Updated with UPE's comments

About 80 state school primary classrooms are still without a teacher just days before the start of the new scholastic year, the Malta Union of Teachers has warned.

Speaking to Times of Malta amid a dispute between teachers and the government, union chief Marco Bonnici said that, to fill these gaps, the government was planning to move peripatetic, complementary and services teachers to the classes. 

“The MUT is highly concerned that, should the ministry proceed with its plans to deploy a considerable number of these teachers to take primary classes, the peripatetic, complementary and services in the primary will be highly diluted.”

This, he said, would affect students, who would end up with insufficient tuition in a considerable number of subjects.

“To this effect, the MUT has declared a trade dispute with the ministry and is issuing directives to affected members,” Bonnici said.

The shortage of teachers in primary schools is similar to the situation that developed last year due to COVID-19, with fewer children occupying each classroom due to measures such as distancing and pupil bubbles.

The MUT is highly concerned

In the document outlining the COVID-19 protocols for this year, the health authorities make no mention of what would happen should schools be forced to close down due to the spread of the virus, as had happened in March.

Neither does the document specify what procedures need to be followed in case an entire class has to go into quarantine.

Instead, the authorities dedicate an entire section to why it is important for schools to remain open.

Meanwhile, the MUT head also criticised the authorities for issuing the protocols “late”.

While the union will not be calling for the start of school to be pushed back, as was the case last year, Bonnici said it was unrealistic to expect teachers to have everything in order by the first day of school.

He said teachers were also still fighting for their old laptops to be replaced, something which should have happened in December.

The government, he added, was blaming worldwide shortages for the delay.

“Because the laptops are so old, their batteries are now dying. But the government won’t even replace these until the issue is resolved.

“Are teachers expected to set up their devices with long wires across the room that could easily result in someone tripping,” Bonnici asked.

UPE to issue directives

Late on Friday the UPE said it will issue directives to its members "in due course", after formally registering a trade dispute. 

"This comes as no surprise. Anyone who has followed this saga knows that many peripatetic, complementary and service teachers have not been given information on the school where they will teach and the grade they will be assigned to, with literally hours left before the start of the school year.

"As was explained to Permanent Secretary Frank Fabri, these teachers are specialised in their subjects. They are not familiar with the methodology employed in the primary school mainstream classes/core subjects. That is why we have insisted that guidance and support are pre-requisites for any teacher who enters the mainstream," the union said in a statement. 

It noted that several LSEs have also not been advised of their deployment. 

"This has brought about unnecessary hardship, especially for Gozitan LSEs working in Malta who will now find it impossible to book transport."

UPE was declaring a dispute over lack of information and cooperation with the union, "the fact that the Education Ministry requested the services of peripatetic, complementary and service teachers beyond the essential need, and the unwillingness to resolve promptly the deployment process".

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