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Westside teachers remain concerned with ‘irreversible’ schools project

Westside School teachers continue to disagree with the Gibraltar Government’s plans to build two new secondary schools on the same site, Gibraltar NASUWT has said, reiterating that teachers felt they had not been consulted on the majority of the education reforms.

This follows a “very frank and open meeting” between Westside School teachers, the Minister for Education, Dr John Cortes, and the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, earlier this week.

According to the union the teachers expressed their gratitude to the official side for putting education high on their agenda and for committing to deliver a new and modern building with enhanced resources.

But a spokesperson for Gibraltar NASUWT stated: “Teachers at Westside School have been very brave and responsible in their approach to voicing their educational concerns to the Chief Minister and Minister for Education.”

“The Senior Leadership Team at Westside School should be very proud of their staff, as should all parents, who should feel reassured that this teaching body has the best interests of their children in mind."

“On the issue of collocation, a golden opportunity has been lost to explore different models within the constraints of the land available to achieve an optimum educational solution.”

“The issue is not just about what is being provided, but about what could have been provided had there been more meaningful consultation with teachers.”

Mr Picardo stated that the decision to place the schools side by side was irreversible given that the contract had been awarded and the works had begun, NASUWT said.

“Teachers, who wish to bring closure to the issue, stressed that they continued to disagree with the project,” the union said.

This is due to a number of reasons including the high levels of congestion in the Waterport area, the difficulty in evacuating the buildings in case of an emergency, the potential for unhealthy competition between the schools, difficulties in behaviour management and pastoral care and bullying.

NASUWT said teachers hope the official side now considers these issues carefully in order to mitigate their potential negative impact that the design may have on the education and wellbeing of pupils.

“Teachers highlighted that to date they have felt ignored and not consulted on the majority of the education reforms that the Department of Education has embarked on.”

According to the union, they stated that there is no forum or structure for them to share ideas, concerns or expertise with the Department of Education in a meaningful way.

“Furthermore, very little information has filtered down to teachers on plans to align the key stag- es, introduce vocational education, and provide a co-educational environment in the secondary sector.”

“It was acknowledged that there has been an unfortunate discon- nection between the Department
of Education and teachers, which must be addressed and repaired,” it added.

Additionally, teachers voiced their concerns that there was too much assessment and tracking of pupils and that the stress was beginning to affect pupils’ mental health as early as years 8 and 9, with cases of anxiety becoming quite common.

The Minister for Education said that meaningful steps are being taken in the area of mental health in education and that a series of measures would soon be implemented to safeguard the mental health of teachers and pupils, the union explained.

“Teachers reinforced the need for, and importance of, vertical communication on the all current and future reforms to education if these are to succeed.”

“There was a commitment from the official side to the formation of working groups and for meaningful dialogue to begin as soon as possible.”