Education Minister’s exit creates ‘further uncertainty’

THE resignation of Education Minister Tracey Vallois has created further uncertainty for Jersey’s schools, union officials have said as they praised the commitment she had shown since taking over the role.

Senator Tracey Vallois. Picture: JON GUEGAN (29998526)
Senator Tracey Vallois. Picture: JON GUEGAN (29998526)

Senator Vallois became the fourth member of the government to step down since the start of November when her resignation was accepted ‘with sadness’ by Chief Minister John Le Fondré yesterday. Senator Vallois’ resignation letter is published in full in today's [12 January] JEP along with the Chief Minister’s response.

The decision to reopen schools this week was one that Senator Vallois disagreed with and ultimately triggered her resignation.

In her letter to the Chief Minister, Senator Vallois wrote: ‘As I took the decision to disagree with plans for reconnection, especially the return of all schools, and the number of times my fight to be listened to has been dismissed, I believe it is in everyone’s interest that I resign.’

Officials from the two main teaching unions spoke of their regret that the Senator would no longer be fighting the corner of schools, teachers and students.

Marina Mauger, of the NASUWT, said the teachers she had spoken to were saddened by the ‘awful’ timing of Senator Vallois’ departure, just as schools reopened.

‘It has created further uncertainty at what is already a very difficult time, and there is concern about who is going to come in as a replacement,’ she said. ‘It will be difficult to find someone who is as committed to education as Tracey Vallois.

‘We had our run-ins at times, but she was a very good minister, and she fought to secure funding that we might not otherwise have received.’

In addition to additional funding worth around £42 million over the span of the current Government Plan, Mrs Mauger said Senator Vallois had made other important contributions, such as increased nursery hours, making the Pupil Premium scheme available to Highlands College students and driving initiatives such as an inclusion survey and the Big Education Conversation.

‘People need to see the things going on behind the scenes – she has been avid in trying to get improvements to the education service.’

Tim Balston, secretary of the National Education Union’s Jersey branch, said Senator Vallois had been ‘one of the most enlightened and progressive Education Ministers of recent years’.

‘She was looking out for education as a whole, not just for teachers, but it seems that she had been almost sidelined,’ he said. ‘It is sad that she has resigned at this time.’

A ministerial sub-group known as the Competent Authorities Ministers – which comprises the Chief Minister, External Relations, Economic Development Infrastructure, Home Affairs and Health Ministers – are tasked with tackling emergency planning and have been meeting regularly during the pandemic. The Education Minister, along with the Treasury Minister, has been invited to meetings given the importance of their portfolios to the pandemic response.

In 2015, Senator Vallois resigned as an assistant treasury minister after claiming she had been ignored during ministerial discussions and in 2018 she quit as Deputy Chief Minister and chairwoman of the States Employment Board amid tensions over civil servants’ pay.

Senator Le Fondré thanked his former colleague for her hard work and commitment to the education and the welfare of the Island’s students and moved to reassure teachers, pupils and parents following the resignation.

‘I know that this is an extremely difficult time for our whole school community, but I would like to reassure everyone that the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff is our top priority and we will continue to keep the situation under constant review working with the health professionals,’ he said.

Deputy Rob Ward, chairman of the Children’s, Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel, said he could ‘absolutely understand’ the frustration felt by Senator Vallois.

‘It does seem that in order to be part of the ministerial system you have to say “yes” even when you don’t agree with something,’ he said. ‘There’s a level of dysfunction in the government.’

In November, three other States Members resigned from their ministerial posts to back a vote of no confidence in the Chief Minister – Senator Sam Mézec as Housing and Children’s Minister, Senator Steve Pallett as Assistant Health and Economic Development Minister, and Deputy Montfort Tadier as Assistant Economic Development Minister. Senator Vallois abstained during that debate.

The Chief Minister said he would be making a formal announcement at next week’s sitting of the States Assembly.

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