Current alternative education provisions for schoolchildren who constantly misbehave are sufficient to handle the relatively small number of students who can’t be kept in school, according to senior education officials.
Reforms of behavior management will instead focus on additional training for teachers to help them handle problem students.
Pupils will also get more instruction on behavior issues, while greater consistency in implementing sanctions and improved management of support staff have been highlighted as areas for improvement following an internal review of the behavior management system in the public schools.
The review, led by senior policy adviser Annita Cornish, comes amid teachers’ increasing concern about the level of discipline in schools.
In March, a 15-year-old pupil was arrested after reportedly punching his teacher to the ground in a classroom assault.
Sean Cahill, policy adviser for safer schools, said assaults or threats of violence cannot be tolerated in local schools and have to be dealt with by police.
But he said the number of serious or persistent offenders is still relatively low. He cited a student survey, which is ongoing as part of the current review, that shows that 54 percent of students have received no sanctions at all. A further 16 percent get sanctions, for example a detention or demerit points, a maximum of once a term.
“You have maybe 2 percent – 20 students at John Gray, 15-20 at Clifton Hunter – of kids who might give more trouble. If that starts to rise and is causing major issues, we might need to look at expanding our alternative provision.”
Mr. Cahill sits on the secondary school alternative placement panel, which meets monthly to review referrals from Cayman’s high schools to the alternative education unit – a small facility for children who persistently misbehave.
He said the panel had 16 referrals since last June and placed 12 students in the program, some on a short-term basis only.
He said schools need to exhaust their own disciplinary measures before a student can be referred for transfer to alternative education.
The aim, where possible, is to keep children in school. “If we keep kids connected with the school, there are better outcomes,” he said.
Ms. Cornish said tweaks to the system would focus on equipping teachers to manage problems within the school. “Training and support is very much the focus of what we are doing, based on this needs analysis,” she said.
A pilot program offering “de-escalation training” to teachers to help them diffuse flare-ups has begun and could be rolled out throughout the school system.
Mr. Cahill added, “For anybody involved in working with kids, there is a potential risk. If we know there are kids that potentially pose a risk to us, we need to put some training in place to manage it.” Students will also get more direct instruction in how to behave, amid concern that some lack basic coping mechanisms.
“Just like we have kids who are poor at maths and English, we have kids who are poor at behavior, and that is something we have to explicitly teach. That is something we are going to be looking towards,” added Mr. Cahill. He said preliminary results from a survey about the schools’ system of sanctions and rewards for bad and good behavior suggests most believe the current code of conduct is fair, though there are some issues around implementation. “We are working with staff for the start of the new school year to strengthen consistency,” he said.
Another recommendation, says Ms. Cornish, is to “strengthen governance and structure” of existing resources, including teachers and counselors, to provide better coordination and communication on behavior management issues.