Strike looms: Schools warn may not reopen after midterm

Thursday’s one-day strike action likely to close more than 500 secondary schools

ASTI protesters outside Leinster House earlier this month. Photograph: Eric Luke

ASTI protesters outside Leinster House earlier this month. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Hundreds of secondary schools that are set to close on Thursday as a result of a teachers’ strike are informing parents they may not reopen at all following the midterm break.

The Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland’s (ASTI) leadership is due to meet with senior officials from the Department of Education on Wednesday in a last-ditch attempt to avert strike action.

Given the gap between both sides on the matters in dispute, it now seems likely that Thursday’s strike – the first of seven strike days between now and December – will go ahead.

This is likely to close more than 500 secondary schools.

There is much greater concern, however, over the fact that many of these schools may not re-open following the midterm break on Monday, November 7th.

School management bodies, who met Department of Education officials on Tuesday evening, now estimate that at least 400 secondary schools might not have enough staff to keep schools open on health and safety grounds.

Absent staff

This is due to the ASTI’s plans to withdraw supervision and substitution duties following the midterm break, which would leave schools without teachers to supervise breaks or fill in for absent staff.

While schools have stated 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.

The country’s biggest school management body, which is responsible for half of the countries secondary schools, said that its schools are being placed in an “impossible position”.

“We are very concerned that it now seems unlikely that boards of management will be in a position to re-open after the midterm break,” said John Curtis of the Joint Managerial Body.

“We feel that school boards of management are being put in an impossible position. It is unlikely they will be able to remain open, given that our fundamental concerns in the health and safety of our children.”

A spokesman for Minister for Education Richard Bruton said it remains the case that widespread school closures are expected from the 7th November due to the “ASTI’s industrial action and non-cooperation with contingency”.

The ASTI, however, insists that it has given schools sufficient notice to draw up contingency plans.

Directive

School managers say the union’s decision not to exempt principals and deputy principals in its directive to cease supervision duties means it will be close to impossible for many schools to operate contingency plans.

This effect of this is that responsibility for recruiting supervisors falls to boards of management who serve on a voluntary basis.

The Department of Education commenced preparations for strike action on Thursday by sending circulars to school outlining rules over the payment of teaching staff.

It wants schools to ensure that non-ASTI teachers sign forms declaring that they are available for work on Thursday. This means that members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and non-union members who sign up will get paid regardless of whether or not the school opens. All ASTI members, however, will forfeit a day’s pay.

A similar circular is likely to issue later in the week with similar instructions – stating that teachers must be available for supervision and substation – in preparation for the resumption of school after midterm.

An ASTI delegation met the department on Tuesday, meanwhile, to discuss its ongoing concerns regarding junior cycle reform. The meeting ended without agreement and further talks on the issue are due on Tuesday, November 1st.

The union’s main grievance is that teachers should not have to assess their students’ work for State exams.