Parent stories: Cayman Islands
Charlotte lives in the Cayman Islands with her husband and three children. She comes from the UK and her husband is from New Zealand. Here she talks to Winter’s about the questions that educating her children in Cayman has raised, and the pleasures and problems involved in family life on a small Caribbean island…
Charlotte, thanks for talking to Winter’s! You moved to Cayman before you had your children, is that right?
That’s right, yes.
When you decided to move, had you thought about schools or the education system or anything like that?
No we hadn’t, because we thought we’d only be here for two years! I had no idea at that time that all these things would become so important. Little did I know...
So instead these questions – how good the schools were, and so on – were a factor in whether you stayed there?
Yes, exactly. We would definitely have had to think about leaving if we’d not been happy with the schools. No matter how nice the beaches were. And I imagine that we’ll through the process again when our eldest son is nearly secondary school age – but fortunately that’s still a few years away!
When you were looking at primary schools how big was the choice?
Not huge, and because we’d already been here for a few years, at that point our research was largely word-of-mouth with colleagues who already had children in the schools here.
What was the choice of schools like then?
There are basically three main options. As an expat you can’t easily send your children to the state schools; you have to use the private schools, although there are some exceptions to this.
How did your research go?
We did a tour of the school that we chose. It was great – we liked it straight away – so we only signed my son Thomas up for this school. This was Cayman Prep. Cayman International school didn’t have a waiting list at that time, so there was actually no need to sign up there as a reserve option. Also, the reason we didn’t go to look at Cayman International was because it follows the US system, and our preference was for the British curriculum which they follow at Cayman Prep. The third option was a catholic school, but I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get our children in there, so it wasn’t something we investigated in too much detail.
So when you visited the school it was a really positive experience?
Yes, a fabulous experience. A really lovely person took us round, it was great – a wonderful welcome. But even before then we’d had lots of recommendations from our friends. And there was another interesting thing. We’d heard that after Hurricane Ivan, which devastated Grand Cayman in 2004, there were children who were away from the school for four or five months, and who went to school in the UK for that period, and fitted straight in because they were at exactly the right point in their learning – a great testament to the quality of the education at Cayman Prep.
For a lot of parents there’s the question, how can I really tell if a school is a good school? How can I prove it to myself? Was this in your mind?
Very much so. And even as the children progress through the school I still grapple with this – it’s something you just keep asking. But back then, with that initial tour, the lady who took us round was so passionate, and every classroom had such a calm and happy atmosphere, and the school as a whole had such a good feeling – every corridor decorated with the children’s work – that it was a reasonably easy decision to make. It was a gut reaction: this place feels nice.
In the end the whole process of choosing a school was a lot simpler than it might have been. Because of our friends, because of the curriculum we wanted, because of the experience we had ourselves on the visit, what was already a very limited choice became fairly straightforward. So even though we were living abroad, in a way it was actually an easier process for us than it would have been if we’d been living in the UK! Much easier than if we’d been living in London. But we were fairly lucky. Normally a wider choice would be a better thing I suppose!
And I’m guessing the journey to school isn’t too onerous.
That’s right! Although believe it or not, if we leave too late in the morning we do get completely stuck in traffic. So the day has to begin pretty early - we leave the house at 7.10 am!
So obviously when Thomas started at school he knew all about island life? This was his world?
Yes, very much so. He’d been to a nursery on the island, so the transition couldn’t have been easier for him or me.
Continuity of learning sounds like it was a key consideration for you, with your preference for the British curriculum. Is that right?
Yes, we wanted to know the education would be transferable to the different schools and places we imagined as the most likely future options.
Did you worry about any experiences they might miss, even though they were in a British school?
Yes I did, because obviously the island is a very singular, small place and with a narrow life in some ways. And so again as they get older I’ll have to think about this more. If Thomas is studying Macbeth he won’t be able to go and see it in the theatre. But then there’s the flipside, there’s all the unique things about Cayman. They go snorkelling, they get to study marine life, they get trips to other islands for other kinds of experiences. We’re close to America, and one of my friends’ children went to New York on a United Nations programme. So there are lots of opportunities – but only if you can afford them, it has to be said. And certainly at the moment, with young children, the island and all it has to offer is great. .
It sounds as if you’re very happy with the school you chose, notwithstanding the broader questions that remain for you.
Yes, very happy. It’s a great school. And now it’s so popular it’s quite difficult to get your children into it, so I do feel very grateful about the way everything worked out.
A lot of the same things are fun wherever you live. Here Thomas, age 6, tells us what he likes about his school in Grand Cayman…
I like my friends, my two teachers and Maths, doing times tables and division.
I like Music and am learning to play the guitar.
I'm on the School Council, representing my class and I got most votes in the election. I promised more footballs at Playtime. I have a smart metal badge pinned to my hat. We all wear hats outside because of the hot sun and I like to read other children's names on their hats.
I'm in Year 2 and sometimes annoying Year 1s try to get the train sets which we're allowed to play with.
When it rains very heavily we all love to splash in puddles.