Belfast Telegraph

Head teacher union to ballot members over possible strike

Strain: Geri Cameron
Strain: Geri Cameron
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A union representing the majority of school principals in Northern Ireland is to ballot members on strike action for the first time.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which represents principals and vice-principals in almost 70% of 1,100 schools here, served legal notice of its intention yesterday.

The areas of dispute focus on workload, the inspection process, consultation and support for schools, it confirmed in a statement.

The union's Northern Ireland president Geri Cameron said teachers have been put under "intolerable strain" for the past eight years.

"Continued industrial action by teaching staff during this time, coupled with a lack of a functioning executive for the past three years, have pushed NAHT(NI) members to their limit," she added.

"School leaders' efforts to keep schools going have been taken for granted.

"Our members have been overworked, undervalued and without protection and support in their time of greatest need. They have begun the new school year with no change on the horizon."

The ballot is expected to take place this month after the union concluded there is no alternative but to escalate the long running dispute over pay and workloads.

Its members expressed overwhelming support for industrial action when an indicative ballot was conducted in January.

It is the only one of five main teaching unions in Northern Ireland not engaged in any form of industrial action.

Ms Cameron expressed "extreme disappointment" in the Department of Education and employing bodies for not having the will to resolve the row as she vowed to minimise the impact of potential strike action.

"NAHT (NI) members are operating in extremely difficult and unique conditions," she warned. "They have been supporting the education service tirelessly since teachers' action began in 2011."

Last year the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) confirmed that less than four in 10 schools were fully co-operating with inspections between 2016 and 2018.

The chief inspector, Noelle Buick, branded the disruption, as "unacceptable" and blamed it on ongoing teaching union action.

An "in-principle agreement" was reached between teaching unions and employers earlier this year but it still has to be approved by individual union members, the Department of Education and the Department of Finance.

As part of the settlement teachers were to be offered a 4.25% rise, backdated over two years.

It also proposed reforms to the school inspection process and reviews into areas such as teachers' workload.

However, extra funding for any proposed pay rise has yet to be secured.

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