The new Notre Dame School will not be ready for the start of the school term, the Gibraltar Government confirmed yesterday in a move that was branded “predictable” by the Opposition.
No.6 Convent Place said the school will open at its old location next week, with the new buildings expected to be ready around September 11.
In a statement the Government explained that based on educational advice from the professionals in the Department of Education and from the school, it has been decided not to delay the start of the school year and instead open at the current site.
“This decision will additionally allow more time for ‘snagging’ and checking of all the facilities and equipment before the move,” No.6 said.
“Government considers that this approach is more responsible and is preferable to a move before it is absolutely certain that all is functioning correctly and safely.”
The announcement sparked firm criticism from both the GSD and Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon.
In a statement the GSD said the delayed opening of the new school shows that once again the Government have been unable to plan things properly and have been massively over optimistic with their announcements.
GSD Leader Keith Azopardi said: “This can only cause disruption to pupils, families and teachers. It will also cause further noise and dust pollution for the residents of Laguna Estate who deserve better given their own well publicised problems with estate refurbishment.”
“Despite the Government’s attempts at rewriting history they have until very recently been indicating that the new building would be ready for the new term.”
“Only now have they had to accept what has been obvious to any passerby – that the new building could never be ready in time,” he added.
Mr Azopardi said the new expected completion date of 11 September is “equally unrealistic” and the current state of the building suggests this new deadline will also fail to be met.
He called on the Government should come clean with pupils, teachers and families and “not cause further disappointment to be layered over the current failures”.
He added that a proper and realistic target should be set that will deliver a safe schooling environment for pupils and teachers.
Meanwhile, Ms Hassan Nahon said the Government should account to the people of Gibraltar for its lack of planning and start delivering a sensible, well thought out education policy that focuses more on the needs of the stakeholders and less on costly, badly planned and poorly executed capital projects.
For its part, the Gibraltar teachers union, NASUWT, said the decision to start the new school term in the old Notre Dame building was the “best choice given the circumstances” adding that it was unfortunate that the new building has not been completed as scheduled.
“In discussions with Dr Cortes on the matter, we considered various options in order to accommodate pupils and staff for the new school term,” the union explained.
“It was agreed that the safety of staff and pupils would never be compromised for the sake of starting off in their new school building.”
“We trust the Department of Education to take all necessary measures in making the old Notre Dame School fit for purpose and safe.”
“We also hope that measures are put in place to ensure that teachers are not placed under undue pressure at any stage of this process and can concentrate exclusively on their role as educators.”
Despite the delay, the Government insisted that work at the new Notre Dame school has been progressing well.
It insisted that work would have been completed several weeks ago had it not been for the inevitable delays at the start of works due to the importance of relocating the Laguna Youth Club.
“In addition, there was an unusually high number of severe storms over last winter, which caused considerable disruption throughout Gibraltar and impacted heavily on construction, in itself causing several weeks’ delay,” the Government said.
“The new School has been designed for purpose, with the full involvement of the school staff and will be an impressive facility.”
According to No.6, the site was visited by the Minister for Education, the Director and senior staff from the Department of Education as well as the new Head teacher on Friday, and all were impressed with the layout and design and the standard of work.
The Minister for Education, Dr John Cortes, said: “This is about education, not politics, despite what my old school friend Edwin Reyes has suggested recently.”
“If it were about politics we would have rushed things and moved into a building without being 100% certain as to its readiness.”
“We have, as is our style, listened to the advice of the professionals. We will start term on time in the current Notre Dame and move in a measured and structured way at a later stage.”
“This is what I have always stated would be the case.”
“The Government cares about what is best for the children and their educators, and that is what has been behind taking the right decision.”
“I thank all the teachers for their professionalism in the whole process and can’t wait to join them in celebrating the new, and simply amazing Notre Dame School very soon.”
But Mr Azopardi insisted that what is happening at Notre Dame is the “tip of the educational iceberg”.
“Government needs to learn the lessons of scrambling for the line for electoral reasons and make sure it carries forward these hard lessons of disruption when planning the other school projects.”
“The schooling of thousands of children and working environment of hundreds of teachers is far too important to be dealt with in this shoddy haphazard way,” said Mr Azopardi.
Similarly, Ms Hassan Nahon said that considering this ‘last minute statement’ has come days before the school term is due to start, “would Government not be wise to learn lessons from this ‘education revolution episode’ and embark upon a thorough contingency plan moving forward so that this does not happen again at the eleventh hour with the other schools rushing to be built?”
“Furthermore, this self-imposed deadline, something which this Government once criticised Sir Peter Caruana’s GSD Government for, when the new airport was being built to a tight deadline, surely comes at a price.”
She therefore called on the Government to confirm what the accelerated costs for the completion of works have been to date, and what added accelerated costs the Gibraltarian taxpayer will have to fork out for, by the time of the new projected completion date.
“It is regretful that this kind of improvisation is what we can expect for all projected investments in education, putting the quality of our system at risk only to tick boxes of manifesto commitments.”
Additionally, Ms Hassan Nahon called for assurances and guarantees that sufficient health and safety concerns have been addressed given the proximity of the construction site to the children and staff.
“In view of the amount of noise and dust pollution that students and teachers are likely to endure during the start of the academic year, Government must provide details of how the effects of the aforementioned will be mitigated,” she said.
She added that the Government needs to provide details of its plan to ensure the safe and fluid drop off and pick up of pupils.
Last night, the Government hit back at the GSD’s comments insisting that educational infrastructure was neglected under the previous GSD administration.
Dr Cortes said: “The GSD can rant and rave all they want. The fact is they never ever built a single school.”
“That is the tip of the iceberg of the neglect that educational infrastructure suffered under the GSD. This is the third new school we in the GSLP Liberals have delivered. There are five more to go.”
“The GSD are worried that we are getting this done,” he said.
“We are getting education right. We are delivering. They just can’t deal with that.”
Notre Dame School will open at its current location next week, with starting days according to school year as previously announced by the Department of Education.
This will be 9:00am on Monday 3rd September for Years 1, 2 and 3 and Tuesday 4th September at 9:30am for Reception.
The Nursery talk for all parents (no children) will be on Wednesday 5th September at 9:30am. On Thursday 6th September Nursery Classes will start at 9:30am.