Macosquin principal becomes President of Ulster Teachers’ Union

A Macosquin principal is set to lead Northern Ireland teachers through one of the most ‘challenging’ years in her profession’s history.

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 4:32 pm

As the newly elected President of the Ulster Teachers’ Union, Alison Steen will step back from her role as head of Drumrane Primary, near Dungiven, to lead the 7,000-strong body for the next year.

“Our profession faces unprecedented challenges going forward as education reverts to a ‘new normal’ following the global pandemic,” she said.

“There probably will be many things we once did to which we may never return. No-one can predict what lies ahead or what the new normal will actually look like.

Alison Steen

“This last year, however, has disproportionately affected the most vulnerable children across Northern Ireland, those for whom home is perhaps not a safe space, where parents are coping with their own challenges and where food on the table isn’t always a given.

“Before Covid, schools were fighting to secure the support they needed in this area, often rationed to reprehensibly limited access to counsellors, for instance.

“At a time when a growing number of children with increasingly complex social, behavioural and learning needs were coming to school they needed help then. How much more help will they need now in the wake of this pandemic?

“We cannot afford to allow a generation of children to continue into adulthood with mental health issues unaddressed.”

However, Mrs Steen fears children and young people have been robbed of a year of their childhood.

“When the first stories of the coronavirus played out in the news none of us knew what to expect but none of us could’ve foreseen the reality. So much of the fun has gone from children’s lives. The normal cycle of events throughout their year has been so different and it has affected each child differently,” she continued.

“We have a play therapist, for instance, who comes to school. During lockdown she phoned the children who wanted to talk to her – they had many questions running through their heads.

“At Drumrane where we have a close-knit family of pupils, staff and parents, however, when school broke up last March, it was still an emotional time. We planted bulbs on the last day just as a sign of hope that there would be better days ahead and I remember feeling very concerned about what the future would hold.

“Ironically though one of the positives from our lockdown was the even closer relationships teachers have fostered with the parents with whom they were in regular contact,” said Mrs Steen.

“Indeed the school motto is, ‘Working together to achieve our best’, though a year ago though, no-one could have imagined how vital that would be.”

That teamwork enabled Drumrane to open fully every day since September 2020 and it even had after schools clubs running in bubbles when that was possible.

“The Classroom Assistants come in to school to support the home learning of vulnerable and key worker children while our cleaner, caretaker, secretaries and dinner supervisors have also all risen to the challenges,” continued Mrs Steen who succeeds Larne High teacher Stephen McCord in the UTU Presidency.

“I’m privileged to work here, however, every school’s experience of the last year will have been unique, as will every child’s and though our children seem largely to have coped very well there will be many more who will struggle.

Their needs must be met and must not be brushed on down the road, otherwise our society is only storing up trouble for the future.

“The last year has been challenging but if there is a positive it’s the sense of community that’s been evident and I hope that continues.

“No-one can predict what lies ahead, so it’s about planning for the best but taking one day at a time.”