Belfast Telegraph

Striking teachers: Bosses do not value or respect us

By Allan Preston

Teachers who went on strike across Northern Ireland yesterday said they felt "undervalued" and often paid for classroom resources out of their own pockets.

Around 7,000 members of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) staged a half-day walkout that affected around 800 schools.

The action took place from 9.30am to 12.30pm.

Last October five of the main teaching unions in Northern Ireland rejected an offer of a pay freeze for 2015/16 to be followed by a 1% increase for 2016/17.

On November 31, members of the NASUWT held a one-day strike in Belfast and Newtownabbey.

Seamus Hanna, chair of INTO's northern committee, joined more than 500 teachers yesterday morning for a rally in Queen's University's Students' Union.

He told the Belfast Telegraph the mood was one of "defiance and anger", and accused Education Minister Peter Weir of ignoring the issue.

"It's a 1% cost of living increase - we're not asking for much. The minister still has the power to act before the election starts," he said.

At St Teresa's Primary on west Belfast's Glen Road around 20 teachers held a lunchtime protest at the school gates, with many passing cars beeping their horns in support.

Liz Braniff, who has taught for nearly 30 years, said: "Our workload is increasing, the costs in education are increasing and yet teachers feel undervalued and under-represented.

"Teachers are using their own money sometimes to buy paper for pupils.

"You're given an allowance for supplies, but that runs out."

Julie Connolly, who is the INTO representative at the school, added: "The parents are extremely supportive of the teachers, we're very lucky. We're not wealthy people and we're struggling to make ends meet."

Mary Durkan, a teacher for 32 years, said she felt they were a "soft target".

"It's quite difficult for us to have a voice as we always put children first," she said.

"If we don't look after our own wellbeing we're not in the best position to look after children."

Caoimhe Calpin has recently joined the staff at St Teresa's. She said: "It's about pay equality and respect, the fact that it's not just a nine to three job - many of us are here from 7.30am to 6.30pm."

Matthew McSwiggan and Brian McCaughey have been teaching for three years. Mr McSwiggan said: "It's a very demanding job.

"I love doing it, but people don't realise the hours we put in.

"I just feel we should be getting that bit more support and value for what we're doing."

Mr McCaughey added: "We want to make sure the children are well looked after in the school and have a curriculum that suits their needs. It's not really about a per cent increase, it's more about respect."

School principal Terry Rodgers said that although he was not a member of INTO he backed the action.

"To offer us only 1% this year is a real insult to the work that teachers do and sends a message that teachers are not valued in society," he said.

"The Education Minister suggested that money was being ploughed back into the education system to support schools, when really it was earmarked for teacher salaries and was diverted at the last minute. That compounds the insult further."

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood has three children at St Teresa's.

He said: "The staff who teach my kids here are simply the best, that's what my children say about them.

"The people are just so angry that we waste hundreds of millions on the 'cash for ash' scandal yet we can't give a decent pay increase to teachers."

Education Authority chief executive Gavin Boyd urged teachers to end the industrial action and negotiate.

"It is difficult to see what can be achieved by this action other than a loss of pay by teachers and disruption for schools, pupils and parents," he said.

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