Friday 18 August 2017

Concern for 250,000 pupils as ASTI says No

ASTI president Ed Byrne reveals the result of the union’s vote to reject the Government offer. Photo: Arthur Carron
ASTI president Ed Byrne reveals the result of the union’s vote to reject the Government offer. Photo: Arthur Carron
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Some 250,000 second-level students in 500 schools face deep uncertainty after their teachers rejected the latest proposals on pay and junior cycle reform.

The most immediate threat is to about 35,000 third years who are at risk of losing 10pc of marks in their Junior Cert English exam.

A tight 52.5pc-47.5pc No vote by the 18,000-strong Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) means continued non-cooperation by members on a range of duties.

As well as refusing to conduct classroom-based assessments for third-year students of English, it also means thousands of parents will not be invited to meetings with teachers.

While work stoppages are not contemplated at the moment, ASTI president Ed Byrne warned his members would "respond in kind" to any "aggressive" action by the Department of Education.

This was a reference to a threat to withdraw protection against redundancy from any teacher surplus to requirements next September. This could arise from a school closure or a fall in enrolments. Schools will be working through their teacher needs for September in coming weeks, so that could become a reality soon.

Education Minister Richard Bruton says he is disappointed. Photo: Tom Burke
Education Minister Richard Bruton says he is disappointed. Photo: Tom Burke

Mr Byrne said the union would have "due cognisance of the impact of any industrial action on students and their families". However, uncertainty alone, and the real threat to exam marks for English, is enough to unsettle schools and students.

The ASTI is isolated as the only public service union not to sign up for the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) and other pay deals that flowed from it.

It means its members are not benefiting from a range of post-austerity pay restoration measures and improvements in conditions. Apart from protection against redundancy, these include general salary rises and quicker access to full-time posts for new teachers.

One particularly painful sanction will affect about 10,000 members who will now forego their annual increment for 2016/17.

All other unions have moved on from the LRA and are focused on its successor, negotiations on which will begin after the Public Service Pay Commission reports in April.

Education Minister Richard Burton, who reacted with "disappointment", is maintaining a hardline position.

He said the interests, rights and well-being of students must be paramount and noted that schools had been notified of a further opportunity for students to do the classroom-based English assessment.

"It is regrettable that many ASTI members will now suffer permanent financial losses and loss of other benefits as a result of this choice," he said.

Mr Bruton insisted "there will be no further offer made to ASTI", adding that the Government was committed to continuing to work with unions inside the LRA on pay and conditions.

The Joint Managerial Body, representing managements in about 380 schools, said it was facing a period of uncertainty and asked all parties to carefully reflect on the implications of the decision.

Some 75pc or 13,781 ASTI members voted. In light of the narrow 681-vote margin in favour, Fianna Fáil Education spokesperson Thomas Byrne asked the union to say how the vote broke down between working teachers and its 1,300 retired members.

Irish Independent

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