Tuesday 17 October 2017

Plan for parents to help keep the schools open is unworkable

Richard Bruton: closures are inevitable. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Richard Bruton: closures are inevitable. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The plan to bring in parents to keep second-level schools open after the mid-term break is doomed before it starts.

Up to two in three schools are now likely to remain closed after the Hallowe'en holiday if the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) goes through with its threat of industrial action in the row over pay.

About 250,000 teenagers could be locked out of school indefinitely, causing serious disruption to their education and massive headaches for working parents.

Education Minister Richard Bruton and school managers have accepted widespread school closures as "inevitable" if teachers withdraw from supervision and substitution work from Monday, November 7.

Read more: 'Money is not available, we have to balance the budget' - Education Minister's words to ASTI

The same schools will be hit by the first in a series of one-day ASTI strikes on Thursday October 27. They will reopen on October 28, then shut later that day for the week-long break.

The ASTI's double industrial action whammy will affect up to 520 schools - those traditionally, or currently, run by the religious, as well as the community and comprehensive sector.

The October 27 stoppage is the first in a series of seven threatened up to December 7, which, in themselves, would cause huge disruption this term.

But even more serious is the plan to withdraw from supervision and substitution from November 7, which means that most schools will not re-open after the mid-term because of lack of cover.

It's not good news for ASTI members either, with Education Minister Richard Bruton confirming that they will be removed from the payroll if their school is forced to shut.

The Department of Education has confirmed that if a school manages to stay open, ASTI members will continue to be paid, even if they are not doing supervision and substitution.

The ASTI said the threat to dock pay on days when union members would be available to carry out their core teaching duties was "most serious", and that any such development would have to be considered by the ASTI 23-member Standing Committee, its governing body.

Department officials and school management representatives meet tomorrow to finalise arrangements for a contingency plan to recruit external supervisors, such as parents, to replace teachers in this work.

External supervisors are likely to be offered €38 for a two-hour session to supervise before and after school and during breaks, and in the event of a teacher's absence from class.

But their efforts may amount to nothing more than going through the motions.

With only three weeks to November 7, and no ASTI derogation for principals to allow them to help to make alternative arrangements, it means that the contingency plan is largely unworkable.

Apart from the time involved in advertising and recruiting, external supervisors would have to go through Garda vetting, which school managers say would take until the end of November.

The Joint Managerial Body (JMB) represents about 380 of the affected schools, and its general secretary John Curtis said the implementation of any contingency scheme was dependent on ASTI co-operation. As this was not forthcoming, it would inevitably result in wholesale school closures, he said.

The JMB is also concerned that the ASTI action will lead to "serious inequity" for students if some schools are open and others are closed.

Mr Curtis said it was incumbent on all parties to work towards finding agreement.

The one-day strikes and withdrawal from supervision and substitution are linked to the ASTI's rejection of the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA), which has started restoring austerity-era pay cuts. The ASTI is demanding full restoration in the short term, but Mr Bruton said that was untenable because the knock-on cost across the public service would be €2.3bn.

While the action threatened from the end of this month relates to pay, the ASTI is involved in other disputes, including the ban on co-operating with Junior Cert reforms, which school managers say must also be sorted now.

Irish Independent

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