Chamber forum: McLaughlin says public school board ‘pilot project’ in the works, Jackson says more ‘radical change’ is needed on education

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Government is rolling out a pilot project on public school boards, Red Bay incumbent Alden McLaughlin revealed Monday night.

However, opponent Samuel Jackson said more significant change is required to bring accountability to the education system, arguing for the establishment of a public authority to regulate and oversee local schools.

McLaughlin and Jackson participated in the sixth candidate forum hosted by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce.

When asked if he would ever support a radical revision to the governance structure of education in Cayman (with options including charter schools (academies), school vouchers, or an independent school board), McLaughlin said, “I would never say ‘never’ to any of those things, but I have a great deal of confidence in the structure which is now being rolled out.”

He said, “There’s a pilot project that is about to begin at one of the schools, creating separate governing bodies for each school.”

McLaughlin, who served as premier from 2013-2021 and was Minister of Education from 2005-2009, said having a governing body for each school would provide direct accountability for the performance of the school — as opposed to the current system, where authority flows from the Minister to the Chief Officer, to the department head, to the school principals.

“[The school board structure] has been well-researched and well-thought-out, and I know the current Minister of Education, the Honourable Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, is very keen as are many other private sector folk in seeing how this system works,” he said.

“There will be a local governing body, a local board, [to which] the principal of the school has to account,” he said.

McLaughlin said if the Progressives-led government is returned to power, “that project will continue to roll out over the course of the next few year.”

Jackson, on the other hand, said trialling local school boards isn’t enough, arguing for an overhaul to the current school management structure.

“I believe a radical change is needed to the legislative framework, i.e. the Education Law,” Jackson said.

He said the current top-down structure, with the Minister, Education Council and Chief Officer, “is outdated and promotes dysfunction”.

He proposed the creation of a statutory authority, with a board of directors, to oversee and regulate the education system, with the Minister’s responsibility being to create policy and legislation to manage the authority.

The statutory authority would in turn oversee individual boards governing schools.

“That way you have one body that serves as the umbrella to all of the education functions in the country, and that then would be the regulator of education,” Jackson said.

“I think that is a much better model. It’s much more efficient, and it’s more along the lines of a modern regulatory structure,” he said.

Continuing on the subject of education, Jackson said one of the top issues facing Cayman’s youth is “the failings of the education system”.

He said experts have told him that the school system needs more early childhood intervention, and needs to promote inclusion of students with special education needs into mainstream schools.

“There are a number of issues surrounding education. In regard to public schools, there seems to be a general breakdown somehow in the quality of education that they’re getting,” Jackson said. “We’ve heard a lot about that recently.”

The seventh candidates forum hosted by the Chamber takes place Tuesday, 16 March, and features candidates from Bodden Town East. The debates are posted on various media, including the Chamber’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.

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