O'Sullivan to appeal directly to teachers in exam reform row
Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan has delivered a stinging attack on the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) over how it does its business with members.
She also signalled moves to go over the head of the union and 'speak' directly to teachers by posting information relevant to a forthcoming ASTI ballot on the Department of Education website.
Ms O'Sullivan's criticism was delivered by her department's secretary general, Seán Ó Foghlú. The minister's views were expressed at the annual conference of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents managers in about 370 schools directly affected by the ASTI's decisions.
It comes amid mounting concern in hundreds of schools where the ASTI is blocking junior cycle reform and threatening industrial action on a number of fronts.
Mr Ó Foghlú questioned the level of information the union offers to its 18,000 members before ballots on key issues such as the new-style Junior Cert and pay and productivity agreements.
Such comment on a union's internal affairs is highly unusual, and it reflects a more widespread frustration about the ASTI's lack of engagement on issues of importance both to students and teachers.
The union continues to refuse to co-operate with changes to the junior cycle, although hundreds of schools where it has no, or few, members are embracing the reforms.
Mr Ó Foghlú accused the ASTI of providing a "deficit of information" to members before a crucial vote last year on junior cycle changes, which are aimed at improving the educational experience of teenagers.
He also criticised its plans for a ballot seeking support for a withdrawal from working the Croke Park Agreement hours from September, and for failing to engage with the Department of Education.
That ballot, and other fronts opened by the union, could result in the closure in September of more than 400 schools where the ASTI has members.
Ms O'Sullivan's tenure as minister is expected to end next week.
But JMB president Fr Paul O'Connell echoed the sentiments when he expressed concern about the "uncertainty" facing their schools.
On junior cycle, Mr Ó Foghlú referred to detailed proposals worked out in lengthy negotiations last year, and contrasted the ASTI's approach to a ballot with that of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI).
"The ASTI decided not to make a recommendation for acceptance.
"Nor did they engage with their membership to explain the changes or the rationale underpinning them."
He said that the low turnout in the ballot "may have reflected that poor level of engagement", while "the deficit of information provided has also left an uncertainty over the understanding among ordinary ASTI members of important details".
Then he turned to the forthcoming ballot on the Croke Park hours, starting next week, and said a refusal to do these would amount to an effective repudiation of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.
He warned of the possible implications, including loss of supervision and substitution payments due in September, the extension of increment freezes, and the loss of improved terms for teachers on a contract of indefinite duration (CID).
He accused the ASTI of not providing full information to members on such consequences and said that the department would make it available on its website.
The ASTI said they were inflammatory remarks, and said the union had sent a newsletter to members this week, had put information on its website and would be holding information meetings.