‘Three Rs’ of 
schools inspection: 
Review, report, release

Last week’s announcement from the Ministry of Education, that independent consultants are conducting a comprehensive “baseline inspection” of Cayman Islands schools, is cause for cautious optimism.

Education Minister Tara Rivers and councilor Winston Connolly sounded the proper tone during the news conference unveiling the initiative, specifically when Mr. Connolly said their aim is to provide a “warts and all” analysis of life in Cayman public schools.

We certainly hope so. Any report that lacks an honest presentation of identifiable blemishes isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on — much less the $232,000 contract signed between government and consultants from Cayman and the U.K.

The “baseline inspection,” to be performed by former Cayman schools chief inspector Mary Bowerman and a team from the U.K.-based Independent Schools Inspectorate, has the potential to be the foundation for dramatic, positive reform of education in this country – provided that inspectors are allowed to operate and report freely, the government refrains from constricting the scope of the inspection, officials do not attempt to massage or gloss over critical conclusions, and the results are published in a timely manner.

None of those criteria was met, of course, the last time the Ministry of Education paid an independent education consultant to review the state of Cayman’s schools. In 2012, the government brought in British consultant David Moore (at a cost of $33,000), whose original report on troubling student behavior, particularly at John Gray High School, was deemed “disproportionately negative” by education officials, subsequently whitewashed and whittled down into a “finalized” version, then shelved entirely until June 2014 when both drafts — original and sanitized — were tabled in the Legislative Assembly by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush.

Public outcry over the transmogrification ensued, as did a classical round of bureaucratic finger-pointing, buck-passing and blame-pinning, resulting in no individual taking personal responsibility for anything that occurred. In August, this Editorial Board asked, “Who ordered the editing of the report and who did the actual editing?” — a query that remains without a response.

Since the time of Dr. Moore’s report being run through the wringer, a changing of the guard has occurred at the top of the Ministry of Education, including Minister Rivers’s election in May 2013, the transfer of Education Chief Officer Mary Rodrigues to other government duties, and also the departure of other officials who had closest involvement with the report.

With education now being led by Minister Rivers, Councilor Connolly and Acting Chief Officer Christen Suckoo, it is a good time for a blank-blackboard start for public schools, beginning with a thorough, candid look at student achievement and quality of teaching and leadership, as the inspection team is tasked with doing, with a deadline of June 2015.

In the meantime, a different U.K.-based education consultant, KPMG’s Roland Meredith, is performing a separate review for the ministry, constituting a higher-level evaluation of Cayman’s education system, and presenting a list of options for the government to consider in order to introduce private sector innovation into public schools. This report should be published in January.

As we’ve stated before, the Compass remains neutral in regard to who runs Cayman’s schools, as long as they’re run properly and produce acceptable, measurable results.

Anyone who speaks with woefully underprepared high school graduates knows that Cayman’s public schools are failing.

Cayman will never solve its unemployment problem until and unless it solves its education problem.

Just how badly our schools are failing, and possibly why, are questions we expect consultants to answer, and, more importantly, for government to allow them to answer.

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