Teachers need action on pay amid cost-of-living crisis, Minister for Education told

Norma Foley spoke to the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) conference in Kerry on Tuesday
Teachers need action on pay amid cost-of-living crisis, Minister for Education told

By Dominic McGrath, PA

The Minister for Education has been urged to tackle a host of crises facing primary schools.

In particular, Norma Foley was told that teachers are struggling to make ends meet amid rising prices and pressure on households.

Ms Foley spoke to the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) conference in Kerry on Tuesday, where she praised the work of school staff during the pandemic.

She also said she was confident that schools in Ireland would now rise to the challenge of welcoming Ukrainian refugees into their classrooms.

“Chastened, but not beaten by the pandemic, Ireland like the rest of the world is coming through a collective trauma,” she told primary school teachers.

“I would particularly like to pay tribute to the remarkable role of school staff and management for their unstinting efforts over the last two years.”

Ms Foley spoke of her efforts to improve pupil-teacher ratios in Irish schools and of plans to create “more digitally-aware schools”.

The Education Minister was speaking as she unveiled an extension to a languages programme for primary schools, with the Say Yes to Languages module now running from six to eight weeks.

The module, Ms Foley told teachers, can also be used to support incoming refugees by teaching or incorporating Ukrainian into Irish classrooms.

“My department is working with all relevant authorities, education partners and school communities to ensure Ukrainian children of school-going age arriving are provided with access to appropriate supports to allow them to continue their education in Ireland.

“Our schools are already welcoming children who have arrived from Ukraine. It is yet another testament to the well-earned reputation of schools to be inclusive, welcoming and nurturing places in our communities.”

Coronavirus
Schools in the Republic of Ireland faced various pressures during the pandemic, the conference heard (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ms Foley also addressed growing concerns among teachers about the impact of inflation and the rising cost of living.

Fresh talks on a possible new public sector pay deal will take place later this month and Ms Foley told the audience that the Government “is strongly aware of the cost-of-living pressure being felt across all of society at the moment”.

She added: “It is of the utmost importance to me personally and to this Government that we achieve a fairer, more inclusive and compassionate society and that spirit should also pervade our schools.”

But after her speech, the head of INTO rebuked Ms Foley over ongoing Government failings, with the education minister hearing a demand for a pay increase for primary teachers.

INTO general secretary John Boyle received repeated bursts of applause as he namechecked key concerns facing teachers.

“There has been a lot of talk about a return to normal. Normal assumes everything was fine before crisis hit. This was certainly not the case,” he told delegates.

“Four years ago, Richard Bruton, then-minister for education, stood here and declared that Ireland would have the best education system in Europe by 2026.

“Music to the ears of our delegates. It was then and is now an ambition we share.

“But there were many missed opportunities during Mr Bruton’s time in office, and you will find our delegates here today this morning will be moved more by action than by oratory.”

Mr Boyle said that it should not have taken a pandemic to deliver increased funding for school cleaning, while stressing that the lack of ICT resources was a concern only recently addressed by the Government.

While he praised the response from Ms Foley and her officials to trade unions’ concerns during the pandemic, Mr Boyle also issued several stern warnings to the minister.

“We are slowly emerging from a pandemic, but Covid-19 hasn’t gone away. We are in a new phase, and we must ensure we continue to do what we can to protect our schools.

“We must resolve to never again leave our education systems so exposed.”

He also said that Irish children “deserve nothing less” than smaller class sizes.

He spoke frankly about the impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on teachers and warned that the current pay agreement will “collapse very very soon” if not improved upon.

Teachers, he said, need a “pay uplift”.

“This week we are more worried about our members’ ability to make ends meet than we have been for a long, long time.

“Our members have struggled to cope with the rising cost of living, and they have been locked out of affordable housing as rents skyrocketed by another 10% last year.

“When the (pay) agreement was negotiated 16 months ago, inflation was below 2% and was not expected to rise. Inflation has now spiralled out of control.”

“Every teacher’s household is feeling the pinch,” he said.

“Yet, our members are promised a measly 1% uplift next October. That’s only a quarter of a per cent for 2022. It will not suffice.

“This agreement that we’re in is no longer fit for purpose and if it is not improved upon quickly, it is due to collapse very very soon.”

Mr Boyle told the minister that his union will “demand a fair pay uplift to give our members respite from runaway prices and to protect their living standards”.

“We will fight tooth and nail to get this in the south and in the north.

“Praise, acknowledgement, and gratitude no longer have currency, minister – we’re in a cost-of-living crisis, our members must be able to live.”

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