Education official says industrial action harms education

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

image captionGavin Boyd said industrial action was 'seriously affecting the education of children and young people'

Northern Ireland's top education official has accused teachers of harming children's education by taking industrial action.

In a strongly worded letter to all teachers, Gavin Boyd also said they got better pay than their counterparts in England and Wales.

Teaching unions are refusing to co-operate with school inspections in a dispute over pay and workload.

The National Association of Schoolmasters and Women Teachers (NASUWT) has reacted angrily to Mr Boyd's letter, accusing him of "fake news".

'Compares favourably'

Mr Boyd is chief executive of the Education Authority and represents the teaching employers in negotiations over the current pay dispute.

He wrote that the industrial action was "seriously affecting the education of children and young people" and "the effective operation of schools".

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image captionGavin Boyd said teachers had been "confused by misinformation" on a number of issues

He also said teachers had been "confused by misinformation" on a number of issues.

"The average teacher's pay in Northern Ireland is just over £40,000 per annum," he added.

"This compares very favourably with other graduate professions locally and is actually higher than the average teacher's pay in England and Wales."

He said that teaching unions had rejected an overall offer of 2.5% on pay in 2015-16.

"There have been no reductions in teacher's pay," he said.

Mr Boyd conceded that national insurance and pension contributions had risen, but said these were "part of a wider government strategy to ensure public sector pensions remain affordable and sustainable".

"Public sector pensions remain attractive and in general offer much better terms than those available in the private sector."

'Peddling misinformation'

However, the NASUWT's general secretary Chris Keates said his letter would infuriate teachers.

"Teachers will not be persuaded or intimidated by the fake news presented in the letter," she said.

"The value of teachers' pay has fallen by around 20% since 2010.

image captionThe NASUWT's general secretary, Chris Keates, said the letter would infuriate teachers

"The employers should start to devote more of their time to addressing the genuine concerns of teachers rather than peddling misinformation."

The letter will not help to resolve disputes between teachers and their employers, said Heather Watson, the principal of Phoenix Integrated Primary School in Cookstown, County Tyrone.

She was "shocked, confused and disappointed" when she received the letter.

"It hasn't done anything to reassure teachers that they are respected and valued," said Ms Watson.

"I understand that there are two sides to this, but I really want the two sides to get their act together and address the issues."

Jim Clarke, the chief executive of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, which represents teachers' employers, said the information in the letter was "factually accurate".

"It might not necessarily agree with everyone's perspective but all we can do is present the facts as they are," he added.

'Utter nonsense'

In a related development, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) has accused the Department of Education of "attempts at bullying" by writing to a Catholic archbishop about the ongoing industrial action.

In a letter to members, INTO said that the Department of Education's permanent secretary Derek Baker had written to Archbishop Eamon Martin.

They said Mr Baker had requested that Archbishop Martin ensures that school governors co-operate with school inspections.

"Attempts at bullying, such as this, should be rejected as an unsubtle attempt to bring the action to an end," they wrote.

However, in a statement to the BBC, the department responded by describing the claim as "utter nonsense".

"The letter focuses exclusively on the statutory duty placed on governors in respect of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of pupils and seeks their cooperation with the ETI specifically in respect of child protection and safeguarding," they said.

"The suggestion that the department's letter amounts to bullying is utter nonsense".

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