Cayman Islands education officials have implemented about half of the recommendations made in an October 2019 School Education Report by the Office of the Auditor General, and have made progress on some other measures.
However, primarily due to COVID-19, several major recommendations – related to strategic direction, school finances and effectiveness of scholarships – have not been put into effect.
“I am pleased to note that the Ministry of Education has made good progress with many of the recommendations in the School Education report. However, some of the important recommendations have yet to be actioned,” Auditor General Sue Winspear said in a follow-up report on past guidance from her office and the Public Accounts Committee.
“I appreciate that the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered efforts to implement some recommendations as resources were diverted to delivering online learning during 2020,” she said.
The October 2019 report contained 18 recommendations from the Auditor General and 3 from the PAC. Out of the 21, education officials had fully implemented 11, made progress on 9 and made little or no progress on 1. Overall, the Auditor General assessed that education officials had made ‘Some Progress’ on recommendations.
This particular follow-up report, the 2nd in a planned series from the Auditor General, contains updates in 3 areas – education, Customs and capital projects.
Although the Auditor General still had concerns, education officials were much farther along than the other entities in terms of addressing their recommendations.
Education Chief Officer Cetonya Cacho said in a public statement, “I am incredibly proud of the teams in the Ministry of Education, Department of Education, and our schools. The impact of COVID-19 in March 2020 meant that all our teams had to quickly transition from in-school to remote learning and reprioritize our focus on the health and safety of our students and staff.”
She said, “Since the education performance audit, our teams have implemented many of the recommendations whilst managing student safety and COVID-related absences, developing and implementing new COVID-19 policies and guidance, and implementing a lateral flow test distribution process for public and private schools.”
The area where the Ministry of Education had made the least progress was on creating a long-term financial plan informed by the Capital Projects Master Plan, student population projections and workforce plans.
In December 2021, the government stated that work on a long-term financial plan had been delayed because resources were shifted to deal with COVID.
“This work should resume in 2022,” the Ministry said, though it did not give a specific implementation date.
The pandemic had also delayed the development of a medium- to long-term education strategy, plans to improve education attainment by students, and analyses of per-student costs in public schools, benchmarked against costs in private schools and comparable countries.
Winspear said the financial plan and education strategy “are important documents that would help set out the strategic direction for improving educational attainment within the Cayman Islands.”
COVID also affected education officials’ intentions to compare Cayman students’ performance against the UK and Caribbean. In December 2021, the government said it had purchased a new platform that would enable those comparisons, however, due to changes in assessment in the UK and Caribbean due to COVID, “it has not been possible to attain comparative data for the 2020-2021 academic year.”
According to the government’s response, the Ministry of Education had entered into an agreement with England’s Department of Education to administer England’s key stage exams in Cayman’s government schools.
“This provides opportunity for our examination results to be directly compared to the results of the same age group for the same curriculum,” the government said.
The Auditor General determined that the Ministry had successfully implemented a recommendation to “publish the annual Education Data Report on a timely basis, ideally by December of the same year of sitting exams”.
Again citing COVID delays, the government said in December 2021 that “All currently known indicators point to a January 2022 release for the 2021 Data Report.”
At the time of publication of this story, 2 March, to our knowledge the Education Data Report 2021 had not yet been published.
According to the statement from Chief Officer Cacho, “Throughout this process students have continued to make progress and achieve at high academic levels. For example, 208 of 337 public high school graduates earned diplomas with ‘Honours’ and ‘High Honours’ in 2021. We find value in the recommendations from the audit and will continue our implementation process to further improve the education system for our students and by extension, the wider community.”
The Auditor General’s Office had recommended that the Scholarships Secretariat needed to collect, analyse and report data “to better demonstrate how scholarship funding is achieving its intended purpose and contributing to economic priorities.
In its updates, the Secretariat said the information it collected was basically limited to what scholarships were awarded, what the students were studying and where they were going to school – but did not extend to what happens after graduation, i.e. employment.
Winspear said, “I note that the Scholarships Secretariat is collecting more data, but it still does not have data on whether scholarship recipients are now successfully employed and in the areas for which they received scholarships. This is important information to measure the effectiveness of the scholarships programme.”
Citing concerns that private sector employers aren’t investing in Caymanian talent or providing Caymanian staff with adequate access to scholarships, the PAC recommending extending the role of the Education Council beyond government scholarships “to cover the private sector and the scholarships they provide.”
As of December 2021, the Education Council had begun “preliminary works” on this guidance, but was also focussing on “streamlining the current Government scholarship process”.
|No.||Recommendation, Oct 2019||From||Status, Feb 2022||Notes|
|1||The Ministry of Education should monitor and publicly report, at least annually, progress against the broad outcomes and priorities set out in the Strategic Policy Statements.||OAG||In progress||OAG comment: "The link between the budgeted outputs in the Ministry's Budget Statements and the disclosures in its Annual Report needs to be clearer."|
|2||The Ministry of Education should publish the Education Data Report on a timely basis, ideally by December of the same year of sitting exams.||OAG||Implemented||As of 2 March 2022, the 2021 Education Data Report has not been published. According to the government udpate from December 2021, "All currently known indicators point to a January 2022 release for the 2021 Data Report."|
|3||The Ministry of Education should develop a new medium- to long- term education strategy. The Ministry should regularly assess and publicly report progress against the strategy.||OAG||In progress||Delayed by COVID|
|4||The Ministry of Education should include private school student numbers in its student projection planning. The projection planning should be used to inform other medium- to long-term plans.||OAG||Implemented|
|5||The Ministry of Education should develop a long-term financial plan that is underpinned by the Capital Projects Master Plan, student population projects and workforce plans, and that supports the delivery of the education strategy.||OAG||Limited progress||OAG comment: "The Ministry's response states that this work was put on hold and should resume in 2022 but it does not give a specific implementation date."|
|6||The Ministry of Education and Department of Education Services should ensure that there is effective engagement with all stakeholders in the development of strategies, and that policies and changes are communicated well in advance of implementation dates.||OAG||Implemented|
|7||The Scholarships Secretariat should start to collect, analyse and report information on all scholarships annually to better demonstrate how scholarship funding is achieving its intended purpose and contributing to economic priorities. The data collected should include the subjects and courses funded and the destinations of scholarship recipients.||OAG||Partly implemented||OAG comment: "Student tracking data is necessary to determine if the students obtained employment in their chosen professions."|
|8||The Government should identify and implement strategies to encourage beneficiaries to undertake courses that are aligned to current and projected work permit needs.||OAG||Implemented||In December 2021, the government pointed to focus on construction, business and accounting, TVET, teaching, and medicine.|
|9||The Ministry of Education should develop a national strategy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) that takes into account the Government’s economic priorities and the current and future needs of employers.||OAG||In progress||In December 2021, the government said a public and private sector working group had drafted a TVET Framework.|
|10||The Ministry of Education should develop and document a clear rationale for the provision of funding to private schools that clearly specifies the purpose of the funding and the outcomes the Ministry expects to be delivered.||OAG||Implemented|
|11||The Ministry of Education should ensure that it takes corrective action, where Monitoring identifies a lack of compliance by private schools against the terms and conditions specified in the Purchase Agreements.||OAG||Implemented|
|12||The Government should specify clear outcomes and success measures for education as part of the budgeting process, and should ensure that performance against these is monitored and publicly reported.||OAG||In progress||OAG comment same as Recommendation 1|
|13||The Ministry of Education should calculate, analyse and review the cost per student across all public schools on a regular basis. It should benchmark these costs with the private schools and with comparable countries regionally or internationally in order to inform decision making.||OAG||Work started but not yet complete||Delayed by COVID|
|14||The Ministry of Education and Department of Education Services should develop strategies to improve education attainment at all levels. These should include closing gaps in attainment and between genders by improving the attainment of lower-performing students while continuing to motivate higher-performing students to do even better.||OAG||In progress||Delayed by COVID. In December 2021, the government pointed to improving inspection reports in public schools.|
|15||The Ministry of Education and Department of Education Services should systematically benchmark student performance internationally and publicly report the results.||OAG||Implemented||In December 2021, the government said it purchased a new platform allowing comparison among Cayman, the UK and Caribbean. However, with changes in assessments due to COVID, "it has not been possible to attain comparative data for the 2020-2021 academic year."|
|16||The Department of Education Services should develop and implement a policy on reducing truancy rates. The policy should specify strategies for targeting the efforts of truancy officers to schools with the highest truancy rates; and ensure that sufficient resources are available to effectively manage and reduce truancy levels.||OAG||Implemented|
|17||The Ministry of Education should develop clear strategies and policies for focusing on the areas that are known to positively affect student attainment, including teacher quality, the use of data and parental engagement.||OAG||Implemented|
|18||The Ministry of Education should develop a national strategy for students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) that clearly sets out what it is trying to achieve. The strategy should include a framework for measuring, assessing and reporting how the investment in SEN is contributing to improved outcomes such as the attainment performance of SEN students; and determining how SEN funding is targeted at primary and secondary levels.||OAG||Implemented|
|19||The Committee acknowledges that all teachers receive training on Caymanian culture as part of their induction but express concerns that teaching staff do not always appear to fully appreciate the national culture. The Committee recommends that the Ministry of Education should ensure that all teachers receive regular cultural sensitivity training.||PAC||Implemented|
|20||The Committee acknowledges that measures have been taken to protect the safety of students and teachers but is concerned that more could be done in this area. The Committee recommends that the Ministry of Education should formally consider the use of cameras in schools to further protect students and teachers.||PAC||In progress||Delayed by COVID|
|21||The Committee is concerned that private sector employers may not be investing in Caymanian talent or providing Caymanian staff with adequate access to scholarships. The Committee recommends that the role of the Education Council should be extended to cover the private sector and the scholarships they provide.||PAC||In progress||Education Council also working on streamlining existing government scholarship process.|