Four Wexford town secondary schools close doors to students
THOUSANDS of students at Wexford secondary schools and their parents face a difficult and uncertain week because of strike action by the ASTI and the union's order to teachers to refuse to perform supervisory or substitution duties
Selskar College, where teachers are members of the TUI, is not affected and is operating normally, but St Peter's, The Presentation, The Loreto and the CBS - which have more than 2,500 students on their books - were effectively closed on Monday, although teachers were on the premises.
Today (Tuesday) the ASTI will have pickets out at the same schools as part of its pay equalisation campaign, and beyond that, the dispute over supervisory and substitution duties will leave most schools with no option but to close because of the lack of garda vetting for parents who would be prepared to provide cover.
Billy O'Shea, Principal at the Loreto Secondary School, described the situation as 'very unusual and undesirable'
'Speaking personally, the frustrating thing is that a solution can only be found at a national level.. it's out of the hands of individual schools,' Mr O'Shea told this newspaper.
'It's very important that the parties involved would get around the table 24/7 and for them to realise that in a situation like this, nobody will get everything they want.
'There will have to be compromise because of the fragile state of the economy and the uncertainty that lies ahead... these issues should be factored in,' said Mr O'Shea.
'The ASTI leadership has chosen to embark on a battle on several different fronts, so today is about the non-payment of supervision linked to the Croke Park hours and tomorrow is about pay equalisation. The problem is where do we stand on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and I would say I'm fearful about that.
'The onus is back on the negotiators at national level.'
Mr O'Shea said he was concerned about the affect of the industrial action on students and their families.
'I would also be of the view that where we are at the moment is not necessarily where the bulk of teachers want to be,' said Mr O'Shea, who has 48 teachers and 720 students under his charge.
'If the situation goes on, the message I would like to get across to people at a national level is to be realistic in terms of their demands. It's a crazy situation and very worrying.
'It's unfortunate that the voice that isn't heard in all of this is that of the students. The students should be there at their desks,' said Mr O'Shea.
Eimear Ryan, the Principal at Selskar College, said the school was not affected because all its teachers were members of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), as were teachers at Bridgetown; Enniscorthy Vocational College; Colaiste an Atha, Kilmuckridge; Colaiste Abbain, Adamstown; Creagh College; Bunclody Community College; and Kennedy College, New Ross.
Asked for her views on the industrial action, Ms Ryan said: 'I wouldn't pass comment, it would not be fair on my colleagues in the ASTI. Like everyone else, we hope it will be resolved as soon as possible'.
William Ryan, Principal at the Presentation Secondary, said the four principals of the schools caught up in the action were due to meet late on Monday to discuss the situation.
'We have followed the JMB (joint managerial board) guidelines and ASTI guidelines and we are open to teachers but not to pupils for health and safety reasons,' he said.
Mr Ryan said garda vetting of parents or others who may be prepared to cover during such action could take anything between five and six weeks and for that reason was not workable.
Asked whether he was frustrated at the impasse between negotiators, he said:
'Like everyone else, we'll just have to wait and see. Last night we got the same news as everyone else that talks had ended for the night.
'Our hands are tied and there's nothing we can do, but this is an issue of concern for my staff, the board of management and all the stakeholders, and we're all hopeful there will be a settlement,' said Mr Ryan.
The Presentation has a staff of 54 teachers and 800 students.
Joe Ryan, a teacher at the CBS and a Labour former councillor, said the main thing about the disputes is that 'I don't think teachers rushed into this decision'.
'Like me, many teachers are parents and have kids in secondary school and we all cognisant of how parents are coping.
'Today we're not doing supervisory duties and tomorrow we are on strike and many parents might find this difficult to understand,' said Mr Ryan, who was in school preparing for exams although he believed he would be among those removed from the payroll for not carrying out supervisory duties.
Mr Ryan said that there were 'quite a number of unions where people are beginning to see holes in the Landsdowne Road agreement and the ASTI had never accepted Landsdowne Road'.
'I feel very strongly that young teachers should have the allowances restored to them that were taken away several years ago.
'Young teachers should be earning what they were before the allowances were removed now the State is in a better financial position.
'I'm not looking personally for a pay increase. But if you want to have a well-motivated workforce you have to pay a proper salary.'
Mr Ryan said he couldn't see anything happening in the dispute before Tuesday night at the earliest.
'I would hope that by the end of the week, a facilitator would be provided which could mean a suspension of industrial action. It's not in the interests of my pupils or myself to be out,' he said.
Robert O'Callaghan, Principal at St Peter's College, which has 773 students and 52 teachers, said the sooner the ASTI and the Department of Education put their heads together to resolve the dispute, the better.
'It's a national issue that is unlikely to be resolved at a local level.
Asked about teachers refusing to carry out supervisory duties being removed from the payrolls, he said 'that's a Department of Education decision, not ours'.
Mr O'Callaghan said that prior to mid-term, he had been optimistic of a resolution.
'But I don't know where we are now'.
And asked about how things had reached the crisis level they were now at, Mr O'Callaghan replied: 'God knows, God knows.'