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Primary schools up for closure to be rescored

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David Burt giving a presentation at a town hall meeting on Tuesday at West End Primary over the proposed closure of the school (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

All but three of Bermuda’s 18 public primary schools will be rescored to ensure that the right decision was made on which ones to close.

The Government issued a statement after a heated town hall meeting on Tuesday in response to a suggestion by the West End Warriors, a pressure group fighting to keep West End Primary School open, that the scoring process for the school was flawed.

Diallo Rabain giving a presentation at a town hall meeting on Tuesday at West End Primary over the proposed closure of the school. (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The meeting was attended by David Burt, the Premier, and Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, and both gave presentations.

The Government has now said that all parishes with more than one primary school will be re-evaluated. It also said that as part of the new scoring, there will be an enhanced consideration for the legacy of schools.

The West End Warriors has always contended that West End Primary should have been chosen as the Sandys parish school to remain open, in part because of its legacy as one of the first schools in Bermuda to provide an education for Black students.

The government statement said: “In response to the concerns raised during the meeting … the Government announced that they would revisit the scoring process and that there would be enhanced consideration for legacy, specifically for parishes with more than one school.”

Warwick, Hamilton and Smith’s are parishes with one primary school each. There will, therefore, be no re-evaluation for Purvis Primary School (Warwick), Francis Patton Primary School (Hamilton parish) and Harrington Sound Primary School (Smith’s).

It was already announced in March that Heron Bay Primary School in Southampton will close in June. There are two other schools in Southampton — Dalton E Tucker Primary, which was chosen to remain open under previous scoring, and Port Royal Primary.

Government provides outline of the next steps

Historical consideration: “A History and Legacy Committee will be established later this year to ensure the rich histories and legacies of Bermuda’s schools are honoured and preserved in the reform process.”

Re-evaluation: “The scoring process for parishes with more than one primary school will be re-evaluated to address concerns raised by the West End Warriors.”

Continued dialogue: “The Ministry of Education will maintain open lines of communication with all stakeholders, particularly groups such as the West End Warriors, to ensure all viewpoints are considered in this pivotal process.”

A report by the Ministry of Education in July 2021 stated that Somerset Primary School was the most appropriate site for the parish primary school in Sandys.

It said that Somerset Primary achieved a higher score in four of the weighted study factors categories, that it has a larger available acreage and capacity for development expansion to accommodate up to 300 students and staff.

It said that the school also has a large playing field that has sufficient outdoor space and a preschool on its site.

The West End Warriors has made numerous arguments in favour of West End Primary remaining open. Aside from its legacy, it has cited better road safety in the area of the school and similar acreage to Somerset Primary.

Ellen-Kate Horton at the West End Primary School town hall meeting (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

In an interview last month, Ellen-Kate Horton, a former Permanent Secretary of Education who leads the West End Warriors, said that the difference between the schools was minimal enough for there to be grounds for a review of the decision.

Asked yesterday whether she believed that the increased focus on legacy could result in West End Primary remaining open, Ms Horton said on behalf of the West End Warriors: “I think whenever you look at legacy, West End Primary has the legacy but it depends on how they rate it.

“Not everything got the same rating. They can still do it the way that suits them. You can still sway things any way you want them.

“We are not accepting anything other than West End Primary School staying open. From our perspective there will be a West End Primary School at its present location.”

As part of the Government’s sweeping education reforms, eight of the 18 primary schools are slated for closure. Those that remain open, one per parish, with the exception of Pembroke which will have two, will become parish primary schools.

Francis Patton Primary and Purvis Primary were announced as the first two parish primary schools and are expected to open in September. As middle schools are phased out, parish primaries will have eight year groups compared with the existing six.

The Government said that it would use Plan 2022: Bermuda's Strategic Plan for Public School Education as a guide to determine what changes would be made.

Signature schools will also be added to the mix as part of the reforms as well as a school for students with exceptionalities and another for those with alternative learning requirements.

The Royal Gazette has asked the Ministry of Education how the new scoring will differ from the original, who will be involved in the new scoring and if it includes individuals who were not involved previously, how much the exercise will cost and how long it will take to conduct.

Responses to these questions were not received by press time.

How the original scoring was carried out

• 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 Permanent Secretary of Education, said those on the study committee included “expert professionals in building facilities” who worked in the primary schools daily 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 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.

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Published July 14, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated July 14, 2023 at 3:05 pm)

Primary schools up for closure to be rescored

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