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De La Salle: Some teachers will no longer recognise Claire White as Belfast school's principal

Published 20/04/2016

De La Salle College has been hit with staffing issues.
De La Salle College has been hit with staffing issues.

Some teachers at west Belfast's De La Salle College have said they will no longer recognise Claire White as the school's principal.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) said in a letter: "INTO members have indicated their lack of trust and confidence in the leadership of the school as discharged by Ms Claire White... the action they have requested, which has now been sanctioned, is one of non-cooperation or engagement with Ms Claire White."

Members of INTO previously voted for industrial action "up to and including strike action".

In the letter to the chair of the board of governors, Ms Monica Culbert, INTO's Northern Secretary, Gerry Murphy, outlined what form that action would take.

"With effect from 8am on Monday 25 April 2016 all INTO members are directed not to:

  • Undertake any instruction or advice given by Ms Claire White, Principal, either in oral, written or electronic form
     
  • Not to attend any meeting...which she has requested or is in attendance at
     
  • Not to undertake any teaching roles if (she)...is present or enters the classroom
     
  • Not to provide any information or data pertaining to their teaching or managerial responsibilities to Ms Claire White, Principal."

The letter has also sent to the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS).

In a statement to BBC Northern Ireland the CCMS said they were "aware that INTO has confirmed the nature of its industrial action following its recent ballot of members."

Meanwhile parents of pupils at the school have demanded action from the Minister for Education after handing in a 2,000-signature petition.

Gathered in just under two weeks, the signatures and 500 messages of support from parents, pupils and friends of De La Salle, formally calls for a full independent investigation into the school's management.

Copies were handed in to the Education Minister's office, Catholic Council for Maintained Schools, the Bishop's office and to the board of governors.

Parents and friends of De La Salle pupils protesting against the ongoing problems at the school
Parents and friends of De La Salle pupils protesting against the ongoing problems at the school

After months of protests, the Concerned Parents of De La Salle group have acknowledged improvements in the school's management in recent weeks, but still insist principal Claire White and the board of governors need to go.

Kieran McCormick, vice chair of the group, said they had acted "so those in authority could see the voice of the people".

He told the Belfast Telegraph they expected a response from Minister John O'Dowd this week.

Parents and children braved heavy rain to protest over ongoing problems at De La Salle College in west Belfast
Parents and children braved heavy rain to protest over ongoing problems at De La Salle College in west Belfast

"We hope he will further support our request for a full, independent investigation," he said.

He praised the recent efforts of the associate principal Imelda Jordan - who was appointed as a troubleshooter by CCMS - but said answers still needed to be given.

"Regardless of whether things get sorted or not, we need to know how this ever occurred in the first place," he said.

Parents and children protest over ongoing problems at De La Salle College in west Belfast
Parents and children protest over ongoing problems at De La Salle College in west Belfast

"We still are of the opinion that the principal, vice-principal and board of governors need to be stood down in order to independently facilitate such an investigation."

Ms Jordan has announced a daily briefing for parents to enhance communication and has also started a homework club to reassure students.

Last month De La Salle's headboy Peter Heenan said the dispute had distressed pupils in both "an emotional and educational sense".

As tensions at the school have increased, teachers have been absent and the largest of four teaching unions at the school (INTO) have voted in favour of industrial action up to and including a strike.

Mr McCormick said he believed the crucial issue was rebuilding trust between the school, pupils and parents.

He concluded: "We wait to see what the minister announces. We've just been told we'll get a response as soon as possible".

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