With the issue of restoring equal pay for recently-qualified teachers high on the agenda at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), its president Rosena Jordan warned that standards would start to slip as some schools struggle to fill even short-term vacancies with qualified substitutes.
She told delegates at the INTO’s annual congress in Belfast that the union’s priority is fair pay for teachers, describing a deal with the Department of Education last September to partially restore cuts to those who started in the job from 2012 onwards as a significant achievement.
That was worth about €4,000 a year to those affected by previous scrapping of a qualifications allowance, but all those who started teaching since 2011 remain on lower salary scales than predecessors.
As she promised that the fight for full pay equality would continue, Ms Jordan said it was no coincidence that the demand for degree courses to become a primary teacher fell during 2011 to 2013 when the pay reductions were introduced.
However, she also highlighted the enormous recruitment of Irish teachers abroad in recent years, particularly in the UK and Middle East.
“Over 1,500 primary teachers are on career break in this 2016/17 school year and approximately 700 primary teachers leave the primary payroll each and every year, other than for retirement. Higher salaries and professional contracts are the main attractions,” she said.
As a result, despite nearly 2,000 primary teachers qualifying last year, she heard about shortages of substitute teachers in nearly every school she visited during her past year as president. This had led to classes being split, other teachers in the schools providing cover, or “enthusiastic amateurs” being drafted in instead of having pupils taught by a fully-qualified teacher during short-term absences.
“This is simply unacceptable. A staffing crisis translates into falling standards,” said Ms Jordan.
“It can be rescued by two key policy decisions. Fair pay for teachers and regular contracts of employment. Teachers graduating from colleges of education after four years of study deserve better than zero hours contracts.”
In its submission to the Public Service Pay Commission last August, the Department of Education warned of the significant costs of any restoration of pay to recent entrants, particularly given the higher recruitment rates since the recession, in contrast to other sectors where hiring was far more restricted.
While the commission will have a particular role in addressing the cuts imposed across the public sector in light of the economic crisis, Ms Jordan said the emergency was over and there was no justification in continuing to penalise public servants.
“The disimprovements in working conditions imposed must be reversed. We need a road map out of the [financial emergency] legislation which is acceptable to public servants and the country at large. This can be achieved through pension levy reductions, pay restoration and engagement with unions on terms and conditions,” she said.