Over 5000 Teachers in the Line of Fire

Teacher - Budget CutsTeachers pay and allowances is always a contentious issue. The lengthy holidays with a working week of nearly half the hours of private sector workers have always made teachers and their perceived ‘perks’ a target for debate. Teachers themselves find it equally emotive and tiring; defending a profession that is day by day losing its credibility.

Some said it was just a matter of time; when it was announced that more than 5,000 teachers face losing their allowances under a government review. This is despite a European Commission report that found that Irish teachers’ pay has been among the worst affected by cuts to education systems across 34 countries.

What is up for the sharp blade of the government’s budget cut? An expected target is an allowance of between €532 and €1,572 paid to more than 2,750 primary and post-primary principals. In addition to this possible cut are principals who are in receipt of a payment for acting as secretary to the school board of management. The similar payment of an allowance to principals acting as secretary to a board of management in an Institute of Technology is also under review. Finally, special allowances paid to teachers who teach through the Irish language, work in the Gaeltacht or who work on an island, face possible abolition. Not an easy subsidy to let go of, especially if it is worth €3,063 to about 780 primary and post-primary teachers.

To-date, these seem to be the priority cuts to make but of course all is still pending on discussion with the Trade Unions involved. However, this is now good news for a profession that is continually a media target when it comes to the public versus private sector pay debate, with the latter winning out most of the time.  The teaching profession seems to have a difficulty mending the perforation causes by years of cuts and attacks which have gone a long way to lessen their once well-established credibility.

Teachers who have started work since the beginning of 2011 started on 13% less than their fellow teachers. Those appointed since last February faced a further 20% drop on foot of suspended qualification and other allowances. However these have subsequently been halted for anybody who started teaching after last February as part of last month’s public service allowance review. A new revised salary scale for new teachers has now marginally reduced the overall impact of the cuts. The starting pay of any new teacher since February 1 is €30,702; this is in contrast to €32,240 for those who started between Jan 2011 and that date, and €37,000 for new teachers in 2010.

The three unions representing teachers are preparing an equality case on behalf of those who started last year on the grounds of unfair treatment due to age, which they hope could make the campaign to reverse the cuts easier. Their strong argument is based on a question of fairness – that people doing the same job are on different pay rates.

It is hard to see how this profession will continue to attract a certain calibre of staff; which is a vision held by the Minister for Education’s – to attract prestigious graduates into teaching to drive the economy forward. The on-going attack on their wages and on their credibility will in essence drive a certain cohort away from this profession.

The reality is: a full time teacher may work 22 hours a week (the actual contact time between the teacher and his/her pupils or school); this does not take into account the actual preparation time that goes into every class. Afterall subject inspectors at any given time can enter a class and correlate a teachers planning folder with the contents of students’ copies. The 22 hours does not include: pastoral time that many teachers give for free to pupils in need and more so in the absence of the guidance provision of times gone by; time given to extra-curricular activities, and teacher & parent meetings.

Yes, the government has to make cuts, and when one considers that 80% of government spending is taken swallowed up by education, health and social welfare – it is difficult for any profession especially as large as the teaching one to escape this budget.

There will always be those in the media and private sector who will continue their campaign to challenge teachers. Many teachers would welcome them into a class of teenagers, of mixed ability, or in the case of some primary schools – mixed year classes and say: ‘see how you get on’. Perhaps public sympathy might sway more towards the teachers if the media reported their findings on a day spent in such a classroom.

For now, yes, the cuts are imminent. It will be interesting to see if the CAO Teaching Courses be in as much demand after this next much feared budget?

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