Droichead: A bridge too far
Droichead is a new model of induction and probation for newly qualified teachers, which has been introduced by the Teaching Council, and is currently in a pilot phase. The model will replace the current probation process where Department of Education inspectors evaluate all newly qualified teachers and deem them satisfactory or not to be a fully probated teacher. It is an external process and, one that is generally very stressful.
The Teaching Council is keen for a model where principals will become responsible for probating these teachers. It seems that the INTO are now also in favour of this scheme with many of their CEC reps readily taking on the pilot scheme, even though only a few months ago, the INTO had issued a directive forbidding schools to take part in the pilot, a directive ignored by some members.
From my own perspective, I am also broadly in favour of setting our own standards. I am not completely against the idea of principals probating newly qualified teachers but I do question why anyone would be allowed to qualify as a teacher with a degree if they were not deemed good enough. However, let’s just focus on why, right now, I am against the idea of Droichead in its current form.
My main issue is that of trust and accountability.
From a trust angle, I mostly mean trust in the DES to support such a scheme financially. The system will fail unless it is adequately supported. I am an administrative principal and while my NIPT mentor has been away, I have stepped in with our NQTs. I found it very difficult to meet with my NQTs regularly and felt sorry for them that they probably didn’t get as much support as I would have liked to have given them. I can only imagine how a teaching principal would be able to do anything related to mentoring without regular weekly release time and I think we all know this is highly unlikely to happen.
I also have little faith in the Teaching Council to listen to the concerns of principals. Unfortunately, it appears that agencies can be very selective of listening to the voices that they want to hear. I remember in the last incarnation of Droichead that after I left their discussions, the message that went out sounded very different to the messages that were taken place inside the consultation room. I have seen this time and time again with the various consultations that seem to be going on over the last few years, including all the consultations on patronage, ICT, etc. Agencies such as the IPPN have come up with alternative models but it seems like nothing that they have suggested has been taken on board.
The other issue is accountability. At the end of the day, this has to be built in properly into probation. Ireland is a very small country and I’ve learned since I’ve moved out of Dublin that everyone seems to be related to everyone and if they aren’t related to someone, someone in the school is related to that someone or there are connections between GAA, churches or political party affiliation (the holy trinity of Ireland). Teaching is also a very homogeneous profession in this country, which makes the circle even smaller. Therefore, conflicts of interest are highly likely no matter where you teach.
All this doesn’t matter when you’re faced with a good NQT. However, if you’re faced with the captain of the local GAA team who can’t string two words together, and you’re faced with the option of probating him or being exiled, it’s not a nice position to be in. Even if you’re faced with a stranger who is working their bottom off but just isn’t suited to the job, it’s a very difficult situation. Furthermore, all schools have different personalities and what’s acceptable in one school isn’t ok in another school.
Another problem (and I mean this in the best way possible) is the strength of our union. While this is generally a positive thing, it can work the opposite way. I can only surmise that a teacher who is not getting on well may blame the very person who is trying to help them and there will be very busy CEC reps trying to sort out disputes about probation.
All these variables put a lot of pressure on any principal.
Having said this, I would still argue that these issues are not a reason not to probate, but we need stringent criteria for probating teachers with little wiggle room for interpretation. We also need training in the likes of appraisal systems so that we are protected. I think the INTO are going to have to think about their role in this process too. There are many more variables that need to be trashed out and as this is a complete change in teaching culture with the role of the principal moved to a gatekeeper role, it has to be handled carefully.
While I completely disagree with the second level teachers and their campaign against the proposed JC changes, I can see that even if something positive is brought into a conservative system, it needs to happen gradually and with buy in from everyone. While it is clear that some principals are happy, there is at least a significant number of people that are not. I would like to think of myself as someone who is generally very open to change and I am currently deeply uncomfortable with what’s happening with Droichead and I believe that it will fail and dilute the profession if it is progressed in a half-assed way, as it seems to be.
What is the alternative?
Granted, the current system isn’t great. It’s stressful and it’s a waste of resources. The money that is used to fund the costs of inspectors visiting hundreds of teachers every year could be pumped into schools.
One alternative is to prevent substandard teachers from entering the profession in the first place. This would be the job of the teacher training colleges. Could there be a system whereby schools take on a final year student as a classroom teacher (with the support of a permanent experienced member of staff) and they are probated by the college? This could also solve one of the major problems that teaching principals have in that, the teaching principal could use some of the time where he/she could do administrative duties, mentoring, etc.
However I doubt it’s going to happen. I usually don’t whinge about money but I think if principals do take this on, it really has to be financially rewarded or at least some other form of reward, e.g. time off, (or dare I say some sort of contract!)
I guess the fact that sub cover is not being granted for upcoming principal talks starts us off in a mindset that investment into Droichead is going to be minimal and I think the cliché that you get what you put in will stand to reason here. Perhaps I am wrong and perhaps everyone knows what they are doing. However, to reiterate my own values: I am generally in favour of the Droichead programme but I feel we are a long long way off introducing it into our system. I would conclude that I believe the pilot must keep flying for several more years before it lands.