We don’t need no education

In the wake of a strident article in the Royal Gazette claiming “Bermuda’s public schools are like those of the third world”, I decided to explore the education system on the island. My days of choosing schools were some 20 years ago and I have no intention of making any recommendations in this post. However, I thought it might be useful to summarise what is available and provide some links to local school websites. The article is aimed at potential ex-pats with families planning on settling in Bermuda, it will probably be common knowledge to Bermudians.

So your first decision, and potential confusion is “public” or “private”. In UK public is a term saved for the few rarified and time-cemented institutions such as Rugby, Eton, Winchester. In Bermuda public means state-run, supported by Bermudian taxes. Private, in both, is fee-paying or independent.

I can already see you reaching for the cheque book, especially if the newspaper is anywhere near correct in that public schools here are substandard, deprived, poor.

Hold on though, is there any truth there?

My reading of the article is that the author is revitalising a long-standing political argument about standards within the Ministry of Education. If you visit their website, you could well jump to the same conclusions – the site is poorly presented, full if missing links and empty pages and has the appearance of something left in the development stages back in the 1990s.

Yes, there are problems with the department responsible for education, not least that it is a shared portfolio with the Economic Affairs department and has not had a dedicated Education Minister for the last 15 months. (Post-script note: curiously one was appointed as I wrote, lending the impression that maybe the original news article was all a publicity stunt in a deeply political game!)
But departmental disarray is not the same thing as claiming standards of education in public schools are deficient. And thats as far as I am going to comment on politics.

Back to the schools themselves.

School Levels

School Levels

Education on the island is compulsory from 5 to 16 years with 38 state schools providing it for free for the 6000 students in that system. The structure is

  • Primary: up to Year 6 of UK or grade 5 in US
  • Middle: years 7,8,9 of UK or to US grade 8
  • Senior: up to year 13 of UK, grade 12 of US, to the point of starting college (US) / university

On reaching the final year of senior school the students will take the “Bermuda School’s Certificate” which is graded A to D. The public schools follow the Cambridge International Curriculum, which gives a framework for English, Maths and Science and allows benchmarking against other international schools with external examinations. The pupils have primary level tests and middle school checkpoint tests and then sit IGCSEs in year Senior 2. This has only been running for the past 4 years but early results suggest Bermuda with 90% pass rates for the public school pupils compare favourably with an international average of 76% pass rate. So nothing there to support the claim of third world comparison.

The School Run

The School Run

It is true, however, that most ex-pat families will pursue private schooling, at least for the senior classes. Some send their children off-island to boarding schools in UK, Canada or US; whatever their reasoning it is not due to lack of options for private schooling on the island.

There are 6 private schools on the island, each having junior departments and all but one offering the equivalent of “sixth-form” (UK college level, ages 17 and 18).
Bermuda Institute  Southampton Parish

Bermuda High School for Girls   Hamilton City

Mount St Agnes Academy  Hamilton City

Saltus Grammar School  Hamilton City

Somersfield Academy  Smith’s Parish

Warwick Academy  Warwick Parish

Perhaps the first question to tackle is “What are the fees?” Education here is certainly not cheap, the range shown in the table.

12,300
Bermuda Institute
17,104
Mount St Agnes
17,985
Warwick Academy
19,000
Bermuda High School
19,990
Somersfield
20,000
Saltus

Annual school fees 2014/15 in $ (if paid in one single payment)

It is obviously cheaper to pay in a single payment at the start of the academic year, but each school offers the option of payment by instalments. I shall leave you to make the comparisons with your own countries.  None of these, by the way, are boarding schools, though all offer extra-curricular and after school programmes.

So what about size?
All of them adverts “small class sizes” though only Bermuda High School goes as far as to define small, which in this case is 20. Comparing size using pupil numbers is deceptive. Somersfleid appears to be the smallest with 480 pupils but does not offer senior years 3 or 4 (UK 12/13 or US grades 11/12) and they don’t clarify if the figure includes primary pupils. On pupil numbers, Saltus is the largest with over 900 students; Warwick Academy 780 ; BHS 690; Bermuda Institute 560; Mount St Agnes not stated.

Small classes: no overcrowding!

Small classes: no overcrowding!

As one might expect, all of the private schools are academically selective using interviews at younger ages and entrance exams for later years. Selection processes take place in the Spring term from January to March for entrance the following September.

While it might be tempting to choose a school on proximity/fees/size the curricular programmes play a role in differentiating between the schools. With the ultimate destination being higher education for the majority of students, the courses offered need to prepare them for the choices – UK/US/Canada. Traditionally the American system will use Standard Assessment Tests (SAT) and require a figure for Grade Point Average (GPA) while the UK system uses GCSEs and A levels. Europe uses the International Baccalaureate (IB) and most UK Universities these days detail acceptable IB standards for admissions. So parents or students may wish to choose schools offering the programme that gives them a competitive advantage for where they eventually wish to pursue further education.

GCSE
BHS, Saltus, Warwick
IGCSE
BHS, Saltus, Warwick
IB
BHS, Warwick
SAT
Saltus, Mount St Agnes, Bermuda Institute

The IGCSE groups subjects into 5 areas, the student selecting one subject from each area: languages, creative and technical, humanities, maths, social sciences. This is similar to the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IBMYP) that is offered by Somersfield. This school commences with a Montessori curriculum in primary years, then IBMYP with students moving onto BHS or Warwick if they wish to complete the IB. The IB here consists of 6 subjects, 3 at standard level and 3 at higher, with additional study on theory of knowledge, creativity and action and service. Warwick Academy also offers single subjects within the IB programme.

One aspect I haven’t yet covered is religion – Mount St Agnes is a Catholic School and Bermuda Institute is Seventh Day Adventist. Neither is religiously exclusive, but students will be expected to partake in daily faith-based activities within the school day. Non-religious community service is an integral aspect of all of the schools. For example Warwick expects a minimum of 25 hours from a senior student with a reflective written report at the year-end. Personally I think that this focus is something that stands out amongst Bermudian school students across the island — without exception, they seem to be polite and considerate, and you will find them volunteering in many different fields.

Of course there are many other aspects to distinguish one school from another, and you will wish to make visits to get a sense of the ethos, teaching and whether pupils are happy.

Happy? At school? Whatever next!

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
— Mark Twain

Bermuda Rocks

Bermuda Rocks

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2 thoughts on “We don’t need no education

    1. KT Post author

      I believe they do but that was not clear from the website information. I have been told that all Bermuda schools have a requirement for community service without which the student cannot receive a graduation certificate. KT

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