Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn heckled at ASTI conference

Tuesday 22 April 2014 21.44
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Ruairi Quinn was booed at the ASTI conference in Wexford
Ruairi Quinn was booed at the ASTI conference in Wexford
Sheila Nunan said focus should be on improving teaching methodology for higher level maths
Sheila Nunan said focus should be on improving teaching methodology for higher level maths

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn was heckled almost constantly as he addressed the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland conference in Wexford this evening.

Delegates booed and shouted "lies" and "rubbish" as the minister attempted to speak of Junior Certificate reform.

At one stage, loud and sustained ironic applause drowned out the minister's words.

Mr Quinn went on to tell delegates that the role of teachers was not to delete imagination from the desktops of their pupils.

He said everyone knew the current system was not working.

There was loud laughter and booing when the minister said he had the utmost respect for teachers' professionalism.

There was no applause as the minister sat down.

Earlier, Irish National Teacher Organisation delegates rejected a proposal by Mr Quinn that higher level mathematics at Leaving Certificate level should be a minimum requirement for students wishing to become primary school teachers.

The minister made the proposal during an address at the INTO annual congress in Kilkenny.

Additional comments regarding the "feminisation" primary school teaching and the tendency for girls to drop to Ordinary Level Maths for the Leaving Cert were also met with sustained audible disagreement from delegates.  

INTO General Secretary Sheila Nunan rejected the idea, saying the focus should be on improving teaching methodology in the subject instead.

Ms Nunan also said she hopes a new scale, which would begin improving the salary of some teachers, would be agreed in the next couple of weeks.

She was responding to a comment by Minister Quinn, who said he believed progress on equalising pay scales could be made in the near future.

Ms Nunan called the fact that teachers working alongside each other are on three different pay scales an "absolute sore". 

Some discussions have been taking place between trade union leaders and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with a view to correcting the unequal pay situation affecting teachers, as well as other public sector workers.

A new scale was introduced in 2011, reducing pay for new graduates by 13%, and another one came into effect in 2012.

These talks centre on merging the 2011 pay scale with what preceded it.

However, this will only effect up to 2,000 teachers and their concerns about pay are much wider than that.

Details of a survey released by the INTO indicated that 50% of teachers do not have enough time to do all that is expected of them.

Two-thirds of primary school teachers are dissatisfied with their pay levels and conditions of employment.

INTO delegates will also discuss a motion calling on the union to commence a process of pay claims in conjunction with other ICTU trade unions.

Over the coming days, the second-level teachers' unions will debate motions looking for the consolidation of pay scales.

Meanwhile, Teachers' Union of Ireland General Secretary John MacGabhann has described the Haddington Road Agreement as "the lesser of two evils".

Delivering the address at the TUI Annual Congress in Kilkenny, he said the HRA is "highly unpalatable and was accepted by the TUI members only with justifiable resentment".

He said: "The unions' trust in the Government will be severely beyond recall unless it restores the pay cuts according to the schedule set out in the agreement."

The TUI has passed a motion calling on its executive committee to immediately engage in talks with the ASTI for the purpose of uniting the two unions.

Over 450 delegates are attending the three-day conference in Kilkenny.

Quinn focuses on school patronage in INTO address

School patronage was the focus of Minister Quinn's address to the annual conference this morning.

Mr Quinn told delegates he was disappointed that the Catholic Church had yet to furnish examples of genuinely inclusive Catholic primary schools, two years after being asked.

He said such exemplars were important to help guide the approach of all schools and he said it was "regrettable" that none had been provided.

Mr Quinn said he had no wish to engage in culture wars or to create division in Irish society.

He also said he had no desire to see an end to denominational education in Ireland.

However, Mr Quinn said the education system had to be continually reformed so that it reflected and supported all the people.

Meanwhile, the executive chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership has said the suggestion that there is a very serious problem with inclusivity for children of all faiths in Catholic-run schools is not true.

Fr Michael Drumm said people need to be "very careful" about the discourse used in the discussion as a huge number of schools are "doing this very well".

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Fr Drumm said the issue needed to be negotiated in local communities, where there is a mix of parents who want religious education taught and those parents who do not.

He said the Catholic Church was not "micro-managing" schools or dictating timetables and wanted to ensure there was greater inclusivity for all children in schools.

To this extent, he said, the church is "fully engaged" in the process.

He said he was "surprised" by Minister Quinn's comments to the INTO earlier as the Catholic Church is still waiting for a report back from the Department of Education as part of a consultation process.

Blog: Media cycles and the teacher conference merry-go-round