Students fared better after taking exams at end of Year 12 versus end of Year 11
The rapid improvement in exam results in Cayman is being driven by a “second chance” policy, with a large number of students reaching the critical benchmark of five good passes after resitting exams.
Government announced record-breaking results in 2013, with almost 70 percent of students achieving five “level 2” passes by the time they graduated at the end of year 12.
A fuller analysis of exam results data, released to the Caymanian Compass following a Freeedom of Information request, shows that the rate at the end of Year 11, when the students sat the exams for the first time, was closer to 40 percent.
But after retaking math, English, or both, alongside vocational BTEC courses at the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre, many more students made the grade.
The restructuring of the school system in 2011 led to middle schools being eliminated and more students sitting exams a year earlier – at the end of year 11 – the same as students in the U.K.
This has enabled students who don’t do well in the more traditional academic subjects to use the extra year to pursue equivalent level qualifications in trade-based skills, alongside mandatory retakes of math and English.
The issue of including retakes in reported exam results is contentious.
The U.K. government recently announced that it would be considering only “first attempts” in its data.
U.K. secondary schools sit their exams and report results at the end of Year 11, the academic year in which pupils turn 16 and compulsory education ends in that country.
Cayman’s students, who start school at a slightly younger age than their U.K. peers, do not officially graduate until the end of year 12, when most are 17.
Though many students successfully complete their GCSE or CXC exams in the final year at John Gray or Clifton Hunter high schools and move on to higher education, their performances are not officially recorded in the data until a year later, when they are tabulated alongside the results of those who spent an additional year at CIFEC.
The further education center has been critical in improving performance, says Clive Baker, senior policy adviser at the Department of Education Services.
“It is very important to have this ethos that students should be allowed to have another go. Where would we be in life if we all had to pass our driving test first time?” he said.
Mr. Baker cited CIFEC as a key element in ensuring that more students than ever leave the school system with respectable qualifications.
The evidence can be seen in the results data. The five pass figure jumps from 39.1 percent after year 11 to 69.5 percent after an additional year of study is factored into the mix.
The center’s trade-related courses, including BTECs in motor vehicle mechanics, hospitality, information technology, childcare and development, are also helping to make students more employable, said Mr. Baker.
Students are also required to complete two days of work experience each week and take other courses that emphasize such skills as resume writing and interview techniques.
Exam results have been improving steadily since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 2008.
The “headline figure” of students who gain five level 2 passes has risen from 30 percent to 69.5 percent over the time period.
Though the results across the board are largely encouraging, math remains a problem. Around one in three students achieved grade C or higher in math, and of the 227 students who retook the exam, only 21 made the grade on the second attempt.
Mr. Baker said significant work is being done to change the style of teaching throughout the system, particularly in early education, to turn around math results in the long term.