Special school principal tells parents 'lobby your politicians, don't blame staff' ahead of strike closure

Entrance to Rossmar School, Limavady
Entrance to Rossmar School, Limavady -Credit:Google StreetView

A special school principal forced to close the majority of classes due to strikes has urged parents not to take their frustration out on staff.

The first in a series of strike dates by thousands of school support workers - including classroom assistants, bus drivers, cooks and other staff members - is set to begin on Monday.

Co Derry school principal Caroline Clements, in a letter outlining the looming closures, urged parents to lobby politicians so that they "sit up and recognise the invaluable job our non-teaching staff complete daily to ensure all pupils can attend school, regardless of their needs".

Read more: 'Detrimental effect' on children with autism as school strikes set to force more classroom closures, warns NI charity

Read more: NI children in special education being failed, says mum as industrial dispute continues

While mainstream schools will be able to largely remain open, schools in the special education sector - who educate children with disabilities, learning difficulties and complex needs - are set to be hardest hit.

Ahead of the strikes, announced by trade unions earlier this week, the head of the charity Autism NI warned that the industrial action will "undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on many pupils" with autism.

The principal of Rossmar School in Limavady, Mrs Clements, said her school shares the view that it is "the most vulnerable that are being affected".

"Obviously, it is union leaders' intention to cause the maximum amount of disruption across the board and this has a huge impact on Rossmar school and our pupils," she said in a letter to parents.

Caroline Clements, principal of Rossmar School in Limavady
Caroline Clements, principal of Rossmar School in Limavady -Credit:Rossmar School

"I understand your frustration in relation to this disruption as Rossmar's leadership and Board of Governors share that it is the 'most vulnerable that are being affected'.

"Unfortunately, it is difficult for all members of the above unions to be in the position that they feel strike action is the only option open to them again, despite numerous negotiations with EA [Education Authority], DE [Department of Education] and the Education Minister."

She continued: "It is unsustainable to recruit staff when their duties are being increased and their hard work - and recognition of skills they employ - to ensure all pupils with additional needs and/or complex medical needs can attend school is being continually ignored.

"I urge you not to take your frustrations out on individual members of our school community or, indeed, I as your principal. I would urge you instead to lobby your local members of Stormont and the education minister to sit up and recognise the invaluable job our non-teaching staff complete daily to ensure all pupils can attend school, regardless of their needs."

After outlining a sweeping set of classroom closures, with only four classes in the school set to remain open fully, alongside the disruption to school transport and catering, the principal added: "This is an extremely difficult decision to make, however we simply will not have sufficient staff available".

Unite, alongside other trade unions, is calling for a pay and grading review to be taken forward for school support workers employed by the Education Authority, including classroom assistants, catering staff, bus drivers and more. Funding to settle the dispute has not been allocated at Stormont.

Unite official Kieran Ellison, in a statement, said: "There seems to be money for all sorts of political priorities but nothing when it comes to SEN education or the lowest paid education workers.”

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