These were the findings of a survey of over 3,000 teachers published by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation on the first day of its annual congress in Kilkenny.
It found only 14% of teachers believe the Department of Education takes their opinion into account when formulating education policy, while increased demands and the introduction of major initiatives without adequate consultation were cited as a major cause of concern.
In his address to delegates, INTO president Brendan O’Sullivan said primary school teachers are the most demoralised they have been in almost four decades due to pay cuts and cutbacks.
“In my nearly 40 years’ teaching I do not believe that I have ever witnessed a more demoralised teaching force,” he said.
Mr O’Sullivan hit out at Education Minister Ruairí Quinn as being an overly negative critic of the education system, comparing him to a “cowboy builder” exaggerating the state of disrepair in a job to give a misleading impression of his own work.
The conference, which is being attended by around 800 delegates representing 33,000 primary teachers in the south and 7,000 in the north, heard criticism of the Government for contributing to the cutbacks imposed on schools over the past six years.
Mr O’Sullivan said schools with one to four teachers had endured class size increases in the past two years and that if this was not tackled by the Government, it would feature in the local elections.
“If we do not leave this Congress with some movement on this issue you can be sure that it will feature strongly in the forthcoming local elections,” he said.
Mr O’Sullivan said a major problem for teachers was the range of initiatives imposed on schools over the past few years.
“There is no need to micro-manage what is happening at school level. You have employed us to do a job. Trust us to do it,” he said.
The union president said teachers’ salaries had been cut by about 20% on average while young teachers had their salaries cut by considerably more, resulting in three distinct salary scales for professionals doing the same job.
Mr O’Sullivan said teachers may have signed up to Haddington Road, but they did not like it.
“We neither forget nor forgive those who brought it to us and, in so doing, blatantly broke faith with the previous Croke Park agreement which we entered into in good faith and at some considerable cost,” he said.
The INTO president said the ESRI had indicated that no further cuts were required to being the deficit below 3% so teachers were not expecting any more cuts.
“We fully expect therefore that cutbacks in education are at an end and the time for repairing the damage of the past six years has begun,” said Mr O’Sullivan. “If you do not move quickly to equalise pay and to make restoration of the cuts we have had to endure be sure of one thing. We will remember you for it.”