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Long night of talks to end school strike

Teachers to be briefed today on outcome

By Claire McNeilly

A breakthrough in the Movilla High School dispute is expected early today after talks aimed at ending the strike carried on into the early hours.

Striking teachers at the Co Down school are expected to be told this morning if the long-running discussions between the teaching unions and the South Eastern Education and Library Board have brought an end to the damaging impasse which has kept 540 pupils away from their desks for nine days.

It remains to be seen if Movilla will reopen tomorrow — the last day before the Halloween break — and, if it doesn’t, the pupils will end up going three full weeks without lessons.

Twenty-five teachers took to the picket line last week after their pay was docked for refusing to teach a student who is accused of assaulting a teacher.

This latest round of talks, at the Labour Relations Agency in Belfast, was the first since last Friday, when both parties failed to reach an agreement.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Jerry Bartlett, Deputy General Secretary of the NASUWT, said officials were eager to find a solution.

“We are committed to staying here all night, if necessary. We really, really want to settle this dispute,” he said.

“We’ve arranged a meeting with our members at 10am and we are not leaving here tonight until we have something positive to report to them.

“We hope what will come out of tonight’s talks will be sufficiently positive to help us settle the dispute.”

He added: “The employers are considering what the NASUWT side hopes are our final proposals and the employers have promised us a response later tonight.”

So far, talks facilitated by the agency have failed to break the stalemate.

The teachers have asked for the pupil to be removed from the school, or taught in isolation, but education authorities have dismissed the suggestion.

Mr Bartlett said: “We are very depressed and saddened by what we believe to be our employer’s attitude and total disregard for the welfare of Movilla staff and students.”

During the arbitration talks, representatives from the union and the South Eastern Education and Library Board were in separate rooms, responding to proposals via a mediator.

Earlier last night, Peter Scott, a NASUWT executive member, said: “Our main focus at the moment is to try and get this dispute sorted out. People are mindful of the fact that the education of 540 pupils is being disrupted and it’s not a place where we would want to be.”

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