The 'sanitized' schools report: Mystery solved

Mary Rodrigues, then chief officer of the Ministry of Education, ordered her staff members to rewrite a highly critical report on behavior in Cayman Islands government schools, according to emails the ministry fought to withhold from public view.

The report had been completed following a three-week inspection led by U.K. consultant David Moore in November 2012, but it was not published until June 2014 when Opposition lawmakers tabled two versions of it in the Legislative Assembly.

The “original draft” was a 28-page document that contained pointed critiques aimed at particular schools (such as John Gray High School) and that was armed with substantial recommendations (such as giving principals greater powers to fire incompetent teachers).

The “sanitized version” was a 15-page document stripped of specifics, bereft of important findings (such as problems with sex abuse reporting) and padded with all manner of “positive-sounding” filler. Officials deemed even the toned-down draft too hot to handle, so they “buried” both reports for some 18 months before lawmakers effectively “leaked” them to the public.

Last year, this Editorial Board posed the following query: “Who ordered the editing of the report and who did the actual editing?”

The response from our officials was silence. Their reaction to an open records request lodged by a Compass reporter was a more active refusal. Only following many additional months of delay, and intervention by the Information Commissioner, did the ministry reluctantly release the relevant emails, primarily a dialogue between the ministry’s senior policy adviser Jo Wood and Mr. Moore.

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Excerpts from a pair of those emails serve as the double-barreled smoking gun, and provide us with the answers we sought.

In February 2013, Ms. Wood wrote to Mr. Moore in regard to his original draft, saying, “Mrs. Rodrigues has asked [local educator and deputy lead inspector Favourita Blanchard] to almost rewrite the report until it meets the expected standard.”

(For the record, in the same email, Ms. Wood stipulated that Ms. Blanchard “decided she should not tamper with the integrity of the report” — which supports Ms. Blanchard’s later disavowal of responsibility.)

In September 2013, Ms. Wood wrote again to Mr. Moore, saying, “Favourita and I continued to work on the report after Mrs. Rodrigues had a [quality assurance] check done on it. We used your executive summary as the basis for this report, rather than the fuller report, which is still being used for internal purposes.”

And there we have it: the who, the where, the how and the why.

Unfortunately, while the ministry has been dragging its feet — first on the report, then on the emails — years have passed, and hundreds of students have passed through schools riddled with identified problems that officials wouldn’t publicly acknowledge.

Mrs. Rodrigues has moved on from her post atop public education to a different but equally important role, spearheading a special team tasked with implementing the EY report on streamlining Cayman’s public sector — an initiative from which we still await tangible results.

In regard to the Ministry of Education, now led by Minister Tara Rivers and Acting Chief Officer Christen Suckoo, a new Education Bill has been unveiled that would modernize Cayman’s current legislation and provide a flexible framework for schools funded by the government, but run by the private sector. Currently, we anticipate with great interest the results of a new “baseline inspection” of all government schools, to be produced by U.K. consultants who began their work last year.

We don’t know what the new report may say, but we can promise you that this and any report on Cayman schools will draw intense scrutiny from the Compass.

Providing a superior education to our children is not only the most important issue facing the country today, but, in terms of the success or failure of future generations of Caymanians, it is arguably, in the long term, the only important issue.

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  1. I shared this comment in the news in this regard, but Alas, Constitution Day, weekend… few, if anybody, read it.

    So let me rephrase it and share it with you here.

    What I have gotten from the whole exchange is the idea that, in matters of public policy making, a confusion between white and green papers prevails, and such confusion extends to the parties involved, including Doctor David Moore. Had he been familiar with these concepts and understood his role as consultant, he would avoid email-based 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 framework for the application of the recommendations, 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 report, thus, does not constitute an opus on institutional analysis, as per Lourau conception of the discipline. By avoiding the analysis of pivotal interactions between key players, the study fails to recognize the power struggles of the parties involved, which may yield or magnify the problems in some of the facilities. The exchange that followed in the mails addressed in the editorial is one evidence of the existence of such power struggles.

    Of a total of 28 pages in the original report, seven contain recommendations, most of them sound, some too vague, and not always based in the findings. If you read the recommendations without the diagnosis, they create the impression of lack of governance, of lack of control, and yet such recommendations fail to offer instrumental guidance on how to achieve desired changes. They are a collection of ideals, the "whats", without addressing the processes, the "hows", for such ideals to become realities. If you read the recommendations after the diagnosis, you wonder if some of such recommendations were pre-packed, pre-cooked, just written as ideals to achieve, and that they were ready to be conveyed despite of the actual findings.

    To this point, nothing is truly problematic. It is in the follow up where, as per the Compass editorial, things fell apart. The Chief Officer proposed changes do not address the gaps on assessment-recommendations, as they should, but focus on the political, public relations dimension 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 and the very short time used, nobody could expect the report to be a thorough institutional analysis. Not even an organisational behaviour analysis. Given the follow-up with the emails mentioned above, we could speculate that, if applied, such comprehensive analyses types 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 the juvenile correctional facilities in Mexico City. It took months to be done, and the several researches stayed for days, witnessing meetings, therapy sessions, daily life exchanges, and looking at the files of both minors and adults, amidst many other procedural minutia. The hundreds-of-pages-long brief, given to the branch authority in charge of such facilities, mentioned among many interesting findings, that "the facilities will continue to reinforce their own mechanisms (of control) since the system has not been provided with any alternative for its own survival, so it will rely on those that already has, know and use, no matter how dysfunctional […] there will be an increase in the institutional social control measures and their scope will be overly punitive control and exceptionally anything else […] partial changes will not improve the big picture, as partial modifications in an overall disorganised system will not benefit it, and may even reinforce the state of affairs by inducing instability that will press the system to apply and reinforce its traditional control mechanisms."

    That brief was never published.

  2. If the report was factually incorrect in any substantial way it should have been rejected by the Ministry of Education and no payment should have been made to the U.K. consultant or his company on the basis that the report contained false and unsubstantiated claims.

    If the report however was factually correct it should never have been re-written but instead should have been published with notes/comments from the Ministry of Education to help provide further clarity where necessary.