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Paget Primary protests class mergers

Spelling it out: Paget Primary School pupils Kahlan Head, left, Kmori Chamberlain, Kaylani Bailey, Zhen Wilson and Kiemi Chamberlain protest outside the Anglican Cathedral in Hamilton yesterday (Photograph supplied)

Pupils and their teachers staged a protest yesterday against planned class mergers at their school and fears that staff might be made redundant.

Dozens of children and staff from Paget Primary School congregated outside the Anglican Cathedral on Church Street in Hamilton to complain about the move to cut the number of classes.

One teacher said other concerns at Paget Primary were the lack of support staff, including teaching assistants, known as paraeducators, and an education therapist, as well as the lack of a music teacher.

The teacher added: “It is difficult to say whether we need more paraeducators, but we do need to maintain our class sizes in P1, P4 and P6.

“We also need to keep our educational therapist full-time. About four years ago, for some reason, they reduced that time to three days.”

The teacher said the school had not had a permanent qualified music teacher for at least three years.

She added: “We have been using substitute teachers, whether they are certified or not, to do music with our students.”

It is planned to reduce the number of Primary 1 classes and Primary 4 classes from two each to one each.

The school submitted a letter of opposition to the merger plans to the Ministry of Education and to the Bermuda Union of Teachers on Monday.

The teacher added: “We have heard that one of the lines of defence for the Ministry of Education having smaller classes is based on the school reorganisation report which the Government paid for a number of years ago.

“Some feedback we got back is that the report has not been adopted by the ministry so it can not be used as a line of defence.”

The teacher said: “We will continue on. We are going to stand up and be heard and be seen.

“I have heard of other schools in a similar situation, but not names — I am sure that they will follow our lead.”

Diallo Rabain, the education minister, said there would be no job losses at the school.

Mr Rabain said after the protest that one teacher would be moved to another school as part of a re-evaluation of class sizes across the public education system and another teacher thought to be affected by the mergers would remain at the school.

He added that he and Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education, had met representatives of the school’s PTA and the principal yesterday.

Mr Rabain said: “The PTA representatives were forthright in sharing that the teachers of the schools had reached out to them and asked for their support.

“It is unfortunate that the narrative of teachers possibly losing their employment has been driven by some of the teachers themselves.”

But he insisted: “I can confirm that there will be no loss of employment.”

There had also been concerns that the two Primary 6 classes would be merged, but teachers at the school were told yesterday they would remain unchanged.

Class sizes proposed for September are one Primary 1 class with 17 pupils; two Primary 2 classes with a total of 21 pupils; two Primary 3 classes with a total of 27 pupils; one Primary 4 class with 22 pupils; two Primary 5 classes for a total of 28 pupils; and two Primary 6 classes for a total of 25 pupils.

Mr Rabain said that standard classes sizes were set at one teacher to 25 pupils at the Primary 4 to Primary 6 level and one teacher to 18 pupils at the Primary 1 to Primary 3 level.

He added that some teachers had “gotten comfortable” in recent years with smaller class sizes.

Ms Richards confirmed that other schools had been identified as potential candidates for class mergers but declined to give details.

Mr Rabain said there would be no school closures in the next school year.

He said a decline in public school enrolment was expected to continue until 2026.

Mr Rabain added: “This reality will require us to continue to examine staffing allocation at our schools and also means that we will continue to reassign staff.”

Mike Charles, the general secretary of the BUT, said that the union would need to meet its members before it decided on its course of action.

To read Diallo Rabain’s statement in full, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”