School Report | Ferncourt flying high - Middle managers leading turn around at St Ann-based school
Stung by its place next to the bottom of the effective school ranking in 2011, the administration of Ferncourt High embarked on an improvement programme which turned around the school's performance within five years and has since earned it an overall rating of 'satisfactory'.
A major weakness identified by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) in February 2011 was that middle managers at the St Ann-based institution were not sharing the school's vision as articulated by the principal. This resulted in a low rating of 'unsatisfactory' for school leadership and management.
Vice-principal Sheldon Thomas recently shared with our news team the school's strategic response:
"We ensured that all managers were integral to the development and implementation of the school-improvement plan, and we applied management accountability measures such as daily monitoring and recording of activities as they related to achieving the school-improvement plan."
He said middle managers are now expected to submit daily monitoring instruments to report on activities for the logbook and indicate what was being done to address department/grade action plans.
The report is submitted to the vice-principals who then present an executive report to the principal daily. In addition, there has been a reshuffling of responsibilities among managers, subsequent to the NEI's initial findings.
Managers have also been exposed to continuous professional development courses initiated by the school or the education ministry. Principal Lenworth Sterling has led by example by completing the Effective Principal's Training Programme at the National College for Educational Leadership.
Efforts to turn around the Claremont, St Ann-based school also involved hands-on measures by the school board. It put in place an education committee which tracks the performance of students and teachers by meeting with heads of department and grade coordinators.
The committee reviews exam results and tracks the progress of school-based assessments of grade 11 students to make sure they are ready, explained Christopher McCatty, head of the education committee and acting board chairman.
"We also ensure that the principal is kept on his toes. We are here very regularly to check on the development of the school to ensure that it is living up to its ethos and the expectations of the ministry and the board," said McCatty.
The overall quality of teaching and learning at Ferncourt High as well as students' performance in national assessments in English and mathematics were also rated as 'unsatisfactory' by the NEI in 2011. This rating was upgraded to 'satisfactory' following a reinspection in March 2016.
Students' passes in Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) mathematics examination during the period 2011 to 2016 increased from 29 per cent in 2011 to a high of 68 per cent in 2015.
There was a national decline in 2016. CSEC English language passes by grade 11 students moved from 74 per cent in 2011 to 77 per cent in 2016.
"The NEI assessed not so much the students' performance at the stage of the exit examinations, but the value that is added year by year," said the principal.
"Ferncourt students' performance was satisfactory when compared nationally to other schools in the same category," he added.
During its 2011 inspection, the NEI rated as 'unsatisfactory' the school's delivery and enhancement of the curriculum. The administration subsequently applied several strategies to improve the academic performance in English and mathematics.
In addition, teachers deliver the curriculum with emphasis on the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) approach.
The school is also under the Advancing the Performance of Boys Education programme and teachers are required to utilise the approaches and model to present and deliver their lessons.
Programme coordinator Melissa Reid says the boys' initiative is aimed at developing academic and entrepreneurial skills of grade nine boys. They are required to complete a journal provided by the Jamaica Teaching Council. Teachers are required to modify the curriculum to give the boys more hands-on activities and the possibility of earning a stipend.
"We are using this programme to see how the boys learn life skills that they can use to earn additional resources for their families," said Reid.
The principal noted that although Ferncourt is a traditional grammar school, all students at the upper level must select a technical or vocational subject at the level of CSEC or National Vocational Qualification of Jamaica (NVQ-J).
Academically advanced students are given the opportunity to sit CSEC subjects in the lower grades under the Academic Accelerated Programme. Twenty-three students from grades nine and 10 were successful in the 2016 cohort in attaining grades one and two; 18 students in 2015; and 10 in 2014.
Furthermore, in 2016, 45 students from grades eight and nine attained ranges one and two in CSEC English language. In grade 10, students then sit communication studies at CAPE.