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Govt stands by school plan, insists teachers are being heard

Display School Designs 21-02-2018 (Photo John Bugeja) Department Education display the latest designs for Gibraltar's new schools. Minister John Cortes in attendance with Lionel Gomez, Darren Grech and Derek Alman

The Gibraltar Government yesterday stood by its plans for two new secondary schools, insisting it was engaged in constructive dialogue with teachers despite differences of opinion, and accusing the GSD of trying to “hijack” the debate for political gain.

The government was reacting to GSD claims that it was ignoring the views of teachers, particularly those at Westside, who had expressed concerns about the new schools.

The GSD said the government was pushing ahead with its plans instead of listening to input from teachers.

But the criticism drew a furious response from No.6 Convent Place, which said the GSD when in government had an “abysmal” record in this context and “didn’t even know the meaning of the word consult”.

“Their record on consultation across the board – education, environment, housing – is abysmal,” the government said in a statement.

“Their record of listening to advice is even worse, and worst of all, they never had any significant educational developments to consult anyone about anyway.”

“How many new schools did they build in sixteen years? None.”

“What significant improvements in Education did they introduce? None at all.”

“Better to have a discussion about lots being done than not having an argument because nothing is happening.”

The government said that a meeting at Westside last week, attended by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Dr john Cortes, the Minister for Education, had gone “extremely well”, adding that it was “open, honest and above all constructive”.

The meeting covered many issues including the location of the two secondary schools on a single site, one of the key areas of concern for many teachers.

The government said that while there was no consensus on this issue, there was a clear desire resolve the outstanding concerns in order to make the schools work well.

According to the government, the teachers appreciated the fact that the government was making “the biggest investment ever seen in education” locally and shared a desire for improved communication between all parties, including within schools as well as between schools and the Department of Education.

It was also accepted that there had been ample consultation at all levels in relation to the requirements of the schools.

According to No.6 Convent Place, the meeting was evidence of the growing dialogue that was developing between the government and NASUWT, the teachers’ union.

On Friday last week, the meeting was followed up with a workshop attended by the Chief Minister, the Minister for Education, the acting Director of Education and the union’s executive.

A wide range of issues were discussed and will be followed up and developed further.

This is in addition to the formal Social Partnership between the Gibraltar Government and the Gibraltar branch of NASUWT, which meets monthly, and which was entered into by the GSLP/Liberals, the government added.

The government insisted it would involve teachers throughout the profession in the coming months in developing the different work streams that have arisen from the current initiatives, but not limited to these.

There is already ongoing work looking at mental health in schools and other work streams will look at other initiatives including a continuation of the Gibraltar studies scheme and bilingualism in education.

The government also hit out at the GSD for comparing the current plans for two adjacent schools to the GSD’s mega school proposal on the Rooke site, insisting the Opposition party did not understand the educational differences between the two projects.

“The GSD are fearful of the plans working,” No.6 Convent Place said.

“They choose not to mention the progress being made in relation to the other schools, and are deeply worried that more detailed plans about the other schools are soon to be made public.”

“They would like it all to go wrong.”

“Importantly, they have failed to understand that a mature relationship, which is what exists between the Gibraltar NASUWT and the government, allows for differences of opinion, always expressed with the utmost of mutual respect, and for setting differences aside and working together, for the benefit of the children under our joint care and not for political reasons.”

“Because despite these differences, the government is convinced that after a great deal of hard work, the outcome will be two exceptional comprehensive schools for our children and grandchildren, that will give better than ever educational outcomes and of which the community will be justly proud.”

Pic by Johnny Bugeja