Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Teacher strike action leads to Movilla High School closure

The teacher at the centre of strike action at Movilla High School in Newtownards has spoken out about the assault which sparked the high-profile walkout by him and his colleagues this week.

The NASUWT teaching union still refuses to disclose exactly what happened during the incident in May, but the teacher attacked by the young male pupil said he was “horrified by what happened”.

He asked not to be identified, but said: “I am concerned about the impact this is having on all of the pupils.

“I hope the situation is sorted out as quickly as possible.”

Pupils at Movilla High School missed a second day of classes on Tuesday as the strike action by 25 teachers continued.

The union said members voted to strike after not being paid when they refused to teach the pupil involved in the assault.

Fred Brown, NASUWT executive member, said on Tuesday that the union would not enter into talks with the South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB) through the Labour Relations Agency unless two preconditions were met — that the teachers’ full pay is reinstated and the boy is taught by someone other than the union members. However, the SEELB said it is “unable to comply with the stated preconditions”.

Mr Brown said: “We are not happy that we have been pushed into strike action.

“However, the morale of the teachers is high and we have had a lot of support from the general public.”

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has also confirmed that it is currently balloting its 10 members at the Co Down school on ‘refusal to teach' action. The pupils were sent home early on Monday morning with a letter saying they should not attend school again until further notice.

Seamus Searson, Northern Ireland organiser of the teachers' union, said: “Our members want to continue teaching their classes, but this particular pupil needs a new start with specialised support,” he said.

“Clearly we cannot tolerate a situation where our members are not paid for the work they are doing, and where, in effect, all the pupils are being punished for the behaviour of one.”

Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley, has offered to act as a mediator between the teachers and their employer.

The SEELB said the incident was “appropriately and proportionately dealt with” by the board of governors with the pupil returning to school after serving a period of 10 days suspension.

“The SEELB and the board of governors consider the health and safety of pupils and staff to be a very important and serious matter and would not have returned the pupil to the school if such a course of action presented a serious risk,” a statement from the board said.

The 25 teachers, who are members of the NASUWT union, picketed outside the school on Monday and Tuesday and asked the 12 teachers who are in other unions, not to cover their classes.

Local councillor Jim Shannon said he had been aware of the situation for some time.

“I am in a place where I know the details of the situation and this makes me supportive of the family while at the same time I can understand the position that the teachers are in,” Mr Shannon said.

“This is by no way an easy place to be and I am aware that it is not the desire of the teachers to put the education of all of the children of Movilla High School at risk.

“I am simply asking for unions and the South Eastern Education Board to open discussions again to find a solution and find a way forward. The young person involved has suffered greatly due to personal circumstances over the last few months and I feel for them. Undoubtedly this is a difficult position for all concerned and I would ask that all options would be studied again as a matter of urgency so that all the pupils of Movilla High School can get back into their classrooms and the teaching that they are used to.”

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