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(UK) NI: Parents protest; schools 'on their knees trying to support these [SPED] children'

Feb 26, 2024, Belfast Live:  NI children in special education being failed, says mum as industrial dispute continues

No money set aside in £688 million [$881M] pot to resolve education support staff dispute, says union

Children in special education in Northern Ireland are being failed due to lack of funding and staff, the mother of a child in the sector has said as an industrial dispute impacting special schools continues.

The comments came as scores of parents of children in special education took part in a protest at Parliament Buildings in Belfast calling for better pay for school workers.

The Unite trade union has said education support staff, who play a key role in special education, have not been included in a £688 million package to settle public sector pay disputes.

Special schools have been hit hardest by industrial action involving education support workers across Northern Ireland, including classroom assistants, bus drivers, and catering staff.

Many special schools were forced to close classrooms on a series of eight dates spread across four weeks before the restoration of the Executive at Stormont, while mainstream school classes remained open.

Unions have been calling for a pay and grading review to resolve the dispute for some time.

Unite official Kieran Ellison, speaking to Belfast Live, said after a meeting with Education Minister Paul Givan that a £688 million sum set aside by Stormont to resolve public sector pay disputes did not include any provision for the education support workers he represents.

At the protest on Monday, parents held placards which read phrases such as “My Child Matters”, “You’re Paid, Pay Them”, “My Child Is Not A Pawn” and “My Child Is Non-Verbal. I Am Not”, as they walked to the steps of Stormont on Monday morning to voice their frustration in a protest backed by the Unite union.

The parents were met by a number of MLAs including Kate Nicholl and Nick Mathison from the Alliance Party and Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit.

Protesters are calling for the Department of Education to allocate the funding for the workers to end the action.

Deborah Maguire from Belfast has a seven-year-old child with autism, ADHD and severe learning difficulties who is non-verbal.

“At the minute it is so under-funded, there are not enough staff to actually give the support and give the help, and these children are being failed every single day in their education,” she told the PA news agency.

“The schools are on their knees trying to support these children but unfortunately the funding is not there.

 “Every day you see more and more advertisements for the job places for support in SEN schools, the wage scales are so low that those who are in the positions do not have enough of an income to support their own families.

“And so they’re leaving the field which is compromising to the child’s mental health because with these conditions there needs to be a rapport built up between the staff member and child, to allow the child to feel safe enough to open up. The staff turn over is ridiculous." . . .

Education Minister Paul Givan met with trade unions about the industrial action over pay and grading for support staff.

He then said the resolution of all industrial action is a “priority”, and he wants all staff in the sector to be “paid at a fair level for the job they do”, but cautioned there will be “significant costs”.

Mr Givan pledged to bid for “additional funding” to “enable the recommendations from the pay and grading review to be implemented”.

Unite official Kieran Ellison told Belfast Live workers feel they have been "left behind and forgot about". . . . 


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