Equal Rights for All Teachers!

by Mary Cahillane, INTO Executive (personal capacity)

In December, Stormont Education Minister John O’Dowd announced the creation of a new scheme called Investing in the Teaching Workforce. The scheme allows for five hundred 55+-year-old teachers to retire on full pension and be replaced by new young teachers. A good news story, anyone would have thought – except for the pretty nasty sting in the tail. The scheme specifies that only teachers who have qualified in the last three years can apply for the 500 posts. However, there are a large number of substitute/temporary teachers in Northern Ireland who are qualified longer than three years but still cannot get permanent employment and they would be excluded for applying for the new jobs. It is hard to get a figure of how many of these teachers are in the system but anecdotal evidence would suggest there may be more than 3,000 of them.

O'Dowd has faced protests from teachers
O’Dowd has faced protests from teachers

There was an immediate backlash from this group of teachers against John O’Dowd’s proposal which quite clearly discriminates against them. They immediately set up a Facebook page called Equal Rights for All Teachers and launched a petition which has gathered over 6,000 signatures. They have been very active, visiting various INTO and NASUWT teachers’ union meetings in recent weeks, making their case and asking for the support of all activists within those teaching unions.

The Minister took to social media in late January to publicly criticise these teachers and their campaign, calling them “keyboard warriors” with no alternative. The Minister very aggressively defended this discriminatory and unfair scheme and made threatening suggestions that, if it wasn’t accepted in full, he would just pull the plug on it. Of course, the reason that only newly qualified teachers can apply for these new proposed jobs is simple – money! By replacing old teachers with very young teachers, there is a saving of £9 million to be made. Ultimately, it would seem that’s all that matters. Not the best person for the job, not experience, not ability, but how cheap you are on the pay scale.

The Minister’s very weak arguments were exposed on the Nolan show when he went on to defend the scheme and he was robustly challenged by many callers. This scheme, if it goes ahead, is unfair and will discriminate against a large section of the teaching workforce. The 500 posts should be open to all substitute and temporary teachers and the best person appointed to the jobs in an open and transparent manner.

Follow Equal Rights for All Teachers on Facebook and sign their petition!