***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 Current will publish a story on each individual school, as well as stories from a more comprehensive perspective.***
Leaders and staff at St. Ignatius Catholic School are highly committed to the school and its students, but the challenges of COVID-19 have left them “feeling burnt out, exhausted, and requiring counselling support”, an Office of Education Standards inspector said.
“We have found significant concerns regarding staff wellbeing, the continued Principal vacancy and the governance arrangements. As such a ‘Notice of Concern’ was raised with the Ministry of Education,” according to a letter to Vice Principals Peter Embleton and James Hickey from Chief Inspector Nicholas Sherriff, following a one-day ‘thematic visit’ to the private school.
Of the 8 schools inspectors visited this term, St. Ignatius is the first one where inspectors sent a ‘Notice of Concern’ to the Ministry.
“It was clear during the visit how committed school leaders, teachers and support staff were to keeping the school safely open and continuing students’ learning,” Sherriff said.
The visit occurred on 26 Jan. and the inspector’s summary is dated 2 Feb.
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.
St. Ignatius parents also completed a survey prior to the visit.
Inspectors have identified ‘leadership’ as a significant concern at the school since former Head of School Emily Alexander departed in August 2020.
Alexander’s successor, Principal Martin Nugent, joined the school in March 2021 and then left after the spring term.
Sherriff said, “The school still does not have a Principal however both Secondary and Primary Vice Principals have stepped into the space. Although, in the current climate this is an unsustainable position for them both.”
The school also lacks a human resources manager, IT manager, data manager, nurse and dedicated Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO) for the primary school.
“In addition the school has planned for 3 staff on maternity leave and 5 teacher contracts which will end this academic year,” the inspector said.
“Parish Administration reported the difficulties of attracting new staff and senior leaders suggested the recruitment of supply teachers is an ongoing concern,” he said.
Around the time of Alexander’s departure, the St. Ignatius School Advisory Board was reconstituted into a School Advisory Committee, with a reduced scope of responsibilities.
Sherriff flagged the school’s governance structure as another major concern.
“The school has an Advisory Committee but it does not have the remit to hold the Parish Administration or school Principal to account. The Parish Administrator [Father Naveen D’Souza, who also oversees the church] has school oversight although, does not have a background in education or educational leadership. As such [he] is unable to academically support the school without a Principal,” the inspector said.
Despite covering for gaps in staffing and having additional duties related to COVID, St. Ignatius educators are still focussed on ensuring students are learning effectively.
“Heads of Departments and subject leads continue to monitor the performance of students, addressing gaps in knowledge and learning loss, ensuring students are making progress,” Sherriff said.
St. Ignatius has instituted a number of measures to manage COVID, including portable hand-washing stations, classroom santisation, lateral-flow testing and social distancing. The school also plans to install a new air purifying system in all classrooms at a cost of $53,000.
“Parents who responded to the survey suggested that they were very supportive of the
school during the pandemic,” he said.
Almost all parents said they understood the school’s COVID safety requirements and that the school provides a safe environment. Nearly 90% said their child is making acceptable academic progress.
“School leaders have been able to evaluate their performance and write a new school Improvement Plan with a number of interesting proposals. This appears to have not been
currently signed off by the Parish Administration,” Sherriff said.
The pandemic is taking its toll on both students and staff, with a significant increase in secondary school students seeking support for anxiety-related issues.
“Although the Wellness Centre is available for staff, teachers failed to bring it up in the meeting and the pastoral team suggested that only a few staff had used the service,” he said.
The inspector said support for staff well-being is “limited” and that only about a quarter of staff surveyed said they had received help and support for their own mental health and well-being.
Sherriff said, “During the visit staff reported feeling burnt out, exhausted, and requiring counselling support.”
*Disclosure: Cayman Current editor Patrick Brendel has four children who attend St. Ignatius Catholic School.*