ONE of the country's biggest teaching unions has called on the Government to engage in talks aimed at ending industrial action in hundreds of schools.
The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) last night said talks could take place without renegotiating the Haddington Road Agreement on public service pay and productivity, but by addressing its members' concerns.
Almost 17,000 teachers began the first day of strike action in second-level schools yesterday, and union leader Pat King said its members were willing to engage to end the dispute.
"ASTI members voted two to one in favour of industrial action up to and including strike action," he said. "This strong mandate demonstrates the depth of feeling among teachers about what is going on in second-level schools.
"The Minister for Education and Skills and the Government have to be concerned that the majority of second-level teachers are engaging in industrial action and that this dispute has the potential to escalate.
"Now is the time to seek a resolution."
The Department of Education said yesterday that it would "wait and see" what was proposed, but stressed that Haddington Road would not be renegotiated. "We have to see what ASTI propose but there will be no renegotiation," a spokeswoman said.
School managers said there was no disruption to schools yesterday, but warned that if the dispute continued it could result in children being sent home early to allow parent-teacher meetings be held.
ASTI members have refused to engage in any school activity outside school hours, including training.
Meanwhile, teachers, parents and pupils braved the rain as they gathered outside the Department of Education to protest against the threat to class sizes in the Budget.
The protest was organised by the Irish National Teachers Organisation, and was attended by several hundred people who called upon Education Minister Ruairi Quinn not to make the threatened cuts that would increase class sizes.
INTO president Brendan O'Sullivan told the protesters that he was calling upon Mr Quinn to "not increase pupil-teacher ratio in mainstream schools" and to "reverse the increases" that he signalled for smaller schools.
If these demands are not met, he warned that "the people gathered here today will be prepared to take to the streets again" until they are satisfied.