One step forward, two steps back: The future of the ASTI

future-or-pastThe future, the bright and glorious future we are promised is as uncertain as it has ever been. We are in a process of stripping away all the valuable work we have done on education. Remember this association is a professional representative body as well as a trade union. Time for parrhesia. (In Plato’s Apology Socrates says: the cause of my unpopularity was my parrhesia, my fearless speech, my frank speech, my plain speech, my unintimidated speech.)

It is irresponsible for anyone to hide their view of what has gone wrong and what will happen next because they wanted to be popular. My analysis is motivated by a desire to make a positive contribution to the ASTI, though I expect I’ll be chastised for not pulling in the same direction as the crowd, for saying things that the people you get your information from do not want to hear.  The ASTI cheerleaders now have put on the agenda motivations that have been kept in abeyance for a decade. Back then we were embroiled in a strategy of having no allies and no direction. It took too long time to restore the reputation of the ASTI, if it was ever restored.

I know that by writing this, I will be accused of having other motives. Of late, it has become verboten to express any opinion contrary to the story ASTI members have been told.  In the past, even over the last few weeks, I have been accused of seeking to raise my profile in the ASTI, of trying get revenge for my defeat in internal elections, of using my knowledge of the history, structures and my service to the ASTI as weaponry to down the union, of being an apologist for the government. It is clear that, rather than accepting that there may be people who disagree with decisions made by the ASTI, some reach instead for other motives. (The irony of the way that some of the current leadership has tried to rewrite that same history and spent the last number of years undermining the work done by the ASTI should not be lost on us comrades.) The very fact that I write a blog, which has increasingly become dominated by criticism of this small group of members, some of whom we might expect should know better, has been criticised at executive level of the union. The real reason we (because I am not alone in this view, I’m just the one who ends up writing this stuff down) have become the target is as a a way of avoiding any discussion of ‘inconvenient truths’. But whatever our views, we are expected to button our lips and let the great and good get on with it.

 

lone-tree-landscape-isolation-black-and-white-photography-edward-princeThe ASTI has no friends. Instead there is a vague ‘them’ which opposes us include every education body in the country: the NCCA, Teaching Council, School Principals, education journalists, parents’ bodies, other teacher unions and of course the Department of Education itself. This ‘them’ is plotting against us and focussed on us, and act with calculated spite. In this version of the education debate, the ASTI stands alone against this ‘evil’, that single-handed against an ‘unscrupulous enemy’. It sounds ludicrous because it is ludicrous. Each of the bodies mentioned differ from the ASTI in that they don’t see the ASTI as being the centre of the universe while the ASTI’s current leadership view of itself is vainglorious and self-absorbed. And as a result the ASTI is increasingly less relevant.

In fighting our shapeshifting, ubiquitous enemies we are to be a permanent army of discontent, preparing ourselves for perpetual war which we win without endangering our most vulnerable members. It is to be contemptuous of trade unionism to favour no negotiation, no resolutions, no consequences, and promising whatever you like. We would do well to remember that a perpetually fighting, isolated and destitute union is not the union handed to us by our betters.

What is wrong with engaging with these outside bodies? If the ASTI was inclined to be a cat among those pigeons it could make alliances, put common ground under us, rather than trade in paranoia. The relationship between the ASTI and the media, for example, is fraught: on the one hand we are told they are the devil, that they are unsupportive and in bed with the government, while at the same time giving journalists every opportunity to write about the crazy things we do without giving context to these crazy things. It becomes a truism that the ASTI is resistant to change.

Reflecting on the most recent campaign, if we can call it that, we would have to ask what the media strategy was? The media, the public at large will never be the friend of a union at war by itself. When your spokespeople are overexposed or missing in action you haven’t a chance of shaping the story. Most teachers don’t spend their time discussing the ASTI, most citizens of this Republic don’t care about the politics of trade unions. They might see a headline on facebook, but more likely catch a bit of the nine o’clock news or Morning Ireland in the car. Social media isn’t the beginning or the end of media engagement, but should reinforce the message. Appearing on tv and radio at every possible opportunity requires having a disciplined message underpinning a coherent objective. None of this was in evidence during the campaign.

3b0891d87e35dffec9f7ad17347ce2e6There were always three ASTI camps: one wanted to chance everything to achieve our desired outcomes, one wanted to do nothing, and one wanted to act in a calculated way. It has become clear that the first two are merging into one, making common cause against change (on Junior Cycle for example), they have and will block any advance towards a single pay scale, they make promises they have no intention of honouring. When the tide goes out, these two groups will blame their failures on others.

In the narrative of permanent attack, ideas and rigorous discussion have disappeared. So that teachers can be led in whatever direction the leadership dictate, it is necessary to withhold information, to pretend the ASTI has been weak for a decade. It becomes the truth that being in the trade union movement is worse than being isolated and fighting alone against the ‘bad guys’ mentioned above. The saddest effect of the recent campaign is that teachers whose new engagement might otherwise have been a bonus, has instead been built on a belief that shouting loudest is preferable to negotiating. Those teachers are bound to be become disillusioned with the cheques the leadership write go uncashed, weakening the ASTI when the purported aim was to strengthen it. The ASTI’s place should be in the trade union family, putting the case, built on logic, that teachers have things of value to say.

When people feel threatened they don’t think clearly. In recent times the greatest threats come from within, warning that if you don’t support the strategy you are against us, even when you know the strategy is flawed. The shameful truth is that we listen to the hostile, narcissistic narrative of them versus us and many of us have started to believe it. But, just as teachers can’t do their job without support, teacher unions simply cannot take to the field alone, if we intend to enter the field at all. Without friends, other teacher unions especially, we are diminished.

WB Yeats, when writing about the Irish Free State said a nation reaching intellectual maturity, he said pride replaced vanity, and the proud do not disguise their faults. The ASTI is not there yet, the self-confidence to examine our mistakes is not a feature of the union, it appears to be too much work to learn from errors (the irony of this for people who deal with teenagers all day should not be lost).

So there is a crisis which has not been acknowledged by our leadership. With the majority of members disengaged but still having a residual trust in their leadership, a trust routinely abused by Standing Committee and CEC. The absence of professional negotiators, magnified by their distrust of Head Office officials, has eroded the ASTI’s standing among trade unions. The further acceptance and promulgation of simplistic answers to the complex issues of pay and conditions go unchallenged now. Going back to Yeats and development of self respect: the more members know of the reality of our union’s actions, the more they will realise we lack that self respect.

 

plan-bSo this isn’t just a conflict between the ASTI and government departments, it is also a struggle for the ASTI itself. Only when we take back control of the ASTI will it start to do what it should be doing for all of us. We will have to have a clear programme for all teachers to be more involved in their union. We will have to organise, prepare, things that good teachers do. Unions should do so much more than, as Tony Benn put it, ‘actively favour the conservative policy of acquisitiveness’, this applies to what is wrong with the ASTI, and when he said they ‘have hardly made any serious effort to explain their work to those who are not union members, even to the wives and families of those who are’, he could have been describing the view of the ASTI from the outside. There are structural issues with the union (I dealt with those here) but there is also the problem of the ideas we stand for being unclear, even to members. These ideas should be capable of seeing off the wreckers. But we should not delay in refocusing on education and restructuring the ASTI. We should aid and encourage each other, in every school and branch to lead the ASTI from the bottom up, rather than the top down, to do away with uncertainty and humming and hawing. Anyone who doubts that this is possible should be disabused of their concerns. These are the days of dispute for dispute sake, of backward conservatism and the interests of our most vulnerable comrades are dispensable. We must be firm and decisive when the pieces are to be picked up. We must know what we want and make it clear to our opponents. And we must hurry.

This especially is the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, directly and courageously. We should not be afraid of facing the perilous state of our union now. This union will only endure, recover and thrive if we banish the negative narrative of teacher union weakness. A capable and bold leadership is not in evidence now and supporting the direction we are taking is is plainly difficult for many teachers. The difficulties facing teachers are too numerous to mention (read this post of mine on alienation in the profession), but we should be facing them together. What does getting rid (momentarily) of Croke Park hours, for example, do for new entrants? What does removing access to CIDs do for non-permanent teachers? What does closing off redeployment do? Expectations of what can be achieved are being blown out of all proportion, and lead to inevitable defeat and meaningless posturing. In an atmosphere where our sister unions have decided to put their members first and negotiate on their behalf, our leadership has chosen to sail the ship so close to the rocks as to risk losing everything. Of course, when you can blame the rocks for wrecking your ship, you can sail where you like. The complaint that we have been mistreated as if we never knew what the official side were going to do is nonsense. The official response didn’t emerge from nowhere like some plague of frogs. It would appear that the truth, that it was known all along what would happen if the ASTI repudiated a pay agreement, is still hard for some to admit.

failing-report-cardIt is hard not to think of the ASTI when rereading Gramsci: ‘a crisis in and of itself will not change the position of your opposition, it makes you weaker, or at best (gives) the appearance of weakness’. That is why the campaign of strike action on Junior Cycle was so successful: it was calm, studied, firm resistance, built on the voice of teachers (and Teachers’ Voice). It wasn’t a decision made in crisis and it had the backing of teachers and the public throughout in its execution. What has replaced this guile and ability to get things done? Stubbornness, incompetence, unscrupulous abdication of responsibility and clinging to outworn ideas are born out of fear of change and the desire to preserve ego.

These are dark days, comrades, but it will be worth the darkness if it teaches us our union survives when we are not, as FDR put it ‘ministered unto but minister to ourselves’. Talking about it is not enough. In recreating a  functioning union, we have to do two things: we have to abandon gambling when we have no cards and we have to provide sound, evidence based strategy that can be explained to the public and be clear to teachers.

The ASTI faces an existential crisis. There will be those who prefer to just to say: all the problems that exist are the fault of ‘them’. They also seem to believe making agreements is an act of treason. It is treason though to seek agreements to make teachers working lives worse. It is trade unionism to seek incremental improvements to works pay and conditions.

If the ASTI goes down the road some are proposing, will you just comfort yourself by blaming it on the newspapers and the Minister for Education? Will that get you through the pain of pay disparity and creeping managerialism? These might be uncomfortable questions but the situation is perilous and unless satisfactory answers are offered, we enable the very people who want to protest until death.

 

istock_000015626570smallbowlingRepeatedly when I have asked what we could do to reach the disaffected, uninvolved member, I heard responses that dismissed them as ‘people who use the union as an insurance policy’, or that ‘I never hear from disaffected members’. I have always been convinced that unless we embark on a process which at least turns those members into ASTI-aware teachers, and at best mobilises them in a genuine campaign of action, the ASTI will wither away in failure. I am worried that the lack of desire for problem-solving might be because of the fear of failure on our side. When fear is the leadership’s only bond with the members, paper and map authority is all that exists, like the Ottoman Empire of old. The difference is the authoritarians of the 19th and 20th centuries were generally disciplined and had grandiose plans. The plan in this instance is underdeveloped and opaque, built on a fragile impulse to lash out at anything that threatens a fragile sense of self-esteem. In between those disinterested  and disaffected teachers and those claiming to lead there are the vast bulk of us who don’t care, but enable the leadership. This has caused longterm damage to the union and to teachers themselves. This has allowed an ugliness to surface, online and in person among ASTI members, tainting the union and the many good people who believe in it. We are going to have to get off the fence.

When you leaders are being attacked, then underperforming, then becoming defensive, intolerance towards any criticism results. I’ve spent years trying to present the ASTI positively to teachers and the public, but now I’m a Tory, this blog is an echo chamber (duh!), a suck up to the media, etc etc.

To criticise the leadership is to facilitate the media-government conspiracy that assumes the ASTI is the centre of the national narrative. But those attacks differ from what I’m doing in that they want the ASTI to fail, or at least neutral, I want the exact opposite, I am anything but neutral: I want the ASTI to succeed or the ASTI will crash and burn and an essential support for teachers in distress will be discredited in the eyes of those who most need it.

The residual loyalty ASTI members seem to feel for their leaders is ebbing away. This union is not inclusive, it is not optimistic. When even different views from inside the tent can’t be tolerated, this isn’t likely to change.

A clear manifesto, five or ten priorities would refocus the ASTI as a professional body and as a trade union. Starting a process of finding out what teachers in schools want, might be instructive and might mobilise the activists to reach those who are disengaged. All the failures to communicate clear strategy, failures to inform, and having something we are for, not just things were are against. Leadership from the members.

 

free-thinker-copyThe intellectualism and interest in education that should drive the ASTI needs to be fostered. In fact the very opposite has become the norm: dispensing with research, providing anti-intellectual arguments for decisions, the promotion of reactionary tactics, the failure to get ahead of the opposition, to take decisions when time is right.

Gramsci again: ‘there is no organisation without intellectuals, that is without organisers and leaders… But the process of creating intellectuals is long and difficult, full of contradictions, advances and retreats, dispersal and regrouping, in which the loyalty of the masses is often sorely tried.’

Intellectualism shouldn’t be a dirty word, any organisation that wants to survive has to create its own intellectuals to develop its own identity. They should be fostered, trained and supported by their union, teachers are ideal for this, and the ASTI should be encouraging them in trade union training, rather than accepting those school by political parties outside the trade union movement.

We have to put our own house in order and serve teachers first. We should dedicate the ASTI to a policy of self respect first, from that follows respect for other education bodies, they then will respect their obligations and the agreements we have made. (When we enter the arena, without sacrificing our morals and ideals, we level the playing field)

None of that can happen until there is a rebalancing of the authority of the executive branches of the union and the membership. This will be the hardest task. In the event that members fail to take back control of their union and this crisis continues, beyond the current battle, as it did in the last decade, the ASTI will become a spent force.

Having 18,000 members is a powerful position, holding on to them in the current climate might proved tricky, but I’m more interested in mobilising them over the long term. There are so many things we can’t tackle because of the refusal to resolve the issues put before us in the most recent ballot.

So. Where is the clear vision? What are we in favour of, in simple language what do we want?

 

Two stories to finish.

I remember some years ago meeting the father in law of a friend of mine who asked what I did for a living, when I told him I was a teacher, he responded ‘you aren’t one of those ASTI loopers are you’. I laughed it off, but I didn’t forget it. I don’t like being that guy at a social gathering. I like being a teacher. I’m proud of being a teacher.

When I mentioned to a friend my intention of writing another blogpost about the ASTI, he texted back ‘why bother?’ We teachers are used to managerialism or teaching to the test wearing us down, but when we are being worn down by the professional body to which we should be drawn for comfort and support, a change has to come.

 

This is the final part of a three part analysis of the ASTI.

Part one is here, part two is here

 

Fintan O’Mahony

CEC member 2003-16

Standing Committee 2011-16

ASTI member since 1993

Responses/comments welcome as always

twitter: @levdavidovic

Reads of the Week #28

This week idioms, poetry, exams and teaching are on the menu.

First from lingholic.com, how idioms are translated into other languages.

Next, here’s Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Forever“, it’s great.

Kenny Pieper about the wrongs and rights of exams.

Also on exams James Theobald is fed up of people saying they don’t matter.

Andy Tharby has five strategies for teachers to model good practice for students

And finally George Couros has five things he’d never do in a classroom again

Image credit

All the articles are here in tweets.

This is the archive of all the posts so far. 

Reads of the Week #24

First, one of Anthony Wilson’s Lifesaving Poems, from Catherine Smith: How It All Started.

This is the digital StoryMap of an Irish archaeological journey along the Carlow bypass, a brilliant resource for history teachers.

One of the greatest hurlers of all time Jimmy Doyle dies last week, Vincent Hogan wrote beautifully about him here.

Another great use of mappingand a great resource again: 1916 Rising Pension Claimants mapped onto the 1912 OSI map.

Laure-Anne Bosselaar’s poem “Rooms Remembered” is the best I’ve read on grief in a long time.

Barnardos has proposed we provide free primary education for all, why stop there?

And finally, Tom Bennett has a new job, but holds no illusions about how difficult but rewarding teaching can be.

Here are all my reads of the week.

This is the archive.

Image credit.

Reads of the Week #20

First some history: here’s Charlotte Hobson review of Stalin by Oleg Khlevniuk: He understood the power of terror so well because he constantly feared for his own life. 

Next is equality in Ireland. Irish legislation allows for discrimination in schools, so Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act (2004) must be deleted immediately, from Voice for Teachers blog. 

Andy Tharby writes about the value and tribulations of assessment for teachers: Assessment – it’s all in our heads

This is DJ Gallo in the Guardian: Numb3rs for l3tter5: how Nike started sport’s most annoying trend

Aidan Regan says we got the crash wrong and we’re getting the recovery wrong too: Ireland’s ‘recovery’ wasn’t austerity but public sector policy

This is gold: Roddy Doyle on Bill O’Herlihy.

And finally a photoessay from Foreign Policy on The Forgotten Kingdom of Sikkim

Find all my Reads of the week on Twitter here

And the archive of previous posts is here

Pic credit 

Solidarity, Unity, Strength: Three reasons to vote yes this time

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Last May the Central Executive Council of the ASTI adopted the following motion I proposed:
That in the event that the new Junior Cycle subject specification including it’s assessment component is introduced the ASTI will immediately ballot members on extending our industrial action up to and including strike action.

That ballot is now underway.

Why should you vote yes?

Solidarity
It has become very obvious that the current ASTI directives leave teachers, particularly English teachers, in a confused state. They have been directed not to engage with the reform but to teach the subject specification nonetheless.
You vote YES to protect those English teachers with the strength of the whole union. Leaving some to resist on the frontline without the backup of the whole membership isn’t what unions are about.

Unity
Our colleagues in the TUI have already put this issue to a ballot and received a strong mandate to act; it makes sense that the two second level teacher unions should be on the same page on an issue we agree on.
You vote YES so that all of us can act together, at the same time, for a change.

Strength
Negotiations at an impasse. No practical solution to bridge the gap between teachers and the Minister has emerged. So far our action is low level disengagement, extending it will focus minds and bring about a more swift solution or at the very least the prospect of teachers walking out, unpalatable as that might be, might show how strong the feeling of teachers is regarding the proposed reform.
You vote YES to say you belong to a union that takes action when its members speak, action that gives our negotiators a strong hand when they hammer out a solution.

Teddy Roosevelt was first to adopt a policy of speaking softly and carrying a big stick, if the soft speaking doesn’t work, it’s better to have the big stick ready.

15 or 16 things that I do in my English class

This started as some self-reflection and planning for my Leaving Certificate English teaching. It’s an interesting exercise, to try to write down everything, or almost everything we do, and it takes ages! There may be something you can use here for your own class, or you may think I’m way off the mark, but here it is.

Timetabling
First we* take a look at the weekly timetable and break up the week. We make one day for Poetry and one day for Language. They also help as a constant: if it’s Monday it must be poetry! The other three are Reading days.

Poetry Day
On the dedicated Poetry day, we read one poem a week, six poems, with biography at the beginning and an overall exercise to finish. This might not sound like a lot of time on each poem but it works. It means I need to know everything I can about the poems, in case of questions, and I need to draw in the poem from the previous week to build an picture of the poets work. (This is a type of Comparative exercise too, comparing poems as texts). At the end of each class I set an exercise and they build up a collection of these which we discuss before they write a piece of their own.

No Notes
I don’t give notes though. They’ve got to listen, write and contribute to make the poems come alive, not everybody likes it, but everyone has to think or sink. I like to read four poets’ work in 5th Year.

Language Day
On the dedicated Language day (or Paper One day as it’s called), we begin with some basics around how a paragraph works. We look at the marking scheme very early on and very briefly to see how their papers will be marked and we always do a marking exercise with an exemplar (usually from the Examiner’s Report, or something I’ve copied from a previous year) for homework. This is always fun. I keep a file of things I’ve read that we can use and I’m turning more to Instapaper to keep some track on these. For example I have two reviews of the same restaurant which are wildly different (an unavailable online, sorry), I use them to teach language and register as well as how to include, or exclude, readers in your audience.

Blogging
The latest and greatest innovation on Language day is our blog. Each week someone is given the job of writing something either from an exercise or topic that we’ve been talking about or something that’s been on their minds. I read the post to the class on the day and they’re a great source of pride for the writer and inspiration for the students who have still to write. These posts are not marked. I insist on this because the Leaving Cert student is over-marked today, marked into oblivion. It’s good to have a place where they can escape this constant judgement and still know they’re doing something that helps their writing. It keeps the writing steady and helps us ‘build from the back’, writing more as the months go on. And everything they write counts.

Going Online
The students have access to the blog from home so they can log on themselves. We have a class gmail account and that’s useful for Google Docs too, more on that later.

Reading Days
On the Reading days in Fifth Year we read all the texts with the fewest pauses necessary. We do this because we can read them straight through for pleasure, not study.
When we’re finished reading them we spend a class or two talking about them and do an exercise called ‘What’s it all about?’ which is really about drawing out some general ideas on themes we can see or motifs we liked. It goes on the whiteboard and we photograph it.

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Comparative Work
Comparative choice should be up to students to a point, I chose the single text always, but the girls chose at least one comparative text. Often it’s the movie.
We always do a movie. It fast, it’s something with which most teenagers have a language fluency and you can see three easily if you’re being very strict about your planning.

Comparing
By the time we’ve read and settled on the three Comparative texts (a play, a novel,a movie) , we can start to find similarities between them. Here’s an example where we were still deciding which texts we’d include and the rough comparative exercise helped us chose. This is an Ordinary Level group where we were still deciding which movie to settle on and we’d chosen Juno and the Paycock and My Sister’s Keeper so fitting a movie with them was the exercise.

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I exert only minor influence on this whole process and it pays off when you can get a long conversation about ‘mothers vs fathers’ in the texts before they’ve even begun to think about Comparative Language. If we’re lucky we might have performed or seen the play in Transition Year if I’ve got my act together!

Comparative Sentence
What we’re driving at here is composing a Comparative sentence to draw the three texts together. It might look like this:

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But the picture doesn’t capture the discussion about what goes in an what we need to, sometimes reluctantly, drop.
It’s my job to keep the Comparative Modes in mind, or to fit the sentence with the modes later.

Marking
I always mark to the standard scheme, it’s a laborious task, and I’m very slow but I’m trying to improve! I sometimes hold on to work so I can return it when it serves a purpose, I might hold on to an initial response to a poets work and return it when we’re revising so the student can see the progress they’ve made or not made. The reason it takes ages it because good feedback is so important and I need to think about that and tailor it to the student. Without feedback, there’s no improvement, that’s all.

Single Text
The Reading classes are used to read the Single Text in 5th Year too. The first reading again is for enjoyment, there’ll be less enjoyment later, but I think we should try to enjoy one Shakespeare text before we pass out of Secondary School!
in 6th Year we use a double class (we’re lucky with the timetable in that we get an extra period in 6th Year) to read it for depth. It’s always a Shakespeare play, that’s a decision we made a long time ago and makes ordering books easier (we have a book rental scheme in our school). After reading it and probably seeing it on film in 5th Year we return to it for a close reading. I introduce character study and maybe a key theme at that stage. I like to have it read a second time by November. The third reading isn’t strictly chronological because we’ll cover characters, themes and motifs in more detail. All of this depends on which play we’re doing: Macbeth we can motor through, with Hamlet we have to take more care. It’s always better to get to see the play performed, but if it’s not possible, we try to see at least two if not three versions on film. YouTube clips can be great for character study and I put some of them up on the blog too.

Poetry Day Part 2
We also have a Poetry day in 6th year. If things go according to plan we should finish six poems from each of six poets by January of 6th Year. The we go back to each, the girls can decide the order for revision, and I give them some revision pointers and a seventh poem to tie some themes together. This is a shot of one Yeats revision class:

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Key Moments
When we reread the a Comparative texts in 6th Year we have that comparative sentence in mind, but now we’re search for key moments so it’s a closer reading. Each student has a list of key moments of her own, we can write better from our own work, I don’t provide a set list, it’s not my study, it’s personal to them. This almost always works, if the students are listening and contributing, but that’s teaching all over isn’t it?

Collaborative Writing
I’ve started to use Google Docs to collaboratively write sample answers. I used to spend hours writing them myself but now each student writes an opening paragraph on a topic we’ve chosen for practice. Then we switch everyone around, so someone different does the second paragraph. This can be done at home or in the Computer Room and I annotate it to sharpen the writing. Here’s a link to a sketchy, unfinished one:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-xLDYvJPmSICkB8sSjw7XF1iTHqzun8XPwKgJBwX49o/edit?usp=docslist_api

So.
This is what I do, and it works for me and (most of) my students but what I haven’t been able to put in here is how building a bond between teacher and student is crucial. I miss my classes when they’re finished, no doubt they don’t miss me but all of the above falls flat if you don’t include the students, give them a voice and make sure they’re comfortable expressing an opinion. I got very little chance to do that in school, my students will get every chance.

* It’s almost always we, hardly ever they or I, we’re in this together.

Feedback? It’s always good:

Twitter: @levdavidovic

Email: Natnif2@yahoo.ie

or comment below.

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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