The Education Minister has resigned from Government, telling the Chief Minister “my fight to be listened to has been dismissed.”
Senator Tracey Vallois informed Senator John Le Fondré that she would be stepping down in a letter sent yesterday.
It comes after Express revealed that her request to push back today’s return for school students to allow time to establish if more easily transmissible variants of the virus are in the island was rejected.
And Express can also reveal today that a plan by the outgoing Education Minister to get Government to fund the purchase of digital devices to help disadvantaged children learn from home was rubbished by the Treasury last year.
Pictured: Education Minister Senator Vallois had argued that the Government, rather than charities, should be funding digital devices for children, but the plan was rejected.
In her letter of resignation, which you can read in full below, the Senator explains how she had been questioning “what real authority I have to influence decision-making regarding covid-19, particularly with respect to schools” since early December.
Many schools had to close to certain year groups – sometimes more than once – due to staff shortages or students testing positive to covid towards the end of the winter term, creating what one union described as a “totally untenable situation” for both staff and students.
“I’ve always respected the view of STAC and our Chief Medical Officer of health, but do not accept their expertise around the operation of a school environment (all of which are different) or the domino effect that the mitigations around Covid-19 have on the ability to deliver good quality education,” Senator Vallois said.
She went on to state her belief that the Government “should be working as one and supporting each other to make the extremely difficult decisions that face our communities”, adding, “As I took the decision to disagree with your plans for reconnection, especially the return of all schools on Monday 11th January, 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 as Education Minister.
“This will give you the opportunity to have a Minister on board who will hopefully be more closely aligned to how the government wish to continue to work through these stormy waters.”
Pictured: Senator Vallois wanted more information about the new variants of covid and whether they were in Jersey before secondary schools reopened.
During her term as Minister, Senator Vallois also faced a battle not to have her department budget slashed.
In the end, she managed to secure a £11.6m package intended to provide more support to children with special needs, from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with English as an additional language.
“It disappoints me that I will not see through the actions that need to be taken around the education reform programme, north of town youth centre, Highlands campus and many more projects due to come online this year,” Senator Vallois wrote.
“It is important at this time, during the pandemic, that the government stand as one with one voice to give confidence to our public and reassure them that the Winter Covid Strategy is the right one for our island.”
The Chief Minister said this morning that he had accepted Senator Vallois's resignation "with great sadness."
Pictured: The Chief Minister thanked Senator Vallois "for her hard work and commitment."
"I would like to thank Senator Tracey Vallois for her hard work and commitment to the education and the welfare of our Island’s students, in particular her work on the reform and funding initiatives she successfully brought forward to the Government Plan. Senator Vallois recently secured additional funding of approximately £42 million (over the four years of the Government Plan) for Education, and has also been seeking to implement further enhancement of the early years provision," he said.
"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.
"A formal notice will be presented to the States Assembly by the next sitting of 19th January."
The Senator’s departure marks the fourth from Senator John Le Fondré’s Government in recent months.
Pictured: Senator Vallois said she was not in full agreement with the Council of Ministers' 'reconnection' strategy.
Ahead of a vote of no confidence triggered by CEO Charlie Parker’s second job saga, Children and Housing Minister Senator Sam Mézec, and Assistant Ministers Deputy Montfort Tadier and Senator Steve Pallett all stepped down to support the bid to remove Senator Le Fondré from the top political job.
Senator Vallois abstained from the vote, however.
During the debate, she used her speech to challenge the Chief Minister to make a number of HR reforms. When he did not respond to her calls in his closing submissions, she declined to vote in favour of supporting or ousting him.
Senator Mézec - whose party also supported a later start for schools - gave his backing to Senator Vallois following news of her resignation, saying: "When I resigned as Minister for Children and Housing I cited the lack of leadership from the Chief Minister on crucial issues which Islanders need us to resolve to see their standard of living improve, and the fundamentally undemocratic nature of our system which sees elected ministers sidelined, as if their policy priorities are an inconvenience. It seems as though Tracey encountered much of the same."
Pictured: Senator Mézec said the recent spate of Ministerial resignations should be a "wake-up call for the Chief Minister."
He added: "This should serve as a wake up call for the Chief Minister who has now lost two ministers and two assistant ministers in the last few months.
"Jersey deserves better than this, and it is time for change."
Further to our discussions at the recent Competent Authorities Ministers Meeting, it gave me even further concern about what real authority I have to influence decision making regarding Covid-19 particularly with respect to Schools.
This has troubled me since the beginning of December. I have continuously made representation at all meetings regarding the concerns and anxieties of both staff and families around Covid-19. I understand that this representation does not necessarily reflect all views but reference has always been made to a balance of harms and it is important to understand this in a wider context.
It was made abundantly clear to me that in order to ‘take action’ around school closure it would require both further consultation and consent as laid out in the Covid Regulations. I’ve always respected the view of STAC and our Chief Medical Officer of health but do not accept their expertise around the operation of a school environment (all of which are different) or the domino effect that the mitigations around Covid-19 have on the ability to deliver good quality education.
There also has to be recognition that if we are not to be proactive and plan/manage accordingly by purely reviewing daily, the impact last minute decision making will and can have on families. This was clear through the decision made on New Years Eve which I had already requested in advance (15th December) but was dismissed.
I reasonably requested that my dissent to the reconnection plan be noted and the fact that the questions raised in this meeting had not been answered especially with regards to the new variant of Covid-19. This was clearly explained in the STAC letter to me on the 30th December 2020 and has not been reconsidered in recognition of the stance taken elsewhere for the impact of its high transmissibility.
In light of this, I believe that it is important at a time when the world is having to deal with such crises. Governments should be working as one and supporting each other to make the extremely difficult decisions that face our communities. As I took the decision to disagree with your plans for reconnection, especially the return of all schools on Monday 11th January, 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 as Education Minister.
This will give you the opportunity to have a Minister on board who will hopefully be more closely aligned to how the government wish to continue to work through these stormy waters.
I am extremely grateful for all the hard work of officers that continues day in and day out whether that be Covid related or on wider government projects. It disappoints me that I will not see through the actions that need to be taken around the education reform programme, north of town youth centre, highlands campus and many more projects due to come online this year.
It is important at this time, during the pandemic, that the government stand as one with one voice to give confidence to our public and reassure them that the Winter Covid Strategy is the right one for our Island.
Senator Tracey Vallois
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