Northern Ireland

Teachers' strike: Letters home spark legal warning

Girl at school Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Some schools have written to parents explaining which classes would go ahead as normal on the day

A union which represents teachers in Northern Ireland has warned some school principals they could face legal action over advice given to parents about an upcoming teachers' strike.

NASUWT members in Belfast and Newtownabbey are planning to strike on Wednesday.

Some schools have written to parents explaining which classes would go ahead as normal on the day.

The NASUWT claims some letters could reveal the union's membership.

'Distress'

It says this amounts to a breach of the Data Protection Act and could be viewed as intimidation.

Some principals have been warned they could face legal action.

In one letter to a principal, the NASUWT said: "In these circumstances, there is a case for complaint to the Information Commissioner and to seek compensation for distress through the courts."

But the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has criticised the warnings, calling them "shocking".

'Welfare'

The president of the NAHT in Northern Ireland, Paul McClenaghan, said that school leaders were being "threatened".

"School leaders have always put children first and supported their colleagues sometimes at a high cost to their own welfare," he said.

"It is therefore shocking to discover that school leaders, who have carried out a risk assessment and made a legitimate decision to advise parents in the run up to the strike on 30 November as to the ability of the school to provide safe levels of care for the pupils, should come under threat of legal action for doing so."

However, Justin McCamphill from the NASUWT said the union had a duty to ensure that the law was being upheld.

Pay frozen

"When you're dealing with these matters it is important people know what the legal situation is," he said.

"If they are potentially in breach of the law it would wrong for us not to inform principals of that."

Last month, all teaching unions in Northern Ireland rejected an offer that would have seen their pay frozen last year and a rise of 1% for 2016-17.

The NASUWT is one of the largest teaching unions in Northern Ireland, and is going on strike for the first time since 2011.

While schools in Belfast and Newtownabbey will be the first to be affected, the union said that its members in other areas will then take similar action in January and February 2017.

The other teaching unions are currently engaged in industrial action short of a strike.

More on this story