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Shadow minister warns of trauma risk of schools shake-up

Ben Smith, shadow education minister (File photograph)

Forced transfers of primary pupils to other schools as part of a major shake-up of the education system could cause huge trauma, the shadow education minister warned last night.

Ben Smith of the One Bermuda Alliance said: “We should be really worried.

“One of the issues we have in education at present is we have a lot of unidentified trauma as it is.”

Mr Smith highlighted the Covid-19 pandemic had already disrupted normal life and school routines and upset children and staff.

He added that making children change schools because of zoning changes, even if the school was to remain open, could cause problems for the affected children.

Mr Smith said: “To create another disruption is potentially harmful to young children.

“We don’t know the impact of Covid-19, with all the restrictions in schools.

“Some children who have gone through that trauma will be pushed aside again when we go through this transition and each disruption will have an impact on their educational journey.

“I would try to minimise that as much as possible. If it’s something absolutely necessary, yes.

“But if you’re setting up a system from scratch, you should find a way to allow children to finish in the school they are in.

“You make the changes in the next group that comes in.”

He was speaking after the Government announced proposals to close nine primary schools.

The 18 primary set up at present would be replaced by ten schools – one in each parish except Pembroke, which would have two and with a new school built to serve Devonshire.

Mr Smith warned that the closure of high-performing schools would be a mistake.

He said that several top schools, including Port Royal Primary, where he was educated, faced the axe based on the suitability and estate of the school buildings.

Mr Smith added: “A large number of schools on the chopping block are the ones that have been performing well.

“We want to make sure that we are giving the best education to our students.

“It’s not always about the facility but the structure of programmes and the teachers.

“If we have well-performing schools, there is something about the structure that is working.”

Mr Smith added: “The proposals are almost like a business decision looking at the size of a building and structure.

“The teaching doesn’t have anything to do with the building.

“When you interfere with areas that have been successful you are messing with a delicate balance.”

Mr Smith said that he would have talks with Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, in the New Year to get details on the selection process for the proposed closures.

The Ministry of Education said in a consultation document on the restructure plans: “It would not have been a fair or responsible approach to select schools based on student performance, especially when we know that there is a preponderance of research to support that student achievement is impacted by so many factors that are outside of the control of the learner.”

The document said it was proposed the ten school plan, as well as five senior-level specialist “signature schools”, would be in operation “within five years”.

But Mr Smith said it was important not to let youngsters down at a crucial period of their lives.

He added: “We can’t afford to fail them the way they have been failed for a really long time.

“When you are making changes you have to make sure that each step effects negatively as little as possible – it’s a balancing act. It’s not going to be easy.”

The consultation document also said that it was expected staff numbers would be reduced as a result of the changes.

It added that attrition, retirement or staff members “taking up other opportunities inside or outside of the public school system” would cut staff levels.

But Mr Smith said it was crucial that experienced teachers were retained over the transition period.

He added: “The experienced teachers are the ones you would hope to help you get through the transition – they can help the up and coming teachers.

“You don’t want to lose your experience all at once.

“We have to be careful about talking about how to reduce teachers.”

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Published December 22, 2020 at 9:15 am (Updated December 22, 2020 at 9:15 am)

Shadow minister warns of trauma risk of schools shake-up

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