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‘There is political will to fix education’

Dame Jennifer Smith has the political will to reform the public schools, according to the Board of Education chairman.

Darren Johnston had previously stepped down as chairman when former Minister El James announced possible school closures through the media without consulting the board.

Mr Johnston, and the deputy chairman Vince Ingham, resumed their roles after Dame Jennifer became Minister of Education in November.

Dame Jennifer has already outlined changes she will make within the Ministry and has prioritised improving teaching standards and making principals more autonomous.

She will also be “flattening” the Ministry of Education structure, making it less bureaucratic. Both moves are in line with the 2007 Hopkins Report, which investigated the state of the public school system, described it as being “on the brink of meltdown”. Over the last four years it has been argued that the reform process has been too slow.

In 2009 former Education chairman Mark Byrne resigned after just six months claiming there was a “lack of political will” to improve the Island's public schools.

Yesterday, Mr Johnston says he does not believe that is the case now.

Mr Johnston said it was clear Dame Jennifer was passionate about education and fully versed in the issues. He added that her knowledge about how the senior level of Government works was an incredible asset.

“It takes courage to say we are moving support staff out of the Ministry and into the schools, to move offices to St David's,” he said. “I think there is a general feeling of, this isn't going to go away and it could get worse so let's get the reform done as quickly as possible.

“Having said that education is a long game; reforms we make now may take years to show results.”

Mr Johnston said he feels the board is capable of tackling the issues.

“You could read the Hopkins' Report and the Mincy report [which examined the plight of young black males] and be overwhelmed,” he said, “I choose to look at it from another point of view, this is 5,000 students we are talking about. With the intellectual capital we have on this Island if we have the will to fix this we will fix it.

“I totally believe there is political will to fix education.”

He added the Ministry's goals had not shifted with the new Minister. They are still committed to ensuring teachers and principals can develop the necessary skills to succeed and giving principals autonomy, and accountability, as well as implementing an internationally recognised curriculum.

Board of Education chairman Darren Johnston

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Published March 10, 2011 at 8:00 am (Updated March 10, 2011 at 8:49 am)

‘There is political will to fix education’

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