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Teachers union speaking out on issues ahead of the start of the new school term

by Donna Sealy

President of the Barbados Union of Teachers Pedro Shepherd making a point during the opening ceremony

President of the Barbados Union of Teachers Pedro Shepherd (FP)

With five days left before students head back to the classroom for the start of a new academic year, there are still some unresolved issues the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union would have liked to have settled.

Both presidents, Pedro Shepherd and Mary Redman who spoke to Barbados TODAY in separate telephone interviews today said the working conditions at Alma Parris School and the implementation of recommendations coming out of the Commission of the Enquiry into the administration of Alexandra School were still outstanding.

While declining to go into details about the present situation at Alma Parris, instead preferring to do so tomorrow afternoon at the press conference slated for 2:30, Shepherd said: “It really was our hope that the status quo would not have been there for the first of September.”

It was in April at their Annual General Meeting, that he had raised the issue at Alma Parris saying that “all is not well” at the St. Peter school and noted that the BUT under former president Karen Best had started dialogue with the Ministry of Education over two years ago about the matters at the school.

He noted then that about a year ago an oversight committee was set up to advise the Minister, adding that they had been “sharing information with and impressing upon the Ministry for nearly two years of the need to take action down St. Peter. This Union is a very responsible one but faces tremendous obstacles with stakeholders sometimes”.

Apart form working conditions, the other issue involves a teacher.

That apart, Shepherd said he has not received any reports on any issues from BUT members who have been back on the job from yesterday.

“It appears to me that teachers are back at school for the planning week and planning is very much on stream. Schools seemed to have been staffed but come Monday, I believe that principals may still be able to say ‘I need another teacher’ when they complete the time table,” he said.

He is not giving up on some of the issues he raised in April this year during the trade union’s Annual General Meeting, such as before and after school care, teacher appointments and training.

“Since the Parkinson issue we haven’t had any real cases but a lot of schools, particularly primary schools, have issues with parents taking up car parking spaces, threatening teachers and blocking those who want to leave. Yes, we would still like that the security huts not be vandalised, and [be] utilised by security guards,” Shepherd said.

President of the BSTU Mary Redman.

President of the BSTU Mary Redman (FP)

Meanwhile, the BSTU President noted that body would have hoped to have at least three of Commissioner Frederick Waterman’s recommendations implemented.

One has to do with the amendment of the Education Regulations and the Public Service Code of Conduct to “ensure any public criticism of teachers or their work by a principal is expressly forbidden by law”, and the other was that “considerations be given to the strategic reorganisation of the Ministry of Education and the refocussing of its staff with the aim of ensuring that the Ministry operates proactively and is more responsive to the issues faced by the Boards of Management, the Principal and the staff and other stakeholders of every public secondary school”.

Redman said: “We have seen nothing to suggest that there’s even a curricular, related to the Ministry. We don’t know that [anything has been done] in terms of the Special Funds Accounts for example”.

Additionally she noted there were still outstanding issues of permanent appointments where in some instances people have been acting for as long as 10 years, as well as a lack of compensation for persons who acted in positions of special responsibility such as year heads and heads of department and for those who corrected several CXC SBAs and other scripts, which she said they would be going after “in a major way” this academic year.

“There were over a million scripts throughout the Caribbean. There are very many teachers whose workload is heavily affected by the burden of the supervision, marking and data entry requirements of CXC for the School-based Assessments and the time is long past that teachers be compensated for this and CXC is adding more and more to their work loads by the subject offerings and by the different levels of exams being offered,” she said.

The President further noted that some aspects of new sixth forms, sounded “good on paper” but the reality was that some schools were “not equipped to handle some of the subject offerings”, namely in the area of the sciences.

“There’s a deficit in the area of lab facilities, so perhaps there should be a different approach to the sixth form schools. In these straitened economic circumstances perhaps they should let some schools concentrate on the sciences and upgrade the lab facilities there and let others specialise in certain subject areas rather than just continue in the same way as the other schools operate, where they offer subjects across the board because they had time to build up the resources.

“Some of the schools do not have all the facilities and this is creating a serious stressor for teachers and students,” Redman said.

Another issue she said the trade union was concerned about, was the lack of consultation with them on CXC’s new certificate the Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence which, she noted had a “heavy school-based assessment component.”

“There was little or no consultation with the BSTU on the syllabi and the potential effect of the increased workload for teachers, who were already doing SBAs in the fourth to six forms,” Redman said.

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