Changes in the education system could have contributed to work fatigue, prompting teachers at a Ħamrun school to seek their union’s assistance, the director general of education, Maria McNamara, said.
Along with the head of San Ġorġ Preca School, Doriann Portanier Mifsud, and San Ġorġ Preca College principal James Camilleri, Ms McNamara were reacting to directives issued by the Malta Union of Teachers.
MUT members were instructed to refuse to give lessons if any students were not wearing the official uniform.
One of the directives refers to a specific student against whom “proper disciplinary action” has yet to be taken and the third instructs staff members not to monitor corridors without senior management present.
Ms McNamara said only a handful of students had showed up without their uniform and, to avoid others missing out on lessons, those not wearing the uniform were taken out of class until relatives brought the proper clothing.
“We’re talking about a few individuals, the majority being Form 5 students who would be leaving soon and these were taken out of the class so that no other students missed their lessons,” Ms McNamara said.
The situation has been grossly misinterpreted at this school
She insisted that changes to the education system in the past few years could have caused some work fatigue that made teachers more sensitive to some issues, which led to them seeking direction from the MUT.
Asked about the union’s claims that the school’s administration was turning a blind eye when it came to students not wearing the full uniform in a bid to encourage better obedience, the school’s head denied this was the case.
“What has been happening is that a number of students in their final year here would start outgrowing their uniforms and so we would allow them to wear their school tracksuit, for instance.
“Not all students come from families who can afford to buy uniforms to be used just for a couple of weeks. As a school, we have even invested in a number of uniforms to be used by these students,” Ms Portanier Mifsud said.
All three had harsh words for the union’s decision to pinpoint one child in particular in one of its directives, saying it not only breached data protection laws but was unnecessary because the student in question had already been disciplined. They insisted that, by the time the directives were issued, a plan to monitor the student’s behaviour was already in place.
While they acknowledged that there were some behavioural problems at the school, claims that the situation was out of hand were strongly dismissed.
“There are problems here just like at any other secondary school where there are children with mixed abilities coming from different backgrounds. Look around you, do you see any unruly children running about? The situation has been grossly misinterpreted at this school,” Ms McNamara said. Interjecting, Ms Portanier Mifsud said that while this has not been an easy year, especially in light of reports that a female student alleged she was abused by a teacher and several male students, it was the stigma that was really impacting the students.
“I’m very worried when students tell me they are ashamed to say they frequent this school because so many are doing well and we are doing great things.
“Unfortunately our image has been marred by negative reports that have been exaggerated to the point that people are ashamed to say they have anything to do with this school,” Ms Portanier Mifsud said.
The Malta union of Teachers (MUT) in a reaction said it was 'rather relieved' that finally the Ministry for Education and Employment and the San Ġorġ Preca College hd understood what it had been saying all along, i.e. that a minority of students are ruining the teaching and learning experience for the rest of the school.
"The union augurs that in future incidences the MEDE will not need to wait for the union to issue directives before implementing proper effective measures. The claim that plans were in place before the Union issued directives cannot be believed because the situation at the school has been in discussion for the past 6 months and there was ample time for the MEDE and the school to implement its plans had they really planned them. Things only started moving when the MUT intervened as all educators in this school can testify," the union said.
The MUT said it was also relieved that finally the MEDE was realising that the many reforms imposed over the past years were taking their toll on educators.
"The Union however believes that blaming the degeneration of a school on teachers’ fatigue is highly inaccurate and is just another typical exercise of finding a scapegoat to blame for a disaster that was engineered by incompetent management at Directorate and College level."
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