Schools close indefinitely for 200,000 students
Disruption comes as tensions mount in Government over Garda pay increases
ASTI president Ed Byrne at a protest outside Dominican College in Dublin 9 earlier in October. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
In excess of 200,000 students will be affected by the indefinite closure of hundreds of secondary schools from Monday as talks between teachers and the Government ended without any sign of progress.
The disruption comes as tensions rise within Government over whether to accept in full a Labour Court recommendation to give special pay increases to gardaí.
A number of Ministers have declared they will resist any attempt to cut spending programmes agreed for next year in order to fund pay increases for gardaí over and above the Lansdowne Road Agreement.
The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and the department are now bracing themselves for what is likely to be a bitter and protracted period of school closures.
The State Examinations Commission, meanwhile, says it is keeping the timing of the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exams “under review” in case school closures extend over a long period.
“The commission will apply common sense in responding to any situations that may emerge,” said a spokesman.
The ASTI’s decision to withdraw from supervision and substitution duties from today will result in the closure of about 400 schools on health and safety grounds.
ASTI teachers in schools which fail to open will not be paid. However, in a move likely to cause division, teachers will receive payment if they sign a circular stating that they are available to work supervision and substitution duties.
Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the closures will cause “huge disruption” for 200,000 students, and their parents, with particular stress caused for those in exam years.
“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.
“Tomorrow’s withdrawal from supervision and substitution duties, and consequent closure by ASTI of hundreds of schools, is explicitly not about new entrants pay, but about the Croke Park hours – one extra hour each week for the 33 weeks of the school year.”
In a statement on Sunday night, the ASTI said it regretted that industrial action will go ahead given that “no progress” had been made despite almost a week of talks.
It says it will continue to maintain contacts over the coming days with a view to resolving the issues.
The union insists that its members are available to work and that many of its members are being “locked out” of schools.
Schools most likely to close are those which are heavily staffed by ASTI members or where principals or deputy principals are members of the union.
A small number of schools which are due to open will cater to exam-years students only – third and sixth-years – though management bodies say this is likely to be a short-term measure.
The Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents the 380 schools in the voluntary secondary sector – typically school owned or run by religious bodies - estimates that only a dozen or so of its schools will remain open.
Among community and comprehensive schools – most of which are dual unions – it is expected that about 30 of the 97 schools will close.
Schools in the Education and Training Board sector are the least likely to close. About seven of the 270 of its schools are likely to close.
John Curtis, general secretary of the JMB, said the unsettling period of industrial action was taking its toll on students and on their families.
“It’s time for negotiators to re-engage and to bring an end to the uncertainty without further delay. Students and their families deserve it.”
Meanwhile, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has said he would resist any attempt to cut the social protection budget to facilitate additional pay increases for public servants above the €850 million already committed in Lansdowne Road.
“Eight hundred thousand people including carers, people with disabilities, the sick and lone parents are getting their first increase since 2009 from March 10th but they will still be €10.50 a week worse off than they were before the crisis started.
“Carers, lone parents and people with disabilities can’t go on strike. It is the Government’s job to ensure that those who can don’t take all the benefits of the recovery for themselves,” said Mr Varadkar.
Similar views were expressed by Independent Minister of State Finian McGrath, who sits at Cabinet: “I have a concern about rolling over to people who issue threats.”
Mr McGrath said he was a strong supporter of the Lansdowne Road Agreement and the vast majority of trade unions who had agreed to a process that would involve pay restoration of €290 million in a year.
“I don’t think we can go outside it. We need to ensure that we have the money for improved public services. Remember that is what people voted for in the general election,” he said.