The education system in Northern Ireland is at “crisis point” and the latest strike action by teachers in Fermanagh and across Northern Ireland is highlighting this, according to one local teacher.

Sally Rees is a teacher in Enniskillen Royal Grammar School (ERGS), and is also the Junior Vice-President for Northern Ireland for the NASUWT teaching union.

Sally along with her colleagues in ERGS, and others across the county represented by unions including NASUWT, INTO, UTU, NEU and NAHT, took to picket lines this week in the latest action demanding better pay.

However, recent weeks have seen drastic cuts to funding in the education system, including the Extended Schools Programme, Engage funding, Primary School Counselling funding, the cycling scheme, Free School Meals Holiday Payments, a reduction of £7.5 million in the capital fund for schools and also a suspension of building works being undertaken for next year.

“We are in a crisis point in the education sector – taking strike action now is about highlighting just exactly the fact that something needs to be done,” said Sally.

“Because it’s not just about the teachers at the end of the day. We need a properly funded, properly resourced education system in Northern Ireland. It’s just a disgrace the way that it’s been decimated.”

Sally expressed her frustration at the lack of a functioning government in Northern Ireland, who she said should be fighting for the people of Northern Ireland.

Pointing to the fact some politicians have withdrawn their labour in protest over Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom, Sally says if they are looking for parity with their peers in the rest of the UK, then they should look at this parity for teachers’ pay.

Impartial Reporter: Sally Rees, NASUWT Junior Vice-President for NI and ERGS school representative.Sally Rees, NASUWT Junior Vice-President for NI and ERGS school representative.

“There is no parity [here] with the way people are paid in [the rest of] the UK. You take somebody who started teaching in Northern Ireland – they start on £24,000. We are the lowest-paid graduate profession across all of the UK.

“If they were in Scotland, they begin on £32,000. Why would anybody choose to stay here?

“The teaching profession, and the quality of education our young people receives, relies on us having the vibrant and best professionals in front of those pupils.”

Instead, there is a demoralised workforce in schools as the pressure keeps on mounting, while teachers are still doing their best for children, says Sally.

“They go above and beyond for the pupils, day in, day out, working all hours and night and day, particularly at this time of year as well.

“You know, they’re preparing kids for their GCSE and A-Level exams. They’re getting them ready for that, they’re marking coursework. They’re in school during their holiday time.

“People talk about our holidays – I don’t get overtime. I don’t get time in lieu. But I still work above and beyond every day of the week for my students, because I want the best for them, and they deserve the best, and that’s not just me – that is the picture across the country.”

Sally wants the strike action to bring the issue “front and centre” for people with local Council elections less than a month away, and also to put pressure on Stormont to be reformed as the education sector teeters on the brink.

“People will be saying, ‘Well, you’ve withdrawn your labour for a day’, but we’re making the point we’re not paid properly. Young people, and their education, hasn’t been invested in.

Impartial Reporter: Enniskillen Integrated teachers on strike last Wednesday.Enniskillen Integrated teachers on strike last Wednesday. (Image: John McVitty)

“The education system needs to be funded properly and properly resourced,” said Sally, who added if they did not fight for a change in the way teachers are paid and valued, the profession is at risk, before concluding: “And then what sort of state is the education system going to be in?”