Officials say original report was edited over ‘quality concerns’
An independent inspection report has highlighted serious concerns about the management of bad behavior in Cayman’s classrooms.
The report was tabled in the Legislative Assembly on Monday by opposition legislators. However, the final version of the November 2012 report – which had not previously been released – was radically altered from a detailed original draft, which was highly critical of John Gray High School in particular.
The initial document contained eight pages of recommendations including calls for principals to discipline and ultimately sack teachers who don’t perform instead of moving them around the system. It also recommended principals have more power to hire new teachers.
Both the slimmed-down final draft and the more detailed draft were produced during Finance Committee hearings on the education budget on Monday.
Neither had previously been made public though the shorter, edited version will appear as an appendix in a new soon-to-be released review of behavior issues in Cayman’s schools, according to education officials.
They say the original report produced by British consultant David Moore was simply not up to standard and contained too much unsubstantiated opinion.
Mary Rodrigues, chief officer in the Ministry of Education, said the review did not deliver on its remit.
“There were serious concerns about the quality of the draft versions of the 2012 report, which were addressed in a clear and frank manner with the consultant,” she said.
Legislators, including Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, expressed concern that the report, which followed a review by a team of inspectors, including a long list of senior local educators, was edited to such a large extent. Mr. Bush said the recommendations had been cut from eight pages to a page and a half between the draft and the final document.
The more detailed 2012 draft highlights a number of concerns about behavior issues at John Gray – suggesting management of behavior was fragmented and could be best described as “fire fighting.”
It suggests a small minority of students influenced by “criminal intent and drug abuse” are having a disproportionate effect throughout the school, allowing other students to exploit the “sense of crisis” and disrupt learning.
The report says, “Some staff think more resources would resolve the problem. They are fearful of potential physical and verbal violence and do not feel confident in managing classrooms or challenging the attitudes of students. Some do not leave their classrooms while others lock themselves and their students in their rooms.”
The report says the provision of support staff to manage bad behavior is good – but suggests teachers are too quick to call for help.
“Teachers have, over time, been allowed to ignore the procedures in place to manage disruption and abdicate their own responsibility for managing learning and behavior. Clearly there are some students whose behavior is particularly challenging, however, much of the behaviors observed are low level inattention, talking silliness and minor interference with others.”
It points to a lack of “common agreement” between staff on what constitutes “low level” misbehavior, such as talking and inattention and what are “higher level” offenses such as verbal or physical aggression, resulting in staff using the same response to all incidents.
It adds that issues with teachers from overseas misunderstanding students’ social attitudes, prior learning and value systems can cause flare-ups.
The final draft of the report removes many of these points and does not specifically name John Gray school, referring instead to “one school in particular.”
It points out that establishing on-school units where students can be sent when they misbehave has had an impact.
“The use of units has helped to reduce the number of external exclusions, although these are high at one school, rising to over four percent of the school roll in one month in the first term of the current year,” the report stated.
It recommends that government “review and change the current practice of moving weak teachers around the system rather than moving to disciplinary measures and dismissal.”
It also calls for a support center to help students review and better manage their behaviors but says this should be used on a limited basis only and with a clear criteria for referrals.
Ms. Rodrigues said there were serious concerns about the quality of the 2012 review. She said the ministry was working on implementing recommendations of a 2014 study, conducted by new senior policy advisor Annita Cornish.
A National Code of Student Conduct with rewards and sanctions for positive and negative behaviors
National expectations around dress and use of electronic equipment
A new home school agreement outlining expectations for parents
Ms. Rodrigues added, “Ms. Cornish’s report has a research base and it addresses the key question of how we are managing the considerable behavior resources we have, and what changes we need to implement as a system to ensure that we are using them more effectively to meet our students’ needs going forward.”
Ms. Rodrigues said most teachers in the system were doing excellent work.
“At the recent graduation ceremonies, there were many tributes to teachers who have gone out of their way to help our children achieve their very best and to nurture them along the way,” she said. “Unfortunately, not all teachers respond well to negative behaviors in students, and frankly there are a few who let us down.”