Asti must spell out that a no vote will close schools
Another rejection will also mean a one-way ticket to disharmony within schools, writes Colm O'Rourke
It did not take long for the arrows to arrive after my recent article which questioned what the Asti governing council was at. The vast majority were unsigned letters full of bile, personal abuse and vitriol. The rantings of these cowardly types, all of whom claim to be various different union members, are dispatched to the bin in quick time.
Any man who hides behind anonymity to cast insults is not a man at all. Unfortunately it is an increasing problem on sports websites too, the revolution in social media has a very distasteful side to it.
Yet there was one man in the letters page who signed himself as Barry Hazel of the Asti central executive council or CEC who was at least brave enough to have a go. Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with what I had written about a couple of weeks ago. Namely, what does the Asti want?
Hazel confined himself to me having three jobs and finds it hard to credit how I could get the time when most principals work 60 hours a week. Well, I would agree with him on that, apart from the daytime hours, there are also many meetings in the evenings with boards of management, parents' councils and lots of other things, and if you are involved with a school football team, it takes up a lot of weekends too. It also means plenty of summer work overseeing repairs, renewals, doing time tables on increasingly limited resources and putting classes together for the next year. But when you join the army, you wear the boots and I enjoy working with and for the benefit of young people.
It is a brilliant and very rewarding job.
Barry Hazel also seemed to think that his letter would not be published, feeling that it was too truthful. Why would he think that? I have three jobs, which is a fact, two in the private sector which could be terminated at a stroke if the employer is unhappy with either my writings or my comments on the Sunday Game. The other, as principal of St Patrick's Classical School in Navan, is the protected one in the public sector. Yet what has the number of jobs, either paid or voluntary (I have a couple of those as well), got to do with his union's position?
My involvement in the teaching profession has been constant for almost 35 years and I will continue to put forward a different perspective to the Asti if I feel it is warranted, even if it means being in a minority of one. And the same applies to a lot of the stupid policies inflicted on the teaching profession by the Department of Education. I have been highly critical of those too and will continue to be.
Robust debate is the essence of democracy and I get it every day from my staff. It is something to welcome, not avoid, and everybody gets back to work for the benefit of the young people in our charge.
Yet the big question has still to be answered – what does the Asti want? Why will it not spell out for everyone in the profession that a no vote will close schools? It doesn't want to say it, but without supervision and substitution, schools will close for health and safety reasons. If everyone who votes knows that and the Asti members are willing to close schools, then I would admire their courage.
There is plenty of the Haddington Road Agreement which is unpalatable but it is hard to see how one section of teachers is more special than others, never mind nurses, gardai, the fire service and all the other categories of public sector workers.
The Asti has had a chance to negotiate with the Department and I thought it achieved quite a lot. Now it has just backed itself into a corner when continuing talks was the best answer. Issues such as the new Junior Cert need far more structure and in-service training, and teachers are fearful of the major changes. Coming on top of many pay cuts, the decimation of middle management and other short-sighted approaches which have caused frustration, anger and resentment, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn could also have adopted a more conciliatory approach rather than lecturing teachers on the consequences of a no vote and then circulating a list of schools where teachers could be made redundant. Quinn should have been a bit more generous to teachers and at the very least encouraged them to more talks on these areas of genuine concern.
Last week, the international comparisons in the PISA results showed the Irish system is not doing too badly at all when compared to the best. I never believed that the supposed collapse in our standards three years ago was genuine. Rather, it seemed to me that schools did not take the survey as seriously then as they did this time round. All principals on this occasion were very aware of the previous slump and while the outside agency chose the students to test and ran the whole show, the word to students was they better take it seriously.
Even at that, the results are encouraging and, especially in the case of science, do show an increased awareness of its importance for the future and a growing engagement with the subject. The teachers deserve praise for that.
My time in the teaching profession is very limited but young teachers are being severely punished in a financial sense by the actions of their own union, the Asti, and are now being paid much less for doing the same job as members of the other union, the TUI. The Asti is not giving proper leadership to them or anyone else. They should also tell the rest of us non union members why closing schools is in anyone's best interest at this time. A no vote offers a one-way ticket to disharmony within schools between TUI and Asti members and a spiral of confrontation which will hold teachers up to public ridicule.
No doubt there are very many teachers who just feel hard done by in the present economic collapse, negative equity, poor or no promotional prospects and would like to register a protest. That is understandable. There are plenty of serious issues to sort out in education and parents probably do not realise how far teachers and the whole school system is stretched but no matter how much teachers would like to give the Government a kicking, negotiation always works better than confrontation.