Ballot threat at ‘dumbingdown’ of courses

Fears that upskilling courses could be privatised and ‘dumbed down’ as a cash-saving measure have prompted a threat of industrial action by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland.

Ballot threat at ‘dumbingdown’ of courses

It claims to have been left out of the process under which the Department of Education is examining changes in further education and training. It could see private providers taking over some courses in public colleges.

At the union’s congress in Wexford, a motion was passed that should mean strong resistance to any attempts by private providers to deliver further education and training courses previously given by TUI members. Delegates formally instructed union leaders to ballot for industrial action if any members are displaced in such a move.

The expectation is that each of the 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs) will be issued a budget for further education and training provision each year, based on the courses it must indicate it wants to provide. There are concerns among existing staff that limits to such funding could force them to opt for cheaper options.

TUI president Joanne Irwin said some ETBs, which manage the operation of most further education and training courses undertaken by 50,000 students a year, are already introducing changes. Most of the sector’s places are on post-Leaving Certificate courses, but others are adult education courses and training programmes largely aimed at the long-term unemployed.

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Ms Irwin said concern is mounting that the practice of outsourcing courses will become more common from September, meaning more lower-paid positions and a reduction in quality.

“We’re all for having more students coming and getting upskilled, but we want to make sure they are taught by qualified educators and teachers,” Ms Irwin said.

Triona Conneely, Cork, at the TUI conference

Another fear is that access would become limited if courses are centralised into one or two centres in each ETB area, restricting the ability of some people to participate.

“It might be that if you want to study childcare, for example, you could only go to a particular place in a big county like, for example, Donegal. And we don’t know what qualification requirements there would be for anyone delivering the courses,” Ms Irwin said.

In some of the 16 ETBs, new staff are already being hired as tutors on lower pay than existing TUI-member teachers, raising issues about equal pay for equal work, Ms Irwin said.

While the Department of Education is undertaking a redesign of the structures of further education and training, Ms Irwin said they have not been represented in discussions with chief executives of ETBs or Solas. This authority has policy and funding oversight on the sector, which now includes the former training responsibilities of Fás. TUI’s concern is that more privatised provision will creep in, as evidenced under Fás.

“The department have told us they will show us the plans in a few weeks, but we’re worried that everything will be decided by then,” she said.

Ms Irwin said there is also concern that new structures could see responsibility for further education and training in each ETB handed over to people with no educational background. While having a dedicated official to oversee the sector would be welcome, she said, there would be concern that someone from an administrative background would not be familiar enough with issues of concern.

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