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UTUhandbook2017web

Conference Handbook ULSTER TEACHERS’ UNION ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2017

President’s Foreword

Mark Creelman

B.A.(Hons), P.G.C.E.

Odysseus, the macho warrior hero from Homer’s Odyssey, while lying awake one

night, pensively reflects on how he has been wronged and how he’s going to rid

himself of all the men who have been romancing his wife during his absence. He

encourages and soothes himself saying, “Be still, my heart, thou hast known worse

than this…” As the teaching profession reflects on how it has been wronged at

the hand of those charged to protect and uphold teachers, the teaching profession

cannot help but feel that it has never known things to be as bad as this – things have

been bad but they are getting worse.

Our conference theme this year, ‘On The Edge’, is, first of all, a recognition of the

fact that teachers stand at the forefront of education, helping children step into

their futures, ensuring that they are equipped and ready to face the challenges of

the future. Pupils, too, stand on the edge of destiny, but is our austerity-driven

education system setting them up for anything more than disappointingly limited

opportunities? Secondly, the theme is a clarion call to the stakeholders in the

Education sector to recognise that teachers, as demonstrated by recent ballots

for strike and industrial action by unions, are at the threshold of tolerance. Quite

simply, the teaching professional cannot continue to be expected to do more with

less – enough is enough!

Following on from the previous conference where we were reminded of the

importance of “Valuing Education”, it can be too easy to let fall to the ground,

despite the modernisation and technological advancements in the school setting,

the undeniable fact that teachers remain the single, greatest resource available to

schools today in the mission to provide quality learning experiences for our children.

Teachers are united in their aim, not merely to produce well-educated individuals

but, rather, to inspire and equip children to succeed and persevere in life; to

empower them to live “well”. Yet ironically, teachers remain the most undervalued

professionals in the public sector.

In my role as President this year, I have had the opportunity to attend national

and international conferences such as Education International (EI), ETUCE and

many others hosted by our sister unions. What is interesting is that, despite the

boundaries of geography, culture, language or beliefs, teaching professionals

are united by the same domineering issues in our respective education systems:

workload, teacher stress, government-imposed policy, the never-ending onslaught

of data-driven accountability and, not to mention, budget cuts.

Despite the former Education Minister’s claim that he appreciated the work done by

teachers, there is a disparity between his rhetoric and actions. In Northern Ireland,

teachers have seen their pay fall by 15% since the 2010/11 academic year with no

meaningful action from the Department to address the issue. Teachers continue

to have the most appalling benefits in the public sector for maternity, paternity

and adoptive leave and experience continually increasing bureaucracy generated

by assessment protocols along with further deprivation of access to professional

development. The onslaught continues against teachers with the introduction of

yet another inspection format from ETI; as if teachers cannot be trusted to get on

with their work. Teachers are on the edge. Owing to the Departmental expectation,

teaching professionals are already being made to feel that unless they are working

every evening and every day at the weekend that they cannot do their job properly!

The list of issues could go on, but the question is, how long are we prepared to let

this go on before we start pressing for changes to the status quo?

Following discussions at our Central Executive Committee meetings, in December

2016, members were balloted with 82% in favour of industrial action short of strike,

which came into action on 12th January 2017. This action short of strike action was

not taken lightly but is a reflection of how strongly our members are concerned

about the unrealistic pressures placed upon schools, and the staff within them, to

constantly improve standards and meet targets in increasingly more challenging

environments. For the first time in my teaching career, it could be sensed

throughout the teaching community a malaise and discontentment. In short,

teachers are employed to teach but other duties and responsibilities have been

tucked under the banner of their “duty of care”. Yet, there is light at the end of the

tunnel for, as never before as within the last year, have I heard so many teachers

talking about the Jordanstown Agreement, looking to their terms and conditions

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