Minister for Education backs down in face of threatened protest

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Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn backed down in mid-June on his threat to amend Section 30 of the Teaching Council Act, which would have had the effect of allowing unqualified personnel to continue to work as teachers in primary school classrooms.  The Minister made his decision less than 48 hours before a protest organised by members of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) was due to be held.

Just three weeks prior to that, Minister Quinn had announced that he was intending to proceed with the amendment, despite the fact that there are currently thousands of unemployed qualified teachers, which would have meant that hundreds of unqualified ‘teachers’ would have remained in our classrooms.  The Irish Independent revealed in April what many INTO members were already well aware of when it highlighted that “400 people with no teaching qualifications worked for at least 50 days in primary schools in the current school year” and “half of the country’s 3,200 primary schools employed an unqualified person for up to a week in the September-February period”.

This situation has arisen because of the failure of government to establish supply panels of qualified teachers to cover for short-term absences.  When the previous government announced, in November last, its intention to amend Section 30 Mr. Quinn described their decision as “completely ludicrous”.  Now, with his feet barely warm under the cabinet table, Mr. Quinn was intending to proceed with this ‘ludicrous’ proposal.

His announcement was greeted with outrage by INTO members.  Members in Dublin began to organise against it.  Labour Party TDs were contacted and left in no doubt about the strength of feeling and plans for a protest to be held at the Dail on Wednesday 15th June were announced.

It was an issue that united all members of the INTO, from newly qualified teachers to principals and the protest was expected to attract several hundred people.  But on the Tuesday morning it was confirmed on the INTO website that “the Department of Education and Science has confirmed to the INTO that the Minister for Education and Science, Ruairí Quinn TD, will be implementing Section 30 of the Teaching Council Act in full”.

In a statement, District 14 Committee of the INTO, which had been the main driving force behind the protest, welcomed the decision as “a victory for both common sense and the strength of trade unionism.”  Pat Crowe, District 14 Secretary, said that “this decision has come about because members of the INTO organised and campaigned against Minister Quinn’s attempts to amend Section 30.  It is clear that the Minister responded both to the genuine anger expressed by union members against his announcement two weeks ago, and to the constructive suggestions of INTO members as to how the education service could be enhanced to everyone’s benefit.  It shows that when union members come together, stand united and present clear alternatives, we can achieve things. There are many challenges facing us as union members at the present time. If we bring the same unity of purpose to other fights, we can achieve further successes.”



This article is from Workers Solidarity 122 July 2011
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