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Abolition of middle schools more long-term

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Kneejerk reaction: Cole Simons, shadow education minister (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The abolition of controversial middle schools is still a distant target, the education minister admitted this week.

Diallo Rabain said that “much research is still to be done”.

But Cole Simons, the shadow education minister, claimed Mr Rabain had been forced into a corner by ministry officials, teachers and parents who questioned if there was any evidence that the system needed a change.

He was speaking after Mr Rabain confirmed the plan to replace middle schools with “signature schools” — secondary-level schools with a specialist focus.

Mr Rabain said: “Although we committed to moving forward with signature schools and the phasing out of middle schools — and it will happen — we will do it with consultation with all of the stakeholders to make sure that we do this right.

“We have a golden opportunity to develop a system that is right for Bermuda, by Bermuda.

“So we’re going to do it right this time.”

The Government pledged to phase out middle schools and introduce “signature” schools — schools with a specialised focus — at the secondary level as a long-term objective in its 2017 election platform.

Mr Rabain said that talks held with teachers and parents while the Progressive Labour Party was in opposition had formed the basis for the move.

He added that the decision for the education system shake-up was also informed by “stagnant Cambridge Checkpoint results obtained in the middle schools and also the increased antisocial behaviour among students in middle schools”.

The Hopkins report — a review of Bermuda’s public education system published in 2008 — concluded that the introduction of middle schools in Bermuda was “a mistake”.

But the review team, made up of island and international education experts, said that “a structural response would only cause more confusion and instability and leave the real issue — the low quality of teaching and learning — untouched”.

Mr Rabain highlighted that the Hopkins report was “just over ten years old”.

He added: “We haven’t seen our middle school system produce the type of graduates that we would like to see.

“It is time to move in the right direction.”

Mr Rabain said that “a number” of meetings had been held with “key public-school education advocates”.

He added: “There are still many more stakeholders to reach out to. This is just the start.”

Mr Rabain said that “comprehensive research” had also started into the findings of a commission chaired by Lord Pitt in the wake of the 1977 riots and into the Education Planning Team Report.

He added that pupil enrolment statistics and educational changes made in other countries were also being looked at.

The minister said some members of the team tasked with the restructure had already been selected.

He added: “I will announce the full team once the chairperson and the remaining members have been finalised.”

Mr Simons said more research on the school system shake-up should have been done before it was announced.

He added: “The minister is obviously placing the cart before the horse in that he is just beginning to listen to the community.”

Mr Simons said that he saw Mr Rabain’s call for more research as a response to pushback on the plan from education workers and parents. He explained: “Members of his own team within the Ministry of Education, the president of Bermuda College, principals, chairpersons of various school boards, member of the Board of Education, parents, senior representatives of the Bermuda Union of Teachers have all told the minister that any structural change made must be supported by real empirical evidence that demonstrates that structural changes will provide improved student performance and output across the board.

“Almost all of the leading stakeholders of education in Bermuda have repeatedly told the minister that no structural changes will address the real challenge faced in Bermuda’s education system — and that is social promotion.”

Mr Simons said social promotion — where underprepared students are passed to the next grade — must stop, and that the practise had caused “real strain” on middle and senior-level teachers.

He added that Mr Rabain and Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education, must “listen and learn” from Bermuda’s education workers to “craft a more productive way forward”.

Mr Simons said: “Bermuda deserves nothing less and it will take real leadership from the minister and his team.”

Diallo Rabain, the education minister, talks about plans to abolish middle schools (Photograph by Akil Simmons)