‘No excuses’ approach needed in schools

There can be no excuses or blaming parents for poor performance in schools, Cayman Islands’ teachers were told on Friday. 

Avis Glaze, an international education expert, said good teaching and early intervention could have a profound effect on the life chances of struggling schoolchildren from tough backgrounds. 

Delivering the keynote address to a crowd of about 600 teachers at the annual educators’ seminar, Ms Glaze said intensive work in schools could ensure that “poverty does not determine destiny”. 

The former Ontario schools commissioner, who has worked on education policies in 30 different countries, praised Cayman’s new strategic plan, saying it was among the best she had seen. But she said the key to a successful system lay largely with teachers. She said educators worldwide needed to move toward a “no excuses” culture. 

“We need to get to the point in education where we recognise it is about instruction and leadership,” she said. “We can no longer blame parents. We cannot control what parents do. All we have influence on is once the children come through the doors to us, what are we going to do?” 

She said slow learners needed to be identified early and targeted for specific tutoring. She urged teachers not to use lack of funding as an excuse and use parent volunteers and high school students to help. 

“Don’t say, ‘give me the money and I will do it’. It takes will and skill,” she said. “We need money, yes, but we will never have enough money in these difficult times.” 

She said the approach had worked in Ontario where she helped reverse a trend of failure in schools and improved results across the board. 

“When I say no excuses, I know it can be done, because we did it,” Ms Glaze said. 

She made the remarks in an address to the entire teaching body in the Cayman Islands, many of them dressed in Superman style T-shirts to fit with the theme of the day – “I’m a teacher, what’s your superpower”.  

In an energetic hour-long speech at Mary Miller Hall, Ms Glaze urged teachers to have a “laser like focus” on student achievement, particularly in literacy and numeracy. She said school leaders needed to ensure timetables were flexible enough to target problem areas. And she urged them to set ambitious targets for their students, particularly in reading. 

She warned: “Some places are building prisons based on whether or not children can read by the end of grade three. You can predict the prison population by reading scores in elementary schools.” 

She said 90 per cent of children should be able to read by the end of grade one and 100 per cent by the end of grade three. 

“Children begin to drop out if they can’t read by grade three,” she added. “Many people think high school is a problem for dropouts. The dropping out begins psychologically in elementary schools. They just stay as long as they have to.” 

She said teachers and school leaders needed to be humble enough to ask for help. She also insisted there was no value in “shaming and blaming” teachers who were struggling. “When we have weak teachers we have to give them help.” 

The Cayman Islands has had long-standing problems with numeracy and literacy levels in schools. GCSE results have improved dramatically in recent years. But reading, and particularly maths, are still big areas of concern for all age groups. 

Educators, including Roy Bodden, president of the University College of the Cayman Islands, have sought to explain the issue by referencing the islands’ social problems.  

Ms Glaze said she was impressed by what she had seen in the local schools during her visit. And she acknowledged that the background of students played a big part in their performance in school. 

But she said it was up to teachers to level the playing field for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

“Remember, instruction has the largest influence on student achievement,” Ms Glaze said. “The teacher effect is important. Five years of effective teaching can completely close the gap between low income students and others.” 

In a broad-ranging speech, Ms Glaze, who runs Edu-quest International, also referenced the challenges facing teachers in the 21st century. She said teaching character development, using technology and understanding ethics were key parts of the job to prepare young people for the challenges of the modern world. 

Earlier, Chief Officer for the Ministry of Education Mary Rodrigues had told teachers they had a vital role to play in the reform of the territory’s education system.  

She said: “Make no mistake, we are in the midst of one of the biggest education reform agendas the Cayman Islands has ever seen. Be encouraged by the fact that we are building foundations that will serve our children and country well in the future; be motivated by the fact that we have a plan for how we can move forward together; and be inspired by the fact that we are well on our way and can already point to clear signs of progress. 

“Most of all, celebrate the fact that you, our educators and our students, are firmly established at the centre of all that we aspire to do as your education ministry.” 


Ms Glaze


  1. I am finally glad that someone with common sence has told these Cayman teachers to stop putting ALL OF THE BLAME ON PARENTS. Yesparents share some of it but remember the children leave home from 6.30. am every morning and return home at 4.00pm. Most times when they return home parents are still at work, and when the parents see them is when they come home and have an hour to share before bed time.
    Frankly speaking, I would say the teachers in the school are the persons who are raising your children, but the Education department, The Minister of education and all others need to know that the teachers are not doing enough. It would certain surprise them to hear some stories told by a few teachers who care. Stories that would make you want to keep your children at home. Besides this has not been only going on today. Why do you think that only a few caymanians of the ELITE FAMILIES got a good education and went on to college? It was because those from elite families were separated and given the opportunity to study and take these exams, where the poor barefoot children were not acknowledged.
    Today, the same thing is happening, Teachers make it their business to become very acquainted with some parents and they push these/their children to learn. TEACHERS PLEASE DO NOT DENY THIS, because it may very well come to surface. You never know when you are watched or being recorded. BE CAREFUL.
    Evidence may come forth and shock Cayman Islands Teachers association.
    I totall agree with the comments of Mrs. Glaze. The teachers are the fault why children do thing at school. Why do they allow them to wear certain clothes, jewellry and hair styles, cell phones, expressions and the list gop on. I blame the teachers. No discipline whatsoever in the schools. The ministry of education need to put his foot down, so does the education department. These people do not visit the schools enough. Why do they sit at their desk day after day fiddle faddling with computer, when they all have a CEO and a secretary to do this job. GET UP DRIVE OUT AND VISIT THE SCHOOLS and see what is going on. In fact the blame for what is happening at our schools begins with the Ministry, the education department, the schools and then the parents. How many hours does the parents have with the children when they are awake? Olease answer that question. Not enough interest is beiong shown in the schools by the Goverment. Visit the schools once every week un announced on different days, and watch the improvement.

  2. The approach outlined by Avis Glaze is doomed to create more failure than success.
    While the process of educating a child is successfully achieved by taking a Holistic approach, it is however mainly hinged on Discipline and Parental support.
    Unruly and in-disciplined children are not only impossible to teach, but also compromise the learning environment within the classroom, disenfranchising their classmates in the process.
    This contributes to a high turnover of Educators, low moral at ALL levels, lower GPA’s, and a higher level of Social issues such as teenage pregnancy and drug abuse within the schools themselves, all issues which are frighteningly prevalent within the higher-level Public school system in Grand Cayman.
    There have been countless studies and documented examples to support this, and Cayman need not waste more time and money attempting to ‘Re-invent the wheel’, but rather look to adopt an already tried and proven approach.
    Movies such as Waiting for Superman, Lean on me, The Ron Clark story, and Dangerous Minds show clearly that what we face can be overcome.
    The ONLY way to achieve a reversal of the path that our Public schools are on, is through a REVERSAL of the Hands-off approach to discipline that we have taken.
    One only needs to visit the Private schools that quite literally sit next door to our own Public Schools, to experience the stark contrast of these two environments first-hand.
    It is not what one sees and hears that makes an impression, but rather what one doesn’t see and hear.
    The schools are quiet, the classrooms orderly, and the students are found inside the classrooms, and not everywhere else.
    Discipline and Parental support are key to giving our children the opportunity to succeed.

  3. @Hunter

    As usual you are out in left field. I am constantly amazed that you see yourself as being in step and the rest of the parade out of step. Have you wondered at all?


    Obviously and educator and you have hit the bullseye. I am a teacher as well, and in Cayman in particular, I constantly see the desire to do it because its different, we need change and the countless superficial reasons to simply do something seems to be the order of the day.

    If you want electrical work you hire a plumber and I trust the meaning of my comment will not go undetected. We are more like the US than the US. Our culture is so influenced by them its unbelievable.

    Im sure my last comment will draw a disagree from lots but look at the forest because the trees are in your eyes.

  4. I like to draw my conclusions from the differences between kids raised in the time out generation compared to those raised in the spare the rod and spoil the child era.

    And no matter what people may think while the jobs teacher do is highly important and has a huge impact on kids. Education begins at home and unless the importance of education is instilled at home kids are more likely to fail, it does not mean they will fail but they are more likely to. Kids with parents that push the importance of education at home relentlessly are much more likely to succeed.

    This my friend is fact..

  5. Yes education begins at home and yes parents and students must take responsibility but for too long teachers have been simply left out of the equation when it comes to accountability.

    The principals have to lead and manage their teachers and students to ensure that students leaving the elementary level can read and write, basic skills. We can’t keep spending money after the fact, let’s ensure that regardless of socio-economic background and even parenting skills, when students enter year 1 they are diagnosed properly if they need assistance give it and after 6 years work to achieve basis skills.

    The job gets even more difficult for high school teachers and then employers to teach basic skills when they must be taught at the elementary level.

    We are wasting time, money and energy by having to employ additional civil servants, losing opportunities for employment because of one reason.

    Lack of accountability to all from elementary school.

    Principals and teachers at elementary level have 6 years to assist with appreciation for learning, respect for each other and basic maths and reading levels to remove the additional stress on high school teachers who not only have to deal with the low levels of basic skills but puberty and peer pressure, and usually less parental involvement during these crucial years.

    @Bubba I agree that we are more US that the US, especially when it comes to catering to many incompetent, uncaring teachers, especially at elementary level, who are failing our children and not even in unions but have the politicians catering to their wishes, and like the US we’ll be at the bottom in terms of meeting Maths English standards when teachers are made to feel they don’t have to be accountable.

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