School Report | Ascot overcoming challenges
The St Catherine-based Ascot High School has maintained its effectiveness rating of 'satisfactory' as assessed by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI), despite the challenges presented by the low levels of literacy and numeracy among incoming students.
The NEI first assessed the St Catherine-based school in November 2011 and reinspected it in November 2016. During the interim, principal Cedric Murray and his team focused on the teaching and learning of students, many of whom enter the school as low academic achievers with Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) averages of between 40 and 45 per cent.
"In a good year, we get a 50 per cent average. Some students come in whose literacy skills are below grade one," Murray told The Sunday Gleaner.
With this kind of background, the school has been forced to develop and apply a special programme to bring the students up to standard.
"Each year, new students are assessed separately from their GSAT scores to establish exactly their level of readiness to learn, using the Mico Diagnostic Test," said Shyrel-Ann Dean, head of language department and literacy programme coordinator at Ascot High.
She added that the school hosts clinics with students at varying levels of literacy across grade seven, resulting in modifications in the delivery of the curriculum.
"We also test for numeracy skills, which are worse than students' ability to read and write. We have far more students below grade-one level in numeracy than literacy," said Dean.
Teachers track students' progress in the clinic through post-testing of the modified curriculum at the end of the year. Students are also pulled from classes and assessed individually, which is facilitated by a math lab. In addition, the education ministry has provided Ascot High with two mathematics coaches, plus money to employ part-time instructors.
The school has modified the ministry's curriculum to match the various learning needs and aptitudes of students.
"We have constructed our own alternative pathways to learning that is congruent with the ministry's Alternative Pathway to Secondary Education (APSE) programme," stated Murray.
The APSE programme promotes the tailoring of the curricula to enable each learner to perform to his/her fullest potential based on aptitude, interest and ability.
"We have a unique mix for a grammar school, with exit examinations in 10 vocational subjects. We are strong in our vocational areas and recently renovated our facilities," added Murray.
Ascot's average pass rate in Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English language examination fell from 65 per cent in 2011, then peaked at 67 per cent in 2015, followed by 55 per cent in 2016, which was the latest result when our team visited.
For CSEC mathematics, the school's performance improved by 35 percentage points between 2011 and 2015, when it peaked at 55 per cent. It then fell precipitously the following year to 13 per cent, reflecting a national decline.
Murray noted that Ascot students generally perform well in the practical aspects of the National Vocational Qualification of Jamaica examinations, but are challenged in the theoretical components.
STAFF ON BOARD
Commenting on the school's satisfactory rating by the NEI during its second-cycle inspection, the Ascot High principal pointed to cooperation from the teaching staff.
"We have been getting good support from the staff, and this is evident in the NEI report. Outside of that, the school would not have made any progress," said Murray.
He pointed out that safety and security is rated as "exceptionally high", against the background that a significant number of students come from inner-city communities outside of Portmore.
"This is critical as teaching and learning must take place in an environment that is comfortable," Murray stated emphatically.
Dean of Discipline Gheildon Wright credits the positive behaviour of students to teamwork.
"We recognise that the problems the students display are sociological and come from their communities versus problems that have their ethos within the school," said Wright.
He told our news team that the guidance counsellors hold one-on-one sessions with students to assess their emotional and social needs.
The behaviour-management team also implements preemptive strategies - for example, preventing the formation of gangs.
"We catch small problems early, so they don't grow into big ones," stated Wright.
The school has also enjoyed the support of parents, who have generally accepted its decisions regarding the maintenance of discipline.
According to the principal, while parents may not always agree with decisions made by the school's administration, they comply. In this regard, he commended the parents for their high level (80 per cent) of response to make financial contributions to the school.
The Ascot High principal pointed out that parents' financial contribution to the school is important because 25 per cent of the 1,300 students enrolled are on PATH, the state-run welfare programme.