Parents, pupils and school staff will find out this week whether teachers will take strike action in response to the revised NI Executive budget.
The result of a vote by members of INTO – Ireland’s largest teachers’ union – will be made known on Thursday. INTO’s annual conference last week was addressed by Education Minister John O’Dowd, who put the case for the budget, which Sinn Féin and the DUP say has found an extra £60m for schools. Finance Minister Simon Hamilton said the money was the “lion’s share” of an extra £150m in total secured for all Stormont departments in the new budget.
But Minister O’Dowd’s conference address and Minister Hamilton’s words appear to have fallen on deaf ears, with senior INTO members describing the education system as “dysfunctional”.
Gerry Murphy, INTO Northern Secretary, said: "The Minister told us that waving placards won’t stop the austerity agenda. Perhaps it would have been appropriate for the Minster not to look at the posters but to look at the faces of those carrying them.
"Let's get real. The Education Minister initially proposed cuts of £162.5 million to the education budget. That would manifest in the loss of approximately 2,500 to 3,000 jobs at the very least – 3,000 jobs that would not be replaced.
"We have 6,647 members in Northern Ireland, 1,160 of which are in the Belfast Education and Library Board area. These are the people delivering our children's education right across the community and they have had enough. As parents, and as communities, we all need to look at the negative impact this has on our children, our teachers, our communities and our economy.
"INTO members have heard nothing from the Minster to either inspire or encourage them that better times will arrive. They have heard nothing to convince them that he is prepared to fight to put education centre-stage and demand an economic rethink to address the strategic importance of education.”
Mr Murphy said that such was the depth of teachers’ anger over the budget, the decision to ballot for industrial action had received a “rousing response” from INO members. He added: "Our members have listened and they have agreed that no-one in Stormont values teachers, no-one puts any value in the education system other than to produce statistics and no-one cares about the future of the children of today or the economy they will emerge into. INTO cannot let this scenario play out."
The INTO ballot is further evidence of growing disillusionment among unions over the new deal, which only Sinn Féin and the DUP voted to approve. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has already hit out angrily at the Stormont House Agreement which produced the new budget, which ICTU described as “a bad deal” for the north.