Saturday 25 February 2017

Schools shut all week - 200,000 pupils locked out of school indefinitely as talks fail

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

With no sign of a breakthrough in the row involving the 17,500-strong ASTI, parents and students in about 400 schools have no idea when schools will reopen. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
With no sign of a breakthrough in the row involving the 17,500-strong ASTI, parents and students in about 400 schools have no idea when schools will reopen. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

About 200,000 teenage pupils are locked out of school indefinitely from today as the teachers' pay dispute brings the second-level education system to its knees.

With no sign of a breakthrough in the row involving the 17,500-strong Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), parents and students in about 400 schools have no idea when schools will reopen.

Mr Bruton said he was 'very disappointed' that ASTI has decided to proceed with its action. Photo: Tom Burke
Mr Bruton said he was 'very disappointed' that ASTI has decided to proceed with its action. Photo: Tom Burke

At the moment, there is nothing to suggest that the schools will be in a position to reopen before the end of this week.

The closure of more than half of second-level schools, on health and safety grounds, arises from the refusal of the ASTI to continue doing supervision and substitution work.

Confusion will be compounded tomorrow when even more second-level schools - about 500 - will be shut by a separate one-day strike by the ASTI.

As well as disrupting students' education, activities such as sporting fixtures and rehearsals for school musicals, which take teachers' away from the classroom, are being cancelled.

The closures and uncertainty is also causing major headaches for working parents, who have to make alternative arrangements for their children's care.

Today's action went ahead after talks between senior Education Department officials and ASTI leaders ended last night, with no progress reported.

Education Minister Richard Bruton accused ASTI of closing "hundreds of schools indefinitely, as a result of a dispute, which essentially relates to one hour a week of additional duties".

The ASTI move to embark on two separate forms of action has caused confusion. Tomorrow's one-day stoppage is linked to a demand for pay equality for new entrant teachers.

The withdrawal from supervision and substitution arises from the union's rejection of the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) and a consequent decision to stop working the 33 Croke Park hours. ASTI members are alone among public service workers in not continuing to do this extra productivity which, in the case of teachers, amounts to one hour a week.

Because of this, ASTI members are not getting the benefits of the LRA, including payment for supervision and substitution, which triggered the union's move to withdraw from these duties from today.

Mr Bruton said he was "very disappointed" that ASTI has decided to proceed with its action, which would "cause huge disruption for 200,000 students, and their parents, with particular stress caused for those in exam years".

Government sources draw a distinction between the dispute involving gardaí and the ASTI, as the teachers' union is the only group trying to negotiate a better deal having repudiated the LRA, by not working the Croke Park hours.

However, ASTI hardliners may feel bolstered by the concessions won by gardaí last week. Schools in the voluntary secondary sector - generally those traditionally run by the religious - are most affected by today's action, with almost 370 of the 380 schools closing.

John Curtis the general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents school management in that sector, expressed concern that the "unsettling period of industrial action is taking its toll on students and on families".

Eileen Salmon, general secretary of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS), said it was "very unfortunate that we are in a situation where schools are closing on account of the Croke Park hours, which amount to an hour a week of professional and planning time. It seems to be an extreme reaction".

Of the 97 community and comprehensive schools, 25 are closing today, five are opening on a partial basis with about 60 opening fully. Most schools in the education and training boards sector are unaffected, although some will close and some open on a partial basis.

The ASTI has told its members to turn up for work today and, if the school is closed, to remain until the end of the first class period.

Where schools are forced to close, ASTI members will not be paid. If a school manages to stay open, members will be paid, even without doing supervision and substitution work.

The employers' organisation Ibec acknowledged the difficulties facing parents whose children are locked out of school and said both parties needed to consider all options.

Irish Independent

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