Hundreds of pupils at a secondary school in Northern Ireland were sent home today after teachers went on strike as a dispute over a pupil who assaulted a teacher deepened.
Some 25 teachers at Moville High School in Newtownards, Co Down – all members of the NASUWT union – were backing the indefinite action, claiming they had been unfairly penalised for refusing to teach the boy.
Those striking amount to more than half of the teaching staff at the school and initially it was planned to keep the school open. The South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB) told pupils to attend as normal.
However soon after the 540 pupils arrived they were sent home by the headmaster.
Following the assault, teachers voted not to teach the boy but made clear they intended to teach all other pupils.
The NASUWT claimed the teachers had then been docked pay for refusing to teach the pupil.
However the union claimed they were told they would be paid to teach all pupils in the class or none.
According to the SEELB the dispute came after a decision by the school governors not the expel the pupil.
Seamus Searson, Northern Ireland organiser of the teachers’ union, said: “Clearly we cannot tolerate a situation where our members are not paid for the work they are doing and where, in effect, all the pupils are being punished for the behaviour of one.
“All along we have made it clear that our members want to continue teaching their classes, but this particular pupil needs a new start with specialised support.”
Mr Searson hit out at the education board for its handling of the situation.
“The failure of the South Eastern Education and Library Board to provide proper support for this pupil is having a devastating impact on teachers and students alike,” he said.
A Co Down Stormont Assembly member laid the blame for the strike on the local education board and said the SEELB needed to sort the situation out speedily.
Strangford Alliance MLA Kieran McCarthy said: “I support the teachers and would call on the education board to resolve this matter as quickly as possible.”
He said it was unacceptable to force teachers to teach a pupil who they say assaulted one of their colleagues.
“The South Eastern Education Board should have dealt with this issue a long time ago, before it got to this sorry stage.
“Other pupils should not have to suffer because of the failure of the board either."