Grand Cayman’s public secondary schools are at more than 90% of their maximum capacity, meaning that they could accommodate fewer than 200 additional students who wish to enrol, according to a Cayman Current analysis of government data on public schools.
While there is less crowding in Grand Cayman’s primary schools (at 74% capacity), the amount of available space varies widely from school-to-school and from year-to-year. In some schools, certain year groups are near or at 100% capacity.
For example, Prospect Primary School is the most-crowded school overall, at 94% capacity and with room for only 21 additional students. At Prospect, groups in Reception, Year 1, Year 3, Year 4 and Year 6 are at or above 96% capacity.
The second-most crowded primary school is Red Bay Primary School at 86% capacity and with room for 74 more students. At Red Bay, groups in Reception, Year 1, Year 5 and Year 6 are at or above 92% capacity.
The Current obtained information on school capacity via a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Education Services. (For the record, the Current requested the information on Tuesday, 9 March, and DES provided the information on Thursday, 11 March.)
DES calculated the maximum capacity of schools and year groups using by multiplying the number of classes by 28 students (or by 24 students for Reception and Year 1; or by 15 students for the specialist Lighthouse School), and provided enrolment numbers as of at the beginning of the school year in September 2020.
Meanwhile, in the Sister Islands, schools have ample space, and are overall at less than 50% of their maximum capacity.
Systemwide, schools on Grand Cayman could accommodate nearly 1,200 extra students, while Sister Islands schools could accommodate about 350 extra students.
The question of public school capacity has bearing on several issues that have arisen during the political campaign, as candidates have expressed their positions on, for example, building new facilities, closing failing schools, or ending ‘segregation’ and allowing non-Caymanians to enrol in public schools (which currently are about 90% Caymanian).
Newlands incumbent Alva Suckoo has called for building a third primary school in Bodden Town, in addition to Theoline L. McCoy Primary School in Bodden Town and Joanna Clarke Primary School in Savannah.
Also, Savannah candidate Malcolm Eden has called for a new hall and canteen to be built at Joanna Clarke.
Currently, Theoline McCoy in Bodden Town is at 69% capacity (with space for 115 more students) and Joanna Clarke is at 78% capacity (with space for 124 more students).
Like the Sister Islands schools, the primary schools in North Side and East End have room to grow, with Edna M. Moyle at 54% capacity (with room for 86 more students) and East End Primary at 44% capacity (with room for 106 more students).
Asked whether he would support closing a school (public or private) that is consistently rated as ‘Weak’ by government inspectors, Newlands candidate Wayne Panton said, “Given that a lot of the schools are full, I don’t think it’s really an option to close.”
He said, “I don’t know where else [students] are going to go.”
The government is currently building a $170 million expansion to John Gray High School, which will also provide new additional space for CIFEC (81% capacity) and other entities.
John Gray High School is currently the second most-crowded school in the country, at 93% capacity and with room for 86 more students. The new John Gray, however, would not necessarily free up much more space, as the maximum capacity for the new John Gray is reportedly 1,200 students — the same as the existing John Gray.
Clifton Hunter High School, which opened its doors to students in 2012, is at 89% capacity (with room for 102 more students).
Particularly at the secondary school level, where fewer than 200 extra students could be accommodated in Grand Cayman, it is difficult to see how the public school system could cope with an influx of non-Caymanian students if existing segregation policies were overturned — unless new facilities were built or existing facilities converted to secondary education.
West Bay West candidate Mario Ebanks supports integrating the public school system, and pointed to empty land near Sir John A. Cumber Primary School (which is at 67% capacity and could accept 250 more students).
“We need to have more schools,” Ebanks said.
However, there is potentially another way, if — as Cayman Brac East candidate Elvis McKeever has suggested — the government simultaneously reduces the public school population by providing vouchers to Caymanian students to attend private schools.