Media comment over Christmas concentrated on the impact on schools, and the effects on pupils, of having to offer a guidance service outside the quota in the next school year, as well as offering a number of articles on the rights and wrongs of fee charging schools.
I have stated earlier that I believe the debate concerning fee charging schools is a distraction in the greater scheme of things because children have a right to be educated, the teachers will have to be paid anyway, and – as we still live in a democracy – I have grave reservations about commenting one way or another on how individuals choose to spend after tax income.
However the impact on schools of the budget measures isn’t a distraction and I was very taken by some of the points made by the Principal of St Patrick’s Navan, Colm O’Rourke in an article in the Sunday Independent on the 8th January.
Colm makes the point that the €32 million savings as a result of the guidance counsellors being within quota could have been achieved had other steps been taken by the Minister. Readers of the Sunday Independent will have their own views on his suggestions but a number of them, if implemented, will impact on the Croke Park deal agreed between the government and the public sector unions.
The Sunday Independent doesn’t have a positive view of teachers or the public service in general, judging by an article by Emer O’Kelly the previous week where what she didn’t say about teachers, their terms and conditions, their holidays, their performance (or lack of it) in the classroom, their decision to take early retirement in February, and so on, wasn’t worth mentioning. It was a diatribe; it certainly raised my hackles, such was the level of uninformed comment, but I let it pass because such negative belittling remarks will not help solve our present difficulty.
The vast majority of teachers are doing a brilliant job, often in trying circumstances and with fewer resources than they would like but they are proud public servants doing their bit to build a vision of Ireland which will sustain future generations in a society where people look out for one another and value social cohesion.
The concept of ‘taking one for the team’ may be a sporting analogy but teachers know more than most the effects of the budget cuts on the education system. They know that the kids in the classroom get one shot at education and that Irish society will benefit or suffer as a result of the hard calls being made by our political, employer and union leaders.
At a time when pupil numbers are rising (there will be 70,000 more pupils in our schools over the next few years), protecting the number of teachers working in the system is vital.
Commentators remark that there exists a complete lack of leadership among our European politicians resulting in reluctance to take the necessary decisions to protect the Euro.
It seems to me that a small cut in salary would achieve the necessary savings to sustain the gains made in our education system over the last 15 years, to protect the education experience of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged students and safeguard the numbers working in the education system to sustain it into the future.
I’m willing to ‘take one for the team’ and I believe I’m not alone in my thinking.