'Our success is down to core values'
It is not a single-sex school nor is it fee-paying or even located in a particularly affluent area.
Yet Colaiste Gleann Li in Tralee, Co Kerry has consistently scored a 100pc record in the number of its students who sit the Leaving Certificate and progress to third-level education.
The 26-teacher, 120-student school, formerly known as Tralee Community College, comes under the auspices of the old Vocational Education Committee, now the Kerry Education and Training Board (KETB).
Its catchment area is the larger Tralee urban area but includes rural areas like Spa, Fenit, Ardfert, Ballymacelligott and Kilflynn, all within a 10km radius of the county town.
Within Tralee, it's competing for students with the all-boys CBS The Green, the all-girls Presentation Convent and the mixed schools, Mercy Mounthawk and Gael Cholaiste Thra Li.
Surprisingly, Colaiste Gleann Li is also classified by the Department of Education and Skills as a DEIS school (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) - one of 330 urban second-level schools deemed to be in a disadvantaged area and thus qualifying for additional supports.
Principal Richard Lawlor puts its success down to its core values, that a child performs better in an environment that is caring, respectful and inclusive, something the school constantly strives to maintain.
"We don't have any restrictions as far as enrolment is concerned. We don't restrict anyone, we'd have no grounds to, being an ETB school, so our ethos is 'embrace everyone and do the best you can'," Mr Lawlor says. He believes its DEIS status is a massive support as it allows the school to offer services and rewards to its students to motivate them that it would not otherwise be in a position to do.
"DEIS in itself is a marvellous initiative because it really identifies in the first instance those at risk of leaving school early and provides extra incentives for them to come to school and embrace the whole school culture.
"After a while it begins to give a structure to their lives they may not have without school," Mr Lawlor adds.
He feels their success as a "feeder school" for college, particularly the IT in Tralee, would also be an added incentive to retain the DEIS if there are any moves to restructure. "We don't know what effect it might have had on our third-level participation rate had there not been a DEIS in the first place as we have nothing to compare it with but you could make the argument that we might not be as successful without it," he says.
"But what's also adding to our success is that we don't crow about it, we just get on with the job.
"Maybe it's because we have a highly motivated staff or we're just lucky," said Mr Lawlor, who was a pupil of the school in the 1970s when it was a technical school and went on to return there as a teacher before becoming principal.
"At the moment our stock market value is on the rise and people are moving to this school because they feel it gives them a better chance."
Mr Lawlor also believes there are advantages in being a small school and knowing every child by their first name.
This also gives teachers an advantage in identifying when things are not going well in a student's life.
The school is a past recipient of an amber flag in recognition of what it does to promote positive mental health.
It is also the only school in Kerry flying the ISPCC's 'Anti-bullying flag', awarded to schools that can demonstrate a whole-school approach to strategies, policies and practices that strive to eliminate any negative behaviours like bullying.
But as to what's the magic formula, he says: "If I knew that, I'd bottle it and I'd be a very rich man."
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