Schools face disruption as teachers plan to take action

Thu, Apr 16, 2009, 01:00

TEACHER UNIONS have backed a campaign of industrial action which will involve widespread disruption in schools in June and again in September. The move could see schools closed as part of a day of action.

As anger over the public sector pension levy and education cuts intensified, members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) will today consider an emergency motion that will endorse industrial action. This was demanded by delegates – who had earlier rejected a weaker motion on the levy – at the union’s conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, yesterday.

In another show of protest, members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) heckled Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe during his address to their annual conference in Cork yesterday. A number of delegates shouted “shame” and “lies” as the Minister started speaking and more than a dozen walked out.

Serious disruption in schools is certain from September when primary teachers protest against the embargo on promotional posts and increased class sizes, which the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) says will result in the loss of 1,000 jobs.

Up to 700 promotional posts at assistant principal level and various posts of responsibility are due to become vacant this year. However, from September, INTO members will refuse to take on duties of more senior staff, a move which could generate chaos in schools. For example, key posts like assistant principal, special needs co-ordinator and sports facilitator will be left unfilled.

INTO president Máire Ní Chuinneagáin said the union would direct teachers not to undertake additional duties where posts of responsibility are not filled. “The embargo on posts will affect school leadership. There are many duties and complex tasks that need to be done in schools. The Government is not going to get this work done for nothing,” she said.

On another front, the INTO is to hold a special conference in May or June; this will decide on the next phase of its response to the public sector pension levy. The union is set to back calls for a day of action – in conjunction with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions – which could lead to schools closing.

All three teacher unions have already been mandated by members to take up to two days’ industrial action over the levy and the Government’s handling of the economic crisis. The day of action planned for March 30th did not proceed as the Government moved to restore the partnership process. Talks between the social partners are due to resume next week.

The Department of Education has capped the number of teacher and special needs assistant posts at current levels despite the projected increase of 10,000 in primary school enrolment in the next school year.

The increase in class sizes from 27 to 28 will result in the loss of 1,000 teaching posts, according to the INTO. Mr O’Keeffe insists only 254 posts will be lost in primary schools.

The ban on promotions will have a serious impact on teacher earnings, already cut by the pension levy and Budget changes. Promotional posts carry allowances of up to almost €9,000 and involve duties such as curriculum development, health and safety, co-ordinating special needs resources and the development of policies on attendance or discipline.

Mr O’Keeffe has acknowledged the cutbacks may cause difficulties for schools but has exhorted teachers to take the strain at a time of national crisis. Speaking at the TUI conference in Cork yesterday, he said: “I notice that what the teachers’ unions have said is that they have an option from their members to look at strike action. I would hope that, looking and realising how difficult a situation is, we would all be sensible.”

He continued: “Does taking teachers out of a classroom, away from children, does that bring an end to the crisis any quicker? Does disruption of the schools on a daily basis make a difference to what we want to achieve in the long run?”