Gibraltar NASUWT believes that it is very important for all stakeholders in our education system to be fully aware of the concerns that many teachers and indeed the Union have about the changes to education that are set to be implemented by the current administration.
The Union recently highlighted the lack of consultation of teachers by Government in the decision to co-locate both secondary schools on one large campus-style site in the Waterport area.
However, there has also been a lack of consultation in other more important areas of education, such as the alignment of the key stages, the drive for the introduction of vocational education, changes in the curriculum, and the wider educational impact of co-education.
The Official Side maintains that consultation has happened, and that it cannot have a referendum based approach to enacting changes to education.
The Union believes that having only senior leaders at the table and not a cross-section of classroom teachers, middle managers and senior leaders is a mistake that may come back to haunt society in years to come.
The decisions that have been taken and the changes that will happen to education have not had an input from the most important demographic in the education system: the classroom teachers who are tasked with implementing the changes.
In the past when big changes have occurred in education, teachers have always been included in the process from start to finish e.g. the changes to the school hours.
As it stands, decisions have been taken at executive level, without seeking or considering the expert advice of those in a better position to help make the transition a success.
The Union feels that a truly consultative process may have taken too long, making the ambitious deadlines to build new schools and implementing changes difficult, if not impossible for Government to achieve.
Here we must reflect on whether the most important thing is to fulfil a manifesto promise in the quickest time possible or to ensure that changes to our education system, which will affect our youth for decades to come, are done properly and with as much consensus as possible.
Now teachers find themselves in a situation where consultation has gone into overdrive, with teachers being asked to lead in the design of their respective working areas, sometimes in lengthy after school meetings with the project managers.
This consultation, although welcome to some extent, is not the consultation that can influence education itself and which the Union and teachers have been calling for.
Teachers wanted to be consulted on the reforms to education and not just on building specifications.
This is why we believe that it is important that the general public be aware that when the Government speaks of teachers being consulted, and the Union speaks of teachers not being consulted, we are referring to two different types of consultation. On the more important type of consultation where teachers, not as designers, but as educators needed to be involved, the Official Side has chosen to ignore the expert advice of 380 professionals.
In terms of co-location of schools, we have several successful examples in Gibraltar including Governors Meadow First School & Bishop Fitzgerald Middle School, St. Joseph’s First & Middle schools, and St Bernard’s First & Middle schools.
There will soon be another co-location between a first and a middle school after the relocation of Notre Dame and St. Anne’s schools.
This is also likely to be a successful model as they are different schools in terms of age ranges and key stage provision.
However, to date we have not been presented with any valid educational reasons or examples from the UK or elsewhere where two
identical co-educational secondary schools being built in the same location is beneficial to teaching and learning.
Gibraltar NASUWT has on more than one occasion suggested an alternative concept to Government, which in our view would work better for our students.
The Government will be converting the existing Westside School building into the new Governors Meadow, Bishop Fitzgerald and St Martins schools. One possible alternative could be building the new Governor’s Meadow, Bishop Fitzgerald and St. Martin’s schools next to Bayside School at the Watergardens site and building a brand new Westside School where Bishop Fitzgerald/Governor’s Meadow schools currently stand.
Having Governor’s Meadow, Bishop Fitzgerald, St. Martins and Bayside on one site would ensure that all schools can enjoy good facilities, community cohesion can be enhanced, and staggered exits with different school leaving times would alleviate student dispersion.
Building a new Westside School adjacent to where it is now would only mean relocating the proposed site of the new affordable housing scheme by a short distance once the new Westside is constructed.
However, Government has chosen to not entertain any alternate suggestions that deviate from its proposals, regardless how viable they may be.
It has become evident that the co-location of Bayside and Westside schools has not been thought through in a reflective manner.
Many concerns have been raised to government by teachers, and to date few have been answered. The majority of affected teachers remain strongly opposed to the co-location model.
In the UK, large schools where more than 2000 students have been accommodated have proven to be problematic.
Although the project is not being sold as a mega school, and the Government has given assurances that the schools will
never be merged, there is little this administration could do if in the future a different Government decides to create a mega school.
If we continue to rush the development stage and not consider all possible options, the end result could prove to have negative implications on safety, student well-being and quality of secondary education as a whole for Gibraltar.
This is supported by studies conducted in the UK and internationally.
The following are some of the educational concerns that have been raised by many teachers in our meetings to discuss the impact of the co-location of the two secondary schools.
We feel that the Official Side should have done this consultation exercise with teachers a long time ago before decisions were taken:
1- Pastoral Care
Pastoral care is much easier and effective in small schools, especially when trying to protect vulnerable students who may be at risk of various forms of abuse e.g. bullying.
Bullying is something which needs to be eradicated completely, and more so within our schools.
Having a large educational complex with over 2500 male and female students of ages 11 to 18 in the same site could make it much harder for teachers to monitor and resolve cases of bullying.
However, having two schools in different locations could prove more beneficial than co-located schools.
In severe cases of bullying, vulnerable students or bullies alike (if under the legal school leaving age) could be relocated from one school to another, to ensure that there is sufficient distance between them, at least during the school day.
Although exporting the problem may only be a final resort, it allows the victim respite and removes much of the bully’s power by separating him/her from allies. Unfortunately, in a co-location scenario the victim’s mental and physical well-being could be placed in grave risk.
Healthy competition between schools is always welcome. This is best achieved when there is distance between the schools as teachers and students will always work to outperform the other.
At present, there is a healthy and constant level of competition between Westside and Bayside schools, in trying to improve on GCSE and A-level grades, and extra-curricular programmes such as Young Enterprise and the CyberCenturion challenge.
Unfortunately, if the two schools are co-located, there is a danger that the spirit of competition will be negatively affected as teachers and students may lose the feeling of belonging to a different institution altogether.
The proximity of both schools may in fact have the opposite effect, with one school adopting the practices and methods of the other, leading to one mega school in all but name.
This could end up having a negative impact on the quality of secondary education in Gibraltar, which is contrary to what the Official Side aims to achieve.
3- Culture and Ethos
The culture and ethos of Bayside and Westside schools are different.
Both schools have been very successful learning institutions for decades, and although there is always room for improvement, having them next to each other may actually hamper their evolution as separate educational institutions.
Having identical schools located within the same site may lead the culture, the ethos, the policies, and the management
of the schools to blend and merge as time goes by. This may result in a loss of institutional identity.
Many teachers and students will love the way their schools operate at present.
It would be a real shame for them to lose confidence in a system that works for them for the sake of meeting political targets and deadlines.
4- Management of the schools
Although there is currently a good level of cooperation between the secondary schools in areas like consortium subjects at A Level, each secondary school has a relative amount of autonomy in the management of staff, the drafting of the school’s timetable, the allocation of resources, and the management of facilities.
The proximity of both schools in a co-located complex and the sharing of resources, even if limited, will mean that the management and administration in both schools will have to become synchronised to ensure that no school gains the upper hand over the use of resources or facilities.
Not being fully independent therefore raises the following question: why have two separate senior leadership teams instead of one to oversee both schools? A future Government may not see the need to duplicate management and costs.
5- Allocating students to secondary education
The Union has been informed by the Official Side that the allocation of students to each school in the co-located complex may be managed by alternating annually by catchment area.
That way students from all catchment areas will feed into both schools, not allowing one of the institutions to be stereotyped as lower class or inferior.
We see this as an unnecessary measure, given that both schools would be next to each other, sharing resources and facilities, and having a virtual consortium where all students can access the educational package offered by their neighbouring school.
Therefore, catchment area would cease to be an issue and would simply be an unnecessarily complex administrative exercise.
There are other more important and educationally valuable tasks that the administrative staff could be doing at the
Department of Education instead.
The decision to introduce co-education at secondary school level is one where more consultation should have taken place and been more inclusive of teaching professionals.
The working group selected to oversee the report, which included the ex-president of the teachers’ union, was comprised of people appointed by the Department of Education directly.
To reduce the risk of bias, the process should have been fully open and its methodology based upon sound evidence and scientific inquiry.
Instead, the report produced was the exact opposite of this, which was very disappointing. However, we are where we are and the decision was taken.
The Union is not going to take a stance against coeducation since this is already a reality at the Gibraltar College and has worked well for many years.
Our criticism relates to the manner in which the report came to be.
The Union feels that greater thought and reflection should be taken in how coeducation will be introduced.
The current programme suggests a staggered introduction, having all year 7 and year 8 students mixed at both schools.
This will see coeducation fully introduced in schools in approximately 4 to 5 years after 2019. Unfortunately, not much thought has been given to the potential risks that these young students could be exposed to.
It could prove challenging for a cohort of 11/12-year-old students to be in a comprehensive school surrounded by a population of students of the opposite gender and they could feel very intimidated by the entire experience.
Sheltering these children from older students could also potentially create unnecessary stress to teachers and students alike.
7- Teacher training & support
There is grave concern among the teaching staff of affected schools that little to no training has been provided to smoothen the transition into, and management of, coeducation at secondary level.
Many secondary teachers will have only taught one gender or the other at any given time, but few will have taught both since their initial teacher training.
There are many issues that need to be addressed in a school where 11-18-year-old girls and boys are going to enter puberty together and where the classroom dynamics are likely to be very different to what they are now.
Special attention needs to be given to teacher training, and it must be viewed as a priority by the Department of Education.
It is neither fair to place teachers into the deep and expect them to swim rather than sink when the time comes, or to provide all the training weeks before coeducation is effected, increasing the workload of teachers unreasonably and expecting them to give of their free time in the afternoons and evenings unremunerated to meet Government targets.
8- Behaviour Management
The increase in size of the schools as a result of key stage alignment and their colocation will make running them a more difficult task than at present.
Robust policies need to be drafted to ensure that the environment within is conducive for effective learning.
Simply exporting the Bayside and Westside model to a new building may not be the most effective or the most intelligent way to manage the transition and the changes about to confront secondary education in Gibraltar.
Behaviour management will be challenging at all levels, from the classroom to communal grounds. Rivalry
between schools will always exist, but it is best managed if schools are not close to
The probability of antisocial behaviour and/or fights in common or shared school grounds is higher in a co-location complex than in two schools separated by several hundred meters.
In a location where over 2500 students will be exiting the premises at the same time, along with high volumes of traffic, HGVs, tourists from the Gibraltar Cruise Terminal and a highly populated series of housing estates, teachers may find it almost impossible to police and dissolve any potential incidents that may occur outside the school gates.
This is especially concerning when we take into account matters of jurisdiction, as teachers from one school may not have or may
not feel it is fair for them to have jurisdiction over students from the neighbouring
9- Sharing of facilities/resources
Sharing of resources between schools is an excellent cost-saving exercise.
However, on numerous occasions we have experienced that laboratories and/or workshops cannot be used for practical sessions should any of the equipment be damaged or not
In a place of study, such as in secondary schooling, resources are extremely important, and these should always be in full working order, especially, during assessment time.
The co-management of facilities/resources between two schools could be extremely testing and an unnecessary burden at administration and educational level.
Teachers from both schools strongly oppose Government plans to build a private car park below podium level of the secondary campus.
Not only is there a risk of fire, given that the building will contain gas installations to feed science labs and having
cars directly under the schools may be an unnecessary added hazard, but also one of security of students and teachers, with cars entering and exiting the site throughout the day.
The Union also feels that not enough information has been provided by the Official Side in terms of the security of the buildings to restrict entry to people who have no business entering the schools.
This includes members of the general public, parents without appointments, and even students from the neighbouring school.
There are many elements that could prove disruptive or even dangerous, which an open building with shared facilities like the one shown in the Government’s concept designs could contribute towards.
How is the safety of teachers and students going to be guaranteed? There has been talk of CCTV cameras, but do we really want to go down that road in our schools?
11- Fire/event drills
The law states that fire drills must be conducted twice a year, to ensure that schools respond effectively in the event of a real fire or event.
In a co-located situation, students will have to be evacuated from the school buildings to adjacent areas.
The question is: Where will they go? Westside School currently has the football pitch behind Charles Bruzon House, and Bayside School makes use of the Victoria Stadium’s installations. Where will over 2500 students, teachers and ancillary staff be
evacuated safely and promptly to? Will it be into adjacent estates like Varyl Begg, Sir William Jackson Grove, Montagu Gardens or Mons Calpe Mews? Is this desirable or safe?
12- Teachers’ opinions on co-location of Westside and Bayside schools
The Union asked teachers who felt strongly either for or against the co-location proposal to write in with their thoughts.
These are some of the contributions from teachers at the secondary schools:
“My concerns with the co-location relate to the pastoral challenges we will have to face. I have reservations about the grey areas that currently exist and nothing is being done to address them. We were told in an inset a couple of weeks’ ago that as from September 2018 we will be going ‘full consortium’ which essentially means full co-education at Year 12 level. As such we are finding it quite a challenge to deal with members of three institutions and communicating effectively with pastoral leaders. Additionally, we are uncertain who is responsible for the disciplinary issues that arise. In a colocation I feel we will be challenged by members of our neighbouring institution leaving us with little authority. The vast numbers of students
congested in one area will not just cause major pastoral concerns such as fights, bullying and intimidation, but it increases the chances of these happening out of sight and not being dealt with efficiently enough when it involves members of other institutions. Dividing the institutions will divide the problem and relieve much pressure.”
“When there is a choice to be made, from my experience, I would recommend creating smaller schools for students. The proposed plan makes no sense educationally and the students of the future will only be disadvantaged by having both schools so close to each other. There is a big worry that it will turn into a mega school (and for as much as the current administration says this will not happen, there will be nothing to stop a new one from reversing this). In a smaller school there is an increased sense of belonging and identity. If nobody knows them or cares about them, why stay in school? Providing students with more attention means that there will be less students ‘falling through the cracks’. It is easier to foster more meaningful connections among staff, students and parents in small schools. There are also studies that small schools demonstrate higher achievement levels among students. In large schools students can get lost in a crowd, academically and socially.”
“The report of the Co-Education Working Party in its recommendations and conclusions section stated that ‘While the construction of a new mega school has been discussed by some, the working party would prefer to see coeducational secondary schooling to spread from the existing secondary institutions’. It also concluded that students coming from middle schools could
be ‘daunted by the prospect of the transition to secondary education; every attempt should therefore be made to ensure they are not overwhelmed by finding themselves almost overnight in an excessively populated metropolis’. Do these conclusions, drafted by the small group of self-appointed architects of the local Educational ‘revolution’, not directly contradict the current plans for a site that could contain in excess of 2500 students and 200 staff members? Will this not constitute a daunting prospect for middle school students who will have to deal with the reality of a ‘populated metropolis’ when they transition into secondary education? If this was a carefully considered conclusion at the time and was presented to the government, why is it being directly contradicted now?”
“In my opinion teachers’ concerns have not been addressed and have been largely ignored as the project proceeds at a dizzying pace. Instead of pausing to reflect, the Minister for Education has dismissed these concerns as the ‘natural nervousness’ of some in the face of change and then implied that only those that agree with the current model are ‘up for the challenge’. This is quite patronizing. Co-location will create serious issues relating to behaviour management, student movement and infiltration into the adjacent school and security concerns. The continuance of two separate secondary schools with their own identities is under serious threat with co-location. When both schools are located on the same site and are sharing resources and being encouraged to engage in ‘healthy competition’, this will inevitably lead to a loss of identity and an amalgamation of both schools. A building’s physical location is an integral part of its identity, working environment and culture. Two schools with identical locations will not contribute to sustaining Bayside’s and Westside’s identities as secondary institutions, characters that have been forged over decades.”
“When the coeducation report was drafted by the Department of Education, the Working Party’s insistence, led by chairperson Darren Grech, on the importance of ‘formal assessments and the tracking of progress’ and being able ‘to draw comparative data to quality assure’ to correct ‘the shortcomings of our current system in terms of formal assessments and the tracking of
progress’ seems to indicate a move towards two secondary schools that are identical (not independent of each other as the Official Side assures) in terms of teaching/ learning and the style of curriculum delivery.
This would eliminate inconsistencies in the individual approaches of both schools to arrive at more accurate ‘data’ to track value added and ensure ‘healthy competition’ between them. Co-location on one campus seems to be connected to this bigger scheme-it will slowly eliminate the individual cultures of both schools.”
“The Minister for Education has stated that site identification for relocation of schools is a matter for the government and there could be no prior consultation on this. The co-location of secondary schools (not the same as site location), however, should have been and should still be a matter for real consultation as there are unanswered concerns/ issues that could negatively impact on our students for years to come. Valid consultation on the major changes proposed never occurred with teachers or union officials and has still not occurred up to this point.
The recommendations and conclusions presented to Government by the 8 signatories were instead immediately converted into an official project that excluded the overwhelming majority/ almost entirety of the teaching profession.
The co-location of secondary schools was one of these fait accompli issues.
The nature of the autocratic decisions made by the Working Party meant that other models that had been considered and rejected by them for no substantiated reason other than personal opinions, were never brought to teachers’ attention and discussed
Finally, it is fair to ask present and future parents of children who will one day enter secondary education, members of the general public whose children have been through the education system, and young people in education right now the following question: Would you rather have a large education complex with over 2500 students, with the potential risks outlined above, or would you prefer two fully independent and separate smaller school complexes as we have today, albeit in different locations?