What’s the value of a Cayman Islands high school diploma?

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A decade after the Cayman Islands government mandated academic requirements for public high school graduation, nearly half of graduates received a diploma that the government considers to be equivalent to a ‘middle school’ qualification — and that can be obtained by scoring ‘straight Fs’ on external exams.

Further, the minimum diploma requirements for nearly 90% of public high school graduates are not sufficient for government’s scholarships for overseas university or law school without further education, for example at a private school for A Levels or in a local Associate’s Degree programme.

The business community has long expressed concerns about ‘social promotion’ and the preparedness of local graduates to enter the workforce.

According to the Chamber of Commerce’s Advocacy Agenda & Action Plan, “Finding and retaining local talent is one of the greatest challenges facing the business community. Many school leavers who find employment out of high school lack basic literacy and numeracy skills and therefore find it difficult to advance in the workplace or even to retain their jobs.”

On the spring 2021 campaign trail, candidate Michael Myles said far too many students don caps and gowns to participate in graduation ceremonies where they are given diplomas that have little value.

Specifically, Myles proposed eliminating the ‘Level 1’ diploma and replacing it with recognised vocational training.

Introduction of academic standards

In 2011, then-Education Minister Rolston Anglin announced the incorporation of minimum academic standards into graduation criteria, going beyond simple attendance and behaviour requirements.

At the time, he said, “It’s not good enough to merely turn up and behave moderately well to gain a High School Diploma. Modern society requires a minimum skill level, even at the most basic entry level of employment, and hence our criteria must reflect such requirements.”

The current system was introduced in summer 2014.

Now, public high schools offer 4 kinds of diplomas: ‘Level 1’, ‘Level 2’, ‘Level 2 with Honours’ and ‘Level 2 with High Honours’.

All of those diplomas require that students have a 90% attendance rate, have served fewer than 15 days of suspension (exclusion) in Years 10-12, and have performed 10 hours of community service.

(Editor’s Note: Graduation statistics are not available for local private schools.)

Level 1

Last year, 41% of the 322 graduates from Clifton Hunter, John Gray and Layman Scott High Schools received a Level 1 diploma.

According to the Cayman Islands National Qualifications Framework (that Anglin’s Ministry introduced), the Level 1 diploma is equivalent to Middle School/Junior High or Years 7/8/9.

To obtain a Level 1 diploma, students must have 5 ‘Level 1 passes’ on external exams — meaning Grades D-G on GCSEs or Grades IV-VI on CSECs.

Those are the lowest grades possible on those exams, other than ‘Absent’, ‘No Result’ or ‘Ungraded’.

Practically speaking, a ‘Level 1 pass’ can be an ‘F’ — so a student can get an ‘F’ (or a ‘G’) on 5 exams and receive a Level 1 diploma.

Those exams must include English and Mathematics (or more basic ‘numeracy or mathematics functional skills’).

Level 2

A Level 2 diploma indicates the student has met Cayman’s national standards for education. It is the standard high school diploma for years 10/11/12, according to the Framework.

Last year, 10% of graduates received a Level 2 diploma, which requires 5 ‘Level 2 passes’ on external exams — meaning A*-C on GCSEs or Grades I-III on CSECs (including in English and Mathematics).

Honours, High Honours

Last year, 36% of graduates received a Level 2 diploma with Honours. That requires 7 ‘Level 2 passes’ (including English and Maths).

At the top of the class, 12% of graduates received a Level 2 diploma with High Honours, which requires 9 passes with even higher grades — A*-B on GCSEs or Grades I-II on CSECs (including English and Maths).

Scholarship opportunities

Just because a graduate has a Level 1 or a Level 2 diploma -- or even Level 2 with Honours -- doesn't necessarily mean that they qualify academically for government's scholarship programmes.

The minimum requirements for Level 1 diplomas (held by 41% of graduates) are not sufficient to meet requirements for government’s scholarship opportunities for local or overseas academic study.

(Even the most basic UCCI 'Certificate' programme requires at least one Level 2 pass ... i.e. at least a 'C'.)

The minimum requirements for Level 2 diplomas -- i.e. 5 Level 2 passes -- are sufficient for government’s scholarships for A Level programmes (currently offered only in private schools) or for a local Associate’s Degree (i.e. UCCI or ICCI).

However, only for the 12% of graduates with ‘High Honours’ would their diploma requirements satisfy government’s standards for scholarships to Truman Bodden Law School or for overseas undergraduate study.

At the Education Council's discretion, students with 7 or more A*-B passes (or with a high school GPA of 3.25 or higher) can be awarded a scholarship for law school or overseas study right out of high school, without needing 'advanced standing', such as a full IB diploma, A Levels/CAPE, etc.

(Editor's Note: That does not mean no graduates with Level 2 with Honours diplomas would qualify for an overseas or law school scholarship -- it means that the minimum requirements for that diploma are lower than government's standards for those scholarships.)

Depending on the programme of study, scholarship criteria vary and can also include factors such as GPA, SAT/ACT scores, institutional entrance exams and/or the Education Council’s discretion.

Here is a table summarising the basic requirements for government scholarships and high school diplomas:

NameType# PassesGradesSubjectsNotes
CertificateScholarship1 passA, B, CUCCI exam
Pre-CollegeScholarship2 passesA, B, CContinuing Education passes, UCCI exam
A LevelsScholarship5 passesA, B, CEnglish, Maths
BTEC Level 3Scholarship5 passesA, B, CEnglish, Maths
Local AssociatesScholarship5 passesA, B, C or 2.5 GPAEnglish, Maths
Local Law SchoolScholarship7 passesA, B or 3.25 GPAEnglish, MathsSAT/ACT scores, Education Council discretion
Overseas UndergraduateScholarship7 passesA, B or 3.25 GPAEnglish, MathsSAT/ACT scores, Education Council discretion
Level 1Diploma5 passesD, E, F, GEnglish, Maths (or Numeracy, etc.)90% attendance, < 15 days suspension (years 10-12), 10 hours community service
Level 2Diploma5 passesA, B, CEnglish, Maths90% attendance, < 15 days suspension (years 10-12), 10 hours community service
Level 2 with HonoursDiploma7 passesA, B, CEnglish, Maths90% attendance, < 15 days suspension (years 10-12), 10 hours community service
Level 2 with High HonoursDiploma9 passesA, BEnglish, Maths90% attendance, < 15 days suspension (years 10-12), 10 hours community service

Visit our Cayman Islands Scholarships Directory:

Cayman Islands Scholarships Directory

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