Education Minister: ‘Teachers not union chiefs must have a say’

Teachers should be allowed give their views on the final junior cycle reform plans instead of their union leaders vetoing them, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan has said.

But it is unclear what power, if any, she has to compel 27,000 second-level teachers to resume training for the changes, or to sanction those who refuse to take part.

The plan, finalised last week by Pauric Travers after chairing more than 40 hours of talks between her officials and teachers’ leaders since November, was not accepted by the unions.

The executives of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) decided late on Friday night there were still elements to the proposals they could not accept. While they decided not to call another strike, having already closed 720 schools for a day in December and January, they called for further negotiation of issues of outstanding concern.

Ms O’Sullivan says she is not prepared to make further concessions and would instead be implementing Mr Travers’ proposals, which her officials set out yesterday to representatives of school management, postprimary parents and secondlevel students.

“I think there are a significant number of individual teachers, as well as parents and others, who want us to move forward on this. I don’t think it is right that the leadership of the teaching unions should continue to veto,” she said.

“I really do think they need to consider what exactly do they have a mandate for strike action on. I think individual teachers need to consider what is actually on the table as opposed to what they voted on,” the minister told RTÉ Radio 1’s News at One programme. 

She has agreed to Mr Travers’ recommendation to delay introducing a new science curriculum for another year, meaning it would not be taught now until September 2016. However, the unions refused to suspend their industrial action in place since last April, that has included non-participation  in training on the new English course or on wider junior cycle reforms.

TUI general secretary John MacGabhann repeated weekend comments by his ASTI counterpart, Pat King, that there is not enough trust that the Department of Education would deliver on the resources that Mr Travers’ document said need to be provided for proper implementation of changes.

“Part of the difficulty is that because of the experience over several years, there is not the level of trust,” he said. 

While the minister questioned the validity of further strikes, or continuing their industrial action, the unions say they are not calling further work stoppages for now because of looming Junior and Leaving Certificate orals, practical exams and project deadlines.

Bodies representing second-level school boards and principals said the Travers reforms would improve students’ learning experiences and said they look forward to urgent engagement with the department, unions and others to secure the necessary resources.


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