“insist on a large dose of realism”

The classroom assistants’ strike went ahead today, despite the reports of an upbeat end to last minute talks held yesterday. That an all-out strike the week after. And, if the Education Minister has painted herself into a corner – and calling for the implementation of an offer already rejected didn’t help – the Belfast Telegraph points out that only the Education Minister can change that [with the Finance Minister’s help? – Ed]

Ms Ruane has called on the education boards to implement the new gradings, so that these “valuable staff receive the pay rates to which they are entitled”, following the job evaluation process. But these are empty words, unless there is agreement on the fairness of the new gradings, and more money is available to the boards.

As Sammy Wilson, chairman of the Assembly’s education committee has said, the boards’ hands are tied, without extra funding, and no one is clear about the cost of the classroom assistants’ package, since there are so many variables. The minister’s problems are obvious, when money is tight, but the public will not accept more delay in settling a 12-year dispute that is affecting morale in many schools – and is upsetting parents who so depend on the assistants for help with their special needs children.

The time has come for Mrs Ruane to call all the parties together and insist on a large dose of realism, from all concerned. Classroom assistants may be in a special category, but all non-teaching staff pay rates should be placed on scales fixed nationally. As holder of the purse strings, Finance Minister Peter Robinson must be involved, sooner rather than later.