***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.***
John Gray High School leaders have largely been able to mitigate negative consequences of COVID-19 on learning progress and the mental well-being of students and staff, an Office of Education Standards inspector said.
However, the pandemic had impacted the school in several areas, including delaying the planned opening of portions of the new John Gray campus, according to a letter to Principal Jonathan Clark from Chief Inspector Nicholas Sherriff.
“The senior leadership team (SLT) and all other staff were committed to facilitating and maintaining students’ academic development in a safe and secure learning environment during the pandemic. All staff referred to their school community as a family,” Sherriff said.
“Moreover, a new school mantra of ‘Come back, better, stronger and smarter’ was evidence of the senior leadership’s determination to focus on the positive lessons learned from the pandemic,” he said.
The visit occurred on 16 Feb. and the inspector’s summary is dated 27 [Feb.].
“We did not find any significant concerns” during the school visit, the inspector 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.
Students and parents also completed surveys before the visit.
School leaders said John Gray students continued to make academic progress “despite minimal periodic learning loss due to enforced Covid-19 absence,” Sherriff said.
A “summer catch-up camp” translated to a “solid start” by most students on baseline assessments taken in September at the beginning of the school term.
Nearly three-quarters of parents surveyed said their child was making “acceptable progress throughout the pandemic.”
John Gray has three full-time school councillors as well as an education psychologist 3 days per week. Still, the inspector said, “Staff and leaders commented that the allocation of specialist staff was struggling to support the increased number of mental health related issues over the latest COVID period.”
Less than one-third of students surveyed said the support they have received for emotional needs was useful. A similar proportion said adults in the school do check in with them in regard to their emotions and needs.
“Leaders commented on [the educational psychologist’s] great work and support for those in most need which often goes over and above her remit. However, the most significant issue raised by students in the survey was their perceived lack of support for their mental health. Leaders stated, such resourcing was not always able to meet the demand for students that had been exacerbated by Covid-19 mental health issues,” Sherriff said.
The pandemic had also impacted supplies of some materials “and delayed the opening of the new school site although some areas had been securely opened”, the inspector said.
“This phased approach was planned to continue with the Performing Arts move starting in February 2022 with the school hosting NCFA events,” he said.
All staff and students followed COVID protocols such as mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing, and regular cleaning of the school and buses. Parent-teacher meetings had been moved permanently to a virtual environment.
The inspector said school leaders collect “a vast amount of data on a daily basis demonstrating solid monitoring systems across all areas of the school,” but COVID had delayed analysis of the data.
John Gray had used a “significant teacher cover system” to account for staff absences, with as many as 22 teachers being absent at a time. On average, staff covered 3 additional lessons each week.
The school’s Parent Teacher Association was “keen to express their gratitude for the school staff especially teachers”.
The free school laptops received good marks from staff and students, and the inspector said access to the devices had accelerated digital literacy among adults and students.
Sherriff said, “It had changed the face of education and provided new and exciting opportunities for learning, particularly helping with the remote learning during the pandemic. However, the school reported ongoing problems with maintenance budgets and turn-a-round times resulting in access issues for periods of time.”