Tensions within secondary schools could rise further today as school management bodies seek to ensure teachers not planning to strike on Thursday sign declarations that they are available for work while their colleagues engage in industrial action.
This would mean non-union teachers and members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) who sign up will get paid regardless of whether schools open while members of the ASTI strike as part of a dispute with the Government over pay for new entrants.
All ASTI members will forfeit a day’s pay while the strike, the first of seven days of action scheduled by the union, takes place.
Boards of management for up to 525 – or two out of three – secondary schools will formally alert thousands of parents from today that their schools are due to shut on Thursday.There is much greater concern, however, over the fact that many of these schools may not reopen following the mid-term break on Monday, November 7th.
This is because boards of management say there is no guarantee they will be able to source personnel to supervise breaks and fill in for absent teachers, forcing schools to close on health and safety grounds.
While schools have started recruiting parents and other members of the public as supervisors, most school managers say there is not enough time to hire, vet and train them in time for the resumption of classes in two weeks’ time.
In addition, they say the ASTI’s decision to include principals in its directive to cease supervision duties means it will be close to impossible for many schools to operate contingency plans.
Most voluntary secondary schools – typically owned and run by religious bodies – are set to close. They account for half of all the country’s 740 second-level schools.
In addition, many of the 90-plus community and comprehensive schools – which are typically dual-union schools – are set to shut.
Those least likely to close are the 270 or so schools run by the Education and Training Boards (formerly VECs) as most teachers are TUI members.
However, Michael Moriarty, general secretary of the Education and Training Boards Ireland management body, said up to 30 may close on Thursday.
Department of Education officials, meanwhile, are understood to be keen to ensure any deal that is done should be comprehensive and address many of the ASTI’s key concerns.
The ASTI last night said a “significant gap” remained between it and the department on the issue of pay. Talks between the parties over a long-running dispute on junior cycle reform are due to resume today, while talks over pay and conditions are due on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the TUI said securing pay parity for teachers recruited in recent years remained its highest priority. The union said yesterday it was “demanding a timeframe for parity as a matter of urgency”.
The union said it remained committed to securing a negotiated resolution of the issue of pay parity, but it warned that it had a mandate for industrial action which was still “live” and would be used “if resolution is unfairly delayed or frustrated”.
Fianna Fáil, which has backed the Government's stance on public sector pay to date, called on Minister for Education Richard Bruton to make a "commitment to pay equality".