The Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn, was heckled by teachers holding red cards as he addressed the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation at their annual conference in Cork.
Briefly touching on the issue of the Croke Park Agreement, Quinn said that the proposals were “very challenging” for members. He criticised the role that certain organisations had played in seeking to “undermine the role played by trade unions in negotiating these proposals.”
Touching on which way the union should vote, the education minister simply said the following:
While I respect the fact that your ballot is currently underway, you will understand that I have a responsibility as a member of this Government to commend the proposals to you. I await the outcome of your ballot in two weeks’ time.
Croke Park Agreement
Speaking earlier on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Quinn said that understood that the Croke Park Agreement was a “very big ask of the public service”.
On the issue of whether government would seek to force the cuts through via legislation should a ‘No’ vote win out, Quinn said that it was up to individual union members to “look at what’s on the table and to make a choice that makes sense to them”.
“We will respect whatever decision is made and we’ll move forward from then on, but we’re not going to stand and say ‘if you don’t do this, we’ll do that’,” he said. “That’s not the way we do business in this government.”
Drawing comparisons with the country’s private sector, Quinn said that the current proposals before unions represented a “relatively modest reduction in the overall public pay bill. A reduction that many people sadly in the private sector have had imposed on them and they were never consulted about whether they would have it or not.”
The remainder of the address by the minister focused on primary education in Ireland today. Speaking of “improved outcomes”, he said that more needed to be done than to “simply preserve the status quo”.
I am aware that there are concerns that too much change is being asked of the system at the present time. But we must find the right balance between transformative change, and retention of the best of the present system.
Literacy and numeracy
Quinn said that despite the core skills of numeracy and literacy being fundamental to a “person’s life chances”, work still needed to be done in this area.
Referring to the National Literacy and Numeracy strategy that was published in July 2011, he said that more time was being spent on these skills in the classroom as a result.
Describing the introduction of School Self-Evaluations (SSE) as “one of the biggest changes unveiled since we last met”, Quinn said that their adoption required a “considerable change in the culture of our schools”.
“They will require an openness to asking challenging questions about practice and standards,” he said, adding that they would lead to a “higher level of transparency for the school community.”
Referring to Section 37 (1) of the Employment Equality Act 1998, the education minister said that LGBT people should not be deterred from being employed as teachers and that amended legislation to reflect this had been accepted by government.
“This legislation will now proceed to committee stage in the Seanad, and I hope it will become law before we meet again,” he said.
I look forward to seeing an end to this discrimination, and I pay tribute to the INTO for ensuring that this matter remains on the political agenda.
Patronage and bullying
Continuing the theme of respecting diversity, the education minister said that the issue of school patronage remained a priority for government.
On the subject of bullying, the minister had this to say:
Bullying is an issue of concern to both parents and teachers. We simply cannot, as a society, ignore this growing and evolving problem. We must work together – citizens, parents, teachers, students, and the broader school community, to create positive cultures, where diversity is embraced, and not reviled.
In conclusion, Quinn said that he planned to hold a Ministerial policy debate at the EU Council of Education Ministers in May, under the Irish Presidency.
The minister is due to address the annual conference of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland in Wexford later today.