Sadly, SNAG clearly does not even to begin to understand the processes needed to properly staff our schools, and St Martin’s School in particular.
Government has already explained that the large number of new staff being employed this year, both teachers and SNLSAs, has meant a longer and more complex than usual lead-up to the start of term. 300 plus applicants for vacancies cannot be dealt with in a moment, and that is the scale of the task that the process has involved this year, as the complement of teaching and support staff has been significantly increased. Which would not have been done if the Government cared as little as SNAG suggests.
In the past, SNAG has expressed its concerns directly and has met with the Department and/or the Minister. These have always been fruitful discussions where much has been achieved. However on this occasion SNAG has hit out without the benefit – or the courtesy – of discussion.
It is totally unacceptable that SNAG, a relatively new organisation, should accuse the very Education authorities that have produced a new St Martin’s School, better equipped and staffed than ever, of having total disregard for pupils and families. They know that that is untrue as they know very well what tremendous regard is given to them by St Martin’s staff and by the Department of Education as a whole.
SNAG had no reason to doubt that the school would open as from the 1st September, and that while different classes open on different days, that all would open – as every year – around that date.
SNAG also knows that it is policy to keep SNLSAs at St Martin’s, as has been shown in the past, as much as is achievable.
The allocation of nursery time is also complex as Early Birds Nursery has to cater for a larger number of children than ever, and so has no choice but to allocate spaces in the afternoon, even though it always tries to provide morning options. It must be remembered also that while some parents prefer mornings, other actually prefer the afternoon session for their children.
It is insulting to all the professionals who work so hard at St Martin’s to have to read SNAG’s totally unfair comments and accusation that there is or has been “no real or effective progress” in the education of their children. Have they forgotten where St Martin’s School was just over a year ago, and what facilities there are now in comparison? Or that there is more staff there than ever? They also seem to ignore the excellent work being done by PossAbilities in providing further support and the fact that the Government has allocated the old St Martin’s to that charity in order for them to be able to support further.
It seems clear that there has been a shift in SNAG, from being a combination of disability-orientated charities who wanted to work together and with the Government, to a group with a political agenda, with the aim not of engaging constructively with those who can and want to resolve issues, but instead using these families to place political pressure. The fact that one of the key spokespersons of SNAG is now a member of the GSD Executive makes this hardly surprising.
SNAG is doing itself no favours in launching attacks such as this, without the prior conversations that any responsible organisation would have before making such unjustified public statements.
Minister of Education n John Cortes said, “I know first hand how hard St Martin’s works for these children and these families. And I know how stressful and complicated it is to provide the full complement that we are providing for the school. SNAG must understand this and must work with the school in order to make progress and not work is such an antagonistic and adversarial way. They know that the school, the Department and I myself care deeply for the children, and for their families, and go out of our way to make theirs the best learning journey possible. The political party close to one of the SNAG committee members was not even going to build them a new school. I have in the past met every fortnight with the Parents’ Association. We made tremendous progress and I am very happy to do so again, but have had no recent requests. They know I am here and as ever I am very happy to discuss with ESG Parents’ Association, further future improvements for the benefit of the children.”