As part of the new standardised school year, school Christmas holidays officially begin on Tuesday next, but a number of schools closed yesterday.
The ASTI and INTO said the decision to close a school for holidays is not made by the teachers and therefore they should not be penalised for it.
However, Mr Dempsey rejected this and said payment of benchmarking increases will be denied to teachers who breach the Sustaining Progress agreement.
“If teachers don’t adhere to that, if schools don’t adhere to that then they can’t be expected to get the pay,” he said. “I think it’s in black and white. The closure dates are very, very specific,” he added.
Spot checks by inspectors will take place in schools next week and every school principal will have to verify in the new year that the agreed dates had been adhered to.
Mr Dempsey said that while he did not wish to see children in school so close to Christmas, the agreement was made in order to allow union members take two weeks off at Easter.
“We either have an agreement or we don’t have an agreement. They are quite clearly in breach of the bargain and the deal that was done,” he said.
A small number of multi-denominational primary schools, Muslim schools and secondary schools finished up yesterday.
“I’m mystified by the fact that this minister has made an attack on teachers,” general secretary of the INTO John Carr said.
“If there are schools prepared to take on the minster then the argument should be with those schools and not with the teachers in those schools,” he said.
While agreeing that early closures did breach the Sustaining Progress agreement, he said school principals would provide the necessary verification to the department in January.
“Sending in inspectors into schools is just an ill-judged and insidious attack on the professional integrity of teachers,” he said. Mr Carr said the union would be seeking legal advice if teachers do not receive the 9.7% pay rise promised for January.