Kami Butcher was overjoyed Tuesday morning when she learned that her son can continue to go to school at the Cayman Learning Centre.
“That’s fantastic news,” Butcher said, “a huge relief.”
Cayman Learning Centre is one of several tutoring centres which had applied for status as an educational institution. Due to changes that were part of the Education Law passed in 2016, such centres, which had previously been allowed to provide full-time schooling to up to five students on homeschool status, were told they could no longer do so. The centres serve students with learning disabilities and many of the parents utilising them say the centres are the only places equipped to effectively teach their children.
Footsteps, another tutoring centre, has also received school status, while two others, Clever Fish and High Achievement Academy, are still seeking such approval from the Ministry of Education’s Education Council.
Both Cayman Learning Centre and Footsteps said their new status will allow them to expand beyond the five students they were able to serve full-time in the past. Cayman Learning Centre expects to enrol 21 students. Footsteps officials said they will eventually have 75 students, although not all will have learning disabilities.
Butcher said the approval of the two institutions will take some pressure off of parents with special needs children.
“I’m really happy they’ve decided this,” Butcher said. “I think it’s in the best interest of everybody. I think it’s a win-win all around. For parents, it’s knowing that our kids are in a safe place and being guided in a way that they can learn and grow.”
Nicola Sowerby, director of Clever Fish, said the tutoring centres have filled a part of a gap in Cayman’s education system. Increasing the number of students those entities can serve is a good thing, she said.
“It will definitely help,” Sowerby said. “There’s obviously a huge need out there. There is a large number of kids that would benefit from these smaller groups.”
Sowerby said hers and other centres largely provide support for children with normal IQs, but who have issues with such things as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and processing problems. Independent inspections have shown many schools, particularly government schools – where 25% of students have been assessed as having special needs – struggle to serve such students. Sowerby said private schools are limited in their ability to accommodate them.
“Parents think the [private] schools are being harsh or cruel,” she said. “But that’s not the case. There’s really, logistically, only so many of these students you can handle fairly.”
Laura Budding, a spokeswoman for Cayman Learning Centre, said the hole in the Cayman system is clear.
“I’ve only been on the island for three months and it’s glaringly obvious to me,” she said, referring to the demand for special needs assistance.
The expansion of the tutoring centre, she said, will mean adding more teachers and “is just such a good opportunity for students on the island”.
Footsteps director Emma Kendall said while her school will take in mainstream students, it will also continue to serve those with learning disabilities. She expects 10% to 13% of the school’s population to be made up of students with such problems as “ADD, right on through to global developmental delays.”
The change, she said, “is going to be a really big step up for us.”
And it will be a relief for the parents the agency currently serves.
“The kids we have now,” Kendall said, “if we hadn’t gotten approval, they would have nowhere to go.”