The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) annual convention this week affirmed its opposition to the current reform proposals around the junior cycle, which counterparts in Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) have been implementing since September. However, since the two unions voted differently on the system, the situation has led to difficulties for ASTI members at some schools.
Of more than 730 second-level schools, most are staffed by members of one union or another. But at more than 90 community or comprehensive schools, and around 70 of the 260 second-level schools managed by education and training boards (ETBs), staff include members of both ASTI and TUI.
Around 3,500 ASTI members work at such schools, although dozens may be one of less than a handful at their individual school.
One of the main differences as a result of the unions’ divergence on the junior cycle issue has been that since last autumn, TUI members have attended training on many aspects. This includes the planned assessment of their own pupils for school certification as part of the new junior cycle programme — something Asta delegates decided this week they will not now do either.
Dermot Brennan, from the Carbery branch in Cork, said difficulties arise particularly for ASTI members teaching English, business studies, and science in dual-union schools, as they are the first subjects to see changes introduced. “They could be put teaching resource classes because they are teaching English but not assessing their own pupils. Or if a teacher is part-time on four or five hours a week and in their second year [at a particular school] they could lose those hours, because the principal might prefer not to have the person in the ASTI who can’t assess their own pupils,” Mr Brennan said.
But such pressures may also be leading to inter-union rivalry, said Clare delegate Geraldine O’Brien, referring to the case of an ASTI member who was already in danger of losing their post anyway at an ETB school this summer because of falling staffing entitlements. “To appease the principal, she joined the TUI so she could attend in-service [training], because the other English teacher was an ASTI member and did not attend in-service,” Ms O’Brien said.
ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie told delegates that a member leaving ASTI, while it is in an industrial dispute, to join another union would put the accepting union in breach of Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) dispute regulations. “We would never take in members of TUI in a dispute situation, and we have their assurances they are not doing that,” he said. However, Mr Christie said that anyone with concrete information of this happening should forward it to ASTI, so that it could be processed by ICTU.
A TUI spokesperson said the union is completely unaware of the situation and it would be inappropriate for it to comment on it.
Wicklow delegate Declan McInerney said it is vital to remember that new teachers may also come under pressure not to join a union, or not to join ASTI, even at job interviews.
“What’s to stop someone asking ‘if we employ you, are you willing to assess your own students?’ How can someone looking for a job refuse?” Mr McInerney said.
The union wants to discuss remaining concerns of members around the junior cycle with the Department of Education, armed with the threat of one-day strikes from September if matters are not resolved to ASTI’s satisfaction by then.
The motion passed on Wednesday means that teachers would expand their campaign — under which they currently refuse to attend training on the revised junior cycle — by refusing to assess pupils for classroom-based assessments. Those would be scheduled for inclusion in a Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement due to be given to students from autumn of next year, to include the outcome of those assessments in second and third years.