Teachers set to run remote classes during future school closures

Failure to cooperate with reforms would trigger pay freezes for union members

Days off school due to snow may be a thing of the past with teachers set to conduct online classes in future in the event of unforeseen school closures. File photograph: Dara MacDónaill / The Irish Times

Days off school due to snow may be a thing of the past with teachers set to conduct online classes in future in the event of unforeseen school closures. File photograph: Dara MacDónaill / The Irish Times

 

Teachers’ unions say they will “engage” with Department of Education reforms which would spell the end of school closures for snow, bad weather or other unexpected reasons.

A series of reforms are set out in a new action plan linked to the public service pay agreement reached between the Government and trade unions last December.

It includes using digital technology to continue teaching remotely in the event of unforeseen school closures, along with plans to conduct more teacher training and oral / practical State exams outside school hours .

A failure on the part of unions to engage with these plans could result in members forfeiting pay increases due under the agreement in October 2021 and October 2022.

Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Kieran Christie said while the union rejected the terms of the pay deal, it was bound by its terms in the context of the aggregate vote for acceptance by Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

“ASTI will engage with the Department of Education on its action plan in that context,” he said.

A spokesman for the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said the union has engaged with the department in relation to the action plan and will continue to do so.

“Clearly, with any such plan, meaningful engagement and consultation with stakeholders on an ongoing basis is essential,” he said.

A spokesman for the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation declined to comment.

Under the terms of the pay deal - officially known as Building Momentum - unions are required to “fully comply” with the terms of the agreement and maintain industrial peace.

The Department of Education confirmed on Tuesday that the benefits of the agreement will not apply to any union which fails to adhere to the provisions of the agreement.

“Co-operation with ongoing workplace change and reform initiatives ... will be a prerequisite for availing of the benefits of this agreement,” a spokesman for the department said.

Progress reports, containing details on the delivery of action plans and compliance with industrial peace, is a key way that adherence to the agreement will be monitored.

These reports will be submitted by the secretary general of the Department of Education to the Department of Public Expenditure in September 2021 and September 2022, a month before scheduled pay increases.

“Failure to comply with the terms of the agreement in one area will have knock-on implications for the implementation of other provisions,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure said.

The action plan for the Department of Education also proposes holding oral and practical elements of Leaving and Junior Cert exams outside school time.

A proposal to consider moving professional development for teachers outside school hours and online is also contained in the plan.

Educators would, it is anticipated, co-operate more with curriculum reform in primary and post-primary as well as with reforms in the further education sector.

For second-level teachers, the department’s plan is to seek “co-operation with continued implementation of the framework for junior cycle”.

“This will incorporate subject learning and assessment review meetings taking place at a time which does not impinge on a teacher’s contact time with students nor necessitate additional expenditure to the allocation already provided for professional time for teachers.”

For staff in Education and Training Boards and further education, it proposes the reassignment of personnel to new roles as a result of new technology or due to changes in business and operational practices.