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Simons: what are the student numbers ‘options’

Shadow education minister Cole Simons asked last night that parents be told what “options” the Government is considering to tackle dwindling numbers of students entering the public school system.

The Ministry of Education said on Tuesday it had delayed registration for children joining preschool and P1 this September because it needed to “look at further options due to low student enrolment”.

The announcement came less than a week after the Government shared information on a string of health and safety breaches at state schools, including dirty buildings, rodent infestations, exposed asbestos, mould, inadequate first-aid kits and fire extinguishers and fire-safety devices, which had not been serviced.

The ministry provided no figures on application numbers for this year or previous years for the island's 18 primary schools and ten preschools and education minister Diallo Rabain failed to respond to a request for further comment on what was being considered.

Mr Simons said of the ministry's announcement: “It will concern parents, because they don't know what's going on.”

He added: “It is just another situation where they [the Government] are making decisions ad hoc.”

The Opposition MP said Bermuda's falling birth rate was well known and would be a major factor in lower public school enrolment.

The number of births fell from 862 in 1994 to 574 in 2014, the year in which this September's incoming P1 students were born.

“They should have planned for this early on,” Mr Simons said of the decision to delay registration.

“I have no evidence to support it, but what first comes to mind is that they may take some primary schools out of the system if they don't have the numbers.

“I don't know for sure that they are going to do that but I know the number of students has been declining.”

He urged the ministry to make public the number of applications received for each school and to provide more information about the options under review.

“Let parents see the numbers,” said Mr Simons.

He added that the idea of closing or amalgamating some schools was “worth exploring”.

“You have to look at the number of students per year per school and then cut your cloth accordingly,” he said.

“I think people are reasonable enough to understand, if you do the proper studies to make sure that it makes academic sense for the students and economic sense for the Government.”

Enrolment letters are being sent out today and tomorrow to parents of incoming P1 students, who have until April 12 to accept the place their child is offered.

Parents of incoming preschoolers will be sent their letters on April 12 and have until April 25 to accept their child's place.

The former One Bermuda Alliance government considered closing four primary schools — Heron Bay, Prospect, St David's and Gilbert Institute — in 2016 but ditched the plan after a public outcry.

Three private schools said yesterday that their enrolment numbers remained constant for this September, despite the falling birth rate.

Linda Parker, BHS's head of school, said: “Our exact numbers are commercially confidential but we are pleased to report that our Early Years Programme [preschool equivalent] enrolment is almost at 100 per cent for September 2019 and our Year 1 entry is in line with previous years.”

A Warwick Academy spokeswoman said: “In our reception [preschool equivalent] and Year 1 cohorts, we had full enrolment for this academic year and are full for September 2019. [We've had the] same number of applications year over year — well above what we can accommodate.”

Mount Saint Agnes principal Susan Moench said: “MSA's enrolment for our Early Learning Programme [preschool equivalent] and Kindergarten [P1 equivalent] for 2019-20 has remained the same as in previous years.” The Royal Gazette asked the Ministry of Education for:

•• A breakdown of the application numbers for preschools and P1 for this September, by individual schools

••The total number of students who applied for preschool and P1 places last year, compared with this year

••A current figure for the total number of public school students.

We asked Mr Rabain to comment on what was believed to have caused low school enrolment this year, whether the public school registration process was well advertised to parents and what further options were being looked at.

We also asked if school closures were being considered and, if so, which schools could be affected.

No responses were received by press time.

Parents with questions about public school enrolment can contact the Ministry's attendance and registration co-ordinator on 278-3300

Shadow Education Minister: Cole Simons

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Published March 28, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated March 28, 2019 at 9:00 am)

Simons: what are the student numbers ‘options’

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