Individual school reports, published on the Office of Education Standards’ website, www.oes.gov.ky, provide detailed, impartial and transparent assessments of the performance of schools, teachers and students in the Cayman Islands. These reports are available for all to read and are a useful tool for parents to inform themselves of how their children’s schools rate compared to others, or aid them in deciding which school is best for their child.
What is the OES?
The Office of Education Standards is a Cayman Islands Government agency tasked with conducting regular inspections of all education centres, both public and private, in the Cayman Islands.
During the 2014/15 academic year inspections of all ten government-funded primary schools were commissioned to provide baseline information on their performance.
In 2017, following a three-year hiatus, the Office of Education Standards was re-established, operating independently of the Ministry of Education, and resumed school inspections.
During academic year 2017-18, the OES returned to the ten government primary schools to evaluate the progress they have made in implementing the changes recommended in 2014/15, as well as starting to conduct full inspections of all education centres from early childhood through to further education, across the Cayman Islands. From September 2018 to June 2019, a further 25 school inspections were conducted.
The inspections evaluate how well schools are performing in six key areas: students’ achievement; personal and social development; quality of teaching; curriculum; leadership; and health, safety and support. This information is then presented in a report which highlights the strengths of the school as well the areas where improvement is needed. A number of recommendations are then made for each school to raise its standards.
When a school is not judged to be performing at a satisfactory level, a Follow-Through inspection is conducted six months later to assess how well the school is implementing the recommended changes, and a Follow-Through report is published. If progress is deemed to be weak, the school will be inspected again after another six months, and so on, until it is deemed to be making satisfactory, good, or excellent progress.
Director of the Office of Education Standards, Peter Carpenter, emphasises that the inspection process aims to be a collaborative and supportive one. “Inspectors are not there to condemn. They approach each school inspection with empathy and understanding of the context of the different schools and early years centres’..
The Status Quo
The picture these reports paint is not all rosy, however.
The reports on the primary school inspections in 2014/15 were, according to Mr Carpenter ‘rather critical’. Eight out of the ten schools were assessed as ‘unsatisfactory’ and only one was rated as ‘good’.
Although four years on, the Follow Through inspections have found eight of the schools are making ‘satisfactory’ or ‘good’ progress in addressing recommendations, achievement on the part of children is still well below where it should be. Only around half of year 6 students left government-funded primary schools with writing levels that met the international standard for achievement, and achievements in reading had deteriorated in the second round of inspections.
This means that children entering secondary school are inevitably starting off at a disadvantage if they have not reached the expected standards for their age.
“Students should be at level 4 when they leave Year 6,” Mr Carpenter explains. “Historically, too many have not been at that level, but the good news is that the number of children leaving at level 4 is increasing. We are not where we need to be, but it is improving.”
The three government high schools inspected in 2017/18 also fell short of the ideal. Two were reported to be performing at a satisfactory level, and one was deemed to be weak. In the latter, according the report, “Fewer than half of the students left the school with five or more level 2 passes, including English and mathematics at the expected level.”
Between September 2018 and June 2019, OES inspected a range of private and government schools. Of the 17 schools inspected, the overall performance of five schools was found to be good, eight were satisfactory and four were weak.
A rating of “good” is the expectation for all schools in Cayman, Mr Carpenter says. Most government schools are now performing at a satisfactory level – better than three years earlier, but nonetheless not as well as they should be.
“We are starting from a low point,” Mr Carpenter says. “But we should be encouraged by the signs from recent inspections that indicate improvements in teaching and students’ achievement.”
Raising the Quality of Teaching
Individual reports are peppered with observations such as:
- Teaching was judged weak because staff did not challenge children sufficiently
- Tasks were often too easy and not well matched to children’s individual needs
- Children did not have enough opportunities to satisfy their curiosity
- The pace of teaching was too slow and caused students to become bored and disengaged
- Students spent too much time copying or completing undemanding worksheets
- Students’ learning was weak because in over a third of lessons teachers did not use assessment information to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses or plan learning activities to match them.
Although the quality of teaching is not the only criteria schools are assessed on, it is at the heart of a school’s success, Mr Carpenter observes. Raising the quality of teaching is therefore essential for our students to be successful.
“We know our students are capable of achieving at the highest level. They are as able, gifted and talented as anyone else internationally,” Mr Carpenter says, “but they are not achieving at the moment because the teaching has not been consistently good enough over time.”
Lack of Parental Involvement
As part of the inspection process, parents, staff and students are asked to complete an anonymous on-line survey, where they are asked to what extent they agree or disagree with a series of statements about the school. The results of these are included as appendices to the individual inspection reports, and the combined results are published in the Stakeholders Report 2018.
The responses to one question in particular have rung alarm bells for Mr Carpenter. The question – whether parents are effectively involved in the work of the school – is one that he has used in his work in schools in England, Scotland and the Middle East, and that almost always received a high score. But here in Cayman, this is the question that gets the lowest level of positive responses.
This is of particular concern as it suggests that parents may not be as involved in their children’s education as they could be – whether that means helping them with homework, attending parent-teacher meetings, or joining PTA’s and becoming involved in the decision- making processes of the school.
Schools may be equally at fault for not keeping parents informed about the various ways in which they can help their children’s education, and in so doing support the success of the school as a whole.
More Frequent Inspections
As of summer 2018, it was decided that all schools would be inspected once every two years, as opposed to once every four years, as previously mandated by the Education Law 2016.
Mr Carpenter, who previously worked as an inspector of public and private schools in Dubai has seen first hand the difference that regular, frequent inspections can bring about.
“Dubai has the fastest improving education environment in the world,” he says. “This is largely due to the impact of school inspections.. Every school there is inspected every year, so the pace of change and improvements is rapid and leads to quick transformation.”
He commends the Minister of Education’s decision to increase the regularity of inspections and is hopeful that with more regular support, schools can implement the required changes much faster.
The Cayman Islands can and should aspire to having a world-class education system.
If the younger generations are to compete in the international arena they need to be achieving at the same level as their peers in other countries. For that to happen the standard of education needs to be raised significantly – and that requires a collaborative effort on the part of schools, students, parents and teachers. Achieving excellence will not happen overnight, but there is at least now a solid framework in place and signs of improvement are already being observed.