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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A modest proposal to shoot yourself in the foot

I had the opportunity last Friday to listen to RTE News at One and my ears pricked up when I heard Sean O’ Rourke say that he would be speaking to a principal who had the solution to teacher absenteeism. I’m all ears when it comes to problems and solutions so I pulled myself closer to the radio for the interview. A local principal who was a former General Election candidate for Fine Gael was supporting the Minster for Education in his efforts to tackle teacher absenteeism. His suggestion was that any teacher absent should be docked 20% of weekly pay if out for a day uncertified leave. Currently teachers are allowed 3 days uncertified sick leave.
The principal claimed he could spot clear trends in teachers being out on Mondays and claiming uncertified leave to attend weddings.
He felt it wasn’t a major problem but teachers should be held accountable for where they should be if not in class. I wonder was this view based on the premise that Batt O’Keeffe released figures that claimed 12,000 teachers were absent without certification on Mondays during the school year. These figures look like there’s a real problem here so lets take a closer look at Batt’s maths! Minster O’keeffe never specified whether he was talking about primary or secondary school.
Firstly there’s 40,000 teachers and 31 Mondays in the school year. So that’s 1.25M working days in the school year. As a percentage of this number of working days that means uncertified absenteeism in the sector on Monday is less than 1%. So that’s the extent of the problem. One feels that the only reason why these figures are being thrown out is to distract from the campaign against education cuts. Fianna Fail is trying to split teachers from parents and is using this information in an attempt to drive a wedge between them. I think if most managers could rely on 99% of their workforce showing up on Monday morning they’d be happy.

I know the Principal well having spent 3 years on the board of management as the VEC representative. Strangely in my time there he never mentioned a problem with absenteeism at the school and I don’t believe there is one. I think however if his proposal goes through there will be one. If a teacher is sick and has to go to a doctor each time they’re out then when the doctor asks how long will I make the cert out for you can bet the teacher will then say, “make it a week”. Teachers are no different to any worker and will of course max out on time allowed. And so human nature being what it is finds a way around the modest proposal of our retiring principal. It’s a shame that when a teacher is retiring that he takes an opportunity to have a pot shot at his fellow professionals who not just owe a loyalty to their principal but are entitled to a loyalty in return.

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