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Schools Report: Concern over lack of detail over funding

Lack of detail about how the Government plans to fund and implement parish primary schools in Bermuda was a common theme raised during public consultation.

The Government released three reports on the consultation including the the Parish Primary School Consultation report, which provides an overview of the process and synopsis and analysis of the submissions.

One submission said the Government’s original consultation document “does not outline how any of these key action points are to be addressed”.

The submission also cited gaps in “critical areas” such as curriculum, assessment and funding. One suggestion was to improve teacher quality by requiring teachers to have a master’s degree.

The consultation report responded that the actions are being addressed by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with Learning First, a group made up of community members and education stakeholders charged with redesigning Bermuda’s public school system.

The report said: “If the ministry solely decided how these points would be addressed, without input, it would be criticised for making decisions about and for stakeholders.”

Under the plans, eight primary schools will be closed and the remaining ten will be refurbished to accommodate 21st- century learning.

There were concerns about the financial cost of refurbishment not being provided despite inevitably being high. The report said this was considered, adding: “Lack of investment has also been a common concern.”

The report added: “In order to be accurate, detailed costings must also be based on scopes of work, which must be developed from the collaborative redesign of schools through Learning First. Therefore, the development of detailed cost estimates could not be undertaken until after decisions on primary schools were made.”

It added that publication of a cost could undermine the procurement process as “developers could bid to the cost estimates rather that submit tailored bids”.

Some consultees suggested that school performance should have been included in the criteria for the closure of schools.

A submission by the PTA at St George’s Preparatory School stated: “High-performing schools were penalised; high-performing schools should not be closed; low-performing schools should be closed.”

The Consultation Report’s first response to this submission was that the group did not define what a high-performing school is and that there is no current definition in Bermuda of high-performing schools.

It said: “There is no measure of ‘school performance’. There is no definition or measure of a ‘high-performing school’ or a ‘low performing school’. Therefore, it is not a basis upon which decisions on school closure can be based.”

The report said that P6 Cambridge Checkpoint Assessment results “do not represent school performance” because it was a diagnostic test that represented “a single measurement of student performance”.

Other performance indicators, the report said, include: “Personal factors, their interactions with others and with other systems around them such as the school system, their neighbourhood, the economy, political policy, and multicultural relations, in addition to the available resources within a school and the quality of teaching.”

One detailed submission claimed the plan contradicted the “plethora of research” around effective education by using the state of the building and site as a predominant criteria for closure.

Research cited in the submission includes that of Lawrence W Lezotte (1990), which sets out seven correlates of effective education: productive climate and culture; focus on learning skills; appropriate monitoring; practice-oriented development; strong leadership; salient parent involvement; and high expectations and requirements.

The report denied any contradiction. It said: “The seven correlates are relevant, must be considered along with a plethora of other research and standards for education, including accreditation. Having safe and healthy 21st-century facilities that can facilitate the delivery of 21st-century curriculum is an important part of the provision of education in which the seven correlates exist.”

Concerns were expressed about the potential for overpopulated schools that would create “impersonal and structured” learning environments.

Schools will be larger under the plan — enrolment for each school is 300, which the Government described as “an appropriate and optimal number of students to be able to support 21st-century learning”.

As of September 2020, primary school enrolment ranged from 75 students at the smallest primary school to 193 students at the largest.

The maximum class size in parish primaries will be 15 students per class for all year-levels.

The report said: “School structures, schedules and resources are organised in ways to ensure that students are in cohorts and sections.”

Schools were given scores as part of the criteria for closure based on multiple factors including building and site conditions, health and safety, and transportation.

It was highlighted that some schools chosen for closure scored higher [better] than some of those that will remain open. The report said that some schools with lower scores were selected to remain open because of the requirement for there to be one school in each parish — in some cases there is only one school.

It said some of the low-scoring schools are in parishes that house a significant percentage of total primary school students, while some high-scoring schools had low population percentages.

Part of the Government’s vision for school reform is that all schools become central to their communities.

The point was made by consultees that some primary schools facing closure are already fulfilling that role. One submission read: “Existing primary schools already embody the parish primary schools.”

The report said: “The parish primary school model is more expansive than current primary schools. It is intended to grow and strengthen communities as persons and organisations work together to transform current educational, economic, and cultural development systems to be more inclusive and equitable.”

The report said travel times between parish primary schools would vary from between five and 20 minutes.

“With the exception of children who live in St David’s, most students will continue to live within ten minutes of the closest available primary school,” it said.

It added that there would be a provision of dedicated buses.

Consultees suggested closing fewer schools, retaining the three-zone model of East, West and Central zones and closing those with the lower enrolment.

While the three-zone model will be retained, the report said closing fewer schools “would mean spreading precious human and financial resources across a higher number of schools and undermine achieving the vision and objectives”.

It added that there would be fewer financial resources across a higher number of schools and that schools would not be the “optimal size based on research”.

The other consultation reports released were the The Parish Primary Consultation Submissions, which includes all of the submissions received during the consultation and the Parish Primary School Decisions report, which shares Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education’s decisions on the proposal for parish primary schools. It also explains the decisions and why they were made.

The consultation began on December 18, 2020, with the publication of the Parish Primary School Consultation Document and ended on March 12, 2021.

The Parish Primary School Plan:

Eight public primary schools are to close under the government’s Parish Primary School Plan.

The implementation of the plan will be phased in at a minimum of a three to five-year period. The transition of students from a three-tier to a two-tier education system will also be phased in.

Parish primary schools will accommodate two additional years of primary school with ages ranging from 5 to 12 – senior schools will accommodate ages 13 to 15 while exceptionalities signature schools will cover all year levels from 5 to 18.

What was M1 (middle level one) will become P7, M2 will become P8 and M3 will become S1 (senior level one).

Primary school enrolment will continue to be based on zones; therefore, children will not necessarily have to live in the parish where their school is located.

The schools that will close are: St George's Preparatory School, St George’s; St David's Primary School, St George’s; Prospect Primary School, Devonshire; Northlands Primary School, Pembroke; Gilbert Institute, Paget; Heron Bay Primary School, Southampton; Port Royal Primary School, Southampton; and West End Primary School, Sandys.

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Published September 10, 2021 at 7:56 am (Updated September 10, 2021 at 7:38 am)

Schools Report: Concern over lack of detail over funding

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