The Government is deeply disappointed that the GSD and Together Gibraltar have sought to politicise the long-awaited return to school – no small feat in the context of a global pandemic – on an issue that no member of either Party can claim to be an expert on.
The Government will always follow the best available scientific advice on issues of the health and wellbeing of our pupils, teachers and staff members. The return to school has been planned meticulously, with full and transparent consultation between the Department of Education, the Director of Public Health and the Unions. At all times, the decisions taken have been sensitive of the need to encourage the natural development of children and young adults. Their emotional and social wellbeing is as much of a priority as their health and safety at all times.
There are no inconsistencies between the Director of Public Health and the Government, and both work together hand-in-glove to ensure that the procedures that are implemented are in the best interests of students, teachers and staff. These are not black-and-white, one-size-fits-all measures, and all involved in their preparation and implementation understand that. Furthermore, all are under constant review at fortnightly meetings between the Department of Education, the Director of Public Health and the NASUWT.
In line with the World Health Organisation, the Government’s strong recommendation is that teachers, staff and students over 11 years of age should wear masks in corridors and common areas. This is not obligatory but the position is under constant review, based on the risk assessments of Public Health scientists. The current advice is that the long term benefits of a more permissive environment that encourages normal interactions within socially connected groups significantly outweighs the arguments for the enforced wearing of masks, particularly considering the low risk of harm from COVID-19 to school-age children.
Minister for Education and with responsibility for Public Health, Prof John Cortes, said: ‘The GSD and Together Gibraltar should understand the complexities and the nuances of the procedures we have put in place for schools. The Government’s priority is to protect the health and wellbeing of our pupils, teachers and staff members in a holistic way. This also means giving parents and older students the choice to make the right decisions for them regarding masks. The most important measure that children and their parents can take is to avoid direct contact with family and friends who are over 70 or who are vulnerable, and the Government is actively looking at ways to facilitate this.
‘I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in welcoming Gibraltar’s children safely back to school – an extraordinary achievement in the circumstances we have all been dealt’.