Supervision dispute not the only ASTI action damaging schools
In my opinion... Eileen Salmon
There are 96 community and comprehensive schools providing education to approximately 60,000 students. The vast majority of these are dual union schools, with some teachers members of the TUI and others members of the ASTI.
One third of community and comprehensive schools (C&C) remained closed last Monday. These may continue to remain closed because ASTI teachers have been directed not to engage in supervision and substitution (S&S).
The implementation of a contingency plan to facilitate the re-opening of schools has been hindered by two factors. Firstly, principals who are members of the ASTI have been directed not to engage in arrangements to employ external supervisors. Secondly, the timeframe to organise a contingency plan was inadequate. Schools that are in a position to engage with contingency planning cannot put supervisors in place until the recruitment and vetting process is completed.
The Department of Education and Skills states that the problem is that ASTI teachers are refusing to do 33 hours of planning time in the year (called Croke Park hours), while the ASTI claim it is because teachers are not being paid for S&S. The non-payment for S&S is a consequence of teachers being directed not to do the 33 hours, which effectively placed the ASTI out of the Lansdowne Road Agreement. But the industrial actions of ASTI teachers go way beyond withdrawing from S&S and 33 hours planning time.
The ASTI has a directive which prevents teachers implementing in full the new Junior Cycle Framework, another which prevents teachers preparing students for oral examinations in the Junior Certificate, and yet another which prevents teachers voluntarily carrying out extra responsibilities.
The rejection of the Junior Cycle Framework is having very serious repercussions. ASTI teachers have been directed not to attend training for the new courses or engage in classroom-based assessments or administer the new Assessment Task.
There are three scenarios playing out in C&C schools. A number are implementing the new Junior Cycle Framework fully. In others, only a proportion of third year teachers are able to engage in the new assessment process. Consequently, there are students in the same year in the same school being assessed differently. In approximately 50pc of our school teachers are unable to engage with the new assessments at all. Where a student does not complete the assessment task, he/she stands to lose a potential 10pc of his/her overall English mark in the final State examination.
The directive not to cooperate with the preparation/operation of oral examinations at Junior Cycle has caused very high levels of anxiety for students and schools that have had the oral component as an integral part of Junior Cycle for a number of years. Students fear that they are being disadvantaged.
Following ASTI's withdrawal from the Croke Park hours, schools have lost the ability to hold staff meetings, planning meetings and some parent-teacher meetings. The absence of such meetings is having a detrimental effect.
The moratorium on recruitment to posts of responsibility left many schools without personnel to fulfil essential roles. Many non-post holders undertook roles, such as year head and operation of book rental schemes in a voluntary capacity. The ASTI directive instructing withdrawal from voluntary work, previously fulfilled as a post of responsibility, has had a detrimental effect on schools.
While the strike days and the potential impact of the withdrawal of S&S are very much in the public domain at the moment, it is important to realise that schools are facing challenges on many different fronts. There needs to be a resolution of all of these issues to allow schools to return to business.
Eileen Salmon is general secretary of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS)