The Malta Independent 17 August 2022, Wednesday

Alternative Learning Programme ‘a time-bomb ready to explode’ - MUT, Education Ministry reacts

Friday, 14 November 2014, 15:57 Last update: about 9 years ago

The Malta Union of Teachers has written to the Ministry for Education and Employment in view of a number of the urgent issues at the Alternative Learning Programme in Paola which require immediate attention.

In the letter signed by president Kevin Bonello, the MUT asked the minister to set up a very urgent meeting to discuss and find a way forward for the ALP programme. The Union is very highly concerned on what is going on in this programme, especially where the Paola centre is concerned. The Union believes that the ALP programme, despite all the good intentions and the near to miraculous interventions of the professionals in the school, is analogous to a time bomb  ready to explode and immediate interventions are needed to save it from the disaster it is heading to.

The following are some of the issues which the Union will be raising:

a) The Ministry had promised that the ALP programme, as its name implies, will be an alternative learning programme for the secondary school students who for some reason are not able to complete or sit for the MATSEC ordinary level examinations. The intention, which was good, was to give an alternative learning path for these students to learn basic vocational subjects which might lead them into opportunities for further vocational studies or eventual employment. Unfortunately it appears that, as in other cases, the planning for this was scarce. This is evidenced by the fact that the teachers involved in this programme have no syllabus or curriculum to follow but they are basically inventing their own syllabuses and curricula depending on the student cohort.

b) The Ministry decided also to include students with a highly vulnerable status in this programme, students that were in schools like Mater Dei. These students were identified as needing highly individualised learning programmes due to their volatile behaviour and psychosocial needs. The staff at ALP were provided no background on these students and very limited support. These students integration in this programme is highly questionable and is proving to be detrimental to themselves and to the other students.

c) Furthermore, the ALP programme has been also burdened with the responsibility of students who require the support of an LSA without providing the LSAs necessary. Indeed while having over 30 students that are statemented, some of them even needing one-to-one support, only 5 LSAs were provided for. The school and the staff at the ALP programme have little knowledge of the needs of the students because nobody deigned to inform them, and they are slowly discovering the situation on a day by day basis from students themselves. Parents were apparently also asked to sign a consent form to disengage their son/daughter from the use of an LSA and they were arguably highly misguided that this would help them to prepare the student for the workplace but nobody took stock of the situation that if a child was deemed as needing one to one support, there was a very important reason for that decision. No statementing board reviewed the cases either.

d) Moreover, in the ALP programme, most of the students have various situations which require individual attention and guidance. How is it possible that the government sees no need of having a guidance teacher based in the ALP programme? How can the guidance teacher at the Paola BSS, which has its own separate cohort of students, be expected to take care of all these cases at the ALP too alone? In spite of the various appeals by the school the engagement of another guidance teacher was refused.

e) The methodology of engagement of "vocational trainers" is very highly contentious and the Union is highly concerned that this is a repeat of history when in the past various unqualified personnel were engaged in educating children at all levels. Moreover these persons were not even given a basic pedagogical training on how to deal with such students most of whom display challenging behaviour.Even the qualified and experienced teachers need training for this type of schooling, which training is nowhere in sight.

Teachers have even been admonished for trying to exert some sort of order or discipline in their classes. Arguably the whole ALP programme is in breach of law because it is treating underage students that fall under the compulsory age bracket as mature students, which they are not. Students are apparently being allowed to leave classes whenever they feel like it. In our short visit to the programme we witnessed a teacher despairing because none of the students came to class, a student who climbed onto a wall and literally jumped into a neighbour's yard. It is understandable that this programme has to attract students with a high risk of absenteeism and lack of interest, but at the same time this is a programme for underage students and the law does not exonerate their educators from their duties or responsibilities

g) Last but not least, we are already receiving various reports from other secondary schools whereby students are devising ways and means how to get themselves into the ALP programme. Some of the students are trying to get themselves expelled, some are willingly not going to apply for their O levels and so on.

The Union is therefore asking the Ministry to set up a very urgent meeting. In the mean time the MUT would like to clarify that its members working at the ALP programme cannot be held responsible for the consequences related to the difficulties of students who should require LSA support or individualised programme support, which is not available at this programme.

In reaction, the Education Ministry said that the Alternative Learning Programme is an educational solution to help those students which need it most and the Ministry is focused on delivering this alternative path successfully in its second year. As was pinpointed by the European Commission's report, Malta needs to offer more vocational experiences in its education system and a number of measures have already been introduced. Leading these, the ALP offers a variety of vocational experiences, from hospitality to welding, that engages students who were otherwise disillusioned with the traditional classroom. 

Rather than losing these students, with little prospect of meaningful employment, the ALP is offering them a road leading to skilled employment and a career. The ALP Paola centre boasts of a fully equipped gym, a hairdressing salon, a design and technology lab, a youth hub where the students relax and reinforce their group skills, and basic skills classes of Maltese, English and Maths, among many other areas. The Ministry is also supporting the development of sports activities for ALP Paola and is negotiating with Tarxien NGOs to organise sports sessions for all students to keep the timetable varied and engaging.

The Ministry has met MUT representatives before the programme started in September and held a number of meetings since. Earlier today the Ministry met once again with MUT and provided feedback to their concerns. The Education Officers and other technical officers are supporting curriculum support to the teachers both in the academic and in the vocational subjects. Only one student from Mater Dei school was offered a place in the Programme at Paola.  All the other students came from mainstream secondary schools.  Besides, groups at Paola are very small and never exceed 12 students in a group.  This was done in order to ensure a proper teacher-student ration that would permit for individual attention by the teacher. At the ALP Paola a system of group support by LSAs was adopted who in turn give support in groups where needed. Vocational teachers, which in some cases, in certain areas, are very limited, are being trained and supported to develop their teaching programmes and to develop assessment tools. The decision over which students were to join the ALP was taken in the Summer in conjunction with Education Officers, school administrations and psychosocial professionals.   No new students are being admitted into the ALP midway through the scholastic year. 

The Ministry is adamant that the Alternative Learning Programme will become a programme which will help students into vocational education and provide them with the necessary tools to get the necessary skills for a flourishing future.




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