***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.***
During the pandemic, the public school in Frank Sound has been dealing with emotional issues in students, staff absences and educators’ exhaustion, while maintaining relatively high student attendance and continuing academic progress, according to a letter to Clifton Hunter Principal Richard Wildman from Senior Inspector Althea Edwards-Boothe.
“The principal, senior leaders and staff had demonstrated strong commitment to promoting students’ wellbeing and progress during the pandemic. They had expertly coordinated arrangements to track, monitor and report on students’ health, well-being and progress,” the inspector said.
“Throughout the pandemic, the principal, senior leaders and staff had maintained a clear focus upon promoting a caring and supportive environment for students and staff.”
The visit occurred on 9 Feb. and the inspector’s summary is dated 11 Feb.
“Following the thematic visit to Clifton Hunter High School, 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.
Parents, staff and students also completed online surveys prior to the visit to Clifton Hunter.
“Parents made highly positive comments about the work of the school in the parent survey. A majority of respondents agreed that there was a clear strategy to promote learning and this had been communicated to them,” the inspector said.
Leaders and staff said relationships between the school and parents had generally improved during the pandemic.
The school’s pastoral team was key to providing additional support to students with emotional, behavioural and learning issues.
“A significant minority of students” had been experiencing emotional issues due to the pandemic, staff reported, linking that “to increased incidence of vaping and marijuana use,” she said.
Also, online learning had been challenging for students with additional learning needs, and “students on the at risk register who were out of school for prolonged periods due to COVID-19, often exhibited behavioural issues on transitioning back to face to face class routines,” Edwards-Boothe said.
As students required additional support, staff were stretched thin by “high numbers” of COVID-related absences.
“Consequently, the senior leaders had devised innovative strategies to provide teaching cover. For example, master classes were organised in the performance halls. Here several classes were facilitated at the same time so they could be supervised by a reduced staff complement,” the inspector said.
Some educators continued to teach remotely from home even while ill with COVID.
“Staff expressed disappointment with the length of time it took the Department of Education Services to provide supply teachers. Reportedly, two supply teachers were only recently deployed to provide teaching cover,” Edwards-Boothe said.
In general, she said, “Staff felt well supported by the senior leadership team but expressed that they were feeling exhausted.”
Despite having additional and administrative duties of their own, Principal Wildman and the school’s deputy principals regularly stepped in to teach classes. Staff also commended the quality of support from assistant teachers.
“A distributed model of leadership was well-embedded in the school and this had promoted partnership and collaboration among teams at all levels during the pandemic,” the inspector said.
Edwards-Boothe said, “Throughout the pandemic, senior leaders had prioritised continuity of learning. Consequently, senior leaders and staff had developed plans to remediate learning loss and to employ appropriate interventions.”
A majority of students continued to progress in learning through the pandemic, with most students achieving expected academic standards.
However, she said, “It was noted that at Key Stage 4, students’ performance had dipped during the Autumn term. This was attributed primarily to staff and student COVID-19 related absences.”
School leaders systematically monitored students’ behaviour, attitudes to learning and attendance, and incorporated that data into their strategies.
Student attendance had fluctuated through the fall term, with absences spiking in January with the Omicron variant.
Overall attendance for the current school year was a relatively high 93%, compared to some other schools in Grand Cayman.
The school had implemented a number of public health measures related to COVID, such as increased regular cleaning and daily deep cleanings of classrooms and common areas. Most students abided by mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines.