Thursday 23 January 2020

Thousands of students face school shutdown

Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe dons a lab coat as he's shown round the newly renovated laboratories in the Kane Science building
at University College Cork , by Professor Anita Maguire and President of UCC Dr Michael Murphy
Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe dons a lab coat as he's shown round the newly renovated laboratories in the Kane Science building at University College Cork , by Professor Anita Maguire and President of UCC Dr Michael Murphy

John Walshe

SECONDARY schools face the prospect of being forced to close as unions block teachers from covering for key staff who can’t be replaced.

In a major escalation of action, unions yesterday – for the first time – directed members not to undertake any duties that are carried out by teachers in middle-management positions who are not replaced when they retire.

Around 900 assistant principals and hundreds of specialduties teachers have already retired this school year and have not been replaced.

Even greater numbers are expected to go in the summer.

The Government introduced the ban on replacements in order to save money – an assistant principal gets an additional €8,520 a year and a special-duties teacher gets €3,769 on top of their normal teaching salary.

A new directive issued yesterday will hit a variety of duties in different schools. These include:

Arranging exams. Setting timetables. Organising extra-curricular activities such as games.

Taking responsibility for pastoral care teams to look after the welfare of students.

Co-ordinating Transition Year or Leaving Certificate Applied issues.

When the embargo on filling the posts was introduced, the unions agreed to allow school management to re-prioritise those duties and share them among the remaining holders of promotion posts.

But from March 8, ASTI and TUI members will refuse to carry out any duties of a vacated post.

They will not agree to alter existing post duties in any way and will refuse to engage in reviews of the posts.

The INTO will consider a similar directive at its next executive meeting.

The three secondary management bodies warned last night that the unions' new directive, combined with an expected surge in retirements this summer, would make many schools "inoperable" from September onwards.

Ciaran Flynn, from the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, said some intervention was needed "before the chaos arising out of such a directive is foisted on our schools".

He said the contents of the directive had been described to him by one principal as: "Shocking – it flies in the face of all that we have done in the school by way of professional development for our teachers and postholders.

"The professional approach to teaching and managing which we have operated over the years is now being taken away and the individual teacher’s professionalism and flexibility to operate removed by diktat."


The directive is part of the teachers' industrial action in protest against the public sector pay cut and the ban on filling vacant promotion posts. It tells members “lest there be any confusion, this directive means that the duties of a vacated post will no longer be carried out by any member. The facility whereby a school can reorganise posts of responsibility is also being suspended.”

It is the first significant escalation by a public sector union in its campaign against the 5pc pay cut. The number of retirements this year is expected to be far higher than last year due to changes to how teachers get lump sums and pension entitlements.

A survey by the Joint Managerial Body shows that secondary schools are losing an average of 3.25 assistant principal posts between this year and last year. General secretary Ferdia Kelly said the retirements were spread unevenly and some were affected worse than others.

Both he and Michael Moriarty, from the Irish Vocational Education Association, said schools that lost a significant number of assistant principals would become “inoperable” in the autumn.

They also warned that a crisis could flare up before then if a school lost assistant principals due to maternity leave or illness or for some other reasons before then.

Clive Byrne, national director of the National Association of Principals and Deputies, described the directive as a serious escalation which would have cumulative effects on the operation of schools.


He noted that the unions' row was with the Government but its action was not affecting the Department of Education and Science – rather it was having a direct effect on those principals and deputy principals who were members of the unions.

A spokesperson for Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe said he would regret if any industrial action impinged on the orderly running of the schools.

The threat or reality of action would do nothing to advance the interests of the country at a time of serious economic difficulty, he said.

He added that there were no plans to end the moratorium at this stage.

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