Education People: A principal’s view of the ASTI action
School leaders have been left to deal with the day-to-day impact of the secondary-teacher union’s industrial action. It is a lonely place to be
More and more of my time is taken up with making representations to the HSE, the National Education Welfare Board and the National Educational Psychological Service or, indeed, the Department of Education, pleading for additional supports for students who are dealing with myriad pressures and social and economic disadvantage. This is aside from my obligations to the 65 teachers under my care, who face the daily challenges that life brings all of us. I and my fellow principals are expected, and in fairness, are very willing, to be there for each one of them. We offer support, friendship and empathy to our professional colleagues because we care.
Similarly, the ASTI’s refusal to allow members to participate in school open nights is a very unwise move. The importance of open nights in most schools cannot be overstated. It is a shop window for a school, attracting new students and, therefore, new jobs for teachers. Many principals have scrambled to reschedule these nights. Many others have cancelled. I am aware of others who feel they must go ahead, despite the directive, to protect the position of the school in the community.
Again, principals and deputies are expected to stand up and be counted. They will sacrifice themselves on the altar of commitment to their school community, regardless of cost or exposure to themselves. Whether a school has an open night or not appears of little or no consequence to the Department of Education. It is hardly going to bring it to its knees in submission. And once again, school leaders are alone.
We have no dedicated representative body with an industrial relations remit. The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) has not exactly covered itself in glory in this regard.
Following the decision by the ASTI to take industrial action, the NAPD issued a letter to the ASTI president, Sally Maguire, castigating the union in an unprecedented manner. It was ill-advised. Many school leaders are ASTI members and many are broadly supportive of the rejection of Haddington Road. It would have been preferable for the NAPD to call on both sides to engage and reach some agreement on the current issues, without the burden being placed unreasonably on school leaders. I think that is what they tried to say, but this message certainly did not get through. The ensuing controversy provided a welcome distraction for some to talk of “friction” and “tension” between the NAPD and ASTI. It opened the door to commentators to pen articles full of vitriol, fuelling misinformation about the role and value of the teacher. The ASTI response was of course predictable, retaliating with the assertion that the NAPD director, Clive Byrne, had himself appeared to support pay cuts.