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Fewer transfer requests following GSAT placements this year?

BY LUKE DOUGLAS Career & Education senior reporter douglasl@jamaicaobserver.com
Sunday, July 08, 2012

SOME high school principals are reporting fewer requests for transfers from their institutions compared to previous years, following this year's Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).

This, despite reports of parents being disgruntled over the placement of their children based on their performance in the exams, which determines the school they get to attend.

"The [transfer] list is certainly not as long as in previous years because many parents selected for their children to come to Buff Bay High based on what I am hearing," said Buff Bay High School principal Nadine Molloy.

She suggested that the proximity of the children's home to the school may be a factor.

"I have had parents say they selected Buff Bay High for two reasons — they recognise their students can perform well here with close support from the school, and secondly, it costs a lot more to send their children to Port Antonio, Highgate or Annotto Bay than it costs to come to Buff Bay," Molloy said.

Schools from which students have sought transfers to Buff Bay High include Enfield Primary and Junior High and Port Antonio High, she disclosed.

At Calabar High School in Kingston, principal Captain Lincoln Thaxter said there have only been about five requests to transfer from the school this year.

"So far, we haven't seen any mass exodus of GSAT awardees. That's maybe because of some of the good things that have happened at Calabar this year. We have won Champs (Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association Boy's Athletics Championships), Schools' Challenge Quiz, we have done well in rugby, among other things. That could have something to do with the perception of the desirability of the school," he told Career & Education.

Thaxter added that positive or negative perceptions about the school impact the number of transfer requests.

"I notice that in years when we have been successful in a number of things, the requests for transfers [to other schools] have been minimal compared to other years when we have had greater problems in terms of violence and so on," he noted.

The principal also said the all-male institution has been commended for how it handled a rat infestation that shut down the school for three days in March.

"We had the unfortunate situation of the rodent infestation, but that seems to [have] faded into a proper perspective because the school handled the situation well, and it turned out that it was really a common problem in the city," he said.

Some of the transfer requests each year come from fathers who wish to have their sons attend the institutions they did.

"So you may have a man who went to KC (Kingston College) whose son passed for Calabar; certainly he is going to do everything in his power to get the boy into KC out of loyalty," Thaxter explained.

He said he had received "quite a number" of requests to get students into Calabar from other schools, but he was still processing the numbers for the grade seven intake, in an effort to keep the numbers manageable.

"Our ability to accommodate them will be based on how many we lose," he noted.

At Bog Walk High in St Catherine, principal Patrick Phillips said there were more persons asking for students to be transferred into the school than out of it.

"When I came here 2007, a number of parents used to ask for transfers. [Nowadays] the parents who have been asking for transfers [are] those with economic difficulties, so parents who live in Glengoffe asking for transfer from Bog Walk [to Glengoffe High]; they say they do not have the financial means to send the child to Bog Walk," Phillips said.

Parents want to transfer children to Bog Walk High because it is nearer to their homes and they will better afford to attend school or "some may have a sibling at this school who is doing reasonably well, and so they want the children to be here", the principal disclosed.

Phillips supports the view of Education Minister Reverend Ronald Thwaites that parents should accept the school in which their children are placed from the GSAT.

"I am glad the minister echo the words that I often use; that is grow where you are planted," he said. "Whenever I meet the students for the first time, I ask how many chose Bog Walk High as their first choice. This year out of 300, we had about 15 or 20 [who chose Bog Walk High] and I said 'very good'. For the others I said 'you didn't pick Bog Walk; God has placed you here'."

Meanwhile, the principals of the so-called non-traditional high schools say they have seen a slight improvement in the scores of their GSAT awardees of the years, but the principal of Calabar says his input has shown little change.

"The very first year you would have scores no more than 70 per cent. The bulk of the scores would be below 50. But over the years, it has gradually improved, until this year where I'm sure I saw a 90, several 80s and several 70s," Molloy said.

Phillips said although most of his students average 35 to 60 per cent from the GSAT, with hard work, they can pass up to eight subjects at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exams five years later.

"More parents are accepting the school because they have seen us in School Challenge Quiz, All Together Sing [a choir competition on TV], in sports, and JCDC (Jamaica Cultural Development Commission) Festival. We have to continue to brand our school," he said.

"A lot of times these students are late bloomers so I encourage my teachers to work with them. Also, our programme is set so that every child can leave Bog Walk with a skill, whether it is in auto mechanics, carpentry, food and nutrition or welding. I tell them, it's not the school that you go to, it's what you do when you go to school," said Phillips, himself a graduate of Glengoffe Secondary before it became Glengoffe High.

Thaxter said the average GSAT score for students entering Calabar is about 85 per cent, a figure that has not changed much over the years.

"I have seen a few more nineties, but there is not much difference," he said.

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