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Three appointed to probe De La Salle College crisis

By Rebecca Black

Published 29/04/2016

Marie-Therese McGivern
Marie-Therese McGivern
Sir Robert Salisbury
John Corey

Two renowned educationalists and a trade union leader have been appointed to conduct an independent investigation into a troubled west Belfast secondary school.

There has been a breakdown in relations between De La Salle principal Claire White and her staff over the past year, with up to a third of teachers calling in sick on numerous occasions.

The situation is believed to date back to an incident last September. A former classroom assistant at the school appeared in court last week charged with common assault over an event key to the dispute.

A concerned parents' group was set up to express worries that the impasse was hurting pupils' education.

Education Minister John O'Dowd initially resisted calls for an independent investigation, but he changed his mind earlier this month after receiving additional information from parents.

He has now announced that the panel carrying out the probe will be made up of John Corey, the former general secretary of trade union NIPSA, Belfast Metropolitan College principal and chief executive Marie-Therese McGivern, and Sir Robert Salisbury, former professor in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham.

However, teaching union NASUWT has called for assurances that the investigation, which is due to report its findings and recommendations by early summer, will cause no further disruption to teaching.

Mr O'Dowd said he considered the panel members "eminently well-qualified and experienced to investigate the circumstances in the school and to make recommendations to ensure the school's future going forward".

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) appointed Imelda Jordan as associate principal earlier this year.

A second associated principal, John Wilkinson - former principal of Dromore High School - was appointed last week.

Mr O'Dowd said his priority was the pupils at De La Salle.

"Work continues to be undertaken by the relevant authorities to address the immediate concerns within the school, including the appointment of an additional associate principal," the minister added.

"My priority continues to be to the pupils at the school, and this investigation will give pupils, parents, staff and their representatives and all those involved with the governance of the school the opportunity to express their view."

CCMS chief executive Jim Clarke said his organisation would work with the school throughout the investigation.

"I welcome the announcement by the minister on the appointment of an independent panel to investigate the situation at De La Salle College," he added.

"The background and experience of those who will be carrying out the investigation gives confidence to the process."

The NASUWT union represents around half of the teachers at De La Salle.

"The appointment of the three-member-panel should reassure all partners in the De La Salle community that Minister O'Dowd is committed to finding a robust resolution to the recent period of challenge," a spokesman for the body said.

"Nonetheless, it is the terms of reference that will be critical to the success or otherwise of the investigation.

"Notwithstanding our support, NASUWT will seek assurances from the panel that their work will not cause any further disruption to teaching and learning."

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