THE GOVERNMENT’S revision of the Covid-19 vaccine programme is expected to be the subject of discussions and possible motions as the annual conferences of Irish teaching unions get under way today.
The Government recently announced changes to the vaccination rollout plan once the most vulnerable and people over 70 have been inoculated, with vaccination then proceeding based on age rather than prioritising essential workers.
The decision has been widely criticised, particularly by teaching unions. A strong debate is expected on this issue at the annual conferences of the three teacher unions over the next two days.
An Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) spokesperson told The Echo: “There may be a motion added in response to the changes to vaccine prioritisation.”
Outgoing Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) president Ann Piggott told The Echo that many teachers were shocked by the announcement.
She said a lot of older teachers with underlying conditions were worried about returning to classrooms after the Easter holidays.
It is just one of a number of contentious issues to be discussed as the INTO, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), and ASTI hold their conferences.
Outgoing INTO president Mary Magner will criticise “a decade of neglect” by the Department of Education when she delivers her presidential address today at the INTO congress.
The Cork native will be critical of a decade of underinvestment in both primary and special schools, which she believes left Ireland more exposed than other nations when Covid hit.
Ms Magner will pinpoint levels of GDP spend on primary education and compare Irish classes sizes to those elsewhere in Europe. She will lead calls for a change of approach to education funding and policy post-Covid.
During the course of her address, Ms Magner is expected to condemn the Government for failing to provide support for overworked principals. She also intends to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives, while praising the teachers of Ireland for stepping up.
Ms Magner will demand an end to the mortarium on posts of responsibility. She is also expected to insist that critical support be given to school principals.
Among the issues to be debated at the INTO congress are the retention of leadership and management days (one per week) for teaching principals, and the retention and expansion of the supply panel network to cover all primary and special schools.
INTO members will also be seeking a minimum of a one-point reduction in class size each year over the lifetime of the Government (five years) to bring them to the EU average of 20:1, including annual class size decreases for disadvantaged schools (Deis band one schools).
The congress is also likely to call for further investment and services to be provided for children with additional needs in mainstream classes, special classes and special schools, including a significant increase in National Educational Psychological Service services.
At the ASTI conference, motions proposing the adoption of a class size limit, Leaving Certificate review, junior cycle reform, job prospects and pay for young teachers are all expected to feature prominently.
One motion will propose minimum working hours for part-time and newly qualified teachers.
“A lot of teachers also have other work, working in pubs and shops over the summer and during holidays, and that was the only work they could rely on,” Ms Piggott said. “Whereas now they don’t even have access to that type of work at the moment.
“For a new teacher looking for a permanent job, it is quite difficult.”
The ASTI has not invited Norma Foley, the education minister, to its annual congress.
The TUI congress opens this morning with an address by general secretary Michael Gillespie. Simon Harris, the further and higher education, research, innovation, and science minister, will speak this afternoon. His address will be followed by a response from TUI president Martin Marjoram.
Ahead of the conference, the TUI published findings of a survey of over 1,000 members.
Mr Marjoram said the survey results highlight the continuing negative effects of pay discrimination on the profession.
“Of those respondents employed from 2011 onwards, 42% believe, as it stands now, that they will still be in the profession in 10 years’ time, while 29% do not believe they will be in the profession at that point, while 29% said that they didn’t know,” he said.
“However, if pay discrimination was to be fully resolved, 74% believe they will still be in the profession in 10 years’ time, while 8% do not believe that they will be [and] 18% said that they didn’t know.
“This shows the continuing corrosive effect that pay inequality, which sees those employed after 2011 earning less than their colleagues, is having on the perception of the profession, which is also borne out by an 8% drop in applications for second-level teacher training courses through the CAO this year.”
TUI said the survey findings also make clear that teachers believed additional supports would be needed next year to assist those students who may have struggled with the move to emergency remote teaching.
Concerns around a growing drift towards bureaucracy in schools that deflects from teaching and learning were also expressed.