Sunday 21 January 2018

'We won't allow you to turn our schools into businesses'

Primary teachers warn they will strike to restore pay and resist more bureacracy

INTO general secretary Shiela Noonan speaking at the conference yesterday. Photo: Mary Browne
INTO general secretary Shiela Noonan speaking at the conference yesterday. Photo: Mary Browne
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Primary teachers have warned the Government they will consider strike action to oppose any moves to "turn schools into businesses".

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) is concerned about a recently published Department of Education discussion paper on making schools more autonomous - and more accountable.

Advocates of greater school autonomy say handing over more decision-making authority to school communities would improve the outcomes for pupils.

Critics see the dangers of it becoming a stalking horse for less money for education, with principals tied up in bureaucracy and industrial relations negotiations rather than being an education leader, and creating a system driven by the narrow measure of results.

The primary teachers' union has also sent a clear message to the Government that it wants immediate negotiations on reversing austerity-era pay cuts, including ending lower pay scales for teachers recruited since 2011.

There was unanimous support for a motion demanding pay restoration, although the INTO did not go as far as second-level union the ASTI.

The ASTI yesterday set a deadline of August 31 for meaningful progress before it considers strike action.

The third teachers' union, the TUI, already has a mandate for strike action on this issue.

INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said that the attack on the pay of young workers, including new teachers, was "one part of the enormous price paid by Irish citizens for that grubby deal devised by Fianna Fáil and implemented by Fine Gael/Labour".

She said: "Young workers in particular paid the price for the lunacy of the banks and the Government's mismanagement of the crisis through lower salaries, reduced employment opportunities, inferior pension schemes and shameful, so-called employment schemes like JobBridge."

She said a new government wishing to draw a line under what had happened to date must declare an end to austerity for the next generation.

The INTO conference also adopted a motion rejecting the discussion document on school autonomy and threatening industrial action including strike, if necessary, to oppose it.

The sort of changes envisaged in the document would load extra responsibilities onto principals and boards of management and put a greater focus on school performance in terms of both student outcomes and how money is spent.

Schools would be given annual budgets, to which they must adhere, while they would have to compete with other schools for any extra funding.

Decentralising decision-making powers to schools could allow principals and boards to set pay rates for their staff and give schools more control over the curriculum.

Critics say that in some countries where greater school autonomy was introduced, such as Sweden, the results were negative because it led to greater inequality.

Advancing school autonomy is close to the heart of Fine Gael - and the discussion paper arose from a proposal in the last programme for government.

INTO executive member Pat Crowe said if the Government wanted to give schools autonomy "by giving us money to replace redundant laptops, that will be fine".

"But autonomy which is a euphemism for the transfer of responsibility and accountability away from the Department of Education and onto schools is not acceptable."

Una Feeley, from Roscommon, said the discussion document was about "offloading decisions on the funding and resourcing of staffing from the Department of Education".

Irish Independent

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