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School staffing “longer and more complex” this year, Govt says

St Martins School. Archive photo by Johnny Bugeja.

The Gibraltar Government has described the Special Needs Action Group’s [SNAG] comments hitting out at delays ahead the start of the school term as “unfair”, describing the “complex” nature of staffing schools this year.

A statement issued by SNAG underlined “great concern” and “dismay” over delayed announcements before school term began.

But the Government replied explaining that the large number of new staff being employed this year, of both teachers and SNLSAs, has meant a “longer and more complex “than usual lead-up to the start of term.

“300 plus applicants for vacancies cannot be dealt with in a moment, and that is the scale of the task that the process has involved this year, as the complement of teaching and support staff has been significantly increased,” the Government said.

“Which would not have been done if the Government cared as little as SNAG suggests.”

The Government added the allocation of nursery time is “also complex as Early Birds Nursery has to cater for a larger number of children than ever.”

Due to the influx in pupils, the Government said, it has had “no choice but to allocate spaces in the afternoon, even though it always tries to provide morning options.”

“It must be remembered also that while some parents prefer mornings, other actually prefer the afternoon session for their children.”

In the fresh exchange, the Minister of Education, Dr John Cortes, highlighted “how stressful and complicated” the process to fully staff the school had been.

“I know first hand how hard St Martin’s works for these children and these families,” Dr Cortes said.

“And I know how stressful and complicated it is to provide the full complement that we are providing for the school.”

“SNAG must understand this and must work with the school in order to make progress and not work in such an antagonistic and adversarial way.”

“They know that the school, the Department and I myself care deeply for the children, and for their families, and go out of our way to make theirs the best learning journey possible. The political party close to one of the SNAG committee members [ a reference to the GSD] was not even going to build them a new school.”

“I have in the past met every fortnight with the Parents’ Association. We made tremendous progress and I am very happy to do so again, but have had no recent requests.”

“They know I am here and as ever I am very happy to discuss with ESG Parents’ Association, further future improvements for the benefit of the children.”

The Government said that in the past, SNAG had expressed its concerns directly and had met with the Department and/or the Minister, which led to fruitful discussions where much has been achieved.

“However on this occasion SNAG has hit out without the benefit - or the courtesy - of discussion,” the Government said.

“It is totally unacceptable that SNAG, a relatively new organisation, should accuse the very
Education authorities that have produced a new St Martin’s School, better equipped and staffed than ever, of having total disregard for pupils and families.”

“They know that that is untrue as they know very well what tremendous regard is given to them by St Martin’s staff and by the Department of Education as a whole.”

The Government added SNAG has had no reason to doubt that the school would open as from September 1.

“SNAG also knows that it is policy to keep SNLSAs at St Martin’s, as has been shown in the past, as much as is achievable,” the Government said.

Reacting to “unfair” comments that there is or has been “no real or effective progress” in the education at St Martin’s, the Government said this was “insulting” to staff.

“Have they forgotten where St Martin’s School was just over a year ago, and what facilities there are now in comparison? Or that there is more staff there than ever?” the Government said.

“They also seem to ignore the excellent work being done by PossAbilities in providing further support and the fact that the Government has allocated the old St Martin’s to that charity in order for them to be able to support further.”

The Government added there has been a “shift in SNAG”, from being a combination of disability-orientated charities who wanted to work together and with the Government, to a group with a “political agenda.”

The statement said SNAG was using “families to place political pressure.”

“The fact that one of the key spokespersons of SNAG is now a member of the GSD Executive makes this hardly surprising,” the Government said.

“SNAG is doing itself no favours in launching attacks such as this, without the prior conversations that any responsible organisation would have before making such unjustified public statements.”

SNAG RESPONDS

In response SNAG said it was “surprised” by the “attack” towards its Chairperson Atrish Sanchez.

“In my capacity as the Chairperson of SNAG and as an executive member of the GSD, I have
always maintained the two roles very separate,” Ms Sanchez said.

“I could have opted to keep my political affiliations very quiet and asked to be co-opted closer to the elections, as some others will do, but I instead chose to be completely transparent in the knowledge that I would be subjected to toxic attacks, as I have been, and will continue to be unfairly subjected to.”

“I have a level of professionalism that allows me to keep my roles separate, as well as my full-time career separate too. What I do in SNAG is completely voluntarily and vocational because I believe, with all my heart, that things need to change for the future of our next generation with SEN/Disabilities with this or any administration.”

“I would have expected any honourable minister to have had the same level of professionalism and to have known how to keep those two things separate too. Albeit, all Ministers can be certain about one thing – no minister will push me away from what I do, not with this or any other statement. I will stop what I do if and when I decide the time is right.”

SNAG said it issued the statement with “sadness”, adding that the Group did not “insult” anyone with its previous statement, but instead raised the concerns of parents, families and even professionals, and SNAG said it always praised the “extremely hard work of the professionals that sometimes have to work in under resourced/under funded departments.”

SNAG said the “minister fails to understand, or conveniently chooses to ignore the fact, that the high number of concerns of very anxious parents and even affected staff, are due
to the official Seesaw communications of one of the affected schools showing exactly how late parents have been notified of key information.”

“SNAG has been in consultation with the Parents Association of St Martins School which proves that we are not misguiding anyone here, but rather quite simply stating a fact,” SNAG said.

“The Parents Association of St Martins School is the same body, whom until very recently, the honourable minister has been very pleased to mention in all his public statements regarding St Martins school – but the fact of the matter is that we can’t always sing to the minister’s tune all the time and that, sometimes, the minister could be be wrong, however incredulous that might sound.”

SNAG added it is fully aware of the complex recruitment process needed to staff schools, but questioned the lack of forward planning.

In reply, the Government said that its initial response to SNAG was in “no way an attack on free speech.”

“It is simply exercising exactly the same right as the original critic,” the Government said.

“No one is boycotting SNAG or anyone else and the Minister remains as available to meet with all stakeholders as he has always been. It is well known that the Minister’s engagements are always positive and constructive.”

“But the SNAG press release that started this exchange was surprising and unfair given the excellent relationship that has existed since their formation.”

“Indeed a phone call to the Minister would have avoided all the misunderstanding and probably SNAG would have seen and accepted the complexity of the selection processes and how hard both the Minister and the Department of Education, and indeed St Martin’s School were working to meet the deadlines.”

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