Children are being used as pawns in a game of chess between teachers and the government, said Mai Fanning, Director of the National Parents Council Post Primary (NPCpp).
Commenting on the looming strike among ASTI members, the Barntown resident said that, although it is not their dispute, the people being affected are the NPCpp, parents and students. She said that news of strike action has come as a shock to everyone, saying that nobody anticipated that a dispute would come to such a level that schools would be forced to close.
‘One would wonder, what’s the problem? There cannot be a problem that difficult that it cannot be solved. A huge game of chess is being played and our children are pawns in the middle being used to broker each side,’ said Ms Fanning, who is also Chairperson of the Parents Council in Loreto Wexford.
Ms Fanning said that the strike action could have a great affect on students, particularly those who are facing the Junior and Leaving Certificate exams.
‘We are always being told to mind our teens and be aware of their wellbeing and reduce their anxiety before the exams. Students hit the ground running in September and are 100 per cent focused on the exams from then on. They need the time in school to get courses finished, let alone set up a study programme to lead them into the exams. We all know that our children have enough stress going into their exam years,’ she said. ‘Parents told us that their teens have expressed that they are anxious about it.’
In recent weeks, Ms Fanning and other members of the NPCpp have received calls from concerned parents in light of the strike action. She said it is difficult to offer them advice as neither parents or the NPCpp are directly involved in the dispute.
‘I think it’s a difficult situation. There is no easy answer for us as we are not in dispute with anyone. It’s really hard to say what they can do. All we can do as parents is try to support our children in any way. Any days they are off, we need to ensure they have time and space to study in the home or elsewhere,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what other advice we can give apart from saying to support your children.’
The strike will also have a huge affect on working parents, according to Ms Fanning.
‘It is putting unnecessary stress on parents too. Parents are going to have to rearrange their work week and take days off work. We can’t have parents at home and missing work just because there is no school,’ she said.
The suggestion that parents can put themselves forward to supervise in schools during the strike has been made. However long waits for garda vetting and the need for training may cause difficulty if the situation were to arise. Ms Fanning said that even if that hurdle can be overcome, it won’t solve the initial problem.
‘If they can facilitate this supervision, perhaps parents could put themselves forward in an effort to help. But one doesn’t know if that would work at all. We are trying to solve an issue we have no hand or part in,’ she said.
‘Parents and children have been brought into this and it’s sad when situations like this arise as it can cause a lot of animosity towards teachers,’ she continued. ‘It’s very unfortunate as teachers are very well-respected in our society. They are looking after our future generations so that they can go forward to have good lives.’
Ms Fanning said that she would worry that public view towards teachers could change if the strike is to go ahead.
‘I would worry that people’s views would change because when you start to impact on a child’s life, parents will become very defensive,’ she said.
Ms Fanning is calling on the ASTI and the government to sit down and resolve their problems.
‘Nobody ever solves a problem by injuring a third party. The only ways issues are going to be sorted and the only way equity is going to be created among everyone is if all the parties involved sit down at a table and work this out and not get up from the table until it’s done. They can’t leave parents, children and ourselves in limbo,’ she said.
‘I sincerely hope the whole ethical issue of putting undue stress and worry on teens would be predominant in any of the decisions made when they have discussions. Dialogue between the parties involved is really what is needed if this problem is to be resolved.’
(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/all-we-can-do-as-parents-is-try-to-support-our-children-in-any-way-35157893.html)