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Seven weeks: That's how long the minister says there is to avoid school closures

Minister for Education Richard Bruton says they’d need seven weeks to put a contingency in place. .
Oct 14th 2016, 9:38 AM 12,608 52

Updated 9.25 am

EDUCATION MINISTER Richard Bruton has said that schools would have to close if the ASTI decided to withdraw school supervision within seven weeks.

The minister was speaking following yesterday’s vote by secondary teachers in the ASTI in favour of industrial action, up to and including strike days.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Bruton said that while discussions had taken place on possible contingency plans, nothing has as yet been decided.

“The scale of the withdrawal if it was on that scale, and obviously it would depend on the cooperation members, but there is the potential that this could result in closures because of the scale of what would be involved,” he said.

Seven weeks would be the minimum we would need to put in place a contingency plan to keep schools open and that would obviously depend on the ASTI’ cooperation.

ASTI members are fighting for recently qualified teachers to be paid in line with their colleagues, as well as looking for better terms and conditions across the board for all members.

Bruton has said that he is willing to extend benefits of recent agreement with the TUI and INTO to ASTI members if they co-operate with the Lansdowne Road Agreement:

Under arrangement we have cash on the table for substitution and for supervision of over €1,500, for newly qualified teachers we have cash on the table for of €2,000 in two installments world €135,000 over the career of a teacher.

The decision to ballot for strikes was also criticised by the general secretary of one of Ireland’s representative bodies for secondary schools.

Michael Moriarty of the Education & Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) said he was disappointed by ASTI members’ decision to vote for industrial action.

“Ultimately students in the affected schools will suffer. I’m not sure what strategy is at play other than a battle of wills,” he said of the ongoing dispute between ASTI teachers and the Department of Education over pay.

The majority of Ireland’s 278 ETBI schools (formerly VECs) will not be impacted by any strike action as the majority of teachers who work in them are TUI (Teachers’ Union of Ireland) members.

Of the 55 with dual union membership, it is not yet determined how many are at risk of closure.

However, up to 525 voluntary schools (mostly run by religious or private entities under the JMB banner) could face closures.

ASTI president Ed Byrne has defended the industrial action.

“Teachers do not embark on industrial action lightly and strike action is always a very last resort,” he said.

He added that new and recently qualified teachers are “not only faced with years of casual short-term contracts, but an inferior rate of pay for doing the exact same work as their colleagues”.

The move could see more than half of Ireland’s secondary schools close for at least a day as early as next month.

Moriarty noted that “benefits for new teachers have been achieved by other trade unions”.

ASTI members rejected the agreement in 2015 and withdrew from the Croke Park Hours. In response, the Department of Education withheld payment for supervision and substitution. Separately, the union’s members have also voted to withdraw from this now-unpaid work.

The ASTI’s 23-member Standing Committee are due to discuss the implications of the ballot results later today.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

Read: Secondary schools face closures as teachers vote for strike action

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Sinead O'Carroll

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