***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.***
At Theoline L. McCoy Primary School in Bodden Town, COVID-19 has placed additional pressures on teachers and led to learning gaps among students, an Office of Education Standards inspector said.
During the pandemic, school leadership and staff have made students’ well-being their main focus, according to a letter to Principal Kimberly Watler from Senior Inspector Althea Edwards-Boothe.
“Student wellbeing had been the primary priority of senior leaders and staff. Throughout the pandemic, they had sought to create a caring and safe learning environment where students felt secure,” she said.
The visit occurred on 2 Feb. and the inspector’s summary is dated 3 Feb.
“Following the thematic visit to Theoline L. McCoy Primary, I did not find any significant concerns,” Edwards-Boothe said.
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.
Additionally, before the visit, online surveys were completed by staff, students and parents.
The inspector said student attendance and staff absences had been negatively impacted by COVID. She said student attendance had decreased from 95.1% in the last school year to 88% this year.
On the day of the visit, roughly 20% of students were absent and one-third of staff.
“Nonetheless, senior leaders and staff spoke positively about the impact of free meals on students’ attendance. Reportedly, improved attendance was particularly noticeable among students from vulnerable households,” Edwards-Boothe said. “Staff also expressed how the provision of free meals to students had relieved them of the some of the burden of providing welfare support to some students.”
For students out with COVID, the school was not able to provide ‘synchronous’ learning, where students attend lessons remotely at the same time their classmates are attending in-person, due to “internet connectivity issues at the school”, the inspector said.
She said, “School leaders had plans in place for remote learning, however; there was the need for a comprehensive whole school digital plan to deliver blended and remote learning effectively.”
Subject leaders and staff had begun implementing strategies to close learning gaps that students had developed over the past 2 years, including early morning mathematics lessons and afternoon ‘booster lessons’.
“Senior leaders reported that although attainment in key subjects was below international standards, early data review indicated a majority of students had continued to progress in their learning during the pandemic,” Edwards-Boothe said.
She said, “The special education needs coordinator expertly managed provision for students with special educational needs.”
However, intervention models that use smaller learning supporot groups were negatively impacted as staff absences caused teaching assistants to be redeployed to cover class.
Like in schools across the country, Theoline McCoy educators said they felt “overwhelmed” and “exhausted” by additional workloads related to COVID and staff absences.
“Senior leaders also highlighted the challenges they faced being tasked with a wide range
of additional duties. Thus, it had proven difficult for them to effectively fulfil some of their individual responsibilities,” the inspector said.
Despite efforts to address mental and emotional wellness among students and staff, “a significant minority of staff expressed the need for additional resources to support their own emotional wellbeing,” she said.
Staff and nearly all students followed public health guidelines in regard to COVID, such as mask-wearing, hand-washing, social distancing, year-group bubbles and regular cleaning of classrooms.