School boards tardy

EDUCATION Minister Fayval Williams has called out school boards that are not paying enough attention to reports from the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) on the status of their institutions and are neglecting to ensure that school improvement plans are in place.

Speaking at a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister on Thursday, Williams said the NEI has been faithfully producing reports, “but the reports have not been faithfully used across the school system”, although the reports contain critical information such as the effectiveness of school administrators and teaching support; students’ performance level in national and regional tests, and provide a ranking of each school.

“I believe that if we were religiously adhering to looking at these reports and looking at the things that need to be done we would not be where we are today, having to do another deep dive into the sector. Whenever we speak to our boards, we bring to their awareness the need for them to be very familiar with the NEI report,” Williams said.

The press conference was called to provide an update on the work of the Education Transformation Oversight Committee (ETOC), which was set up to address recommendations outlined in the Professor Orlando Patterson-chaired Education Transformation Commission, which was appointed by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in 2020. The report was published in January this year.

Williams stressed that boards should be discussing with school administrators their improvement plans and reviewing them at their meetings.

“That is what we have to get all 1,000 of our boards to really embrace and begin to do, otherwise we are not going to see the improvements that we want to see in our schools,” she said.

Williams told the Jamaica Observer, after the press conference, that although boards have been given specific instructions regarding the treatment of NEI reports, tighter requirements are needed.

“This is where our education officers come in, who visit the schools regularly, and are in with the principals; they attend board meetings… they, as well, should be providing the support to our boards,” Williams said.

She said the ministry is now reviewing the existing processes to determine where there may be gaps.

“We have recently implemented an electronic platform where we are requiring of the boards to upload their minutes, so then we can see the deliberations, and who has a school improvement plan and who doesn’t. But we have to put in tighter requirements,” she noted.

Meanwhile, the ministry is seeking to hammer out a new funding formula for primary and high schools to address the imbalance in the current situation in which all schools receive the same grant per student from the Government, regardless of the needs of each school. This was one of the recommendations in the Patterson report.

Williams told the press conference there are no details yet on the approach that will be taken, but that in reviewing the current arrangements the ministry is already mulling over options to remove the burden of certain expenses from schools, such as electricity bills, in order to enable them to do more with their grants.

“We have been tweaking that, but we really need to examine and have some broad consultation around it, because if a school used to get ‘x’ and it is determined that they get less because some other school that’s in need gets it, you can imagine how that’s going to be. So this is one that we have to be certain of. If there is one recommendation that’s going to need broad consensus, it is going to be this one,” she told the press conference.

Meanwhile, Williams said the ministry has made progress in five of the broad thematic areas of recommendation in the Patterson report. These include evaluation of schools, using a value-added metric for 150 schools; creating a proposed education policy; and moving to implement a licensing regime for teachers. Terms of reference have been developed for a consultant to conduct a strategic review of the structure of ministry, while work is ongoing on the revision of the 1965 Education Act and its 1980 regulations.

Furthermore, Williams said, 300 early childhood teachers are to receive training, 248 underperforming schools are being targeted for an improvement framework, while teachers and students have been provided with thousands of computer devices. The ministry has also been conducting critical repairs and maintenance to school plants, expanding broadband infrastructure; and investing in new software platforms.

Acting permanent secretary in the ministry Maureen Dwyer said full staffing support for the implementation project should be in place by January, beginning with the hiring of a chief transformation officer by mid-December. She advised that working with Mona School of Business and Management (MSBM) — consultants on the project — the implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and financing plans for the transformation project will be delivered by the end of February.

ETOC Chairman Dr Adrian Stokes outlined that MSBM will be meeting with various stakeholders to solicit feedback, after which it will deliver the implementation plan, converting the recommendations into an implementable project plan with initiatives that are time-bound, measurable and specific.

“These specific initiatives will give ETOC an objective basis to monitor the ministry’s progress on implementation,” Stokes said. He noted, however, that the work needs to be accelerated, and that Williams and her team had given their commitment to speed up execution.