ASTI rejection of pay proposals could spur pre-exam disruption
Thousands of junior cycle students would lose 10 per cent in the English summer exam
Kieran Christie and Ed Byrne (right), president of the ASTI central executive: Mr Byrne suggested at the weekend any industrial action would be likely to focus on minimising disruption to students. Photograph: Eric Luke
What next? The actions of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) in recent weeks resulted in the closure of hundreds of secondary schools, the loss of three days’ pay for thousands of teachers and chaos for pupils – and their parents – preparing for State exams.
It led to three weeks of talks and a set of proposals which – to a large extent – were already secured by the other teachers’ unions.
Now the union’s central executive has recommended its 17,000 members reject this latest agreement.
So, if this deal is voted down as well, what can parents and students expect over the coming months?
The result of a ballot are likely towards the end of January or early February – when many schools are sitting mock exams, gearing up for oral tests and preparing for the run-in to State exams.
The union will not win any favours for embarking on a fresh round of school closures. Members, who have already suffered in their pockets from three days of lost pay, will not want to suffer further financial losses.
The Government, meanwhile, has shown no sign of budging over weeks of talks over its key demands.
Having thrown the kitchen sink at the Department of Education and the Government, it’s difficult to see what the union can achieve through yet more industrial action.
The ASTI’s president, Ed Byrne, suggested over the weekend that any future industrial action is likely to focus on minimising disruption to students.
While no decisions have been made, he said this could focus on withdrawing co-operation with school inspections and other forms of co-operation with the Department of Education.
However, despite these assurances, students – and parents – are likely to be negatively affected in a number of ways if the deal is rejected.
The new deal includes proposals that would allow thousands of junior cycle students in schools staffed by members of the ASTI to avoid penalties in their English exams next summer.
The proposal states that students could undertake an assessment task – worth 10 per cent of marks – over the coming months in exchange for the union dropping its ban on co-operation with classroom-based assessments.
If the deal is rejected, however, it is difficult to see show students could avoid these penalties within the short time-frame available ahead of the summer exams.
This is a source of real and growing anxiety among many students, parents and teachers.
A separate union directive requiring the ASTI members not to co-operate with the preparation or operation of oral examinations at junior cycle would also continue to disadvantage many students.
The rejection of additional working hours is likely to restrict parent-teacher meetings, or force the closure of schools in some cases in order to hold them.
School managers say they are being forced to prioritise which year groups will be accommodated this year as a temporary measure.
The potential withdrawal of supervision and substitution cover would also end up causing some disruption in the run-up to exams
The union quietly dropped its ban in recent weeks on ASTI principals co-operating with contingency plans to keep schools open in the event that the union withdraws cover.
While this means the indefinite closure of hundreds of secondary schools is much less likely, it would still cause disruption to schools, say school managers, especially if adequate notice is not provided.
For students and their parents, there is much to be concerned about over the coming months.