Teachers to strike amid reform impasse

Teacher unions will keep 340,000 students at home from second-level schools next month without balloting their members on junior cycle reform plans that are significantly different to the ones they agreed to strike against.

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and Teachers’ Union of Ireland leaders say their members oppose any form of assessing their own students for a state exam, even though concessions by Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan this week addressed most of their issues of concern.

Proposals for a new, school-certified award and for teachers to mark their own students’ final exams at the end of third year were still on the table in March when the unions’ combined 27,000 membership backed initial industrial action, and also in September when the ASTI voted to escalate to possible strikes.

Those elements proposed by her predecessor, Ruairi Quinn, have now been withdrawn by Ms O’Sullivan, although she still wants teachers to mark their students for projects and portfolios worth 40% of total marks in each subject.

Her changes were proposed in fresh talks with unions on Monday, but they abandoned the process a day later.

The ASTI and TUI executives met jointly yesterday and decided to step up their action with the first of two, one-day strikes on Tuesday, December 2, having been on limited industrial action since April.

Ms O’Sullivan said the action will disrupt schools and cause serious inconvenience for students and their families. In a letter to the unions before their meeting, she asked them to reflect on the proposals and formally consult with their members on her compromise offer.

TUI president Gerry Quinn said teachers would be losing a day’s pay for each strike, with a second one planned for an undecided date in January, but that unions had exhausted all options in trying to avoid such action.

“The strike goes ahead on December 2, except if we get the assessment problem solved, such that teachers don’t have to assess their own students for certification purposes,” said Mr Quinn.

“To ballot again would be an enormous duplication and waste of time in terms of trying to maintain this campaign.”

Only 37% of ASTI’s 17,000 members backed strike action in September — 84% of the 44% who voted — and 55% of TUI’s 11,000 second-level members — 88% of a 62% turnout — did so in March.

Ms O’Sullivan said she has gone as far as she can to address teacher concerns and still maintain the integrity of junior cycle reform.

“There’s no rowing back in terms of having school- based assessment with teachers involved, but the detail of how it would be done in schools is something that can be discussed,” Ms O’Sullivan told RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime show.

The Irish Second-level Students’ Union said young people were being scapegoated, as the changes were necessary and teachers already corrected in-school Christmas and summer exams. “Once again, industrial action on this scale during school hours means students are being used as pawns in what ultimately is an industrial dispute not solely concerning educational reform,” said the students’ education officer, Joanna Siewierska.

The strike plans were also criticised by groups representing school managers, principals, and Fianna Fáil.


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