The decision to suspend striking teachers’ pay in Northern Ireland will be reviewed if they agree to seek mediation, the education minister said today.
Staff walked out on Monday at Movilla High School, Newtownards, Co Down, because their pay was docked when they refused to teach a pupil they claimed assaulted a colleague.
The Labour Relations Agency (LRA), Children’s Commissioner Patricia Lewsley and local dialogue could help break the deadlock which has left 540 children out of school, Sinn Féin minister Caitriona Ruane said.
She told the Assembly: “The (South Eastern Education and Library) Board (SEELB) offered to review the decision to suspend pay if one of the parties involved agreed to mediation.”
Union NASUWT’s 25 members took strike action on Monday and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ (ATL) 10 members are balloting on opting out of teaching the pupil.
Ms Ruane told the Assembly: “Everybody needs to start talking and get this resolved.”
She added that a situation where 540 children were out of school and teachers did not feel safe could not continue.
“There is a way through this,” she said.
ATL representative Mark Langhammer today called for LRA intervention.
“The Board has got to reflect on their style of negotiating and they have to get into the LRA,” he said.
“It is about the style of negotiation which the SEELB has insisted on.”
He criticised the decision to open the school yesterday despite NASUWT taking strike action.
“We have taken action three times in recent years, every time over a pupil assault and every time in the South Eastern Board,” he added.
“Why can these sorts of disputes, which are not unusual, be sorted out by every other board but not by the South Eastern?”
The Board supported the school governors’ decision not to expel the child.
The Board met NASUWT officials a fortnight ago and proposed a range of measures including recruiting a support worker for the pupil.
It said the incident had been appropriately and proportionately dealt with by the governors.
The Board also said it was prepared to meet teachers’ representatives at the LRA but claimed the NASUWT had set out preconditions with which it could not comply.
Children’s Commissioner Patricia Lewsley has also offered to mediate.