Analysis of this survey shows that as low paid workers in a precarious sector, ELTs are under exceptional stress. This survey strongly suggests that clear regular communication with ELTs by government and owners and fair treatment of ELTs as significant stakeholders in the ELE sector in Ireland would be of benefit to teachers and students.
The ELTs surveyed have generally been working in ELT for over 5 years, are union members, and are living in rented accommodation.
They reported their schools to be functioning well, at good capacity in general, and teachers were looking forward to positive changes in the sector when their schools were closed by government order on 13 March 2020 to slow the spread of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Teachers were generally informed by email as to the school plans and two-thirds of respondents said their schools did not offer online lessons in the immediate weeks following the restrictions.
Regarding employment, significant decisions were taken by ELT employers: termination; temporary layoff; direction to apply for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment; or whether to offer online teaching with/without reduction in hours/pay. Two-thirds were dealt with as a class of employees collectively without the benefit of individual contact. The remaining third were notified with individual arrangements. Schools at least temporarily withheld pay for about half of the respondents on Friday 13 March (ruled as force majeure) and the following Monday 16. Only about three-quarters received pay for the Irish national bank holiday 17 March. Most filed for pay normally at the end of March.
24% of respondents reported students receiving refunds. 97% said students at their school were offered some form of online learning with many price, quality, and supply issues mentioned in almost every case. Participants noted and described numerous ethical, pedagogical, labour rights, and customer rights issues indicated in the provision of online learning.
Teachers’ experience was divided: the majority were laid off at some point many after receiving a single day or afternoon of training on a video conferencing platform. Some were still teaching through the month of April. Training was problematic and class numbers were variable due to students travelling home and confusion about whether class attendance was mandatory or not during the crisis. The vast majority of teachers are concerned about their jobs, their income and accommodation. Most were not aware of the government sponsored and recommended Wage Subsidy Scheme as their ELT employers simply laid them off without engaging.
Nor were they aware that the government had established a COVID-19 Working Group for the sector. This survey shows that if they could choose who to be included, they would include teachers and students. As the situation stands, both teachers and students are currently excluded, and teachers are excluded in many cases without means of contact.
Three-quarters of respondents reported being members of a trade union - with the majority holding a favourable view of the dominant union, Unite, and a favourable view of Unite’s representation.
Teachers were severely negatively impacted by the closures and manner in which the closures were managed, how communications with their workplaces were severed, and how the nature and quality of their work and income changed. The impact on their students seems to have had a significant negative impact on teachers as well.
The recommendation of this survey is to include teachers in the Working Group for the ELE sector. This recommendation is made in the current absence of links and communication with employers and variance of links to their employers, whether current or former. Teachers are clearly significant stakeholders in the Irish ELE sector, and not only because of their student facing role. Their exclusion not only poses a risk to the teachers themselves, the students, and the schools, but is detrimental to the sector’s ability to uphold values of efficiency, inclusivity, diversity, and quality.
A move towards recognition of the importance of teachers by the COVID-19 Working Group would eliminate the need to direct the action of individual independent employers and create direct channels of communication with the teaching community who experience the problems of precarious employment in this particularly sensitive industry.