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INTO says 'scourge of supersized classes' should end, as teachers' unions to ask for pay increases

The two main teachers’ unions will be holding in-person conferences for the first time in two years today.

LAST UPDATE | 19 Apr 2022

THE ASTI TEACHERS’ union is to ask the Government for pay increases of between 6% and 8% to “compensate” for the rising cost of living, as the INTO called on the Minister for Education to end the “scourge” of overcrowded classrooms.

Minister Norma Foley told the INTO conference that there had “rightly” been a call for greater investment in education, ahead of fresh talks on a possible new public sector pay deal due to take place later this month.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie said that the planned pay increases for teachers of 1% in October, on top of the “ineffectual” increases teachers have had over the last couple of years, “won’t cut it” and ASTI teachers needed “a substantial” increase to “put teaching back on an even keel”. 

When asked whether industrial action could take place, Christie said “it’s too early to look at that” – but said the ASTI “certainly” wouldn’t be ruling it out.

The ASTI, a trade union of secondary-school teachers in Ireland, is holding its first in-person annual conference since the pandemic began. The union represents 18,000 secondary school teachers.

Ireland’s largest teachers’ union, the INTO, has held its first in-person teachers conference in two years. The INTO represents 50,000 members of primary school teachers in Ireland and primary and secondary school teachers in Northern Ireland.

General Secretary John Boyle called on Education Minister Norma Foley to address class sizes as part of this year’s budget.

“In Budget 2023, if you build on previous work and reduce class sizes by three
pupils – you will have, personally, ended the scourge of supersized classes. Our
children deserve nothing less.”

Boyle also said that its INTO members felt “badly let down” by the Government during the pandemic, and despite their work during the pandemic, “pay for teachers in the South increased by only 1% while members in the North received no increase at all”.

The INTO said that Irish primary schools receive significantly less funding than second and third level institutions – with primary schools receiving a capitation grant of €1 per pupil per school day to cover their running costs, compared to double for second-level.

It said in a statement:

The standard capitation grant per pupil has dropped from €200 in 2010 to €183 at present, in contrast to the current figure of €316 at post-primary level. This funding disparity is grossly unfair. Indeed, schools around the country are forced to fundraise to the tune of €46 million per annum to make up this shortfall.

Education Minister Norma Foley has addressed the INTO conference in Killarney this morning, and is to address the ASTI conference in Cork this afternoon. 

Speaking on Newstalk this morning, Foley stressed that the cost of living was affecting all students, and said that Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath is “more than happy” to continue a review of the Building Momentum pay agreement.

On Leaving Cert reform, Foley said: “We see best practice in the Baccalauréat in France, which is 40%, 50% in New Zealand, and almost all in Norway is teacher-assessed.” 

Reform of the Leaving Cert curriculum to include more continuous assessment, and how to best integrate the thousands of Ukrainian children who are arriving in Ireland are expected to be discussed, as well as the public-sector pay deal.

Speaking in Kerry, Minister Foley 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 can be used to support incoming refugees by teaching or incorporating Ukrainian into Irish classrooms, Foley told INTO teachers.

Foley also praised the work of school staff during the pandemic, and thanked teachers for their efforts in welcoming and integrating Ukrainian children to Irish classes.

Christie praised the model where an independent teacher assesses students’ exams, and that the Department would be “tinkering with that at their peril”. He also said that Minister Foley hasn’t explained how continuous assessment would be less stressful for students, and called on her to explain that argument. 

“We think it’s very important to protect the integrity and validity of what is highly regarded State certification process. We would point out that the Minister has brought forward a proposal based on a report by the NCCA who did not advise her to go down the route she has chosen.”

He said that the proposal would be considered this week.

The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) annual congress is taking place in Co Wexford before 500 delegates this afternoon, raising pay issues, the cost of living, and the reform of the Leaving Cert. 

In a statement, the TUI said teachers who moved outside the M50 in search of affordable homes or affordable rents “now find the cost of fuel prohibitive in making the necessary daily commute to work. It is costing them a lot to go to work. We await a meaningful response from Government on the issue”. 

The issue of pay discrimination was also raised – where newly-qualified teachers were on less money than other teachers. The TUI has claimed that members have agreed to forgo a 1% pay increase to end the pay gap between the two groups.

“This crass opposition by DPER to resolution of the scourge of pay discrimination must stop now, not least because pay discrimination remains a central cause of the teacher recruitment and retention crisis in second level schools,” it said.

The TUI welcomed elements of Foley’s proposals to reform the Leaving Cert exams, but raised concerns about the resources the changes would need, and that the union is opposed to “the dilution of objectivity” by the students’ own teachers correcting their students’ work.

The TUI says it represents over 20,000 teachers, lecturers, and other educators across second level, third level and further and adult education. 

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