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Closing schools should be ‘last resort’ in Covid-19 education strategy, parents’ group says

The recently-formed Gibraltar Parents For Education met with Education Minister, Dr John Cortes, and Keri Scott, the Senior Education Adviser at the Department of Education, to express their concerns at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on education.

During the meeting the GPFE presented a petition signed by around 400 people calling for the closure of schools to be a last resort.

The group suggested that remote learning facilities should be a priority for the Department of Education to ensure the “uninterrupted delivery of the curriculum” in the event of teachers having to self-isolate and student absence.

The meeting allowed the GPFE to introduce themselves and to highlight its objectives, namely that it intends to formalise itself as a fully-fledged association representing parents in the context of education in Gibraltar.

“Our immediate focus is on concerns related to ongoing education in light of the impact of Covid-19 on the community,” a statement from the GPFE read.

“It was good to hear Dr Cortes welcoming the establishment of the group. He expressed the view the GPFE initiative is one that we’ve needed in Gibraltar for some time now.”

GPFE welcomed Dr Cortes’ commitment at the meeting that this view is shared by the Government, and noted the Government’s point that school closures had been precipitated in March due to the fall in attendance as a result of the initial impact of Covid.

It highlighted the need to continue with the delivery of the national curriculum via online learning platforms, while making it clear that facilities used last year were not fit for purpose.

The group said Dr Cortes underlined recent advances made in this area and stressed that considerable work is under way to address these issues, including the prioritisation of ‘catch-up’ learning and the commencement of planning for these contingencies.

GPFE stressed the prioritisation of these concerns, especially as Gibraltar is not in control of examination schedules and while highlighting the need for communication of these measures to the community.

There was a further request for clarity in terms of what the contingency plans are, and how they will affect both students and parents in Gibraltar, the GFPE said.

“Both sides, however, were in total agreement that there is no substitute for in-person, in-classroom teaching,” the GFPE said.

Commenting on the meeting, the group said: “We wish to thank the Minister for his time and have welcomed his invitation for us to follow up this meeting by sending him a list of specific areas of concern, and for a subsequent meeting to discuss these issues.”

“GPFE welcomed the determination to keep schools open and looks forward to continued communication with the Minister and the Department to ensure that parents’ voices are heard in the debate on education in Gibraltar.”