Endorsing the UNESCO definition, the country’s 2013 inclusive and special education policy refers to inclusive education as the ‘process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion within and from education. It involves changes and modifications in content, approaches, structures and strategies, with a common vision which covers all children of the appropriate age range and a conviction that it is the responsibility of the regular system to educate all children’. While inclusion is ‘concerned with providing appropriate responses to the broad spectrum of learning needs in formal and non-formal educational settings’, inclusive education is conceived as ‘an approach that looks into how to transform education systems and other learning environments in order to respond to the diversity of learners. It aims towards enabling teachers and learners both to feel comfortable with diversity and to see it as a challenge and enrichment of the learning environment, rather than a problem.’
Special education needs
The inclusive and special education policy defines special education needs as ‘an area of functioning which is significantly different from the established norm and where specialized education and related supports which are beyond what is usually provided through general education are required by students in order to learn to their ability.’ It lists ‘autism spectrum disorder ... , emotional or behavioural disorders, blindness and low vision, deaf and hard of hearing, developmental disability, giftedness, language impairment, mild intellectual disability, physical disability, specific learning disability or difference, speech impairment, and multiple exceptionalities’ as examples of special education needs.
Bermuda has been shifting towards an inclusive education system. The country’s Education Planning Team decided to close special schools between the 1980s and the 1990s with the aim to move towards a unified system. After a review in the late 1990s, a special school reopened in 2003 to serve learners with multiple disabilities.
According to the Government of Bermuda, there are at present two special schools operating in the country.
Early identification, screening and assessment
Developed in the 1990s, the School Team Process regulated early identification and pre-referral mechanisms for students in need. Involving teachers, parents and other professionals, it was meant to determine learners’ placement in special schools. However, it was not widely implemented. Therefore, the inclusive and special education policy calls for the formulation of a policy on the diagnosis and/or identification of all exceptionalities and special needs. An ongoing, unbiased formal and informal assessment was also advocated for in the 2006 National Policy on Disabilities.
Bermuda is one of the 14 British Overseas Territories. Among its fundamental rights and freedoms, the 1968 Bermuda Constitutional Order prohibits and protects from any discrimination based on race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, religion or disability (Art. 12). Those grounds are expanded in the 1981 Human Rights Act, amended in 2013 to include ethnic and national origin and sex and sexual orientation, among others (Art. 2).
While the Constitution does not enshrine the right to education, the 2015 Education Amendment Act, replacing the 1996 Principal Education Act, lays down this right for every child according to ‘her/his age, ability, special needs (if any), aptitude and health’ (Art. 51.1). ‘Suitable education’ is promoted for every child, considering learners’ ‘aptitude, ability and special needs’, including those with learning difficulties and gifted and talented students (Art. 2.1). Particular attention is paid to students at risk of academic failure, whose assessment does not correspond to the grade level established by the curriculum standards. Learners at risk are identified ‘as early as possible’ based on grades, observations, curriculum-based assessment and other potential factors and are entitled to an individual education plan aimed to improve their academic performance (Art. 25D).
Informed by the principle of inclusivity, the education strategic plan for 2022 aims to enforce a transformative public education strategy. As result of a consultation process that engaged citizens and diverse groups of community members, the plan intends to improve needs identification to better tailor education provision, put in place alternative school models and implement the inclusive and special education policy. The latter promotes a fully inclusive education provision ‘in name and in practice’ so that all children, ‘regardless of race, gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, background, familial status or connection, upbringing, aptitude and/or ability have the opportunity to achieve to their full potential.’
As reported in the policy document, there is no comprehensive legislation laying foundations to inclusive and special education in the country, and inclusion is mainly interpreted as integration of students with special needs in regular classes. Conversely, the inclusive and special education policy targets all children to fulfill their right to ‘enroll, access and participate in a high quality education that meets their needs.’
The 2006 National Policy on Disabilities pursues human dignity, equality, self-determination, access and inclusion for everyone. Among its objectives, it calls for the revision of current legislation and procedures preventing the fulfilment of those values. In relation to education, it promotes appropriate education for all learners with disabilities according to and respecting the diversity of needs. It intends to ensure that ‘all learners have the right and option to attend a full inclusive and accessible neighbor school’. Inclusive education is promoted through individualized or small group programmes.
As provided in the inclusive and special education policy, students with ‘emotional or behavioural, communicational, intellectual (including gifted), physical or multiple exceptionalities’ may need special education in the form of special accommodations, and/or through individualized educational programmes. Special education is therefore conceived as a parallel and integrated provision within an inclusive education system.
In 2017, the United Kingdom extended the ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women to Bermuda. The Human Rights Act lays down the right to no less favourable treatment if a woman is or may become pregnant (Art. 2.4).
Under the Ministry of Health, the Disability Advisory Council is a non-statutory committee that provides recommendations on disability issues. With the 2010 Commission for Unity and Racial Equality Act, the functions of the Commission for Unity and Racial Equality were transferred to the Human Rights Commission.
As prescribed in the National Policy on Disabilities, all learners are entitled to have their communication, linguistic and cultural needs fulfilled, including through sign languages, Braille and alternative communication tools, and to have access to an adequate curriculum and appropriate materials.
In general, the education strategic plan for 2022 aims to ensure a diverse and differentiated curriculum.
Section 5 of the 2006 Education Rules regulates the minimum qualifications for teaching by area and level, while the 2002 Educators Council Act prescribes that teachers receive training on up-to-date research-based teaching practices.
Concerning special needs, a post-certification qualification in special education was accredited by the Ontario College of Teachers through the University of Ontario Institute of Technology to train special education teachers, while 16 teachers from 15 public schools completed a 12-week training course on working in differentiated classrooms. The training consists in using differentiated instructional classroom models to cater for students’ learning needs.
No information on monitoring and reporting on inclusion has been found.