School inspections highlight flaws

Inspection reports on all government schools show that standards are “simply not good enough” for the long term, Education Minister Tara Rivers said Wednesday.

Despite year-on-year improvement in exam results across the school system, Ms. Rivers said the inspections show Cayman’s schools are falling short internationally.

Student standards in mathematics, English and science are “significantly below” international standards and generally at least “one year” below U.K. norms, Ms. Rivers said.

She said the reports, carried out at all 16 government schools by a team of inspectors during the last academic year, also highlighted shortcomings in the recruitment and retention of teachers and management of underperforming staff.

The minister, speaking to Cayman’s teaching body at an event to mark the start of the new school year, said policies are being introduced immediately to address the main issues.

These include a national teaching and learning strategy, setting a target of all students reading on grade level when they finish Year 2, typically at age 7, by 2020.

Ms. Rivers said, “There is still a lot of work to be done and while it is important to recognize year-on-year improvement, it is also important to recognize that it [the improvement] is to a standard that is simply not good enough in the long run.”

The inspection reports have yet to be released to the public. Ms. Rivers said they highlighted shortcomings in the system, including:

Human resources issues related to the recruitment and retention of good teachers

Need for better performance management for underperforming teaching staff

Need to increase, restructure and improve training and support for behavior management

Need to deploy teaching assistants more effectively

Need for better collection and use of assessment data.

She said the reports show that Cayman’s schools have a long way to go, despite recent improvements. And she told teachers, this year “cannot be business as usual,” promising support from the ministry for improvement throughout the system.

The inspections were carried out by the U.K.-based Independent Schools Inspectorate Consultancy in tandem with a wider review of the structure of Cayman’s education system carried out by KPMG.

Christen Suckoo, acting chief officer in the Ministry of Education, said the reports are informing operational changes in the schools.

Principals will be given more power over the day-to-day running of their schools, but will have to make more regular reports to officials on performance targets.

He said school leaders would be required each term to provide feedback regarding teacher performance, behavior reports and student academic progress.

Mr. Suckoo said the coming school year will be a pivotal one that marks the “commencement of a new era of public education in the Cayman Islands.”

He told teachers the reports demonstrated that “while progress has indeed been made in our education system, we are still short in delivering outcomes that are in line with international results and best practice.”

He said the inspection reports need to be used to drive improvement, adding, “These reviews will not be in vain.”