PRIMARY school teachers may invite a member of the opposition to address their annual convention following the Minister for Education's refusal to participate in the traditional Easter conference programme.

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) is considering asking an opposition spokesperson on education to address their annual convention following the Minister for Education, Noel Dempsey's criticisms of the traditional congress format.

In a letter to all three teachers' unions, Dempsey argued that the current structure of set-piece speeches was a "dated model" and described the conference as confrontational and not conducive to "real communication".

The minister suggested holding a forum on education, similar to the current Your Education System debates (YES) which are taking place in 17 locations throughout the country.

Yesterday, all three teachers' unions stated they would not re-organise the structure of their annual convention to facilitate the minister's proposed forum on education. John Carr, President of the INTO, said the annual congress would go ahead "with or without the minister".

"It wouldn't be the first time we held convention without a serving minister, " said Carr. "If the minister decides not to attend, one alternative would be to invite an opposition spokesperson to address congress." The ASTI said the structure of their annual Easter conference was decided by a democratically elected committee and could not be changed to suit the minister's desire for another YEStype meeting.

President of the TUI, Derek Dunne, said that it wasn't clear from the minister's letter whether he was merely making a suggestion or refusing to address congress altogether.

"It's not clear if the minister will refuse to come if the structure of congress remains the same, " said Dunne. "The minister is invited as always but we will not have him or anyone else telling us how to run our conference."