In Cayman, it is compulsory for all children from the age of five to 17 to attend school or be home-schooled. However, the reality is that most children in Cayman start preschool at two, primary school at four and don't finish high school until 18 (if in the private school system, and 17 if in the government school system). At all levels in Government schools, priority for admission is assigned to Caymanians; in addition, at the compulsory education stage, priority is also ascribed to dependents of Caymanians, dependents of Government workers, dependents of Permanent Residents, and other children approved by WORC for entry into Government schools. Admission for categories outside of Caymanians and dependents of Caymanians, is subject to space availability. See the guidelines for school registration for more details. The cost difference between public and private schools is significant.
The education in Cayman is good but invariably the quality fluctuates between schools and indeed between classes within the same school. The children who excel the most have parents who are constantly on top of their childrens academic progress. Knowing, for example, that 90% of children should be able to read quite comfortably by the age of six should raise a red flag if your child is not. See the Literacy Development Milestones article written by Clinical Supervisor and Speech-Language Pathologist, Cynthia Rowe, for more information. Parents who keep in very close contact with their childs school, insisting on solutions to any problems, and who are willing and able to help their child with their reading and homework, will find their children do not fall through the cracks. Its worth every effort you can make: education has been proven to be the best way of pulling people out of low incomes and poverty, and provides access to highly skilled and highly paid professions.
The Office of Education Standards has an amazing team of fair and highly experienced educators and ex-educators who conduct regular school inspections. From their reports, which include everything from teacher's and student's performance to where a schools strengths and weaknesses lie, you can make either an informed choice on where to send your child or where you might need to assist your child so that they fulfil their full potential at school. Most schools are inspected once every two years, unless they are graded 'weak' and then they are inspected again six months later. A 'Good' or 'Excellent' school inspection result is highly coveted and a 'Weak' or 'Satisfactory' result highly frowned upon, so standards have been improving at a considerable pace as a result.
Warning Re Children Starting Primary School in Year 1 at Age 5
As mentioned above, five is the mandated legal age that all children in the Cayman Islands must be in full time education. This does however, often causes massive long-term issues, which until now have not been talked about. These are the issues:
If Your Child is Going to a Government Primary School
In the Cayman Islands it is not a requirement for you to send your child to the Government primary school in your district until your child turns 5, which means, if you hold them back at home or in a preschool, they will go straight into Year 1 at primary school. Some parents choose to hold their children back, while others find that there is just not enough space in the Reception class (at age 4) for their child. For example, The John Cumber Primary School in West Bay only has three (3) Receptions classes but then from Years 1 to 6 they have 4 classes, meaning that in West Bay at least 22 children have to stay in preschool, or at home, for another year and will then skip the foundational skills and move straight into Year 1 at the age of 5. All the other primary schools in the Government system have the same number of Reception classes as they have classes in Years 1 to 6, but often the school is completely over-subscribed in Reception (which caps their numbers lower than Year 1), or the parents choose to keep their kids at home until they have to go to school at five. However, if the child stays at home, or in preschool, thus missing that foundational year in primary school, it sets them up for a very difficult year of transition once they do get to primary school at age 5. The child will have missed the gentle adjustment to primary school that is given to children in the Reception year; they will have missed being taught the phonetic sound of the alphabet and missed the part when the other children were taught to blend their letter, and have missed the part where they would have started to learn to read alongside all their classmates. They will also have missed the gentle start to being taught their early Maths skills, which they should have been taught in preschool, including their colours, shapes, sizes, proportions, numbers, counting etc. Once the children get into Year 1 they are expected to know the early foundational literacy and Maths skills, and the work is much harder. It is exponentially harder if your child does not know these foundational skills. However, if your child does stay back at home or in preschool, thus missing the Reception class, you must ensure that they are actively taught the early foundational skills in reading, writing and Maths that they would otherwise learn in Reception. If your child does stay in preschool, past the age of 4, then the preschool is required to teach the foundational skills, but this process is not consistent between schools. In fact is is seriously inconsistent between preschools, but the Early Childhood Department of Government is actively trying to improve the situation. This is something that must be considered by every parent in the Cayman Islands! If your child can get a place in a Government primary school at the age of 4 we highly recommend that you take it! If they cannot then make sure they learn the foundational skills at home or in preschool, and lobby your MLA to ensure that all Government primary schools have enough Reception classes for the number of children in their district. This problem is one of the main reasons why some Caymanian children are finding it so hard to do well in reading, Maths and English. N.B.There is a little-known rule in Government primary schools that no expat can start in a Government school at the age of 4 in the Reception class. The earliest they can start is in Year 1.
If Your Child is Going to a Private Primary School
Every private primary school in Grand Cayman has a Reception/Kindergarten/Pre-K 3 class where all their registered children get offered a place (if there is space) when the child turns 4 years old. The child has to have turned 4 by September 1st in the UK system (Cayman Prep, Island Primary, Foosteps and St. Ignatius) or by August 1st for the US system (Triple C, Cayman International School, Grace Christian Academy). The exact same number of children then move up to Year 1 when they are five, leaving no spaces in Year 1 for those parents that wanted to keep their children back for a year. Hence all parents take the space in Reception if it is offered to them! In Reception at the age of 4 the children adjust to being in primary school, get taught the phonetic sound of the alphabet and start to blend letters, and they consolidate their early Maths skills which they should have been taught in preschool (colours, shapes, sizes, proportions, numbers, counting etc). Then as soon as they know the first set of letters they start to learn to read. Children will then move into Year 1 when they are 5 years old already reading and they advance to more complex topics.
According to the 2022 Education Data Report, there are 2,005 children enrolled in 43 preschools, and a total of 8,936 children enrolled in 27 private and government schools spread across the three Islands, with 838 teachers teaching these students. In primary and secondary education there are 4,061 students in private schools, 2,248 in government primary schools, 2,509 in government secondary schools and 117 students enrolled in the Lighthouse School, the country’s school for special needs, with 19 teachers teaching them. Approximately 118 children are home-schooled.
Factors to Consider
When considering your options for schools for your child, remember to take into account school inspection results, class sizes, discipline, manners, special needs support, standard of teaching and the consistent dedication of the teachers, the cost and the building and grounds where your children will learn and play. At the end of the day it is a false saving if your child is going to a low-fee school but they are not learning and growing academically and socially at the rate they should and could for their age. A good education is the gift that ever parent should strive to give their children!
Government schools follow the Cayman National Curriculum and students take CXCs and GCSEs in Year 11. The brightest students at government high schools are entered into the Goal Accelerated Programme (GAP) where higher-performing students are guided through a far more rigorous programme that ensures goal-oriented students take additional CXCs/GCSEs as early as Year 9 as well as in Years 10 and 11 when all the other students take their GCSEs. Students then have various options for their 12th and 13th year of school, although only Year 12 is absolutely compulsory: UCCI offers Associate Degrees; CIFEC offers BTECs and vocational courses, or if needed, students can retake CXCs or GCSEs and participate in work experience; British private schools offer GCSEs/IGCSEs and A Levels. The American system leads to a US High School Diploma and AP (Advanced Placement) credits. The highly regarded International Baccalaureate is available in Grades 11 and 12 at Cayman International School.
Class sizes vary from school to school. All government school class sizes are capped at 24 students per class for Kindergarten/Reception and Year 1, and 28 students in other years. Having said that many government primary schools try very hard to keep their class sizes to 22 children in any one class across the school, but this is obviously not possible if the school is completely over subscribed with children from the district. In private schools, it ranges from 13 students to 25 students. All government schools and most private schools also have a full-time qualified teaching assistant helping the teacher in most classes of 25 children. In some schools, this additional teaching resource runs through all primary year groups. Make sure to ask about this.
Most of Caymans schools have a strong Christian tradition and celebrate the Christian faith. If you would prefer a school that is not affiliated with a church or religious group, then there are a few to choose from. See our Ultimate Guide to Cayman's Schools for more.
Entry to a government school is determined by catchment area. Private schools are spread between West Bay and Prospect, so you'll need to consider location when making your choice.
The Ministry of Education publishes a very detailed data report each year which explains the student enrolment numbers for both government and private schools, plus student attendance and performance data from government schools. The reports are very thorough and make for interesting reading. You can view them on www.gov.ky/education/publications. For the 2021-2022 Education Data Report, which is the latest one to be published please see here: National Education Data Report 2021-2022 School Year. The 2022-2023 Education Report should be published in April 2024.
Free School Meals
All students in government schools have access to free breakfast, lunch and snacks every school day. This CI$16 million dollar meal programme has been universally welcomed by teachers who have seen a significant improvement in students' behaviour and academic performance since its introduction in March 2022. Money previously spent by PTAs and non-profit groups to feed students, has now been spent on expanding literacy and after-school programmes. In many instances, it is the only nutritious food that the student has all day, and some students still struggle for food security in the school holidays. The downside of the free school meals is that at the Clifton Hunter High School, which was built without a school canteen and only has enough lunch benches for a 10th of the students to sit at any one time, produces industrial quantities of waste from to-go boxes and plastic cutlery every day.
Check the school's inspection report and read in detail how they are doing. See School Standards & Inspections on the Cayman Resident website. You can also view them on the Cayman Islands Office of Education Standard's website.
Key Preparations Prior to Starting School
New students entering either private or government schools for the first time have a school medical exam before the new school year begins in September. These tests are invaluable for schools as they identify previously uncaught speech and language, sight or hearing issues just before the child starts at primary school. Interestingly, most therapists agree that this test should be done at 2.5 and not 4.5 so that remedial therapy can begin well before the child goes to primary school. Some problems caught under the age of three can be completely resolved if therapy is started early enough, and definitely under the age of 5 while the brain is still growing. This is one of the reasons why all preschools are now required to have a SENCo on staff.
In order to ensure that all students entering school for the first time are up to date on their immunisations, additional immunisation clinics ensure that children aged four and five are up-to-date with their required vaccinations. For further information please contact the Public Health Department on (345) 244 2648/244 2889.
In Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, school entry screenings can be done through the Public Health Nurse, Kadine Hyde, at Faith Hospital. She can be reached at: (345) 948 2243 or (345) 244 7643.
Uniforms & Dress Codes
Each school in Cayman will have approved vendors that sell uniforms and some schools sell them directly to parents. Every school will have different rules, but most maintain a strict policy on such things as uniforms, hair accessories, jewellery and hair length on boys. Parents should read the schools dress code policy very carefully, as there is little flexibility and their rules are strictly enforced.
Moving your child from one school, either private or government, to another private school will involve some written assessments to determine the level your child is currently working at, or capable of. Many schools will now assess applicants using some form of Cognitive Ability Test (CAT) which assesses the childs innate skills and ability for learning. If this is the case, then it does not necessarily matter what areas your child is strong or weak in but rather how able they are. Some schools will also assess English and Maths using traditional tests to determine gaps in learning, so that teaching is directed accordingly, rather than to ascertain the level the child is currently at. Of course, there are no guarantees of a place at any public or private school and some children who have been considered as working at a high level in their current school may find that the new schools assessment criteria is more stringent.
Other things to consider are that your child must have an up-to-date medical record that includes vaccination details and a completed transfer form signed by the previous school. Along with a standard report on the childs performance and behaviour, this form must clearly state whether financial commitments have been met. This is an essential component of the acceptance process for students transferring within the private school system. If you wish to move your child from a private school to a public school, you will also be required to apply online. See this page for what you will need to supply: https://schools.edu.ky/registration/.