Principals told to close schools for a day in junior cycle protest

Strike set to go ahead next Tuesday as unions and Minister blame each other

School principals have been told by teacher unions to close secondary schools in their entirety next Tuesday when the first of two one-day strikes takes place over reform of the junior cycle.

Minister for Education Jan O'Sullivan and the two unions - the ASTI and TUI - issued separate statements today, criticising each other for the pending disruption to over 330,000 students.

Ms O’Sullivan said she had already moved considerably on the junior cycle plan but “but negotiation involves movement from both sides”.

“Strike action that disrupts students and inconveniences parents is not warranted. I would urge the second-level unions to cancel the planned strike action and re-engage in meaningful talks on the basis of the framework I put forward.”


However, the unions said they planned to go ahead with picketing the state’s 730 post-primary schools, and have also issued an instruction to principals to join the strike.

In some previous disputes, principals were allowed to open schools on strike days so that non-teaching staff like SNAs and caretakers can sign in for work.

The removal of this derogation may create difficulties for boards of management that wish to verify attendance of non-teaching staff next Tuesday.

The ASTI said the issuing of the instruction followed a specific request from members of the union’s principals and deputy principals committee that they would be treated the same as other members.

All teaching staff will be docked a day’s pay for participating in the strike, the department confirmed.

As the recriminations continued, ASTI president Philip Irwin said: "It is misleading for the Minister to state that the unions have 'steadfastly failed to move'.

“We have made clear to the Minister that we are willing to engage on many of the proposals contained in the framework for junior cycle. We have supported a move away from a single terminal exam and the inclusion of portfolios and project work, etc.”

The unions say they will not budge, however, on the issue of school-based assessment - even if it only accounts for 40 per cent of Junior Cert marks as now proposed.

TUI President Gerry Quinn said: "A system of teachers assessing their own students for state exam purposes will significantly change the relationship between the teacher and student.

“We agree with the Minister that new modes of assessment such as practical work and portfolios are an important development. We support this. However, we want all State exam components to be externally assessed.

“In recent months, we have exhausted all available avenues in an effort to have our concerns addressed.”

Justifying her stance, the Minister said “school-based assessment is an important element of reform.

“Unlike an externally marked exam or assessment it can capture the full picture of a student’s contribution and progression over a period of time. School-based assessment also enhances the feedback between students and teachers and can significantly improve the learning experience.

“Having a blended mix of externally assessed exams and school-based assessment will be a positive development for schools.”

Arguing that the strike “serves no-one’s interests”, the Minister said she welcomed the support from the National Parents Council Post Primary, the Irish Second-Level Students Union and various management bodies for her compromise plan.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column