PHILIPSBURG–The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) recently published a new policy aimed at guiding decisions concerning the granting of dispensation in accordance with the Law on Foundation-Based Education, the Law on Secondary Education and the Law on Advanced Secondary Vocational Education.
The new policy was developed by the ECYS Inspection Division and established after consultation with the ECYS Minister, the Department of Education, the Division of Examinations and the competent authority of public and subsidised schools.
According to the ECYS ministry, it strives to have fully qualified teachers in all classrooms.
“In practice, we have seen over the years that the teaching profession has been under pressure due to societal developments. In addition, geographical factors have played a role in employing and keeping qualified teachers here in St. Maarten.
“These developments have resulted in difficulties in filling vacancies and teacher shortages within our local schools. This has created a demand for stakeholders to explore the possibilities that exist to fill vacancies when meeting the minimum legal requirement is not feasible,” said the ministry in the document published in the National Gazette on February 21.
“This procedure document aims to provide a clear overview of the current procedures executed by the Division of Inspection ECYS in accordance with the legal framework, when the competent authorities are seeking deviation from the minimum requirements.
“The document is to be used as an internal procedural document by the Division of Inspection ECYS as well as a source of information for the Ministry of ECYS, the subsidised and public schools and their teachers in both the Dutch and English educational systems.”
The policy states, “The supervision of education and the quality thereof is a task allotted to the Minister of ECYS. Within the Ministry of ECYS the execution of this task has been assigned to the Division of Inspection ECYS. The Division of Inspection ECYS is therefore the competent authority with regard to the implementation and execution of such supervision.
“The supervision encompasses the adherence of the competent authority to the minimum quality of education as laid down in the educational ordinances and delegated legislations. The quality of education depends largely on the quality of human capital available for the provision of education, for which the legal framework also provides the minimum requirements.”
The ministry said the established legal framework provides for deviation possibilities, but that these possibilities vary in method, duration and sector. To increase the consistent and fair application of these rules the ministry found it necessary to establish a procedure document.
According to the ministry, temporary deviation from the minimum legal requirement for a teacher as stipulated in the educational legal framework is referred to as “dispensation”. The educational legal framework establishes strict rules as to when dispensation is allowed and should be granted.
“Dispensation can be applied by the competent authority after approval has been granted by the Division of Inspection ECYS in accordance with the existing legal framework,” said the ministry.
“However, because deviation from the minimum legal requirements for teachers is considered to have a potentially detrimental effect on the quality of education, and the insurance of the quality of education is a main responsibility of the minister, a stricter regime has been decided upon; namely, upon request by a competent authority and after approval by the Inspectorate of ECYS, the minister will make the decision regarding the granting of dispensation.”
The policy said that in order to ensure the quality of education, dispensation will only be granted when it has become clear that the competent authority of the school can no longer uphold the minimum requirements for the provision of education. According to the policy, cases are considered extraordinary, as pupils are in jeopardy of no longer leaving school with the basic knowledge needed to continue their study or enter into the labour market.
The ministry said the minimum requirements for the provision of education are found in the National Ordinances on Foundation-Based Education, Secondary Education and Advanced Secondary Vocational Education and Adult Education.
“The competent authority of schools should be aware that there are still sector-specific rules that may apply. Where those rules differ from this procedure, the legal requirements will be enforced,” said the ministry.
“In that regard, it should be noted that dispensation is not allowed for Foundation-Based Education. In cases where dispensation is legally permitted, the Inspectorate of ECYS has as much as possible opted for a uniform procedure, which is documented in this procedure document, to facilitate the equal application of the dispensation rules.”
The ministry said it should be noted that dispensation is one form of deviation from the legal requirement for teacher qualifications. The other forms of deviation are not covered in the procedure document.
According to the new policy, the departure point for the ministry is to hire only qualified teachers in all classrooms. This means that the ECYS Inspection Division will only approve dispensation when it has become clear that the school cannot adhere to the minimum requirements for the provision of education in the event that dispensation is not granted.
The ministry said if a school finds itself in an extraordinary case as mentioned under the admissibility guidelines, the ECYS Inspectorate will need to evaluate difficult vacancies and an unexpected substantial increase of pupil numbers.
The policy says, “In the case of unexpected substantial teacher shortage due to external circumstances, the Division of Inspection ECYS will evaluate the extent to which consideration has been given to referring students to other educational institutions, combining classes so that the classes are larger than the rules on class sizes prescribe, or increasing the teaching burden for existing teachers.”
According to the new policy on evaluation of potential candidates for a vacant teaching position, the competent authority should submit the diplomas and certificates of candidates for evaluation by the Division of Examinations before deciding on the candidate.
“The diploma evaluation is also necessary for teachers contracted from abroad in order to arrange their employment permit from the Ministry of Health, Social Affairs and Labour VSA. The request for diploma evaluation should specify in which group, year, school type and which subject(s) the candidate is intending to teach,” according to the policy.
“In the event that the Division of Examinations has given a negative advice (i.e. the candidate is found not to be qualified to teach in the group, year, school type and subject that was intended), the competent authority may then submit a dispensation request to the Division of Inspection ECYS,” said the ministry. “In the event that a vacancy is to be (temporarily) filled by a teacher already employed by the school, the competent authority of the school can submit a request to Division of Inspection ECYS, directly.”
The ministry said requests for extension of dispensation granted must be submitted before the new academic year, and before the expiration of the last dispensation granted.
Dispensation requests are addressed to the minister. A copy of the request is to be sent to the ECYS Inspection Division as the authority responsible for the handling of the submitted requests.
According to the policy, the procedure for handling a dispensation request has six steps. The request will be checked for completeness of the documents; evaluated whether eligibility, admissibility and conditions are met; and, if necessary, a lesson observation will be executed.
This will be followed by advice whether dispensation can be granted, informing the competent authority and teacher(s) of the dispensation decision after the minister has decided on the concept advice of the ECYS Inspection Division.
The competent authority will be informed by letter about the minister’s decision. And finally, if the competent authority does not agree with the decision, a written request to reconsider the decision can be submitted to the minister, conforming to the provisions stipulated in the Ordinance on Administrative Procedures.
The policy states that before making a decision on the written request for reconsideration, the competent authority will be given a chance to hear and be heard by the minister.
According to the ministry, the entire process from the complete submission of the initial request through to the decision taken by the minister will take no longer than six weeks.