School inspections unit revived

The dormant schools inspections unit is being revived in an effort to better monitor performance in Cayman’s education system.

Budget and staffing issues have seen a decline in the number of full school inspections in recent years.

The number of employees at the school inspection unit, now known as the Education Quality Assurance Unit dwindled to zero, following the retirement of the sole remaining inspector early this year.

The unit has been given funding for two inspectors in the current budget year. Consultants will also be brought in to conduct “baseline inspections” of “all government schools” in the next year. Following those inspections, an established schedule for government and private schools as well as early childhood care and education centers will be established.

Mary Rodrigues, chief officer in the Ministry of Education, said the inspection unit had “not been functioning” for the past five months and had experienced significant challenges for several years.

“There have been significant resource challenges which made it impossible to deliver the regular inspection cycle, “ she said. She said the focus of the few staff that remained in the unit in recent years had been on early childhood centers – which were outlined as a key priority by the previous education minister.

She said the intention going forward was to table all inspection reports with Cabinet and the Legislative Assembly and, ultimately, to the public online.

Legislators raised concerns about the lack of full school inspections during Finance Committee discussions about the education budget on Monday. Arden McLean, MLA for East End, said the unit needed to be re-established and staffed by Caymanians.

“It’s a critical aspect of management of our education system, it must be one of the priorities and be receptive to the recommendations. We can’t survive like this – if we don’t know where we are, we don’t know where we are going.”

Ms. Rodrigues said the intent was to revive the unit. She said one of the two open positions would be advertised exclusively in Cayman and would not require previous inspection experience – in an effort to attract an experienced Caymanian educator to the role. The other position, which will require experience, will be advertised overseas and locally.

She said the unit had never been fully disbanded, but had been unable to deliver the regular inspection cycle.

“There was never a decision taken to disband the school inspectorate. Looking back over developments in the system since 2006, we saw year-on-year staffing reductions, if there were vacancies that weren’t filled they were cut as part of the annual budget process. That has been the challenge – getting the resources to make it viable,” Ms. Rodrigues said.

Premier Alden McLaughlin, who was education minister until 2009, said inspections had been an important part of the previous Progressives government’s regime. He suggested the posts had been cut as a policy decision not to prioritize inspections by the United Democratic Party.

“I thought that was a huge mistake – we have nothing against which we can measure how schools are doing,” he said.

He added that the inspection unit should be independent of the ministry, something Education Minister Tara Rivers said would be the case.

There have been three government school inspections – which are distinct from the behavior management review also discussed at length in the Legislative Assembly – since 2009. They include an inspection of Layman E. Scott High School on Cayman Brac in 2010 and a January 2013 inspection of the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre in January, 2013. There have also been three inspections of private schools and 24 inspections of early childhood care and education centers, according to Ms. Rodrigues.