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Wednesday 31 May 2023 Dublin: 12°C
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Teachers' pay 'Less interest will mean lower CAO points and new teachers of lower standards'
In ten years’ time our poor academic results in schools will be met with public outcry, writes Cionnaith Ó Duibhir.

THE FIGHT FOR pay equality in the teaching profession has rumbled on for six years now. The personal cost to lower paid teachers has been well documented, but what of the long-term impact on teaching itself?

Minister Bruton has proved immovable and unapproachable in his position that not every teacher deserves equal pay for equal work. What he has been less vocal on is what this will mean for the Irish educational system for years to come.

He laughably tweeted on April 27 about his plan to make the Irish education service the best in Europe, woefully ignorant of the destabilising problems that are already manifesting: the erosion of goodwill with teachers and the delegitimising of the profession itself.

Relying on teachers’ goodwill

The influence of the goodwill of teachers cannot be overstated, as this is the lifeblood and bedrock of any effective school. A multitude of extracurricular activities are provided, from sports to debating, and from homework clubs to foreign trips. These are all done for the benefit of the students, all done outside school hours, and all done with no additional cost to the Department.

Few teachers have a problem with this. In many ways it can be one of the most rewarding parts of the job. The cynical expectation that it will happen is where exception is taken.

You cannot conduct a successful interview without promising the sun, moon and stars to the school in terms of your extracurricular commitment. Schools are very much aware of what they are expected to provide in addition to classroom teaching.

This is fuelled primarily by parental demand – they expect the school to offer more to their child. The Department knows well that to reach the holistic goals they have set, schools have to offer more than mere classroom interaction. They seem unconcerned that they are demanding more and more for less.

The question is how can this hope to last?

Blatant and uncaring pay inequality, heavy-handed tactics (including an illegal lockout) and undervalued effort has left morale and enthusiasm at rock bottom.

In economic and socially turbulent times, we should be looking to promote the highest academic standards for our young people. How can we hope to attract the best and brightest educators to reach these goals with poor conditions and pay inequality in our system?

Education is an investment in our future. The first step is to invest in the providers of that education – our teachers. Yet we are somehow neglecting that first crucial node in the educational process.

Wages are not competitive and are barely sustainable for those in the Dublin area, particularly for teachers unable to secure a full contract. Less interest will mean a lower CAO points threshold and lower points will mean an influx of those who would not have come close to previous standards. Candidates should aspire to teaching, not resign themselves to it.

Future academic results will reflect this neglect

In ten years’ time our poor academic results will be met with public outcry that teachers aren’t working hard enough, that more stringent accountability is required along with more mandatory additional planning and preparation hours. Very soon the system will mirror England where the average career is very short due to turgid work and pay conditions.

We are often reminded of Yeats’ adage when exemplary teaching is mentioned, that education isn’t the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. This government seems content to light the fire with tepid, cost effective kindling that can’t possibly hope to sustain itself as a truly effective system, never mind as Europe’s preeminent one.

It is about time members of our government displayed a modicum of genuine vision that they are willing to look beyond the myopic scramble for re-election and penny-pinching and to truly invest in the future of education in this country.

The first step in this direction is pay equality for our teachers.

Cionnaith Ó Duibhir is an Irish, Religion and RSE secondary school teacher.

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