Thursday 22 February 2018

Minister's bag almost empty of goodies

John Walshe

THEY used to be known as the Easter 'goodies', those announcements of more teaching jobs, funding for new buildings or some other worthwhile educational initiative.

No teacher conference in pre-recessionary times was complete without its share of goodies from the visiting education minister.

But not any more. Mary Coughlan has little to give away in her inaugural tour of the conferences this week.

Well, two of the three conferences at any rate, as the ASTI 180-member executive -- surely, one of the largest executives in the trade-union world -- has decided not to invite any minister, such is the level of anger at the Government.

It will inevitably be called a baptism of fire for the new Education Minister and she will need all of the latter to get through her visits unscathed to the INTO congress tomorrow morning in Galway and the TUI on Wednesday in Ennis.

But so too will the INTO leadership, which faces some tough questioning from disgruntled members over rushing in to recommend acceptance of the Kieran Mulvey-negotiated revised pay deal.

Mulvey, who is now the chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission, has come a long way since his left-wing student days.

If the deal squeaks home, he will be the toast of a beleaguered government trying to reassure overseas investors and bankers about our economy. Whatever about such lofty consideration, it will be a hard sell even among the moderates who say the deal smacks too much of a "live, horse, and you'll eat grass" approach.

What might help is some reassurance from the minister that her officials won't throw the kitchen sink into the negotiations on a revised teaching contract which is due before next September.

The stated aim is to "identify and remove any impediments to the provision of efficient and effective teaching to students in all sectors" and it might help if teachers had a look at the pig in the poke (bag) before they buy it.

The one small 'goodie' teachers are expecting this week is some announcement on the moratorium which will cause such havoc in second-level schools if it is not eased.

Most of the schools have lost middle-management posts and are set to lose more before the autumn.

A minimum number of middle management posts will be needed if the schools are all to reopen in the autumn.

It's a tough time for Mary Coughlan to make her mark on Irish education.

Irish Independent

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