Mencap in Northern Ireland calls for immediate action on classroom strike
Wednesday 10 October 2007
Mencap in Northern Ireland is calling on the Northern Ireland Minister of Education, Caitriona Ruane, to intervene in the current dispute between Education and Library Boards and classroom assistants.
More than 3,000 classroom assistants began all-out strike action on Monday 8th October over a dispute about pay and conditions of employment. This has led to the indefinite closure of several special schools across Northern Ireland.
Following calls from parents, angry that the situation has not been resolved and concerned about the impact on their children, the learning disability charity has called on the Minister to act now and find a way forward.
Speaking on the situation, Mencap in Northern Ireland's director, Maureen Piggot commented, "I realise that this is not a straightforward issue and may take time to resolve but this is not time that children with a learning disability have. Whilst the discussions continue many children all over Northern Ireland are missing out on their fundamental right to education and support.
The closure of special schools means that the access by children with a learning disability to key non-educational services, such as speech and language therapy, will be affected. Many children with a learning disability will be finding the change to their routine of getting ready for school and waiting for the bus difficult and this is not just distressing for them but for their family as well. Children with a learning disability are also missing out on meeting and mixing with their friends because they cannot attend school. This is having a detrimental impact on children's educational and social development as well as their health and well-being.
We are concerned, too, about the impact on parents and families, who may be facing difficulties with continuing to work while their child is at home or experiencing additional pressure and stress because they are not getting the breaks from caring that they need. In September 2006 we released a report that revealed that 8 out of 10 families in Northern Ireland who care for sons and daughters with severe learning disabilities have come to or reached breaking point. These families, who are already under pressure from caring for long periods of time, need an immediate solution. We believe that the Minister must intervene now to resolve the situation or to put in place alternative arrangements so that children with a learning disability can once again enjoy their right to both their educational and non-educational needs."
Joanne Tunnah, whose son has Down's syndrome and attends a school in Belfast commented, "This situation is having a huge impact on Patrick. He has been very unsettled as he has been taken out of his routine, he is also missing his physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy, and I am concerned about the long-term impact of this. I really hope that this matter is given the priority that it deserves and that some kind of solution is found immediately so that children like my son, who are the most vulnerable members of society, do not have to miss out on any more essential educational and development opportunities."
For further information contact:
Senior Communications Officer: Louise Thompson
Telephone: 028 90690151
Fax: 028 90640121