21 March 2021
Weekly Current (archived version)
Analysis of public school crowding and capacity. Pilot school board project revealed, plus other highlights from candidate debates. Savannah candidate Jeanna Williams shares her education platform. New school inspection reports out. And more!
Welcome to this week’s newsletter on education in the Cayman Islands.
Week In Review
Integration is one of the ‘big ideas’ in the education conversation emerging on the campaign trail.
Before we can seriously talk about giving non-Caymanians freer access to public schools, there is one important infrastructural question that must be answered: How many more students can Cayman’s public schools accommodate?
The Current submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Education Services, asking for the maximum capacity and current enrolment of the country’s public schools. (The Department responded within 2 days — Thanks!)
The upshot is that Grand Cayman’s public secondary schools (i.e. John Gray and Clifton Hunter High Schools) are at more than 90% of their maximum capacity, and could accommodate fewer than 200 additional students.
Grand Cayman’s public primary schools, on the other hand, are at 75% capacity and could accommodate about 850 more students.
For perspective, the 1,150 ‘open seats’ in Grand Cayman public schools could accommodate about one-half of the (approx. 2,200) non-Caymanians who currently attend private schools.
Drilling down to the individual school and grade level yields a more nuanced view. For example:
- Available space varies widely from school-to-school — Capacity on Grand Cayman ranges from 44% (East End Primary) to 94% (Prospect Primary)
- Available space varies from year-level to year-level — Red Bay Primary is at 86% capacity, but 4 of 6 year groups are at or above 92% capacity.
- There is plenty of room on the Sister Islands — Overall, schools on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are at less than 50% of their maximum capacity.
Note: The new $170 million John Gray expansion project won’t necessarily create additional space for secondary school students, as the maximum capacity for the new John Gray is reportedly the same as the existing John Gray — 1,200 students.
The $110 million Clifton Hunter, which opened in 2012, is at 89% of its maximum capacity of 900 students.
Our take: “Particularly at the secondary school level … 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.”
That also holds true if we consider a significant migration of the ~2,200 Caymanian students in private schools to public schools, and/or if public school enrolment experiences significant growth as the Caymanian population increases.
Starting on the front page of Friday’s Cayman Compass newspaper, journalist James Whittaker did a take-out on segregation and integration of the public school system.
The story refers to a couple of private sector-led proposals (that didn’t pan out) to partner with government to create new schools with new governance models:
- Move 4 primary schools out of the Ministry of Education and run them under the UK-style academy model, with a private board.
- Build a new primary school open to all students, with government funding the costs of Caymanian students and parents paying the costs of non-Caymanian students.
Important quote from Pilar Bush (of LIFE, Dart, Big Brothers Big Sisters, etc.): “If government was willing to allow a different governance model and provide a committed revenue stream by paying for the Caymanian children who would otherwise go to public school, organisations like Dart would step up to help build new schools and support the transition to ensure our children can access a quality education.”
We’ll also draw your attention to a sidebar accompanying the main Compass story that includes the Current’s analysis of government data on Caymanian and non-Caymanian enrolment. (Thanks, Compass!)
As of our newsletter deadline, the Compass story package wasn’t online yet. But we’ll link to it when it is.
Back on the campaign trail, education continues to be highlighted as a key issue in forums hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, and debates aired on Cayman Crosstalk.
This week’s spotlight is on Red Bay, George Town North, Bodden Town and Cayman Brac.
***Editor’s Note: As we track candidates’ statements in forums and other venues, we’re compiling a comprehensive ‘report card’ containing candidates’ positions on education. Stay tuned …***
But first, a bit of breaking news from Premier Alden McLaughlin, who is the Red Bay incumbent and former Minister of Education from 2005-2009.
After saying he has confidence in the existing governance structure of public schools, McLaughlin revealed, “There’s a pilot project that is about to begin at one of the schools, creating separate governing bodies for each school.”
He continued, “There will be a local governing body, a local board, [to which] the principal of the school has to account.”
(We’ll keep our eye on this through and past the election.)
Here are the rest of the highlights from the week in politics:
- Alden McLaughlin (incumbent)
- Pilot project on local school boards
- Samuel Jackson
- Create a statutory regulatory authority, with a board of directors, to oversee individual boards governing schools
George Town North
- Joey Hew (incumbent)
- Public schools “on the right path“
- Points to teacher pay raises, UCCI nursing programme and new curriculum
- “We are investing heavily. It does not happen overnight.“
- Johann Moxam
- Teacher pay should be merit-based
- Government should give each Caymanian student $5,000 per year for education, from nursery through university
- “We have a lot of money. We don’t have a plan. And that’s the problem.”
Bodden Town West
- Chris Saunders (incumbent)
- Says the idea that public schools are failing is a “misconception” used by employers “as an excuse not to hire Caymanians“
- Educators need more independence
- Vincent Frederick
- The failure of public schools is a reality
- Despite increasing resources, students are failing due to underlying social issues
West Bay South
- Andre Ebanks
- Desegregation of public schools is important, but due to capacity it is a longer-term issue
- Create new industries so Caymanians can utilise education and skills learned abroad
- Raul Nicholson-Coe
- Begin reintegration now, starting with a smaller school and moving from there
- Starting with basic numeracy and literacy, prepare people for technical jobs such as programmers, electricians, plumbing, etc.
West Bay North
- Bernie Bush (incumbent)
- Arrived late for debate, read a prepared statement objecting to removal of Woody DaCosta as Cayman Crosstalk host, then left
- Rolston Anglin
- Pointed to time as Minister of Education (2009-2013) and implementation of CIFEC
- Opening public schools to non-Caymanians won’t guarantee they will attend: “Education is a commodity. Parents are going to choose where to buy the education commodity that they feel is best for their children.”
- In exchange for government funding, private schools should reserve seats for low-income Caymanians
West Bay West
- McKeeva Bush (incumbent)
- Did not appear on Cayman Crosstalk debate
- Mario Ebanks
- Supports integrating public school system, increasing capacity by building more schools and/or going to a dual-shift system
Bodden Town East
- Dwayne Seymour (incumbent)
- Parents need to pay more attention to their children’s education
- Osbourne Bodden
- Did not attend the Chamber of Commerce forum
Cayman Brac East
- Juliana O’Connor-Connolly (incumbent, Minister of Education)
- Did not attend the Chamber of Commerce forum
- Elvis McKeever
- Schools focus too much on “high-achievers” and not students who could be trained for technical/vocational jobs
The Chamber of Commerce continues its candidates forums. Here’s this week’s schedule:
- 22 March – West Bay Central
- 23 March – West Bay North
- 24 March – West Bay West
- 25 March – West Bay South
- 26 March – George Town North
(Visit the Chamber’s website to see a calendar of the forums.)
Savannah candidate Jeanna Williams shared her education platform with us for publication. She says, “I believe a major contributing factor of the deterioration of the public education system is a direct result of the rising cost of living in our Country.”
More from the Current:
- Calvary Baptist Christian School rated ‘Weak’ in follow-through inspection, but shows progress on some key measures
- Truth For Youth rated ‘Weak’ in follow-through inspection, shows ‘Weak’ progress on all recommendations
- St. George’s Preschool rated ‘Satisfactory’ in first full inspection report of the new cycle of school inspections
Around The Web
The Current is a central resource for education journalism by others, including regional and international news relevant to Cayman education. (Find our running collection of links here.)
- Cayman Compass: Debate review forum talks education, traffic and party politics
- Cayman News Service: Sanders calls out education ‘lie’
- Loop Cayman: Cayman educators featured in new regional handbook
- Cayman Compass ($): Manfrino turns from reef health to local education
- Cayman Compass ($): CSEC exam dates announced
- Camana Bay Times: Dart at high school career fairs
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): The Schools Report
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Bermuda College to launch foundation year
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Special education services for children and adults could be single-site
- The Guardian (UK): English secondary school headteachers among best paid in the world
- The Guardian (UK): Pupils in England less likely to get special needs support in poorer areas
- Jamaica Observer: ‘This is the worst educational crisis ever seen in the region’
- Eye Witness News (Bahamas): One year later: Education adjusts to New Normal
The Week Ahead
- Candidates’ education platforms
- Chamber of Commerce candidate forums
- FOI responses: student exclusions, teacher exit interviews