School teachers strike against assessment and wage differentiation

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On 17 February 2000, the autonomous trade unions, Gilda and Cobas, called a national strike involving Italian school teachers at all educational levels. The majority of school teachers took part in the strike, in protest against new assessment procedures and pay differentiation, creating difficulties for the confederal unions and another autonomous union, which had approved the sectoral collective agreement on which the new procedures are based. The Cisl union confederation held another demonstration against the government's educational policy on 19 February 2000.

The Italian schools system is undergoing profound changes. The national collective agreement signed by the Cgil, Cisl, and Uil trade union confederations and by an autonomous union, the National Autonomous Union of School Workers (Sindacato nazionale autonomo dei lavoratori della scuola, Snals) on 3 March 1999 (IT9903337F) introduced some novelties aimed at innovating the system. These include the introduction of specific procedures aimed at assessing the professional and teaching skills of teachers, linked to a pay incentive system.

In order to implement the collectively agreed provisions on teachers' appraisal, the Ministry of Education organised a complex procedure, entrusting special local commissions with the assessment of teachers' professional skills. The assessment procedure included three phases:

  • the assessment of teachers' educational qualifications and curricula;
  • the assessment of teachers' level of preparedness for their work through a questionnaire; and
  • a simulation of a lesson in order to assess teachers' professional competence.

Only teachers with at least 10 years' teaching experience could be assessed. On the basis of the results, 150,000 teachers would receive a pay increase of ITL 6 million per year.

Two autonomous unions organising teachers, Cobas and Gilda, criticised the appraisal method, considering the questionnaire inappropriate to assess teachers' many years of experience. Cisl too has expressed its doubts about this sort of "competition". Experts and opinion-formers have expressed many criticisms in the national press, as have political parties belonging both to the governing majority and to the opposition.

Cobas and Gilda called a national strike and held a demonstration on 17 February 2000 in Rome, where elementary, middle-school and high-school teachers protested against the government's schools policy. About 50,000 people took part in the demonstration, which opposed the logic of assessment and called for the available economic resources to be allocated in an equal way among all teachers. Piero Bernocchi, a Cobas spokesperson, stated that "schools need motivated and up-to-date teachers, who should receive a salary comparable to levels elsewhere in Europe", and also reiterated the refusal of "meritocratic" logic and of wage differentiation.

The minister of education, Luigi Berlinguer, having recognised that the assessment procedures were inappropriate and not approved by the majority of the teachers, withdrew them and proposed finding an alternative solution for assessing teachers. He also underlined that the collectively agreed rules on this subject are inappropriate to regulate such a delicate and complex issue, and has therefore proposed reopening negotiations with all the trade union organisations on the subject. According to the minister, the assessment procedures should take into account the variety of the sector and of teachers' representation.

Cisl and its affiliated school sector federation, Cisl-scuola, called another demonstration on 19 February, in which over 10,000 people participated. The objectives of this demonstration were very different from those of that organised by the autonomous unions. Cisl criticises the government mainly on three issues:

  • allegedly insufficient investment policies on schools and vocational training;
  • the limits and inadequacies of the current reform of educational cycles; and
  • the inadequacy of teachers' pay, which is among the lowest in Europe;

Daniela Colturani, general secretary of Cisl-scuola, highlighted a "lack of quality in the schools system that may be caused by some of the government's decisions … Cisl does not refuse the logic of assessment and the pay differentiation system, but is convinced that the appraisal procedures must enhance the value of teachers' work." Sergio D'Antoni, general secretary of Cisl, concluded the demonstration by calling for the withdrawal of the reform of the educational cycles, as had already happened for the government proposal on teachers' appraisal procedures. Mr D'Antoni has also criticised the method followed by the Ministry of Education, which has promoted "a raft of reforms which is not able to manage".

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