'A busy week at boarding school'
MY EDUCATION WEEK: Anne Dowling, principal, Rathdown School, Dublin
We started the week with a maths-themed assembly; 312 students were playing games and doing quizzes before the school week even began. Just as well we’re all hitting the ground running: this is a very busy week in the calendar of Rathdown School.
The girls have a big show to prepare as part of their annual charity drive; a Model United Nations Conference to organise; and a Friendship Week to plan. For my part, I’m engaging with the global student audience to attract more international students to our all- girls’ boarding school. I’m also looking ahead to a year of 40th-anniversary celebrations at Rathdown.
After a meeting with the deputy principal to review the previous weeks’ targets and set new ones for this week, I make for the classroom. I still teach German for a number of hours a week. Even though it’s not easy to make time for teaching amid all the responsibilities of running the school, it’s a great way of staying in touch with the students.
I started the morning with a meeting with our graphic designer. He’s putting the finishing touches to a brochure for students from abroad who are considering coming to Rathdown. This year we are focusing on India and Asia. We already have many European students but we would like an even greater spread. Our boarding school continues to thrive and our international students are an integral part of our boarding community.
Then I had a meeting with Zhida International, an organisation working with the IDA to arrange cultural exchange programmes between Chinese and Irish students. It is hoping to identify schools in Ireland with a caring, supportive environment where Chinese students could integrate easily. This year we have introduced Mandarin Chinese into the curriculum and have forged a connection with the Confucius Institute at UCD. There’s huge potential for Irish education in the emerging Chinese market. These links will be mutually beneficial to both our girls and our future Chinese students.
Finished the day with a student support team meeting involving the school nurse, the head of boarding, the head of learning resources, the international coordinator and the careers guidance counsellor.
Naturally, in a school full of teenage girls, there are always plenty of social issues to address. We keep an eye out for things like excessive weight loss, poor sleeping patterns, low moods, signs of bullying and so on. I find these weekly meeting very useful as they keep me informed of students who I know are not reaching their potential.
The new junior cycle is taking up plenty of time this week and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I welcome the move away from high-stakes exams because there are definitely students who do not perform at their best. Assessment will no longer be something that is “done” to the pupils but will be an integral part of the teaching and learning. However, working out how to make time for teacher-led assessments in an already overcrowded teaching schedule is going to be challenging.
Today we were discussing options for short courses. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has announced that under the new scheme, schools will conduct formal assessments on only a limited amount of subjects – for example maths, English, Irish, a modern language, a science and one or two others – and will offer short courses in other subjects.
Every school is currently weighing up which subjects to examine. It will create competition between schools – if a student wants to study a subject to Leaving Cert, but a school offers it only as a short course in the junior cycle, that may influence her decision to enrol. We are going to have to collaborate with other schools on this one.