A new inspection report has raised the profile of John Gray High School from a failing school to one that is now deemed satisfactory.
Principal Jon Clark said the report published Friday by the Office of Education Standards shows that the school has made substantial progress since its last inspection during the 2014-2015 school year, when it was rated unsatisfactory.
“It’s a good step in our move to become a world-class school,” Mr. Clark said. “We’ve been a failing school for a long, long time. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re on the right track.”
The report found good teaching in Key Stage 4, which comprises Years 10 and 11, and praised Mr. Clark’s leadership. Students are making satisfactory progress in English and science in all years, but not in mathematics.
While Year 11 students scored well in minor subjects, student achievement in English, science and mathematics remained weak for all grades. The report also found that in a minority of cases – between 15 percent and 49 percent – teachers in Years 7-9 had low expectations and were underperforming.
“Students spent too much time copying or completing undemanding worksheets,” the report said. “There was little evidence of teachers preparing tasks to meet the varying needs of students, so work was too easy for the more able and too hard for weaker students or those with special educational needs.”
Assessments by teachers overall were found to be lacking.
“Teachers did not use their knowledge of students’ prior attainment to plan lessons to meet their needs,” the report said.
Nevertheless, Mr. Clark said he and the faculty at the school were encouraged by the report.
“The staff have all been coming to me saying what do we need to be ‘good?’” he said, referring to the next higher level of assessment by inspectors.
He said he believes the school can reach that level in the next two years, in time for the next planned inspection. A key to that will be improving performance in the lower grades.
“There’s definitely more to do at Key Stage 3,” he said. “We’ve got to raise expectations.”
Mr. Clark said students and teachers at that level may feel that graduation and assessment tests are so far off that there is less motivation to learn.
“We’re going to reintroduce a Key Stage 3 graduation where we really want to celebrate the students,” he said.
A new inspection framework approved earlier this year calls for Cayman schools to be achieving international standards, rather than just levels obtained by other Caribbean islands. Mr. Clark said that means students have to perform even better than in the past. That can be especially difficult for students in earlier grades, he said, as they often arrive at John Gray as underperformers.
Part of the solution, he said, is properly assessing students when they start Year 7 and making sure their teachers are up to the task.
The school was also faulted for a poor working environment, noting the inadequacy of the physical plant and condition of classrooms. Construction of a new high school, which was interrupted for several years, is due to resume in the coming months.
Surveys of parents, staff and students, conducted as part of the inspection, were generally positive.
Of 142 parents and 636 students that responded, 77 percent of both groups said they agreed that the school was providing a good education. Eighty-eight percent of 78 staff members agreed.
Students were almost evenly split when asked whether behavior was generally good among their peers. A slight majority, 45 percent, agreed that students behaved well, but 42 percent disagreed and 12 percent were uncertain. Fourteen percent of staff and 28 percent of parents disagreed that behavior was good.
Mr. Clark said he believes those responses show the school still has to overcome a reputation based on some incidents from a couple of years ago. From the beginning of the school year to Oct. 8, he said, the number of students referred for behavioral problems has dropped nearly 50 percent compared to the same period last year. The number of students excluded from school dropped 25 percent.
The principal also gave credit to the community.
“I think we’re showing what can happen when people rally around the school,” he said. “I think we’re going to produce some fantastic students.”