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.
This is the second half of an interview with Peter Carpenter, who leads the school inspection team at the Office of Education Standards (OES).
In the first half of the interview, Carpenter discussed 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 highlighted his office’s plans for the next several months, including ongoing attempts to bolster Cayman’s Capacity to evaluate schools. (Click here to read Part One.)
In the second half, 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.
— COVID interrupted your work when schools were closed in mid-March. What did you do during the time period instead?
The main task given to us by the Minister of Education was to undertake a review of home learning in Cayman government schools and private schools. We published two reports: ‘No Place Like Home 1’ and ‘No Place Like Home 2’. Those reports were published just before the end of term.
The timing allowed us the opportunity to consult, remotely but still with over 200 stakeholders, on the framework that we use for our inspections of the schools. That framework is called ‘Successful Schools & Achieving Students’.
The framework was first used in September 2018 for the first cycle. We were due to start again in September 2020 for the second cycle, but that has been moved to January 2021.
That framework sets the standard of excellent teaching, of excellent quality, of what we expect to see in our schools. We are deliberately explicit so that the schools themselves can measure themselves against that framework.
Like any good evolving system, we lift the hurdle a bit every time we do it.
So when we’ve written the framework this time around, we are going to start as part of our inspection process, looking more closely at transition arrangements between different phases of school, so from early years into reception, transition from Year 6 into Year 7, between phases within schools.
We are also going to look at governance. The degree to which parents and other stakeholders are involved in leadership and management of the school and contribute to decisions being made. We want to see schools develop that element in their leadership. So there are two examples in which the framework has evolved.
Additionally, to be an excellent school, one of the characteristics will be that you are a school that helps other schools. Little Trotters is the only institution we judged to be ‘excellent’ in the first round of inspections so far. One of the characteristics of that centre that stood out for us, is they allow other practitioners from other potential rival institutions to come and watch them work, and even do training sessions with people from other schools on good early years practice.
I think that common commitment to improve education in Cayman, this willingness to sacrifice the good of your own establishment for the broader welfare of others, is a noble characteristic, and we want to recognise that. A characteristic of excellence in public schools or private schools going forward is it is a place that helps other centres.
– What are the main takeaways from the home learning reports on public and private schools?
A common finding was the challenge teachers and students and parents found in accessing, in a reliable way, face-to-face learning. There were a number of technical problems, such as wireless connections, access to laptops, etc. That was a common message
There were a number of stories from private schools. We saw some very good provisions in terms of remote learning. At the other extreme there were some schools that had absolutely no face-to-face learning at all.
In the government sector, generally the quality of teaching was not quite as good as we found in some of the private schools, but there was a consistency in the way in which the schools were able to offer a programme.
They quickly developed different schools’ home learning packs adapted to the requirements of those students who didn’t have laptops. There were agreements with businesses to assist in the provision of that equipment. And there were efforts to improve the wireless connections.
So in the government schools, there was a commonality of approach, whereas it was more diverse in the private sector.
– What were some challenges OES faced when doing the virtual assessments?
We were overwhelmed by the amount of documentation submitted by schools. You’re talking about hundreds of documents submitted by schools. We did read a significant amount of that material.
In government schools, there was a small number of teachers who were reluctant to have their lessons observed. That took a lot of help and negotiation from the Ministry of Education and the Department of Education Services to help us to see a fair and comprehensive range of lessons in each school.
– People talk about the development of a ‘learning gap’ due to COVID’s interruption of the school year. Is that something that can be quantified right now? Or is it something that people just feel or assume has happened?
Certainly in the government schools, it will be quantifiable. Since the children have returned to school, the plan is that we do an assessment at the start of the academic year, which gives us an indication of the students’ current levels in English, mathematics and science.
So the challenge for the government’s schools will be how do we address that gap, if there is a gap. What programmes are to be in place, if it is necessary, to address any gaps in learning or additional intervention.
Not all private schools have such assessments. When we go to a private school this fall for an inspection, our first question will be, “Tell us how you know where your children are now. What are you going to do?”
What’s really important in this discussion, is some people will say to us, “Oh it’s been a difficult time. Our teachers have had to work from home, and some have their own children as well.”
I understand the pressure, and the pressure on the parents to be teachers as well. But our responsibility is to make sure that our children, whatever nationality, whatever the context of teaching, benefit from the COVID situation and do not lose out in terms of their pace of learning. And if there’s a risk that they’re behind, then we have to develop a strategy to address that.
It might be to extend the school day. I’m not saying we should do it. But it might be. We might want to think about it. We might want to think about reducing the number of training days you’re doing every year. Add more teaching time across the year. We might want to think about summer school.