500 teachers set to meet in Cork

As 500 second-level teachers prepare to gather in Cork for their annual convention, ASTI President Eamon Dennehy outlines what key issues will be discussed in the coming days
500 teachers set to meet in Cork

The pandemic, teaching as a career, conditions, and the Leaving Cert are up for discussion at the ASTI convention this week in Cork. Picture: Stock

MORE than 500 second-level teachers from schools all over Ireland will come together in Cork’s Clayton Hotel Silver Springs tomorrow, April 19, for the ASTI’s three-day Annual Convention. Our first face-to-face Convention in three years, it provides the perfect opportunity for the ASTI to re-ignite our key pre-pandemic education campaigns.

In 2021, the OECD report Education at a Glance ranked Ireland in last place out of 36 countries in terms of government expenditure on second-level education as a percentage of GDP. In Ireland, the chronic and on-going lack of investment in schools has resulted in large classes, lack of access to specialist services (such as Guidance Counselling and psychological supports), skeleton management structures in schools, high teacher workload and teacher shortages.

Over the coming days, delegates at the ASTI Convention will debate these issues in detail.

Pandemic lessons

The pandemic, including periods of school closures highlighted the important role schools play in the lives of children and young people. In March 2020, teachers and their students had to transition to remote teaching and learning overnight. While school communities all over the country rose to this challenge, the 2020 lockdown exposed and worsened significant educational inequalities.

Since then, the ASTI has called for every possible step to be taken to ensure schools can be kept open in a safe manner, so that disruption for students is minimised.

We acknowledge that additional funding and resources made available to schools during this period has helped schools in their efforts. However, if schools are now to ensure students can move on from the pandemic, we cannot go back to pre-pandemic levels of staff and funding. At the very least, the extra resources given to schools during the pandemic must become permanent.

Making teaching attractive

Second-level schools have been experiencing difficulties recruiting teachers for a number of years. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic. This is extremely concerning. As stated above, students have already suffered as a result of disruption due to the pandemic. A recent survey by RED C, commissioned by the ASTI, found that most schools (93%) have experienced difficulties recruiting teachers in the current school year. A majority of schools (55%) currently have unfilled vacancies; indeed (84%) per cent of principals surveyed said they have experienced situations where no teacher applied for an advertised post in their school this year. Now that the students are back in their classrooms, they need their teachers. Much more needs to be done to ensure that teaching is made attractive again.

Entry into second-level teaching is a demoralising experience for young teachers due to unequal pay and precarious contracts. At the ASTI Convention delegates will call for an end to unequal pay. Other motions at Convention will seek to tackle the cost of qualifying as a teacher. Second-level teaching normally requires a degree and a Professional Master of Education (PME). For the majority of teachers this means a qualifying period involving approximately six years.

The cost of the PME over two years is estimated to be in the region of €10,000 - €15,000.

Student teachers are required to undertake classroom teaching practice, but do not receive any pay/ allowance. The high cost of qualifying together with a two-year time commitment, impacts on the attractiveness of teaching as a career and is a barrier to diversity within the profession.

Teaching conditions

Teachers’ working conditions influence students’ learning conditions. A recent global report found that teacher workload increased during school lock downs and did not reduce when schools re-opened. This is very concerning for a career that is already known for stress and burnout. Teaching is a highly relational activity. Teachers teach up to 200 students a week. In Ireland second level teachers spend more time in the classroom with their students than the OECD average. As well as this, teachers undertake at least the same level of non-teaching duties as their OECD counterparts.

Leaving Cert

Our Convention takes place just weeks after the surprise announcement by the Minister for Education Norma Foley on her plans for Senior Cycle and the Leaving Cert. Teachers know only too well that changes to education policy can have far reaching implications for students, the education system and society. Teachers’ voice is key to any curriculum change process, as is the use of sound scientific research and evidence. Our Convention will allow teachers from all over Ireland to give their views on the Minister’s plans and discuss how they will respond.

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