Teachers' union: Members 'extremely worried' about returning to schools

Teachers' union: Members 'extremely worried' about returning to schools

Josepha Madigan, minister of state for special education and inclusion, with Abbi Homan at Saint Augustine’s School, Blackrock, Dublin, where the minister reviewed its summer programme as part of Summer Provision 2020.  Picture: Maxwells

The biggest secondary teachers’ union is calling on the Government to “step up to the plate” and deliver a competent back-to-school package of measures.

Kieran Christie, general secretary, Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI), said members are “extremely worried” about returning to work. And he said there must be “no compromise on safety”.

In an address to members during an ASTI remote convention, he said he has provided education chiefs with a “large shopping list” of measures to be implemented and which must be backed by “comprehensive investment”.

He warned that the Government’s July stimulus package capital allocation of €42m for post-primary schools to carry out Covid-19 “reconfiguration works” will not be enough.

“I suspect they will have to dig deeper,” he said of the package announced on Thursday.

Mr Christie also said various “issues” around before the Covid-19 crisis broke remain, including low pay and pensions.

There is the “ongoing row” about the timing of Subject Learning and Assessment Review meetings.

“One thing is for sure, the issues are not going away," he said. "You can rest assured we in the ASTI will continue to pursue each and every one of them as time progresses.”

He started the address looking back on an unprecedented time in the union’s history.

“When we all sat down to our Christmas dinners last year, none of us would have imagined the manner in which matters would unfold in the following months," he said. "However, there is no doubt that the members of the ASTI, the teachers of this country, can hold their heads up high. When the history of this period is written, full and true recognition of the enormity of their contribution will be recorded.”

However, he quickly moved to the issue of schools reopening.

“From an ASTI perspective, an immutable truth is that in each and every instance in our schools upon reopening, the health advice provided by the health authorities must be implemented in full and at all times," he said.

“The beginning, the middle, and the end of all this is that our members, students, and everyone in our school communities must be entirely safe. I was asked recently at a hearing of the Dáil Covid-19 committee what a standard classroom with 30 students, two special needs assistants, and a teacher would look like in September. I responded that it would look empty because it would not be tolerated by ASTI.

“I repeat that message here. I have no doubt that some of what emerges in terms of the arrangements for reopening of schools will not be entirely to our liking but there can be no compromising on the health of teachers and students. Schools will have to be Covid-19-secure workplaces.”

He also brought up the Public Services Stability Agreement, which ends this year.

"ASTI will once again put the issue of unequal pay 'up there in lights'. We will defend members from any attacks on their conditions of service and we will seek to ensure pay will be protected.”

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