Teaching Council Interview: Gregor Kerr

The third person aiming to be a member of the Teaching Council, Gregor Kerr, agreed to go through our interview. Have a read through his answers to our tough questions.

  1. Why do you want to be a rep for the Teaching Council?

The main reason I have decided to stand in this election is because I don’t trust the Teaching Council.  I don’t trust them and I don’t trust their agendas.  In recent years the Teaching Council, their decisions and their policies are having a greater and greater influence on our working lives as teachers and I think more and more of us don’t trust them and don’t trust their agendas.

And as well as not trusting their agendas, huge numbers of teachers feel insulted and ignored by the attitude of the Teaching Council.  On all of the big issues affecting us – Droichead, Cosán, JobBridge, Fitness to Teach – their attitude is to ram changes down our throats, in some cases going through a sham of pretended ‘consultation’ first.

As well as sharing that frustration, large numbers of teachers don’t believe that teachers’ voices have been heard at the Teaching Council table or that there has been anything like an adequate feedback of information to us as to what is happening at Teaching Council level.

I am standing on a simple platform:

  • Distrust of the Teaching Council
  • A belief that we need a strong voice on key issues such as Droichead, Cosán, JobBridge, Fitness To Practice, the Protection of Qualifications etc
  • The need for proper and meaningful 2-way communication between teachers and those elected to represent us – communication which will both keep teachers updated on what is happening at Teaching Council and provide a forum through which teachers can raise issues of concern.
  1. What have the TC ever done for us?

It is difficult to name anything positive that the Teaching Council has done for us as individuals or as a profession.  As I said it certainly impacts more and more on our daily lives, but for most people that is not viewed as a positive impact.

Even in areas in which it should be expected to have an impact, such as protection of qualifications and ensuring that only qualified teachers are employed in our classrooms, it took years of fighting by the unions to have Section 30 of the TC Act implemented, and then almost immediately anomalies began to appear.

With JobBridge, the TC have bent their own rules to facilitate the completion of probation on this slave labour scheme.  Without the actions of a small number of us who fought to ensure that the INTO directive against participation in JobBridge was defended the TC would happily have facilitated the use of JobBridge as the expected career entry path for NQTs.

And the fact that the Teaching Council has not once spoken out against any of the austerity cuts – either to teachers’ pay or to the education service – means that its claim to protect the standards of education or the professionalism of teachers rings hollow.

  1. Gregor Kerr

    Gregor Kerr

    What do you think is the TC’s biggest challenge?

To make itself in some way relevant to us as teachers.  To do something to remove that glazed look that comes over most teachers’ eyes when the words ‘Teaching Council’ or ‘Teaching Council elections’ are mentioned.

And when that glazed look isn’t there, it’s often replaced by one of hostility – when TC ‘initiatives’ such as Droichead or Cosán are mentioned or when Fitness to Teach hearings or school ‘autonomy’ proposals come up in conversation.  Many, many teachers see the Teaching Council as an out-of-touch body which simply doesn’t listen and doesn’t appear to care about the views of teachers.  They see it as a body there to regulate us as teachers rather than to regulate the teaching profession.

So the best thing the Council could do in the next period, in my view, would be to initiate a period of consultation – proper consultation – and communication, and try to build a relationship with the very people on whom its existence depends – teachers.

  1. What do you think is the difference between the INTO and the TC in terms of their attitude to education?

I’ve been an INTO activist for over 25 years – locally as a staff rep, branch committee and district committee member and nationally as a vociferous and active delegate to Congress.  I am an ordinary union member who spends my time at branch and district level encouraging and supporting union members to get organised on the issues that affect them – and also encouraging them to show solidarity with other union members. As such I find myself in disagreement with INTO head office more often than I agree with them.

The principal role of the INTO is to defend teachers’ salaries, terms and conditions – and to fight to ensure that the education system we work in is the best it can possibly be, both for the pupils we work with and for ourselves.  It is often extremely frustrating trying to get action from the union leadership, it is often just as frustrating trying to encourage and motivate members to demand action.  But at least in the union there is a democratic process through which it is possible to have issues raised and, even if somewhat slowly, action taken.

The INTO is a union – it has a collective muscle when it chooses to use it.  The Teaching Council is a regulatory body.  It should have an over-arching view, and should be about enhancing professionalism through showcasing best practice, encouraging research and valuing teachers.  Should be….

  1. Droichead. Well?

I have been to the forefront of opposing Droichead – and its forerunner CEPP – since 2011. I believe that it is crucial that Droichead is opposed unconditionally at Teaching Council. There can be no room for equivocation. Put simply – No ifs. No Buts. Just No!

We have to separate out the two concepts of mentoring of NQTs and the evaluation/signing-off of probation.  Yes we want properly resourced and funded mentoring for our NQTs.  But that cannot be done and at the same time make the principal and/or mentor responsible for evaluating and signing off on probation.

How can an NQT be honest with a mentor or principal and ask for support or advice if s/he is having difficulty if s/he fears that that same conversation is contributing to how her/his probation will be evaluated?  While many principals are and will be supportive of NQTs, there are others who will place excessive demands on the NQT who is not in a position to say no to anything if the principal is ultimately signing off on her/his probation.  And what about the situation – especially in smaller schools – where the NQT and her/his family is known to the principal, maybe even a past pupil of the school?  If the principal feels that the NQT should not pass probation doesn’t it put that principal in a very difficult situation to be the one to have to make that call?

Since 2011, the membership of the INTO has consistently opposed the concept of principals being responsible for signing off on probation. The Teaching Council have just as consistently attempted to foist it on us. Their ‘consultation’ has been a joke, and they act as if the outcome of the pilot project is pre-determined.

My branch, Dublin North City, and District 14, have put forward this motion for Congress 2016 –
“Congress
(i) re-affirms the INTO position of opposition to the Droichead programme for probation of NQTs
(ii) demands that mentoring for NQTs is properly resourced and funded
(iii) further demands that probation of all NQTs be evaluated externally through a panel of seconded teachers and/or principals, funded by the Department of Education and Skills
(iv) instructs the CEC to issue a directive to all members not to participate in or co-operate with Droichead or with any form of probation that does not include external evaluation for all NQTs”

If Congress delegates agree this motion or something similar and if we elect representatives to the Teaching Council who will unequivocally oppose Droichead, we can consign this scheme to the dustbin where it belongs.

  1. Cosán. Same.

The concept of compulsory CPD is an insult to our professionalism.  Every teacher we know is constantly upskilling, doing courses, researching best practice and trying to deliver the best outcomes for the pupils in our classes – despite government cutbacks and lack of proper resourcing.  Yet the Cosán ‘consultation’ basically infers that we need more stick and less carrot.

They threaten to make the completion of CPD compulsory – and to make renewal of annual registration dependent on completing CPD. We simply cannot allow this to happen. If we allow that link to be made, it is a small step to linking the payment of increments to the completion of CPD. Provide the opportunity for CPD within our working time, we’ll do it – and stop insulting us with threats about registration.

Neither can we allow CPD to cost us any more money (we already pay for most of our courses ourselves) or any more time in terms of increased hours or any threat to our current EPV entitlement.

The plans for CPD outlined in the Cosán document must be opposed unconditionally.  Again my branch and District of the INTO have been proactive ion this issue and have put forward the following motion for this year’s Congress

“Congress

(i) rejects the Teaching Council’s Draft Framework For Teachers’ Learning ‘Cosán’

(ii) further rejects any attempts to change the current terms and conditions for registration with the Teaching Council

(iii) demands that

  1. CPD be adequately resourced and funded by the DES, and be provided within our current working time
  2. any changes to CPD do not impact on our current entitlement to EPV days

(iv) instructs the CEC to organise a campaign up to and including a ballot for industrial action if necessary to prevent any addition to our working time and/or any attempts to make us pay for CPD”

  1. Speaking of the above, what’s with all these initiatives with Irish names?

I don’t know – is it a bit like the politicians who use a ‘cúpla focal’ at the start of a speech to make them seem more ‘authentic’?  Is the psychology behind it a belief that we will see them as ‘ours’ if they have Irish names?  If that’s the case it hasn’t worked as most teachers can clearly see that these initiatives are for the most part copying the very worst excesses of the English system – the sort of paper and ‘supervision’ overload that is driving teachers out of the system there in their hordes.

  1. Do you think teachers need to be more professional than they are?

I’m not sure what being ‘more professional’ means.  I don’t think there is any evidence that teachers in Ireland are not ‘professional’.  In fact our ‘professionalism’ leads us often to cover up for glaring anomalies and gaps in the education system.

But how ‘professional’ is it to work in draughty, poorly heated prefab classrooms without complaint?

How ‘professional’ is it to work in overcrowded classrooms and attempt to deliver a child-centred curriculum in some of the biggest classes in the EU without much complaint?

How ‘professional’ is it to allow services to EAL pupils, to Traveller pupils, to SEN pupils to be cut and to continue to battle on and effectively cover up those cuts with a sticking plaster?

Our ‘professionalism’ leads us to do the best we can with the resources we have.  Perhaps, though, a more professional teaching force would demand that education be properly funded and would be loudly screaming from the rooftops about the anomalies and gaps that exist and that prevent us from delivering the very best for our pupils.

  1. Secondary school teachers were up in arms about correcting their own kids’ exams. Primary principals seem to be up in arms about probating teachers? Are we wusses? Isn’t this just proof that we aren’t professional enough to do a professional job?

Maybe it’s proof that we are actually professional.  I went on at length about Droichead earlier so I’m not going to repeat what I said.  But in terms of being professional – if we want to maintain standards across the profession, how can we say that 3,000+ principals will apply the same standards and adopt roughly the same approach to evaluation of probation?  We’re all already familiar with the fact that, depending on the inspector, NQTs can be expected to take different approaches to the way in which planning is done and presented.  If that’s the case with a couple of hundred inspectors, imagine the variation there would be if every principal in the country was evaluating probation.

Consistency of standards and consistency of approach – and the removal of any possible charges of favouritism or nepotism – are at the root of the objections to both Droichead and the JC reform.  A wish to maintain standards and objectivity is surely more rather than less professional.

  1. Do you think the Teaching Council have a role with regards to the patronage debate?

Not any more than anyone else has.  Patronage is a societal and a political issue.  Parents, parent bodies, management bodies, teachers and our unions, the DES, politicians all have views and can all contribute to the debate.  If the Teaching Council believes it has something to contribute to that debate, it can put forward its views but those views should have no more weight than those of any other body.

Ultimately, in individual schools it should be an issue for the school community of that school to decide.

  1. Is there any representation on the Teaching Council that shouldn’t be on the Teaching Council? Why?

Not necessarily.  I would however question the basis on which ministerial appointments are made.  I’m not questioning the integrity of any present or past members of the Council, but as with all government appointments there should be a clear and transparent process through which appointments are made – to avoid any possibility of political patronage.

And IBEC representation – why?

  1. Do you think teachers should have contracts?

In a word – yes.

  1. Do you think teachers should have non teaching time built into their day?

Again – in a word Yes.  There’s a simple way in which this could be accommodated – Supply panels.  We’re currently in the midst of a substitute crisis, one that was totally predictable.  These crises happen on a cyclical basis and will only be prevented into the future if and when nationwide Supply Panels are put in place.  Such a scheme has already been piloted and proven to be successful.  But we were not loud enough in our demands for the pilot to be extended nationwide, and then the cuts came and the supply panels were among the first things to go.

If we had such panels in place, it would not alone ensure that all teacher absences would be covered by a qualified sub, we would also have adequate sub cover to give teaching principals more release time for administrative duties, and all teachers could have non teaching time built into their week’s work – time to plan IEPs with support teachers, time to consult with educational psychologists as necessary, time for team planning with other teachers etc etc.  These are not things that should be seen as an added extra but should be seen as a core part of what we do.

Gregor Kerr is 50 years old and teaches in St. Mary’s Primary School, a DEIS Band 1 school situated in the north inner city of Dublin.  He has taught in this school for 21 years – filling a variety of roles including class teacher (of various different classes), Home School Community Liaison Co-ordinator and acting principal.  Having qualified in 1985 during a time of huge teacher unemployment, he worked as a sub and temporary teacher for many years before becoming permanent.

He has been an active member of the INTO for over 25 years.  When he first became active, it was as as part of the Substitute and Temporary Teachers Action Group which fought for and gained panel rights for temporary teachers.  He has been active locally – as staff rep and on Branch and District Committee – and nationally – as a vocal and active contributor to annual Congress.  His underlying philosophy is that of encouraging and supporting teachers as union members to get involved and effect change.  He hopes that he can bring that same philosophy to the role of teacher’s rep on the Teaching Council.

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