Now You See It…

If you’re anything like me, you love Derren Brown.  He’s a bit of a genius, illusionist, mentalist, clever and challenging.

He’s also a bit of a trickster.

He has one particular move I like, he gets the unsuspecting victim to willingly hand over his wallet.  Just like this:

Which brings me to this RTE headline yesterday.  On the face of it, things look great.  1,700 new teachers and SNAs (Special Needs Assistants) to be employed in Irish Schools.  All good, yes?

Well, as always, it’s a little more complicated.  While the headline does grab your attention, the details of the article take a lot of the shine away:

  • 10,000 new students entering primary level each year
  • 4,000 new students entering second level each year
  • The cost of college registration to increase.  Again.
  • The budget for new schools (needed for the extra numbers) is to be cut by €10,000,000
  • Funding for second level schools (Capitation, the grant per student in school) is being reduced again.  This time by 1%
  • Funding for third level colleges also to be reduced by 1%

That’s the new cuts.

There’s still no reverse on the reprehensible decision to remove guidance counsellors from secondary schools.  No decision to restore middle management in schools.

For years now the budget for education has been cut. The new posts in the headline don’t do anything to change the pupil/teacher ratio – it only maintains the current crazy level.  Schools have been forced to cut subjects, options, programmes and supports for students.

These are not cuts in education. They are attacks on education.

Minister Joan Burton was on Matt Cooper’s show a few weeks ago and said something like ‘Austerity is over’.

Austerity is not over.  Certainly not if you’re in education.  And just like Derren Brown, the government has managed to dip into the pocket of the education sector once more.

Dear Joan, or Alex

On July 4th the Labour Party will begin counting votes on who will get to be the new leader of the party. This will hopefully be a fairly straightforward and quick poll, and we will know who will lead the party from its worst electoral defeat.

Add to the new leadership in Labour is the likelihood that there will be a cabinet reshuffle during the Summer.  This, I once hoped would be a cause for joy, but I’m beginning to get a bit cynical now.

You see, Joan (or Alex), people who had previously believed that Labour would stand up for them are sadly disillusioned.  Cutbacks and austerity in health, education and social welfare are being touted as achievements.  Surely they are the exact opposite?  Labour ministers have led the charge to cut back in their own departments in the name of keeping the Troika happy, in the cause of shoring up the gambling debts of Ireland’s elite from the Tiger Era.  Is not keeping rich investors happy the very antithesis of what Labour stood for?

And here’s the thing.  The Troika recently called for the government to keep on track with a further 2 Billion Euro in cutbacks this year.  They announced this in the middle of your leadership campaign.  This, to me, is a clear signal as to who really calls the shots.

To take a note from Minister Quinn’s playbook, it seems that the Troika think Labour’s job is to consult on the cutbacks, not to negotiate them.  So I wonder how much will actually change.

From a teacher’s point of view, I used to hope that a cabinet re-shuffle would rid education of Ruairi Quinn, and that we would have a minister who would listen to teachers, rather than his own fabled advisers. I hoped that we could get a minister who would listen to concerns around Special Needs Provision, around concerns with the JCSA, around concerns with Pupil Teacher ratios; around management of schools, around the proper resourcing of education.  Now I doubt that much would actually change.  Yes, we may get a minster who talks a better talk, but I’m beginning to think that nothing will actually change.

You see, Joan, or Alex.  I think you have forgotten the marginalised in this country.  I think that you have forgotten about just how much hardship has been endured by normal people.

I really hope that I’m wrong.  I really hope that you heard the very clear message given by the Irish Electorate in May.  I really hope that you will finally realise that Austerity has run its course.  Ireland should not be just about balancing the books.  Ireland should also be about the quality of life of all its citizens.  More so for the most vulnerable among us.

Or, to quote Gandhi: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

In very many cases recently Joan or Alex, we have failed this test of greatness.  What are you going to do about it?