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School principals 'hounded and stalked on social media'

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

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image caption"No other profession would sustain it or tolerate it," Geri Cameron told the NI Affairs Committee

School principals are being "hounded, stalked and vilified on social media" with no support, MPs have been told.

The principal of Loughshore Education Centre, Geri Cameron, made the claim at an NI Affairs Committee hearing.

Ms Cameron also said that a generation of children with special educational needs (SEN) were "suffering" and their needs not being met.

The Education Authority (EA) said it "cannot cope" with some of the impacts of declining budgets.

The committee is holding an inquiry into education funding in Northern Ireland.

Ms Cameron, representing the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), was giving evidence to the committee on Wednesday.

Also giving evidence were Justin McCamphill from the NASUWT union and Gerry Murphy from the INTO union.

'Held up for public ridicule'

Ms Cameron said that a teacher health and well-being strategy was urgently needed.

"I can't imagine any other situation where a school principal could be hounded and stalked and vilified on social media and held up for public ridicule with no consequence," she said.

"As a trade union we are inundated with principals who are suffering at the hands of all sorts of individuals with very strange motives, but nevertheless they are there."

"No other profession would sustain it or tolerate it."

Loughshore is an education other than at school (EOTAS) centre which caters for pupils with a spectrum of SEN including ADHD, autism and behavioural problems.

Responding to a question from the DUP MP Jim Shannon about the scale of support for pupils with SEN and mental health problems Ms Cameron said that support was "not adequate to meet need."

"There isn't a school in Northern Ireland at the moment which isn't feeling the effects of the challenges of dealing with children and young people who have mental ill-health," she said.

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"There is a generation of children who are suffering at the moment and whose needs are not being adequately met."

Ms Cameron also told the committee it could take "four of five years" for a child with SEN to be assessed adequately.

The Northern Ireland Audit Office has previously criticised the support for children with SEN.

Mr McCamphill said that the lack of support for pupils with complex needs could sometimes lead to attacks on teaching staff.

"We've had to deal with situations with young people with severe mental health problems, with behavioural problems who have had an individual classroom assistant," he said.

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image captionIndependent MP Lady Hermon said the lack of support was "enormously disappointing"

"That individual classroom assistant has been withdrawn.

"Because that pupil doesn't have that support and the one-to-one of the person to talk to when they're not feeling well in themselves that obviously then leads to behaviour and unfortunately sometimes quite violent behaviour."

He said that, contrary to expectation, statistics showed that assaults against staff were more likely to happen in primary and special schools than post-primary schools.

Mr Murphy claimed that there was "little or no support available" to school staff members who were assaulted.

Independent MP Lady Hermon called that "enormously disappointing".

'I've been assaulted many times'

Ms Cameron also said that behavioural support for pupils was "too thin on the ground".

"We're very good in Northern Ireland at reacting to critical incidents but we're not very good at learning from them," she said.

"I've been assaulted many, many times and have never looked to anywhere for support other than to my colleagues within the teaching profession because I simply know that what is beyond my own colleagues is not fit for purpose.

"There's a huge number of assaults on staff in special schools - staff frequently with bite marks, punch, kicks, all sorts of assaults.

"These children and young people have behaviours that are beyond their control.

"There are no leafy suburbs any more - there are children with challenging mental health and challenging difficulties across every school."

'Cannot cope'

She said there was not enough money for education but it also was not clear that the existing budget was being deployed effectively to provide support for staff and pupils.

In a statement the EA said that while it could cope with the impact with some budget pressures it "cannot cope" with others.

"EA cannot cope with the combined impacts of declining budgets, structural constraints, pay and price, unavoidable and increasing demand for policy, statute and contract-based services, declines in school finances and new statutory requirements," it said.

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