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Valuing the identity of Church schools - The Church Schools Association committee

The agreement between the Church authorities and the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT)  was signed on August 7 after intensive months of delicate and at times challenging negotiations. We, the Church Schools’ Association (CSA) committee, elec­ted by the heads of Church schools, are satisfied that teachers in these schools now benefit from the same pay rise and work conditions as counterparts in State schools.

Such a pay rise is an important milestone in the history of the teaching profession in our country as it recognises and acknowledges the work of teachers who highly deserve to be respected for their indispensable role in our society. We would like to thank both the government and MUT for providing a generous financial package so necessary for the advancement of our profession in contemporary Malta.

As pointed out by the Archbishop during the signing ceremony, Church schools have different histories, charisms and spirituality but they all draw their inspirations from one source. During the whole process of negotiations with the MUT, we felt united under the leadership of our bishops, our major superiors who own most of the Church schools, the Archbishop’s Delegate and the team from the Secretariat for Catholic Education.

The agreement is not a “copy and paste exercise with minor changes” when compared to the agreement signed between the State and the MUT in December 2017, as stated by the Union of Professional Educators (UPE). We assure the UPE,  learners, parents/guardians and Church school staff that the negotiating team on which we had our representatives worked very hard to preserve the identity, character and autonomy of our schools.

We welcome a change in attitude by the MUT, which is increasing its recognition and respect for our identity as individual schools with different ethos and charisms, but which are all united under the leadership of our bishops and major religious superiors.

We are very grateful to those members of staff who strive to be very generous in their service to students and who go out of their way to participate in various initiatives that go beyond a rigid sense of entitlement and duty in their chosen vocation. Such altruism and dedication – values which as role models they instil in their students – greatly contribute to the ethos of our schools.   

Collective agreements for State and Church schools should run in parallel

We now look forward to negotiating an agreement for teaching grades working in the four academic sixth forms, namely Giovanni Curmi Higher Secondary School, Sir Michelangelo Refalo Sixth Form in Gozo, St Aloysius’ College Sixth Form and De la Salle College Sixth Form, whose teachers unjustly earn a salary that is significantly lower than the one earned by their counterparts at the Junior College, Mcast or the ITS, and for whom a separate collective agreement has been negotiated and agreed upon.

For two consecutive years representatives of different post-secondary sectors met to discuss the way forward for post-secondary education in Malta and Gozo. A 278-page report, which includes 13 challenges and 26 recommendations for the post-secondary education sector, was published in January 2017 after two years of intensive work and public consultation. An implementation group was formed, and we look forward to their taking concrete decisions as soon as possible for the common good of so many learners who opt to choose an academic path after their compulsory education. 

We urge both the Education Ministry and MUT to learn from the pitfalls of past collective agreement negotiations, such as starting the negotia­tion process with Church schools only after the one with the State was signed. Collective agreements for State and Church schools should run in parallel to avoid the vacuum and complications that otherwise inadvertently arise.

Agreeing on financials and signing an agreement before all is clear with regard to the educational changes and reforms requested by teaching grades is another situation that needs to be avoided. Therefore, the way forward for the post-secondary education reform is reaching a consensus before signing an agreement with the four remaining institutions which, it must be pointed out, lack a specific collective agreement. 

As we start to implement the agreement between the Church authorities and the MUT for teaching grades who serve 32 per cent of the student population in compulsory education, we hope to solve pending issues with the government, such as the entitlement of learning support educators in Church schools to a laptop each, as is the case with their counterparts in State schools.

We are confident that through dialogue and negotiations, the Education Ministry will reach an agreement with Church schools so that students with learning difficulties will also avail themselves of assistive technology, used by their learning support educators, to give them access to a modern and innovative education.

As we have done in the past years, the CSA and the Secretariat for Catholic Education will continue to be part of and contribute to the education reform proposed by the Education Ministry. In all such reforms we strongly feel that the focus should always be on enabling learners of all abilities to reach their full potential to become global citizens at the service of others.

Church schools will continue to do their very best to be centres of quality education, integral formation and Catholic values. Church schools will persevere to maintain their identity, autonomy and character so that all parents are able to exercise their constitutional right to send their children to the schools of their choice.      

The committee is made up of Fr Jimmy Bartolo SJ (coordinator), Fr Eric Cachia SDB (assistant coordinator), Mariuccia Fenech, Mariella Vella, Fr Silvio Bezzina MSSP, Daniela Camilleri Sacco, Christine Scerri, Fr Mark Ellul and Reuben Mifsud.

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