Education chief ordered report changes

A highly critical report of behavior management in Cayman’s schools was extensively cut at the request of the chief officer in the Ministry of Education, emails released under the Freedom of Information Law suggest. 

The emails, between education officials and consultant David Moore, show their dissatisfaction with his original draft report, which highlighted serious concerns about the handling of bad behavior, particularly at John Gray High School. 

Ultimately, the emails indicate, Mary Rodrigues, chief officer at the time, asked for Mr. Moore’s report to be rewritten by ministry staff, claiming it did not meet the expected standards. 

Criticisms of his draft, contained in the messages, include that it was not positive or encouraging enough in tone, the language was too negative in places, and it did not include enough information on the successes of the system. 

Mr. Moore’s original 28-page draft was trimmed down to 15 pages, with many of his more critical comments and recommendations removed. Neither version was released to the public until they were obtained by opposition legislators and tabled during a Finance Committee hearing in 2014. 

Release of the emails, requested last August, was initially declined by the Ministry of Education, but the records were finally released last month after the Compass appealed to the Information Commissioner. 

The messages show tension between education officials and the consultant following the submission of his report. 

In an email to Jo Wood, a senior policy advisor in the ministry at the time, Mr. Moore acknowledges the officials’ concerns that his report needs to be more encouraging, but cautions against glossing over problems identified in his review. 

“I understand about tone and the need to be positive but we must not underplay some of the profound weakness that lead to poor behavior,” he wrote. 

“I also appreciate your comments on recommendations and put some in, outside the remit, to flag how important they are so the system knows what is actually going on in schools.” 

In an earlier email, Mr. Moore commented, “John Gray High School is, as you already know, in crisis and our first visit confirms that.” 

The original draft of his report reflected this view, reporting that a small minority of students influenced by “criminal intent and drug abuse” were having a disproportionate effect throughout the school, allowing other students to exploit the “sense of crisis” and disrupt learning.” 

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. 

Those recommendations and the observations about John Gray were cut from the final report. 

In a February 2013 email from Ms. Wood to Mr. Moore, she writes that Ms. Rodrigues was not happy with the report and had requested a rewrite. 

“For the time being, she is not satisfied with the report. It does not meet expectations for reporting,” Ms. Wood wrote in the email, summarizing Ms. Rodrigues’s criticisms, including that the use of certain phrases stress “unnecessary negativity and sensationalizes.” 

The feedback also says there is not enough information included about the successes of the school system, including investments in the after-school program and behavior support teams. 

The email adds, “You found that the specialist staff were a strength, but the report was introduced and stresses more negativity. This will cause damage to the system.” 

It concludes that Ms. Rodrigues “has asked Favourita (Blanchard) to almost rewrite the report until it meets the expected standard.” 

No response from Mr. Moore to that email is included in the FOI response, and he does not appear in the email chain from that point on. In an earlier email to Ms. Wood, he acknowledged that it is ultimately up to the ministry to decide what stays in the report. 

He wrote, “For my part what recommendations stay in are up to you at that end, as I don’t want any there that will not aid your purpose. If there are some that ought to be added, then do so. If there are others that should for the time being be removed, do that too.” 

Ms. Rodrigues told legislators at the 2014 Finance Committee session that there were serious quality concerns about the original report and suggested it had been “finalized” by senior education official Favourita Blanchard. Ms. Blanchard later denied that she had any part in “altering or doctoring” the report. The emails indicate that she was instructed by Ms. Rodrigues to rewrite the report, though whether she actually did so remains unclear. 

An earlier message indicates Ms. Blanchard had worked on the earlier draft but had indicated she did not want to “tamper with the integrity of the report” and had simply concentrated on making it read more smoothly. 


Ms. Rodrigues

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  1. It seems that, in matters of public policy, an extensive confusion between white and green papers prevails, and such prevalence extends to the parties involved, including Doctor David Moore. Had he been familiar with these concepts, he would avoid byzantine discussions in regard of the diagnosis achieved and recommendations yielded by his brief.

    It is understandable that the executive branch members in charge of the application and construction of the framework for such application, if a go, got upset by the findings on the 2012 report whose original title is “A Review of Behaviour for Learning and Inclusion in Government Schools in the Cayman Islands” and were, naturally, inclined to find a less abrasive, more politically correct way to convey the information to the public.

    The report does not surprise anybody as by its findings. If anything, it offers a shallow wide-spectrum view of the every-day problems in several government schools and related facilities, as the home residential unit for boys. The piece, thus, does not constitute an institutional analysis as such, as per Lourau conception of the discipline. By skipping the assessment of pivotal interactions, it fails to recognise the power struggles of the parties involved, which may yield the interaction problems in some schools or at least empower them. The exchange that followed openly points to the existence of such struggles.

    Of a total of 28 pages in the original report, seven contain recommendations, most of them sound, some too vague, but not always based in findings. If you read the recommendations without the diagnosis, they create the impression of lack of governance, of lack of control, without offering straight instrumental guidance on how to achieve desired changes. If you read them after the diagnosis, you wonder if some of the recommendations were pre-packed, pre-cooked, just written as ideals to achieve, and that they were ready to be conveyed in despite of the actual findings.

    To this point, nothing is truly problematic. It is in the follow up where, as per the Compass article, all fell apart. The Chief Officer proposed changes do not address the gaps on assessment-recommendations, but are focused on the political, public relations scope of the brief. The exchange of mails show a lack of understanding on the aim of the brief, even by the consultant, whom should abstain of partaking in the ruckus that followed.

    Given the bargain price of the assessment, nobody could expect the report to be a thorough institutional analysis. Given the follow-up, we could intelligently speculate that, if applied, such thorough analysis would find an even less friendly reception.

    This is already too long, so let me close it by sharing with you a fragment of the conclusions of an actual institutional analysis that targeted a long while ago the operation of juvenile correctional facilities in Mexico City: "The facilities will continue to reinforce their own mechanisms (of institutional control) since the system has not been provided with any alternative for its own survival, so it will rely on those that has and know […] there will be an increase in the institutional social control measures and the scope will be punitive control and exceptionally anything else […] even if done, the partial changes will not influence the big picture, as partial modifications in an overall disorganised system will not benefit it, and may reinforce the state of affairs by inducing instability that will require the system to reinforce its traditional control mechanisms."

    This brief was never published.