Schools stay shut after talks end in stalemate

There is no certainty when most of the 400-plus second-level schools that have been forced to close today might reopen again.
Schools stay shut after talks end in stalemate

Talks ended around 6.30pm yesterday at the Department of Education, where Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) representatives had also spent Saturday afternoon seeking a resolution to their various disputes.

But with no breakthrough emerging, over 400 of the country’s 730 second-level schools will not reopen this morning after the mid-term break of the past week. Over 370 are voluntary secondary schools — run by or for religious orders — which are staffed almost entirely by ASTI members.

But with some of its 17,500 members working alongside Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) colleagues in dual-union schools, 30 to 40 of those will also remain closed as boards of management cannot guarantee the health and safety of students due to the ASTI industrial action. They are refusing to do supervision and substitution duties from today.

Education Minister Richard Bruton, who has reserved comment through most of the past week while negotiations were ongoing, last night laid the blame for closures clearly at the door of the union.

“ASTI have effectively decided to close hundreds of schools indefinitely, as a result of a dispute which essentially relates to one hour a week of additional duties,” he said.

He was referring to the ‘Croke Park’ hours that ASTI told members in July to stop doing, which prompted the Department of Education to withhold extra pay that has already been added to the salaries of non-ASTI teachers. It was the stopping of that pay increase which prompted the union to ballot members on the withdrawal from supervision and substitution work.

“This will cause huge disruption for 200,000 students, and their parents, with particular stress caused for those in exam years,” said Mr Bruton.

The ASTI will hold a second one-day strike tomorrow, in a separate dispute over pay for members who began teaching since 2011.

The union said it was regrettable that the planned withdrawal of supervision and substitution will go ahead, despite its participation in talks over the past week. It said no progress has been made on key issues, but it will continue to maintain contacts with the Department of Education today and in the coming days to try and resolve the issues.

Although pickets are not being placed on schools in relation to the supervision and substitution withdrawal, ASTI says members are available for teaching duties and they will be turning up at school as normal.

“The industrial action follows the withdrawal of payment in recognition of supervision and substitution work from ASTI members. Other teachers who are not members of the ASTI are receiving the payment,” said a spokesperson.

Around 60 community and comprehensive (C&C) schools and dozens of community colleges will open today, with supervision done by a mix of part-time non-union teachers or special needs assistants, student teachers, or other Garda-vetted personnel already working at schools, for example, on sports or other extra-curricular activities. A small number of C&C schools will partially open, mostly just for Junior and Leaving Certificate students.

Some of the C&C schools and community colleges that are closed today may re-open later in the week even if the ASTI action continues, as and when Garda vetting is completed for newly hired temporary supervisors.

More than 500 schools closed on October 27, the first ASTI strike in pursuit of equal pay for new entrant teachers, and it is likely that the same schools will all shut again tomorrow. It is the second of seven strikes on that issue scheduled up to and including Wednesday, December 7.

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