STATEMENT FROM THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION IN RESPONSE TO INDUSTRIAL ACTION AT THE
ELMORE STOUTT HIGH SCHOOL
On Tuesday 26th September, 2023, the Minister for Education, Youth Affairs & Sports, the Ag. Permanent Secretary and the Ag. Chief Education Officer met with the administration and staff of the Elmore Stoutt High School (ESHS). The meeting was in response to the 15th September, 2023 sit-in and subsequent letter sent by the BVI Teachers’ Union which highlighted certain issues at ESHS. The Minister provided updates on all actions taken by the Ministry to address the concerns, verbally at the meeting and by way of letters dated 21st September, 2023 and 26th September, 2023.
The Ministry conducted an assessment and concluded that there was a significant communication gap, which hindered its ability to fully understand and address the teachers’ concerns. The Ministry has an established mechanism for the submission of official reports from schools. Those reports play a pivotal role in the Ministry’s ability to understand, assess and ultimately remedy any challenges faced within our educational institutions. Such documentation also provides the insight necessary to make informed decisions, allocate resources and swiftly take any action necessary.
The Ministry emphasises the importance of open and constructive dialogue as the primary means to address concerns and improve the educational system. The safety of students is a shared responsibility, and it is essential that industrial action, if it becomes necessary, is considered through a structured and responsible process. The internationally recognised standards, outlined by the International Labour Organization (ILO), include the obligation to give prior notice, engage in dispute resolution processes, and adopt measures to comply with safety requirements and prevent accidents. The Ministry did not receive any notice of the majority of the grievances which caused the teachers to take industrial action on 15th September 2023 or about the fact that industrial action was being contemplated. Thus, the Ministry did not have an opportunity to take corrective action in relation to the concerns of the teachers prior to the sit-in on 15th September 2023 or to take steps to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students during that time. The Ministry, however, remains committed to addressing the concerns of teachers while maintaining order and safety within educational institutions. Therefore, a balance between addressing these interests is crucial, and teachers are reminded of their roles as both educators and guardians during school hours.
In specific response to the concerns raised by teachers, the Ministry has taken several steps. Efforts to improve the school compound and facilities included grass cutting, utilisation of available classrooms and tents for lunch seating with supervision, and ongoing recruitment for a vacant janitorial position. Regarding the classroom environment and infrastructure, immediate action was taken to address extreme heat with fan procurement, and the maintenance of the air conditioning system is in progress. Mold assessments are ongoing, while electrical voltage and socket issues have been reported to the Recovery and Development Agency (RDA), and efforts to enhance internet connectivity through configuration and authentication are underway. Additionally, there is a focus on timely curriculum resource procurement, addressing adequate space for staff, and the prioritisation of teachers in the salary review process.
The meeting ended with agreement by the majority of teachers not to engage in any future industrial action without first giving notice and allowing the Ministry a reasonable opportunity to address concerns and to take any action necessary for the safety and wellbeing of the students.
The Ministry's unwavering commitment to resolving all outstanding issues collaboratively, was underscored. The Ministry values the dedication and hard work of teachers and is determined to foster effective communication in partnership with all stakeholders. Open and honest dialogue is encouraged in the coming days and weeks, and the Ministry pledges to maintain consistent communication channels to address concerns promptly.
The Ministry remains committed to providing a safe, conducive, and well-resourced learning environment for students and teachers of ESHS.