Minister rejects calls for lifting of freeze on posts

EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn rejected calls by second-level teachers for the lifting of a moratorium on the filling of promotional posts.

Leaders of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) pleaded for the removal of the embargo on appointments to posts of assistant principals and special duties posts, including year heads, at their annual congress, in Tralee.

Failure to fill posts meant there was no longer anybody in some schools to make a timely intervention in cases of bullying and absenteeism, they claimed.

TUI president Bernie Ruane said doing away with posts of responsibility was retrograde. “For many young people, school is the only safe place they know and for many their year head is the only adult who has time to relate to them,” she said.

However, Mr Quinn, who received a relatively cordial reception and applause from the 420 delegates when he addressed the congress, was not for turning on the moratorium.

“It’s an understandable request, but the provision that was communicated to the schools, including the decision regarding the moratorium, will not be changed,” he told reporters afterwards.

In his address, the minister referred to the “stark” financial situation facing the country, that the Government could not reverse decisions being criticised by teachers and again warned further difficult and painful decisions were on the way.

There had been a pattern, he said, whereby it was automatically assumed more money would be made available, but that was not now the case. However, with the unions and other education partners working together, necessary reforms could be brought in and the education system would continue to deliver good results, he said.

According to a recent TUI survey of school principals on the impact of education cuts, 79% said the non-filling of positions had a high to medium impact on the ability of their schools to deal with discipline and behavioural issues. Just over 70% said the loss of the posts had had a high to medium impact on pastoral care and tutorial support.

Almost half of the principals said their weekly workload had increased by four to nine hours since the introduction of the moratorium and other cuts.

TUI deputy general secretary Annette Dolan said the survey provided a very good snapshot of what was happening in schools in the week prior to the Easter holidays. Students with special needs and other students needed a lifeline to a caring adult in a school, but that person was no longer available in some schools, she pointed out.

This was having a particularly bad effect on the most vulnerable students and was resulting in small problems quickly becoming big problems, Ms Dolan said.

Just 27% of the principals in VEC and community and comprehensive schools responded to the survey. However, Ms Dolan rejected suggestions this was because principals were demoralised. She pointed that it was a busy week in schools, adding the normal response to many surveys was 15% to 20%.

Two Co Cork principals — Tom Hughes, St Coleman’s Community College, Midleton, and Kevin Whyte, Mannix College, Charleville — told how the moratorium was affecting daily life in schools. Mr Hughes said that as well as principals having to work longer hours, there was no way of devolving management when a middle management layer had been removed. Mr Whyte said key people were needed to deal with critical issues in schools. But more people would retire because of the Croke Park Agreement, leading to the loss of further posts in schools.

Promotional posts are worth between €4,000 and €9,000 in extra payments to teachers.

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