Treatment of starting teachers ‘a disgrace’

The treatment of new teachers who have started on pay of almost 30% less than their colleagues is a disgrace, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn was told.

The message from Teachers’ Union of Ireland president Bernie Ruane brought 450 applauding delegates to their feet at their annual congress in Wexford.

She drew the same response when reminding Mr Quinn of the union’s intention to ballot for industrial action if teachers’ pay, including allowances, is cut by the Government.

She was responding to Mr Quinn’s speech in which he outlined, as he had to other unions on Tuesday, the extent of the economic crisis.

Mr Quinn was greeted with polite applause as he outlined the reform agenda underway from primary to third level. He largely avoided the key issues being debated by TUI delegates about threats to their pay, cuts to new teachers’ pay and conditions, and cutbacks across the sector.

Mr Quinn concluded his 37-minute speech by saying he shared and understood the anger many teachers and lecturers felt about the circumstances in which they are working because of reduced resources.

“I’m working to make your job more fulfilling in ways that will not just increase resources in the future, but also change the way in which you deliver the excellent education that you provide to your students in the present,” he said.

Asked earlier if teachers’ allowances might come under the axe, he gave mixed signals.

Mr Quinn said some allowances in the public sector were additional payments for working at a specific time or place, such as those paid to security forces who worked on the border during the Troubles. Those payments had nothing to do with pension or payment of their salary, he said.

“In the education sphere for historical reasons, allowances are what are given to teachers who are promoted into posts of responsibility, or deputy principal or principal.”

He said those allowances in the education world are deemed part and parcel of the pay and are reckoned for pensionable purposes as evidence of that. Asked if that meant they would be exempt from any cuts, he said it did not.

Responding to concerns at the impact of reduced pay and pensions for new teachers since last year, he said he had heard concerns about the attraction of the profession being damaged. However, he said the top 15% of Leaving Certificate students were still applying to teacher training colleges.

Earlier, TUI delegates heard legal challenges under employment equality law would be taken on behalf of any member who started a job in the last six months and approached the union.

The teacher unions have jointly sought legal advice on whether new entrants who signed up for qualifications leading to teaching jobs had legitimate expectations of the pay and conditions enjoyed by their senior colleagues.

Co Cork branch member Michael Lyons said the union’s future is on shaky ground if members allow themselves to be divided and conquered on this point.

“Perhaps it’s time to ask for a quid pro quo for our young colleagues. Perhaps we should take some of the Croke Park hours back until they improve the situation for young or new entrants.”

SNAs plea

Parents of children with autism made a case to lift a cap on the number of special needs assistants (SNAs) in schools when they met briefly with Ruairi Quinn, the education minister.

Mr Quinn spoke briefly to Jane Johnstone and Helene O’Leary as he left the conference hall at the TUI congress in Wexford at lunchtime yesterday.

The two parents said they wanted children to be given their SNA allocation based on their need rather than on a requirement to fulfil the limit of 10,500 SNAs in place as a part of recruitment restrictions across the education sector.

Ms Johnstone was earlier allowed to address the conference, where she told delegates her two sons, Evan, 12, and Daniel, 8, have autism and are attending an autism unit attached to a local school in Wexford. But cuts to the SNA allocations in the school mean Daniel has gone from having a full-time SNA to sharing the support with another pupil.

“We’re fighting to keep the resources for our children. We don’t think it’s consistent with a civilised society that children with a disability are being asked to sacrifice their future,” she said.

Delegates showed their agreement with her statement by rising to their feet in applause.

Ms O’Leary and Ms Johnstone told Mr Quinn that parents of children at the autism units in the two schools they represented have been seeking face-to-face meetings with successive ministers since Nov 2009. They said they are conscious of the economic crisis, but they have realistic suggestions to make as to how the necessary funding can be found to make SNAs available to pupils who need them.

Ms O’Leary said the two autism units at Scoil Mhuire in Coolcotts and St Senan’s in Enniscorthy, which each have 18 pupils, have lost 11 SNAs between them since reviews were carried out in 2010 by the National Council for Special Education.

Mr Quinn said he would read their letter carefully and would get back to them personally on the issues they raised with him.

— Niall Murray

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