Are the VECs trying to break the moratorium on the replacement of non-teaching staff by the back door at the expense of the most vulnerable and needy students? Michael Moriarty, General Secretary of IVEA is quoted today in the Irish Examiner:
This is a serious misrepresentation. The administrative staff working at Youthreaches are there for the administration of the Youthreaches etc. themselves, not for the VEC head quarters in each county. It is like pretending that if the HSE loses a secretary, then a local GP should relinquish hers and do the secretarial work instead of treating her patients. Hopefully Minister Coughlan will not permit IVEA to manipulate this vital distinction.The chief executives of each VEC will have to decide how their staffing is to be organised to keep within the restrictions. A lot of these administrative positions are working in head offices, or providing support to schools, and helping to run programmes like Youthreach or other local courses," he said.
Read more: Support for low-skilled students under threat | Irish Examiner
All education centres obviously require on the spot essential administration for the safe and effective delivery of teaching and student support.
The rest of our schools and colleges function administratively without an intervening system operating between them and the Department of Education & Skills. No matter what way you add it up, there is no need for the VECs. An expanded and dedicated vocational education team at the Department of Education would be appropriate for educational purposes but the direct administrative relationship that most schools and colleges have with the DoE would serve vocational schools equally - as well as removing the frequent delay and confusion that is often caused by having an extra layer of administrators.
Most education centres/schools do their own administration and the VECs role in this respect is largely one of merely rubber-stamping the paper work before passing it up to the DoE. The VECs also pass down payslips to teachers that are identical to the payslips given to all non VEC teachers directly by the Department. As with mainstream schools and colleges, these education centres have their own dedicated Boards of Management responsible for their day-to-day operation. The committees - another expenses gravy train that is frequently abused by county councillors - are superfluous. A certain county councillor on one VEC committee was notorious for turning up to VEC meetings, singing himself present and then leaving.
It is understandable that VEC CEOs, Senior VEC Officers and staff are worried about their own jobs. That is one thing. But it is another entirely when they start casting about to compensate for the effect on them of the government's moratorium and alight on the idea that the services which cater to the most vulnerable students are an easy target.
The government's intention is to rationalise the VECs, reducing their overall number to 22 in the first instance by amalgamating certain VECs - though it has been said that ultimately they will be cut back to 4. Logically the first to go will be those who have lost the largest number of administrative staff and can no longer function alone, thereby facilitating the amalgamation process. By stealing administrators from frontline services, VECs can cling on for longer - ironically at the expense of the very education services they are supposed to be supporting. Madness.
What is also disgustingly cynical about this proposed manoeuver by IVEA is their obvious calculation that the quality of education of the most needy young people is expendable. Why are they not attempting this stunt on the more established community colleges? Almost certainly becuase it would result in a massive parent and teacher protest. Youthreaches, VTOS, Adult Education and other services are already functioning with only a small part of the funding and other services that mainstream schools have access to. Despite this these are the very services that IVEA are now apparently planning to further undermine.
Another worrying aspect of the IVEA system is that, unlike mainstream schools etc, it is not subject to FoI requests. There is no good reason why this should be so and a lot of good reasons for subjecting the VECs to open scrutiny of the way they manage the public money they are responsible for. There are many instances of dubious behaviour and practice that deserve attention in this respect. Considering the high level of political patronage involved in appointing councillors to VEC committees, it is a fair certainty that the IVEA system is yet another murky corner of Irish life that needs some bright lights shone directly into it.