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Diallo Rabain defends closing high-performing schools

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education (File photograph)

The Minister of Education has defended the move to consider closing high-performing primary schools saying that all of Bermuda’s schools should be performing well.

Diallo Rabain was speaking to The Royal Gazette about government’s plans to overhaul the public education system.

He said: “We can’t afford to have one or two schools doing great – all of them need to be great. It is the leadership and attitude that exists that can set the difference between high or low performing schools.

“We need to look at how we are allocating our resources how can we ensure that all are high performing.

“High-performing schools are performing well because of their leadership.”

The Government recently announced proposals in a consultation document to close nine primary schools.

Under the plans, the island’s 18 primary schools 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 Rabain emphasised that none of the plans in the document are set in stone.

“We can’t consider these things until we have a full, fair and honest consultation,” he said.

“Nothing is ruled out and no decision has been made until this process is done.”

The criteria for closures and retention of schools is predominantly based on the adaptability of school buildings and their premises to accommodate for 21st century learning.

“Students, families and the community will benefit from the improved delivery of education in 21st century learning facilities that support the curriculum and new teaching and learning models,” it said.

Mr Rabain explained: “When we look at the criteria – we are looking at larger sized classrooms with a maximum student to teacher ratio of 15:1, open spaces that can be reconfigured, dedicated cafeterias and auditoriums, play spaces and quiet rooms.

“Our schools are becoming hubs for the community and we want buildings available 356 days a year.”

Questions remain over whether one of Bermuda’s existing middle schools will be closed as part the plans. The consultation document said there would be five mainstream signature schools, CedarBridge Academy and Berkeley included.

There are four middle schools on the island — Sandys Secondary Middle School in the west, Dellwood Middle School and Whitney Institute in central locations, and Clearwater Middle School in the east — and two secondary schools, both of which are purpose-built.

Mr Rabain said: “The consultation will be the lead on what direction we go there. We are talking about five signature schools including Berkeley and CedarBridge which leaves three. Whether they are converted into signature schools and which ones is still to be decided on.

“It does begs the question ’will one not be used’? We have to know what the primary school configuration will be. Once the consultative portion is done, you will see a more concrete plan in place.”

Each signature school would focus on certain specialisations and there would be an additional two signature schools for students with exceptionalities and one for alternative learning.

Mr Rabain said that one thing that is certain is that there will be no geographical restrictions on which signature schools students could attend.

However, zoning would remain at primary level. Mr Rabain said no discussions had been had over whether primary students would have to move schools even if theirs did not close, owing to new zones set out in the plans.

“That is something to bring up during consultation. That is a topic that has not been discussed but it is topical and I appreciate it coming up as it will be part of the consultative process.”

No decision had been made on the level of staff reduction the government said it expected with the closure of primary schools.

“There is an expected reduction as we will have fewer schools. But it could be that we have two teachers in a room. Or imagine a primary that has a principal and three deputy principals overseeing a school.”

He said that the team tasked with the creation of the proposed Education Authority was also exploring the prospect of whether some schools could become aided with some government funding but autonomy, including the ability to hire their own staff.

He added: “One of the things they are tasked with is looking at is aided schools — looking at their pros and cons. If they come back and say this is the best way to run, we will take the suggestion seriously.

“One of the cons about them is because they have the autonomy to hire, they will poach good teachers — we want all of our schools to have good teachers.”

Mr Rabain said it was important for all stakeholders to be involved in the consultation process, adding: “This is a Bermuda issue.”

UPDATE: this article has been amended to state that the team tasked with the creation of the proposed Education Authority is looking at the aided schools model and school autonomy, not the consulting group Innovation Unit Australia New Zealand

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Published December 24, 2020 at 8:13 am (Updated December 24, 2020 at 10:38 am)

Diallo Rabain defends closing high-performing schools

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