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School leaders warn of ‘serious disruption’ as union begins industrial action over pay

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Students with hands raised in classroom...School children in class

Students with hands raised in classroom...School children in class

Graham Gault, Interim Director of the NAHT. Pic by Peter Morrison

Graham Gault, Interim Director of the NAHT. Pic by Peter Morrison

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Students with hands raised in classroom...School children in class

School leaders have warned the Department of Education that the ability of schools to operate efficiently will be seriously curtailed unless a resolution is found quickly to an ongoing teacher pay dispute.

The warning comes after teaching union the NASUWT said industrial action short of strikes will commence in schools from May 9,

Head teachers’ union the NAHT has written to the permanent secretary at the Department of Education urging a quick settlement to the dispute with principals not in a position to take on an “unacceptable burden of expectation” to pick up the workload.

The NASUWT action short of strikes were contained in a letter sent to principals and includes 20 different duties which its members will not carry out in schools from next Monday.

Principals have been informed teachers will refuse to cooperate with any school inspections or “attend more than one parents’ evening” and also “not attend more than one meeting each month outside pupil session times” or “undertake invigilation of public examinations”.

Teachers will also no longer respond to work text messages or emails outside school hours or during lunch breaks.

Extra-curricular activities are also expected to be affected though NASUWT said teachers could still organise sports teams, music or drama productions and clubs if they had volunteered.

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There will also be a refusal to cover for staff absence apart from under specific circumstances.

Graham Gault, interim director of the NAHT, said that while the head teachers’ union recognises the right for any trade union to take lawful industrial action, it anticipates this will seriously curtail activities and development.

“There has been an unacceptable expectation from management that school leaders would pick up the workload of others to keep services unaffected,” he said in an open letter to the Department.

“Not only was this expectation unacceptable, it was unsafe, unreasonable and impossible.

“As the industrial landscape evolves in coming months without any fair pay settlement for our school workforce, the system must not be under the illusion that services will remain unaffected.”

He said that for the last decade, our school leaders had welcomed children to the new school year knowing that they were also receiving a pay cut.

“The tools, resources and the support systems required for them to do their jobs have been decimated, despite the truth that expectation, complexity and intensity of their roles have increased immeasurably. School leaders can no longer be asked to fill in the gaps of a broken system; frankly, we will not allow it,” he added.

“It is our view that the Northern Ireland Teaching Council (NITC), the collective bargaining body of the teaching unions, is showing immense restraint at the moment, remaining cognisant of the current short-term restrictions of wider public pay policy as well as the context across Europe and the political context within our own jurisdiction.

“Employers have been given a reasonable period of time to provide a fair pay settlement. The Department of Education and the wider employing authorities must not take this restraint for granted.

“The TNC (Teachers Negotiating Committee) Review of the Impact of Workload on School Leaders will be completed soon. The members of NAHT have a full and very justifiable expectation that the forthcoming recommendations from that review will deliver tangible, meaningful and sustainable change to their working conditions.

“A fair pay settlement must be pursued with urgency and the opportunities to improve school leader working conditions that will be presented by the TNC Review must be grasped with speed, commitment and gravity in order to avoid our school leaders across all sectors moving towards industrial action.”

Other teaching unions have also called for fair pay for teachers, though have not yet announced if they are willing to move to industrial action.

Some schools are already being hit by separate industrial action from Unite union members and the Education Authority has warned that some special needs schools are being particularly hit.

“We are working with those schools to try and minimise disruption and we have put a number of contingency measures in place,” EA’s Francis Meehan told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster.

“That disruption can be anything from the child’s transport not being available to them, or, indeed, we are aware that two special school establishments have moved to blended or online learning.”

“Some of them will have medical conditions where, if their normal driver is not available, another driver who would be taking them would need to be trained in the medical equipment they may need en route to school,” she said.

“We are in contact with and are engaging with our trade union colleagues to try and mitigate the impact that this is having on our special education needs schools and sector.

“Up until now there hasn’t been a particularly positive response, but we continue to engage with them.”


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