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Headfort headmaster: I was wrong to look for JobBridge interns

I mistakenly thought the scheme was a way to broaden our horizons, to go beyond the past pupil pool.

Dermot Dix

I AM THE headmaster at Headfort School in Meath, and a few weeks ago I made the mistake of listing positions on the JobBridge site. I withdrew them after hearing how reviled the scheme is.

As was pithily pointed out in another online forum last week, I listed (with clerical mistakes) positions that I don’t apparently need – and now don’t want – in a widely advertised scheme that I didn’t know enough about. I feel a bit like the blind man in a dark room who couldn’t see the black cat that wasn’t there.

Headfort is an independent co-ed non-profit primary or ‘prep’ school, non-denominational and mainly boarding. Unlike with independent secondary schools, none of its teachers are paid by the state.

No full-time vacancies

We don’t have full-time vacancies right now – no teachers have left or retired and our enrollment numbers have not gone up – but the school has a long tradition of engaging part-time ‘gap’ students and teaching interns for short durations. My plan was to do so again.

I was a gapper myself at Headfort in 1980-81, an experience that launched a teaching career that took me to New York and back, unexpectedly, to Headfort in 2003 as headmaster.

Many of our gappers and interns have been past pupils – they come back to Headfort at their own instigation. We have always paid them and in most cases supplied board and lodging too. They add a great deal to the life of the school, bringing ideas and energy and enriching the lives of Headfort’s pupils.

The interns also benefit from the experience, moving on to full-time positions in teaching – or deciding that teaching may not be for them after all and, instead, moving into other areas.

Mistaken intention

I mistakenly thought JobBridge was a way to broaden our horizons, to go beyond the past pupil pool. I had heard some stories of how the scheme had led quickly to proper full-time jobs for people.

The intention was to treat the new interns in exactly the same way that we have treated their predecessors: have them work part-time, pay them, and offer them board and lodging. Getting Headfort to move in new directions has been a major motivation for me.

Probably the thing that has most excited me about my job over the past few years – the thing that I am most proud of – has been the building of a bursary fund that allows Headfort to increase the level and frequency of financial support that it can offer to an increasingly diverse range of families. I wanted our intern programme to do something similar.

Flawed scheme

JobBridge, as I now know, is a flawed and often abused scheme. In this case it was clearly the wrong vehicle to use – and one, as currently structured, that is a far cry from my own political and ethical values. Since the listings went up, and since they were greeted with storms of legitimate protest, I have been informed that for every good outcome in JobBridge there are many examples of abuse and exploitation.

Now that I know more about the scheme and its drawbacks, I will be adding my voice to those seeking more meaningful governmental interventions in this time of crisis.

Rather than participate in a scheme that facilitates the exploitation of people who have little choice and few options, I will go back to doing what I can to ensure that the school stays on top of its proverbial game while, at the same time, protecting staff jobs and wages (under pressure since the downturn) to the best of my ability.

I will also stay connected to the debate among teachers that has been, for me, the best part of this controversy.

Dermot Dix is the headmaster of the Headfort School in Kells, Meath.

Read: Online backlash forces private school to withdraw JobBridge ads >

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