Lawmakers to consider new education legislation

New law would create framework for academies

A comprehensive update of outdated legislation underpinning the territory’s education system goes to the Legislative Assembly for debate this month.

The Education Bill 2016 outlaws strapping, enshrines the National Curriculum in law and establishes an independent schools inspection unit called the Office of Education Quality Assurance. The law also contains provision for “assisted schools” – funded, but not managed, by government.

The draft bill was widely circulated when it went out for consultation last year.

Many of the systems and policies outlined in the law reflect long-held government policies, for example the outlawing of corporal punishment. Other developments, including measures to help deal with bad behavior in schools, reflect more recent policy innovations.

An introduction to the bill indicates that it arose from policy priorities dealing with special educational needs, conflict resolution and crime reduction and the need for a greater focus on Information Technology and vocational qualifications in Cayman’s schools.

During an examination of the legislation, it emerged that much of it was outdated.

The introduction to the bill states: “Out of these priorities came the realization that the legislation supporting education was severely out of date, and an Education Team was tasked with drafting new, relevant legislation that is now represented in this Bill.”

Speaking about the bill last year, Winston Connolly, at the time a councilor in the ministry, said, “The current law has been operating since 1983. It was high time that this legislation, which is effectively 30 years old, was revised to meet the changes that have occurred in education over the years.”

One of the most significant and potentially contentious elements of the proposed law is that it establishes the ability of government to make grants to “assisted schools,” defined in the legislation as a school that is partly funded but not managed by government – a relatively new concept for Cayman.

A similar idea was endorsed by consultants KPMG in a review of the island’s education system, published last year. The concept is similar to charter schools in the U.S. and academies in the U.K., though the report also referenced similar models in Sweden and Hong Kong, in what it described as a Cayman-specific model.

“It is clear from our analysis that change to an alternative model with a governing body who are autonomous from the government would make the greatest impact of progressing education in the Cayman Islands. Therefore, we recommend the Cayman Partnership School,” the report states.

“The Cayman Partnership School model facilitates a greater degree of community involvement and integration which is proven to enhance the success of the schools.

“Parents, employers and past students that have the ability and passion to make a difference in education within their community have an opportunity to become part of the governance board.”

Education Minister Tara Rivers has previously suggested public-private partnerships could “revolutionize education” in Cayman and has previously visited academies in the U.K. on a fact finding mission. It is not clear if government has any current plans to create academy-style schools in Cayman or convert existing schools to academies, though the legislation, if passed, would make it easier to do this.

The EY report on streamlining government, published in September 2014, also recommended that government should take the first step of putting “three or four schools” under private sector control within the next two years.