Updated | MUT calls out Education Ministry for trying to obtain exam papers from church schools

The union declared an industrial dispute after yesterday declaring it would be ordering its members not to set or correct secondary school Maths and Maltese exam papers • Education Minister invites union to reconciliation meeting

The Malta Union of Teachers has accused the ministry of doing a disservice to students by trying to obtain Mathematics and Maltese secondary school exam papers from church schools, after the union said yesterday that the exams won’t be held.

The MUT has ordered its members not to set or correct exam papers in state secondary schools over a dispute with the ministry regarding the number of lessons teachers are made to work.

“The MUT condemns this behaviour and is declaring an industrial dispute with the Education Ministry while immediately issuing a directive to its members in all schools not to pass exam papers on to the curia or directly to the ministry,” the MUT said.

The union has repeatedly insisted that according to their sectoral agreement, teachers’ teaching load could only exceed 24 lessons a week in exceptional circumstances, which it said had become the norm, given the shortage of teachers in the two subjects. 

“This is undoubtedly bad management and a clear example of how the ministry doesn’t make projections about the needs of the sector,” the MUT said yesterday.

In a reaction, the ministry pointed out that it was “only 3.5% of teachers” that were being asked to teach 25 lessons a week. The ministry said it had also started to implement a number of proposals put forward by the MUT.

In a statement this afternoon, the MUT has now said that the ministry was now trying to use church school teachers to make up for the fact that “it had not done anything to address the situation” earlier.

The MUT said that the ministry had emailed all church schools in an attempt to obtain exam papers at the last second.

The latest maneuver was a clear attempt by the ministry to frustrate the union, in addition to being a disservice to students, the union said. 

“It is a known fact that the way in which subjects are taught and assigned in church schools varies greatly - from one church school to the other, as well as when compared to state schools,” the MUT said, adding that it was clear that papers prepared for church school students could not be used in state schools.

“The ministry is trying to use teachers in church schools to address its failure, a failure solely the ministry dragging its feet and failing to take action,” the union said.

Education not the only sector facing worker shortage - minister

Addressing parliament on Tuesday afternoon, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo appealed for the union to withdraw the directives, and to attend a reconciliatory meeting to reach an agreement on the definition of ‘exception circumstances’.

Bartolo pointed out that prior to signing the latest collective agreement, teachers were obliged to teach a maximum of 26 lessons a week. He said that the new agreement saw this number reduced to 25, in exceptional cases, while reiterating that these cases made up 3.5% of teachers.

“I am in no way saying that teachers should have a load of 25 lessons,” Bartolo said, noting that the ministry had employed 14 teachers in Maltese and six maths teachers in anticipation of the next scholastic year. 

The minister added that a number of other initiatives had been taken to attract more people to the teaching profession, including leaving a call for applications open all year round.

“I am the minister responsible for work and I know that not finding enough workers in a particular sector is not a reality only faced by the education sector,” Bartolo said.

“As a ministry we we have no impediments in place that are stopping mathematics and Maltese teachers from being employed.”

Bartolo went on to say that he could empathize with teachers who had a load of 25 lessons a week, and who might be seeing other teachers having a load of 5 or 10 lessons a week.

He said that as far as mathematics was concerned, there were more teachers that had a load of five or 10, than who had a load of 25. “I understand their sentiment,” Bartolo said, adding that there were many reasons for the discrepancy. “Some of these are justifiable, where teachers also have loads from other subjects, and there are others which, in my opinion, aren’t justifiable.”

Bartolo said he had asked the education directorate to ensure a better balance and distribution of lessons, again stressing that there was no cap on the amount of teachers that could be employed.

Dispute symptomatic of ministry’s bad planning – Clyde Puli

The PN’s education spokesperson Clyde Puli started by saying that he wished for a solution to be found that would not negatively impact students.

He stressed however that one needed to ask how this situation was allowed to develop. “This is symptomatic of the situation in the education sector,” Puli said, running through a list of schemes he said had been marred by issues resulting from bad planning.

The government’s free school transport scheme, wages at MCAST, delays in the construction and refurbishment of schools, were among the initiatives he said had not been implemented in a desirable manner.

Turning to the latest dispute, Puli echoed the MUT and accused the government of dragging its feet and of doing nothing to address the issue since being notified back in September.

Bartolo however, objected to this, insisting that government had taken on 10 of the MUT’s 17 proposals and would be discussing the remaining seven with the Finance Ministry as though they were its own.

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