ASTI to resume talks with Government in bid to avert school closures

Union concerns on pay up for discussion but separate talks to tackle junior cycle reform

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) is to meet again with Department of Education officials on Monday in an attempt to avert the widespread closure of secondary schools from next week.

An ASTI delegation met senior officials over the course of four hours this morning where they discussed issues around pay and conditions and a long-running dispute concerning junior cycle reform.

It is understood that Department of Education officials made an offer to restore payments to secondary teachers for carrying out supervision and substitution duties.

However, the offer is conditional on the union agreeing to work unpaid “Croke Park” teaching hours, which were originally agreed as part of a productivity agreement.

Sources have indicated the meetings – which got under way at 9am on Thursday and concluded shortly after lunchtime – were constructive and fresh talks are planned for next Monday .

In addition, separate talks over junior cycle reform are due to take place on Tuesday.

Department officials are understood to be keen to ensure that any resolution that may emerge will encompass both disputes.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton, who is in China as part of a trade mission, is cutting short the trip and is due to return on Friday morning.

Time is running out for a resolution to the dispute with the first of seven days of strikes set for Thursday, October 27th.

In addition, the ASTI plans to cease supervision and substitution duties from Monday, November 7th, onwards, which could close hundreds of schools indefinitely if suitable external personnel cannot be recruited in time to provide alternative arrangements .

Advertisement for supervisors

Secondary schools are beginning to advertise for supervisors from today in a bid to keep schools open in the face of looming industrial action.

Parents of all students in schools affected will receive letters stating their school is at risk of closure, along with application forms to become supervisors in local school.

The contingency plans are based on keeping schools affected by the supervision and substitution withdrawal open.

Under the contingency plans, payment rates will be set at a daily contract rate of €38.36 based on a minimum of two hours’ supervision.

Where supervision above these hours is required, it will remunerated at €19.18 per additional hour.

However, the three-week window available to recruit and vet supervisors is considered impossible by most school management bodies.

In addition, the union’s refusal to suspend the directive for principals means contingency plans are almost impossible in any school where there is an ASTI principal.

The ASTI, however, insists it has given adequate notice to school management bodies over its plans and blames the Government for bringing the dispute to this point

In all, it is likely up to 525 – or two out of three secondary schools – will close as a result of the ASTI’s strike action on Thursday.

Almost all voluntary secondary schools – owned or run by religious bodies – are set to close. These schools are managed by the Joint Managerial Body.

In addition, a significant number of the 95 or more community and comprehensive schools are set to close. They are typically staffed by members of both the ASTI and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI).

Secondary schools run by the Education and Training Boards (formerly VECs) are the least likely to be affected.

Michael Moriarty, the general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland, estimated about 20 were at risk of closure.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent