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Published 12th February 2016, 2:45pm

The Ministry of Education recently invited the PTA Presidents and Vice-Presidents from the government schools to attend a forum which was hosted by the Honourable Minister of Education Tara Rivers along with other Ministry and Department of Education Services members, and allowed parents to voice their concerns and give updates about their respective schools. The National Parent Forum was established by Minister Rivers in 2013.

Representatives from 12 schools, including the Cayman Brac primary and high schools and the two Grand Cayman high schools, engaged with Ministry officials in an informative and sometimes heated discussion on issues relating to understaffing, disruptive student behaviour, lack of school resources and what they perceived as deficiencies in the education curriculum.

Educators fielded questions such as when more teachers would be hired to deal with the literacy and numeracy issues confronting students in the schools as well as the overall understaffing; why textbooks have been removed from the education system; how to deal with students who are ‘acting out’ because of problems at home and subsequently preventing other students from learning; why the annual book fee was done away with; and why Year 12 has been changed. The panel – which consisted of Minister Rivers, Chief Officer Christen Suckoo, Acting Chief Education Officer Lyneth Monteith, Senior Policy Advisor & Manager for Inclusion Shari Smith, Acting Deputy Chief Officer for Education Cetonya Cacho, Senior Policy Advisor & Manager Early Childhood Care and Education Carol Bennett, Senior Policy Advisor & Manager (Curriculum Unit) Clive Baker and Strategy and Development Officer Danielle Japal – assured parents that many of the topics raised were already on the Ministry’s radar and that the new information that had been brought to the forefront would be investigated.

“The National Parent Forum provides a great opportunity for myself as Minister, and the staff of the Ministry and DES to engage with, hear from and address the concerns of parents of our public schools in an open and direct fashion. It also creates the ability of networking and information sharing across all PTAs whereby everyone has an opportunity to learn from each other,” said Minister Rivers. “The goal for this exercise is to use the feedback provided at the Forum to continue to develop or amend national and school education policies, and to raise the standards of education working to ensure that every child in the system is able to perform to his/her full potential.”

Minister Rivers recognised that, “having the partnership and participation of parents, through the PTAs and otherwise, in the lives of our children is absolutely critical to their success and to the success of the individual school improvement efforts. This Forum is a way to facilitate that active participation and dialogue with and among parent representatives from each school and key decision makers in the education system.”

Ms. Monteith provided an update on the Education Plan of Action document which was produced in response to the issues raised through the Baseline Schools Inspections and the Education System Review in 2014, and focuses on improving leadership and management and improving student progress and achievement.

“The Plan of Action lays the framework for reporting that will make senior management in the schools, the Ministry and the Education Department accountable for delivering specific outputs,” explained Monteith. “We are investing in, and providing support for our principals and other senior officials to empower them to lead their respective schools which can only benefit our students in the long term.” Minister Rivers also revealed that non-teaching Special Education Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) have been employed to provide support for all government schools. This includes identifying students with special or additional educational needs, coordinating assessment and essential interventions and then monitoring students’ progress and achievement to ensure no child is left behind.

“This is an important development because in the past SENCOs had to balance their responsibilities in the mainstream classroom with their duties as SENCOs which could become quite cumbersome,” said Chief Officer Suckoo. “Taking them out of the classroom and having them focus on these students will allow them to give students with special needs and disabilities the full attention that they require, and we are excited about the progress we expect to see in this area.”

The Parent Forums are expected to be a regular occurrence, according to Suckoo, as the Ministry of Education seeks to obtain valuable input that will benefit students in the Cayman Islands.