Sunday 25 September 2016

Angry teachers greet minister with sea of placards - INTO

By Gordon Deegan

Published 07/04/2015 | 10:35

Delegates Caitriona Gillespie, with Louise O Donoghue and Aoife Breathnach, all from the Tallaght branch pictured at the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) annual congress at the West County hotel in Ennis. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Delegates Caitriona Gillespie, with Louise O Donoghue and Aoife Breathnach, all from the Tallaght branch pictured at the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) annual congress at the West County hotel in Ennis. Pic Frank Mc Grath

Primary education is understaffed, underfunded and under resourced and that is why we have the largest classes in the Eurozone and schools that are run on raffles, parental contributions and charity events.

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That is according to the General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), Sheila Nunan who told the union’s annual congress in Ennis this morning that school leadership "is at or past breaking point”.

Ms Nunan told delegates that “standing up for primary education means three things - smaller classes, a fair funding formula in education and proper support for principals and teachers”.

She said that it is “a national scandal” that every day 530,000 Irish citizens are in the largest class sizes in the Eurozone; 85 per cent of Irish children are in classes of greater than the European average of 21; one in five is in a class of more than 30 children with less than ten per cent of Irish children are in classes that other EU countries call normal.

“In a class of 30 pupils the weak struggling child and the bright, strong pupil suffers," she said.

"There’s no time for individual attention and no time for one-to-one support. The children at the weaker end who don’t qualify for support teaching are let down, not through lack of effort on any teacher’s part, but simply through lack of time and resources.”

NI Education Minister John O'Dowd faced with placards protesting cuts in North at INTO conference in Ennis. Pic Lise Hand
NI Education Minister John O'Dowd faced with placards protesting cuts in North at INTO conference in Ennis. Pic Lise Hand

“Primary education is the foundation of the education system. It is the bedrock on which everything else is built. Children spend the first few school years learning to read and the rest of their lives reading to learn. We must give primary children a proper chance. That’s why we must all stand up for primary education.”

The Sinn Fein Minister for Education for Northern Ireland, John O’Dowd (MLA) was greeted by a sea of placards from teachers protesting at education cuts in the North as he arrived at congress in Ennis.

Minister O’Dowd told delegates “placards will not end austerity’.

Some of the placards being held up by delegates said ‘School maintenance budget cut - €3m’ with another stating ‘Special eduction cuts - €1.4m while another claimed 'SF + DUP = Tory cuts'

Minister O'Dowd said: “What we need to do is go home and draw up placards with the answer. If the answer to the question is that Sinn Fein walks out of the executive, then let’s hear that and talk about the consequences of that.

He said: "You can ignore the political and economic realities of the north, but you won’t come with the answer because what you end up with is an executive being run by Tory Minsters or Labour Ministers.”

Earlier the Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan told teachers that she has no doubt that forthcoming talks with Government on pay will see gains for primary school teachers.

However, in her address at the INTO congress, Minister O’Sullivan cautioned that “we need to be realistic about how much can be delivered immediately” and this was greeted by groans from some of the teachers present.

She said: “In just one year, we can never hope to deliver improvements to all of the areas in education, including public pay, that need additional investment."

Admitting that pay is the biggest issue facing the INTO, Minister O’Sullivan said that Minister for Public Expenditure, Brendan Howling “has made clear that discussions will take place with the public service in the coming weeks”.

She said: “These talks will focus in the first place on the gradual unwinding of the emergency measures implemented under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) Acts.”

Earlier in her address, Minister O’Sullivan said that she is disappointed and frustrated that the Government has not yet removed a equality law provision that allows schools to fire, or not hire, people whose sexual orientation or family status is not in line with their religious ethos.

Currently, section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Acts contains the provision and Minister O’Sullivan told delegates that “late last year, the INTO LGBT teachers group was invited to Ara an Uachtaran, in recognition of their work over the last ten years”.

She said: "To our collective shame, on a day that should have been a proud one for all involved, some of your members still felt unable to be filmed for TV or have their photo taken with the President on this happy occasion.”

The Minister told delegates: “I am disappointed and frustrated that we have not yet enacted an amendment to this legislation. In the Programme for Government, we made a clear commitment to the removal of such legislation.

She said: “This legislation is being advanced by my colleague, Aodhan O’Riordain and I know that drafting is progressing in conjunction with the Attorney General.

Minister O’Sullivan said:  "I know this is a major issue for your members, and it is major issue for me too. We will get this dealt with, once and for all, over the next couple of months.”

The Limerick based Minister also told delegates “that reducing class sizes will be a personal and political  priority for me during 2015”.

Earlier in his address, INTO President, Sean McMahon said that today’s primary school children “didn’t cause the (financial) crisis but they have been made to pay for it”.

He said: “Time is running out for those children to get their fair crack at Primary School and if we now have the resources to potentially implement a cut in the higher rate of taxation do we not also have the resources to do the right thing for our children and give them the decent class sizes they need and deserve?”

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