***Editor’s Note: Due to the impact of COVID-19, the Office of Education Standards is conducting one-day ‘thematic visits’ to Cayman Islands schools in the Spring 2022 term in lieu of more in-depth inspections. (Click to expand.)
(Read our story on the decision here.) OES recently published the first batch of reports from these visits, which will eventually involve 31 government and private schools and culminate in a national report. The first report to be published is on Grace Christian Academy. The Current will publish a story on each individual school, as well as stories from a more comprehensive perspective.***
An Office of Education Standards inspector reported finding strong leadership at Grace Christian Academy as well as a focus on the mental and physical wellness of educators and students. However, the school was facing challenges related to a shortage of qualified staff, according to a letter to Principal Bernice Scott from Senior Inspector Althea Edwards-Boothe following a one-day ‘thematic visit’ to the private school in West Bay.
The inspection occurred on 12 Jan. and the inspector’s summary is dated 14 Jan.
Unlike full inspection reports, the inspectors do not assign graded judgments to schools as a result of the one-day visits. Inspectors conduct interviews with school leadership, teachers and administration, as well as reviewing documentation.
“Following the thematic visit to Grace Christian Academy, I did not find any significant concerns,” Edwards-Boothe wrote.
She said, “The principal, senior leaders and staff had placed a high premium upon the health and safety of students and had devised effective arrangements to track and monitor their health and well-being.”
School leaders said there was scope from greater involvement from the Ministry of Education in regard to COVID-19 guidance and testing, but spoke positively about the Ministry’s support.
Staff and students followed public health guidelines in regard to COVID, such as mask-wearing and hand-washing.
During the fall term, attendance was 89%, “which was lower than historic attendance pre-COVID-19”.
The school had instituted wellness checks for staff and students, and deployed other mental health initiatives, such as integrating the promotion of emotional resilience into classroom lessons.
Inspectors noted examples of effective practice in provision for students with special education needs and/or disabilities (SEND). The school had also identified strategies to deal with potential student learning gaps, for example by introducing an extra session of mathematics at the high school level and creating a homework club to promote progress in maths.
“The Principal had a strong professional relationship with staff. There was a culture of supporting teachers to reflect upon their practice and encouraging collaborative practices. Among staff and students, motivation and high levels of teamwork were evident. Despite having to take on additional roles and responsibilities due to COVID-related staff absences, most staff spoke positively about the support and collaboration demonstrated by colleagues,” Edwards-Boothe said.
Since the pandemic began, the school board had invested in “comprehensive and costly upgrades” to the school’s information and communications technology infrastructure and had bought more smart boards.
The inspector wrote, “The Principal reported that one of the main challenges facing the school at this time was the shortage of qualified staff. Staffing issues were compounded by resignations, illnesses as well as quarantine and isolation requirements. The recent resignation of the Deputy Principal and Special Education Needs Coordinator had placed additional strain on the Principal and staff.”
“The Principal and the school board had tried to mitigate staffing woes by hiring part-time and substitute teachers. However, there were concerns regarding the impact over time on teaching and learning given the levels of staff attrition during the Pandemic.”
Principal Scott said the pandemic had posed financial challenges to the school and called the reinstatement of government grants to private schools “a welcome reprieve”.
Despite the financial challenges, the school recently completed a new early years centre and is constructing a new classroom block and SEND resource classroom.