Education minister mulls UK-style academy system


Public-private partnerships could be used to revolutionize education in the Cayman Islands, Minister Tara Rivers said Monday. 

The education minister said she was planning a review of the system that will include consideration of public schools being managed by private boards of governors with a remit to raise standards – similar to the U.K. academy system. 

Her comments come just days after the Coalition for Cayman, the political lobby group which endorsed Ms. Rivers as an independent candidate at the last election, published a two-page advertisement in the Cayman Compass calling the public education system a “disaster.” 

The ad suggested Cayman adopt the system of publicly funded but independently managed schools, known as academies in the U.K. and highlighted ARK, one of the country’s best performing academy operators as the model to follow. 

Both Ms. Rivers and education counselor Winston Connolly, also an independent candidate endorsed by the C4C, visited an academy in the U.K. last year along with officials from the Education Ministry. 

The minister did not give clear details of what was being proposed for Cayman, saying it was still under discussion. “The proposal is to establish a governance model that will revolutionize the delivery of public education services through public-private partnerships.  

“A board(s) of governors or similar entity is anticipated to be established and will manage the operational aspects of each of the schools under their purview, with regulatory oversight provided by the Ministry of Education, and each school will be assessed regularly by the independent inspections unit to be established. “Essentially, this will lead to a public-private model of education for the Cayman Islands. The aim is to raise the standard of education and to facilitate the Cayman Islands in becoming a centre of excellence for education,” she said in a statement released Tuesday. 

Ms. Rivers and Mr. Connolly visited an academy in London earlier this year and spoke about the possibility of more private sector involvement in Cayman’s schools. 

Academy schools in England are funded by central government but independent of direct government control. 

There are various forms, including sponsored academies which receive funding or management support from private business or individuals. 

The leadership of successful academies in England are often used to take over state schools deemed to be failing, based on poor external exam results. All academies are required to meet National Curriculum core subject requirements and be subject to inspections but school management has relative autonomy beyond that. 

ARK, which stands for Absolute Return for Kids, is one of the most successful nonprofit groups running a network of academies across the U.K., according to its website.  

The website says ARK schools focus on “depth before breadth,” prioritizing math and English over a more diverse curriculum. 

“When pupils secure firm foundations in English and mathematics, they find the rest of the curriculum far easier to access. That’s why we prioritize depth in these subjects, giving pupils the best chance of academic success,” it says. 

The organization runs 27 academy type schools in the U.K. and boasts excellent inspection reports and improved results in schools it has taken over.  

Minister Rivers made no reference to specific systems or concrete plans, but said consideration of private/public partnership would be part of a wider review. 

“As Minister of Education, I have made an undertaking to critically review the education system of the Cayman Islands, with areas of priority being tackling behavior concerns, governance, vocational services and the introduction of an independent and objective inspections regime. 

“In addition to and in tandem with the review, the intention is to revise and update the Education Modernisation Law over the coming year to facilitate the changes, and to deal with technical breaches and other requirements necessary to update the Law in light of the new Constitution of the Cayman Islands and other relevant legislation coming into effect since the passing of the original law,” she said. 


Ms. Rivers


  1. Is Ms. Rivers admitting that the failure of the public school system in the Cayman Islands is largely due to the fact that it is government run and controlled? Also, did Ms. Rivers visit any other type of school other than the academy in London that she visited earlier this year?
    While a Public-private partnerships might not be a bad idea, what you will quickly find is that the private boards of governors will want more funds than is currently allocated in order to raise standards.
    As education is one of the largest expenses for government it looks like it is time that we seriously consider the implementation of school fees to cover some of the existing and future expenditure. This will not be popular with many but actually might assist in getting people to focus more on their children and to stop looking at the education system and a free child care service.

  2. All you have to do is spend 5 minutes on the Ark Academy website to see how much better our kids would be under a private system. In every area, music, second language instruction, PE and overall curriculum this system would put Cayman on the road to providing a real education to the local population. The public schools, the staff and Ministry are too far gone to save.

  3. @ Mr Ashley, where did you get that information? I have been reading up on the subject, the pros and cons, the comments from bloggers in the UK seem mixed on the subject. As a parent I would like to have as much information as possible about it. Academy system failing in the UK, can you please point me to that study/read. Right now from my early look at the subject, the Pros have it.

  4. It all sounds very good on paper. Especially, when you are halfway through your term and need to appease disgruntled voters, by appearing to do something constructive to tackle any campaign issue. We need to clear the layers of bureaucratic nonsense impeding education, not find ways to add more. Another point to consider: We cannot staff this proposed board the way we staff the residency and work permit boards now. It makes no sense to retain individuals who will act based on the whim of those in power and not based on the interests of the children. We know that this occurs; whether an individual is safeguarding themselves or their employers from retribution, or because they receive some form of quid pro quo. Third, why are we modeling ourselves after any other nation’s system-failed or successful? We designed Clifton-Hunter high school that way, and everybody knows how that turned out. Why can’t we have a true public/private partnership? One where employers and educators discuss the logical present and future needs of the potential workforce and develop a school system around those findings? We need a system that accounts for our country’s success, not the success of England or the U.S.A. or anyone else. Lastly, it makes no sense hiring anybody, if we are going to modify or ignore the findings in their reports.

  5. I like the idea of advanced academics and specialized classes, kids that study and work hard should be rewarded for their hard work, it also gives those that want too something higher to strive for. It’s not fair to the hard working kids to have to sit next to disruptive students all day. The reality should be that if you want a good education and success you have to work and study hard, if they are not academically advanced then there should be other options that students can pursue like hospitality, construction, electrical, plumbing or even dive-related careers. This could be in a votech program that they would also have to get accepted into. And for those students that punch and kick teachers, maybe classes at Northward. All the others who settle for just the basics can get the basics maybe teach them how to flip burgers or stock shelves, this in itself may convince them to strive for more.

  6. Since it implemented huge education reforms 40 years ago, Finland’s school system has consistently come at the top for the international rankings for education systems.Here are some highlights:
    -Compared with other systems, they rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens.
    -The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education.
    -There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are 16.
    -All children, clever or not, are taught in the same classrooms.
    -30 percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school.
    -66 percent of students go to college.
    -The difference between weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the World.
    -Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day in Finnish versus an average of 27 minutes in the US.
    -Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom, and take 2 hours a week for professional development.
    -All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree.
    -The national curriculum is only broad guidelines.
    -Teachers are selected from the top 10% of graduates.
    -In an international standardized measurement in 2001, Finnish children came top or very close to the top for science, reading and mathematics.

    Pretty amazing,isn’t it?

  7. Systems of education usually attempt to adapt a child to a system, instead of adapting a system to a child. When you actually understand what ignites the child’s curiosity and interest and excitement, the teachers and the parents, their duty is to have imagination necessary to take the lessons that must be learned, if they must, and adapt them in the manner representative and reflective of the child’s passion, so the child would want to learn those things because they are in context of what excites the child instead of working a child into a box that has nothing or little to do with them.

  8. Dear Minister Rivers

    I don’t wish to be the one to rain on your parade but my humble advice to you would be to go to the UK and review the system and general standard of education before moving ahead with this plan.

    The UK’s education system is as failed a model as you will find in the Western Hemisphere; take it from one who has lived in the UK for a number of years.

    A better plan is the apprenticeships and vocational training programs that are being considered, especially in adult education.

    I am a qualified tutor in those programs from one of the UK’s top awarding bodies and if those programs are adopted and tweaked for Cayman’s purposes, they will bear fruit; they have helped a lot of people gain usable work qualifications in the UK.

    We, in Cayman, need to create our own educational model for early-age learners (primary and high-school children) that is tailor-made for our own society and educational needs, not adopt one from a country that is as foreign and distant as the UK is.

    There is absolutely no evidence that an academy system has produced any significant change in the poor standard of school-leaving student now coming into the work-force in the UK.

    It is no coincidence that school-leavers are the highest unemployed percentage of the UK population; their school system has failed them miserably, as anyone in and from the UK will tell you.

  9. Mr. Sanderson, thanks for the link. Although the article did not speak to failing of the academy style of education, it interestingly highlighted a failing we all should recognize. The cycling of the school system along with elections, and the absence of defined long term objectives. It should reason then that a pubic private partnership would add to the stability since the private elements would lend continuity. I read that article as adding to the academy system of education not failing it.

  10. @ Mr Levy: In the UK, the academy system is ideologically driven by a private sector adoring government (look at what they are doing to the UK National Health Service) and Education Minister who has even gone as far as introducing Free Schools which are anything but FREE!
    Originally designed to allow private capital to flow into schools (in itself no bad thing but we must remember that the largesse of the private sector usually comes at a price) but has now come to be any attempt to rest control away from local authority control to a central model where schools are given money directly from central government to spend as they wish.
    This means we now have companies specifically set up to service the needs of these schools in providing much of the expertise that came originally from local authorities. These companies are either profit making or need to suck money out of the school ultimately to pay for their costs.
    So, think of the academy system as one which is founded on profit. It is a financial model rather than a pedagogical model for schooling.
    May I suggest, as I have done many times before, the answer lies in the Caymanian People. Kids need good, strong role models and need parents who can actually control their kids. They need to be supported by no nonsense schools where the teaching staff is dedicated and committed to delivering a high class education but where ill discipline is not tolerated.
    You are struggling on all counts. Parents (in many but by no means all) fail to discipline their children who grow up to think they are OWED something when actually they are the ones who OWE. You have a teaching staff that relies on non Caymanian teachers who are treated like dirt as so many people who come to Cayman to work are treated – like some sort of viper in your nest but that’s another story.
    Ms Rivers visiting one academy should not in any way be the basis of her policy changes and I would be happy to take her to schools in the UK (where schooling is not universally failing as suggested elsewhere) which are not academy’s where the vast majority of the students do very well.
    However, The main problem for a small nation is the style of schooling. Cayman needs to deliver students into the workforce at all levels right from those who will go on to University and become the leaders of tomorrow to those who will be the clerks or manual staff to service the island’s needs. Add to that the geographical difficulties of how do you cope with this across three islands, and the problems multiply. This needs a secondary school system capable of being multi layered with apprentice style education on the one hand to the more academic style of education on the other.
    The academy system is NOT the way to go for Cayman’s educational issues

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