All schools in the Cayman Islands closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and without any warning each school had to devise a home learning programme for their students.
The Office of Education Standards conducted a thorough review of how these programmes worked in both the government sector and the private sector, and here we summarise the results from Cayman Islands Government schools and the private schools within the Cayman Islands Private Schools Association.
Public Schools Home Learning Report
The aim of the report is to recognise the strengths of the home learning provision and to identify areas for improvement. We've summarised key positive outcomes and recommendations below. For a copy of the full report please see link here.
Inspectors reviewed everything from timetables, teachers’ lesson plans, their assessment information, monitoring information developed by school leaders and communication with parents. In addition, inspectors spoke with teachers, parents and students through an online survey, and they observed a sample of on-line lessons delivered by teachers from each school. Inspectors observed English, mathematics, science, music, physical education and social subject sessions as well as small group interventions offered to a range of students.
Prompt Initial Response - Immediately following the closure of schools, teachers and school leaders acted decisively in developing home learning packs and arranging distribution to the students. Furthermore, in the few weeks following the Easter break, schools had started to establish a platform for home learning characterised by a blended curriculum incorporating a balance of paper-based tasks and on-line face-to-face teaching.
Appropriate Curriculum - Inspectors noted that the planned curriculum delivered through learning packs and on-line classes was well matched to programme requirements and year group expectations. In the examination classes at the secondary stage, changes to examination requirements by relevant authorities locally and internationally, required teachers to make a swift, appropriate response to course assessment demands.
Dedicated and Hard-Working Team of Educators - Teachers in government schools have, in almost all cases, demonstrated dedication and commitment to the challenge of teaching students based at home. From the document review and observations of ‘live’ lessons, inspectors noted that many teachers, who are parents themselves, effectively balanced multiple demands and multiple roles while supporting students’ learning remotely. There is, however, a need to ensure consistency in good practice across and within schools. Despite the significant efforts of all involved in the delivery of home learning, inspectors judged that a majority of students made less than expected progress when taught at home as compared to school. The current home learning arrangements offer an imperfect substitute to face-to-face education.
Partnerships help ensure students’ welfare - Effective links with local businesses and charitable organisations helped address immediate need during the pandemic, particularly in relation to vulnerable students. For instance, sessions conducted by the Family Resource Center provided parents with useful and helpful advice.
Improvements Needed in The Home Learning Arrangements - Issues were noted relating to inequality of access and unreliability of technology. Additionally, teachers demonstrated variable levels of confidence in using technology. Students’ attendance during on-line teaching sessions was noted to fluctuate and this adversely affected their learning and progress. Although the vast majority of staff were willing to have their lessons observed remotely, a few teachers did not collaborate with this review. In addition, principals reported that a few teachers did not provide regular on-line classes, as judged necessary. The irregularity and variable quality of on-line learning accounts for some inconsistency in progress. Clear guidance is required from the Ministry of Education to ensure all staff provide adequate teaching sessions to promote satisfactory learning and progress for all students.
Student Attendance - Arrangements to monitor the quality of home learning were variable and there was insufficient accurate monitoring of student attendance for each session. Likewise, the submission of completed work was not always systematically documented. On 1st May 2020, schools reported a total of over 180 students as ‘unaccounted for’ and as of 8th May 2020, there were 75 students who were ‘unreachable by all available communication means’. Schools reported that the inaccuracy of contact information and changes in family circumstances during the pandemic served as significant factors in limiting communication with those families.
Computers and Internet Access Needed - Staff from the Ministry of Education were proactive in loaning hardware to support students, as necessary. This helped to increase the number of students able to access on-line learning. However, at the time of the completion of this report on 22nd May 2020, the Ministry of Education reported approximately 300 students who had not yet been able to access online lessons because they did not have internet access or lacked the necessary hardware.
Not Prepared for External Examinations – a significant proportion of students writing examinations in the current academic year stated that they did not feel well prepared for their external assessments. Consideration should be given to alternative summer school provision, tutoring or extension of the school year, as is practical and permissible.
Students’ Progress Hampered - This home learning review has judged the current arrangements for home learning to be an imperfect substitute for schoolbased learning. Teachers and school leaders were noted to be working diligently. Nevertheless, students’ progress was not as brisk or as consistent across all subjects and in all classes as when the students were taught at school. Students are missing important opportunities to work collaboratively with their peers and require additional individualised feedback and direction from their teachers. Innovative practice makes student collaboration and individual feedback possible remotely and in a few lessons this was observed. However, this review has identified that such practice was not a characteristic of provision across all schools.
Curriculum Content Catch-up - The quality of students’ learning and their academic progress is of concern and there will be a need for curriculum content to be revisited and retaught in the next academic session/s. A common national strategy, as well as localised, school-level solutions need to be agreed, planned and financed.
A responsive versus a proactive strategy - In reacting to the challenges of COVID-19 and subsequent school closures, the Ministry of Education and the Department of Education Services responded promptly and effectively to help ensure the continuity of education for students in government schools. However, the lack of a pre-existing digital strategy in schools left too many students with limited access to learning and this has led, in turn, to some inequality of opportunity.
Special Needs Learning Support - Despite the best of intentions, there were several challenges in successfully meeting the needs of students with special educational needs in an on-line learning environment. Although virtual sessions were organised for students, those with profound and multiple learning disabilities experienced difficulties engaging virtually due to attention and cognition challenges. Nonetheless, staff were creative in mitigating some of those challenges.
Data in Relation to Home Learning
In total 4,915 students from Reception age to the end of high school and CIFEC students were included in the data. It found that daily attendance in lessons was 88% but that approximately 590 students did not attend lessons daily. An astonishingly positive 92% of students were able to access their online learning but approximately 390 students could not. For those students who could not both the government and charities have stepped in to try and provide technological resources. Only 7% of students accessed paper-based learning only (approx. 325 students), and 9% of students (450 in total) who had no access to a digital devise or computer. Of the total 4% (approx. 200 students) had no access to the internet and in some cases this accounted for 20% of school students in some schools.
Private Schools Home Learning Report
The aim of this report, compiled by the Office of Education Standards (OES), is to recognise the strengths of the home learning provision which was implemented by private schools during the summer term of 2020 during the Covid-19 lockdown and identify areas for improvement. A copy of the full report can be viewed here: http://oes.gov.ky/portal/pls/p...
The schools which were included on this report were Calvary Baptist Christian Academy, Cayman Academy, Cayman International School, Cayman Learning Centre, Cayman Prep and High School, First Baptist Christian School, Footsteps, Grace Christian Academy, Hope Academy, Island Montessori, Montessori By The Sea, Montessori del Sol, Montessori School of Cayman, St. Ignatius Catholic School, Triple C School, Truth For Youth School, Starfish Village (Village Montessori), and Wesleyan Christian Academy.
Inspectors reviewed everything from home learning timetables, teachers’ lesson plans, assessment information, they looked at the school’s monitoring records and a diverse range of communications with parents. The schools submitted, in total, over 800 documents, including video evidence from lessons which had been pre-recorded and delivered remotely. In addition, the Office of Education Standards scrutinised over 2,000 surveys which had been submitted by teachers, parents and students from Grades 10 to 12 (Years 11 to 13). Inspectors joined a sample of ‘live’ on-line lessons delivered by teachers. Inspectors observed English, mathematics, science, music, art, circle time and social subject sessions, as well as group interventions offered to smaller groups of students. On-line parents’ meetings, school council and morning assemblies also formed part of the review. These included both ‘live’ sessions and recorded meetings.
Summary of the Findings
The quality of teaching was good in most observed on-line lessons
Inspectors found that the quality of teaching being delivered by private school teachers was good overall. Most sessions were carefully planned with a good balance of teacher-led instruction and time for students to work independently on practical activities. Many private school teachers offered on-line sessions for smaller groups and individual students, thereby making sure that individual needs of students were met. However, although most schools offered good opportunities for students to learn and progress (through lessons that were pre-recorded), this was not the case in all schools. A few schools offered limited, insufficient, or no synchronous sessions for students. There was some variation therefore in the quality of provision across private schools and, where face-to-face teaching sessions were insufficient, students’ progress was highly dependent upon the regularity and consistency of the support given by parents.
Good arrangements were in place to track attendance and help ensure students’ well-being Inspectors found that most private schools monitored class attendance appropriately during the time of home learning and had effective arrangements in place to track students’ health and well-being. The use of different wellness activities, such as ‘Mindfulness Mondays’ and ‘Fun Friday Quiz Time’ and ‘Wellness Wednesdays’, helped establish an appropriate balance between formal lessons and fun, social learning opportunities.
There was some inconsistency in the quality of home learning strategies deployed by the private schools - There was notable variation in the range of home learning strategies implemented by private schools during the pandemic. Early in the process, certain schools designed a hybrid approach which included a balance of face-to-face teaching on-line, along with pre-recorded sessions and paper-based activities. Higher performing schools implemented this approach but made modifications based on feedback from students, parents and teachers. Most schools provided the Office of Education Standards with comprehensive guidance documents which appropriately delineated their remote learning strategies. A few schools, however, did not provide this level of detail. Other schools formulated a strategy and were too inflexible in their policies and practice. One school, for example, which offered a PACE (Packet of Accelerated Christian Education) curriculum, provided no on-line sessions at all. Students from the primary years to Grade 12 in this school worked through their task booklets independently with occasional ‘What’s App’ messages from teachers. Feedback to those students was irregular and insufficient to help ensure good progress.
Lesson content was well-matched to curriculum requirements in most private schools
A review of the content of lessons and the curriculum plans developed by most teachers over the period of the pandemic indicated a good and close match to the curriculum requirements of the different private schools. New work was introduced as well as planned opportunities for students to consolidate their prior learning. The use of smaller groups in many schools helped teachers to monitor students’ grasp of new concepts. Schools made good use of support for learning staff and other team members to reinforce core skills in literacy and numeracy but, in a few contexts, there was scope for more effective deployment of all staff to maximise support for under achieving students.
Most, though not all, private schools offered good value for money during the pandemic
Considering the circumstances, most of the member schools in the Private Schools Association offered good value for money during the pandemic. A few had reduced their fees during this period but not all. Parents expressed concern in their submissions to this review because a few schools did not offer, in their opinion, regular or sufficient face-to-face tuition.
Schools faced budgetary pressures during the pandemic and these will continue causing some risk to continuity of provision across the sector - The COVID-19 pandemic led to significant challenges for many of the private schools in terms of funding and financial management. Several schools reported reduced numbers on roll as family members lost employment or left the islands. This led to reductions in staffing and, for a number of professionals in the private school sector, either reduction in salary, furloughed deployment or even unemployment. Importantly, just prior to the pandemic, there had also been a change in the grant funding mechanism used by the Cayman Islands Government. This led to some uncertainty about staffing levels for the new academic session. This combination of factors led to the closure of at least one well–established early years setting on Grand Cayman as a consequence of financial instability. As a result, provision for working parents whose child-care arrangements depend upon accessible, early years provision may be adversely affected.
A few schools will require closer monitoring and guidance to ensure good provision for all students - Private schools in Cayman are licensed by government and subject to the guidance and policies of the Cayman Islands Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports, Agriculture and Lands. During the pandemic, Cayman Islands private schools received directives from the Ministry of Education in relation to school closure. Later in the process, the Ministry also identified a number of educational research papers encouraging private school leaders to consider distance learning in diverse international contexts. Despite this support, schools lacked clarity regarding the best practice suitable for Cayman and there was insufficient specific direction from the Private Schools Association and from the Ministry of Education to help ensure a good and balanced approach in all of the private schools. As a consequence, across the private schools there developed diverse and variable practices. Most private school leaders created and then adapted their strategies in isolation. Although there were some examples of collaboration between private schools, many school leaders reported that they would have welcomed further guidance from the relevant education authorities and the Private Schools Association regarding potentially successful models for Cayman, particularly in terms of effective remote teaching strategies for different ages of students.
There are some technological improvements required
Based on the data submitted by the member schools of the Private Schools Association, almost all students attending private schools had regular access to a laptop or desktop computer to support their learning during the pandemic. This differed to the home learning arrangements found in government schools where the Ministry of Education and Department of Education Services were actively involved in providing hardware for a significant number of students across the islands. There remained, however, by the time of the conclusion of this review, around 150 students in private schools without access to a digital device. These students had been without access from the start of the pandemic. A few private schools had not been successful in ensuring equality of access to home learning for all students. Although almost all students in the private schools did have access to the equipment they needed for home learning, the unreliability of their wireless connections and bandwidth issues did adversely affect the quality of students’ learning. Technological support for students and teachers in the smaller private schools also limited the regularity of a few students’ participation in remote lessons at times over the period of school closures.
Schools reported good levels of student attendance
Data submitted by the private schools to the Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports, Agriculture and Lands indicated overall good levels of student attendance to remote learning sessions held throughout during the pandemic. However, inconsistency in interpretation of the data requirements meant that information received by the Ministry of Education regarding other aspects of their provision lacked reliability and rigour.
There remains a need to improve monitoring arrangements to further enhance teaching and assessment - Inspectors found that monitoring of teaching, learning and students’ progress during the pandemic was variable across private schools. Only a few school leaders observed ‘live’ sessions though more decided to do so during the home learning review undertaken by the Office of Education Standards. There was scope for the Ministry of Education to provide further support to private school leaders in this regard. Private schools tracked students’ attendance and completion of tasks and, in the best performing schools, students received regular feedback during lessons and following their submission of work. Skilled teachers made effective use of new assessment platforms to engage students and used these creatively to develop greater opportunities for the students to understand how they should improve their work.
Inspectors noted effective arrangements in place to support students prior to examinations Many of the students from Grade 10 to 12 (Years 11 to 13) in private schools were due to sit important internal or external examinations during the period in which the schools were closed. Inspectors found that teachers in the secondary stages of private schools were, in general, proactive in responding to course and assessment revisions. Wherever possible, assessment arrangements were appropriately adjusted by school leaders to reflect the learning opportunities afforded to students whilst they were learning from home. There was some scope to extend and adapt curriculum content for Year 13 (Grade 12) students in certain schools. Furthermore, internal examinations developed by a few schools during the pandemic were noted by inspectors to be, at times, less demanding than would usually be the case. This was because a few teachers made increased use of multiple-choice or ‘true-false’ assessments, rather than requiring more extensive and detailed responses.
Summary of Recommendations
Internet Access Needs Improving
As with the inspection report for government schools, it was identified that internet access plus the provision for wireless connectivity and an increase in bandwidth was essentials for facilitating effective home learning for all students.
Clear Guidance Needs to be put in Place
Both the Cayman Islands Private Schools Association and the Ministry of Education need to develop clear guidance regarding the characteristics of effective home learning explaining, for example; minimum expectations in terms of on-line provision for different ages of students and various stages of education across all Cayman Islands schools.
A Post Covid Conference Needed
The major stakeholders from private and government schools, including all teachers and school leaders along with The Ministry of Education, the Cayman Islands Private Schools Association and the Office of Education Standards should collaborate to organise a post-COVID virtual conference which outlines what worked best for the time of home learning and use that to inform distance learning strategies in the future.
Grant Arrangements for Private Schools Require Further Review
In collaboration with the Cayman Islands Private Schools Association, the Cayman Islands Government may wish to consider longer-term budget allocations to help member establishments plan strategically over a number of years. In addition, the Ministry of Education should publish clear guidance to make sure that there can be fair and equitable access to available funds in the future.
Full Membership Recommended for All Private Schools
The Cayman Islands Private Schools Association should review their constitution and consider extending full membership to all licensed schools with statutory-aged students, regardless of the number of school-age students on roll.
Inventory of On-line Resources Needed
The Cayman Islands Private Schools Association, in collaboration with the Department of Education Services, should compile an inventory of on-line resources that member schools have found to be effective during the pandemic and this information should be shared across all schools to help teachers across Cayman reflect upon and further improve their practice.
Good Practices in the Home Learning Provision Needs to be Identified and Recorded
School leaders, including the governing bodies of Cayman Islands private schools should develop more effective and comprehensive arrangements to monitor the quality of home learning provision, in order to identify and disseminate good practice in teaching.
Quality of Home Learning Provision to be Included on Inspection Reports
The quality of each schools’ home learning provision should be referenced as an additional area of focus within the forthcoming revisions to the school self-evaluation and inspection framework, ‘Successful Schools and Achieving Students’. Inspection reports published by the Office of Education Standards during the next cycle of inspections should include evaluations and commentary regarding each school’s home learning and digital strategy.
Modifications Required for the Return to School – including installing multiple hand-sanitising stations and signage to reinforce adequate social distancing protocols. Increased supervision will be needed at break and lunchtimes when young children would naturally congregate. Additionally, innovative timetabling solutions may be necessary at an individual school level to minimise social interactions that could put students and staff at risk.
Continuity of Teaching for Students with Special Needs During School Closures
During school closures there needs to be clear provision and strategies in place to provide material and specialist teachers for those with special educational needs. This must be done by the leaders of private schools in conjunction with governing bodies of those schools and in collaboration with relevant external agencies. This includes a wholesale review of how support staff are utilised during a school closure to better meet the learning needs of all students, including those with additional support needs.
Ministry of Education Should Review Education Recovery Plans
Private schools submit education recovery plans to the Ministry of Education, but these should be reviewed before students return in late August/early September 2020. The Ministry of Education should give feedback and educational direction to school governing bodies to address gaps in planning and ensure the inclusion of comprehensive ‘catch-up’ and health and safety arrangements, as directed in the guidance published by the Ministry of Education in June 2020.
Private Schools to Review Student’s Achievement Level
Private schools should make use of external, benchmarked assessments to check students’ achievement at key points in their education and in core areas of the curriculum on their return to school in the new session. This will be necessary to make sufficient adjustments to the content of the programme and thereby meet the educational needs of all students. Appropriate ‘catch-up’ plans may be necessary for certain groups of students and private school leaders should publish plans explaining their strategies and proposed timelines for implementation, as necessary.
Digital Devises Needed for All
In order to facilitate equality of opportunity for students, the governing bodies of private schools should arrange for all students on roll to have the use of a digital device in order to support their age-appropriate levels of participation in home learning and, when necessary, in synchronous lessons along with their peers.