Hundreds of schools may close for parent-teacher meetings

ASTI’s refusal to work extra hours means secondary schools may be shut for the events

Hundreds of secondary schools may have to close for at least a day in the lead-up to students’ State exams in order to hold parent-teacher meetings during school hours. File photograph: Eric Luke

Hundreds of secondary schools may have to close for at least a day in the lead-up to students’ State exams in order to hold parent-teacher meetings during school hours. File photograph: Eric Luke

 

Hundreds of secondary schools may have to close for at least a day in the lead-up to students’ State exams in order to hold parent-teacher meetings during school hours.

These and staff meetings are normally held outside the school day through the use of additional “Croke Park” hours, but the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) has directed members to refuse to work these hours as part of its ongoing industrial action over pay and education reforms.

The Joint Managerial Body, which represents about 500 voluntary secondary schools, is understood to have recently alerted the Department of Education that schools may now end up scheduling parent-teacher meetings and important staff meetings during school hours.

The department confirmed it had been alerted to the possibility of closures due to ASTI teachers’ withdrawal from the Croke Park hours.

“The department is aware that the ASTI’s continuing action in withdrawing from the Croke Park hours will cause disruption to schools and parents,” it said in a statement.

“The department is concerned about any loss of tuition time for students due to the ASTI’s action.”

The Joint Managerial Body is understood to have advised individual schools to to keep the potential loss of tuition time to a minimum and to give parents adequate notice of any closures.

Source say any disruption is greatly regretted and is the result of “extraordinary circumstances”.

Heavily represented

While ASTI members have refused to work additional Croke Park hours since last autumn, schools where the union is heavily represented have been able to hold some parent-teacher meetings under a “half in/half out” arrangement which dates back to 2004.

This allows for up to three parent-teacher meetings to be held outside school hours.

Most voluntary secondary schools have already used these three meetings up for parent-teacher meetings, typically for first-years, third-years and sixth-years.

Some principals who spoke to The Irish Times say they will need to close their schools for a day to accommodate parent-teacher meetings during school hours for second-years and fifth-years.

Some say they will cancel planned parent-teacher meetings for transition year students.

“We’re trying to strike a balance between meeting the needs of students, and ensuring parents are kept informed about their children’s progress,” one principal said.

Others principals are considering early school closures for staff meetings in order to cover essential school business.

This is a reference to schools which are preparing for the introduction of 40-minute minimum class periods, which is a requirement of the department from next autumn.

Headache

School closures also pose a headache for management bodies in the longer term which are required to provide a minimum of 167 teaching days per year under department rules.

It is likely that some schools will not reach this threshold this year due to the loss of three days linked to industrial and strike action by the ASTI.

Earlier this month, the union voted to reject proposals aimed at resolving its disputes with the Government.

The ASTI’s leadership has insisted that any future action will not lead to school closures and will minimise disruption to students.

However, closures are inevitable if schools press ahead with parent-teacher meetings and staff meetings during school hours.

The ASTI’s executive recommended its 18,000 members reject the proposals on the basis that they did not go far enough to restore austerity-era pay and conditions for members.

As part of its industrial action, members will continue to refuse to work Croke Park hours, while the union’s non-co-operation on junior cycle reform will remain in place.

It argues that most of these 33 hours are unproductive and has labelled them as “detention for teachers”.