Liz Farrell began her term as President of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) this month, taking over the role from Martin Marjoram. A teacher of English and History in Coláiste Eoin, Hacketstown, Co Carlow, she has been a TUI activist throughout her career.
Speaking today, the new President outlined some key issues facing the Union and the education system, including the legacy of pay discrimination on the sector and the need for permanent, whole-time jobs upon initial appointment.
TUI represents 20,500 members in Post Primary, Further Education and Training and in Technological Universities/Institutes of Technology.
Teacher recruitment and retention crisis
“Second level schools continue to face a severe teacher recruitment and retention problem that will likely be exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis. It is obvious that it is the treatment of the profession by successive governments, most notably through the punitive punishments to pay which were imposed upon post-2011 entrants, that is truly impacting teacher numbers. Teacher shortages are detrimental to the provision of the world class education system that our country deserves and that politicians pay lip service to.
Thanks to the campaigning of the TUI, we have clawed back much of the pay differential between those appointed before and after 2011, but the discrimination has inflicted severe damage on the morale of the profession.
Worryingly, there is now a serious risk that teaching will become affordable only to a select few. For a start, the two-year Professional Masters in Education (PME) is a barrier for many, while even after commencing employment, most second level teachers struggle financially for several years on contracts of low hours. A survey of our membership earlier this year showed that 65% of teachers appointed after 2011 did not get a contract of full hours upon initial appointment, which means that for several years, they only earn a fraction of a full salary.
It is not hours our new teachers need, it is substantive, permanent, whole-time jobs befitting of their commitment to the job of being educators. It is not acceptable that new teachers – if they are lucky enough – must be subsidised by family members. How can we sustain a profession that should be revitalised by enthusiasm and fresh thinking if our newly qualified teachers can’t afford to take on a paltry few hours? In such situations, where teachers don’t have contracts of full hours, even commuting has become prohibitively expensive as the price of fuel sky-rockets.”
Public trust in the State examinations must be maintained
“TUI welcomed many elements of the recent announcement in relation to Senior Cycle reform, but State Certification and external assessment are key to all developments and must be retained. Fairness for all students and the significant public trust that the current system enjoys cannot be put at risk. The provision of the required additional resources will be essential for any changes to be successful.
‘The TUI has always been in favour of additional components of assessment such as orals, aurals, project and portfolio work. Right now, 27 of 41 subjects at Senior Cycle have second (and sometimes third) components of assessment. These are externally assessed by the State Examinations Commission and this protects their integrity and reliability.”
Further Education and Training (FET) – conditions of service of members must improve
“Within the further education and training sector, poor terms and conditions of employment remain. Astonishingly, these educators often find themselves without job security, and have difficulty achieving even the most basic access to adequate contracts. The TUI is one of the few stakeholders who understand the depth and breadth of the FET sector, and one of the few that value it as being as core an element of the social contract as any education sector. I commit to engage actively with the practitioners in the sector to seek their input to find the right direction for our members, our learners and our society.”
Development of Technological University sector
“Our Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology have been grossly underfunded for decades. Changing a name alone will achieve nothing, but appropriately funding the sector will impact generations to come in a positive manner. According to the most recent international indicators (OECD’s Education At A Glance, September 2021), the ratio of students to teaching staff at third level in Ireland increased from 20:1 to 23:1 from the previous year, a ratio vastly and unacceptably higher than the OECD and European averages of 15:1.
I am also keenly aware that two Institutes remain isolated in the move towards Technological University status and I am determined that through my role as President I will see this addressed. Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) and Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) both deserve to be part of a reimagined third level sector and deserve to have a voice in the future of that sector.”