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What about the children?

October 13, 2013

Dear Sir,

The Ministry of Education has recently embarked upon a consultation process through public meetings to solicit input from Bermuda's parents as to how they want to be involved in their children's education. More specifically, they want to know whether parents support the Ministry's proposal that school boards for all “maintained” schools be removed from the Education Act 1996 and replaced by an entity which they call “school advisory councils”. This may seem like a fairly straight forward question on the face of it, but let's cut to the chase.

Should this proposal be adopted, Bermuda will have 21 of its 26 public schools with no legal right to have Boards of Governors, while the remaining five schools will have functioning Boards. This outcome will represent the continuation of a built-in inequity in our school system which has persisted for far too long. More importantly, it means that those 21 public schools will not have the benefit of the governance functions, advocacy, control and support from parents and community partners that comes with having a Board of Governors. Hopkins' recommendation ten refers to the need for us to “Harness the power of parents, business and the community in the reform effort.”

How better to do this than to appoint boards of individuals who care about a school and its students, and who are prepared to undertake the governance functions and responsibilities required of board members with all of the authority that such a role carries with it? These functions do not preclude a focus on student achievement either, as the Ministry suggests it might.

If we replace Boards with School Advisory Councils we will be asking parents and the community to participate, while knowing that their “advice” has little, if any clout, and can simply be treated by the Ministry as more unwelcomed noise if it does not support their viewpoint or wishes. This step serves only to diminish parental and community power, it does not strengthen it. One has to ask, “What is the Ministry afraid of losing by sharing power with parents and community partners from whom they claim they want more involvement?” it seems to me that there is far more to be gained.

What about the children? Hopkins' review of our system favoured the appointment of boards for this reason, thereby giving schools greater autonomy in staffing of schools, deployment of resources, and principal accountability. The research supports his assertion that “School principals are the key to raising student achievement in Bermuda.” If principals, teachers, parents and the community are not treated by the Ministry as true partners in the educational process, reform efforts will continue to go nowhere and we will continue to fail our children and by logical extension, this country.

We have an opportunity here and now to strengthen parents' and community involvement in schools by appointing boards for all public schools. Let's not miss this opportunity for the sake of our children and our children's children!

RETIRED BUT NOT ASLEEP

British education expert Dr Stephen Hopkins addresses a March 2007 public meeting on his review of public education in Bermuda. In 2008, Government, in its Throne Speech, said the recommendations of the Hopkins Review would be implemented that year.

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Published October 17, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 17, 2013 at 10:16 am)

What about the children?

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