Teachers’ unions in Northern Ireland must cease their industrial action or risk damaging children’s education, a DUP candidate has warned.
Thousands of teachers across the Province have been instructed by unions to refuse to cooperate with school inspections, as a dispute over pay and workload rumbles on.
In a letter sent out to teachers on Friday, Education Authority CEO Gavin Boyd said the industrial action was “seriously affecting the education of children and young people” and “the effective operation of schools”.
Teachers unions have reacted angrily to Mr Boyd’s letter, branding it “patronising” and “fake news”.
But DUP general election candidate and former teacher Sammy Wilson said no amount of industrial action will change the fact that the additional money sought by the unions “simply isn’t there”.
In the correspondence, Mr Boyd says teachers in NI are better paid than their counterparts in England and Wales.
“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.”
Mr Boyd 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.
However, he did concede that national insurance and pension contributions had risen, but added these were “part of a wider government strategy to ensure public sector pensions remain affordable and sustainable”.
East Antrim candidate Mr Wilson said he “does not have much sympathy” for teachers when it comes to the issue of a pay increase.
He added: “Regardless of what action is taken by teachers, it is not going to change the situation regarding pay because that is a decision made by central government.
“Even if there was an Executive up and running in Northern Ireland, an education minister could not just magic money out of thin air.
“And even if every MLA wanted to increase teachers’ salaries, there simply is not the wherewithal to do it.”
However, Mr Wilson said a devolved government would have the power to cut through some of the red tape, which teachers maintain is putting major strain on their workload.
The former economics teacher added: “I know there are massive demands on teachers’ time when it comes to non-classroom work, and I agree they should be freed up rather than having their time taken up by so much bureaucracy.
“But there are other ways to achieve this than by resorting to industrial action which is damaging to youngsters’ education.”
Avril Hall Callaghan, general secretary of the Ulster Teachers Union (UTU), condemned the Education Authority’s response to their current industrial action as “Trumpesque”, and said a “very difficult” situation had now been made even more problematic.
Rebutting the assertion that teachers were harming pupil’s education, she added: “The current industrial action has, rather than negatively affected children and young people, given teachers more time to spend tailoring lessons to meet the individual needs of pupils.”
Justin McCamphill, of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) Northern Ireland, said Mr Boyd’s letter to teachers was patronising and offered “nothing by way of substance or fact”.
As for Mr Boyd’s claim that teachers in Northern Ireland were better paid than their counterparts in Great Britain, Mr McCamphill accused him of “not comparing like with like”.
He told the News Letter: “The pay scale in England is slightly higher than the pay scale here. However, many teachers across the water are quitting before they get to the top of the pay scale, which means there is a larger number of teachers at the bottom of the scale. This pulls the average wage down.
“Therefore a 40-year-old teacher in Northern Ireland would not be earning as much as a 40-year-old teacher in England.”