Teaching union blasts Peter Weir for ‘weak and ineffectual leadership’

A teaching union has revealed that NI teachers remain to be convinced that the road map back to school for pupils is sustainably safe.

By Gemma Murray
Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 5:43 pm

“All along we have asked the Minister to be guided purely by the science and repeatedly, though with varying degrees of success, we have asked to see the evidence,” said Jacquie White, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers’ Union.

Meanwhile in a statement INTO Northern Secretary, Gerry Murphy said the decision to accelerate the wider re-

opening of schools showed ‘weak and ineffectual leadership’.

In a statement Mr Murphy said: “The Education Minister, Peter Weir MLA, has trashed the last vestiges of his reputation with the

teaching profession this evening.

“It is these hard-working teachers who deliver the thing that

matters, the advancement of our children’s education, and they continue to do so in the midst of a

Hand sanitiser in a classroom

pandemic and in the face of ineffectual and weak leadership.

“The latest example of this poor leadership is the reneging on an undertaking, the teaching unions

secured from his Departmental officials that schools would receive 10 working days’ notice in

advance of any changes regarding a fuller re-opening of schools.

An empty classroom

“Instead, our primary schools will have only two working days’ notice not the ten they were promised.”

Mr Murphy said the decision means that “already stressed teachers and school leaders in post primary schools will have to now begin putting in place the necessary conditions to facilitate safe learning environments for post primary students”.

“And these, already exhausted teachers and school leaders across our system will rise to this latest challenge because they care,” he added.

“This wider re-opening of schools is being couched in a narrative that is about making up for lost learning.

“This is yet another failure in leadership on the part of the Department of Education and its Minister.

“Our children and young people need time to settle back into the routine of schools, they will need to be nurtured, be assessed, and have their mental well-being taken into consideration.

“Only when this pastoral work has been completed will it be time to begin the recovery curriculum

that will clearly be needed.”

Mr Murphy added: “It is too late to salvage Peter Weir’s reputation as Minister of Education but there is still time, with

proper leadership and the goodwill of the teaching profession to meet the emotional and

educational needs of our children and young people.

“Both they and their teachers deserve better from a bureaucracy and a Minister whose limitations have been thrown into sharp focus by this


Meanwhile UTU General Secretary, Jacquie White said: “The last thing anyone wants is to move too far too quickly when we seem to be

making such hard-won advances.

“However, from initially planning to pull out the P1 to P3 children who have been back in class on March 22, to allow exam year post primary students safely back, we are now being told that all primary school children as well as those exam year students will be back from Monday.

“It’s quite a leap and not one we are assured is in the best interests of pupils, teachers, parents and the wider community.

“We still have too many unknowns and we believe more remains to be done to

ensure schools are sustainably long-terms Covid-safe environments.”

She added that the return to school “also means a return of all the travel challenges that go with it”.

She added that this is regarding “parents collecting children and also of children using school and public transport which presents yet another layer of potential risk of spread”.

“We urge our politicians to be steered only by the scientific evidence which must prove that it is safe for children and teachers to return,” she added.

“A more calculated approach means we could assess its impact before allowing more students into class and thus better manage the situation.

“Our worry is that any recklessness now in getting children back behind desks could trigger another spike in Covid infections and prolong disruption of their education.

“It would seem counterintuitive to throw away the progress we seem to be making and risk schools closing again. This would be the worst possible scenario for everyone,”


A message from our editor: Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

Please consider purchasing a copy of the paper. You can also support trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription of the News Letter.