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Westside teachers back union position in row over new schools

Westside School teachers have hit out against the decision taken by its Senior Leadership Team, backed by the Gibraltar Government, to ban the Gibraltar Teachers Association Executive members from holding meetings and conducting union business at school premises.

This is the latest development in a festering row over the Government’s schools programme and threatens to pitch teachers against senior leadership personnel.

In a statement issued on behalf of the school’s 47 teachers, the GTA said the staff stands fully behind the union and confirms the union was correct in stating that the majority of teachers at Westside School were not happy with many aspects of the government’s plans.

In doing so, the GTA underscored that the statement was not intended to ignite further controversy or to unnecessarily antagonise the ‘Official Side’ or the Gibraltar Government, but rather to clarify and assert its position with regards a number of issues including the proposed changes to education.

The teacher’s statement read: “We feel that as GTA members we have a right to meet with our union representatives at our place of work irrespective of how good or bad current relations are between the union and the Official Side.”

“As workers we have a right to have a say about workplace issues, and take great umbrage at the manner in which our Senior Leaders took the unilateral decision to ban the union from Westside School.”

The teachers, via the GTA statement, added that they should have been consulted on whether they felt the union had misrepresented or misled the public in their statements to the media.

“Therefore, we ask the Senior Leadership Team at Westside School to reverse their disproportionate decision, or for the Government to reconsider their support for this unprecedented measure and directly instruct the Senior Leaders to lift the ban with immediate effect.”

“We stand fully behind our union.”

The GTA had previously expressed concern that its members were not being fully consulted on government plans for new schools, prompting a backlash not just from the Government but from senior management at several key schools.

That position had put the union at odds with senior school managers at both comprehensive schools, Governor’s Meadow, Bishop’s Fitzgerald and St Martin’s, who insist they are being fully consulted by the government.

According to Westside teachers, however, there was a “clear lack of consultation” with teachers prior to the public announcement by the Government to revolutionise education and embark on these changes.

“Teachers should have been consulted and included in designing the education revolution from day one,” they said.

“Instead, in a presentation by the project manager and members of the Department of Education, Heads of Department were shown an outline of the new Westside School building located next to Bayside School.”

“At this point, the project manager relayed to us that both schools would be adjacent to each other and that resources could potentially be shared.”

According to Westside School teachers no further details were given as to how the sharing of resources would be managed and what impact it could have on students and teachers.”

“This led to clear discontent among the teaching staff,” they said.

The teachers explained that while they are not opposed to the Government’s plans to build a new Westside School, the lack of consultation has led to concern among teachers as to the educational value of a project that they feel is progressing too fast to reflect, address and redress the educational concerns they have as teachers.

“The timeframe that has been allocated to complete this huge project is not appropriate and is likely to have a negative impact on the quality of education we offer our students,” the teachers said.

Highlighting concerns about the co-location of both secondary schools, teachers said they envisage that there is a high probability that grave issues regarding behaviour management, student control, security breaches, and rivalry between schools could arise from a project that aims to place over 2500 students aged 11 to 18 together in a large education complex.

The movement of students in and out of the school buildings at the start and end of the school day, even with staggered entrances, may aggravate the standard of living of the residents in that area who already have to contend with a high volume of traffic and noise at peak times, the teachers added.

“On a professional level we also fear that having both schools next to each other could tempt a future administration in need of cutting costs to joining both schools into one mega school and abolishing responsibility posts when particular post holders retire,” the statement read.

Westside teachers therefore urged the Government to reconsider the September 2019 deadline to deliver the education revolution.
“There is no need to rush the education revolution,” they said.

“It is paramount that we get it right to ensure that we provide the best possible educational experience for future generations.”

“We would like for the Official Side, the union and its members to set aside any differences that may have arisen in recent weeks and begin to work for this common goal.”

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