In what has been described as a “very frank and open meeting” between Westside School teachers, the Minister for Education and the Chief Minister on 22nd May, teachers expressed numerous ongoing concerns about the new comprehensive schools project and the mental welfare of staff and pupils in a high workload and assessment environment. The meeting also involved a discussion on how to improve lines of communication in future.
The teachers also expressed their gratitude to the Government for putting education high on their agenda and for committing to deliver a new and modern building with enhanced resources.
Regarding the collocation of both secondary schools the Chief Minister stated that the decision was irreversible given that the contract had been awarded and the works had begun. Teachers, who wish to bring closure to the issue, stressed that they continued to disagree with the project, citing 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, bullying, etc. as issues of “grave concern” which they say they now hope the official side considers carefully in order to mitigate their potential negative impact that collocation may have on the education and wellbeing of pupils.
Teachers also 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. 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, they said that very little information has filtered down to teachers on plans to align the key stages, introduce vocational education, and provide a coeducational environment in the secondary sector. It was acknowledged that there has been an “unfortunate disconnection” between the Department of Education and teachers, which must be addressed and repaired.
Other points of discussion included the culture of unnecessary high workload and stress that has emerged in the teaching profession from duties not directly related to teaching and learning e.g. administration. These tasks, they said, regularly burden the teacher to the point of making their skills, expertise and talents unavailable to pupils. It was also highlighted 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.
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.
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.”