ASTI schools face strike closure in row over payment for supervision
Closures of more than half the country's secondary schools could be on the cards next month as a teachers' union considers a ballot on industrial action.
The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) is in dispute with the Department of Education in the wake of members' rejection of the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) on pay and productivity in the public service.
The department reacted to the decision by withholding LRA pay restoration measures from ASTI members, including partial return of an allowance for supervision and substitution work by teachers, which was cut at the height of the financial crisis.
The issue is coming to a head now that schools have reopened, and it will come up for discussion at a meeting of the ASTI executive committee this weekend.
ASTI president Ed Byrne warned: "We have already stated that if the department worsened the terms and conditions of members that we would make arrangements for a ballot on industrial action. Given that this has happened, a ballot is likely in the near future."
He said that ASTI members had carried out supervision and substitution for no pay for the past three years on the understanding that they would be paid for it from this September.
"If ASTI members do not receive the promised supervision and substitution moieties, then I cannot see that they will continue to do it into the future," said Mr Byrne.
A refusal by ASTI members to carry out supervision and substitution would mean more than 400 schools would have to close because of lack of cover.
Meanwhile, the ASTI is still refusing to co-operate with the introduction of Junior Cycle reform, although members of the other second-level teachers' union, the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), are rolling out the changes in their schools.
The split is creating a two-tier system, with pupils in TUI schools being taught and assessed in certain subjects under the new methods, while ASTI members have refused to participate in training for the changes, and will not conduct new classroom-based assessments.
The reforms are being rolled out over a number of years. From this month, new subject specifications are in place for science and business, along with English, the new syllabus for which was introduced two years ago.
Education Minister Richard Bruton said yesterday he was "sad" that the ASTI "was not fully on board" but he hoped talks would help progress. There has been contact between the minister's officials and the ASTI, but there is no sign of a breakthrough.
In response to questions, Mr Bruton acknowledged that pupils in TUI union schools, which were implementing curriculum changes, were getting a head start on pupils in ASTI schools.
Mr Bruton visited Adamstown Community College in west Dublin yesterday to launch the new business studies and science specifications and told one class that the new approach to science teaching would make it "very exciting" for pupils.
He recalled jointly compiling a report on science teaching 25 years ago which noted pupils found it "too hard" but said the new approach would help pupils relate to the environment.