Teachers know best

76161_54_news_hub_70246_656x500

Let us go then, you and I,

When the Junior Cycle is spread out against the sky

like a teacher etherized upon a table…

(with apologies to Eliot)

One would be forgiven for being bored by the length of time we have spent discussing Junior Cycle, I sometimes think it would be best if I just changed the name of this blog altogether to something like HERE’S ANOTHER POST ABOUT THE DEBACLE OF JUNIOR CYCLE REFORM. So here’s another post about the debacle of Junior Cycle Reform.

An article appeared in the Irish Independent today, written by two academics who throw some mud at teachers on their way to suggesting that if only they shut up and accepted that their masters have their best interests in mind. Sit back and relax teachers, it’s just that you have no confidence in yourselves, if you allow the yellow fog of reform curl around you and help you to sleep, safe in the knowledge that you were wrong and they were right.

The article accuses teachers and their unions of all kinds of badness: censoring members’ access to professional development, having limited confidence in their own assessment skills, or failing to consult their members and anti-intellectualism, imagine!

To take these charges one by one, as a teacher likes to do: I’m not sure of the use of the word censor (censors I suppose assess don’t they?), direct might have been better, and if either of the authors had been following the story of this train crash from the beginning, they would know that there was CPD for English in the Spring of last year and it was a disaster. Those charged with the invidious task of informing teachers of what lay ahead were unable to answer questions on the way the English specification was to be implemented or indeed taught when it was introduced last September. The ASTI/TUI decision to ban attendance was taken after ballots of members, no CPD was offered for English or any other subject until last month, and when it was held no union members attended. Teacher unions would of course support CPD if they had confidence in the reform, in the absence of agreement on assessment and of standards, equity and fairness, issues introduced to the debate by teachers, by the way, that confidence is obviously undermined.

Saying teachers have limited confidence in their own assessment skills’ is bordering on, well ignorance, because it is because teachers have absolute confidence in the job they do assessing their student as whole people, not just exam candidates. As for assessing for state exams, we know the argument, and our teachers view has taken hold, passing assessment out of the state system into schools will not work in Ireland, even the Travers report seems to concede that point.

I won’t waste too much time on the charge of non-consultation, I wonder sometimes who consults these experts for their opinions, we know where we stand with our members, with 30,000 teachers on strike for two days and just this week they went out again on their lunchtime to show their support for our position.

It is their charge of anti-intellectualism that made me most angry when I read it earlier today. It is condescending for a start, but for a finish it suggests that teachers have their heads stuck in the sand on reform. Teachers are engaged, responsible, informed professionals, we know the ground we have marked out has not shifted, and that the Minister for Education has conceded that ground at every negotiation (no wonder she doesn’t want to engage again).It is pitiful and beneath contempt to suggest teachers fear change when we change all the time. Do we constantly need to justify ourselves? The ban on CPD isn’t about fear of the process, it is about wanting the reform to be thought through to a conclusion before we start to accept training for it. There will be time yet for a hundred visions and revisions, when they are done, will be ready for CPD.

This brings me to the suggestion made in the article that the DES would have been better served introducing the whole range of subjects at once, instead of piecemeal as proposed. There is something to be said for that. It would mean that all the preparatory work for all subjects would be ‘front-loaded’ and training on an agreed programme could be completed before it was introduced. that would require some forward planning of course, not the strong suit of Irish government, I’m afraid.

The final proposal in the article for ‘an intense, accredited course in the principles and practice of assessment in the service of teaching and learning for, say, three people from every school’ is so wide of the mark it undermines any credibility the authors have. Trickle-down CPD, where teachers are required to train their colleagues in what has been handed from on high is a recipe for division in schools, work overload for these intermediaries, who are teachers after all, not intellectuals (!?), but seriously, it shows their lack of understanding of how pressed schools are without the resources or supports required to give students the education they deserve and desire in 2015.

I understand that articles like this come and go, and that teachers will still be teaching in their classrooms. We all know that this debacle will end, as all disputes do. But teachers are in this for the long haul, it would do us all a service if experts without respect for or understanding of teachers’ concerns backed off and gave everyone room to listen to reason. Teachers know best.

Pic credit

Another ballot, another crucial decision

20131204-232200.jpg

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.

Increments
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 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.

20130820-215414.jpg