Education and Industrial Relations

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What is to be done with the ASTI? They have, it has been widely reported, brought schools to their knees, inconvenienced parents, destroyed the futures of students nationwide and demanded the renegotiation of a national pay agreement. What have they done to bring the whole system to a standstill?
They have refused to attend staff meetings and parent teacher meetings until the Minister for Education chooses to discuss their rejection of an offer of a cut to their pay and a deterioration of their working conditions. The reaction to the low level industrial action has been such that we can just imagine the bloodbath if schools actually closed or (imagine!) teachers picketed schools.

The line we hear on the ASTI is that where we are is lonely, that the entire Irish public service has accepted the Haddington Road Agreement and we are out of step. It’s an interesting way of portraying a democratic decision but it also neglects to mention the way education in particular has been a victim of the mutton dressed as lamb that is austerity pretending to be reform is evident in England, in the the US, in Denmark, in South America, in Africa where teachers who stand up for themselves are portrayed as dangerous outsiders.

The truth here of course is far more benign. Schools have, for the most part, continued on as normal, teachers teaching, students learning and a renewed focus on education to the exclusion of distracting administrative tasks. The question remains though, what happens next?

The Minister for Education has signalled his intention to meet the ASTI leadership in the coming days to discuss ‘educational issues’ but not pay and conditions. It’s a pity teachers had to take any action to entice Mr Quinn to the table, more pity that he seemed to regard education matters as subsidiary to everything else (it makes sense I suppose when you consider the filleting of the education budget that he believes divorcing education from finance is in ‘the public interest’).

There are of course many education issues we would love to discuss, I’ll list them below, but to repeat the canard that we want a completely renegotiated Haddington Road Agreement is just silly. The Haddington Road Agreement was rejected for all kind of reasons, but not because of pay (here’s what I wrote about that before http://wp.me/p1N9yC-a1).
It’s interesting that the concentration now on education because of the industrial action has allowed issues otherwise ignored to enter the public consciousness: Supervision and Supervision (S&S): the time spent by some teachers watching students in out of class time or covering for absent colleagues for an extra annual payment; ‘Croke Park hours’: the mindless administrative time teachers do outside school time; and Junior Cycle Reform (I wrote about that here http://wp.me/p1N9yC-2o). In that respect the action has served a purpose beyond the aims of the ASTI, it has placed discussion of education centre stage beyond the circus around exam results and the focus of the Easter Conventions.

Could the Minister swap something on these issues (S&S, ‘Croke Park time’ or Junior Cycle Reform) for acceptance of the pay agreement?
On S&S, the idea of anyone being asked to the equivalent of two weeks work unpaid per annum is outrageous, teachers wouldn’t be the only profession to bristle at the suggestion. If there was a way perhaps for teachers to opt out of the proposed S&S scheme it might make it more acceptable, especially to those like me who have never done it, even for a payment.
The opening up of ‘Croke Park time’ to uses beyond the prescriptive list as it currently stands would allow teachers in schools to use the time effectively and not for the box ticking it’s used for now.
It’s on Junior Cycle reform that I believe the most educational value could be gained from a discussion with the Minister. The reform has been exposed as wearing the Emperor’s new clothes in recent weeks as the plans for the first subject to be introduced revealed that English teachers are being provided with three days of CPD (over three years!) during which they will learn how to design, deliver, assess and moderate the whole course. Some reality from the Minister on this reform would be welcome. Without the proper resources schools won’t be able to deliver it, without support teachers won’t be able to teach some new courses which would be welcomed by many who have experienced stasis over their whole careers.
The ASTI has further issues to raise on Junior Cycle, around assessment to begin with. The original model for the Junior Cycle was for each subject to have a state examined component worth 60% and a school based component for the remainder with external moderation. The Minister himself changed this a year ago to a two tier system: English, Irish and Maths would continue to have the model outlined above, every other subject was to have 100% of the assessment completed in school. This is now undoable: given the treatment of English, an alleged priority subject, how can we expect that other subjects will get the right support? (There are Standardised Tests to be introduced too, when the world is switch off from them and we’re supposed to be eschewing high stakes exams!)

So fix the S&S offer, loosen what we can do with ‘Croke Park’ and on Junior Cycle, resource schools, listen to teachers and move on assessment to ensure a credible reform.

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