Simon Harris must deliver on promises he made to education sector when he takes office, union warns

Taoiseach-designate Simon Harris has been warned by a leading teachers’ union that he will be expected to deliver on the firm promises he made to the education sector while Higher Education Minister.

Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) president David Waters welcomed Junior Further Education Minister Niall Collins to their annual conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, as he replaced Mr Harris on the programme – but the union boss said funding of the education sector over recent years has been “shameful”.

The TUI heard of a chronic shortage of substitutes and growing pressure on members.

Meanwhile, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation’s (INTO) congress in Derry voted for a “London weighting allowance” to compensate for higher living costs in cities.

At the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland’s (ASTI) conference in Wexford, members unanimously passed a motion demanding that all years of teaching service abroad in recognised second-level schools outside the European Union shall be included in the calculation of incremental credit.

Speaking at the ASTI conference, Education Minister Norma Foley said the matter of incremental credit for teachers returning from abroad was being looked at.

She also said she is “deeply concerned” about online abuse aimed towards teachers.

Mr Waters told the TUI conference in Killarney: “The strong probability of Mr Harris becoming taoiseach has significance.

“We in the TUI would hope and expect that his experience as Minister for Higher Education will be reflected in a more acute focus on education during his tenure as taoiseach, accompanied by enhanced investment in quality public education at all levels.

“Ireland ranks at the bottom of the OECD for its investment in education. That is absolutely shameful.

“It is important to remember that when this country was in freefall, it was our education system that kept producing top quality graduates. It was our education system that kept attracting foreign investment.

“It was our education system that helped this country escape one of its darkest chapters,” he added.

The TUI conference also heard schools now face a chronic problem over the lack of substitute teachers, with an urgent need to provide full-time jobs to graduates entering the system to prevent the alarming exodus of skilled staff overseas.

Meanwhile at the INTO congress at the Millennium Forum in Derry, a special education needs (SEN) teacher accused Ms Foley of using “Thatcherite language” .

James Tuohy added that the Government is opposed to properly funding special needs education.

Mr Tuohy, a delegate from the Limerick branch, told members they needed to be prepared to take strike action and work to rule if funding was not improved for SEN.

“Minister Foley said (on Monday) that we need value for money,” Mr Tuohy said. “This is Thatcherite language.

“They give us the resources and then they justify their position by saying we need to get value for money.

“They justify the position rather than properly funding our education system and the services that people with disabilities need.”

Delegates at the INTO annual congress have mandated the union to campaign for improved resourcing in SEN.

The INTO also voted for a “London weighting allowance” to compensate for higher living costs in cities after members spoke passionately about a struggle to teach against inflation and the continuing housing crisis.

“London weighting” is the term used to describe an allowance paid to certain civil servants, teachers, airline employees, PhD students, police and security officers in and around London.

Sean Hegarty, representing the Dublin Tolka branch, told the INTO congress that despite a continuing responsibility for teachers, this was “not reflected in our pockets”.

The ASTI convention heard that secondary school teachers who return home after teaching in private schools in countries such as Dubai and Australia say they are being discriminated against when it comes to their pay scales.

Currently, secondary teachers who work in private schools outside the EU must recommence their careers at the bottom of the teachers’ pay scale if they move back to Ireland.

Teachers told the union’s annual convention that there is currently no incentive for people to return home to continue their careers, with staff earning thousands less than their colleagues because their work abroad is not recognised.

Ms Foley said the issue of all teachers being recognised for work abroad is a matter for the Teacher Conciliation Council and it was being looked at.

When asked about the possibility of a one-off bonus for teachers returning to Ireland, she said it would be something that would have to be applied to sectors across the board.

“There is a fine balance,” she said. “There is a recognition of their services in many circumstances, but not in all. We walk a thin line there.”

ASTI president Geraldine O’Brien said teachers “literally cannot afford to live here when they are put back to the point on the salary scale they were appointed to years ago”.

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