Scramble for options to keep schools open
No sign of a breakthrough as minister holds firm on pay scales
Published 28/10/2016 | 02:30
Some second-level schools are considering partial openings if secondary teachers go ahead with withdrawal from supervision and substitution duties on November 7.
In the face of looming widespread closures, schools have been looking at options, such as opening for half days or bringing in exam classes only.
Yesterday, a one-day strike by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) closed 507 schools.
In the first leg of the union's planned industrial action over pay equality, ASTI pickets shut about 250,000 teenage students out of school for the day.
There are no signs of any move towards resolution, but the Education Department said it will re-establish contact with the ASTI today to arrange a series of meetings to discuss issues of concern next week.
The ASTI is seeking a commitment and timetable from Government on an end to austerity-era, unequal pay scales in teaching. Education Minister Richard Bruton, however, held the Government line yesterday, and refused to give explicit support for that.
The Government's position is that any further progress on pay restoration has to be done in the context of discussions with all public service unions.
It has established a Public Pay commission to examine pay levels in the public service.
ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie said there were three pay scales in teaching, which was unacceptable, and asked "is it Government policy to embed this level of inequality?"
The focus in the ASTI dispute now switches to the threat to schools on the day they are supposed to be reopening after the mid-term break. If the row is not sorted out next week, about two-thirds of the country's 735 second-level schools are at serious risk of remaining shut for an indefinite period.
ASTI members in schools that close will be removed from the payroll.
Schools that were forced to shut yesterday are also the ones most likely to be affected by threatened closures after mid-term. The ASTI threat of withdrawal from supervision and substitution from November 7 raises issues about opening schools on health and safety grounds, because of lack cover, such as at break time or to replace an absent teacher.
It is up to an individual school to decide whether it can open, taking into account its duty of care to its pupils. Partial school opening would reduce the amount of cover needed.
School managers have been looking at all possibilities in the interests of keeping schools open and avoiding disruption to students after mid-term.
Partial openings would not be feasible for schools where the ASTI is the sole union representing teachers.
That would rule it out as an option for more than half of the country's second-level schools, the 380 in the voluntary secondary sector, which are under the control of the religious orders.
However, it could be an option in dual-union schools with a significant number of teachers who are not in the ASTI.
The Education Department and school management bodies have explored the possibility of bringing in external supervisors to replace ASTI members, with limited success.
The Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents the 380 schools in the voluntary secondary sector, believes that only a handful of its schools may open because they don't have the time to recruit the number of supervisors they would need.
There are about another 210 schools in the education and training boards (ETB) sector, where the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) is the sole representative of teachers, which should be unaffected by the ASTI action.
However, there are about 60 community colleges in the ETB sector and 97 community and comprehensive schools, which are dual union and less reliant on ASTI members for cover.
Any dual-union school considering its options will have to look at the balance between ASTI and TUI members, and the attitude of TUI members.
The Education Department said last night that it did not believe that partial school openings were likely to arise in the short term.
INTO and TUI stage protest after school
As ASTI members took strike action over pay equality for new entrants, the two other teachers' unions - the INTO and the TUI - staged a protest outside the Dáil with the same aim.
Both the TUI and INTO have accepted the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA), as a consequence of which they secured a deal offering part-restoration of cuts to new teachers. They said their campaign will continue until full pay parity has been achieved.
INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan told the rally that Government must "signal an end to its campaign of austerity".
TUI president Joanne Irwin said "continuation of the discrimination against teachers appointed since 2011 is wrong and unconscionable".