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I'm in counselling due to stress: head boy at strife-hit De La Salle

By David Young

Published 19/03/2016

Open letter: Peter Heenan
Open letter: Peter Heenan
Principal Claire White

The head boy of the troubled De La Salle College in west Belfast has revealed he has suffered panic attacks and is in counselling because of staff absences.

Peter Heenan wrote an open letter to the school's board of governors saying he believed the dispute, which has divided the school, has harmed students "in both an emotional and educational sense".

The head boy told how he was receiving counselling and suffered anxiety as a result of the ongoing situation.

He also voiced his fears that the situation would adversely affect his chances of getting the expected grades in his forthcoming exams.

"With exam season just around the corner I do not feel confident I will achieve my target grades as a direct result of the ongoing industrial dispute within the college," he wrote.

"Having chosen to study an additional AS in government and politics this year, I was left with no choice but to drop out of the class more than halfway through the year due to a lack of cover following the long-term absence of my teacher.

"This is not the school that I know and love, and certainly not a school I want to endorse as head boy."

The pupil pulled no punches in his criticism of how the dispute had been handled. And his open letter called for a review of the college's senior management, which is led by principal Claire White.

"I feel let down by the school's management and am urging you to do your very best to return De La Salle College back to the outstanding school it once was," he wrote.

"At the beginning of the year I was eager and passionate to represent the school as head boy; to say that I am disheartened would be an understatement.

"I am ashamed at how poorly the matter has been dealt with."

Earlier this week parents of children attending De La Salle College held a protest outside the school gates to highlight their concerns over continuing staff absenteeism.

Sixth formers at De La Salle also walked out in protest at the situation.

Education Minister John O'Dowd said the dispute was down to seriously diverging attitudes between staff and leadership at the school.

"Over this last year, maybe a bit more, there has been a breakdown in relationships in the school between senior management and sections of the staff," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

"Morale is very low.

"It then escalated after an incident in November where a member of staff was dismissed from the school over quite a serious incident.

"That is now before the Labour Relations Agency.

"So, I can't go into too much detail on it."

It was also learned this week that De La Salle College is to stay open over Easter to accommodate some A-level pupils.

Mrs White issued a letter to quell parents' concerns, informing them that additional staff would be employed at the Edenmore Drive school as a "support mechanism" in light of the recent absences by existing teachers.

Belfast Telegraph

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