The Office of Education Standards has published its new framework for the next cycle of school inspections, which is set to begin in January 2021.
“The new framework raises expectations and places greater demand upon schools and early years centres to fix commonly found weaknesses identified in the last round of inspections. Consequently, although the number of changes are not significant, it is true to say that they are important enough to make greater demands upon our educational institutions,” OES Director Peter Carpenter told the Current in an email Tuesday.
He said, “‘Good’ is the expected level of performance for every educational institution in the Cayman Islands. The revised framework provides more explicit illustrations of what constitutes ‘good’ performance.”
During the first cycle of inspections from September 2018 to March 2020, only 9 of 43 schools inspected achieved a ‘good’ grade. Just 1 school, Little Trotters Farm and Nursery School, was judged to be ‘excellent’.
“Schools should not need to prepare differently but some will need to function much more effectively in order to meet the expected requirements of the Cayman Government,” Carpenter said.
In her preface to the new framework, Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said, “I have no doubt that the Ministry of Education, the Department of Education Services (DES) and our schools, will continue to be held to the highest educational standards. We look forward to a sustained partnership with the OES as we seek to accomplish the best education for our children, thus enabling our people to become productive, valued members of society.”
Home learning, Caymanian performance
The updated document, called ‘Successful Schools and Achieving Students 2’, builds upon the original guidelines issued in June 2018, but now places new emphasis on areas such as home learning strategies, achievement levels of Caymanian students, and the impact of school leadership on student performance.
“The COVID-19 pandemic identified the need for each school to have in place a well-planned strategy for home learning,” according to Carpenter’s introduction to the framework.
The new framework places increased emphasis on “any significant variations in the performance of different groups of students”, based on, for example, gender, special needs, nationality and first language — which were identified in the original framework as well — but now also includes a category for Caymanians.
“The revised framework requires schools to look closely at the achievement of different groups of students and to use that information to help raise the academic performance of all. So, for example, when school leaders review examination results, it is appropriate to look at any differences in the achievement between boys and girls,” Carpenter said via email.
“Schools should also analyse how well Caymanian students are achieving in order to help ensure the continued growth and improved outcomes for Caymanian nationals. Inspectors will review each school’s arrangements to monitor and track the progress made by different groups of students,” he said.
Leadership and governance
Under the 2018 framework, only private schools were evaluated according to governance (i.e. school board or equivalent body). The new framework applies that standard to government schools as well.
“From January 2021, inspectors will report on the governance arrangements in place in public and private schools. ‘Excellent’ schools will provide regular opportunities for parents and other stakeholders to contribute to the leadership and decision-making processes within each school,” Carpenter said via email.
A new characteristic that inspectors will be looking for in ‘excellent’ schools is leadership that seeks to improve education in other schools than their own.
During an interview with the Current in September, Carpenter said, “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.”
Another area inspectors are focussing on is students’ transitions between phases of education.
“In the last round of inspections the arrangements for transition between schools were found to be underdeveloped. Children progressing from pre-school into Reception classes or from Year 6 in primary into secondary education were not well supported to make a smooth transition,” Carpenter said via email.
“In too many cases inspectors found students repeating curriculum content that they had studied previously. The arrangements to support vulnerable students and those with special educational needs were variable in quality at transition points often adversely affecting the early progress those students made at the start of their education in their new school or centre.”
Additionally, the new framework puts emphasis on schools’ compliance with environmental health guidelines, gives examples of excellence in early years’ education, and includes more specific language on cyber safety and bullying.
Associate inspectors, monitoring visits
The new framework includes a section on the OES’s ‘associate inspectors’ programme:
“There is currently a team of 15 local associate inspectors who may be deployed to each school inspection alongside the full-time OES team members and international inspectors.
“Cayman Islands Associate Inspectors are experienced, qualified and locally-based professionals who have been successful in completing a pre-selection assessment, an inspector training course and ‘shadowing’ role with OES. The local associate inspectors are often working full-time in Cayman government schools, early years centres or privately-run educational institutions. The associate inspectors are allocated to approximately one inspection each term.”
In the September interview, Carpenter talked about the associate inspectors decreasing pressure on local full-time inspectors, reducing the need for overseas inspectors, and also taking best practices back to their own schools.
“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,” he said then.
In addition to the regular inspections (which take place every 2 years, but according to the law must take place at a minimum of every 4 years) and follow-through inspections (taking place in 6-month intervals following an inspection, until areas for improvement have been addressed), the new framework includes ‘monitoring visits’, which would occur on an annual basis for schools that had received a ‘satisfactory’ grade.
“The Office of Education Standards believes this strategy would facilitate ongoing improvement in the relevant schools. We aim to introduce such visits following agreement from relevant government teams,” according to the new framework.
In his introduction to the new framework, Carpenter wrote, “I am proud that OES continues to work with schools to aid their development and support their ongoing improvement. I am particularly proud of the fact that, following each of the 70 inspections conducted since 2017, every principal and every head of early years reported that the OES inspection would help their school to improve.”