Primary schools face 'monumental' changes
It is a task said to be “monumental” by David Burt, the Premier, and Diallo Rabain, the education minister – the transformation of the public school system to give every Bermudian child a chance to excel.
A consultation document released in December set out how the Government proposed to do it. Sarah Laganand Sam Strangeways today summarise the 85-page proposal and look at what the changes might mean for pupils and staff.
It is a plan that will see some schools close, others expand or move and a multimillion dollar capital project to build a new school fit for 300 pupils and 30 preschoolers.
The public has until next Friday to comment on the Proposal for the Introduction of Parish Primary Schools, before a blueprint is drawn up for the “renovating, refurbishing and/or rebuilding” required.
The Government proposal would see nine primary schools close, nine schools remain and one new school be built in Devonshire (see map under related media). The new system would have a single primary school in each parish except Pembroke, which would have two.
The primary school changes are part of a plan to turn the public school system from three-tier to two-tier, with the abolition of middle schools – set up under a United Bermuda Party Government in the 1990s – and the introduction of “signature” senior schools.
The changes would also include the creation of an “alternative education” school for youngsters with behaviour and emotional problems and a relocation of the Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy for special needs and the K Margaret Carter Centre for adults with learning and physical disabilities.
The overhaul is expected to take two to five years to implement.
REASONS FOR REFORM
• The need for a better curriculum. The report said the primary school curriculum is “misaligned, antiquated and has limited offerings” at present. The Cambridge Primary Curriculum was brought in ten years ago by the PLP government. Llewellyn Simmons, the director of academics at the Ministry of Education, supported it in 2016. He said: “We want all of our children to reach their full potential with this curriculum …” Diallo Rabain, the education minister, was asked at a public meeting last week if the Cambridge curriculum would be replaced. He said that all options were on the table.
• An analysis of the Cambridge Primary Checkpoint test results for the last eight years showed that annual average scores had declined. The tests, for P6 pupils, are in English, maths and science.
• The report highlighted a decline in public school enrolment and birthrates as a key reason for the closure of nine schools. There are 2,074 primary school pupils in 18 primary schools – 1,086 fewer than in 2002.
• The cost of maintaining too many ageing and inadequate school buildings – most are more than 50 years old and seven are between 80 and 100 years old. The 2016 Score report, commissioned by the education ministry as part of an earlier reorganisation plan, found serious health and safety, and security problems. An inspection carried out by the Cabinet Office two years later found a “prevalence of mould” plus electrical systems not being up to standard, old plumbing, sewage back ups, poor IT infrastructure and moisture. The primary schools consultation plan did not give a figure for the total cost for the maintenance of existing schools. Mr Rabain told a public meeting last week that he did not know the cost or how much could be saved by a reduction in the number of schools.
• The report said there was a need to create “21st century learning environments” by an increase in the space for pupils in each classroom. It referred to a recommendation in the 2016 Score report for 40 square feet per child. The report claimed: “Generous instructional space is essential for the optimum functioning of modern classroom environments.”
• To fulfil a 2017 election pledge by the Progressive Labour Party to phase out middle schools. The report said the promise was made because of a “lack of confidence in middle schools and public education more broadly”. In their place it was proposed to set up “signature senior schools” for children aged 13 to 18, offering academic and vocational schooling and aimed at preparing them for further education or work.
HOW PRIMARY SCHOOLS WERE CHOSEN FOR CLOSURE OR EXPANSION
• The report said primary schools were chosen for closure mostly based on the poor state of their buildings and lack of room for expansion. A “location strategy team” made up of “expert professionals” who work at public schools was formed and it scored all the schools in four areas – existing building conditions, land and property conditions, health and safety, and transportation. Ministry officials were asked at a public meeting last week if the team did site visits at all the primary schools. Valerie Robinson-James, the education permanent secretary, said those on the study committee included “expert professionals in building facilities” who worked in the primary schools on a day-to-day basis and had intimate knowledge about their type, infrastructure and land area.
• The aim was to reduce the primary schools to one per parish, apart from Pembroke, which would have two. In parishes with more than one school, the highest scoring school was chosen to stay open.
• The academic performance of schools was not a factor in the selection of schools to close. The report said: “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.”
• Schools with large playing fields, room for new classrooms and space to accommodate a preschool scored highest in the study.
WHAT ABOUT TEACHERS?
The report mentioned the “possibility of redundancies” but did not give any indication of how many teachers would be affected by cutting primary schools from 18 to ten. It said some staff numbers would change through attrition, retirement or job changes. The report said: “The ministry would like to reiterate that processes regarding staffing will be fair and transparent.” It added that redundancies would be covered by the collective bargaining agreements with the Bermuda Union of Teachers. The BUT said job losses had not been brought up by the ministry during regular meetings.
THE PROPOSED CHANGES
• Close Prospect and Elliot in Devonshire, Gilbert Institute in Paget, Northlands in Pembroke, West End in Sandys, Heron Bay and Port Royal in Southampton, as well as St David’s and St George’s Prep in St George’s.
• Renovate the remaining nine schools and build one new school in Devonshire, with all to be “high quality” and of the same standard. Each would house up to 300 children plus a preschool with 30 pupils.
• The new Devonshire primary school would be on the site of the K Margaret Carter Centre.
• Elliot would house the alternative education school and Prospect would be made the new home for the Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy – which would become an “exceptionalities signature school” for those with special education needs – as well as the K Margaret Carter Centre for adults.
• Abolish middle schools and replace them with five senior signature schools within five years, each with one or more specialist subjects.
HOW STANDARDS WOULD BE IMPROVED
• A better curriculum is promised, which would be “rigorous and relevant, with expanded offerings”. Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education, told a public meeting last week that the curriculum for the entire state school system needed to be “aligned” so pupils could build on their learning throughout their school career.
• National assessments for all state school pupils.
• Every school would become accredited to meet “internationally-recognised standards”. Mr Rabain told a public meeting that no decision had been made on which accrediting body to use.
• Professional development for teachers, principals, support staff, and “system leaders” to enable them to implement the new curriculum.
• A shift from a disciplinary to a “restorative” approach to teaching – one that focused on "relationships, inclusiveness, problem solving and positive conflict resolution and one where maintaining positive relationships between adults and children is at the heart of everything“.
SHARE YOUR VIEWS
The public has until Friday to air their views on the first phase of the project. Submissions should be made at https://forms.gov.bm/Parish-Primary-School-Consultation-Form. For more information, e-mail email@example.com.
Earmarked for closure:
* Prospect, Devonshire – would become a special needs school
* Elliot, Devonshire – would become an “alternative education” school
* Gilbert Institute, Paget
* Northlands, Pembroke
* West End PS, Sandys.
* Heron Bay, Southampton
* Port Royal, Southampton
* St David’s
* St George’s Prep
Earmarked for expansion:
* Francis Patton, Hamilton Parish
* Victor Scott, Pembroke
* West Pembroke
* Harrington Sound, Smith’s
* Dalton E Tucker, Southampton
* East End, St George’s
* Purvis, Warwick