Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of posts exploring the results of the first cycle of school inspections by the Cayman Islands Office of Education Standards.
The percentage of Cayman Islands students identified as having Special Education Needs or Disabilities (SEN) varies widely from school to school, even among public schools — which are subject to SEN regulations that private schools are not.
Among public schools, John Gray High School had the lowest percentage of SEN students (10%), while Red Bay Primary School had the highest among mainstream public schools (58%), and the specialised Lighthouse School, of course, had 100% SEN student enrolment.
A number of factors make it difficult to provide a neat analysis of the SEN student population in Cayman from the government’s school inspection reports, including gaps in data and lack of clarity in definitions.
For example, Office of Education Standards school inspection reports usually — but not always — cite the number or percentage of students with special education needs and/or who appear on the school’s SEN register.
While the OES reports include SEN information for about 95% of the public school population, it only includes SEN information for about 33% of the private school population.
According to the Ministry of Education’s 2011 SEN Code of Practice, public schools evaluate students for special education needs and proceed along 3 phases:
- Phase 1: Early screening, differentiated instruction, led by the classroom teacher — student not ‘officially’ classified as having SEN. Appear on an ‘At-Risk’ register maintained by the individual school.
- Phase 2: Individual intervention, involving school-based support team — appear on official SEN Register (or At-Risk register) maintained by the individual school.
- Phase 3: Individual education plan, verified educational disability — appear on official SEN Register centrally maintained by Department of Education Services.
However, only public schools are required to follow the SEN Code of Practice. According to the document, private schools “are exempt from requirements of the SEN Code of Practice until such time that the [Education Law] is duly amended”.
A Cayman Current analysis of Office of Education Standards inspection reports for primary and secondary schools shows about 25% of students identified as having SEN (although, as referred to above, data is only available for about two-thirds of the total student population).
It’s also not clear whether the SEN numbers in the OES reports include all Phases of SEN assessment (i.e. Phase 1, 2 and 3 … or just Phase 2 and 3, etc.) or whether the SEN numbers cited are consistent from school to school (i.e. from the same Phases).
That being said, the overall 25% share of SEN students is in line with numbers referred to in previous OES annual reports.
By comparison, about 15% of students in the US and UK have been identified as having SEN.
Overall, 28% of students in public schools were identified as having SEN, compared with 21% of students in private schools.
The numbers are somewhat skewed by the government’s Lighthouse School and the private Hope Academy (84% SEN enrolment). Excluding those 2 schools, 26% of public school students have SEN, compared to 16% of private school students.
However, due to the caveats stated above, particularly the lack of information on two-thirds of private school students, it is difficult to assess how meaningful the comparison between public and private schools may be.
See the list of schools with percentage of SEN students below:
2019 audits, including SEN provision
Other government documents — such as the Auditor General’s October 2019 performance audit on School Education, and the Ministry of Education’s July 2019 Special Education Needs Audit — focus specifically on Phase 3 SEN students, who require intervention using resources from beyond their individual school.
The July 2019 Ministry audit states that the proportion of Phase 3 SEN students is 11% of the total student population. The corresponding rates in the UK and US are also far lower, at about 3-6%.
Here are key findings from the 2019 AG Report:
- The number of Phase 3 SEN students in mainstream public schools increased 24% from 2013-2017.
- The number of Phase 3 SEN students in the specialised Lighthouse School is more than 100, which is far above the school’s planned capacity of 75.
- “There is no national strategy for SEN that sets out how the overarching objectives for SEN will be achieved, or that can help allocate resources to focus on the right areas.”
- From 2014-2018, yearly government spending on SEN increased from $2.7 million (3.7% of education spending) to $4 million (4.7%).
- The number of ‘SEN-specific’ staff increased significantly from 2013-2017 —
- 26% increase in SEN teachers in mainstream schools
- 45% increase in school-based specialist teachers
- 13% increase in support specialists
- SEN students achieve much lower levels of education attainment than non-SEN students.
- “The performance of primary school students with SEN has worsened.”
- “The performance of secondary school students with SEN has improved.”
- “It is not clear if the additional investment in SEN has delivered value for money.”