INTO calls for all-Ireland Teaching Council amid erosion of teachers’ conditions in the north

INTO General Secretary John Boyle has called for an all-Ireland Teaching Council, and for a forum on education to be established within the Department of the Taoiseach’s Shared Island Unit.

The calls were made at a Joint Committee meeting on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, focusing on Perspectives of constitutional change: Discussion on worker rights.

Boyle also highlighted the shabby treatment of INTO members and public-sector workers in Northern Ireland since the Stormont Assembly stopped functioning, insisting that the British and Irish governments must intervene.

Moulding ‘one great system’

Touching on the differences between the northern and southern education systems, Boyle said:

As the only all Ireland teachers’ union, the INTO is acutely aware of the differences in conditions of service for teachers across this island.

He highlighted differences between the length of the school year; expectations on teachers in the North flowing from the Jordanstown Agreement; school governance; teachers’ salaries and the length of salary scales; different funding models for schools north and south; as well as the approaches to special education and to supporting pupils and students who are impacted by educational disadvantage.

The INTO General Secretary continued:

While there are many differences one common factor between both jurisdictions is the level of workload on school leaders and teachers. This is something that needs to be addressed.

In any new and inclusive shared island, all of these issues and more should be harmonised, merging the best of the education systems, North and South, in order to mould one great system for all who work and learn in our schools. Perhaps a move towards one Teaching Council for the whole island might be a good starting point.

Key considerations

Boyle highlighted a number of considerations, including work opportunities for teachers north and south as well as the recruitment and retention crisis in schools on both sides of the border.

Highlighting the need for further support from the Department of Education for northern teachers seeking to achieve Irish language requirements to teach in the 26 counties, he said:

The INTO feels strongly that the movement of teachers pursuing employment on the island should not be restricted and that where opportunities present themselves fully qualified teachers should be permitted access to jobs in schools on both sides of the border.

Education is the great leveller so we must ensure that we dismantle any barriers that exist for teachers, North or South, to worthwhile travel and work anywhere on this Island.

Disparity in the north

Touching on the significant disparity between teachers’ employment rights on either side of the border, Boyle pointed to notable conditions unavailable to northern teachers as well as the startling difference in starting salary which is nearly 50% lower in the north.

The INTO General Secretary said:

Many of our members would argue that the draconian cuts to the education budget in the North and the lengthy pay freeze they have been enduring has seriously eroded their terms and conditions.

The long absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly has angered INTO members who have resorted to taking industrial action in pursuit of a fair pay award and in opposition to the cuts imposed on public servants and public services. The British and Irish governments must intervene to end this impasse.

Representatives from the trade union movement at the meeting included ICTU General Secretary Owen Reidy and Congress President Justin McCamphill, who also highlighted the need to support northern workers, including teachers, amid the failure of Stormont to function.

The INTO’s full statement to the Joint Committee is available here.