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Support for primary school shake-up ‘strongly lacking’, according to survey

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Elliot Primary School, the only school originally slated for closure that is to remain open following public consultation is in Devonshire (File photograph)

Support for the Government’s public primary school reform plans is “strongly lacking” according to a survey.

Rajai Denbrook, a parent of public schoolchildren, launched the survey in June which he says was completed by 385 people and shared with the Ministry of Education.

The survey questions centred around whether consultation for the parish primary school plan was adequate and whether participants agreed with the final outcome.

It was active for six weeks and was distributed to the general public primarily via social media adverts as an opt-in survey.

It also went out on WhatsApp after Mr Denbrook shared it with his personal network, and the PTA of St George’s Preparatory School which his children attend and which his one of the schools slated for closure.

The respondents were a mixture of parents of public school students, parents of schools identified for close, parents of schools selected to be parish primary schools as well as public school educators.

It showed that 82 per cent of respondents disagreed that the public had a say in whether or not the island should establish one primary school per parish while 86 per cent disagreed that the public had a say in what factors determined which schools would close.

The survey revealed that 66 per cent of respondents did not support the parish primary school plan because of school closures and 88 per cent believed that the public had no say in which schools would be axed.

Furthermore, 78 per cent believe that consultation should be reopened for the selection of school sites and that consultation should be approached differently, while 70 per cent of educators surveyed did not support the plan because of closures.

Rajai Denbrook conducted a survey on school reform plans (File photograph)

Mr Denbrook said: “The Government has maintained the narrative that the process has been collaborative throughout. The public does not agree and their disagreement is not based on misunderstanding.

“The Hopkins Report was very critical of the ministry’s tendency ‘to implement Cabinet or ministerial initiatives by dictate or stealth’, effectively forcing change onto stakeholders.

“The survey responses give the impression that, unfortunately, not much has changed. However, we cannot afford to advance this level of reform without stakeholder support.

“Designing a standardised public consultation process for government would be helpful to prevent these kinds of dynamics.”

Survey questions

Did you review the Parish Primary Consultation document during the consultation period?

Did you attend one or more of the public meetings held February 2021 via Zoom?

Did you submit feedback during the Parish Primary School consultation period individually?

Did you submit feedback during the Parish Primary School consultation period with a group?

(The following questions included choice range from strongly agree to strongly disagree)

The pandemic prevented me from fully participating in the December 2020 – March 2021 consultation process.

The idea to establish one primary school per parish was still being developed when presented to the public.

The public had a say in whether or not we should establish one primary school per parish.

The public had a say in what factors would be used to determine which schools would become parish primary schools.

The public had a say in which schools would remain open and which schools would close.

I support the Ministry of Education's Parish Primary School concept regarding school closures.

The Ministry of Education should reopen consultation for its primary school vision with regard to school closures.

The Government consulted stakeholders and the community on its original plan outlined in December 2020 to close nine primary schools: St George's Preparatory School, St George’s, St David's Primary School, St George’s, Prospect Primary School, Devonshire, Elliot 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.

The only change from the original list of school closures post consultation was the exclusion of Elliot Primary School.

Mr Denbrook said that consultation was advanced during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic which may have hindered participation.

A location team was assembled prior to consultation which developed the parish primary schools rubric to be used to identify closures. The list was made public before feedback was sought.

The survey received 132 responses to open ended questions which Mr Denbrook said revealed a number of reoccurring themes.

He said that one such theme was that the primary school transition plan focused on facilities and infrastructure and not on teaching, learning or performance, and that too little was known during consultation about factors such as cost, design of spaces and the new curriculum.

He said while many agreed there is a need to consolidate schools and upgrade learning spaces, and the curriculum, they did not agree with the choice of schools or the process taken to identify them.

Mr Denbrook said: “According to the ministry, KPMG is actively working on the financial reality of the transition as it stands, and a company, Stantec, will be developing the design of the buildings and the logistics of the transition – something the Ministry has not made a strong effort to make public.

“Despite this work, consideration should be given to the serious lack of support parish primary schools currently has and resolving this by bold means, including holding their current consolidation plans in abeyance and reopening consultation. That would be the kind of emotionally intelligent, servant leadership we need right now.

“If people do not agree, now’s the time to make themselves heard. Sending a short message to the Ministry of Education, to the Learning First team, or to their constituency MP would be a good place to start. E-mails can be sourced from www.moed.bm and www.parliament.bm.”

The Ministry of Education has been approached for comment.

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Published August 24, 2022 at 7:48 am (Updated August 24, 2022 at 7:48 am)

Support for primary school shake-up ‘strongly lacking’, according to survey

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