Episode Five: Rachel O’ Connor “Inextricable link between home and school- how identifying inequality can lead to greater equity and the role the school plays in that”

Apr 29, 12:15 AM
My guest this episode is Rachel O Connor. Rachel is Principal in Ramsgrange Community School in Co. Wexford since 2013. Rachel is also Vice President of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), she works as a leadership associate with the Professional Development Support Team (PDST) and is also a mentor for newly appointed principals with the Centre for School Leadership (CSL).

Rachel is a graduate of Maynooth University and started her teaching career in Coláiste Bríde in Clondalkin in Dublin. She moved to Wexford and taught in Loreto Secondary School in Wexford before becoming a Deputy Principal in North Wexford and from there to Ramsgrange Community School. Ramsgrange Community School is a rural DEIS Band 1 coeducational post-primary school, situated out on the Hook peninsula in South West Wexford. Ramsgrange is one of 100 community schools and offers a varied and diverse curriculum at both Junior and Senior Cycle.

We start by discussing connections and manifestation of Sociology of Education in school and the concepts of equity, inequality and equality. Rachel describes how she sees herself as a facilitator of learning and teaching in her role as school principal and how in educational disadvantage that sometimes there are opportunities set up for many and not for some that principals do their very best to ensure that there is greater equity across the board and where possible “balancing the books” in favour of an overall equitable experience for all.

Rachel mentions that as a DEIS rural school it is important to think outside the box, opening the doors, being visible and being available to parents and families, inviting parents to be part of the school, to be connected and building up relationships between the families, the community and the school. She describes how an inclusive pedagogy enhances access for all students to learning and how that is really important where there is a very diverse range of students. She describes how mutual thoughtfulness and respect of both teachers and students are critical to the inclusive pedagogy. Rachel explains how a Restorative Practice approach has led to a very tangible impact on the climate and the culture of her school and has enhanced the social capital of the school.

We discuss the core values of having restorative and resilient conversations underpinned by trust, integrity, acceptance and tolerance and how important these core values are. Rachel also talks about the continuum of support in schools (support for one, support for some and support for all) and how students are prioritised for support on the basis of need, not just arising from empirical data but also on the basis of soft data established through links with the parents, the family and the school, the NCCA passport and much more.

We discuss key challenges for families and students to engagement in school. Rachel believes that subject choice is so important to motivate students and to create opportunities for students to pursue subjects they like and that they are interested in and how this informs choices for the students to pursue after Leaving Certificate. We talk about how there are many options for students post Leaving Certificate and that not all students go to or need to go to College but may instead pursue other routes of interest which have been established in school through subject and programme choice. Rachel focuses on how the greatest opportunities and optimal educational outcomes accrue for students who attend school regularly and how in her school that they promote attendance through the provision of student-centred, student-focused programmes and by targeting the families through the School Completion Programme offering support and pastoral systems at both student and family levels.

We discuss many aspects and examples of how best schools and families connect and continue to connect despite many challenges including Covid and moving ‘from functioning to flourishing’. This is such an inspiring interview that focuses on many aspects of Sociology of Education as they present in a rural post-primary Community School under Rachel O Connor’s leadership and guidance. There are multiple key messages in this podcast episode that will resonate with parents, teachers, students, student teachers, researchers and anyone interested in education. Join us and learn more.