It seems right, that as we enter another ‘season of balloting’, that someone should put the case for voting in the first place and voting to move forward with Junior Cycle Reform. I’m going to say some things about that campaign , about that reform and about the ASTI because I am glad to say I speak on behalf of a generation of teacher trade unionist who reject isolationism, who seek to lead with responsibility, and who are not afraid of taking action in order to force home our views.Both the ASTI and the TUI are balloting on the newest proposals on curricular reform of the Junior Cycle. I don’t propose to go over every detail of the reform, the best place to find that is here. For me, the reform is about taking a step towards teacher autonomy, an autonomy we haven’t had before. It is also, no matter what triumphal heralds of the reform in its original form might say, a reform on the terms of teachers. That only happened because we were prepared to take action on an issue which had no implications for our pay or conditions, but had everything to do with education. When you’re voting remember those days we spent on the picket line and lunchtime protest. Remember the meetings in schools, branches and regions about what we wanted: the right to oppose the assessment of our own students for state examinations, and what we didn’t want: the localisation of assessment in our parochial, small country, where everybody knows everybody. All of that discussion was worth it: we won those arguments.
If you are unhappy at the reform bringing change of any sort, well you need to remember that change was certain from five years ago, we just spent a long time not knowing what to do about affecting the change. If you think we didn’t get everything we wanted, remember that no negotiation ends in one side getting everything they asked for and the other side caving-in entirely. As an English teacher, I would have preferred the deferral of English and wonder how much fight was put into achieving that, but I’m prepared to accept the compromise on the issue. It appears some people feel they were promised more than has been achieved, the promise is the problem there in my view, not the achievement. Dissenting voices would have us fighting on without a clear idea of what else we want to achieve, other than perhaps the retention of the Junior Cert as it is currently organised. That view is patent delusion and should be rejected as such, any ‘reformer’ who tells you the status quo is preferable is on very shaky ground, rejecting not only this reform, but any reform. It is important to also note that the first battleground for implementing the reform as we envisage it will be at Subject Specification Committees. I have been calling the ASTI to begin to train our members to do the work of those committees with a clear view of our policy positions. (It would also serve us well to train members to occupy management roles or to deliver CPD and create a generation of teachers able to influence the debate from every position in the whole sphere of education.)
This brings me to leadership, or the lack thereof. The right thing to do for teacher leaders is to bring classroom teachers with them when they move, to understand classroom teachers and where they are, and to empower classroom teachers to feel their union exercises power both from the top down and from the school staffroom. In our teacher unions this doesn’t happen enough. No ASTI documentation is allowed to give you reasons for accepting this hard fought, hard one, and valuable proposal. This is because a meeting of the Central Executive Council decided not to recommend a yes vote. (The TUI has recommended a yes.) I think though that it should be made clear that voting yes is important, not just because of the value of the revised reform, or because of the work of our negotiators over the last three years on the issue but because there is no plan being proposed by those who want a no vote, by all means vote yes on your second ballot paper for further industrial action, but it is time for us to move on to other battles.
Because of the dominance of this issue we have made no progress on addressing the dire situation of teachers who qualified since 2011 and 2012, who suffer under a separate pay scale from the rest of us. We have made no progress on reducing the pupil teacher ratio or reversing cuts to guidance counselling. Standing Committee business has been dominated by the issue for all the four years I’ve been there. We need the space to get to other issues, including pay and conditions. There is a fear of taking action: it took a long, isolated effort for a few of us to fight the tide at Standing Committee when it appeared the strike action would not be taken to force the issue of Junior Cycle reform. I wasn’t allowed to force the issue at Convention 2014, my motion was voted down at the Standing Committee in May 2014, and yet the following day CEC almost unanimously supported the call for a ballot on the issue. I guess we made some persuasive speeches that day.
There is a rump in the ASTI who want you to vote no because they want to be in perpetual dispute; their view prizes narrow reasoning, narrow thinking and indignant dissent. They have no desire to plan for the future or to engage with other education bodies, and have no desire to consider what members want, outside of the 5% or so who are engaged all the time. You need to tell them too that you want to move on, that you acknowledge this reform is now teacher led, it will be devised with huge teacher input and implemented on teachers’ terms.
I’m voting yes, you should too.