'Cowboy builder Quinn's attacks are destroying teacher morale'
A PRIMARY teachers' leader has attacked Education Minister Ruairi Quinn for "talking down" the education system and compared him to a "cowboy builder exaggerating the state of disrepair in a job to give a misleading impression of his own work".
Brendan O'Sullivan said he had never seen teachers so demoralised and disheartened.
He said the low morale was as a result of an overly negative commentary on education as well as the impact of cutbacks on teachers' salaries and on school resources.
The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) president singled out Mr Quinn as an "overly negative critic" and warned that he was contributing to the huge demoralisation among teachers.
The INTO leader said the truth was that Ireland's primary system was performing well and was among the best in the world.
"It is not perfect and there is always room for improvement but there is much that is positive to celebrate," he said.
Mr O'Sullivan made his comments in his opening address to the INTO annual conference last night. Mr Quinn will address the conference today.
The INTO president's criticism comes against a backdrop of six years of austerity, which has seen cuts in pay and conditions for teachers as well as a stripping away of school resources.
A survey published today by the INTO details how primary teachers are feeling overstretched and undervalued.
The survey of 3,000 teachers found that one in four say they do not have the resources to do their job properly.
Half of the teachers say they don't have enough time for additional non-teaching duties and responsibilities, while only one in seven believes the Department of Education takes their professional opinions into account when making policy.
Researchers from the University of Nottingham also found nearly two-thirds of primary teachers are dissatisfied with their pay and conditions.
The issues teachers considered as most important in their school lives were having adequate teaching and learning resources, having appropriate pay and conditions, having their opinions valued in school, feeling satisfied with career development and having time to carry out non-teaching duties.
Mr O'Sullivan told the conference that a major problem was the range of initiatives imposed on schools over the past few years.
"There is no need to micro-manage what is happening at school level. You have employed us to do a job. Trust us to do it," he said. He said it was hard to see how schools that were struggling to make ends meet during the good times could overcome the deficit in finances left by the withdrawal or reduction of a range of grants.
Mr O'Sullivan also criticised the failure of Government to invest in school computing at primary level.
He said small schools had endured class size increases over the last two years and this aspect of government policy was wrecking havoc.
On the issue of pay cuts and the Haddington Road agreement, the INTO leader warned that "we neither forget nor forgive those who brought it to us and, in so doing, blatantly broke faith with the previous Croke Park agreement".
He said the Government had a long way to go to erase those memories.
"If you do not move quickly to equalise pay and to make restoration of the cuts we have had to endure, be sure of one thing, we will remember you for it. We have long memories."