Special Education Needs Report
- SEN: Full report
Recommendations for Effective Systems of Learning Support
Compiling this report required numerous hours of interviews with current and past professionals employed within the Ministry of Education, Government agency stakeholders, and most importantly, parents and concerned citizens of the Cayman Islands during the months of October and November of 2006. It may have been uncomfortable for many to provide such direct input, but in all cases, participants were thoroughly honest and passionate in regard to the current system for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN).
The investigation targeted provision of services to children with Special Educational Needs (including Gifted Education) and other barriers to learning (e.g., English as a Second Language, environmental disadvantage, counseling needs, and socio-economics). Previous consultant and Schools’ Inspectorate reports covering services since 1997 highlight that, despite repeated recommendations by those learned professionals, there has been little progress in many critical areas.
Interviews were structured to identify current strengths of systems, barriers to effectiveness, and proposed solutions for improvement. More detail and additional findings and recommendations can be found within the body of the full report; this Executive Summary is provided to highlight priority procedural and programmatic issues for immediate action:
Referral, Evaluation, and Placement
It was found that, despite some guidance within SEN policy, a majority of schools do not practice a systematic referral process based on available data or progressive attempts to intervene and remediate academic skill deficits prior to placement in SEN services. Because of this, students often are evaluated based on teacher intuition or parent persistence. Skill deficits exhibited by a student may not always reflect a specific disability but may actually represent school-wide problems (curriculum) or class-wide problems (poor preparation or poor instruction). As proof, 38% of Cayman Brac High School students appear on its SEN register, nearly triple the international standard. This is even further worrisome since CGHS test scores in English and Mathematics reportedly exceed that of John Gray High School. Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM) strategies are recommended as cost-effective and labor-efficient means to more efficiently identify school-wide, class-wide, and individual student academic deficits. This system activates earlier interventions for children who are struggling academically rather than waiting for them to fail.
The situation at Cayman Brac High School reflects a second problem: understaffing in critical areas of Educational Psychology, Speech/Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Physiotherapy. Students may wait for evaluations from a member of one of these specialty groups for up to two years following parent consent because of inadequate numbers within this professional group. During that time, the child is not receiving appropriate services. Also, once a child has been evaluated, it is rare that any periodic reevaluation is completed later in the student’s career. Thus, once on a SEN register, always on a SEN register.
Parents have limited information and participation in the referral, evaluation, and placement process. SEN policy needs to be revised to insure parent participation beyond just the point of signing consent for evaluation. Greater transparency will occur for parents if policy has clear criteria and definitions for SEN eligibility.
General Provision and Deployment
Following restructure of the George Hicks High School campus, adequate SEN staffing was provided, adding to successful outcomes currently being realized. In order to equitably achieve this across all four learning communities on Cayman Islands, the following additions need to be made to the SEN Service (detailed discussion and justification given within this report):
|Current FTE||Required FTE|
|Licensed Clinical Social Workers||0||4|
|LBD/Special Needs Teachers||13||13|
|Language Acquisition Specialist||0||1|
|Early Intervention Teachers||3||4|
|Hearing Impaired Specialist||1||1|
|Vision Impaired Specialist||1||1|
* FTE equivalent, corresponding with the current SEN profile of one full-time and thirteen partially-funded and non-funded SENCO positions across the islands, is difficult to accurately estimate.
** It is difficult to determine from centralized data within theEducation Department as to how many Support Assistants are actually in service currently. Because data from SEN registers are also unreliable, it is difficult to determine the exact requirement. Additional study will be required within the next several months following the completion of this report.
Inclusive model of educating children with special educational needs is practiced philosophically within Cayman Islands schools, but teachers do not adequately differentiate instruction, and there are insufficient numbers of classroom-based support assistants to make this “best practice” for children successful.
Increased Team decision-making using School-Based Support Teams should be exercised and include greater parental participation. Special Needs Teachers need to be supervised at assigned school sites and report more directly to their principals rather than central office. Educational Psychologists, Speech/Language Pathologists, and Occupational Therapists need to maintain regular and predictable schedules for their visits to assigned schools so that they can meaningfully participate as members of these Teams.
SEN policy needs to be rewritten to provide more specificity and accountability; service provision needs to be enforced.
Although outside the scope of this consultancy report, the movement by the Ministry towards strengthening vocational education for government schools is strongly supported. Many children with disabilities are highly successful when language demands are reduced and they can successfully work non-verbally with their hands. This can only lead to greater contributions by SEN students to the Cayman Islands workforce upon graduation.
Provision and Deployment to the Sister Islands
Only two Educational Psychologist visits to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman schools were scheduled this past year, and prior to a couple of recent Speech/Language consultations at the beginning of 2006-07 school year, it was reported that no Speech/Language Therapist had served the children of Cayman Brac for approximately two-and-one-half years. Recommendations for increased SEN Specialist staffing is made in order to achieve equity and access for students with special educational needs within this district.
No Early Childhood Intervention program exists on the Sister Islands, and this is a critical need. There is plan to establish such a program for the Sister Islands at the start of the next school year, however.
Cayman Brac High School requires modifications to add ramps, remodel bathrooms, pave pathways and tracks, and provide general access for children and citizens who use wheelchairs. There also is immediate need for an additional 2-3 Support Assistants at that high school to meet the current need.
Immediately, a speech/language therapist needs to begin regular visits to Cayman Brac to address two children with significant needs (one with autism and the other recently receiving cochlear implants). Two such therapists at The Lighthouse School have the appropriate training in these specialty areas and should be deployed.
Leadership and Organization of SEN
Departmental chain-of-command which should provide clear line of communication is confused, frequently causing parents and personnel to “go straight to the top” with concerns. A concise organization chart and description clarifying this chain-of-command needs to be accessible for parents and publicly known to the larger community.
Restructuring of SEN Management needs to align with the new Governance Model. A senior post with responsibility for SEN needs to be developed so that high levels of training, support, and accountability can be provided for SEN, Counseling, Gifted and Talented, Early Intervention, and English as a Second Language programs.
The position of Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO) must be upgraded and circumscribed so that there are only four such full-time, highly-qualified special educational needs administrators responsible for the four learning communities. This is required in order to make immediate corrections to the system, validate that policy and procedures are followed, and insure that proper training and services occur in an equitable fashion.
Other government agency stakeholders were interviewed and are highly motivated to explore more meaningful collaboration as part of learning communities and consider braided or shared funding on behalf of students who experience barriers to learning. The Senior Officer should be actively “at the table” in these discussions and providing leadership.
SEN registers maintained at individual school sites evidence many inaccuracies and inconsistencies. At one school visited in October, the register had still not been located. There must be an accurate central office register so that reliable data can be utilized to make informed decisions such as targeting staffing patterns or planning transitions of students from one school level to the next.
Ordering of Critical Equipment and Materials
Unreasonable delays occur in the procurement of essential “tools of the trade”. Psychologists, Speech/Language Therapists, and Occupational Therapists have had to wait for up to two years before receiving necessary requisitioned tests. This compromises their work, and sometimes tempts copyright infringement.
Equipment for children with orthopedic impairments has been delayed and also delivered without service contract. In some instances, the delay has been so great that the child has already outgrown the equipment by the time it arrives. A hoist needs to be ordered immediately to protect staff members who lift larger children for toileting at The Lighthouse School.
Combined cost for critical equipment and materials is estimated to be $90,000 immediately and then $45,000 budgeted annually.
Training and Supports for School Personnel and Parents
Despite continued encouragement by previous consultants and the Schools’ Inspectorate, differentiated instruction is not occurring in the vast majority of classrooms across all government schools. Training for teachers regarding differentiated instruction strategies needs to occur in a systematic fashion and include continuous in-class support from SEN personnel.
Training for general education and special education teachers is critical in such additional areas as effective behavioral management, functional behavior assessment/behavior intervention planning, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and autism.
Parents need a Procedural Safeguards Notice to Parents document to clarify their rights under special educational needs policy and procedures for initiating due process should they disagree with a Team’s decision regarding evaluation or provision of services.
Special Educational Needs Day Schools
Only minor recommendations related to training supports are given in regard to The Lighthouse School which continues to develop in a very positive direction. For most students enrolled there, greater opportunities for instruction and interaction with non-disabled peers was a shared goal of Lighthouse administration and that of some other schools on the Islands. This could be achieved by “reverse mainstreaming” or shared use of Lighthouse staff and facility by visiting classes.
The Alternative Education Center (AEC) has also made some gains, and the results of the recent Schools’ Inspectorate report continue to be valid. Students within the Transition Program need more direct instruction in work readiness before going out to work placements, as their failure rate in those settings is much too high. The Tutorial Unit requires more intensive psychological service provision and greater coordination with government mental health agencies. Curriculum continues to be an issue there.
Of greatest concern is the Suspension Unit of the AEC and the high numbers of suspensions coming from John Gray High School. The Suspension Unit is not a true Alternative Education program, and it should be entertained whether that unit return to the school site. Additionally, suspension and exclusion from education only perpetuates and even exacerbates disengagement from instruction (dropping out), involvement in the juvenile justice system, and exacerbates social ailments. As an alternative, all government schools should begin to move away from punishment strategies for discipline and be introduced to and engage in more research-supported School-Wide Positive Behavioral Supports (PBS) strategies to reduce the number of student suspension days and consequently increase total days of instruction.
In conclusion, the challenge will be for all to move swiftly forward. Utilizing strong “learning supports” leadership, necessary systemic and programmatic changes will have to be made in order to insure greater success for Cayman Islands’ children who may be experiencing significant barriers to their learning. If recommendations within this report are followed, there will be higher achievement and improved outcomes for all children graduating from government schools, not only those with Special Educational Needs.