Teachers threaten further strike action over Junior Cycle plan

ASTI says ‘any precipitous action’ by Minister for Education would escalate dispute

Claire Grant of the Asti and Jimmy Kelly of the TUI at Newpark Comprehensive,  Newtownpark Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin, during a work stoppage in January. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Claire Grant of the Asti and Jimmy Kelly of the TUI at Newpark Comprehensive, Newtownpark Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin, during a work stoppage in January. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

Secondary school teachers are threatening further strike action over plans to reform of the Junior Cycle, predicting the industrial relations dispute will continue into next year.

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Pat King said the decision for a third strike date would depend on whether “any precipitous action on the part of the department or the Minister” was taken.

The union is also considering lunchtime protests and other demonstrations along with its current campaign of non-cooperation with the reforms.

Mr King was speaking with other ASTI officials at a press briefing in Dublin on Tuesday setting out the union’s agenda for its annual congress next week, as well as its stance on public service pay talks planned for later this year.

ASTI president Philip Irwin identified the complete abolition of the pension levy as the “key” priority for the pay talks, along with tackling lower pay and casualisation among new teachers.

Asked whether the union would be happy to take part in an aggregate ballot of public sector unions, as was the traditional format in collective pay talks, Mr Irwin said he believed “teachers will probably like to decide their own terms and conditions” in a separate vote.

View endorsed

This view was endorsed by Mr King, who said there was no decision at the public service committee of congress as to how the ballot would be handled, but “I believe there will be a ballot among ASTI members... regardless of whether the public service go for an aggregate or not”.

A survey of ASTI members carried out by MillwardBrown shows a growing level of job dissatisfaction among secondary teachers, identifying workload and lack of additional resources as chief grievances.

Only 52 per cent of teachers said they were satisfied in the poll, compared to 77 per cent in 2009.

Large class sizes were seen as an obstacle to introducing the new junior cycle framework, as well as lack of additional management and support posts, such as laboratory assistants who are provided as standard to science teachers in schools in Northern Ireland.

There was some positive feedback about the Junior Cycle reforms, with a quarter of those surveyed identifying the introduction of a mandatory “Well Being” programme as a plus.

However, members were not asked for their opinion on whether or not they supported some element of school-based assessment.

Widespread consultation

Asked whether the union was afraid of the answer it would get, Mr Irwin replied: “No, I think we have balloted on that, and we have had a petition of 10,000 signatures and a widespread consultation. Time and time again we have a clear view, and the teachers have a clear view.”

He said teachers would like more portfolio and project work, but want it externally assessed.

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan is proceeding with compromise reforms proposed by talks chairman Pauric Travers, under which school-based assessment will be introduced on a phased basis starting next year with English oral presentations.

Mr Irwin said the union would look “at a range of options” including further strike action. “I think the likelihood is the dispute will go on into next year. That is not something that we want and we would rather an agreement.”

The ballot used to justify the last two strike dates was based on a previous plan put forward by former minister Ruairí Quinn, and union members have not balloted on Dr Travers’s plan.

Mr Irwin insisted no further ballot was necessary as the existing ballot dealt with two factors, State certification and external assessment, and “we haven’t made sufficient progress” on the latter.

The ASTI has decided not to issue an invite to Ms O’Sullivan to speak at congress this year, saying it had run out of time to consider the matter because its attention was taken up with the Junior Cycle dispute.

Asked whether it would have been better to have invited the Minister, Mr Irwin replied: “It would have if we had reached agreement [on the reforms].”