Q&A: Where next for the teachers’ dispute?

Midterm is the last window of opportunity for talks to avert further school closures

Archive: On 27th October almost 70% of secondary schools closed across the country as members of the ASTI held a strike in pursuit of equal pay for newly-qualified teachers. Video: Bryan O'Brien


Q: Is further school disruption planned?

Yes. Thursday’s one-day strike was, in effect, a dress rehearsal for a much wider disruption which looms from Monday, November 7th, following the midterm break. The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) has directed members to cease providing supervision and substitution duties from that date onwards.

This would close hundreds of schools on health and safety grounds.That is mainly because school managers say there is not enough time to recruit, vet and train supervisors to fill in on yard duty and to take classes.

Q: What about the seven separate strike days announced by the union between now and December?

These are superseded by the union’s plan to withdraw supervision and substitution duties. As this action would shut most schools, it hardly makes a difference if there is a strike day as well.

Q: What schools are likely to be affected?

Many of the schools that shut as part of Thursday’s one-day strike are likely to close if the union withdraws supervision and substitution duties.

While a total of just over 500 – or about two out of three – schools closed on Thursday, school management bodies suggest that upwards of 400 are set to close from Monday week onwards. The number is a little smaller than Thursday’s as some schools may be able to scramble together contingency plans to keep schools open.

Voluntary secondary schools – typically those owned or run by religious bodies – are the most likely to close. The majority of the 97 community and comprehensive schools are also at high risk of closing . Schools run by Education and Training Boards are the likeliest to remain open as most of their staff are members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI).

Q: How long could schools remain shut?

That is anyone’s guess. If the withdrawal of duties goes ahead, some insiders think closures will last for no more than two or three days. That is because teachers would not be paid for the duration and the union would likely face serious internal pressure.

However, there is a big gap between the Department of Education and the ASTI across a range of issues such as Croke Park hours, junior cycle reform and pay for new entrants.

It is difficult to see any speedy resolution to all these issues.

Q: Surely contingency plans will kick in to keep schools open?

Many schools are in the process of hiring supervisors to help supervise break times and classes. But school management bodies say the union’s decision not to suspend its directive on withdrawing supervision duties for principals and deputy principals means it is almost impossible to put contingency plans into action.

In addition, most schools say it will take a number of weeks before they are in a position to recruit, vet and train supervisors.

Q: Is is true that most ASTI teachers will not be paid, even if they turn up for work from November 7th onwards?

ASTI teachers will not be paid if their industrial action causes the closure of the school. If the school opens, however, ASTI members will be paid.

There are some members of the union who “opted out” of the supervision and substitution scheme a few years ago. The department’s position is that they will not be paid if the school closes.

Q: Are further talks due to resolve the dispute?

Yes. There will be some contact between the ASTI and the department on Friday, but the real talks are likely to get under way next week. The midterm break is a crucial window of opportunity to avert industrial action. If there is no deal, school closures will occur. The only question by that stage will be for how long.