It hasn’t been the best couple of months for the Teaching Council. Established six years ago “to promote teaching as a profession” and to “regulate standards” in teaching, the general perception amongst the teaching profession is that it hasn’t really achieved its aims. With the latest fiasco of errors in the latest election ballot forms, which follows a fairly disastrous campaign to sell the Career Entry Professional Programme (CEPP) to schools, right now, there are calls to remove the Teaching Council completely.
Where has it all gone so wrong?
Back in the days of Fianna Fáil and Mary Hanafin at the helm, the Teaching Council began asking teachers to pay €90 in order to be registered as a teacher. Nobody ever really explained why paying this €90 would change anything but we were told that it would prevent unqualified personnel from entering the system and it would make us more professional and there were great plans for structuring CPD and that we would get recognised for completing training and…
Over 300 unqualified teachers managed to become registered with the Teaching Council. Very little that was promised happened except that if we didn’t pay the €90 to the Teaching Council that we would forfeit being recognised as a teacher. The previous chief executive of the Teaching Council, Aine Lawlor, was probably sick of being asked the same question along the lines of the Life of Brian: “What have the Teaching Council ever done for us?”
In an interview with Seomra Ranga last year, she outlined all the work the Teaching Council was doing. However, the many comments after the article just showed how the teaching profession viewed the council at this stage. One of the questions in the interview suggested that the Teaching Council really needed a media campaign to show how effective it was but this never happened. What they really needed to do was something positive for the teaching profession, especially in the light of cutbacks, Croke Park Hours and all the other recession-induced hits.
What we got was CEPP. In January 2011, the chief inspector Harold Hislop outlined to over one thousand principals how they would, within the year, be responsible for probating newly qualified teachers. When the expected gasps of disbelief echoed through the room, in true pantomime villain style, he proclaimed: “Oh yes, you will.” In that short speech, a new change to our profession was launched in the worst possible fashion. The Teaching Council were then given the job to roll this scheme out.
It was never going to be an easy task and, initially, some of us thought they were going to pull it out of the bag. A reasonably good plan was being put in place to gradually implement this new change over a long period of time. The Teaching Council’s next job was to sell it to an unwilling audience, still scarred from Hislop’s introduction and knowing that they were going to have to sell this without any benefits, financial or otherwise. This was done in the form of consultations.
From these consultations, I saw that there were a number of principals who felt that CEPP, in principal, was a good idea but there were many obstacles that needed to be faced. Firstly, enough resources needed to be provided. There needed to be a guarantee that teachers and principals would be given extra time to be mentors and observers. Secondly, there needed to be time to bring this in – at least 5-10 years. This is a complete paradigm shift in the culture of the job of a principal. It is a move away from equal colleague to unequal colleague. It would give principals power to decide the fate of a qualified teacher. This leads on to the third, and in Ireland, a very relevant elephant in the room – Ireland is a very small country. It is widely acknowledged that nepotism and parochialism is rife in the teaching profession. What sorts of precautions could be put in place against an NQT being allowed to complete their probation year in their mother’s or auntie’s or local priest’s school? How could some teachers ensure a fair year if they didn’t “fit in” in a school?
Unfortunately, the Teaching Council don’t have the answers to these questions, and they have been committed to introduce this CEPP scheme within 2 years. I believe they have one shot to get this right. If they fail to introduce CEPP correctly, it will take several generations to try and introduce it again.
Other aspects of all this that hasn’t helped the Teaching Council’s cause are timing and carelessness. CEPP has reached its unpopular peak exactly in time for teachers to have to pay their €90 registration fee. (In a slightly related nuisance, teachers cannot automatically renew their registration each year, which makes life awkward.) Every March, teachers bemoan the fact that we have paid almost €500 to this body and have got little to show for it – we get a helpful magazine, at least, from the INTO!
In light of all this, with the Teaching Council elections up, it was not a good time to make any mistakes but this is exactly what happened. When sending out ballot papers, they made enough errors on the forms that they were deemed invalid for voters. They tried to fix this by asking teachers to print out new forms but this didn’t work. Yesterday we received our new re-issued ballot papers in the post and certainly not without a large cost outlay, which obviously comes from the €90 we pay.
It is fair to say that the Teaching Council is at its lowest point. A further kick may well come along if voting turnout is very low, which I suspect it might. It also seems inevitable that they will have to go back to the drawing board with CEPP. Before long, will there be enough traction that the general teaching population will begin to refuse to pay the registration fee, much like the way a lot of people are refusing to pay the government’s household charge?
The Teaching Council need to rebrand. They need to get their heads together and convince us that they are worth representing our profession. They need to do something positive for us – small wins. They need to make us believe in them. I propose that when they are able to fill the Teaching Council’s director position that they do so with a view to a rebrand. This is the real task ahead of the Teaching Council and they don’t have long before we finally give up on them for good.