Statistics show that Cayman Islands students are getting suspended from public secondary schools far less often than they were in the past — although behaviour issues remain a concern, particularly in regard to fighting and illegal substances.
Specifically at John Gray High School, incidents leading to ‘exclusion’ have dropped by more than 70% compared to the peak school year of 2011-2012, when there were 487 suspensions.
Compared to the 10-year average, the number of student exclusions from John Gray in 2019-2020 declined by more than 50%.
Since 2016-2017 (when statistics for Clifton Hunter High School are available), the total number of exclusions from public secondary schools in 2019-2020 declined by 28% — or, compared to the 4-year average, by 17%.
(Note that the in-person 2019-2020 school year was shortened by Covid-19. Schools closed their doors in mid-March 2020.)
The most common reasons for exclusion include physical assaults on other students (i.e. fighting), drugs/alcohol/tobacco, ‘dangerous behaviour’ (such as throwing hard objects), and ‘persistent defiance’ — which combined made up more than 75% of incidents in 2019-2020.
Comparatively rare are suspensions for bullying, assaulting an adult, possession of a weapon, sexual misconduct or theft — which combined made up less than 10% of incidents in 2019-2020.
John Gray Principal Jonathan Clark said the decline in expulsions is not a matter of teachers becoming more lenient, but is the result of a better use of data, intervening before incidents occur, and focussing on students’ “attitude toward learning”.
“Regarding exclusions, we have been uncompromising in our policy regarding the most serious of matters, and I believe our parents and community would always want to know that students’ health and safety are always a priority,” Clark wrote in an email to the Current.
(The Current also requested comment from Clifton Hunter Principal Richard Wildman, who has not responded.)
The Current’s analysis of student exclusions is derived from open records provided by the Department of Education Services.
The Current submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department for the number and type of exclusions from Cayman’s secondary schools since 2016. The Current’s FOI request built upon a 2017 FOI request from Cayman Compass journalist James Whittaker that focussed on John Gray.
[Editor’s Note: Read our story on teacher exit interviews for teachers’ perspectives on behaviour and discipline.]
John Gray, Clifton Hunter, Layman Scott
Since Clark’s first full school year as principal of John Gray in 2016-2017, suspensions declined by nearly two-thirds. Suspensions for drugs/alcohol/tobacco and physical assaults on students declined by about the same amount.
“Across the education system we have been part of the PBIS [Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports] strategy which has helped us make data driven decisions, consider student voice and unpick reasons for poor behaviour,” Clark said. “It is not a secret that we have worked very hard on improving relationships at all levels in the school. Positive relationships underpin everything we do.”
The number of suspensions from John Gray corresponds roughly to the number at Clifton Hunter, although John Gray’s enrolment of about 1,100 students is about 40% greater than Clifton Hunter’s enrolment of about 800.
Suspensions at Clifton Hunter dropped by more than 40% in 2019-2020, the first year Wildman served as principal (following 4 years at John Gray as deputy principal, and 15 years there overall).
During the first semester of the current school year, from September-December 2020, John Gray and Clifton Hunter each had the same number of exclusions, 50.
Suspensions at Cayman Brac’s Layman E. Scott Sr. High School, which has an enrolment of about 140 students, are quite uncommon (on average, fewer than 5 per year) — and adjusting for student body size, occur at a fraction of the rate at Grand Cayman’s schools.
Clark said, “The biggest difference, that I hope all staff would agree with, is that we have had a relentless focus on improving students ‘attitude to learning’ or ATL as we call it. We teach this, we measure and report it to parents and the students should always be trying to improve their ATL. We remind them that learning is our core business, just like Burger King has to sell shakes and burgers.”
“With a good ATL the magic begins to happen. For students with a poor ATL we intervene and try and teach what it means to be a good learner and that is so much more than being passive in class and behaving. Parents are key in this and we value their support. I will read all 1,109 reports before we send them to home and post online and ATL is the first column I look at,” he said.
Exclusions by Incident Type, Public Secondary Schools, 2015-Dec 2020
|Clifton Hunter||Dangerous Behaviour (H&S)||-||24||21||34||41||-|
|John Gray||Dangerous Behaviour (H&S)||15||21||10||6||17||6|
|Layman Scott||Dangerous Behaviour (H&S)||-||-||0||0||0||0|
|Clifton Hunter||Drug, Alcohol, Tobacco Incident||-||48||21||41||64||-|
|John Gray||Drug, Alcohol, Tobacco Incident||35||26||20||4||15||16|
|Layman Scott||Drug, Alcohol, Tobacco Incident||-||-||0||2||3||0|
|Clifton Hunter||Persistent Defiance||-||43||43||32||20||-|
|John Gray||Persistent Defiance||77||35||24||25||30||6|
|Layman Scott||Persistent Defiance||-||-||0||0||0||0|
|Clifton Hunter||Persistent Disruptive Behaviour||-||20||29||30||8||-|
|John Gray||Persistent Disruptive Behaviour||29||21||13||5||11||2|
|Layman Scott||Persistent Disruptive Behaviour||-||-||0||0||0||0|
|Clifton Hunter||Physical Assault on Adult||-||3||5||2||0||-|
|John Gray||Physical Assault on Adult||10||6||6||2||4||0|
|Layman Scott||Physical Assault on Adult||-||-||0||0||0||0|
|Clifton Hunter||Physical Assault on Student||-||35||83||57||45||-|
|John Gray||Physical Assault on Student||92||72||64||34||33||16|
|Layman Scott||Physical Assault on Student||-||-||3||1||4||2|
|Clifton Hunter||Possession/Use of Weapon||-||5||5||6||3||-|
|John Gray||Possession/Use of Weapon||11||2||4||2||5||0|
|Layman Scott||Possession/Use of Weapon||-||-||1||1||0||0|
|Clifton Hunter||Prejudicial Behaviour||-||0||1||1||0||-|
|John Gray||Prejudicial Behaviour||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Layman Scott||Prejudicial Behaviour||-||-||0||0||0||0|
|Clifton Hunter||Refusal to adhere to dress code||-||0||0||0||3||-|
|John Gray||Refusal to adhere to dress code||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Layman Scott||Refusal to adhere to dress code||-||-||0||0||0||0|
|Clifton Hunter||Sexual Misconduct||-||6||12||3||4||-|
|John Gray||Sexual Misconduct||2||7||1||1||2||1|
|Layman Scott||Sexual Misconduct||-||-||0||0||0||0|
|Clifton Hunter||Verbal Abuse/Threat to Adult||-||32||38||21||9||-|
|John Gray||Verbal Abuse/Threat to Adult||48||29||27||11||12||2|
|Layman Scott||Verbal Abuse/Threat to Adult||-||-||0||0||0||1|
|Clifton Hunter||Verbal Abuse/Threat to Student||-||7||18||5||4||-|
|John Gray||Verbal Abuse/Threat to Student||14||7||7||6||1||0|
|Layman Scott||Verbal Abuse/Threat to Student||-||-||0||0||0||0|
Reports of physical altercations between students surface in the news from time to time, particularly at John Gray.
For example, in November, school officials and police intervened in response to organised fights among students that were being recorded and posted online.
During that semester, 16 students at John Gray were suspended for physical assault — compared to 33 and 34 suspensions in the two years prior, and a maximum of 92 suspensions in 2015-2016.
Fighting is generally the top reason for suspensions from year to year, accounting for 25% of suspensions from September 2016-December 2020.
During the 2019-2020 school year, the total number of suspensions for fighting declined by 24% compared to the 4-year average at all secondary schools.
At John Gray, the 33 suspensions for physical assault of a student in 2019-2020 represent a 44% decrease compared to the 10-year average. It was the 4th year in a row that these types of suspensions declined, from the peak of 2015-2016, when there were 92 suspensions for physical assault.
Clark said, “We believe in an ‘unconditional positive regard’ for the students. We try to ensure consistency and depersonalise the behaviour. It is the action that is wrong, not that the student that is inherently ‘bad’. For example it is OK to feel angry about something, that is human. It is not OK for that anger to translate into hitting another student or cursing out a teacher. We have to always work with students and parents to ensure that their emotions don’t lead to negative consequences.”
Drugs, alcohol, tobacco
On the campaign trail, some candidates have raised the issue of schools being hubs for drug use among young people.
For example, West Bay Central incumbent Eugene Ebanks said he was very concerned about drugs in school.
“I think it takes greater parental and teacher supervision to bring this under control,” he said during a Chamber of Commerce candidates forum last week.
Looking at the numbers, suspensions for drugs/alcohol/tobacco are an exception to the general decline in exclusions in recent years.
The 82 suspensions for drugs/alcohol/tobacco in 2019-2020 represent an 11% increase from 2016-2017, and a 34% increase over the 4-year average.
During those 4 years, Clifton Hunter accounted for nearly two-thirds of those kinds of suspensions, with 120 occurring at Clifton Hunter, 65 at John Gray and 5 at Layman Scott.
At John Gray specifically, over the past decade there has been a significant decline in suspensions for drugs/alcohol/tobacco. The 15 suspensions that occurred in 2019-2020 represent a 29% decrease over the 10-year average. (And in 2018-2019, there were only 4 of these types of suspensions at John Gray.)
However, during the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year, there were already 16 suspensions for drugs/alcohol/tobacco at John Gray, more than the entire year prior.
“By focusing on [our] core values, and our aspiration to be a world-class school, I hope we will be able to maintain this positive trajectory. We still have a long way to go, but with support from parents, and the development of personal leadership skills I hope we can keep students in school as much as possible,” Clark said.
See the exclusion data here: