6 June 2021
Weekly Current (archived version)
John Gray breaks a barrier. News flash from Layman Scott. Two private schools get ‘perfect’ marks. Second half of our interview with St. Ignatius Principal Martin Nugent. EdBeat Episode Two. High-achievers on CSECs.
Welcome to this week’s newsletter on education in the Cayman Islands.
Week In Review
Pour a glass of something cold and make a toast — it’s celebration time at John Gray High School.
With 1,100 students on roll, the largest school in the Cayman Islands has just become the first mainstream public school to achieve a ‘Good’ rating from the Office of Education Standards.
‘Good’ is the government’s expected level of performance at all schools. The political manifesto of the outgoing Progressives government called for every school in Cayman to be rated Good or better in the next 4 years. (This is still relevant, of course, because although the government has changed from the Progressives to the PACT coalition, the Minister of Education remains Juliana O’Connor-Connolly.)
Inspectors said of John Gray, “Almost all aspects of the school have improved with increased impact, particularly in relation to improvements in students’ attainment and progress in English, mathematics, and science.”
They reserved particular praise for Principal Jonathan Clark and his leadership team, giving them the highest grade of ‘Excellent’ and saying, “Leadership was excellent, as the school had a strong focus on improvement which was led by the Principal and supported by the whole leadership team.”
Context: The ‘Good’ grade arrives after 5 years of effort from Clark and his team to transform the school, and in the shorter term, comes after anecdotal media reports of student misbehaviour, including a ‘fight club’ last fall and an online student video containing adult language and themes.
Possible caveat: Part of the reason for the improved inspection grade is an increase in student exam scores. COVID-related changes to 2020 CXC exams may have contributed to higher test scores last year. Cayman’s government analysts have made note of this, saying that attempts to compare 2020 exam scores with previous years should be taken with a tablespoon or two of salt.
Then again: Teachers had expressed concerns in advance of the inspection, saying that COVID had contributed to declines in students’ learning and behaviour during this academic year. John Gray still managed to improve its grade, despite the challenges of the pandemic.
The thing about the ‘news’ is that it’s ‘new’. As we were preparing this newsletter, leading off with the positive story from John Gray, we received some more information, also positive.
Over on Cayman Brac, Layman E. Scott Senior High School has just become the second mainstream public school to earn a ‘Good’ rating.
We will create a proper story on the Layman Scott inspection this coming week, but for now we will observe that the Brac high school earned an overall ‘Good’ grade, and also received a ‘Good’ rating in each individual category. Well done!
Sharp-eyed readers will notice that we keep using the qualifier ‘mainstream’ when talking about the John Gray and Layman Scott reports. That’s because one government school did achieve a ‘Good’ rating in the first round of inspections, and that was the specialised Lighthouse School.
In the second cycle, Lighthouse did it again. The school, which serves 120 students from the age of 5 to 17 with moderate to severe special education needs, earned another ‘Good’ rating, this time earning a ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’ rating in every individual area of assessment.
Inspectors said, “Leaders knew their school well. Development plans accurately identified the areas requiring improvement and detailed plans were in place to address them.”
When we discuss inspection reports, we usually talk about the standards that government has set for schools. However in some cases we get to talk about schools that set the standard for their fellow institutions of learning.
During the first cycle of inspections, only one school — the private preschool Little Trotters Farm & Nursery School — achieved the highest grade of ‘Excellent’.
This time around, two schools have earned ‘Excellent’ grades — and not only that, they have done it by earning ‘Excellent’ ratings in each and every individual category of assessment. In other words, it’s a perfect score.
One of those schools was Little Trotters, which has 85 students on roll from the age of 18 months to 5 years. Inspectors summed up their findings thusly: “All performance standards and quality indicators were excellent.”
The other school was Montessori By The Sea, which became the first school serving primary students to get top marks.
The private school has 140 students from the age of 21 months to 12 years. Its ‘Excellent’ score coincides with the school’s 20th anniversary.
Inspectors said, “Montessori By The Sea was an excellent school that had made significant progress since the last inspection. Every recommendation had been addressed in full, through systematic and careful planning that ensured the changes were right for the school. It was highly effective in all areas and therefore judged as excellent overall.”
Of note is that the school sent out a press release saying it had been visited by new OES Director Nicholas Sheriff. The Current is seeking public confirmation by the government of Sheriff’s hiring. (The position had been vacant since former chief inspector Peter Carpenter departed at the end of 2020.)
This week we wrapped up our interview with new St. Ignatius Catholic School Principal Martin Nugent.
Nugent, who arrived on-island in mid-March, discussed the challenges facing St. Ignatius, plans for the future and last year’s turmoil over school leadership.
Here are some highlights from the second half of the interview:
- “I’m very much a systems person. Because the school’s quite old, it needs pulling together with its systems a bit more, that’s all.”
- “My job is about connecting, but also as an experienced person firstly in education, it’s more than that. It’s about finding the fabulous parts of this school and very carefully piecing them together to make it all one better system, so the school’s more connected with itself in a sense, with the whole way it operates.”
- “It’s really important that we spend money well and in the right places, and efficiently, because we’ve got a duty as stewards of the school to do it well.”
- The biggest project he has is creating a strategic vision for the school. “We’re a Catholic community and therefore it’s important that the children of the Catholic families come to this school. How do we go about doing that?”
- Construction work on the $5 million sports hall project should commence in earnest toward the end of June, after students have completed their exams.
- “We’ll get it done. If I can build a school in Tunisia, I’ll build one here, easy.”
- “The community had a little bit of an implosion, I think, but each member of the community has been forgiving, repentant, kind and thoughtful about moving forward. I put it all down to COVID. I really do.”
- “I’m really confident in the people that I’m working with on the senior leadership team here.”
Lights, camera, action! EdBeat is back for a second episode.
In this new weekly video series, Cayman Life TV founder April Cummings and Current editor Patrick Brendel talk about the top stories in Cayman education. This week, we discussed the inspection reports (surprise, surprise), including John Gray’s ‘Good’ grade.
The show doesn’t totally overlap with the content of this newsletter, as Cummings gives her own informed perspective and Brendel does his best not to betray how little on-camera experience he actually has.
This is a new, evolving project, so we appreciate any and all feedback we can get. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from the Current
- First Baptist retains ‘Satisfactory’ rating
- Sixteen public school students achieve Regional Merit Status on 2020 CSECs
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 Life: Speeding to Success
- Cayman Compass: John Gray first mainstream public school to achieve ‘Good’ rating
- Cayman News Service: JGHS climbs up inspection ranks
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Loans for trainee teachers announced by Minister
- Jamaica Gleaner: Bioprist Group, UWI to boost medical education and tourism
- Jamaica Gleaner: Editorial | GNAT optics don’t look good
- Jamaica Observer: Schooling is not education
- The Guardian (UK): The Observer view on the cost of scrimping on education spending
- The Guardian (UK): Covid: generation of children in England ‘at risk’ from lost learning
- The Guardian (UK): Education recovery chief quits in English schools catch-up row
The Week Ahead
- Results, school inspection reports
- EdBeat, Episode 3