Hundreds of schools ‘may not reopen’ after mid-term break

Secondary schools may close on health and safety grounds over teachers' dispute

Hundreds of secondary schools are unlikely to reopen following the mid-term break unless a teachers’ dispute is resolved, school managers have warned. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Hundreds of secondary schools are unlikely to reopen following the mid-term break unless a teachers’ dispute is resolved, school managers have warned. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Hundreds of secondary schools are unlikely to reopen following the mid-term break unless a teachers’ dispute is resolved, school managers have warned.

School management bodies met on Thursday to discuss contingency plans to cope with the planned withdrawal from supervision and substitution duties by members of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) as part of an industrial row over pay and conditions.

The first of seven one-day strikes in the dispute is due to take place next Thursday, and is set to close up to 525 – or two out of three – secondary schools.

However, the planned withdrawal of supervision and substitution by ASTI members from Monday, November 7th, has the potential to close these schools indefinitely.

This is because schools would be unable to open on health and safety grounds in the absence of personnel to supervise break-times and fill in for absent teachers.

While contingency plans involving the recruitment of parents and other members of the public to fulfil these functions are under way, the biggest school management body in the State said on Thursday it would be impossible for most of its schools to implement them.

The Joint Managerial Body (JMB) – which manages half of all secondary schools – said the ASTI’s directive to members to withdraw from supervision duties extends to principals and deputy principals.

John Curtis, the JMB’s general secretary, said these principals were crucial to the implementation of contingency plans, such as hiring external supervisors.

In their absence, it was being left to members of the schools’ boards of management – who serve on a voluntary basis – to implement these plans.

Mr Curtis said that, even in cases where a school’s principal was not an ASTI member, the three-week timeframe available was not sufficient to advertise, recruit and vet sufficient numbers of external supervisors.

Most school managers said that at least seven weeks was required to hire and vet supervisors.

The management body for the State’s 97 community and comprehensive schools, which met on Thursday, also said many of its schools were set to close.

Most of its schools are staffed by members of both the ASTI and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), which is not in a dispute with the Government.

While this means it may be possible to keep schools open, the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools warned that this was unlikely to be the case where a principal or a deputy principal was a member of the ASTI.

The association also said the narrow window of time available meant it would be very difficult to recruit supervisors.

Education and Training Boards

The schools least likely to be affected are the 200-plus secondary schools run by the Education and Training Boards (formerly VECs).

Michael Moriarty, the head of Education and Training Boards Ireland, estimates that about 20 of its schools are at risk of closure.

Under contingency plans, all parents are set to receive letters spelling out the risk of school closures, along with application forms to become supervisors.

School management bodies are also advertising for members of the general public to become supervisors for a basic fee of €38 a day for two hours of work.

Any additional hours will be paid at a rate of €19 an hour.

The response of the ASTI’s sister union – the TUI – will be crucial in determining how many schools will remain open.

The union’s executive is set to meet on Friday to issue guidance to its members on how to respond to the ASTI’s action, including the consequences of crossing picket lines.

Sources say it is likely that many dual-union schools will simply close to avoid the prospect of tension.

Meanwhile, the ASTI has signalled that the first of seven strike days is likely to go ahead following inconclusive talks with the Department of Education earlier this week.