PROTESTING second-level teachers may force Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to delay plans for a new-style Junior Cert next September.
A union ban on training for the new English syllabus, due to start in little over a month, is on the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) list of possible actions after it rejected the Haddington Road Agreement.
It would strike at the heart of Mr Quinn's reform agenda, causing maximum discomfort for the minister rather than for schools and students.
The 17,000-member ASTI gave the green light for industrial action, up to and including a strike, as it voted against the pay and productivity deal.
General secretary Pat King said they had had enough of being asked to do more with less. ASTI members, particularly younger teachers, face more painful changes in pay and conditions than members of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) or the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO), both of which accepted the agreement.
Apart from lower starting pay and a permanent three-year delay on increments, those who have not signed up to the deal are vulnerable to other changes in conditions and redundancy.
Action by ASTI would affect about two-thirds of the country's 730 second-level schools. It is the only teachers' union in voluntary secondary schools – those traditionally run by the religious – and shares representation with TUI in community and comprehensive schools.
As the union leadership prepared for a meeting today to decide on its next step, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton reiterated that there would be no renegotiation of the deal.
"We are trying to make sure we can deliver at the front line. People have agreed to make changes and we are implementing them," he said.
The ASTI move has thrown the education community into turmoil. At the very least, it will cause serious administrative headaches for schools and for the Department of Education.
Today's meeting of the 23-member ASTI Standing Committee, whose role is to implement union policy, will decide on what action to take.
It is likely to instruct members to stop co-operating with the extra 33 hours a year introduced in the Croke Park Agreement, with a view to minimising the impact of events such as school planning or parent-teacher meetings on class time.
That will force school managers to either bring such meetings into the normal school day, eating into tuition time and perhaps causing students to be sent home early, or cancel them.
Mr King said that while withdrawing co-operation with the terms of the Croke Park Agreement would cause administrative headaches, "I hope it will not affect students".
Short of work stoppages, the ASTI list of possible actions includes withdrawing from initiatives such as the new-style Junior Cert, which is a particular bugbear for ASTI members.
They oppose one of its key concepts – assessment by teachers of their own students in place of the traditional state exam.