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'Culture of fear' exists at De La Salle school: report

By Chris McCullough

Published 25/08/2016

De La Salle College
De La Salle College

Working relationships between staff at the troubled De La Salle College had been deteriorating for years, an independent report has found.

There was also a "culture of fear" at the west Belfast post-primary school.

Claims of bullying and intimidating behaviour were compounded by a teacher survey reporting low morale and lack of trust across the school following leadership difficulties.

De La Salle hit the headlines in early November 2015 amid teacher absences, industrial disputes and protests by parents.

With the problems refusing to die down, an independent investigation was ordered by the then Education Minister John O'Dowd in April this year.

A three-person expert panel said it was unacceptable that broken relationships were allowed to affect pupils.

"The panel was disturbed that so many submissions to us raised the issues of bullying and intimidating behaviour within the school. These were not confined to any one section or level. Individual staff described a culture of fear."

It found the school was experiencing problems dating back over three years and that there were "difficulties developing well before the deterioration to the current circumstances".

A staff wellbeing survey confirmed the poor state of working relationships with very low morale and a lack of trust across the Andersonstown school, the review said.

The report added: "The matter was raised so many times with us that it cannot be ignored and it is difficult to see how a situation such as this could possibly foster a culture which develops the skills of younger members of staff, shares good practice, encourages professional challenge, and invites participation in the day to day running of the school by all staff."

Critical internal reports, temporary appointments in key leadership roles and limited support for principals and vice-principals contributed to problems like staff absences, the review said.

A joint statement from the panel - educationalist Sir Robert Salisbury, trade unionist John Corey and Belfast Met principal Marie-Therese McGivern - said: "We have made the strong recommendation that all must commit to making the school uncompromisingly 'child-centred' and put the education of students firmly at its heart."

The report makes 40 recommendations which have all been accepted by the current minister, Peter Weir.

Mr Weir said: "I am confident that the panel's report will provide a sound platform for moving forward in building relations within the school and the wider community, while also making a positive contribution to ensuring that all children receive a quality education experience."

A spokesperson for CCMS said it also accepts the recommendations.

"There are both challenges and opportunities arising from the report which, with the goodwill, spirit of co-operation and positive leadership from everyone involved, will ensure that the focus remains firmly on a high quality education experience for the pupils and a deservedly enhanced reputation for De La Salle and all who study and work there."

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