Editor’s Note: In the ‘An interview with …’ series, we speak to education leaders on a range of issues, and publish the discussion in an edited Q+A.
Like many in the Cayman Islands education community, Peter Carpenter has been extremely busy since the government ordered the closure of local schools in mid-March due to the COVID-19 epidemic. While in-person learning began again in September (and for ealy years centres, July), Carpenter and his school inspection team at the Office of Education Standards (OES) have a full agenda carrying them through the fall semester.
In the first half of this interview, Carpenter discusses the first cycle of school inspections that began in 2018 following a hiatus of multiple years, and that were then interrupted by the COVID-19 closures. He also highlights his office’s plans for the next several months, including ongoing attempts to bolster Cayman’s Capacity to evaluate schools.
In the second half (published here), Carpenter talks about the pair of ‘home learning’ reports his office produced while schools were physically closed from March-June, and he previews the new framework for the second cycle of school inspections, scheduled to start in January 2021.
Bio: Arriving in Cayman in October 2017, Carpenter is Director of the Office of Education Standards in the Cayman Islands Government. Carpenter has previously been Director of Inspection with Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau, Lead Inspector for primary education in Scotland, and principal of two schools in the north-east of England. He has 30 years of teaching experience, qualification in primary and early years education, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English.
– Can you talk about what OES was doing before COVID arrived?
The plan was to complete the first cycle of inspections of all 53 institutions between September 2018 and June 2020. With COVID we had to stop short of that. Between April and June 2020 we had 10 inspections that had to be postponed.
Our priority is to complete those 10 inspections, which include two early years centres, three government primaries, and the rest private schools.
At the moment we are able to conduct the early year inspections because they’re relatively small, and we have a team of inspectors here in Cayman who can conduct the inspections. They opened in July, so they’ve had some time to get back into the routine after COVID.
The challenge is in larger schools — for schools that go up to Years 12 or 13, we need to bring in inspectors with expertise in the curriculum, subjects and ages pertinent to those individual schools. For example, when we inspected Cayman Prep and High School, they go right up to Year 13, offering English, maths and science at that level. So we had to bring in inspectors with expertise in the English national curriculum, science, and Year 13/A Level standards.
Of course at the moment we can’t just fly somebody in and do that. If they do come they’d have to be in isolation for two weeks. So we’re still attempting to manage that with the aim of completing those inspections by the end of December.
– Is that a moving target, for example assuming the border opens up in October?
Our priority is to complete those 10 before we go back into the schools for the second cycle of inspections.
A bit of a complicating factor is, where we’ve judged the overall performance of a school to be ‘weak’, we revisit that school every 6 months following the publication of the report and we keep going back to the school until it satisfactorily meets the recommendations of the full inspection. Of course we had a lot of inspections lined up between April and June of those schools, and they had to be postponed as well.
We recognise the importance of visiting those schools, and they are also a priority between now and December, depending on the timing of their previous inspections.
– How many staff do you have in the Office of Education Standards?
We have two inspectors, and one executive officer who oversees all the administrative functions.
We could grow — that’s a good thing. I think the government has recognised the work our department has done, and as a consequence of our intention to continue the two-year programme of inspections, we need to become less dependent on international inspectors and more capable of undertaking our inspections with a locally based team.
So we’re appointing two full-time members of staff to join us, COVID allowing, in September.
The two new colleagues are joining us with a breadth of international experience. One colleague is from Jamaica and is a maths specialist. The other is English, but has worked in Dubai, and is an early years specialist.
An important development in the last year has been trying to develop a team of associate inspectors in Cayman. These are head teachers, deputy principals, in government and private schools, who have been trained so that, maybe once a term, we can deploy them onto an inspection.
If we had, say, a science teacher from St. Ignatius as an associate inspector, obviously he wouldn’t go in and inspect science in another private school. We would deploy him to a government school. Similarly, colleagues who are associate inspectors who have trained and passed the requirements in a government school, we deploy them into private schools.
We try to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
It is important to develop capacity in the system here so that if they’re trained, and they’re exposed to really good practice from other schools, it isn’t just about inspecting, it’s about coming back to your own school and helping your own school improve.
So that’s the philosophy of the Cayman associate inspectors. We’ve got about 20 colleagues in it.
– Are these associate inspectors paid?
Yes. It’s about the same rate as a supply teacher, so it’s not a generous avocation, to be frank, but it’s a first step to recognising the additional work involved.
We started the selection process in September 2018, the training in December, and deployed them starting January 2019.
We are trying to build, with both full-time colleagues and the associates, a team that we can deploy and be less dependent on external inspectors.
– What is the purpose of school inspections? Is it to identify bad schools and teachers?
The purpose of inspections is to support school improvement. That is the fundamental task. That is why inspection is an integral part of education in the world. Because everyone recognises that an audit of this kind can facilitate improvement.
We’ve approached it differently to other inspectorates around the world because we saw it ideally as a collaborative process. So we’ve published the framework before we go into schools. So it’s a transparent process.
If I come into your school, you know what I’m looking at. You know how I come to a judgement of ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ because it’s in the rules. Primarily the idea is that the schools themselves look at ‘excellent’, and say, “We’re doing this and this, but we’re not doing this yet, so that’s what we need to do,” and develop a plan to make themselves ‘excellent’.
The challenge is, it hasn’t always been perceived that way by some schools. They see us as inspectors that come to make judgements. They forget that we were teachers not so long ago.
While we clearly have a responsibility to report to the Minister, primarily we want the children to get a better education. So our discussions with teachers, the feedback we give to the schools beyond the written report is fundamentally important to helping them prepare to evolve into even better establishments. That’s our job.