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Professionalization and Trade Unionism of Irish Teachers.

THE IRISH NATIONAL Teachers Organisation (INTO) is Ireland's largest teachers' union. Founded in 1868, on the occasion of its 150th anniversary a history was timely, and Niamh Puirseil has produced a thorough study. Hers was a challenging task: commemorative histories attract a wide range of readers, with different expectations and demands, not all of which can be satisfied. The clarity and pace of Kindling the Flame should appeal to non-specialists, while the detailed research will recommend the book to academic audiences, especially those with an interest in trade union politics, and the teaching profession.

Another challenge to the author is the long period under review, and Puirseil readily admits in her Preface that "recent years are not covered in depth" (8). The chapters on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are well crafted, and stronger than the final chapters. Quite simply, as she notes, "there were too many policy matters ongoing and too little distance to treat of more recent times as they deserve," and her hope is that others "will take up the baton" (8).

The general arc of the professionalization of teaching is covered well, taking us from a time when teachers peddled their own "book-learning," to the point where their formal training was recognized by the award of university degrees, and their professional work was recognized with a salary scale and pension. Puirseil briefly rehearses the history of national schooling. Established in 1831, the system relied on annual funding from parliament, and was managed by a Board of Commissioners, which operated under the Lord Lieutenant, and the Chief Secretary. At the local level, national schools were usually under the management of the local clergyman. The establishment of national schooling did little to improve the lot of teachers; readers are reminded that in the mid-nineteenth century only one in three teachers was trained, and their salaries reflected this. Teachers could be hired and fired at the whim of the school manager, and they had no right of appeal in cases of dismissal. In addition to classroom teaching, they were expected to undertake a whole range of duties, which included making repairs to school buildings, and keeping records. The Rules for National Schools had to be observed carefully, and included that teachers could not attend political meetings, fairs, or markets. Teachers were often suspected of political activity, and in March 1848, when the Young Ireland movement was at its height, inspectors policed the national schools to remove any teachers who were using the schools for meetings.

By 1849, disquiet amongst teachers resulted in the launch of the Irish Teachers' Redress Committee. It was formed in order to lobby for improved pay and security of tenure, but the Commissioners of National Education would not engage with the Redress Committee, and indeed they threatened some teachers with loss of salary. The Redress Committee enjoyed a short life, and by 1851 it had disappeared. Although small local organizations tried to meet and organize petitions and memorials to the Government, they could have "no real strength and real influence without a national movement" (4). In 1867 the government announced that it was going to appoint a committee of inquiry into national education in Ireland, chaired by Lord Powis. The Powis Commission is generally seen as a watershed moment in Irish education; the commission sat between February 1868 and May 1869, and investigated all elements of schooling, including teacher training, and the salaries and modes of payment of teachers. Teachers galvanized themselves, in order to make their case heard, and by June 1868 they had formed into a national teachers' organization that would focus on two main issues: salaries and pensions.

While the Commissioners of National Education refused to deal directly with teachers, the British regime was more open to hearing the grievances of the INTO, and the Powis Commission took evidence from five representatives. Within a year, the INTO was recognized as a serious force, which had secured the support of over half of the Irish MPs, and published its own manifesto. The book recounts key stages in the growing power of the INTO, including securing pensions, following the passing of the National School Teachers (Ireland) Act, 1879.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, a new superannuated pension scheme was secured, based on the civil service scheme. The vexed question of teachers' salaries remained on the table, and wartime inflation rendered their pay woefully inadequate. As Puirseil explains, within INTO there was intense friction about how pay increases would be achieved and distributed, and this tension threatened INTO'S existence (45). The book is thorough in its treatment of how the organization functioned at this time, and how it grew into as a legally recognized trade union, with 6,298 female and 5,744 male members. By the time the Irish Free State was established, it was hoped that teachers would get the respect and "honour" that they deserved, but this did not happen. Routinely, education ministers and school managers deferred to the Catholic Church on education matters. Puirseil notes that "the number of schools controlled by religious orders had increased in the first decades of independence and between 1926 and 1953 the number of lay schools in the Republic fell by 16.6% while the number of convent and monastery schools had gone up by 21.1%" (128).

In 1934 a marriage bar was introduced, in an act which Puirseil describes as a "crude combination of sexism... and petty resentment," and to some degree INTO failed to oppose this discrimination against women teachers. Though gender discrimination should have been a major issue for members, it was always eclipsed by the focus on salaries and pay scales, including the battle for a common pay scale for primary and secondary teachers. The marriage bar was finally lifted in 1958, at a time when the Church was becoming increasingly concerned with "creeping state socialism which, it felt, would diminish parental responsibilities and push the Church out of its natural sphere of influence" (124).

In the 1960s and 1970s, public attention was on the emergence of "free" secondary schooling, and its social impact. However, as Puirseil argues, significant changes in primary education were also made at this time. A new generation of teachers were interested in progressive education ideas, and the government was viewing all education as an economic good. Changing philosophies of education had an impact on the profession, and on how teachers viewed themselves. To some degree, INTO began to look "increasingly out of touch" and lacking in vision, and it could be accused of concentrating "on salary and societal security questions to the neglect of the professional side" of teaching (136). As INTO approached its centenary, branches across the country engaged in processes to determine the future of the organization. They emphasized the need for a dedicated education committee, and a "new declaration of education principles" (137).

In the late 1960s, one of the most important issues to be addressed in the continuing battle for parity with secondary teachers was the professional qualifications of primary teachers. In an atmosphere of student and higher education agitation, there was an ongoing demand that primary teachers should be awarded university degrees. In 1973 Minister for Education Richard Burke announced that the training course for primary teachers would be extended to three years, and that--subject to the agreement of the universities--it would carry a university degree. Shortly after, the NUT senate announced that a new BEd degree had been approved, and teacher training colleges were invited to apply for "recognised college status" in the National University of Ireland (NUI). Carysfort and Mary Immaculate College became colleges of the NUI, while Marino, Froebel College, and the Church of Ireland College of Education became affiliated to Trinity College Dublin. The 1970s and 1980s saw periods of relative stability, and teachers salaries were subject to national wage agreements. INTO became more adept at working with other stakeholders. Puirseil argues that this became very evident during the economic downturn, when the INTO managed to negotiate successfully on behalf of special needs education, educational disadvantage, and Traveller education initiatives.

Puirseil's book provides a thorough account of the founding and growth of the INTO, locating it within changes in local and national politics, and international education ideas. Kindling the Flame also gives insight into how the teaching profession grew and evolved, while pointing to ways in which trade union politics in Ireland has strengthened its own hand at crucial moments in the nation's history.

--University College Dublin


Niamh Puirseil.

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Title Annotation:Kindling the Flame: 150 Years of the Irish National Teacher's Organisation
Author:Raftery, Deirdre
Publication:Irish Literary Supplement
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2019
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