Reads of the Week #35

Interesting and varied list of things to read this week: 

I loved this Dublin Inquirer article on Hugh Lane’s post-Lusitania legacy.

Austerity still rules in Education says John Hurley, it’s hard not to agree.

The Gestapo wasn’t as powerful, or as organised as you might have thought, according to Frank MacDonough

Andy Tharby write here on the power of comparison, enlightening as always.

This article by Sylvia Davis touched a nerve with me.

Finally, this is so good: I am a feminist. I am a teacher. I am Mrs C Spalding.

Find all the tweeted links to the articles here.

The archive of blogposts is here


Reads of the Week #15

First here’s Simon Oxenham on Why the widespread belief in ‘learning styles’ isn’t just wrong but dangerous.

Next, Tom Healy suggests that Irish trade unionists need to debate and consider a coherent approach to economic and social progress here.

Damien Searls asks here how do you define “poetry”?

In one of the most affecting pieces I’ve read in a long time, Emily Adler writes abou her father, the philosopher.

Here’s Harry Fletcher-Wood on how historical knowledge is crucial.

Oliver Farry writes on the difficulty of bringing Stalin, Hitler and Ceauşescu to the screen, here.

And finally, the most popular link I tweeted all week, Michael Rosen says here teaching poetry cannot be about retrieving a single ‘right’ answer.
Find all my Reads of the week on Twitter here

And the archive on previous posts is here 

Pic credit

Another ballot, another crucial decision


Information. It’s what teachers trade in. We gather it, we gauge it, balance it, we pass it on in the hope that we have taught our students how to best use it. That’s what this blogpost is about, information. You teachers, ASTI members deserve to make a decision about this latest offer without prejudice.

The assertion that we are voting on the same offer again needs putting to bed first. It is plain to see that this offer is different, our rules say we must put it to a ballot. That is it. Voting on the same offer may arise if we reject this time and we have to revisit the decision if further industrial action doesn’t have the desired effect.

It is reasonable in my view to assume that our negotiators have achieved something no other union has achieved: an offer that goes beyond what the Haddington Road Agreement originally held. Holding out now for more blood from the stone in my view is not a strategy.

What the Government plan to do in the event of a rejection of this offer is clear: they intend to impose an unpaid, compulsory Supervision and Substitution scheme from mid-January. Our response to that will have to be a stepping up of our industrial action. There are a few options open to us at this stage: the first is refusing to do that S&S and probably closing schools in the absence of student supervision (this happened during the 2001-2 dispute); we could be locked out (as a history teacher, for me this would be both ironic and welcome in this centenary year) or possibly replaced by outside supervisors; we would then be faced with taking strike action. There are those who want to vote no and claim that these are not the only options, that we could volunteer to supervise outside the scheme to keep schools open (this for me seems the same as voting yes), and there are those who want to vote no and never wanted the word ‘strike’ to appear on the ballot paper back in September. I will work to rule, refuse to do S&S in the circumstances outlined above and I am ready to go on strike if there is a no vote but for people to say these are not part of our strategy in the event of a no vote is not true.

From the beginning some of us have insisted on keeping the ASTI response to Junior Cycle reform out of the tangles of the HRA. That has been achieved. If they were enmeshed and members accepted the offer, there would be no alternative  but to accept this deeply flawed, rushed and ill resourced reform. As it stands now we can still resist it, constructively or even destructively if we aren’t listened to by the Minister. The course of that resistance will be in our hands, where it belongs.

This offer contains too many promises for my liking. There are various committees, expert groups and consultation groups as well as the promise of all cuts being restored in time. I don’t trust them. But it will be up to us on each of those committees and in every negotiation to get the best for our members as soon as we possibly can. I do trust our people, if we don’t trust our own, we can pull down the shutters now.

CEC has recommended a rejection of the offer. I am a member of CEC by virtue of my election to Standing Committee. I would have preferred if as a ‘union leader’ to have been able to consult the members in my Branch and in my Region in advance of going to that CEC meeting on Saturday, November 16th. By that time Standing Committee had spent Monday, Thursday and Friday of that week in session, isolated from members for the most part and most CEC members didn’t get documents for the meeting until the Wednesday before. The decision was made too quickly, without time to consult and without time to consider our options. Maybe CEC would have made the same decision, but an extra week would not have hurt us.

So. There are teachers who wanted to preserve the pensionable payments they made out of their Supervision and Substitution allowance and they are rightly aggrieved at being forced to do S&S. There are those who feel strongly that they are being asked to pay not to do S&S when the never did it in the first place (I’m in that situation). If these are the only considerations for you and you feel you are not being fairly treated, you should reject the offer.

There are of course people who voted yes the last time. Maybe they want earlier CIDs or a better pay scale, maybe they want something done about casualisation or maybe they don’t want to fight any more. These people are our members too and if there is a no vote we will have provide these people with a home and bring everybody with us. Writing them off is a recipe for disaster.

But there is another more troubling group then these ‘hard no’ or ‘hard yes’ voters, the 45% who didn’t vote the last time. When all this comes to an end, and it will end one way or another around a table somewhere, we have other issues to deal with. One of the biggest is the disengagement of many of our members. When almost half of our members don’t vote and branch meetings are sparsely attended in a crisis we need to find better ways to speak to all our members and involve them in our union. Because teachers need a union but a teacher union needs its members engaged and involved.

Below I’ve laid out the facts, complicated as they are, about what is on the table since a fresh offer was negotiated in November between the ASTI and the representatives of the Department of Education. It represents the best on offer right now, you don’t have to like it, but you just have to read it, decide and please vote.

Substitution & Supervision
If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
any teacher can opt out of S&S with the exception of those who have being putting a portion of their S&S payment into a pension fund in 2012/13 school year. For these ‘pensionable teachers’ S&S is compulsory.
the cut that follows from an opt out is €1769 p.a. for pre-1 January 2011 entrants or €1,592 for post-31 December 2010 entrants. If you opt out the cut will be permanent and you cannot subsequently opt in and out of S&S.
the ‘adjustment’ takes effect on January 1st 2014, teachers will have one month to decide.
the promise of restoring the S&S payment in two halves in 2017 and 2018 to everyone, whether opting or out, is still there. This restoration will amount to €796 x 2 (€1592) and is a permanent pensionable restoration.
effectively opting out for a pre 2011 teacher would cost €1769 in 2014, 2015 and 2016, €973 in 2017, €973 in 2018 and €177 every year until retirement except that 1769 is a fixed figure whereas the rest of salary will continuing growing.

Croke Park Hours
There is an acceptance that the hours are only essential for staff meetings, parent-teacher meetings and school planning.

If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
a review of what the hours are to be used for would take place involving the Department, the unions and management bodies in early 2014, and it’s recommendations are to be implemented in Sept 2014.
The review will consider if the hours can be used by individuals, groups or on a whole-school basis.

Junior Cycle Reform

If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
there will be a parallel Junior Cycle process started 25 Nov
A working group is being set up on reform to recommend how to address the concerns raised by the ASTI.
The initial meeting would be with the ASTI, meetings with other parties will follow.

If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
any pay lost due to incremental freeze would be refunded
all original incremental dates in HRA will be reinstated.

Higher pay
The HRA applies a 5.5% pay cut to all earners over €65,000 pa. This cut applied to those within HRA was reduced by €1769 because the S&S payment was no longer available.

If ASTI members accept the offer in the ballot:
they would be refunded the above payment for the length of time since July 2013, approx €900
the above cut is to be restored in 2017/18 for all teachers who have accepted the offers.

New entrants, CIDs, Casualisation, Post of Responsibilty
Those who have signed up to HRA and joined the profession in 2011/2012 have a better pay scale, it can amount up to €2,466 per year better than the equivalent ASTI teacher if the worse scale and FEMPI cuts are combined.
If ASTI teachers accept the offer in the ballot:
these new entrants would get a refund of the difference between FEMPI/worse scale and new pay scale backdated to July 1st.
the requirement for a CID reduced from 4 to 3 years from September 1st 2013 onwards.
an expert group on the issue of fixed term and part time teachers will meet in January 2014.
after the consultation a panel for such teachers will be in place for next September.
there is a provision for 300 Assistant Principal posts to be provided this year and further post from next September.

Why teachers should vote no to ‘Croke Park 2’


In the next few weeks Irish teachers will be asked to vote on new proposals on their pay and conditions which emerged from negotiations between public sector unions and the government. The ASTI’s Standing Committee has recommended that members vote no to these proposals and I want to outline why.

First some context
After two weeks of circling each other the details of an agreement were negotiated on the last weekend in February. In the last 48 hours details of the proposals began to emerge and were made public on February 25. Standing Committee met on Wednesday February 27 and deferred a decision on a recommendation to the following week. Having widely consulted members and received clarification from the government side on some but not all areas we had questions on, Standing Committee categorically decided to recommend to members that they reject the proposals as presented.

The details of the proposals

Teachers who earn in excess of €65,000 will receive a 5.5% cut on their whole salary and allowances, this rises to 8% for the highest earning teachers who are mainly in managerial positions.

Previously teachers were paid for opting to timetable 37 hours of S&S p.a. or one hour thirty minutes maximum per week. Now EVERY teacher will have to agree to be effectively ‘on call’ for 49 hours p.a. or two hours fifteen minutes per week for no payment and without the possibility of opting out. The extra 45 minutes will have to be used for substitution and can now be used to cover uncertified leave and official school business or the first day of certified sick leave, death in family leave, force majeure leave or illness in family leave. Teachers will have to be placed on rota to cover five periods instead of three.
The proposals state that anyone who is hit by a pay cut and the loss of S&S will only be hit once, though how this to be achieved is unclear.
There is no clarity on what will happen to the pension payments some teachers made from the allowance for S&S over the last decade or more.
Payment will cease from September 2013, if the proposals are accepted.

For those teachers earning less than €65,000 there will be two 15 month incremental periods starting next September, instead of an increment being paid in September 2014, for example, it will be paid in December 2014, and the following increment will come in March 2016.
For those earning between €65,000 there will be a freeze on increments for three years.
It is also worth noting that for job-sharers the cuts and freezes will calculated on a whole time equivalent salary.

It seemed that one of the positives from the talks was some rowing back on the cuts suffered by new entrants in recent years. Adjustments have been agreed to their incremental pay scale which will be significant over a whole career. This is the only pay rise for any group in the negotiations. However, it has to be said that new entrants will also lose S&S payments and those who rely on casual work will be squeezed by the changes to what S&S can be used for.

A positive from the new arrangements would be the securing of a panel system for the redeployment of fixed term teachers. When CIDs have been agreed and the existing redeployment scheme is dealt with fixed term teachers could then avail of redeployment.

The proposals are on top of Croke Park 1, so the 33 hours, parent-teacher meetings out of school time etc. will continue as before.

A reduction from 5% to 2.5% for the lowest €15,000 to €20,000 band, a saving of €110 p.a.

The DES has agreed to allow teachers to retire before August 31 2014 on their pre-cut pension and lump sum, but of course that too depends on the outcome of a ballot.

So, why vote no?
For those who face pay cuts we have essentially clarified that we don’t have or won’t get the clarity necessary for them to make an informed decision. The best we can say is the cuts will apply for the length of any agreement. The worst we can compemplate is that before the end of this proposed agreement the government will come asking for more, that’s what happened with ‘Croke Park 1’.
The S&S cut is an onerous pay cut for those who used to do it; for those who didn’t it is a dramatic change to their conditions of work, in fact it’s a significant change for all of us because the commitment is no longer voluntary, remember that some objected to the idea of supervising at all back in 2002 because they wanted to just teach.
New entrants are offered about a third of the cuts they’ve suffered in the past two years (15-20%), but for many of them the inequity between their incomes and those of the 2010 entrants still rankles. They will also lose out on S&S payments and for those struggling to find work, opportunities for a day here and there to teach will be gone with the extension of S&S to cover almost all kinds of absence.
For fixed term teachers there is a benefit in this document, in theory, and the negotiators should be commended in delivering something for them; but don’t be quick to jump for joy, only after every other group is considered for redeployment will this growing number of fixed term teachers who must move from school to with no tenure each year receive any stability.

The cuts in education so far have been imposed; it seems to me that these proposals document are a new dawn​ because if we are to agree to these changes we are inviting the cuts. For the first time in our history trade unions have been asked to place pay cuts on the table for their members. The hope of those who support the proposals seems to be that this will be the last time we are asked to forfeit pay and conditions ‘in the national interest’. This is also an erosion of the conditions of work of teachers, conditions that, once gone, will be nigh on impossible to win back. There is no doubt that the move is on towards a set school day which will include S&S and ‘Croke Park hours’.
If trade unions decide in a ballot that they don’t want it, the government has signalled its intent to ignore that democratic decision and legislate for pay cuts anyway. Some ‘deal’! People vote with a gun to their heads. Those selling the proposals as the only show in town need to remember that leadership though isn’t about slicing up trade unions into ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps, or diving teachers into those who’ll lose a bit and those who’ll lose more, leadership is about​ making sure honesty for all workers in other sectors in how they are advised.

What next?
A ballot will be held of all members, the deadline for return of ballots is April 12th.

We need to plan; the clearest thing we know today is what will happen if members vote yes, but we must be ready if and when the document is rejected. To that end Annual Convention will discuss the proposals in full on April 1 next.

Teachers, all teachers, will be worse off after this deal. For the preservation of our pay and conditions, for our profession, for the opportunity to stand up and say no more, these are proposals we have to reject.

Fintan O’Mahony
Standing Committee, Region 8


Why do teachers feel alienated?

It seems again that it is time to learn,
In this untiring, crumbling place of growth
To which, for the time being, I return…

from Mirror in February by Thomas Kinsella

The right word to use for the relationship between teachers and the world they try daily to change one student at a time is alienation.
Teachers feel they are the victims of forces beyond their control: economic forces, political and social forces, the force of negative public discourse. None of this is new, it has been the case for years that education and those who deliver it have been frustrated by the way their professional opinions have been excluded from the process of decision making. They have felt for a generation that they have no real say in shaping their work lives or determining how best to use education as anything more than a clinical data gathering exercise.
Many teachers may not have come to understand this yet, many may not have articulated it or even had time to think about it, but they feel it. This alienation expresses itself in the shortness of many teaching careers, the ‘muddling through’ cuts to education, the unwillingness to enter into conversations about public service with neighbours friend or family, the inability to recommend teaching as a profession to young graduates. If we have become insensitive to the damage all this does to our profession, if we are fooled into thinking that our alienation is normal and a sign of how we are meant to react to constant criticism from political ‘leaders’ and media ‘commentators’, then we will never recover.
We are encouraged to turn on each other: retired teachers, younger teachers, or unions leaders are ‘the problem’. But education shouldn’t be part of the rat race, teachers shouldn’t be scrambling around, afraid to raise their heads or hands above the ramparts to reject this alienation and reject the pressure of society that would have you teach for any other reason than to educate children. Education is for growth not exams, for questions and answers, not for pat solutions or the easy way out. We have become addicted to silence in the face of a storm of negative commentary, the dignity and pride we should feel are stripped away and that alienated feeling is all that’s left.
Schools are places where the insidious pressures of society that seek out those who are to to blame should not hold sway. Those pressures force us to be silent in the face of injustice in case it damages our chance of fitting in to the rat race. Teachers, those forces strip away your dignity, your sense of justice, your instinct for fairness.
When they reduce education to economic arguments for making profit they reduce it to nothingness. There is no price too high for the emancipation an individual can achieve through education. It becomes, or course, a matter of control, not of freedom, and the concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands. When educators and those to be educated are excluded from decision making, democracy is replaced by profit and loss and you create a society where success is judged by the extent of your economic success, and teachers/students/citizens are reduced to units of production.
And that’s where the alienation comes in: somewhere someone makes the decision that education is measurable, that you either measure up or you are nothing; that’s what alienates teachers: they refuse to write people off. Considering what is human is not what the bean counters do. To measure educational attainment in terms of money spent denies us the opportunity to enrich the lives of all our citizens, we need to place education at the centre of our society, not marginalise it.
Give teachers credit, they equip people for life, not to be economic units, but to be social contributors.
Teachers: don’t give in to this pressure, don’t feel alienated from the world around you, keep on keeping on, they won’t realise it now but your work matters, and education shouldn’t be subject to financial straightjacketing.


What to do to support Irish NQTs

I’ve created a survey to find out what teachers think should be done if, as is widely expected, Newly Qualified Teachers will take the brunt of the next round of cuts introduced by the Irish government Please take a look, and if you’re a teacher, tell me what you’d like to see done.

It’ll be live for 3 days.

The poll is here

Follow @levdavidovic


Stand up for education

The issues of teachers today are far greater, far more important than a simple ‘lets muddle through’ attitude can respond to. Current teachers pay, the pupil-teacher ratio, CPD, new teacher salaries, reductions in capitation grants and cuts to small rural schools are not just teachers issues though, they’re not just education issues, these are issues that affect society as a whole. The issues of teachers are the issues of education and education goes beyond individuals.
When ‘austerity’ (that awful word which means puritanical hardship) arrived in 2008, the issue for education was fairness in the cutbacks, and though the point was well put, through demonstrations, delegations, interviews and even a strike day, the debate (such as it was) was lost. Now the issue is no longer just cuts but the long term damage being done to education.
So far the austeratchiks have won, if we lie down in front of their bulldozers, we will be crushed. So we need to resist it whatever way we can. So many of us accept the pain and move on, we muddle through. But we need to restore education and teaching to where they belong: at the centre of a functioning society.
We need to stand up.
The stories of young underpaid teachers, of teachers who double job, of teachers unable to get a full week’s regular work, the myths of a permanent job for life, all these will have to be told. The stories of schools fitting kids into bigger and bigger classes, of subjects disappearing, of support for the most in need being cut, of extra-curricular activities being squeezed, all of these and more will have to reach the public consciousness. The experiences of teachers, parents, students who only want the best and can only offer their best, will have to be heard. No amount of massaging of stats or misrepresenting analysis will conceal the commitment daily made to make education work and provide a channel for betterment for thousands of young people.
Education now is paralysed by fear, it has been for four years, fear of where the next cut will come from. Of all public places schools should be secure and immune from that fear created by those same austeratchiks that threaten the security of every family home and every job. In place of that fear we need the peace that comes from feeling a sense of belonging, nobody feels a sense of belonging now. Who would claim to have ownership of this debacle? Everyone wants to escape from the crumbling wreck, the bankruptcy of nation and government. Shouldn’t we be allowed to protect ourselves, our wages, our work, our children, our society from this speculative and unsafe bargain we have been sold?
We have to stand up.
For the last four years we have been crippled by governments who don’t listen, who can’t see and who abrogate responsibility for their actions to outside forces. When we need to be led we are led astray. We had ten years at the trough of plenty and now we are asked to pay the price of the mistakes of banks on top of our own zeal? The mirage of plenty has disappeared to reveal an education system that was never treasured, never rewarded with investment, never given credit.
And yet to listen to the public commentary it appears powerful voices want to sacrifice public services in order to maintain a system that was indifferent to those public services in the first place. These voices, this mob, regard us as an obstacle to their agenda and they will burn the worker before they burn any bondholder. This is their opportunity. Never have they had an opportunity like this to lend legitimacy to the Thatcherite propaganda which lauds the disappearing state and their hatred of those who work for the benefit of society. To paraphrase FDR we welcome their hatred. Because they are the very ones who set worker against worker in the bear pit of tv debate, their agenda is as transparent as the Emperor’s New Clothes. They are the ones who exploited the state for their own largess in the salad days and now tell us we can’t continue to live beyond our means.
Why shouldn’t we want to improve the conditions of teachers, aren’t the conditions of a teacher a boon for her students? Why should we be embarrassed to demand better wages for the heirs to our jobs, isn’t a well rewarded worker a more motivated worker? Why shouldn’t we want to protect our comrades from unemployment, our retired friends from need, our young teachers from unscrupulous managers? We should cling to the idea that without the work teachers do, everyone would be less well off, how many economists can say that? This isn’t blind faith of hyperbole, and I’m sure those who speak ill have stopped reading by now, but appreciating education is central to any recovery of a nation’s self-respect.
We need to stand together though, we need to show everyone we are all on the same side.

So, if you have no chance of promotion because of the Public Service moratorium stand up;
if you’re a Guidance Counsellor stand up;
if you are a non-permanent teacher stand up;
if your school has cut a subject or a programme because of cutbacks stand up;
if you teach classes with 30 students in the room stand up;
if you deliver Croke Park hours on top of extracurricular work stand up;
if cuts to teacher allocations are putting your job at risk stand up;
if you teach in a DEIS school stand up;
if you pay a levy on your pension stand up;
if you’re a pensioner get someone to help you to stand up!

We are all in this together.
Send out that message: we will stand up for each other, because if they divide us, we will fail.
Stand up for teachers, stand up for education, stand for a better society.