Sunday 4 December 2016

Parents in the dark as 500 schools set to close tomorrow

No hope today's talks will work

Published 26/10/2016 | 02:30

ASTI members protest outside the Dáil last week following a vote on industrial action. Photo: Arthur Carron
ASTI members protest outside the Dáil last week following a vote on industrial action. Photo: Arthur Carron

About 500 second-level schools are now certain to shut tomorrow as secondary teachers go ahead with plans for a one-day strike.

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There is no hope that talks taking place today between leaders of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) and senior officials in the Department of Education will avert the stoppage.

With about two in three second-level schools facing closure, it means up to 250,000 teenagers will be locked out.

Schools have been notifying parents not to send their children in tomorrow because of the industrial action.

They will reopen for the day on Friday, and then close for the week-long Halloween break - and the main concern now is what will happen after that.

School management bodies believe about 500 schools - of 730 nationwide - will not be able to re-open on Monday, November 7, if the ASTI dispute is not resolved.

On November 7, ASTI members are threatening to withdraw from supervision and substitution duties, which will force schools to close indefinitely on health and safety grounds, if they cannot get alternative cover.

The Department of Education and school management bodies have been working on a contingency plan, involving the recruitment of external supervisors, but there is little hope it will work.

The amount of time involved in recruiting, training and vetting external supervisors, along with the ASTI ban on their principal members helping to put any alternative arrangements in place, effectively scuppered the initiative.

The Joint Managerial Body (JMB) which represents 380 schools - generally those under the control of the religious - believes that only a handful of them will open on November 7, if the ASTI action goes ahead. The ASTI is the only union representing teachers in those schools.

JMB general secretary John Curtis said they were in an impossible situation and "we are very perturbed at the fact that the vast majority of our schools will not be in a position to open".

The situation is less clear cut in other sectors, where there are many dual-union schools, with the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) also representing teachers.

Most of the 97 community and comprehensive schools are expected to close tomorrow, and also from November 7, if the ASTI withdraws from supervision and substitution on that day.

In the Education and Training Boards (ETB) sector, about 25 to 30 community colleges are expected to close tomorrow and again on November 7, in the absence of a resolution, while about 210 other TUI-only ETB schools will be unaffected.

After a meeting with school management bodies yesterday, the Department of Education confirmed that it was still its view that "widespread school closures are expected" from November 7.

The department has issued a circular to school authorities advising of arrangements that need to be made to prepare for tomorrow's closure, and of how to deal with staff payroll issues.

The department said it was a matter for individual school managements to decide whether to open tomorrow, or not.

The circular also advises schools they must record the attendance, or absence, of both teaching and non-teaching staff tomorrow.

Schools have been told that absences from work, for reasons other than a work stoppage, should be recorded in the normal way.

The ASTI is alone among public service unions in rejecting the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA), which began the process of restoring austerity-era cuts, which is at the root of its campaign of industrial action.

The union is demanding a Government commitment on pay equalisation for newly-qualified teachers, and is objecting to having pay restoration measures, such as payment for supervision and substitution duties, linked to LRA acceptance.

Irish Independent

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