More than 340,000 students will be forced to stay at home because of work stoppages by 27,000 members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and Teachers’ Union of Ireland, in a dispute with Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan over who should assess students in a reformed Junior Certificate.
The minister bowed to union pressure on a number of issues three weeks ago, dropping plans to replace State certification with a school-issued award, and agreeing to keep external assessment for final written exams. But union leaders refuse to negotiate further as long as she insists they agree first that members assess their students’ second-year and third-year work, worth 40% in each subject.
Today’s strike is the first of two one-day closures, with a date in January to be decided for the second unless a resolution is found.
But writing in today’s Irish Examiner, Asti president Philip Irwin and the minister stand firm in their positions, each claiming the other side’s unwillingness to move is the main obstacle.
“Today’s strike isn’t necessary. The substantial offer I have made remains on the table and my door is open to the unions if they want to engage in meaningful talks,” Ms O’Sullivan writes.
Mr Irwin said bringing the issues to a head justifies the disruption.
“Finally we might be taken seriously, and finally we might get a solution,” he told RTÉ News.
Employers’ group Ibec sad thousands of parents will be massively inconvenienced by being forced to make alternative arrangements for students. “It’s a busy time of year for many companies and there is no justification for this unwarranted disruption,” said Maeve McElwee, Ibec head of HR and industrial relations.
Irish Small and Medium Enterprises CEO Mark Fielding said companies have been able to facilitate parents of second-level students, but the timing so close to Christmas is particularly bad for retailers whose workers have to take time off.
Education and Training Boards Ireland said teacher leaders’ decision to strike in response to significant concessions is unprecedented.
“Nobody wins by forcing schools to close. Students are deprived of tuition, parents are discommoded, and teachers lose a day’s pay,” said ETBI general secretary Michael Moriarty.
The Joint Managerial Body, representing boards of more than half of second- level schools, called on union leaders to engage in talks and said the minister’s plan to provide moderation of marking would help maintain the Junior Certificate’s integrity. But, like the unions, it still has concerns about the resources schools need to implement the changes, such as dedicated staff to oversee new courses and assessment methods, appropriate teacher training, and IT systems.
Sinn Féin education spokesman Jonathan O’Brien called on the minister to engage in further talks, saying work is being foisted on teachers without resources or training to do it.