Parliament kicked off this week with an animated debate regarding the issue of co-education. This was in response to the motion presented by the GSD Opposition urging a detailed study into the possibility of a co-educational future for our secondary schools. Bizarrely, even though most Members of Parliament seemed to be in favour of the sentiment of the motion, a three-hour discussion ensued, with the Government presenting an amendment that offered little change to the GSD’s motion.
As someone who very much agrees with the possibility of co-education being explored further, I supported the amendment, not least because the objectives it presented seemed clearer and more purposeful than the ones on the original motion. I look forward to hearing back from the working party that has been established and see how realistic over-turning what I feel is a forty-year old error of judgment will be.
However, what does concern me is that the issue of co-education will detract from matters which are even more important to the day-to-day management of schools and teaching of lessons. While less crowd-pleasing and headline-grabbing, these urgent issues are far more pressing within our education system: they include buildings and maintenance, of course, but also resources and funding, teacher accountability, teacher morale and attendance, curriculum provision, issues with human resources, parental support, staff training, extended service incentives and a closer relationship between the Department of Education and a more pro-active social services structure. These more accurately represent the real challenges faced by teachers and students alike, and while I welcome the ideology behind this bill, I feel that a similar focus should be given to these priorities. Otherwise, a cosmetic change will only lead to another mistake, one which, again, may take generations to reverse.
On the subject of issues going back generations, I have also seen that, once again, some of my father’s former political rivals have continued their attempts to discredit his reputation through the Chronicle’s letter pages. With references to clandestine secret papers and allegations of ‘he-said-this-he-said-that’, these tiresome communications – which seem aimed more towards promoting a book than making a coherent political point – are nothing more than classless attempts to tarnish a man who passed away almost twenty years ago. When I was younger, and perhaps feeling less secure about my father’s political legacy, I would have been incensed by these comments, and my instinct was to fight back, no doubt much to the childlike glee of these gentlemen. But now, knowing full well how fondly my father is remembered in our community and how steadfast their affections are towards the Father of the Gibraltarians, my anger has turned to pity. I feel sorry for these gentlemen for the burden of bitterness that they have evidently carried for many years; I sympathise with their irrelevance; and I hope that they will soon find the inner peace and dignity that will one day let them leave my father’s memory be.
UNITE the Union held a demonstration yesterday on the concerns about the cuts in MOD jobs and the way things have been managed or in this case, ‘mismanaged’. The union’s concerns go beyond the offer of a Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme package to the existing Local Entry Civilians workforce and the fear is that moves could be made to force compulsory redundancies. Other concerns include the uncertainties surrounding what arrangements are being made for the take over of whatever duties will be remain outstanding once the VERS are dropped from the workforce. The Unions have accused the MOD of a fait accompli in what was meant to be a ‘consultation’ process on such a crucial issue, something which will no doubt have a huge impact on Gibraltar’s economy at such a delicate time. Furthermore, this uncertainty reflects a total lack of responsibility on the part of the MOD and the UK Government, one which, in my view, Gibraltar does not deserve given our steadfast support of the MOD over the decades. Because of this, I reserved myself from attending a social event yesterday evening with the Armed Forces Minister which I was invited to, as a mark of discontent with the less than unsatisfactory manner in which the UK Government have gone about these redundancies and whatever potential “shrinkage” they may have in mind for our civilians.
As busy and exciting as the week has been, the highlight was definitely the celebration of my son Joey’s Bar Mitzvah. This wonderful occasion brought together all my dearest friends and family members in a spirit of festivity, and it was a joy to unwind from Parliament in such a special event. But as I watched my son deliver his reading as he took his first steps towards spiritual manhood, or my daughter Rachel deliver an amusing speech that showed her clear affection for her sibling, or Eve proudly showing off her drumming skills, or my youngest Noa being fussed over by all, it really placed in context the importance of what we must aspire to in Parliament: if only for our children, it is essential that we get decisions right.
So, on that note: what’s next?