ASTI stance is affecting school choice, principals say

Association claims the union’s brinkmanship risks derailing the education system

ASTI delegates pictured at the  conference in Killarney in April. Photograph: Don MacMonagle

ASTI delegates pictured at the conference in Killarney in April. Photograph: Don MacMonagle


Parents are voting with their feet and sending their children to schools where there is no fear of industrial action by the country’s biggest secondary teachers’ union, school principals say.

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) claims the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland’s (ASTI) resistance to reform and refusal to work additional hours risks derailing the education system.

Clive Byrne, the NAPD’s director, said continued brinkmanship on reform will severely undermine the welfare of individual teachers and schools, and the education system as a whole.

“Indeed, it has already slowed down one of the most important and much needed changes to the Irish education system in recent times: junior cycle reform,” Mr Byrne writes, in an opinion article in today’s Irish Times.

“Left unresolved, the conflict will damage the quality of education provided in those schools where teachers are granted ‘professional time’, in particular dual union schools and the voluntary secondary sector.”

The ASTI is the only public sector union which is not under under the Lansdowne Road agreement, which provides for limited restoration of austerity-era pay cuts.

Principled stance

The union’s leadership says it is taking a “principled” stance against lower pay scales for new entrant teachers and insists its opposition to junior cycle reform is based on protecting education standards.

Members, as a result, have been directed not to take part in training or teacher-led assessments relating to the new junior cycle, while they are also banned from working additional “Croke Park” hours.

Mr Byrne, however, writes: “Anecdotally, parents are voting with their feet and sending their children to TUI (Teachers’ Union of Ireland) schools where there is no fear of industrial action; not unreasonably, teachers, too, will seek out a more positive and fulfilling workplace.”

He said this “brain drain” effect will mean that certain subjects may disappear from the curriculum in some schools as a result of teacher shortages and timetabling anomalies.

“Some senior cycle subjects like chemistry and physics may see the merging of fifth- and sixth-year classes, ultimately disadvantaging every pupil and putting further pressure on teachers,” Mr Byrne writes.

“Even now, for schools with staff in both the TUI and ASTI, scheduling timetables for teachers on different hours has become a logistical nightmare.”

Subject choices

Without certainty on what hours which teachers can work, pupils returning for the school year next September could be shuffled into different classes or find their subject choices are no longer available.

“The longer the dispute continues, the more profound the effects will be on the quality of our children’s education,” he says.

Mr Byrne said the education system was in a delicate position with tensions running high.

As a result, important practicalities, such as timetabling and day-to-day management, were proving frustratingly complex.

“All of this is happening at a time when equal access to education is at the forefront of the national agenda,” he writes.

“Reform is needed, but we are seeing the emergence of a gap between teachers based on their union membership. Without a common position, this rift will widen, while pupils, parents and the country as a whole will suffer.”