[WATCH] Education Ministry ‘confused’ over union complaints: 'We are using last year’s protocols'

Education ministry says it had informed the Malta Union of Teachers of its intention to reopen schools in line with last year’s protocols by early September • Ministry files court injunction to stop Malta Union of Teachers industrial action 

Updated at 1:00 pm with ministry press conference 

The Education Ministry has played down claims by the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT), insisting it had reached out to the union by early September to inform them of how they will be assigning peripatetic teachers.

It said official discussions with the union had started on 24 August, but the union insisted on meeting with its members as late as 22 September.

“The message that we were going to use last year’s system was always clear,” Education Ministry Permanent Secretary Frank Fabri said. “The deployment process had to kick off after the union meetings were finalised.”

On Monday morning, the MUT addressed a press conference outside the education ministry on Monday morning, slamming it for “not being prepared,” after specialised educators were deployed to fill in a teacher shortage just days before schools reopen.

MUT President Marco Bonnici said despite claims by the ministry that it was prepared for the scholastic year, which starts on Wednesday, this was not the reality. 

“Where was the plan the education minister boasted about during the summer?” he said. “There will be teachers who never stepped in a primary classroom.”

Education Minister Justyne Caruana said figures floated by the union that primary schools were facing a shortage of 150 educators were not true.

“This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we needed 45 more classes – 23 due to the pandemic, and the rest due to the increase in students,” she said.

“From a cohort of 500 peripatetic teachers, we only needed 81, and 22 applied voluntarily,” she said.   

She went on to say that peripatetic services will resume as expected, and primary students will not be missing out on subjects like physical education and music.

Fabri said that since the last academic year, the education ministry had issued a call for teachers, which remains open to this day. “We had already started preparing for this year from April, and we cannot understand the union’s attitude.”

“If decisions are not taken, we risk losing last year’s progress,” he said. “That is why we decided on going down the legal avenue of issuing a court injunction.”

Should union directives remain in place, 33 specialised teachers who were ordered to teach a primary class will not be attending next Wednesday, when schools reopen.

“This will lead to a further take-up of peripatetic teachers,” he insisted.