Updated: 27/10/16 : 07:07:50
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Sligo ASTI schools to stay closed today

Almost 70% of second-level schools will be closed today as members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) strike in pursuit of equal pay for newly-qualified teachers.

Over 250,000 students will be forced to stay home.

Several Sligo secondary schools have been affected by the industrial action and ASTI teachers will place pickets outside those schools today.

The photo here shows teachers at Colaiste Mhuire in Ballymote, Co Sligo on the lunchtime protest in May 2015.

Today's action is the first in a series of seven days of strike action on the issue.

However, a dispute over payments for the supervision of students during break times threatens to close schools for an indefinite period from 7 November.

Teachers are unsure is the affected schools will reopen after the forthcoming mid-term break.

Out of a total of 735 post-primary schools, 507 will not open today..

All but one of the country's voluntary secondary schools, where ASTI membership is concentrated, and most of the community and comprehensive schools, with both ASTI and Teachers’ Union of Ireland members on their staff, will close.

Most schools run by the Education and Training boards, formerly the VECs, will be open, as they are primarily staffed by TUI teachers, who are not on strike.

But 43 out of 265 of these will close too.

All schools will reopen again on Friday, before closing for the midterm break.

The walkouts by ASTI teachers are the first of seven as the union seeks equal wages for staff qualified since 2011.

Education Minister Richard Bruton has said there is a "substantial" pay offer on the table.

That action was taken after €800 pay penalties were imposed over the refusal of union members to hold meetings outside of normal school timetables, known as Croke Park hours.

Mr Bruton said: "I am disappointed by the decision of the ASTI to take industrial action which will close schools unnecessarily."

The Minister claimed the pay offer tabled is worth 15% and 22% by January 2018 for new entrant teachers along with other benefits.

"It would not be equal or fair for us to conclude sectoral deals with particular groups of public servants to the exclusion of other groups of public servants," Mr Bruton said.

ASTI insists that some newly qualified teachers are being paid as much as €8,000 less than colleagues doing the same job.

The union also claimed the Government's attempt to strike a deal would still leave a difference of up to €2,775 in the pay rates for teachers who took up their first jobs since 2011.