250,000 pupils left in dark with no sign of progress in pay row
A nail-biting week lies ahead for hundreds of post-primary schools, their pupils and parents, with no sign of a breakthrough in the teachers' pay row.
As schools close for the week-long mid-term break, most at second-level don't know if they will reopen on Monday week.
About 250,000 teenage pupils in about 500 of the country's 735 second-level schools could be locked out from November 7.
Pupils and parents got the first taste of campaign of industrial action by the Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) on Thursday, with a one-day strike that closed 507 schools.
The worry now is that about 500 schools may not reopen at all after mid-term if the dispute is not resolved, or on the way to being resolved, next week.
The uncertainty continued after a meeting yesterday of the governing body of the ASTI, its 23-member Standing Committee, where there was no change of position.
Similarly, Education Minister Richard Bruton held firm on the Government's line of making no further concessions to the ASTI over and above what has been agreed with other unions.
Meetings between senior Department of Education officials and ASTI leaders have been scheduled for after the Bank Holiday weekend - next Tuesday and Wednesday.
With no sign of give by either side last night, it will be a race against the clock to avoid wholesale and indefinite school closures on Monday week.
November 7 is the day the ASTI has set for its members to withdraw from supervision and substitution, which puts about 500 schools at risk of closure on health and safety grounds.
Schools where all, or most, teachers are members of the ASTI will not be able to provide the necessary level of cover at break times and in the event of a teacher absence from class.
Efforts by some schools to recruit external supervisors to replace ASTI members have met with limited success. Some schools are considering partial openings.
If a school is forced to shut, ASTI members who have withdrawn from supervision and substitution duty will be knocked off the payroll.
Minister Bruton, speaking in Carraroe, Connemara where he launched a new strategy for education for Gaeltacht schools, said the Government was anxious to find a resolution to the disputes involving both the ASTI and the Garda Representative Association (GRA). He said the GRA dispute was 'unprecedented' and that all efforts were being made to resolve it.
The ASTI is alone among public service unions in having rejected the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA), which has started the process of restoring austerity-era pay cuts. The union is demanding a timetable for an end to two-tier pay scales in the profession. The Government has said the new Public Pay Commission will deal with further pay restoration matters.