‘Teachers being harmed by bad inspections’ that ‘must stop’, TUI delegates told

Speaker notes statutory nature of process and accepts need for accountability but ‘more equitable system needed’

Good teachers are being harmed by a bad schools inspection system, delegates at the annual Teachers Union of Ireland conference in Killarney were told on Wednesday.

During a debate on a call for inspection reform, Gerry Quinn from Laois, said he had seen the morale and dignity of colleagues undermined by what he described as bad or inadequate inspections.

“I’ve seen excellent teachers, leaders in their subject departments, demeaned, their integrity as teachers undermined and the thing is, the people doing the inspections were wrong,” he said.

He appreciated the statutory nature of the process and accepted teachers have to be accountable but “what we need, and what we are demanding, is an inspection system that is fair and does not result in unintended consequences”, he said.

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“If there needs to be a rallying call for this motion then just think of Ofsted and the terrible consequences its work has had for our colleagues,” he said, in a reference to the British inspections organisation which has been the subject of intensified scrutiny since a head teacher, Ruth Perry, died by suicide after her school was downgraded last year.

In Ireland, he said, “significant numbers of teachers are being harmed by bad inspections and it has to stop”.

The conference heard of highly qualified and well-respected teachers being reduced to tears and humiliated by a process described as a flawed snapshot of the person’s work which took little account of lesson plans or results.

The motion was opposed by Dublin delegate Owen Morris who suggested a shake-up of the current system might actually produce something closer to Ofsted.

Mr Quinn, however, said the union would never undertake any campaign if it worked on the basis it might yield “something worse than we have. Reform means making something better and we need root and branch reform of this system.”

The motion, along with one that highlighted what its backers said were declining levels of respect from employers for the historically democratic and collegiate nature of educational working environments, was passed.

Backing a motion for the restoration of higher pension benefits lost for new recruits during the financial crisis, meanwhile, Mr Morris, from Tallaght Community School, said it was unacceptable that the older scheme he is on is likely to provide an annual income of €40,000 but younger colleagues with the equivalent service would only receive about €25,000 when they retire.

“Of that, roughly €14,000 is social welfare so €11,000 for a working life in teaching. It’s unacceptable and inequitable that I can live on my pension while someone younger will have to get another job at 65 or 66.”

Karen Gernon, from Holy Family, Rathcoole, said she was one of those younger colleagues and now finds herself desperately trying to buy a home so she does not end up having to still pay rent when retired.

“The problem is I don’t have any money now because I am paying so much rent at the moment so I can’t save for the house I so desperately need to own because of the deplorable pension.”

Earlier, Minister for Education Norma Foley, who addressed the conference on Wednesday morning, announced €1 million in funding for mental health supports for students, parents and teachers in post-primary schools.

The union welcomed the initiative but said “the provision falls far, far short of what is required”.

“The results of our pre-Congress survey show that 91 per cent of teachers believe that the range of challenges faced by young people has increased in the last five years. It is disgraceful that the pastoral support network in schools was greatly diminished by cuts to posts of responsibility in 2009. This cut has yet to be fully reversed, and the most vulnerable students have lost out as a result.”

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