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NASUWT calls for independent inquiry over alleged safeguarding ‘failures’, drawing stern response from Govt

Teachers’ union Gibraltar NASUWT on Thursday called for a public inquiry into “apparent failures” in the Department of Education’s handling of a case involving inappropriate behaviour by a non-permanent teacher with a female student at Westside School who was about 11 years younger.

The union is demanding that disciplinary action be taken against senior education managers as a result of the case, which dates back several years.

But the Gibraltar Government accused the union of making “wild and demonstrably false” accusations, insisting the matter had been investigated by an independent board which made no recommendations on disciplinary action.

The issue was still ongoing and a decision on whether disciplinary action was necessary had yet to be taken, the government added, accusing the union of pre-judging the outcome.

No.6 Convent Place said a public inquiry was neither necessary nor appropriate.

The case was first revealed last year by the Gibraltar Government, which said an investigation by an independent board led by Gillian Guzman, QC, had been launched following reports in 2019 of the relationship between the teacher and the student.

The board found the teacher’s behaviour was “significantly disturbing” and “wholly unprofessional”. The teacher was banned from Gibraltar’s schools and from working with children.

The matter was initially referred to the Royal Gibraltar Police but there was no evidence of criminal conduct. Police later reviewed the board's findings and reached the same conclusion.

At the time, the government said it would act on the recommendations of the board and was reviewing all safeguarding protocols and policies.

It said it would also review existing laws to ensure these were “robust and clear” with the aim of safeguarding all students.

This week, Gibraltar NASUWT said it had obtained a copy of the full report commissioned by the government and, after considering its contents, had twice written to the Chief Secretary calling on him to begin disciplinary proceedings against senior management at the Department of Education “for violating standards of conduct”.

The union acknowledged that the report “cleared” senior management of “intent”, but added that the findings highlighted “grave systemic and individual failings” at the Department of Education.

“The union believes that any elements of alleged misconduct, negligence, recklessness or dereliction of duty highlighted in the independent report must be addressed accordingly and without further delay,” Gibraltar NASUWT said in a statement.

“A ‘lessons learned’ approach is not acceptable regardless of the measures introduced as a result of recommendations made by the report, especially when children’s safeguarding is at stake.”

The government confirmed that the Chief Secretary had received a letter from NASUWT on March 23 and had replied that the government accepted in full the report’s findings and recommendations.

The Chief Secretary set out the steps which had already been taken as a result of the findings and recommendations in Ms Guzman’s report, adding the government had agreed to undertake an internal investigation into the handling of the incident by the senior management at the Department of Education.

He told the union it would be inappropriate to take any decision on any disciplinary matter until that internal investigation was concluded, noting that the report stated that the board accepted everyone in management at both the Department of Education and Westside School “acted in good faith and that at no stage was there any purposeful act or omission.”

For the union though, an internal investigation was “not acceptable”.

NASUWT wrote again to the Chief Secretary on March 29 and issued a statement two days later before it had received a reply.

The Chief Secretary has now responded to that second letter from NASUWT, No.6 Convent Place said.

“In his reply, the Chief Secretary has informed NASUWT that Ms Guzman’s report made no recommendation about any disciplinary measures to be taken against any staff member of the Department of Education despite having the opportunity of doing so and that it is the report itself that gives rise to the need to investigate whether any disciplinary action ought to be taken,” the government said.

“The Chief Secretary expresses surprise that NASUWT, as a trade union, did not consider that that is the right way to proceed before any decision concerning disciplinary measures is taken.”

“Unlike the view that NASUWT appear to have taken, neither the Chief Secretary nor the Government have pre-determined nor pre-judged the outcome of the internal investigation.”

“That investigation is ongoing and must be completed before any decision is taken on whether or not a disciplinary process should be initiated.”

In its statement, the union applauded the teaching professionals who had flagged up the conduct the teacher to senior management “on many occasions” and who followed all safeguarding procedures in “an exemplary fashion”.

“It is a shame that all teachers get painted with a broad brush whenever bad apples do bad things,” the union said.

“This union is proud to represent members who act professionally, responsibly, ethically and always in the interests of their students when serious matters arise.”

“Members who do not shirk their responsibilities and who speak out even when doing so goes against the institutionalised culture in education and some in senior management.”

The row also took a political dimension after the union called for support from the GSD and Together Gibraltar, which it said had both received copies of the report.

“We call on them to consider the contents of the report carefully and reach their own conclusions,” the union said.

“If their conclusions coincide with those expressed herein, and seeing as the Chief Secretary has not acceded in taking disciplinary action despite the overwhelming evidence contained in the report, we urge them to join Gibraltar NASUWT in calling for the Government to conduct a public inquiry into this whole affair.”

The union also called on the government to publish the full report, with any necessary redactions to protect the identities of juveniles and witnesses, adding it was in the public interest and had been paid for by the taxpayer.

For the government, however, this was an attempt by the union to politicise a matter that, due to its nature, required sensitivity.

No.6 Convent Place said it did not believe a public inquiry was necessary or appropriate, given the matter had been the subject of a full independent investigation leading to Ms Guzman’s report.

It reiterated that an internal investigation was under way into what further action if any should be taken as a result of its findings.

“The Government totally condemns as entirely shameful and unsubstantiated the insinuation by NASUWT in its press statement that there is an institutionalised culture in education and by some in senior management to not act professionally, responsibly, ethically and always in the interests of students,” No.6 added.

“Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“The work of the Government in education and all professionals at the Department of Education has constantly demonstrated, not least during the difficult and challenging times of a pandemic, how committed all professionals in the department are to the welfare of pupils in Gibraltar, just like the overwhelming majority of teachers.”

“It nonetheless does NASUWT no credit to make such wild and demonstrably false accusations.”

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