Systems Failure at City School

Eoghan Dalton reports

There has been a “systems failure” in the management of a post-primary school in Waterford city, involving the Education and Training Board, the Teachers Union of Ireland and the school’s Board of Management, according to the chairperson of the union’s local branch.
The comments come as part of a condemnation of the issuing of serious disciplinary measures to at least three members of the St Paul’s Community College staff during last week’s midterm break. A potential outcome from these disciplinary procedures is that staff may lose their positions at the school.
A key claim in the letters is that staff left their classrooms and their students unattended on the 3rd of September. Last month saw the Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board (WWETB) receive a complaint about an incident on the same date, as reported on 16th October in The Munster Express, alleging a parent was prevented from leaving the school grounds when a senior staff member parked their car across the school entrance, in retaliation for the parent using a staff parking space.
Gardaí confirmed they responded to calls and arrived at the school, however the matter was not taken further until the letter to the WWETB.
Chair of the Teachers Union of Ireland’s (TUI) Waterford city branch, Una Dunphy said the problems go beyond any one individual and instead stretch further, including the ETB and other bodies.
“It’s possibly a whole systems failure working here. There’s so many aspects that should kick in, like Boards of Management, the people who are picked to be on Boards of Management…I will say I wonder about trade unionism here, (if) there been a flaw with how we do it, because things are much better when they’re nipped in the bud – not allowed to fester over years and get worse and worse.
“We have to go through the process, we have go through the investigation, but I’m extremely concerned about people and the work environment in St Paul’s at the moment.”
TUI Waterford city Chair Una Dunphy: "the problems go beyond any one individual and stretch further."
Making it better

She said the school’s management should “back down” from the disciplinary procedures against staff, adding: “There is a group forming that want to come together and speak out about things that are not in the best interests of their children, of the students, and certainly the name of St Paul’s. People want to fix it. This isn’t about ruining things, this is about going forward and making it better.”
The disciplinary letters issued to staff on 31st October came five days after correspondence from the Waterford TUI’s branch’s secretary to the chief executive of the WWETB, Kevin Lewis.
One letter said that “unspecified matters” of staff members’ behaviour had been reported to WWETB’s human resources department but with no sign of any communication since.
The letter concluded by claiming that since staff were not officially notified of these referrals and nor were they followed up, they were now a “dead letter and cannot be the excuse for disciplinary action”. “It would appear that reactions by management to staff are to do with this day (September 3rd) in particular, and actions that happened on that day by particular members of staff,” Ms Dunphy told this newspaper. “It refers to people leaving their classes on that day, at that instant, when that incident was occurring. Some members of staff were unhappy that other members were watching what was going on, it appears. “But that is not what is being stated – what’s being stated is that they were not in their class and are in breach of their contract by not being in their class. There are many reasons why a teacher might have to leave their class, such as if there is a commotion, and it happens all the time.

“If that is the case, there are thousands of teachers on a weekly basis that can be charged with discipline,” she continued. “Teachers are very well able to justify their actions, and in these cases they will be very much able to justify their actions.”

Discipline invoked

She said the local TUI branch is taking issue with the level of discipline being invoked against teachers, and contended they could have been handled within the school.
Students at the school have become “acutely aware” of the dispute, she said, with teaching and learning now affected “no matter how much people try to get on with their day’s work”.
Ms Dunphy herself helped draft the parental complaint to the ETB about the alleged school grounds incident, and she praised the mother behind it, describing it as an impetus to others at the school who may have felt they were “better off not saying anything”, to perhaps protect their careers or child’s education. Instead, they now “have a collective power to come forward and speak”.
When contacted by this newspaper, a spokesperson from the WWETB said individual cases could not be discussed. In a further statement, received before going to print, it said: “WWETB does not make any public comment with regard to any confidential processes involving its students or staff. This is in order to protect the rights of all parties to such processes. WWETB fully complies with nationally agreed policies and procedures to which TUI is a party.”
After being contacted by The Munster Express following last month’s report on the parental complaint to the ETB, a senior figure on the school’s Board of Management said they were “surprised” that concerns had been expressed about the management of the school and advised there is a due process for handling any complaints.
St Paul’s Community College did not respond to a request for comment, previously stating it would be not be commenting on the matter.
Over 400 students were enrolled in the mixed school as of 2017, with the number of students progressing to third level and universities seeing a significant increase.

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