Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Minister urged to sort out schools dispute

As thousands of classroom assistants began their third day of all out strike action, a leading learning disability charity called on the Education Minister to intervene in the current dispute.

Today marked the seventh day of school closures as Nipsa members fight for the retention of a 32.5 hour week, the current special needs allowance and recognition of NVQ level three.

Special schools across the province have been forced to close their doors for the duration of the strikes and mainstream schools have also been affected by the industrial action.

Increasing numbers of parents of children with special educational needs have spoken out about their children having been forced to remain at home while the strike continues.

No further talks between the unions and management were planned for today and this morning Mencap urged Caitriona Ruane to act and find a resolution to the longest running pay dispute in Northern Ireland's history.

The director of Mencap in Northern Ireland, Maureen Piggot, said: "I realise that this is not a straightforward issue and may take time to resolve, but this is not time that children with a learning disability have.

"The closure of special schools means that the access by children with a learning disability to key non-educational services, such as speech and language therapy, will be affected.

"Many children with a learning disability will be finding the change to their routine of getting ready for school and waiting for the bus difficult and this is not just distressing for them but for their family as well.

"We believe that the minister must intervene now to resolve the situation or to put in place alternative arrangements so that children with a learning disability can once again enjoy their right to both their educational and non-educational needs."

Meanwhile, Nipsa today reaffirmed the classroom assistants' determination to continue with the strike action and revealed that they are planning another rally at Stormont on Friday.

This follows a meeting of union reps from Nipsa branches across all the education and library boards in which the union's General Secretary, John Corey, told members that industrial action would continue until members felt they could accept an offer from management.

Mr Corey also stressed the union was doing its utmost in getting everyone involved to recognise their responsibilities to resolve this dispute and get schools reopened.

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