Friday 24 November 2017

Boarding schools may be forced to send pupils home

Richard Bruton Photo: Fergal Phillips
Richard Bruton Photo: Fergal Phillips
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Boarding schools may have to send pupils home if secondary teachers withdraw from supervision and substitution work from November 7.

Residential schools face bigger headaches than others in trying to make alternative arrangements to ensure the health and safety of pupils are not at risk if teachers stop doing this work.

Boarding schools are in the voluntary secondary sector where most, if not all, teachers are members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI). As a result, these schools are most vulnerable to closure arising from ASTI action.

The ASTI is threatening two separate campaigns of industrial action in its row over pay, which may cause up to 520 schools to close, either for one day at a time, or indefinitely.

The union has announced seven one-day stoppages - the first next Thursday, October 27 - in pursuit of pay equality for newly-qualified teachers, who were worst affected by austerity-era cuts.

One-day strikes will close the 380 voluntary secondary schools - generally, those under the control of the religious orders - amounting to more than half the country's 730 second-level schools.

They will also cause serious difficulties for well over 100 dual-union schools, where both the ASTI and the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) have members. Efforts are under way to clarify exactly what TUI members, and staff, such as special-needs assistants, will have to do to meet their employment obligations, while also avoiding a souring of relations with ASTI colleagues.

Non-ASTI staff would be required to report for work in order to get paid - even if a school is forced to close.

But among the issues arising is whether a staff member could send an email saying they were available for work, rather than having to cross a picket line.

The withdrawal from supervision and substitution work is, potentially, more serious than the one-day strikes because it is likely to result in most schools, particularly the 380 in the voluntary secondary sector, remaining closed indefinitely after mid-term.

Short notice and a ban on ASTI principals getting involved in helping with contingency arrangements has made any hope of recruiting external supervisors a futile effort for many schools.

A total of 112 schools have advertised for supervisors on the Department of Education website. Schools not on the list may be trying to make arrangements locally, or may feel it's a pointless exercise. None of the 380 voluntary secondary schools is on the list.

The dispute has forced Education Minister Richard Bruton to cut short a trip to China. He is due home today.

Irish Independent

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