Staff boost sees protest scrapped

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A local trade union branch has scrapped a planned protest after apparently heading off what it painted as a deepening crisis in the Education Welfare Service for Lisburn.

As far back as October last year, the Star reported claims from a source within the service that children’s lives across Lisburn were being put at serious risk while the EWS floundered under funding and staff cuts.

The South Eastern Education and Library Board, now the NI Education Authority South Eastern Region, contested the claims, insisting the 2014/2015 budget was a bigger than that of 2013/14 and new staff were being recruited.

Earlier this week, however, NIPSA Branch 517 called for an immediate injection of resources into the South Eastern Region EWS, which was “slipping into crisis”, it said.

Announcing a planned protest at St Colm’s High School, Twinbrook yesterday (Wednesday), a spokesperson said: “The Education Welfare Service provides an invaluable service that addresses school absenteeism by working directly with schools, parents and communities to support young people and help them reach their full potential.

“At times the EWS plays a critical role intervening in difficult situations and providing essential support to children. Failure to provide the service will put children at risk.

“Over the last few years the service has been under-resourced in the Lisburn/Twinbrook area. This has resulted in up to 30 schools not receiving support for the second year running and over 150 children currently on EWS waiting lists .”

But on the eve of the planned protest the branch announced it was calling off the action after successful negotiations secured agreement on additional, if temporary, staff.

“NIPSA can advise,” the spokesperson said, “that negotiations with management have been successful, with agreement for eight new agency staff for EWS agreed to April 1, 2016, with the possibility of extension to June. 2016.”

It’s understsood five of the additional staff are to be deployed in the Lisburn/Twinbrook/Poleglass area, two in the likewise struggling Downpatrick area and one at HQ.

NIPSA said it would continue to press for permament improvement in the service locally.

“Additional Education Welfare Officers must be employed to work with schools, parents and communities to support young people so that they can reach their full potential.”

Meanwhile, an Education Authority spokesperson said: ““The Education Authority recently reviewed the staffing of the Education Welfare Service in the South Eastern Region.

“This was to maintain staffing at a level that is in line with the established assessment of need in the service.

“Although a recruitment and selection process is currently underway to facilitate permanent appointments, which should be completed in January 2016, EA has approved the appointment of Education Welfare Officers on a temporary basis through an agency to minimise any impact on service delivery to schools.”