda item.

Line two is false.

Line three: if only HRA hadn’t prevented us from taking action

Before the ballot on HRA there were those on Standing Committee who wanted to vote no to HRA and still not go on strike: it is further spin for those people to now claim that they wanted to vote no in 2013 so they could go on strike. It is amazing that our negotiators squeezed more out of HRA than any other union without a single day of strike. In December 2013 actually made contingency  arrangements for strike action if HRA was rejected but that if further talks were available following a rejection the ASTI would enter those talks. This is no longer the position the ASTI takes on these matters as evident by the decision of Standing Committee on July 8th not to accept the DES invitation to temporarily lift its Directive on Croke Park hours in advance of the outcome of talks with the INTO and TUI on new entrants pay, which are already at an advanced stage.

Line three is disingenuous at best.

Line four: the Government never gave us a panel so they reneged

The panel promised under HRA was to deal with casualisation in the teaching profession. The Ward Report which took effect in a circular in early 2015 was actually an improvement on the proposals from HRA, providing a teacher with a CID after two years instead of three. Peter Ward said: ‘these proposals for a further Supplementary Panel are effectively superseded by the recommendations set out earlier in this report. The recommendations in this report, if implemented, would obviate the necessity of introducing a Supplementary Panel as proposed in the Haddington Road Agreement.’  There were 1000 CIDs awarded in September 2014, and 1800 in September 2015: the impact of Ward is clear and will lead to further reductions in the number of teachers on fixed term contracts in the years to come. The latest circular from the DES removes this possibility for ASTI members on fixed term contracts as a result of the repudiation of LRA.

Line four is a smokescreen for those who want to say nothing came out of HRA.

Line five: the dispute is all about the Government breaking the deal

To claim, as several public statements have, that the government has reneged on its side of HRA is to ignore the advice given to Standing Committee following a meeting in October attended by the General Secretaries and Presidents of both ASTI and TUI with senior officials from the  DES and DPER that ‘standing still’ and doing nothing would mean that by default the provisions of LRA would be applied to ASTI members.

It is the ASTI that reneged on the agreements by balloting to withdraw from CP hours. For people who liked doing nothing  for years on new entrants pay (see above) to suddenly claim that doing something is the right course and in the process actually proportionately disadvantage those same new entrants and then say they are doing it to help new entrants is difficult to even write it is so mind alteringly confusing.

Line five is either a deliberate attempt to mislead or willfully disregards the warnings given well in advance.

Line six: S&S money should be paid even if teachers don’t do S&S

The restoration of the payment in two stages is permanent and pensionable for every teacher, whether you did or do S&S or not. It has also been claimed that HRA is silent on the restoration being conditional on signing up to future agreements, but how can anyone expect to be paid a pensionable payment for S&S over the rest of their career for not doing S&S? The loss of this payment is not a result of the official side breaking HRA, but the natural conclusion if ASTI members choose not  to do the work.

Line six does not make sense.

Line seven: There are no consequences of being outside a pay agreement

As early as last November Standing Committee discussed at length the consequences staying outside LRA, the outgoing General Secretary provided a detailed document on the topic. For people to now claim they were threatened during the ballot period is to say they were not listening when all possible consequences were fully aired six months before. Furthermore, some of these consequences were deliberately withheld from members during the ballot period on Croke Park Hours by a decision of CEC. So last October, repeated in December and April the list of consequences included in the latest circular were made very clear, it is not surprising therefore that they now appear in a circular.

Line seven is untruthful.

A few other things:

Fighting an industrial relations war on several fronts will wrap LRA, Junior Cycle and New Entrants Pay  into one process and will invite, in the end, a solution that involves movement on one in exchange for giving something on another.

It also has to be said that even now, when the ASTI has set itself against a solution, the Minister is still willing to discuss the issue, but the leadership has decided there is nothing to be gained by talking.

The line about rejecting ‘one size fits all agreements’ is a precursor to withdrawing from ICTU, and this is yet another thing that will get in the way of restoring all teachers to a single pay scale.

 

And finally…

The attempt to brush away FEMPI by saying the ASTI will challenge its legality is to ignore the fact that legal advice to Standing Committee three years ago said a challenge would be exceptionally costly and ultimately futile. It is also worth remembering that S&S payments and restarting incremental credit can only be achieved through the amendment of FEMPI, so claiming to have a strategy to take action to recover those payments while challenging the existence of FEMPI is not logical.

Fintan O’Mahony

CEC member 2003-16

Standing Committee 2011-16

ASTI member since 1993

Responses/comments welcome as always

twitter: @levdavidovic

email: natnif2@yahoo.ie

 

 

15 things you should know about the ASTI Ballot on Croke Park Hours

ballot box 2

I wanted to stay away from commenting on what our union is up to for a while because I didn’t want to leave myself open to charges of sour grapes, or being a sore loser. So I’m going to confine myself to commenting in this post on the upcoming ASTI ballot on 33 Croke Park hours.

But…

First it has to be said that on all fronts, most notably on Junior Cycle and the Lansdowne Road Agreement, there has been no movement and little engagement. This is despite the pressing need to develop a response, a credible response, on the slow decline of teaching as a profession held in high regard: cuts to pensions and new entrants pay (not to mention casualisation), the decimation of middle management in schools and the removal or downgrading of guidance in many schools. In fact, the recent offer of talks on a wide range of these issues was declined by the ASTI. There is no good reason not to listen to what your opposition wants to say. If you are not talking, you are not representing your members, and if you are not talking because you think you know what the other side will say before they say it, you are irresponsible. Genuine trade unionists prize advantageous resolution above all else, but it appears clear that the ASTI leadership now wants not to resolve any of the above issues. For this leadership, action can wait. It will be promised, but it will never happen, rather the issue, whichever issue it is, will be strung out without resolution until members are forced into a corner and have to accept an offer without having taken the action promised. This is what happened on the Haddington Road Agreement, an agreement entered into after repeated negotiation achieved all that could be achieved without a single day’s strike action. There is no chance of resolving any of the issue on which we have decided to simultaneously fight if we are only talking to ourselves. The only conclusion reachable is that resolution is no longer on the agenda for the do-nothings running the show and isolation is preferable to communication.

 

On the Ballot

With a disillusioned and disconnected membership, it is essential they know the implications of their decisions, particularly when being outside an agreement will put many vulnerable teachers in grave danger. There is a duty to members to inform them fully, if information is withheld a legal challenge is possible.

 

I believe that incomplete information has been published for members in advance of the ballot. Below I will try to fill in the gaps.

 

‘Members will be asked to vote Yes or No to the following question: Are you in favour of authorising ASTI Standing Committee to direct members not to fulfil the 33 Croke Park hours upon completion of the Haddington Road Agreement?’

 

None of the reasons presented in the latest Nuacht for withdrawal from the Croke Park hours will raise a quibble from me. That they are part of HRA and it is concluding unless unions accept LRA as an extension of the earlier agreement is true. The ASTI has not accepted the agreement and has always maintained the work represents a huge imposition on teachers, partly because of its prescriptive nature, and partly because it is largely unproductive. The fact that extracurricular work cannot be counted towards the delivery of CP hours is a bugbear for many of us who coach teams, train debaters, conduct choirs or produce the school play.

 

It is when we come to the implications of withdrawal from 33 Croke Park hours that the problems with information for members begin. We are all clear that members will not be comprehended by the terms of a collective agreement. The Nuacht makes it clear that FEMPI legislation will apply to those outside LRA. (There is, by the way, no chance of fighting FEMPI while outside an agreement, having antagonised ICTU and other public sector unions in a show of braggadocio).

 

So…

(information not included in the latest Nuacht in bold)

The Salary increase of €1,000 for teachers earning less than 65,000, excluding allowances on 1 September 2017 will not be paid.

An increase in pay for those earning less than €24,000 (annualised) of 2.5% and for those earning less than €31,000 (annualised) of 1% will not be available.

Half of the previous higher pay cut for those earning €65,000+ to be restored on 1st April 2017 and the other half on 1st June 2018 under HRA will not be paid.

It is also worth pointing out that the ASTI was told in October that these increases would be paid except in the event of a repudiation of the agreement. A Yes vote amounts to a repudiation.

 

Increments will be frozen until at least 1 July 2018, without a collective agreement FEMPI legislation becomes the method for dealing with ASTI members, and it could be amended again in 2018 to extend the freeze. No table of comparison for what this would mean for salaries over a short or extended period is provided.

 

There will be no addition of the equivalent of the Supervision and Substitution allowance to the pay scale. This means that the S&S allowance of €1,592 – half on 1 September 2016 and half on 1 September 2017 – will not be paid. There is no calculation as to how much this unpaid flat-rate, pensionable amount would amount to over the course of a teacher’s career. My own calculation is that it would cost me between a half and three-quarters of a year’s pay over the remainder of my career. A flat -rate increase of course benefits lower paid teachers and new entrants. I calculate that without S&S restoration and with an incremental freeze, a teacher below the tenth point of the salary scale could lose €6-7,000 by 2018 . FEMPI will specifically be used to prevent the delivery of this payment, and we would be delivering S&S for free, for the length of our careers with no chance of an opt out.

 

Teachers will lose the alleviation of the ‘double hit’ for those earning in excess of €65,000. Those who lost the S&S allowance and were also subject to the salary reduction for high earners had their reduction alleviated by the amount of the S&S allowance.

 

The pay reduction for teachers earning over €65,000 will not be reversed because if HRA doesn’t exist, the government can argue that failure to reach a succeeding agreement allows for the means there exists no facility for paying it.

The publication of various pay scales for comparison of implications on the pay of members in the Nuacht was standard information in the past, I have completed some basic calculations above, but everyone would be affected differently and each voter should look at the implications for salary in voting yes or no.

 

Will long service allowance continue to be paid? No mention of it in the Nuacht.

 

Will CIDs revert to the pre-Ward report 3 or 4 year awards? Four years is the norm elsewhere in the Public Service. It appears the ASTI has advice on this which was not shared with members. It is likely that, given recent comments by DES officials that this is being considered.

 

There is no mention of  where the redeployment scheme will stand. HRA gave protection from redundancy to public servants. Three years ago, while the ASTI opposed HRA, a list of schools over quota was published by the DES in order to make clear who might be targeted for redundancy, a disgraceful move no doubt, but we hadn’t repudiated an agreement then, as we might now. Where the redeployment scheme stands after our decision, yes or no, is unclear.

Parent-teacher meetings and Staff meetings: If we are outside an agreement, what happens to parent-teacher meetings? What agreement covers them and in/out staff meetings? Why aren’t we balloting to withdraw from 45 hours, rather than 33?

 

Pension related deductions are not mentioned.

The Grace Period for retirees which effectively extends to September 2018 would also be under threat. With hundreds retiring every year, the Nuacht makes no mention of how the result of a ballot would affect this option to retire on the pre-cut salary.

 

No mention is made of dispute resolution either. In normal circumstances, the WRC would adjudicate in disputes, large and small, without that route, the ASTI might have to resort to the courts directly or negotiate directly with the DES. That does not seem to be on the agenda for any issue at the moment.

 

The procedures for balloting sent to Stewards make no mention of holding a meeting to discuss the issue prior to voting. Branches have been encouraged to hold information meetings. It remains to be seen how well attended they will be.

 

I don’t want to tell you how to vote this time, I can see why teachers might want to see the back of Croke Park hours, but I believe that they will only go temporarily. If we are ever to begin discussions with the DES again, they will be back on the table.

The time for a strategy with a clear purpose is long gone.

Fintan O’Mahony

natnif2@yahoo.ie

@levdavidovic

 

 

 

I ran. I lost. Here’s what I said. 

img_7760

My purpose in running was to offer a different way forward. The first essential of a trade union member is the possession of a sense of solidarity with their weakest colleague and using the pressure of the whole union to bring about improvements and changes for them. In a functioning union everyone must be willing to take action to defend the principles the union holds inviolable. I still believe that no amount of bluster will hide inaction. No amount of talk replaces doing something. If we shirk our responsibility to stand up for the most vulnerable and with them we let everyone down.
I believe that until these gigantic issues of Junior Cycle and Lansdowne Road are dealt with, the focus won’t shift to new entrants pay or reversing austerity cuts. Even then, I’d wager something will get in the way.
The perception of our union is that it is opposed to any change because it is change and not whether it is right or wrong. That it wants to maintain the status quo, preserve the past, glorify it, ignore the outside world. Our members, aside from those of us who engage in union business, are disengaged. If the perception is true our strategy, such as it is, is not working.
The latest history of the ASTI BY John Cunningham is entitled Unlikely Radicals. It refers to the teachers who built our union: being an essentially conservative profession, but forging from that a radical support for their desire to advance education. I wouldn’t like to think we are becoming a union without ideas. 
Nothing worth gaining is ever gained without effort. I know there are many, many good trade unionists in this room who have the interests of classroom teachers at heart in their deliberations, but I wonder how different any of our teaching lives will be next Monday when we return to the classroom because of anything decided here at Convention. The ASTI should be led from the bottom up, not the top down.
I would sincerely like to thanks those 153 delegates who voted for me. 
I would like to acknowledge the many friends I have made here, on Standing Committee and at CEC. 
The support I got from other branches and their members heartened me greatly. 
And the Waterford Branch. As a Tipperary man I am semi detached from Waterford but have found a wonderful home. One delegate put it very well: you’re from the Waterford Branch? That’s some branch!
I am no longer a member of CEC or Standing Committee, so I guess the next time I see you will be at next years Convention. 
Thanks again. 

Fintan O’Mahony

@levdavidovic

Image 

Education in the #ge16 manifestos

img_1823

Given that education hasn’t been a priority in the election, I thought I’d spend a day or two of my midterm in the spirit of public service (?!) scraping through the political parties’ manifestos for the imminent election to see if any of them have a clue what’s going right in education and how to keep it going, and what’s wrong in with it and how to fix it.

I’m concentrating only on issues at Secondary Level, there are things I’m leaving out (almost all parties mention restoring Guidance cuts for example), pet projects and hairbrained schemes are omitted, but I’ve narrowed it down to pupil-teacher ratio, special education, management, Junior Cycle, and pay, with an emphasis on new entrants. I’m starting with that one

Pay/new entrants

Fine Gael and Labour make no specific commitments on pay. No surprise there: teachers pay and conditions have been tied into the public service in more ways than ever, in relation to everything from sick leave to additional time in lieu of pay.

Fianna Fail want to restore allowance to new entrants. In further pay agreements they say they’ll equalise pay, they too state they are committed to the current pay deal. They also commit to repealing FEMPI over two years. 

Sinn Fein opposes two-tier pay scales, they say. They will prioritise low to middle income earners, ‘work towards’ equalising pay and ending casualisation. Again I assume this means they want to preserve the current pay deal.

PBP plan to reverse all of the cutbacks made to teachers’ pay and conditions. No other detail.

Renua don’t mention pay, but want to have a go at pensions, moving public sector workers from a defined benefit pension scheme to a defined contribution scheme and capping public sector pensions at €60,000 per annum. And they’d do away with increments and introduce ‘merit based pay’. Wow!

I couldn’t find anything from the Greens on pay.

Pupil teacher ratio

FG going for a reduction in PTR to 18:1 over the next five years by funding an extra 2,392 (very specific number there) extra teachers

Labour Delivering the smallest class sizes in the history of the State, 20:1, no classroom with 30+

Fianna Fail: no mention of PTR at second level, either an oversight or a big mistake

Sinn Fein say they will shrink class sizes and gradually reduce the ratio of pupils to teachers from 27:1 to 20:1, beginning with a one point reduction in year one and a further point in year two. After that they say they will analyse the need for reductions and introduce a capital programme to provide for further reductions. This seems to imply the first two points will go without a cost. There’s a further commitment to reduce the PTR to 15:1 in DEIS schools, but that’s only if they win two elections in a row.

Social Democrats: Steadily reducing primary school class sizes to the EU average of 20, but no mention of secondary

AAA-PBP: PBP policy is to establish a maximum class sizes with a long term goal of maximum numbers of students in any class, anywhere in the country set at 18.

Renua aspires to reducing student teacher ratios in line with international best practice, though don’t put a figure on this.

Green Party plans to reduce staff-student ratios across all levels, but no numbers or costs given

Special Education

Fine Gael are proposing in-school speech and language therapy, expanding NEPS, and committed  to ‘progress sections of the EPSEN Act that were introduced on  a non-statutory basis’ with an action plan on Educational Exclusion. All fine, but a poor reflection on five years in power.

Labour’s education document pay scant attention to Special Education: training for students who need assistive technology and mentions in the costing sheet of an allocation of an additional 1,000 SNA posts, additional educational psychologists and increased availability of speech and language therapy (combined cost of €72m). Only the first of these appears in the manifesto itself. Not as comprehensive as it should be (implementing EPSEN in full should be a basic promise) when you’ve had the department for a full term.

Fianna Fail say they will restore resource teaching hours to 100% of recommended hours at a cost of €70 million. Allocation should be based on need they say and they promise to employ 100 new psychologists at a cost of €7 million in 2017, with priority given to schools in disadvantaged areas. No mention EPSEN Act; curious as the FF leader often uses it a sign of his success in the department.

Sinn Fein promises to increase the number of psychologists in NEPS by 10%, to increase resource-teaching hours for children by 15% and increase funding for SNA provision to facilitate greater access by children with special needs. Lacking in detail on provision of SNAs, no mention of implementing EPSEN in full. And no numbers.

The Social Democrats if in government intend to invest in SNAs by removing the cap on appointment and giving them CPD. After that it’s special education provision based on need. That’s it. The lack of detail here is obvious, like I say in the summary of their policy, they don’t seem to have someone working on education.

The AAA manifesto talks about early intervention for students with special needs, matching SNAs with school needs, but considering the individual student’s needs. The PBP manifesto goes a bit further promising a full-time NEPS psychologist for every 200 students, widening the qualifying criteria for special needs support and provision of a full-time SNA for any student who needs one. This is all fine, but anybody could have said this, how is it proposed to do it?

Renua: ‘the extension of disability into the Ombudsman’s remit will play a key role in enforcing the often neglected rights of the disabled in Irish schools’. They say support structures for schools will be made available to ‘clusters of schools with their allocation based on need’. Would like to hear of a model for this type of provision, it seems to suggest the same kind of autonomy FG are suggesting.

The Greens have no mention of special education at all.

School Management/Moratorium on posts of responsibility

Fine Gael want everything localised: decision making, education clusters, a school excellence fund (no details). They believe local autonomy will improve school leadership, finance, accountability for performance and complaints procedures for parents. This is a major ideological difference from all other parties. I don’t intend to tell you who to vote for, but if this happens, and you work in education, your job is going to change past the point of rescue.

The Labour document mentions the new Centre for School Leadership, with a budget of €3m to mentor and support new school leaders, which it introduced late last year without telling the teacher unions,they say that it will ensure that every newly appointed principal has a Masters-level qualification in school leadership by 2020, as if that’s the only prerequisite for good leadership. It’s interesting how the two outgoing government parties are interested in beefing up the power of management, perhaps because they have seen over the last five years that this is the group most eager to comply. There is no mention to speak of the restoration of promotional posts in schools specifically, though there are some references to the public service in general.

Fianna Fail is committing ‘rebuilding middle management structures within both primary and secondary schools by removing the moratorium on posts of responsibility for assistant principals’. What about for special duties teachers? If this isn’t an oversight, then it seems to suggest that the B-post structure, as it used to be known, would disappear and there would be far fewer promotional opportunities for teachers, and far more competition for those that remain. Not a recipe for a contented staffroom. 

In both the AAA and PBP documents there are mentions of lifting the moratorium on posts of responsibility.

Sinn Fein don’t mention changes to management structures or the moratorium that I can find anywhere in their manifesto. Neither do the Greens.

Social Democrats propose lifting the moratorium on the recruitment of Special Duties posts (but not Assistant Principals?).

Renua  want to limit the length of  a principal’s contract, renewable every six years.They call assistant principals ‘assistant managers’, saying they, and principals should be allowed back into teaching if they want to go back. They also propose post holders would have their roles ‘term bound’ too. It calls the moratorium a ‘downgrading’ and a ‘deeply regrettable consequence of choices made during the financial crisis’. It does not mention a commitment to reverse the moratorium.

Renua are big into management. Some of these proposals are a huge departure from the current system, and the kind of management speak they use would scare quite a few.

Junior Cycle

There is no mention at all in the Fine Gael manifesto and Labour only mention it in reference to the wonderful work they’ve done so far. They seem to think it’s a done deal and they just need to tick a box or two when they come back into power. Oh dear.

The Fianna Fail make an interesting proposal on Junior Cycle. No they don’t want to scrap it but they want to restore History as a core subject. This is proof that a lobbying campaign can work, even if they don’t exactly say how it can be done.

Renua thinks the Junior Certificate (sic) and Leaving Certificate should be moved on to self-directed learning and continuous assessment(Labour also wants to extend the reform agenda to Leaving Cert). They appear to want to go beyond Junior Cycle reform. In fairness to them it isn’t populism, but it is nonsense.

The PBP manifesto promises to resist curriculum changes like the new Junior Cycle because they lead to ‘a marketised model’.

The Greens and Social Democrats don’t mention Junior Cycle at all.

 

Fine Gael overview

Overall this manifesto reads like something very comprehensive, with everything costed and very specific numbers. But when you dig down you find that the promised increases in funding are paltry, and commitments to work on the EPSEN Act are made without any regard for Fine Gael having been in government for the last five years (I can hear all the hacks shouting ‘we were in a crisis’ like Ross in Friends). Everything is costed, but no news on where the funds are to come from. The standout frightener for education at second level is the emphasis on local school autonomy, something that has never been tried in Ireland and will be fiercely resisted. Added to a dodge on the big issue of denominational schooling (everybody should have the school they want, whatever that might be, and we’ll see how it plays out), it doesn’t read as a plan, more of a wish list.

Liked: they go for reducing the PTR to the lower than all the other large parties.

Disliked: the school autonomy plan, not something you enter into without consultation, but consultation was never a strong point for FG. 

Labour

The manifesto is heavy on what they did over the life of the last government, which is an obvious gloss, given that there is no mention of the way they invited the anger of virtually every one of the education partners in the last five years. Many of the promises are things we knew they wanted already, but the big deal for them is proposing a new National Convention on Education. The previous Convention called by Labour in 1993 is worth a look because everything, good and bad, proposed in irish education in the last twenty years came out of the resulting report. LINK It doesn’t pander to any particular education partner, although it does promise they will legislate for a Parents’ and Students’ Charter, as well as publishing a new ‘School View’ website, giving parents information on school performance, subject choice and extracurricular options, but that isn’t the same as a league table. Oh no!

Liked: The National Convention is interesting, but can we trust that it won’t be an attempt to railroad education into introducing the latest fads from abroad?

Fianna Fail

On a first read (I read them all twice, full disclosure of how geeky I get at the crossroads of politics and education) the manifesto appears to be the most comprehensive and thorough, someone was definitely listening to the various lobby groups, there’s something for everyone: students, parents, teachers, managers. That’s the problem when you read it a second time is the logistics of doing all of this at the same time.

Liked: counting extracurriculars for Croke Park hours. And saving History.

Disliked: the ‘one for everyone in the audience’ approach.

Sinn Fein

The big difference with the three other big parties here is the lack of costings. The promises cover the broad range of what I read above, but here there’s little detail on where the money will come from, it’s much easier to make promises when you aren’t counting the cost or prioritising spending.

Liked: the mention of pay scales, no other large party has included it/

Disliked: the lack of detail: anyone could write a wish list, but implementation needs planning.

Social Democrats

Again there are no details on cost here, though it’s not mentioned in the manifesto, I know they’ve put a figure on providing free primary education to all children. The emphasis is on primary all through though, there are few specifics on secondary, beyond a passing mention on Guidance Counsellors (not councillors). I get the impression they haven’t got someone working on education, understandable in that it’s a very new party, but something they’ll have to fix. I noticed too that they did not provide a spokesperson on the Newstalk coverage of education (neither did FG or the Greens from this list of parties).

Liked: the mention of mental health in schools

Disliked: the scant detail, another wish list.

AAA-PBP

There is unfortunately a complete lack of detail here, from both strands of the grouping. The AAA manifesto has a broad call for all cuts to be reversed and adequate resourcing of schools. 

PBP wants to nationalise education and take it completely out of the hands of patron bodies. Both parties have another long wish list, but details on implementation are hard to find. I can see the draw for secondary teachers having class-contact time from a maximum of 22 to 18 hours, but what is to be done with the other four hours? If it’s administrative work, no thanks, I’d rather teach the maximum. The time off would be better used for those with posts of responsibility. Also the idea that every part time teacher is to be made permanent within the 18 hour timetable is a bold proposal, though it doesn’t explain what happens to those teachers when a school changes: fall in numbers, closure, teachers returning from leave, all affect their employment: how would a school function with surplus teachers in significant numbers? I accept the 18 hours might be more achievable with a larger number of teachers, but again, at what cost (in time and money) will this be done?

Liked: the boldness of the plan, it has at it’s heart a desire to revolutionise Irish education (at the least the PBP section has).

Disliked: the unwillingness to get away from a shopping list of bullet points which echo many of the approaches of the larger parties. 

Renua Ireland

Renua’s education policy is a charter for managerialism. It takes a swipe at Board of Management, saying standards of ‘corporate governance’ should be applied them. It suggests high targets and standards for people working in the second level system, which is fair enough until you read elsewhere that they want to ‘introduce a programme of management training that will begin at senior grades within the public sector and be cascaded down over a period of time’. Cascade down, not up. This is an education overview so I won’t go deeply into their proposals on public service pay, conditions and pensions, but I will share this line: ‘introduce a set of supportive tools and sanctions which will assist underperformers in improving their outputs and support managers in dealing with (my emphasis) underperformers after all reasonable steps to improve performance have been taken’. ‘Dealing with’ in this sentence means fire, I take it.

Greens

Short and sweet coverage of education here. The standout difference is a green initiative in transition year to provide a two week “learning in nature” scheme where they are involved in preparing and planting land for harvest later that year. Other than that there are the usual boxes ticked, even mentioning a reform of CAO. Run of the mill stuff really, no real thought on what the implications of the changes might be.

Liked: mention of student mental health, ignored in many of the other manifestos

Disliked: no mention at all of special education or pay.

 

A hell of a way to spend my midterm, I hope this helps!

Fintan O’Mahony

facebook

twitter

 

 

 

 

 

Reads of the Week #51

img_1808

This week there’s grief, storytelling, education, history, arguing, teachers, y’know: the usual stuff.

Harry Arter interviewed about the devastation he and his fiancee Rachel suffered after the loss of their daughter and how it is the driving force behind his every performance.

John Yorke in The Atlantic: From Avatar to The Wizard of Oz, Aristotle to Shakespeare, there’s one clear form that dramatic storytelling has followed since its inception.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic on fads in education: All is clock! 

‘Irish slaves’: the convenient myth by Liam Hogan, tireless on challenging the myth around this subject.

Even if you beat me: Sally Rooney on the strangely addictive world of student debating

What could be more suspicions than teachers who just wants to be teachers? Asks Carl Hendrick.
Image credit 

Reads of the Week #50: #1916Rising Special

img_7561

This is pretty momentous for me. I’ve done fifty of these posts now so I wanted to mark that in some way: collecting the best (so far) of the things I’ve read about the 1916 Rising and its commemoration was fitting. Thanks for the many, many hundreds of clicks the tweets, the Facebook posts and the blogposts get, and a special thanks to the hundreds of writers featured. Here’s to the next fifty! 

First Conor O’Malley on The Secret Meeting that set the date Rising.  
Next the Digital Repository of Ireland has an exhibition on ‘Women and the Rising’

This is Damian Shields on the Swede and the Finn who fought in the GPO

John Dorney next  on the meaning of the Easter Rising centenary
The story of the tricolour flag from Jacob’s Biscuit Factory from Brenda Malone. 

Next Felix Larkin on FX Martin’s  view of the ‘altruistic evil’ of the Rising.

Irish artist Fergal McCarthy’s playful comc strip A Country Is Born

How two lawyers ended up on opposing sides in 1916 from Conor Gallagher. 

Margaret Skinnider’s 1916 autobiographical story: Doing my bit for Ireland

“While Dublin was reproducing its squalid version of the Paris Commune….”

Donal Fallon on The Come Here to Me blog on the newspapers’ reaction to the Rising: “While Dublin was reproducing its squalid version of Paris Commune..

A piece on the Proclamation of the Irish Republic’s typography and construction

And finally, another piece by Brenda Malone, this time on Captain John Bowen-Colthurst, insane in Dublin 1916? 
A Storify collection of the original tweets is here

Image above is taken on St. Stephen’s Green, on Easter Monday, 1916, showing Dr. Edmund J. McWeeney reading the Proclamation.