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Revealed: what happened in strike school classroom

By Kathryn Torney

The Belfast Telegraph can today reveal details of the incident which sparked the strike by 25 teachers at Movilla High.

The school in Newtownards remains shut for a sixth day after a teaching union and the South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB) failed to resolve a dispute which began after a pupil allegedly assaulted a member of staff.

The school’s 450 pupils have not been able to attend classes since last Monday when the teachers took industrial action after employers docked their pay when they refused to teach the boy accused of the assault.

According to a well-placed source, the incident between the teacher and pupil in May began when the boy and another pupil arrived 15 minutes late for a class. The teacher said they would have to stay behind and make up their time. The boy got up to leave at the end of the class and the teacher stood in the doorway and blocked his way with his arm. The boy pushed the teacher’s arm aside and walked out of the class.

The pupil, who has suffered three recent family bereavements, was involved in an incident with another Movilla pupil following derogatory comments made about a deceased member of his family.

The Telegraph has also seen school documents relating to the behaviour of the pupil at the centre of the dispute.

Among the papers is one relating to his behaviour and shows that he received at least 10 detentions between September 2007 and February 2008. These were for incidents that include leaving school without permission, disruptive behaviour and disobedience. None involved assaults.

Another document is the pupil’s Self-Monitoring Diary showing targets for him relating to time keeping, manners, rules and schoolwork. There are also individual targets to keep calm and use a time out card — which he can present to teachers if he needs time out from class due to emotional issues.

The diary covers three days from October 6 — exactly a week before the strike started. This was during his time in the Pupil Support Centre which is separate to normal classes.

On October 6 he was awarded 44 ‘A’ scores and 1 ‘B’ for his behaviour during class. Comments from teachers include “excellent effort” and “great work”. On the second day, he was late and missed the first two classes. There are only scores for the third class — and they are all ‘As’. On the Wednesday he had all ‘A’ grades and teachers’ comments include “behaviour good”, “fine” and “still catching up, worked well”.

Fred Brown, NASUWT executive member, said: “The teachers would not have taken the action that they have if they felt the classroom was safe and secure when he was in it.

“The decision to strike was not taken lightly. We believe he needs specialised support and a new start somewhere else. His behaviour was much better in the pupil support unit but this is not a long term solution.”

On Friday, the union revealed documentary evidence including advice to teachers that when this pupil was being confrontational they should move at least 3ft away from him.

The crisis deepened today when the striking teachers were accused by Children’s Commissioner Patricia Lewsley of abusing children’s rights.

Talks at the Labour Relations Agency between the SEELB and the NASUWT broke down on Friday without a resolution. The union took part in talks at the Children’s Commissioner’s office this morning.

The SEELB says it cannot give in to the union’s demands for the pupil to be taught in “total isolation” or at another school.

Belfast Telegraph

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