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Sinead Ryan: It's time for teachers to do their fair share

APART from the weather you'd nearly think you're in the middle of the summer holidays. From school, that is. It's what, now? Week three? Four? The uniforms have been washed and ironed for nearly a month, in some cases, waiting for the kids to return.

The snow, of course, was the culprit. Or the ice. Or the cold. Anyway, something that didn't prevent most of us from going to work, prevented our kids from going to school.

That emergency text messaging system was great altogether. There you'd be, having your shower, getting the lunch-boxes packed and a text would beep telling you school was closed again.


Funny thing is, though -- I'm waiting on the one which tells me that due to the adverse weather and early closure of schools in December, they're going to make up for it this week by opening on Tuesday. And no, I'm not holding my breath.

Whatever about this year's weather calamity, isn't it the case that two weeks off at Christmas is simply too long? The mid-term break will be upon us before long and then Easter. It's easier to count the weeks in school than out sometimes.

These four days this week don't just constitute the remainder of the Christmas break for children and teachers, they also count as four full days' annual leave for the parents who have to take time off from all the other jobs that return on Tuesday, to mind their children. Apart from TDs, it is only teachers who are not returning to gainful employment this week -- isn't it time they got with the programme?

We're aiming for a Smart Economy. The notion has almost become a cliche. And yet the Government is piling money into areas like Science Foundation Ireland -- which sees an almost unheard of increase in its budget for 2011, to ensure that the taxpayers of the future are the ones that will lead the way in the world.

And yet, where some argue it really counts -- at primary and secondary level, kids will spend yet another productive week with their X-Boxes.

I have no doubt there are some principals and teachers who would be happy to return to school early -- they have a busy curriculum to get through and, especially at second level, exam pupils who cannot afford to miss a single day. Many struggled through despite the snow and kept the schools open, or found imaginative ways to teach remotely.

For the majority though, it was doors closed, tough luck and Sayonara. I read some interesting online observations from teachers along the lines of: "they better not think we're coming back early" and "great -- another few days for shopping", which pretty much sums up the thinking in some quarters.

The much vaunted 'Standardised School Year', which was introduced amid enormous pressure and lobbying and over a protracted period -- I know, I brought a child through the entire primary school system waiting on it -- means that principals have far less flexibility than they used to.

In return for benchmarking (or the 'ATM machine', as some unions referred to it with a smirk), teachers were required to all take their holidays at the same time. This helped parents with children at different schools hugely, but it allows no discretion when events such as snow or flooding occur, as they did twice during 2010.

At present, primary schools are required to teach 183 days a year. This leaves precisely 182 days when they are not. In a lucky leap year, it's an even match. Allowing for weekends, it means that there are 77 days (or over 15 weeks) holidays. That is simply no longer tenable in the current environment, either for teachers or pupils.


A vast, articulate and aggressive lobby group, it's no wonder that politicians always run shy of teachers. As the only other working body with more holidays, why wouldn't they?

But isn't it time we stood up to the school system? If we expect our new graduates to be more business-like, then why not our teachers?

With an election coming up, I'll be pleased to asked vote-seekers how they feel about tackling the issue: head on or run away? If the rest of us are working harder, smarter and longer, then surely our kids deserve to learn that lesson from the word go?