The new president of the Association of Secondary School Teachers of Ireland is Wexford woman Deirdre MacDonald.
Ms. MacDonald, a maths and SPHE teacher at the CBS secondary school in Wexford town, began her term of office last week and is based full-time at the ASTI head office in Dublin. She served as vice-president last year of the union which represents approximately 17,000 second level teachers.
She was elected president at the annual conference held in Clayton Whites Hotel in Wexford in April, becoming the first Wexford person to lead the organisation in almost 40 years. The previous Wexford president was former colleague, the late Tony Boland.
As well as being involved in education, the Gorey native who lives in Enniscorthy, is an expert in health promotion, specialising in mental health and workplace health promotion. She has worked on national and European health projects and addressed international conferences on the issues.
She is a founding member of the County Wexford Meitheal Alliance, a peer mentoring programme which helps support first year students in their first few months of secondary school and builds leadersyhip skills in the student mentors.
A member of the ASTI since first joining the teaching profession, she has been an activist at local and national level. She was chairperson of the Wexford Education Network for three years.
In her first address as ASTI president, Ms. MacDonald said that tackling the deterioration in teachers' working conditions and the inequitable pay of recent entrants to the profession, is essential to maintaining a high standard second-level education system.
Ms. MacDonald said second-level teachers have experienced a considerable worsening of their terms and conditions over the past 10 years.
'Pay cuts for existing teachers and the inequitable treatment of newer entrants to the profession have resulted in widespread teacher shortages. Since 2010, teachers entering the teaching profession are on different pay scales than their colleagues and lose out substantially over the duration of their careers.'
'Schools are experiencing severe difficulties recruiting teachers as graduates leave the country or choose other careers', she said.
The teachers' leader said cuts to funding and resources in second level educaton came at a time when major changes were thrust upon schools.
'Many of these changes are ongoing and involve significant additional workload and responsibilities for teachers. They have been implemented without any consideration of their impact on the welfare of teachers.'
According to Ms. MacDonald, research commissioned by the ASTI found a worrying decline in teacher morale and provides evidence that workload and work pressures have become unsustainable for second-level teachers.She stressed the ASTI wants to ensure a continuation of the quality education that generations of Irish students have received but unless the issues facing teachers are addressed, the country's young people will not get the world class education they deserve.