From education to employment

NI school union leaders unite in escalated action

Black teacher at white board

School leaders in Northern Ireland will this morning deliver their school census returns by hand in protest at the continuing gridlock in their industrial dispute.

A delegation of around 100 leaders led by school leaders’ union NAHT NI will drop off their completed censuses at the Department of Education in Bangor at 10.30am this morning.

Normally, the censuses – which include a range of information about schools including numbers of pupils and staff numbers, numbers of special educational needs (SEN) pupils, and numbers of pupils in receipt of free school meals – are completed electronically and submitted online.

But hundreds of union members have instead printed off their completed documents and returned them by post or by hand following the failure of employing authorities and the Department of Education to come up with an offer to resolve the industrial dispute.

Dr Graham Gault, NI national secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said the action formed part of the action short of strike begun by the union last month.

Dr Gault said: “The five NITC unions contend that the damage inflicted on our schools, our entire school staff and, ultimately, our children, is incalculable, and inconceivably continues unabated.

“For the past three years, we have witnessed all teachers and school leaders across every other jurisdiction in the UK and Ireland receiving well-deserved pay increases. In Northern Ireland, the teaching profession has been greatly overlooked, with the value of pay decreasing at an unprecedented rate.

“This situation is extremely damaging to the health and morale of the current teaching workforce in Northern Ireland and poses a significant threat to the future of the teaching profession. This damage to our schools is further embedded by the shameful neglect of our essential support staff, without whom our schools simply cannot function.

“School leaders are seriously concerned about future recruitment and retention in Northern Ireland, especially when it is clear that the same jobs with significantly better pay are just a train, bus or boat journey away.

“This action today is not something school leaders take lightly. It will impose enormous pressure on the employing authorities and the Department of Education, who have been warned that school leaders would implement this action if huge steps weren’t taken to resolve this dispute and end the damage to the teaching workforce.”

Liam McGuckin, President of the National Association of Head Teachers, said:

“We cannot watch the education workforce being treated in this way. Our government has failed to invest in education for many years, with devastating impacts on our children and schools. There has been an abject failure to offer anything other than significant real-terms pay cuts to the school workforce over the last three years, while pay awards have been granted in all other parts of these islands.

“It is unprecedented that school leaders, who have held together an increasingly fragmented and broken system for so long, would take action such as today’s. We are normally the problem-solvers; the fixers who sacrificially fill in the gaps where other systems and services collapse. The fact that school leaders are escalating our industrial activities demonstrates both the extent of the problem and the seriousness of our intent.

“We implore local government and our managing authorities to pull out all the stops now and come to the table with a fair proposal that addresses the disparity in pay across all jurisdictions on these islands in order to resolve this dispute.”

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said:

“School leaders are extremely angry at the absence of any tangible sense of urgency to resolve this crisis, which has directly resulted in the degradation of the teaching profession and has very dangerous implications for the future of our school provision for children.

“This action is a serious act of protest designed to raise awareness of the damage that is being done and to focus minds across the system, including in politics, to make serious moves towards a resolution without any further delay.”

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