Pros and cons of boarding school

St Ignatius Catholic School recently celebrated the
success of one of its students, Stuart Jennings, who was awarded a place at
Oxford University this year (a first for the school) after a stellar
performance in his A-levels. This tremendous achievement has focused the
spotlight on the age-old discussion of whether to keep youngsters in Cayman for
their high school education or send them to boarding school abroad. The Journal
assesses whether there is still a need in Cayman to break up the family and
send children overseas for their education.

Years ago parents who were fortunate enough to be able to
send their offspring to school overseas did so almost as a matter of course,
with schools on Island lacking the capacity to offer students the possibility
of much variety in the way of higher education such as A-levels. Nowadays
however schools have developed their curriculum and facilities to such an
extent that a wide range of opportunities are now available, which begs the
question as to whether students really need to be sent abroad for their
schooling. This month we look at the advantages of keeping children on island
for their education.

Tremendous opportunities at home

Cayman Prep and High opened its brand new facility in
September, which houses among other state-of-the-art facilities a brand new
sixth form block. A-levels courses on offer are wide and varied.

Head of Sixth Form at Prep, Brendan Touhey says: “Our
entry requirements for the sixth form programme are the same as schools in
England and more demanding in some instances. We predominantly offer Cambridge
A-levels, which are regarded as more rigorous than other examination boards
which fall under the umbrella of the Joint Council for Qualifications. This
year’s GCSE results were outstanding, with 100 per cent pass rate and 92 per
cent of students attaining 5 passes at A*- C.”

Touhey furthers: “The past few years has seen a rapid
growth in the sixth form, mainly in part due to the success of our programmes.
We have the largest sixth form programme on the Island and next year will
continue to expand with the introduction of some new A-level subjects.

The results will always speak for themselves, but as with
any school there is more to the education of the students than just the results.
We have an extremely active Key Club, Duke of Edinburgh, and leadership
programmes for all of the sixth form. All in all students can achieve as much
here, if not more, than overseas.”

He believes that the school’s new building has increased
the potential and scope for sixth form study and all high school work. 

“With five brand new science labs, two new IT labs, a
large library and dedicated maths, English and business studies classrooms,
every student in the school will be utilising the new building,” he confirms.
“In addition the introduction of Marine Sciences last year has been very
popular; the school is the only institution on the island offering the course.
As well as the new building we have also expanded the art suites, so they have
now tripled in size, and renovated part of the original building to include a
drama studio. Finally, the new sixth form centre – with study rooms, university
admissions centre and a careers office – will ensure that all of the students
have endless access to all of the tools they need for moving into further

St Ignatius Catholic School also has excellent
opportunities for study at A-level. Head of Sixth Form, Jennifer Artuch,
confirms: “Our A-level programme offers 31 different academic classes across 15
different subjects with small class sizes and very knowledgeable, highly
qualified and experienced instructors. By working with teachers in smaller
groups the students receive much more individual attention they are likely to
get in a larger school. A-levels are very demanding courses and therefore
instilling good study habits from the start is important both at school and at
home. Students who dedicate time to their courses and get into a routine early
are far more likely to cope with the academic challenges of the A-level
programme. St. Ignatius staff take time to support the new sixth form students
to help them adjust to the transition to more demanding A-level work.”

Outside of academics, Jennifer says the school’s
programme offers university guidance, assists with the university application
process and prepares students for applications and interviews for higher
education scholarships. 

“We also encourage all students to take part in our
extra-curricular programme, our community service programme and to act as peer
mentors and prefects within the school. These are experiences that help to
create the type of well-rounded student that good universities look to
recruit,” she adds.

Head of Secondary, Peter Embleton, feels that the quality
of the St. Ignatius Sixth Form programme has been demonstrated over a number of
years through the academic success of its students and the number of private
scholarship recipients.

He states: “This year, one of our graduating sixth form
students, Stuart Jennings, was accepted into Oxford University in the UK, and
over many years our sixth form students have not only achieved very good
results at A-level but have been able to access top universities in the UK,
Canada, the US and elsewhere, with many being awarded excellent private

“For parents who are unsure as to whether or not they
need to send their children overseas to boarding school, the school’s record in
this respect should reassure any parents about the quality of the sixth form
programme that we offer. We will soon be opening a new sixth form centre, which
will include a lounge, conference area, study area and computer access further
to that available in our sixth form IT lab. Our students are excited at the
prospect of being able to use this new area and they and their parents
recognise it as a statement of the school’s on-going commitment to provide our
sixth form students with the best support possible for their education.”

Stuart Jennings completed his A-Level examinations in
English literature, physics and mathematics, earning A* grades in literature
and physics as well as a grade A in mathematics, affording him a place at
Oxford University to read ancient history and classical archaeology at Magdalen

Keeping the family together

Stuart’s parents, Conor and Lesley Jennings (who also
have son Ronan, who is almost 15) say they chose to keep Stuart and Ronan on
Island for their education “because we believe that parents are an integral
part of any child’s education. We wanted to stay together.” 

Both parents were confident that Stuart would receive the
level of education necessary for his academic level and say:

“We had done our
research into the schools in Cayman. If the schools were not good enough we
would not have come to Cayman in the first place. We had been living on another
Caribbean island where we were becoming concerned about the education, so
rather than send the boys off to boarding school, we left.”

Mr. and Mrs. Jennings were not concerned that their sons
were missing out on opportunities and facilities afforded to youngsters abroad.

“Our boys sail and windsurf,” they say. “Where else in
the world could you finish school at 2.45pm and be on the water by 3pm?” They
also had no hesitations about the development of their children’s resilience
and self confidence

by keeping them on island. “It depends on the child and
the parents,” Conor Jennings says. “Also, we have lived in many countries, so
our children have a very broad experience of the world by staying with us.”

He confirms that Stuart realised that he wasn’t competing
with his peers in Cayman, but with students worldwide, and he had great
motivation to do well. “We think he will do very well.  In an academic environment like Oxford he
should thrive.”

Conor adds: “Having gone to boarding school myself at 8
years of age, I know very well that being away from home does not suit all
children. Furthermore, just attending an expensive school does not necessarily
mean that you will do well.”

He believes that boarding verses staying at home in
Cayman all depends upon the child and the parents. “The schools can do little
more than point the students in the right direction. If the student isn’t
interested then it’s their choice. At 15 or 16 years of age a child should know
what’s involved,” he states.

Stuart says he didn’t find studying in Cayman to be a
problem. “Perhaps some students would have found it helpful to be at a boarding
school, where they would be pushed more to work harder, but I knew how much
work would be necessary,” he says. “It really wasn’t much of a sacrifice to get
the work done. I enjoyed myself but I also kept the big picture in mind,
knowing that poor results would be damaging to university prospects. My offer
from Oxford strongly motivated me in my A-Levels, and my friends were very
understanding so there wasn’t much peer pressure to waste time.”