FUNDING must be provided in Budget 2021 to ensure that health-and-safety measures are in place in schools across Ireland during the pandemic, says Ann Piggott, the president of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) and a member of the Cork South union branch.
Speaking to The Echo, Ann Piggott highlighted the importance of greater funding in education, particularly in light of the Covid-19 crisis.
Meanwhile, the decade-long battle for equal pay for teachers also rages on.
“Teachers want enhanced funding in education to ensure continued health-and-safety measures in schools,” said Ms Piggott.
“Money also has to be made available to finally address the issue of equal pay for equal work.
“Students and teachers need to be provided with digital equipment for any remote learning which may be necessary during closures, either in individual schools or during further lockdowns,” she added.
“We want to see provisions for teachers in the high-risk category to either teach from home or have guaranteed, reasonable accommodations made in schools.”
Covid-19 has resulted in drastic changes in schools and the work environment for teachers is hugely different.
Ms Piggott said government funding must reflect this fact.
“As a result of Covid-19, schools are changed workplaces for staff,” she said.
“The Government must commit to funding to cover essentials to ease fears for the safety of students and staff and, subsequently, everyone in local communities.
“Guaranteed, rapid test times for teachers and pupils is an absolute necessity, as is protective equipment for those in close contact with students,” Ms Piggott said.
“Serial testing should be introduced; positive cases are being reported in schools.
“Testing is required, as many students will not exhibit symptoms, but may transmit the virus.
“Close contacts must be tested sooner and sufficient funding has to be provided for rapid test turnaround times, as well as social distancing in all classrooms, and we continually request perspex around desks, as a basic necessity.”
Ms Piggott has represented Cork ASTI for the past number of years and said she is aware of the accommodation and overcrowding issues in schools in the region.
In the midst of a pandemic, these issues need to be addressed urgently, Ms Piggott said.
“Having represented Cork ASTI members in recent years, I am aware of the impact of under-investment on local schools and students,” she said.
“Many schools accommodate a student cohort which is much greater than the number the building was originally designed for.
“Extensions to existing buildings is a priority for overcrowded schools,” she added.
“Older schools have experienced problems in maintaining social distancing in classrooms, on corridors and stairs, or implementing one-way systems.
“Newer schools have the advantage of more space and better conditions to adapt to requirements, but if they are overcrowded, obvious problems exist.”
Ms Piggott said that the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of quality education, and of investing in it.
“It is, therefore, essential that the Government commits to a significant increase in investment in education in Budget 2021, so that Ireland is no longer last out of OECD countries for the percentage of GDP it invests in second-level education,” she said.
“In 2017, Ireland invested 1.1% of GDP in second-level education, compared to the OECD and EU averages of 1.9%.
“Overall, Ireland invested 3.4% of GDP in primary, second-, and third-level education in 2017, compared to the OECD average of 4.9% and EU average of 4.5%,” Ms Piggott said.
Equal pay has been among the priorities of teachers’ unions in recent years.
Ms Piggott said it is still one of the main issues and that it has compounded the teacher shortage.
“The ASTI has been demanding equal pay for equal work for the past 10 years,” she said.
“The inequality must be finally addressed and pay discrimination experienced by post-2010 teachers must end.”
“The anomalies which exist have resulted in younger teachers going abroad to find work which is better-paid and permanent,” Ms Piggott said.
“The combination of full hours and a sense of comparable financial appreciation is more attractive than lesser pay in precarious positions with no job security,” she added.
“This is the main issue the Government must address.
“The current teacher shortage is a consequence of pay inequality.”
Ms Piggott said significant investment in education is needed in the upcoming budget.
“We want to see a significant increase in investment in education as a percentage of GDP.
“This investment should include equal pay for post-2010 entrants to teaching, quality laptops for all second-level students and teachers, and investment to ensure Covid-safe schools.”