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Thread: Are the VECs trying to break the moratorium by the back door?

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    Politics.ie Member blacbloc's Avatar
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    Default Are the VECs trying to break the moratorium by the back door?

    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:

    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.
    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.

    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.

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    Politics.ie Member blacbloc's Avatar
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    A further thought on this is that it is another example of how senior public servants expect favourable treatment when it comes to cutbacks. I wrote here a while ago about how one VEC was able to plough lots of money into building a training suite while many of its schools and centres are in desperate need of repair.

    http://www.politics.ie/education-sci...ing-suite.html

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    Everyone is breaking the recruitment embargo, most nurses I know are on "temporary" contracts with the HSE which are renewed again and again every 3 months.

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    Politics.ie Member blacbloc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by johnfás View Post
    Everyone is breaking the recruitment embargo, most nurses I know are on "temporary" contracts with the HSE which are renewed again and again every 3 months.
    That's terribly wasteful when it would cost less to employ them in the ordinary way. It's really sinking to a low when managers proactively plan to poach administrators from schools and ed centres.

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    Politics.ie Member Libero's Avatar
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    There's a few distinct points there.

    It's wrong of course if, in the context of a headcount freeze and people leaving posts, central management poaches admin staff from the coalface.

    As to whether the VEC structures are an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy between schools and the Department... someone has to engage in top-level routine admin and all that entails. I think it's a near consensus view at this stage that central government departments should concentrate on formulating and implementing policy, rather than fire-fighting and responding to hundreds of queries every week about a hinge having gone off a door, or a local-level payroll error.

    So there's a third option: have the Department step back to policy, audit and regulation, and leave the VECs get on with the routine admin. (Though it might be easier to move or make staff redundant at the VEC level...)

    Then again, the whole VEC structure is top-heavy, expensive and unwieldy: So what now for all the vec bureaucrats? - Features, Education - Independent.ie

    Going back to the OP, it's to be expected that in any area of public administration, flat and unsophisticated measures like a headcount freeze will be met by gaming of that new system.

    And when it comes to VEC structures, they are filled with the politically savvy and/or dependent. Maybe that explains why they featured in the McCarthy Report, but have escaped much rationalisation - though they're not the only type of public body to have pulled off that trick, for all the government waffle about tough decisions.

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    i was speaking to a teacher friend this evening, he tells me that an 'all out strike' has been called by impact in all vec's from next monday......I cant get any further info right now, does anybody know about this?

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    ucc currently advertising professorships with salaries totalling in excess €1million - so much for the recruitment embargo

    University College Cork (UCC): Human Resources : Job Vacancies

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    Politics.ie Member blacbloc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Libero View Post
    There's a few distinct points there.

    It's wrong of course if, in the context of a headcount freeze and people leaving posts, central management poaches admin staff from the coalface.

    As to whether the VEC structures are an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy between schools and the Department... someone has to engage in top-level routine admin and all that entails. I think it's a near consensus view at this stage that central government departments should concentrate on formulating and implementing policy, rather than fire-fighting and responding to hundreds of queries every week about a hinge having gone off a door, or a local-level payroll error.

    So there's a third option: have the Department step back to policy, audit and regulation, and leave the VECs get on with the routine admin. (Though it might be easier to move or make staff redundant at the VEC level...)

    Then again, the whole VEC structure is top-heavy, expensive and unwieldy: So what now for all the vec bureaucrats? - Features, Education - Independent.ie

    Going back to the OP, it's to be expected that in any area of public administration, flat and unsophisticated measures like a headcount freeze will be met by gaming of that new system.

    And when it comes to VEC structures, they are filled with the politically savvy and/or dependent. Maybe that explains why they featured in the McCarthy Report, but have escaped much rationalisation - though they're not the only type of public body to have pulled off that trick, for all the government waffle about tough decisions.
    Thanks for that post Libero. A few things there though that are not quite right. NB mainstream schools do not require this extra layer of administration and there are certainly no plans, nor indeed is it even necessary to introduce a massively expensive nationwide bureaucracy to separate administrative and policy functions in the way you describe. Ask yourself why VEC schools should be any different?

    There are a few reasons. Mainstream schools and colleges all have defined, well-understood administrative systems that are consistent throughout the country - understood by every school and college and applied in the same way. The disaster of the VEC system is that the CEOs and their lumbering 33 committees have singularly failed in all the years of their existence to come up with a consistent administrative approach. Each CEO (and some more than others) is basically a prince or princess in his or her own fifedom - at liberty to unravel DoE directives on a whim - and with little or no accountability for the fact of having done so. The upshot is that there are no two VECs that function administratively the same way. Far from saving the DoE trouble, it is a nightmare for them. Administrators from the VECs are generating as much if not more queries to the DoE than are the many more mainstream schools.

    The administrative inconsistencies between the VECs is also the place where a lot of dodgy things are made possible - and certain VECs are without doubt taking full advantage of the fact - and certainly there is a fair amount of political savvy that is put to exploiting the situation.

    Take for example the calucaltions of teaching hours allocated to individual education centres. For schools there is a straightforward formula which allows principals to monitor how many they are using as they go along and which makes it impossible for them to go over their allocation. Not so education centres - there is no set forumla. Some VECs shortchange their education centres compared to others - despite the fact that the Department guidelines are straightforward and should be applied consistently. This means that in certain areas of the country students and ed centres do not have as much teaching as in others. The VECs 'make' money out of this. Where does it go? There are many, many such issues that arise.

    McCarthy is right: shut the whole edifice down. Streamline all administrative processes so school and centre administrators know exactly what is what and can slot in beside the mainstream system as they should. There are some additional considerations for thngs like traveller centres, but again these can easily be determined and applied evenly throughout the country with proper guidlines and training at school and centre level. As suggested before, the Department would need some additional staffing to cater for the vocational ed centres but costwise this would be a massive saving on the existing situation. The primary focus of the department can still be educational policy, if organised properly. It really isn't rocket science to sit down, have a thorough look at what is needed come up with workable systems and then just apply them. A single, well-organised and concerted initial exercise would deal with the bulk of what is needed to iron the situation out - it shouldn't take any longer than 18months - 2 years maximum. Intermittent reviews thereafter would identify and deal with problems that may emerge and/or allow for further efficiency adjustments and elimination of waste.

    Incidentally, the VECs don't deal with issues like door hinges coming off etc - that is all devolved to schools/centres and their management boards - just as in mainstream schools - another reason why the VECs are superfluous. My understanding is that the Department of Education civils servants frequently find the VECs an utter nightmare to deal with anyway.

    But to get back to my original point - it is practically criminal that IVEA are now attempting to poach desperately needed admin supports from the centres who are dealing with some of the most needy and unsupported young people. It's cynical beyond belief and clearly shows that they regard such educational initiatives as second class.

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    Politics.ie Member Libero's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbloc
    NB mainstream schools do not require this extra layer of administration and there are certainly no plans, nor indeed is it even necessary to introduce a massively expensive nationwide bureaucracy to separate administrative and policy functions in the way you describe. Ask yourself why VEC schools should be any different?
    Maybe another way to look at it is to ask why the Department is at all involved in top-level admin, other than to audit and regulate? Maybe the non-VEC schools should have a VEC-style structure above them, leaving a very slimmed down department to concentrate on policy?

    (And yes, I know that's what was meant to happen with the HSE!)

    That's all in the abstract though. The VEC system has gone to pot, and like local authorities and local enterprise boards, is a very bad advertisement for devolving administration to a local level.

    Your points are well made and easily understood. What's not so easy to understand, other than as the result of connections and poiticking, is the way such grossly inefficient edifices have survived McCarthy. They won't survive the IMF.

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    Politics.ie Member blacbloc's Avatar
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    The DoE administrative function is infinitely better organised than the VEC system - it would be madness for mainstream schools to lurch towards a separate VEC style body which will, as night follows day, become much more expensive than the way the DoE does what it does now.

    Yes, it may well be possible to train and delegate to boards of management and school admins/principals more of the admin work - leaving the DoE with a more auditing/regulatory role. But disaster lies the way of setting up any other sort of separate quango. Is there a single instance of one that has ever worked well?

    Michael Moriarty shoots himself in the foot, I fear, in the Independent article by Kim Bielenberg that you linked to. He cites the HSE as an example of something that hasn't worked out. Well the VEC is merely the HSE x 33, in effect!

    Michael Moriarty, general secretary of the Irish Vocational Education Association, vigorously defends the role of the local committees and their support offices. "I support having a county structure that involves local people in the running of schools and other services. "VECs are deep-rooted and are accountable to their community.

    "There is a danger that we will turn local areas into deserts if we close everything down. We have already seen it with local post offices the HSE.

    "They scrapped the health boards and centralised everything, but it hasn't really worked out.''

    Mr Moriarty and local interests in the areas affected are likely to fight the proposed cuts, but they may find it hard to defend the status quo in counties such as Waterford.

    Waterford has two Vocational Education Committees, each with its own headquarters and staff.

    With total administrative pay costs of €1.6m, these bureaucratic behemoths help in the administration of just five schools between them.

    - KIM BIELENBERG
    The claim that VECs involve local people in local education is a joke - it is no more the case than with other schools whos boards of management are made up from local people too. These VEC committees are ruled with an iron fist by their CEOs - the committees turn up, sign/vote for whatever they are asked to, collect their expenses and go home again. They will sit on schools boards of management too but unlike with mainstream schools the Boards of Managment are toothless compared to the VEC committees themselves - frequently hamstrung by having to wait on committee decisions that can take months and even years to be made. In mainstream schools the Boards of Management can get on directly with running the schools in line with Department policy. There is no earthly reason why this should not be the case in the vocational sector.

    Michael Moriarty is disingenuous too in the way he manages to conflate different things. The schools themselves already do most of the admin - plus they do the educating - the real point of the vocatinal schools. Education policy isdetermined the DoE. It is actually confusing for VEC schools and centres when they get conflicting advice from both - the VECs frequently intervene and cause utter confusion, delay - thereby hampering educational and administrative progression. One accountancy expert invited to train a group of education centre managers, when shown the monthly returns they were being given by their VEC declared them 'unworkable with'. This is one of the biggest VECs in the country, to boot.

    Some VECs function much better than others and show a genuine committment to the educational work of teachers and principals, but they are in a small minority. In fact, despite what the article says about the cost of the Waterford situation - which surely needs to be addressed - Co Waterford VEC is one of the most educationally supportive in the country - focused on what it is supposed to be about rather than being an end in itself.
    Last edited by blacbloc; 2nd September 2010 at 01:14 PM.

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