De La Salle College: Report finds staff problems affected pupils at Belfast school
A "serious breakdown of working relationships" at a west Belfast "impacted substantially" on its pupils, an independent report has found.
The investigation of events at De La Salle College was ordered in April by former Education Minister John O'Dowd, after months of industrial problems.
On one day in March, about one third of its teachers were absent from work.
The report said some staff "described a culture of fear" and made claims of "bullying and intimidating behaviour".
However, it found that the numerous problems were not "solely attributable" to the principal Claire White, and there was "no single cause or factor" for them.
Criticism of CCMS
The secondary school, in the Andersonstown area of west Belfast, has more than 1,000 pupils and was the scene of protests by parents earlier this year, concerned about the impact of the staff problems on their children's education.
The report, published on Wednesday, said there had been "a wide range of issues and incidents" at the school, stretching back more than three years.
The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), which helps to manage Catholic schools, came in for particular criticism.
The report highlighted failings on behalf of the organisation for not intervening earlier to resolve disputes at the school.
It also said CCMS were "aware of the difficulties and developing conflict within the school" from at least June 2014.
The report also found that the disputes had "a detrimental impact" on pupils at the school.
"Normal classes were frequently disrupted because of the levels of teacher absence," it said.
The school had also failed to apply for special consideration for all pupils taking GCSE and A-level exams in summer 2016 who might have been affected by the disputes.
Among the report's other findings were:
- Internal audit reports in 2013 "identified serious concerns in the relation to the financial management of the college, including potential fraud".
- There was a "serious breakdown in relationships" between senior staff at the school and the then chair of the board of governors after the appointment of the Ms White in May 2014.
- There was a "culture of rumour and misinformation" at the school.
- There was a "serious breakdown" in working relationships between "the board of governors, the principal, senior leadership team and staff" following a dispute between a staff member and pupil in October 2015 which led to staff protests.
- The subsequent timetable for the implementation of an action plan to improve the situation was not met.
The current Education Minister Peter Weir received the report earlier this month.
The investigation was led by a three-person panel consisting of leading educationalist Sir Robert Salisbury, trade unionist John Corey and Belfast Metropolitan College's principal Marie-Thérèse McGivern.
Their remit included looking at staff relationships, the role of senior leadership, governance of the school and the impact of the ongoing disputes on pupils.
Mr Weir said he had asked his officials to work with CCMS and the Education Authority to oversee their implementation.
"My priority remains the pupils at the school," the minister said.
"I am confident that the panel's report will provide a sound platform for moving forward in building relations within the school and the wider community, while also making a positive contribution to ensuring that all children receive a quality education experience."