Jacquie Reid from Coleraine, an officer with the Ulster Teachers’ Union and former teacher at Millburn Primary, said quality teaching must be ring-fenced, if Northern Ireland’s economy is to compete in future decades.
She was speaking in the wake not only of Stormont’s budget crisis but also of Westminster’s decision to allow non-qualified teachers to teach in free schools and academies.
“These are dangerous times and we must ensure that the quality teaching for which Northern Ireland is renowned is not diluted as is happening in England,” she said.
“We cannot argue with the economics, with the figures facing us because of budget cuts – though we can ask why around £20m was wasted on the failed ESA plan because politicians could not set aside their tribal affiliations for the good of our young people. Just think how that £20m would bail out the present crisis.
“However, setting that aside, because we are facing unavoidable cuts we, as a profession, must ensure that the guillotine falls in the right place and that any budgetary constraints deliver the maximum benefit with the minimum disruption.
“For that reason I would urge our decision-makers to ensure that our teaching profession is protected for it is our teachers who are the engine room of the education system.
“Without an adequately trained and supported teaching force it doesn’t matter how elaborate the school building is or how magnificent the facilities are – they are useless.
“It is our teachers who will lead our young people to a love of learning and an appreciation of the importance of the education which will shape their lives. It is our teachers who have the frontline responsibility of expanding young minds enabling young people today to become the leaders of tomorrow.
“We must ensure that our teaching profession is not hacked about, for teachers are the lynchpin of tomorrow’s society.
“It is the teachers who deliver the curriculum, who lead the classes, who inspire and support the children and the role they play cannot be over-emphasised. But they need the resources and the support.
“The proof of that, if proof were needed, is evidenced by a report earlier this year from the Education and Training Inspectorate following a successful pilot scheme in 11 schools to improve outcomes for socially disadvantaged children. And who was the heart of this successful turnaround of these children’s outcomes – their teachers.”