Special education schools hit by strike action: Plea to end pay dispute ‘for sake of kids’

A Northern Ireland mum whose child has severe autism has urged the Education Authority to do what it takes to end the schools pay dispute and give special needs children the education they deserve.

Saoirse Costello’s six-year-old son Sean, who is unable to communicate verbally and can find it difficult to regulate his emotions, attends Rossmar Special School in Limavady.

He is due to miss a week of schooling due to disruption from ongoing strike action.

His mother said: “I’m not having a go at the school. They are amazing.

Saoirse Costello’s six-year-old son Sean attends Rossmar Special School in Limavady

“They couldn’t do enough for him, you couldn’t fault them. I agree that the non-teaching staff should be paid more.

“This is down to the Education Authority and the lack of even committing to going into discussion with them.

“The outcome of this is that you’ve got children with special needs who are being affected by this – that’s the bottom line.

“It’s unfair really, those children have gone through so much these last two years, and now they’ve got this thrown at them.

“The way the school is managing it is there is half a class in one week and the other half in the next week.

“Sean’s in this week but he’s missing next week.

“We had the strike action with buses as well, that meant there was some days children couldn’t get to school.”

Of the rough ride her son has experienced, Saoirse said: “Sean relies so rigidly on routine and structure and schedules.

“He’s now in primary two, but he’s never had access to a full educational programme because of the two-year lockdown.

“Lockdown came halfway through his first nursery term, it extended then into primary one and now primary two.”

It became particularly difficult when a classmate tested positive for Covid requiring the whole class bubble to take lateral flow tests.

Saoirse said: “Because he has such sensory issues trying to hold him and stick one of those things up his nose was terrible.

“There was one time he was struggling and threw his head forward and it went that far up it gave him a nosebleed.”

She said the Easter break from school was particularly hard: “I’m not going to lie, it was one of the toughest Easter breaks me and my husband have had with him, he was just so badly behaved, he was totally out of kilter. The thought of him being off next week because of the strike has us very anxious.”

Non-teaching staff employed by the Education Authority are involved in the strike action this week, and again from May 3 to 8. Unite members are striking over pay, with union officials warning a 1.75% pay offer is not enough amid soaring inflation and the cost-of-living crisis. The Department of Education has said it is extremely concerned that some pupils will be unable to attend.