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Published 19th July 2006, 12:12pm

Speech by the Hon. Alden McLaughlin, JP, Minister of Education, Training, Employment, Youth, Sports & Culture, to the Legislative Assembly of the Cayman Islands, 14th September, 2006.

Madam Speaker,

I beg to lay on the table of this Honourable House a document entitled “A New Model of Governance for the Education System of the Cayman Islands”.


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Exactly eleven months ago on October 13th 2005, this Honourable House unanimously approved the “National Consensus on the Future of the Education in the Cayman Islands”. This document was produced as the blueprint for reform of our education system following the large scale education conference of September 2005 in which all stakeholders in our community contributed.

Immediately following this approval, a working committee was established within the Ministry called the Education Innovation Oversight Committee. This body was charged to guide the implementation of the ten strategies contained in the National Consensus document. This work is ongoing and I am pleased to advise that work on a number of strategies is either complete or well advanced.

Strategy One focused on the governance model needed for the new Education Service to realize the expectations of the stakeholders as outlined in the National Consensus document. This strategy required the “redefining, rationalizing and reassigning of core functions for education amongst schools, the Schools’ Inspectorate, the Education Department, the Ministry, the University College and all other organizations and stakeholders that support the delivery of education” (p.20 National Consensus document)

To give effect to the work required, a task force was appointed with responsibility for delivering this strategy’s objectives. The appointed task force was comprised of key representatives of: the Education Department, primary and secondary school principals representing Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac, UCCI and the Ministry.

The taskforce was chaired, until her recent move to the Portfolio of the Civil Service, by former Deputy Chief Officer (Education) of the Ministry of Education, Mrs. Mary Rodrigues, who made significant contributions to the process, and the resulting model.

Other members of the taskforce were:

  • Mr. Gareth Long – Strategic Development Advisor (Education), Ministry of Education
  • Mrs. Francine Gardner – Deputy Chief Education Officer
  • Mrs. Shirley Wahler – Principal, Cayman Brac High School, currently on study leave in the UK, who continued her involvement in the Task Force by video link
  • Mrs. Dewayne Bennett – Principal, John A. Cumber Primary School
  • Dr. Paul Simmons – UCCI

The Strategy 1 taskforce adopted an approach to its work based on inclusion, dialogue and consideration of international best practice.

Madam Speaker, the governance model which I am pleased to present today, represents the delivery of this taskforce’s objectives, and meets the needs of the education system in the Cayman Islands, adopting a philosophy of ‘serving the student’, by placing them at the very centre of the model.

The National Education Conference revealed that, under the current system, we are not able to produce sufficiently qualified graduates in adequate numbers to meet the growing demands of our national economy. Unsatisfactory levels of performance were noted, especially in Language, Mathematics and Science. Employers expressed dissatisfaction with technical competencies and work ethic, and expressed the opinion that too few students were taking advantage of tertiary education or other training opportunities.

The people of the Cayman Islands called for change. They told us that schools needed greater autonomy and that teacher morale is low. They highlighted inefficiencies and ineffectiveness in the way that the education system is managed and led. They observed that rationalization and alignment were absent, and that ambiguity exists among roles and responsibilities within the current system, compounded by conflicts and duplication in the way services are delivered to schools. It was also apparent that there were no common standards or expectations for teaching and student achievement.

Madam Speaker, the Education Conference also highlighted for us the unwelcome consequences of failure to change. These included:

  • an unacceptably high proportion of our working age population who lack the skills and flexibility to compete effectively in the local employment market
  • a system of governance which limits the positive impacts of improvements and reforms
  • the increasing difficulties of recruiting, retaining and motivating staff.

Madam Speaker I must remind members of this esteemed House of the daunting words uttered by Mr. Conor O’Dea, Managing Director of Butterfield Bank, during the education conference when he said:

“Presently the educational achievement level of most school leavers is inadequate for the needs of business and without investment, the labour skill force base may be obsolete by 2010.”

Indeed the need for change is clear, and I think it is fair to say, undisputed by all major stakeholders in the education system, and anybody with a genuine interest in the future of our children, and of our country.

During the 2005 National Conference delegates noted that the current Education system had some strengths including:

  • Well resourced schools with adequate staffing
  • The Ministry is open to improvement
  • Aspects of the Schools’ Inspectorate, including link inspectors, feedback given, support for self-evaluation and provision of conferences
  • Schools are given professional development days
  • Good support from some curriculum officers

(p.15 National Consensus document)

Madam Speaker, against this backdrop the task force considered representations from the Chief Education Officer, all Education Officers, Principals and UCCI. They also undertook considerable research on models in other jurisdictions, the Vision 2008 Report and the Millett Report amongst others.

Madam Speaker, the existing organizational chart for the education system is based on a traditional hierarchical structure. Consider a layered structure with students ‘buried’ at the bottom. Above them sit the schools, which in turn sit below the Education Department, who provide services and supervision for school operations and performance. All these layers of the system are overseen by the Ministry of Education, which reports ultimately to Cabinet.

Within the current structure of education services the Chief Education Officer reports directly to the Chief Officer at the Ministry, both of which have direct links with the Schools’ Inspectorate.

Below the Chief Education Officer sits a Deputy, to whom all of the various layers of education officers and providers of education services report.

Teachers report to School Principals. However, it is curious to note that in the current system, Principals report directly to the Chief Education Officer, and NOT to the various education officers who sit in the layers below.

This means that ALL of the significant volume of mundane, routine school operational matters arising from Principals, are dealt with at the very highest level of the department, the Chief Education Officer, whilst the layers of education officers below are sheltered from any direct ownership. Needless to say, this impedes the efficiency and strategic value of the lead role, and fails to put to most effective use, the administrative layers below.

It is also noted during the education conference that there is a clear need within the current education system for:

  • Clearer policies and processes
  • More cohesiveness in the system
  • Transparency in decision making
  • Greater autonomy
  • Greater clarity and support from the Education Department
  • Improved management of the Education Department
  • A more proactive approach to buildings maintenance
  • Greater involvement of parents and community in valuing education and addressing major social issues
  • Much improved personnel processes including performance management
  • Teacher training facilities and more professional development
  • Reducing isolation of the Sister Islands

(Pages 15 – 17 National Consensus document)

The policy implications of addressing these needs were recognized as:

  • We must place students’ needs and interests at the forefront of decision-making
  • We must delegate authority for decision making to schools where the responsibility lies
  • We must ensure that the work of every educational institution is realigned to focus on serving the students and providing support to their learning

(Page 18 National Consensus document)

Madam Speaker, to address these policy issues a NEW model for the future governance and management of education in the Cayman Islands has been developed. This new model places the student at the centre, and adopts a philosophy of ‘serving the student’.

Picture a model where the components of the education system are represented by concentric circles, with the student in the very centre - at the core of the model.

The student is encapsulated by the school, which is planned to promote achievement, equity and access.

In this model, groups of schools form Learning Communities, about which I will elaborate shortly. The Learning Community exists to support teaching and learning.

Supporting the Learning Communities is the Department of Education Services, revitalized to provide the administrative framework for the Schools and their students.

Encompassing the whole is the Ministry of Education, and the various bodies, which support education and for whom the Ministry has responsibility: the Education Standards Unit (currently the Schools’ Inspectorate), the Education Council Secretariat; Tertiary Education support; and the University College of the Cayman Islands.

Madam Speaker, I will turn our focus now to the concept of Learning Communities to which I earlier referred.

Let us consider first what students need in order to successfully achieve their aims:

Students require:

  • Schools where they feel safe, with an attractive and challenging work environment.
  • Appropriate levels of support to ensure equality of access to a high level, relevant, and challenging curriculum
  • Consistently high levels of teaching and learning
  • An atmosphere which expects, and which is conducive to, success
  • Frequent feedback on how they are doing and how they can improve
  • Support and opportunities for parents to become involved in their child’s learning
  • A role for the wider community in the education of its children

Let us now consider what schools need in order to successfully fulfill their objectives:

Schools require:

  • Consistently high quality support for school leadership;
  • Continual focus on supporting the highest standards of teaching and learning;
  • Specialist services to ensure equity for students, delivered in an appropriate time frame;
  • Mechanisms for sharing high standards within the education fraternity, and developing ideas for the future;
  • Support for school resources, for example, ICT, to minimise “down time”, or lost opportunities for learning;
  • Support for administrative and events work.

Madam Speaker, please note also that for schools to be successful, it is essential that this support is readily available at the required standard, and on a timely basis throughout the school year.

This is where the role of the Learning Community comes in to play.

Our new model divides schools across the Cayman Islands geographically into four separate groups, each called a Learning Community. The geographical division can be described as:

  • Learning Community 1 - West Bay to the North of George Town;
  • Learning Community 2 - George Town to Prospect;
  • Learning Community 3 – Savannah, Bodden Town, East End and North Side
  • Learning Community 4 – Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.

These Learning Communities are designed to support the new model, which will be centered on meeting the needs of students, as well as introducing accountability for student achievement at every level.

To this end, the Learning Communities will facilitate the decentralisation of the necessary services and resources to schools and students, as these provisions will be readily available within the community, and within easy access of those who require them.

Learning communities will also provide ‘clusters’ of schools, which will support and challenge each other in the pursuit of continual improvement of education standards.

Principals will enjoy the increased support of a Learning Community Management Team, of which they will be a part. This team will focus on student improvement and achievement.

The framework within which the Learning Communities will operate, will ensure that the Learning Community Leaders remain focused on school improvement, by supporting, coordinating and monitoring the organization of schools, and the services which they receive. It will also ensure that accountability for the provision of education and services, to schools and students, exists at every stage of the process, and at every level of the structure.

The Learning Communities’ will encourage parents and the wider community to play a greater role in education. This additional support will help provide for the needs of schools and students, and enhance performance in teaching and learning.

The functional model for each Learning Community uses a matrix structure, promoting direct and unhindered access within the community, to a range of support and services for schools and students.

At the top of the model, the Director of Education Services will assume ultimate responsibility for the performance of the Learning Community. Below, the Learning Community Leader will report to the Director of Education Services.

The schools will report to the Learning Community Leader, and their core focus will be on the functions of Teaching, Learning and Communication.

In this new model, schools will enjoy direct access to education services within the community: guidance and counseling; student support services; financial support; ICT support; registration, attendance & truancy; facilities management; and after hours programming.

In this model, all members of the learning community will be accountable for the achievements of students in their school. They will each have a role to play in supporting the highest standards of teaching, learning and support services, for the benefit of students.

The introduction of Learning Communities will also bring with it increased utilization of school facilities. The role of schools in the community will be expanded to that of a learning centre, providing for a range of additional educational activities, which will take place outside of normal school hours.

An ‘After Hours Coordinator’ will take over the Principal’s responsibilities for operations outside of school hours, and will report for duty before the Principal leaves the site, to ensure a smooth handover of operational matters for the day.

In addition to the community benefits of enhanced provision of teaching and learning activities, the increased utilisation of schools in this way represents improved return on government’s investment in the facilities. If a school building goes unused outside of normal school hours, an opportunity is missed to enjoy the full benefit of a valuable fixed asset. By extending the hours that schools are in use, government meet the needs of the community, whilst also increasing efficiencies in the usage of assets.

For Learning Communities to fulfill their roles effectively, they must be supported by high quality centralized services. I am referring to leadership; and effective communication systems.

The new model provides for a Department of Education Services which, operating in its capacity as a centralised entity, will be structured to deliver the services, which the Learning Communities need.

At the top of the organization is the Director of Education Services, who reports to the Chief Officer in the Ministry of Education, and who will also link directly to relevant Ministry functions such as Human Resource, Finance, Facilities Management and Research & Planning.

Reporting to the Director of Education Services are the Heads of each of the principal functions of the department, which will be available as dedicated resources to each of the Learning Communities.

These functions comprise: Teaching and Learning; Human Resources; Finance; Facilities; Data and Exams; ICT and Help Desk; and the Early Childhood Unit. Each of these functions will in turn be supported by administrative staff, which will carry out the routine duties of the department.

The matrix structure provides for direct lines of reporting and communication between the Learning Communities and all of the principal elements and services of the Department of Education Services. This model facilitates effective communication and increased efficiencies in the delivery of services to users and ensures greater accountability.

Madam Speaker, I would now like to move on to the Ministry’s role within the new model.

All of the aspects of the education system as discussed are encompassed within the responsibility of the Ministry of Education. For the Department of Education Services to achieve its objectives successfully, it must have the requisite support from the Ministry.

I am referring to high quality advice and direction on policy as well as regular consultation with Ministry leaders. The Department will be clear about the expectations of the Ministry as regards its performance goals, and the mechanisms by which, progress will be assessed. It must also be clear on its budgets and financial procedures. The Department will also need clear lines of accountability between itself and the Ministry, to avoid any ambiguity about responsibility for delivering services to the education system.

The Ministry will deliver the support which the Department of Education Services requires, through the provision of key operational functions, to include: The Education Council Secretariat; a dedicated Human Resource Unit; a Finance unit; an ICT Unit; a Project Management function; the Education Standards Unit (currently the Schools Inspectorate) and also Tertiary Education support.

Within this new model the Task Force made a final presentation on the 13th September 2006 to the Education Department Officers and School Principals from Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac. The format of the day’s proceedings allowed the attendees the opportunity to feedback on the new model.

Their comments coalesced around four common themes:

  • Strong communications management
  • The need for a planned funding provision
  • A comprehensive training and development plan
  • A phased introduction of the governance model

These comments have all been carefully reviewed and will be reflected in the ongoing development of the implementation plans.

In all groups there were positive reactions to the governance model and acknowledgement of the extensive research, analysis and thought that had gone into the process.

Madam Speaker, there is much more work to be done to realise the introduction of this new governance model. Significant attention is being paid to the Human Resource implications that such a change presents. Madam Speaker, as I speak HR discussions are underway with the personnel affected by this development process. Staff will commence their new roles in early January 2007 and training will commence concurrently with shadowing; international best practice; mentoring; attachments and secondments as may be deemed necessary. This is the first step in a defined process towards the phasing in of the new governance model by July 1st 2007.

Starting the process now, we will ensure that staff hit the ground running, ready for the start of the new school year in September 2007. A significant value of the phasing in of the governance model over the next two years allows much needed time to refine policies, systems and procedures towards full implementation with the opening of the three new high schools.

Madam Speaker, in advance of the 1st September 2007, we intend to make the necessary legislative changes to underpin and give authority and effect to the new governance model.

Madam Speaker, I would like to conclude by reiterating the value this new governance model contributes to the successful and effective reform of education for the benefit of students across the Islands.

This model puts students at the very center of the organizational structure of the education system. It gives students and schools within their Learning Communities support, the likes of which they have never had before.

This model identifies clear responsibilities for student achievement, and with it, accountability amongst staff at all levels to ensure that student achievement levels are met, as a result of the highest possible standard of education being provided.

This new model will allow for clearer policies and increased transparency in decision making. It allows for improved personnel practices and increased opportunities for professional development, all contributing to an enhanced learning environment geared towards academic success.

The new model brings greater clarity about the role played by the Department of Education Services.

This model reassigns existing functions and responsibilities adding new responsibilities where required.

In the new model, school Principals will enjoy greater autonomy, allowing them to be more effective in managing schools and more able to focus on the teaching and learning environment.

The governance model increases the involvement of parents and the wider community, and places an emphasis on life-long learning. It encourages a learning environment, which extends beyond the classroom, and exposes students to a wider range of educational benefits and opportunities. It embraces a philosophy of continual personal development, designed to equip learners to thrive in every aspect, and at every stage, of life.

The new model also provides equity of education services and support for the Sister Islands, ensuring that students all over the Cayman Islands, will receive the same high standard of education they deserve.

Madam Speaker, and Members of this Honourable House, it has been my privilege to share with you today this new governance model for the future of education in the Cayman Islands. This model represents a well-researched, meticulously planned solution for the much needed reform of our education system. I trust that you will share my enthusiasm as we move forward with the transformation of the education service.