Special education needs audit delayed

An audit of special education needs students slated for the 2016-2017 academic year was never completed and is now being delayed until the 2018-2019 school year. The audit was required as part of the Ministry of Education’s plan of action for 2016-2017.

Special education needs has been and continues to be a major issue for the public schools in the Cayman Islands.

The Ministry of Education responded to a public records request for the audit by initially saying the audit had not yet been completed.

“The SEN [special education needs] Audit … was not completed and has been moved into the 2017-18 Plan of Action schedule,” the ministry said. It described the plan of action as a “live rolling document,” where whatever might not have been completed for a given school year would roll over to the next year.

In a subsequent letter, ministry officials said the complete audit “has been carried over to the 2018-19 Plan of Action.” It said auditors had determined the number of students identified as having special educational needs and whether those students had both an individual education plan and a current psychological evaluation.

Auditors did not determine “the actual services provided, the quantity and quality of services, the tools used for identification, and the monitoring and evaluation process,” among other things, the letter said.

Ministry officials were silent as to why the audit was not completed and why it has been delayed until the next school year. Multiple requests for comment on the matter went unanswered.

Anne Briggs is a former teacher and literacy coordinator at Savannah Primary. She had special needs students in her classroom and said she was often frustrated at the lack of resources for helping them.

“No services are provided after the [students’] assessment,” she said of the process she experienced. “It’s like, we’re telling you what’s wrong with the kid, but there’s no support. You end up with kids in the classroom [who have] learning disabilities that you can’t handle.”

Based on her contact with former colleagues, she believes that such lack of support continues to be the case and may be why the audit remains incomplete.

“All they’re looking at is how many SEN kids are in the system, but they’re not actually providing the services,” Ms. Briggs said. “This is probably why they’re not doing the reports, because it would show what they’re lacking.”

It was not until 2010 that public schools began tracking special needs students. That year, officials identified 185 students in the mainstream public schools. That number is now closer to 1,000. Inspections during the 2014-2015 school year reported 153 special needs students at Red Bay Primary alone.

Some education experts say it is difficult, if not impossible, to run a program, such as meeting the needs of students who require extra assistance, without feedback and reliable data.

Susie Bodden is the executive leader of the Special Needs Foundation Cayman, which focuses on providing support and services for students, families and professionals, and hopes to provide direct support to schools.

“An audit would be extremely useful,” Ms. Bodden said. “We’ve been trying to get some quality data for quite some time. Any government needs good quality data about the needs of students, so you can provide [appropriate support].”

“If we had much better data, it would be useful for us to target the support that we give,” she added.

Carrie Patraulea, director of Cayman Learning Centre, a tutoring service, said she thinks many in the public schools are trying.

“I think right now there’s a big attempt to put interventions into place,” Ms. Patraulea said. “Whether they’re meeting the needs remains to be seen.”

Without an audit, she said, it’s hard to make that assessment.

Ms. Briggs said the fact that one has not been done makes it impossible to determine if goals are being met.

“You need to inspect what you expect,” she said, adding that it puts Cayman in a bad light. “In First World nations, this would never be allowed.”