The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), one of Education International’s (EI) national affiliates, is mobilising with other education unions in Ireland to end the casualisation of the teaching and lecturing profession. Just under one-third of second level teachers – 29 per cent – are employed either on a fixed-term basis or as part-time teachers or as both, according to ASTI.
While the process of casualisation is not so embedded at primary school level, there are worrying signs that it could accelerate. Indeed, both primary and second level teachers are facing the consequences of an unregulated supply of teachers. Publicly funded teacher education institutions are subject to a “capping” of numbers either by limits on enrolment or by limited funding. Private for-profit online teacher education companies are not subject to either regulation. This has resulted in teacher under-employment and unemployment; lack of even short-term teaching vacancies for newly qualified teachers to meet their probationary requirements; large-scale emigration of newly qualified teachers; and increasing problems with retention and low morale. Coupled with a 14 per cent reduction in salaries for new entrants to the teaching profession since 2011, the experience of newly qualified teachers in Ireland is now reaching crisis point.
The teacher unions have now re-ignited their campaigning on this issue. In the coming weeks, they are taking two specific actions to address the problem, ASTI President Brendan Broderick explained:
- Expert Group on Fixed-Term and Part-Term Employment in Teaching
The unions campaigned for, and achieved, the appointment of a government-approved Expert Group on Fixed-Term and Part-Term Employment in Teaching. This Group will work quickly to address some specific problems in the employment of newly qualified teachers. A separate Expert Group with a similar brief in regard to Fixed-Term and Part-Term Employment in Lecturing has also been established.
- Engaging with teacher educators and education academics
The unions have organised a national seminar for 22 March on the issue of “Teacher Supply and Early Career Experiences”. The seminar will include a presentation from another EI member organisation, the Educational Institute of Scotland, on workforce planning and other measures to improve the early career experiences of newly qualified teachers. The seminar is a joint effort between the teacher unions, the Heads of the publicly-funded teacher education departments and the Educational Studies Association of Ireland.
Teachers’ short term contracts undermine education quality at secondary level
According to the 2008 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), just under 75 per cent of lower secondary teachers in Ireland were in permanent positions, a lower figure than many other comparative countries, Broderick stressed. The 2012 TALIS report found that 93 per cent of Irish teachers with two years or less teaching experience had a fixed-term contract, compared with 22 per cent of experienced teachers. The TALIS average was 59 per cent and 12 per cent respectively. The report found that 52 per cent of Irish teachers on fixed-term contracts had between three and ten years’ teaching experience.
The TALIS report was unequivocal in its conclusion that fixed-term contracts do not serve as a ‘road’ to a more permanent teaching post in Ireland. Short-term contracts can affect teachers’ effectiveness. Contractual status has the potential to affect job satisfaction and levels of teacher self-efficacy. Morale is likely to be low in circumstances where a teacher carries the weight of uncertainty as to where or whether they will be working ‘next September’.
“This lack of certainty undermines the essential relationship that should exist between teacher and pupil,” Broderick said. “It also results in such teachers feeling a lack of engagement or identification with their staff colleagues and their schools.”
Precarious employment at higher education level
At tertiary level, most lecturers appointed in recent years are in precarious employment, much of it paid by the hour, Broderick said. Opportunistic employers frequently attempt to delimit the scope and functions of newly appointed lecturers in order to be able to characterise them as having “teaching only” variable-hours contracts, and to pay them accordingly. The operation of an “Employment Control Framework” since early 2009 has resulted in an attritional reduction of some eight per cent in lecturer numbers. During the same time period, student numbers in Irish Higher Education Institutions have grown by almost 15 per cent; and further steady growth is predicted for at least the next 10 years. The situation is now critical as there is growing evidence that the casualisation of lecturing has adversely affected collegiality and is compromising standards.
EI: Government to appropriate education funding and ensure teachers’ job security
“We commend our Irish colleagues for taking action to fight privatisation undermining quality education and equal access to it,” EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen said. “The social values of education require public authorities to protect the education sector from the neo-liberal agenda of privatisation and commercialisation.”
Governments, in Ireland and the world over, bear responsibility for ensuring appropriate funding for education, schools, and teacher training, he added.
The professional commitment of teachers and academics to the education and welfare of their students should be recognised and respected, he also underlined.
Enhancing the professional autonomy and self-confidence of teachers in their professional and pedagogic judgements and through the assertion of their right to academic freedom and to undertake research should be given the highest priority by governments and employers. This is essential to enhancing the quality of teaching and learning, van Leeuwen further noted. “In this context, job security is of enormous importance and casualisation of the teaching and research profession must be rejected as it is fundamentally harmful to the profession.”