SCHOOL principals have issued a stark warning to teachers that their pay dispute will have a damaging impact on the education of tens of thousands of second-level pupils.
In a hard-hitting message, they also cautioned that the industrial action planned for next week would leave a divisive legacy in staffrooms around the country.
The president of the principals' association Kay O'Brien has sent a stern letter to her counterpart in the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), Sally Maguire, pictured, spelling out its concerns, as 500 schools brace themselves for the impact of next Wednesday's action.
The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) predicts that the action will "be divisive, destructive of collegiality and diminish the capacity of schools to meet the needs of students.
The ASTI has instructed its members to withdraw co-operation on a number of fronts from next Wednesday in a move that has the potential to upset the education of up to 250,000 post-primary students.
The union's directives follow its members' 2:1 rejection of the Haddington Road Agreement on pay and productivity in the public service. It was the only union not to sign up to the deal.
The ASTI leadership has banned meetings outside of school hours; its 17,000 members won't take on additional middle-management duties without pay; they may opt out of covering for colleagues absent on school business and they won't participate in training for the new Junior Cert.
This could lead to considerable disruption in two-thirds of post-primary schools, where the 17,000 ASTI members work.
While acknowledging that citizens were expressing "righteous anger for bearing the burden caused by mistakes of others", NAPD president Ms O'Brien says the ASTI proposals present an "appalling vista" for her members.
She writes: "The uncertainty now generated by this decision casts a long shadow over the new academic year."
Principals, many of whom are themselves ASTI members, are clearly worried that they will be caught in the crossfire between protesting teachers and their responsibilities to pupils.
The letter notes the loss of resources suffered by schools in the current economic climate and the "utmost efforts" made by principals to support teachers while middle management posts had been dismantled
Ms O'Brien says principals had sought to maintain the maximum provision of educational opportunities for young people and to preserve professional and collegial relations in demanding times.
She continues: "It would be a grave injustice if their unique and onerous responsibilities were not acknowledged and respected while the current impasse is being resolved.
"NAPD is calling on ASTI to ensure that this does not happen.
However, Ms O'Brien warns that the potential of the threatened action "to disrupt already brittle school climates is immense".
Her letter calls on the ASTI to ensure that its members "recognise and respect the responsibility that the principal and deputy principal have for the welfare of all students and all staff employed in the school".
The NAPD has also asked the secondary teachers union to support those members who are principals and deputy principals, "in the discharge of their legitimate duties".
Ms O' Brien writes: "It is very important to remember that principals and deputy principals did not cause the current economic crisis and certainly do not have it in their power to resolve it."
The letter also opens with praise for the way the ASTI, and the two other teacher unions, the TUI and INTO, had "represented the views of teachers with distinction over the years and successfully negotiated terms and conditions of employment that teachers in many other countries look on with envy".
In a reference to the differing results of the ballots by the teacher unions on the Haddington Road agreement, Ms O'Brien said that it reflected the "conflicted views many in education are experiencing as we see the education budget shrink and the impact this has on children's and young people's education and on how schools are run".