Coughlan to ease ban on key jobs for teachers
Schools saved from closure as minister rows back on embargo
EDUCATION Minister Mary Coughlan is to partially lift a jobs ban on key teaching roles which threatens to close schools this autumn.
In her first significant decision since taking over the education portfolio, the Tanaiste will soften the Government's stance on the controversial issue.
She has agreed to a "limited alleviation" of the ban on filling key middle management posts in schools.
Secondary schools have already lost 900 assistant principal posts in the past year and hundreds of additional post- holders will retire this summer.
The ban was introduced to save money -- an assistant principal gets an additional €8,520 a year and a special-duties teacher gets €3,769 on top of their normal teaching salary.
The embargo sparked a major row with unions, who ordered their members not to fill in for those who had left their posts or retired.
That would have meant hundreds of schools having to close down as staff shortages would have made them inoperable.
The row threatened a range of duties in different schools. These included:
- Arranging exams, setting timetables, and organising extra-curricular activities such as games.
- Taking responsibility for pastoral care teams to look after the welfare of students.
- Co-ordinating Transition Year or Leaving Certificate Applied issues.
But now, in the face of withering criticism, Ms Coughlan is prepared to announce a partial lifting of the ban.
The move will come as some relief to tens of thousands of parents who faced the prospect of chaos in their children's schools this autumn.
Today she will attend the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) conference in Galway before addressing the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) in Ennis tomorrow.
The Irish Independent has learned that the minister will tell the TUI that it is not possible to restore all 900 assistant principal posts but that some alleviation will be allowed.
It is likely this will involve a 'floor' below which schools will be entitled to fill some vacant posts. Ferdia Kelly, general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body for Secondary Schools, gave a guarded welcome to news of the easing of the moratorium but said managers would wait for the finer details.
It is known that discussions had been taking place between the Department of Education and the Department of Finance on the posts crisis in schools.
The moratorium will be discussed at the conferences this week. The unions will come under pressure to lift their industrial action in preventing members from taking on duties left by retired post-holders. But no early decision is expected on these directives. It will have to wait until the outcome of ballots on the revised pay agreement.
Managers had warned that many schools would not be able to function in the autumn unless some posts were restored. The number of retirements this year is expected to be far higher than last year due to changes to how teachers get lump sums and pension entitlements.
Ciaran Flynn, from the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, had earlier warned that some intervention was needed "before the chaos arising out of such a directive is foisted on our schools".
Clive Byrne, national director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, had described the directive as a serious escalation, which would have cumulative effects on the operation of schools.
And Michael Moriarty, from the Irish Vocational Education Association, said schools that lost a significant number of assistant principals would become "inoperable".
To make matters worse the second-level teacher unions directed members not to undertake any duties currently undertaken by assistant principals and special-duties teachers.
The only promotion posts that are being filled in schools at present are those of principal and deputy principal.