Republican News · Thursday 16 March 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Scapegoating the teachers

Government adopts bullying tactics on PPF

Whole school evaluation and performance related pay are all part of an agenda to blame teachers for the failure of education policy and appalling illiteracy rates
Teachers in two of the three teachers' unions, the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), which organises primary school teachers, and the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) representing post-primary schools and colleges, are balloting over these next few days on the 26-County Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF). The third teachers' union, the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI), withdrew from the talks to renegotiate a pay deal and submitted a 30% pay claim. In response, Bertie Ahern, with quite extraordinary arrogance, said at the end of February that he would not talk to unions outside of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

This week, the campaign went into high gear with the president of the INTO, Joe O'Toole, widely exhorting teachers to vote in favour of the deal. Only last week, the new Minister for Education, Michael Woods, backed him up with the threat that if teachers opposed the deal, then the government's offer of 1,500 extra teachers would be off.

Not just about pay

Opposition to the PPF amongst the TUI and INTO membership is strong. The agreement offers 5.5% gross pay increases for the first two years and 4% for the last nine months of the deal. The proposed increases are meagre in relation to inflation, which has already hit 4% and is expected to climb.

Teachers' unions recognise they got left behind in the PCW package, and mandated their union executives to negotiate a ``catch-up'' of at least a 5% increase before they started talking about a new deal. As it is, the catch up deal offered by the PPF is 3% and is not payable until October 2000.

Many teachers were disgusted. So much so that two elected members of the TUI executive, Mary Friel and Eddie Conlon, took their executive to court because, they argued, TUI officials had circulated a special newsletter calling on teachers to support the deal, when the leadership had been mandated by its Congress to put both sides of any issue on which there was a union ballot.

Justice Lavan, however, who heard the case, said that he considered the unions had ``negotiated an outstanding resolution'' of the members' pay requirements, and dismissed the application.

But despite what the teachers consider to be ridiculously low increases in pay, opposition to the PPF has not centred on pay so much as on a new approach to pay bargaining and above all fears that the proffered agreement sneaks in performance related pay through the back door.

The final 4% of the deal is conditional on a performance indicator, in this case that each school must engage in school planning and every college develop a `performance management system'.

Pay bargaining for teachers in the past was based on relativities amongst those who work in the public service. This new deal introduces the concept of `benchmarking', where teachers' pay is to be compared with conditions of those who work in industry. ``But how can productivity or performance, notions which relate to industry, be measured in teaching, unless of course it comes down to measuring the points that students accrue in the junior cert or leaving certs?'' asks school principal Owen Carron. ``Is this what education is about?''

Whole School Evaluation

The final 4% pay increase of the agreement for teachers is conditional on the school having a plan. Harmless enough, it would seem. But this lays the groundwork for the introduction of Whole School Evaluation (WSE), which the unions are very unhappy about. Members of the TUI mandated their executive at their last congress not to cooperate with it.

``The school plan provides a shared long-term vision for the school. It establishes priorities for action and provides mechanisms for reviewing progress. WSE can build on the school plan for a comparative evaluation of current learning and teaching in the school. School development planning and WSE can be seen as complementary and inextricably linked.'' Thus reads the Departmental report on the WSE pilot project run in schools last year.

Most teachers are intractably opposed to Whole School Evaluation. They see WSE as a first step down the road to league tables of schools, based on exam results. They see it as being divisive of good relations between staff, where one staff member must assess another's teaching performance, and above all they see it as following the disastrous pattern of education in England, where teachers can opt for pay increments by joining a scheme for evaluation of their teaching. In England, if teachers don't opt to be assessed, then they don't get the pay increase.

The fact that league tables take account of only one dimension of the school, the junior and leaving cert results, and ignore other aspects of the school, means inevitably that some schools will be classified as poor, second rate, schools for the ghetto, to which parents will struggle not to send their children. It also means that the performance of teachers in such schools, because their `results' are `poor', cannot be expected to earn the same pay, for their `poor performance' as their counterparts in the `good' schools.

Down the road, WSE, and with it performance related pay, are a recipe for taking the road to the British system, and as most teachers in both countries avow, to disaster.

Failure of Education

Some teachers argue that the attempt to introduce such a socially divisive system is to squeeze education into the competitive marketplace of Mary Harney's vision of the `New Enterprise' economy, a box in which education in its proper sense cannot fit.

Others see the project of introducing WSE and PRP as a way of scapegoating teachers with the problems which the appalling weakness of our education system has produced.

Ten per cent of the population is unable to read, and one in four of the population has functional illiteracy. Furthermore, the state has failed utterly to meet its target for 90% of students completing second-level education. So far, the completion rate is 81%, with nearly half the students in some schools leaving without sitting any public exam.

The fact that the Education Act, now before the Dáil, allows schools to expel children without making any provision for their continued education, is an indication of the government approach, like Michael Woods' threat to renege on the additional teachers promised.

Scapegoating the teachers

There are other major problems in education. There has been continuing delay in the introduction of new forms of assessment into the junior cert, to correct the injustice of a three-hour exam to assess over three years of education. The department wants to introduce these measures without allocating extra hours for the additional work involved.

In primary schools, there just isn't the time for training to implement the excellent new curriculum. The commitment in the PPF for additional teachers does not even specify the basis on which these new teachers will be allocated to schools. These failures come down to a lack of commitment to deal with disadvantage, and a lack of resources, in the form of teachers' hours, to enable small classes and flexibility in curricula and assessment.

It may be convenient for the parents or the minister to blame the failure of education on the `quality of teaching and learning' and to suggest that illiteracy rates, or completion rates, can be solved at a stroke by bullying teachers to support WSE and PRP and through competition between schools and teachers for pay.

These measures, however, just make the education system worse, and allow governments to continue to ignore the real problem, the lack of adequate resources to deal with disadvantage, in its many aspects, which stems from inequality in our society.

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