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.