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Ireland appoints ELT employment mediator amid Grafton scandal

In what has been described as a positive step forward for Ireland’s English language teaching sector, the government has appointed a mediator to work with stakeholders to address some of the employment-related issues that have arisen in recent times.

Staff at Grafton College were left without pay and fearing “homelessness” following the announcement that the school was going into liquidation. Photo: Twitter/ @deagers.

The mediator has been asked to assess the scope for a set of minimum employment standards

Following the snap closure of Dublin’s Grafton College last December – which impacted 470 international students and left at least 23 teaching staff without pay –  widespread attention was drawn to the conditions for those working in the sector.

“This will be a positive benefit to the sector as a whole”

Debts owed by the private English language college reportedly include more than €170,000 in wages and statutory redundancy payments to staff and an estimated €45,000 to a Mongolian recruitment agency for students that were due to begin courses at the start of 2019.

In response, minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor has appointed the former general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, Patrick King, as a mediator. She said the government’s key objective is to ensure Ireland has an ELT sector that provides quality education to international students.

“Teachers and staff are a central element in ensuring the quality of that educational provision,” she added.

Specifically, King has been asked to assess the scope for a set of minimum employment standards which could form the basis of a Registered Employment Agreement covering the sector.

Mitchell O’Connor said she encourages bodies representing both employers and employees in the sector to engage with the mediation process.

“There is a real opportunity here… I call on both employers and staff representative bodies to actively engage with [King] to explore the potential to address the employment-related issues that have been so damaging to the sector in the recent past.

“This will be a positive benefit to the sector as a whole and will support the objectives of Ireland’s International Education Strategy by strengthening the quality of our English language sector,” she added.

“If employers are serious about a vibrant sector… they should engage positively with this process”

The mediation process complements the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Amendment) Bill currently being progressed by the Department of Education that is intended to strengthen the role of QQI as a regulator in the English language sector.

Trade union Unite, which organises English language teachers in Ireland, said it welcomed recognition of the difficulties faced by teachers.

“If employers are serious about developing a vibrant ELT sector which is characterised not only by high-quality learning but by high-quality employment standards, they should likewise engage positively with this process,” Unite senior regional organiser Davy Kettyles said in a statement.

In response to queries about the impact that the Grafton College closure had on international students, Marketing English in Ireland – an association of accredited English language schools that includes Grafton –  later confirmed alternative arrangements for those displaced by the events.

But for teachers in the sector, a spokesperson for ELT Advocacy Ireland told The PIE News, the potential for damage will continue until protections are put in place for them “in our particularly precarious profession”.

“MEI schools take in the students within their extra classroom capacity. No teachers need to be taken on. So MEI schools can recoup the funds set aside for the protection of students,” the spokesperson said.

“Teachers get tossed out.”

The spokesperson added that MEI has been asked to support their former associate teachers by sending a message of support on social media.

“Teachers get tossed out”

“The #SupportGraftonTeachers hashtag would be an easy way to demonstrate they are not hostile towards teachers working in their associate schools. ELT Ireland after a few weeks did make a donation to the GoFundMe page, but MEI could be waiting for a more significant way to help.

“The Grafton staff are depending on MEI to make an inclusive choice for the people who’ve worked and continue to work in their schools. We’ll see what happens,” they added.

MEI has been contacted by The PIE News for comment.

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