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Northern Ireland school inspections plunged into chaos by pension dispute

By Lindsay Fergus

The school inspection system has been plunged into chaos after thousands of teachers boycotted the process in a bitter row over pensions.

Teachers from two of Northern Ireland's main unions are refusing to co-operate with Department of Education inspectors despite being warned they may be in breach of contract.

Members of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU) have taken the action over Government plans to increase their pension contributions from April 1.

As a result of directing their 10,000 members not to co-operate with inspectors, at least 12 school inspections have had to be deferred and others have been left incomplete.

Inspectors again found their work restricted by industrial action yesterday at St Patrick’s Primary School, Donaghmore.

However, the department has moved to reassure parents that inspections “will be carried out as soon as possible after the end of union action”.

It also warned that schools which failed to accommodate inspectors will be given “little or no additional notice” of when the deferred or incomplete inspection will be undertaken.

Inspectors’ findings will be published when the inspection is complete. More than 60 inspections have been carried out or are planned in schools not involved in union action.

Commenting on the industrial action in St Patrick’s Primary School, Donaghmore, a department spokesman said: “The inspection is proceeding.

Given that key aspects on the inspection, particularly the direct observation of learning and teaching within the classroom are not possible, the inspectors will reduce the length of time they normally spend in a school.”

Inspections are carried out to evaluate a school on key areas including attendance, the quality of teaching, leadership, pastoral care and educational performance.

A spokesman for the UTU said: “A sizeable number of our members in conjunction with those in INTO have taken part in this form of industrial action and our understanding is that the scale of the action is certainly being registered by the inspectorate.”

In a direction to members, INTO northern secretary Gerry Murphy said: “If inspection is going ahead do not provide any documentation, policies, data, books to the ETI (Education and Training Inspectorate) and if an inspector comes into your classroom, stop teaching, tell your class to stop what they’re doing and inform the inspector that you are on industrial action.”

He added: “INTO members are currently taking industrial action following a lawful ballot of members.

The action is in response to the attack on their pay, pensions and terms and conditions of employment and the savage cuts to the education sector.

“Schools received a letter stating that teachers may be in breach of their contracts. All industrial action is potentially a breach of contract but members engaged in such action as a result of a legitimate ballot are afforded protection against any threat of dismissal or salary deductions.”

Education Minister John O’Dowd has expressed his disappointment that school inspections and assessment arrangements have been targeted by teacher unions.

He is due to meet with INTO and UTU this week to discuss the industrial action.

A department spokesman added: “Employing authorities have been in communication with schools about the industrial action and are currently considering what further guidance may be appropriate.”

Factfile

Schools where inspection was deferred or is incomplete:

  • St Joseph’s, Kilkeel
  • Groomsport AEP centre
  • St John’s, Carnlough
  • St John the Baptist, Portadown
  • St McNissi Pre-school
  • St Patrick’s, Legamaddy
  • Buddy Bear (SEN unit)
  • Regent House Prep
  • St Patrick’s Primary School, Ballygalget
  • St Peter’s Primary School, Collegelands
  • St Colman’s Primary School, Annaclone
  • Banbridge High

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