March 12 In the Press

INTO says a reinvestment in teachers, smarter spending and long term strategy is key

Pressure mounts on the Executive as largest teachers’ union pledges further action after strike. On the eve of industrial action, Gerry Murphy, INTO’s Northern Secretary, talks candidly about why 7,000 teachers will leave the classroom to raise their placards

 

Calling members out to strike is not an easy decision to make, but, when our children, the teachers teaching them and the wider society is being so negatively impacted by policy makers, we have to say enough is enough.

Last week an overwhelming majority of 79 per cent of our members voted in favour of strike action following the results of a ballot against education budget cuts.

The ballot, which was conducted among the 6,647 members from schools and colleges against the Department of Education’s proposed budget cuts, resulted in 78.67 per cent of those who voted in favour of strike action and a 97.02 per cent majority in favour of industrial action short of strike.

Within 24 hours it was reported that Minister John O’Dowd had told the Education Committee that schools will likely see 500 job losses for teachers and 1,000 for non-teaching staff due to £28m cuts to his budget.

The sheer anger and frustration of teachers over the Minister’s constant slashing of the education budget has brought us to this point. The long term impact of these cuts on the future of our children’s education has brought us to this point. The continuous devaluing of teachers in Northern Ireland and the ripple effect these cuts will have on the wider society is what’s forcing our teachers out of their classrooms tomorrow.

Over the past four years Northern Ireland has already seen close to 3,000 teaching jobs being lost. Think about that – 3,000 teaching posts taken from your children’s education system because the Minister is unable to ensure there are sufficient funds to educate the next generation workforce.  That is a staggering statistic yet here we are again – more cuts, more job losses and a further degradation of the education system.

As parents, we all want the best for our children. What the Minister is proposing is not the best for our children. It’s nowhere close. INTO has challenged the Executive to put our children at the heart of their social and economic thinking but nothing has been done.

So the teachers have been forced to act. We have balloted for strike action and tomorrow teachers will use their voice. Our members know it will cost them a day’s pay but that dent in their salary is worth suffering. One day of strike action will have a negligible effect on young people’s education compared to five more years of cuts to the education provision available to them.

If the Department of Education steamrolls ahead with its cuts agenda, the department is failing pupils, failing parents, failing teachers and failing our wider society. It is because of the Executive’s refusal to listen, and its refusal to alter its course from an agenda of cuts, which is ultimately closing schools tomorrow.

But while the Minister refuses to put children and their parents at the core of his strategy – INTO will by continuing to campaign after tomorrow to secure a better way forward.

This means our politicians will be getting a wake-up call. It means teachers will be cutting back on administrative chores in schools. It means teachers will focus solely on education our young people as opposed to attending meetings. It means a reduction of data collation which the Department so unnecessarily insists upon and it means a reduction in the implementation of short term initiatives.

Ultimately, our teachers will be putting the ‘teach’ back into teaching. If there is no sign of any progress on our demands the Northern Committee may decide to escalate action to meet the demands of the membership. We will take care to ensure these actions do not harm children or place further unreasonable burdens on their parents or carers.

But where there is a problem there is always a solution. INTO accepts the Minister has difficult decisions to make. We all do. But sacrificing our children’s education, devaluing our teachers and degrading our education system is not the way to go about it.

So what is our solution? We want a programme of reinvestment in teachers. A teacher is the best resource a pupil has. If the Executive doesn’t give our children the necessary tools to empower them to contribute to the overall wider society, then the Executive is failing society as a whole. We want the Executive to be smarter in the way it spends money. It needs to move away from short term thinking to long term strategising. We want an economic think tank to look at the value of education which will develop and implement a full programme of reinvestment in the teacher profession.

Tomorrow’s strike action may not be popular with everyone but I doubt there are too many parents out there who would agree that cutting teachers and resources from their children’s education system is a good thing. We all know it is not. During the consultation process 24,000 of you responded to the Department of Education’s draft budget consultation. INTO is asking parents and the wider community to support our members tomorrow and support what they are trying to achieve. We are asking parents to support our campaign as it progresses. Teachers and parents want the same thing so we are urging everyone to join forces to lobby politicians so the education of our children is at the heart of our society.

Malala Yousafzai, the young Afghan woman who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban for advocating in favour of education for all children in Afghanistan, said in her speech to the UN: “We are living in the modern age and we believe that nothing is impossible. We have reached the moon 45 years ago and maybe we will soon land on Mars. Then, in this 21st century we must be able to give every child a quality education.”

INTO believes this too, but, we wonder with the announcement of cuts that will effectively take another 1,500 adults out of the education system, did the Minister hear her speech?

 

ENDS:

NOTES TO EDITOR:

  • INTO is the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation. It is the largest teachers’ union in Ireland. INTO has a Northern Office and a Southern Office. Our Northern Office is based at Vere Foster House, 23 College Gardens, Belfast. #INTOMarch13
  • INTO has 6,647 members in Northern Ireland – NEELB – 980; SEELB – 794; BELB – 1,160; WELB – 1,568; SELB – 2,147
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