Standards report: Challenges remain for Cayman schools

A new report from the Office of Education Standards says Cayman Islands education has improved overall in the last five years, but that students are still under-performing when compared to international standards.

The annual report is an analysis of all of the school inspections conducted during the 2018‑2019 school year. The 25 schools inspected included nine government schools, eight private schools and eight early childhood centres.

Private schools generally outperformed government schools in most areas, although two private schools were rated ‘weak’ in their overall assessment. Weak is the lowest of four possible grades, the others being satisfactory, good and excellent. The standards office emphasises that schools should be operating at either good or excellent to be considered successful.

Only one school, Little Trotters Farm and Nursery School, received an excellent rating. Four private schools were assessed as good. Just one government school, the Lighthouse School, was given a good rating.

On the whole, the report said, Cayman schools showed “some improvement from the last round of inspections conducted in 2014‑15 during which the overall performance of most public schools was evaluated as ‘unsatisfactory’. Nevertheless, there is currently no mainstream public school which meets the expected level in terms of overall performance quality”.

Student achievement, teaching quality and curriculum improvements are some of the key areas the report focusses on.

The report contains a breakdown of GCSE test scores for Year 11 students, including those from this year. The levels remain well below the international standard set by UK students.

Scores for five or more Level 2 passes, including maths and English, hit their lowest level in four years at Clifton Hunter High School, dropping from 38.9% of students in 2018 to 37.4% this year. At John Gray, scores rose from 33.5% last year to 36.6%, still below the 38.3% from 2017.

Both schools improved under the criteria of five or more Level 2 passes in any subject. Clifton Hunter students scored 57.7%, while John Gray was at 57.6%. Last year’s scores were 42.5% and 46.8%, respectively.

Layman Scott scores were up sharply in both categories – 72.2% and 94.4%, respectively – but the school’s small population often results in large swings in the numbers.

Peter Carpenter, director of the Office of Education Standards, said meeting international standards remains a challenge. The report faults teachers for setting low expectations.

“They don’t know the children as well as they need to,” Carpenter said.

“Across all stages of education in Cayman,” the report says, “teachers’ low expectations of students remain a fundamental barrier and too often restrict the pace of students’ progress”.

Carpenter said many times students come into a reception year programme already knowing the letters of the alphabet and their sounds. Nevertheless, he said, they often have to sit through lessons teaching them these things.

Student assessments are often not shared as students progress, he said. And, when they are, teachers are not always evaluating the assessments accurately.

Figures in the study show 66% of teachers in government schools were rated as satisfactory or weak. Conversely, 53% of teachers in private schools were assessed as either good or excellent.

“We’re trying to look at the things that keep teaching from being consistently good,” Carpenter said. “There is good practice, but it’s disparate and it’s not consistent at all schools.”

In government schools, instruction during Key Stage 3, Years 7‑9, was found to be particularly lacking.

“The quality of teaching and the curriculum offered at Key Stage 3 are not yet at the required standard to guarantee ongoing improvements to students’ attainment in core subjects,” the report said.

There was one exception.

“Only one school inspected this year, Cayman Prep and High, provided high quality secondary provision,” the report said, “and, in this school, academic outcomes were often excellent as a result of consistently effective teaching throughout the school.”

Carpenter said this year’s annual report is more comprehensive than last year’s, since it contains data on private schools. The 2018 report only covered inspections of government primary schools. But, Carpenter said, he was somewhat surprised by what he saw.

“I have been disappointed with some of the outcomes of some of the private school inspections,” he said.

Two private high schools, Triple C and Wesleyan Christian Academy, received weak ratings.

“Some of the early years centres, we’re seeing more [weak assessments] than I would like,” he said.

The report’s analysis provides some positive elements. It praised the government schools for efforts to reach out.

In the public schools, there was significant scope to further develop the contribution of parents and the wider community within the governance arrangements of the schools. It also found student behaviour, long a chronic problem, was a weak point in only 10% of schools.

The report offers recommendations on how education can be improved in all Cayman schools. It encourages a cooperative effort among schools, where those with weaker teaching would send staff to visit stronger schools and observe good and excellent classroom practices.

There was no response to a request sent to the Department of Education Services for comment.

The full report is available at http://bit.ly/2019_AR.