PLP: Re-professionalise teaching and learning
If Government’s strategy for education stands on the shoulders of the 2007 Hopkins Report, so too does the Opposition’s criticism of the pace of reform.
Five years ago, the review of Bermuda’s public education system by Professor David Hopkins pulled no punches when it came to the poor results of local schools.
It wasn’t until 2009 that the Ministry of Education set forward the five-year strategic plan — and the Blueprint for Reform appeared to struggle to get off the ground when it was implemented in 2010.
Fears Government planned to consolidate and close schools roiled the Ministry and led to a spate of resignations that year under Education Minister El James although two key Education Board members, Darren Johnston and Vince Ingham, were persuaded to stay on by the new Minister, Dame Jennifer Smith.
Reforms under the Progressive Labour Party’s current team proceeded from November 2010 under Dame Jennifer and Commissioner of Education Wendy McDonell.
Dame Jennifer declined to be interviewed for this article; Ms McDonell referred The Royal Gazette to the Blueprint itself.
The five-year plan for turning the system around is based on improving leadership and classroom performance under the rubric of “re-professionalising” and it draws upon Hopkins Report recommendations for its seven strategic priorities. They are:
l Implement an internationally recognised, externally assessed curriculum;
l Improve teaching and learning at the classroom level;
l Improve and, tellingly, “distribute” leadership;
l Boost standards through accountability and transparency;
l Draw on the contributions of parents and the community;
l Deliver results more efficiently;
l Improve the “culture and climate” in the Department of Education and schools.
Invoking a key term from the Hopkins Report, Dame Jennifer said in June of this year: “The changes that are taking place in education are designed to re-professionalise the landscape of teaching and learning in the classroom by ensuring that teachers have the support of job-embedded professional development to improve the quality of teaching, for better student outcomes.”
Among other things, this meant mentoring for new teachers, the recruitment of teacher leaders at the primary and middle school level to strengthen leadership and, probably most controversially, the “sharing of expertise”, which included transferring some educators from one school to another.
Those transfers ended up in the Supreme Court, where two transfers were quashed.
Taking the decision in her stride, Dame Jennifer issued a statement just before the start of the current school year, that “the promise of consultation at the time of the decisions was an aspirational one, not yet grounded in a protocol or process”.
The Ministry of Education has followed through on consultation by meeting with the Parent Teacher Associations, and holding two town hall meetings to apprise the public of improvements and plans.
Most recently, with last month’s Throne Speech, Government committed to greater supervision of alternative schools.