SNAG and Govt clash over St Martin’s School capacity concerns
The Special Needs Action Group and the Gibraltar Government were at odds yesterday over forward planning to ensure St Martin’s School is able to accommodate pupils in future years following an “unprecedented” spike in demand.
SNAG said more should have been done to foresee the increase in intake, while the Gibraltar Government said there was sufficient capacity for the current cohort of students, and that it would ensure plans were in place to accommodate the expected 2023 intake.
The exchange came after a report in this newspaper earlier this week that, just a year after it opened, St Martin’s School is at capacity following a spike in demand which the government said could not have been anticipated.
SNAG said this “did not come as a surprise” to many parents of pupils of St Martins school, adding that some of those parents now sit in the Committee of SNAG and took part in consultation meetings during the initial planning stages of the school.
“Already during these early consultation meetings several years ago, the need for more forward planning to accommodate the rapid rise in children being identified as having SEN/disabilities was emphasised, and parents warned that unless changes were made, the new school would probably soon be small,” SNAG said in a statement.
“Parents, professionals, groups, charities and NGO’s have been warning of this increase for years, and of the fact that this brand-new school was going to become small far too quickly.”
“It is evident from concerns expressed to us not only by parents but also by employees within this school and professionals that work within this field, that space seems to be quickly becoming an issue.”
SNAG said the failures to find effective and meaningful pathways that cater for all the unique and different abilities of young adults with SEN/Disabilities is “alarmingly lacking and will only become more apparent as this generation of children become older and we continue to fail them due to lack of forward planning and foresight.”
“It is with this in mind that it should be noted that when SNAG says that not enough is being done, it simply is because this is the harsh reality,” SNAG said.
“SNAG has also been extremely vocal in expressing the fact that we are blessed with amazing and hard working professionals across all sectors to do with SEN and disability service provisions who do their absolute best with the resources at their disposable.”
“We will never tire of expressing our gratitude and admiration for the dedication and vocation demonstrated by these professionals on a daily basis.”
“But more must be done to also help them in their endeavour as they are very often on the receiving end of frustrated persons, parents and families who are not receiving the support that they need.”
SNAG had welcomed the new school at the time, but is now calling for more permanent solutions to accommodate this increase in numbers of pupils.
“We all recall how the pupils of the former St Martins school were schooled in portable cabins for several years, something which must never be repeated,” SNAG said.
“An in-depth statistical analysis of figures over several years should have ensured the building of a facility with plenty of room for growth in numbers according to projected data. It would also encompass transitional pathways into continuing education.”
SNAG added it had raised concerns about the greater need for forward planning and better solutions to accommodate children who enter EBN at the (pre) pre school age for Early Intervention.
The Group said it stressed the need to invest in recruitment and training of specialised staff, along with regulation zones and areas that will help LSFs in mainstream schools.
“Finally, we have advocated endlessly for better and structured pathways into continuing/further education and the creation of a further education facility for young adults with SEN/Disabilities that needs to work holistically with a supported employment programme to ensure the positive outcomes for these young adults,” SNAG said.
SNAG added last December they had proposed an innovative proposal to the Government, for its consideration which would tackle some of these issues and many more.
“This proposal included designs that catered for a Further Education Centre, an Early Intervention Nursery, Transitional Living Accommodation and opportunities for both respite and overnight respite facilities, amongst other useful and much needed facilities,” SNAG said.
“We are hopeful that the Government will take this project on board to improve disability and SEN service provision in Gibraltar.”
“We are certain that if HMGOG productively and collectively works with all those who are genuinely trying to create a better and brighter future for this generation of children, the outcome would undoubtedly be a more inclusive society for all.”
But the Gibraltar Government said SNAG risked causing “needless worry for parents”, adding it was surprised by its “cavalier statement”, which it said was neither “neither helpful or truthful to parents of current and future students at St Martin’s school”.
“The minister has discussed the issue of capacity at St Martin’s school with the Department of Education, and is assured and satisfied that the school is ready and able to welcome this year’s cohort of pupils,” a statement from No6 Convent Place said.
“The Minister and Department are also already considering plans that will ensure that the school is well prepared for the anticipated 2023 intake.”
The Government stressed the increase in intake at St Martin’s school that is now expected over the next few years was not and “could not have been predicted by anybody: not the professionals who were consulted throughout, not the GSD and not SNAG, which did not exist at the time.”
“SNAG now enjoys a working relationship and regular meetings with the Minister for Education and has ample opportunity to voice its concerns and make constructive proposals,” the Government said.
The Government added SNAG’s statement created needless worry for parents, “who should be confident that the Government is actively working to ensure a seamless transition for pupils to what SNAG itself descibes as a magnificent St Martin’s school.”