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NI Education Minister Weir has scandalous attitude to teachers: Union chief

Row rumbles on as minister hits back at union’s criticism

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Anger: Stephen McCord

Anger: Stephen McCord

Anger: Stephen McCord

Education Minister Peter Weir has hit back after the new president of the Ulster Teachers’ Union accused him of having a “scandalous” attitude to the profession during the coronavirus crisis.

Stephen McCord told a union emergency online conference last night that the DUP minister was showing a “lack of leadership”.

It is understood that Mr Weir will bring a paper to the Executive today setting out options for schools reopening.

Mr McCord said: “When Peter Weir spoke to our conference I didn’t hear any clarity. Unlike the Health Minister who stood up and said he would not allow any worker in the NHS to be put in danger, we feel we have been totally disregarded.

“We have seen no leadership, no engagement and our hard work has been disregarded.”

Around 400 delegates joined the Ulster Teachers’ Union meeting.

“The fact we had more delegates than ever before attending this webinar, which addressed how the Covid-19 crisis is impacting schools, shows just how strongly the profession feels,” Mr McCord added.

Delegates at the meeting appealed for mental health support during the pandemic.

The conference was told that teachers were often working late into the night and early hours taking phone calls and messages from parents and pupils about homeschooling.

One Co Down principal revealed she had done doorstep food drops to families who rang her in desperation with nothing to eat.

Another said her phone would regularly ping with messages from pupils in the early hours of the morning.

A Belfast teacher said she took a call from a mother with two children who have additional educational needs and who was also a key worker.

“She was distraught but I managed to talk her through things,” the teacher said.

“All these instances though take their toll mentally on the teachers too who are coping with their own lockdown challenges, looking after older parents and maybe homeschooling themselves.”

Teachers called for assurances on resources to ensure schools were adequately staffed and funded so no child would be adversely affected by the crisis as a result of being from a lower-income family.

They also demanded clarity from Mr Weir on what the new school term will look like regarding hygiene, social distancing, personal protective equipment, school meals, transport, pick-up and drop-off arrangements.

Last night Mr Weir said he was “disappointed by the disingenuous comments from the UTU”, but he would continue to engage despite the “negative comments”.

“Today I personally met with the representatives of all the main teaching unions in Northern Ireland, including the UTU, and we had a constructive and respectful dialogue,” he said.

“The entire education sector has been making strenuous efforts to deal with what has been an extremely challenging and fast-moving crisis.

“Throughout this time we have worked tirelessly with schools and trade unions and have regularly updated them on progress, including consulting on important guidance that has been prepared and issued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

“During this period I have also resolved a long-running industrial dispute with the teaching unions, paying out a 4.25% pay rise, and have personally acknowledged the tremendous work of our dedicated teachers and school leaders during the crisis at every opportunity and in every public statement.

“I have ensured that school leaders have been involved in co-designing guidance for schools reopening and continue to visit schools, listen to concerns of teachers, and engage with the teaching unions throughout this unprecedented public health crisis.”

Belfast Telegraph