An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
St Dominic’s High School, Santa Sabina
Sutton, Dublin 13
Roll number: 60380C
Date of inspection: 24 October 2008
A whole-school evaluation of St Dominic’s High School was undertaken in October 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. During the evaluation, the quality of teaching and learning in four subjects was evaluated in detail, and separate reports are available on these subjects (see section 7 for details). The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St Dominic’s High School, Santa Sabina, is a girls’ secondary school in Sutton, established by the Dominican Sisters in 1912. Santa Sabina, as the school is popularly known, has a current enrolment of 595 girls. Its catchment area extends beyond Sutton and Howth, to include students from Clontarf, Killester, Raheny, Donaghmede, Portmarnock and Malahide.
The overarching aim of St Dominic’s High School, Santa Sabina is to provide a holistic education for its students by developing and supporting them academically, spiritually, emotionally, socially and physically. The characteristic spirit of the school is informed by the school’s mission statement which is derived from the Dominican philosophy. The mission statement is widely published in both English and Irish in school documentation. It is included, for example, in the school prospectus, at the start of school policies and in the homework journal.
Trusteeship of the school is in the process of being incorporated into the newly established trustee body “Le Chéile”. The senior management of the school and the board of management have had discussions with representatives from “Le Chéile”. All parties met with during the evaluation were satisfied that the Dominican ethos would be retained in the school following this change. The principal and deputy principal both agreed that the school community is inclusive, supportive, caring and forgiving. The school places great importance on the pastoral care of its students and much evidence was gathered during the whole-school evaluation to show that students truly benefit from this.
The board of management is properly constituted. It meets regularly and is ably guided by the chairperson and the principal. The copies of the minutes of recent board meetings made available to the evaluation team provide evidence of the high level of commitment of the board and of its significant achievements over the past three years. A number of board members have received training from the Joint Managerial Body for Secondary Schools. Some board members expressed the need for further training, for example in the areas of teacher allocation and dealing with conflict. It is recommended that training needs be discussed and that potential avenues of training in these areas be explored. The board plans, at the end of this year when its term of office finishes, to reflect on its achievements and to compile a list of areas for development. This list will fulfil a useful role in promoting continuity and enabling the identification of any training needs that members of the incoming board may have.
The board makes decisions by consensus, following discussion, and occasionally a vote is taken. This system was reported to work well. Relevant information from board meetings is provided orally to the parent body by the parent representatives on the board and a written report is issued to staff. It is recommended that the same agreed report be provided to parents.
In line with sections 15(d) and 21 of the Education Act, 1998 the board is actively involved in school planning. Recently, a presentation on planning was made to staff by one member of the board. Discussions arising from this presentation yielded a number of planning priorities which included: teaching and learning, promoting the school and investing in sport, music, drama and extra-curricular science. This list has now been forwarded to the Parent-School Association for consultation.
The principal is in her fourth year in the school. During this time, the principal and the deputy principal, working together as the senior management team, have demonstrated strong leadership in a number of areas. Much evidence of their strategic planning and their vision was gathered during the evaluation. Through their work, a firm focus has been placed in the school on bringing about improvements in teaching and learning and in outcomes for students. Senior management described their working relationship as honest, open and supportive. They have defined areas of responsibility. They work well as a team and support each other.
The principal and deputy principal liaise regularly with the other staff members. However, it was clear during the evaluation that there are issues to be identified, and worked upon, in order to establish and maintain more open lines of communication between senior in-school management and the general teaching staff. For example, some teachers feel that they do not receive sufficient encouragement and recognition for their work and, from the perspective of senior management, some levels of resistance to change have been experienced. In the interests of creating a working environment for all members of staff that allows the school to operate fully and with maximum effect as a learning organisation, it is recommended that these issues be surfaced and addressed. To do this effectively, the senior management team, the wider teaching staff and the board of management will need to work collaboratively and to agree common goals.
Members of the senior management team meet each morning to plan for the day ahead and they meet again at the end of the day. Informal meetings also take place during the course of the day. This level of ongoing communication regarding issues of a daily nature is commendable. Both principal and deputy principal maintain a very visible presence on school corridors and grounds. Overall, the work load of the deputy principal is excessive and some of it should be devolved to the middle management of the school. It is recommended that this imbalance be addressed in the next review of posts of responsibility in the school.
Middle management comprises eight assistant principals and fourteen special duties teachers. As a result of recent retirements, two assistant principals were appointed as year heads shortly before the whole-school evaluation. Responsibility for management of the school in the absence of the senior management team was reported to be distributed among the team of assistant principals. Six of the eight assistant principals are year heads. While the year heads are formally scheduled for meetings as a group, the assistant principals do not meet formally in this way. It is clear that year heads feel that they are an active part of the middle management structure of the school.
The most recent review of the posts of responsibility structure in the school was initiated in November 2007. This involved an analysis of the needs of the school which was facilitated by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). As a result, a committee was set up to review the schedule of posts along with associated duties. Minutes of eight meetings were provided to the evaluation team. The school is commended for this collaborative approach to reviewing the post structure. At the time of the evaluation the committee had not reached a conclusion. Notwithstanding this review, there was significant evidence during the whole-school evaluation that the needs of the school are not being as well met by the present schedule of posts as they could be. Also, there is unevenness in the duties attached to posts and overall, it appears that the potential of the posts to support senior management is not being well utilised. To realise this potential fully, significant commitment and collaborative effort will be required from all post-holders. In reviewing the post structure the review committee should look to the current and future needs of the school and ensure that there is even and fair distribution of duties amongst post-holders. Also, it is necessary to ensure that everyone knows what the duties are and that there is some flexibility to change. In carrying out this review of the schedule of posts and the corresponding duties, it is recommended that cognisance be taken of the content of Circular Letter 05/98. This circular outlines the nature of duties and responsibilities that are appropriate to assistant principal and special duties posts. It is recommended that priority be given to concluding the review of posts as soon as possible. The new post structure should then be forwarded to the board for consideration. It is the view of the evaluation team that sharing the responsibility for developing a collective vision for the school amongst post-holders would support senior management in its role. In this regard, it is recommended that further efforts be invested in ensuring that all post-holders actively and openly make a contribution to creating a strong and effective middle management structure in the school.
As mentioned earlier, a year head system operates in the school. The year heads see their role as mainly relating to the pastoral care of students and to the implementation of the school’s code of behaviour. As two new year heads have been recently appointed this is an opportune time for the continuing professional development needs of year heads to be explored and addressed. Year heads are assisted by form teachers acting in a voluntary capacity. In the senior cycle, the year heads remain with their group for both fifth and sixth year. This is good practice as it allows established student-teacher relationships as well as parent-teacher relationships to be built upon. It also promotes continuity of care for students. It is recommended that consideration be given to implementing this approach throughout the junior cycle also.
A student council is in place and is supported by a liaison teacher who holds a post of responsibility for the area. The council is democratically elected, well organised and meets regularly. As part of their role, the head girl and deputy head girl are co-opted to the student council each year. The council has highlighted a number of areas for development in the school including a healthy eating campaign and refurbishment of the school toilets. Most recently they have been involved in changes to the school coat which is part of the school uniform. The student council reported very favourably on their experiences in the school and expressed gratitude for the attention and support provided by teachers.
The deputy principal gathers records of students’ attendance in the morning and afternoon, and also tracks absences and latecomers. There is scope for this routine work to be incorporated into the post of responsibility structure in the school. In accordance with legislative requirements, the school has an admissions policy in place. It is recommended that this be reviewed so as to ensure that the criteria for admission to the school are sufficiently clear and prioritised and that the policy conforms to all current legislation.
In line with the mission statement of the school, management places great emphasis on continuing professional development (CPD) at all levels in the school. All teachers are encouraged to attend relevant CPD and records of involvement are maintained in order to ensure that opportunities are spread throughout the staff. Attendees are encouraged to share the expertise they have acquired. The school has organised school-based CPD in the areas of differentiation, first aid and rational emotive behaviour therapy. All teacher subscriptions to subject associations are paid by the school. Attendance at subject annual general meetings is encouraged and supported financially by management.
The Parent-School Association is an effective conduit between the school and the home. Its members have been involved in organising guest speakers for the general parent body, fundraising and provide refreshments at parent-teacher meetings. They meet regularly. They are not affiliated to any of the national parent bodies. This is an area which should be further explored. The parents met as part of the evaluation said the school is a caring place for students and that their daughters are happy in the school. The Parent-School Association feels involved in the school community. However, its representatives stated that would like more input into the school website as a vehicle for the dissemination of information pertinent to parents and students.
The school uses a variety of methods to communicate with members of the school community including newsletters, an electronic notice board at reception, the school website, staff pigeon holes, letters and text messaging to parents and guardians, parent-teacher meetings, and particularly the student journal. Announcements are also made at the morning break. Notice boards in the staffroom and on corridors provide further means of communication for members of the school community. Examples include notice boards for year heads, health and safety, student council and Green School notice boards.
Staff meetings are held on a monthly basis. This is achieved by shortening each class on the particular day and students go home early on these occasions. As a result the school is not providing the required twenty-eight hours of instruction time in these weeks, and therefore does not fully comply with the terms of Circular Letter M29/95. It is traditional practice in the school that a report from year heads be automatically included on the agenda at a staff meeting. However, it was reported that this sometimes results in an erosion of the time available to discuss other issues. When planning and conducting staff meetings, it is recommended that particular efforts be made to ensure that all agenda items receive an appropriate amount of time. Since this is an issue that requires the co-operation of all staff members it might, in itself, constitute an agenda item for a forthcoming staff meeting. Staff can also add items to the agenda under the “Any Other Business” (AOB) heading.
The school building and grounds are well maintained resulting in a clean and well-ordered school environment. A number of major refurbishments have been carried out in the last few years and these include refurbishment of the two art rooms, two science laboratories, the home economics kitchen, the computer room as well as six classrooms, a number of offices. There has been significant investment in improving ICT facilities to enhance teaching and learning over the last two years. Major repairs have been carried out on the school roof and a bicycle shelter has been erected. Most classrooms observed were well maintained and contained suitable subject material which enhances the learning environment. Specialist rooms are consistently used for their designated purposes. The school has two year-head offices. Commendably, they contain a central file of student records which is appropriately secure. The school benefits from the services of two secretaries. Each secretary has a separate office. It is recommended that the ways in which the office space available is used be kept under review, particularly as the needs of the school change.
The school currently has a teaching allocation of 40.49 whole-time teacher equivalents (WTE) which includes a 1.27 WTE for Guidance. The school has two special-needs assistants. The school also uses its own funds to employ an additional teacher for twenty-two hours per week. The school day is divided into eight lessons, each of forty or forty five minutes’ duration. Discussions have taken place around the review of the structure of the school day as part of a Leadership Development for Schools (LDS) Middle Leadership Project. A number of timetabling issues have been identified by this timetable review group. It is recommended that the structure of the school day be considered as a means of alleviating some of these timetabling difficulties highlighted during this evaluation and particularly in the separate subject inspection reports. One possibility that offers considerable potential is to increase the number of lessons per day from eight to nine. It is envisaged by management that recommendations from the review group should be ready for the planning of the 2009/10 school timetable.
Induction of new staff is currently carried out by the deputy principal. New teachers reported to be well informed, welcomed and supported by all of the staff of the school. A comprehensive handbook of ratified policies and other useful information has been compiled by the deputy principal and distributed to all members of staff. Information on the child protection guidelines is included in this handbook.
The school has developed a draft policy on information and communications technology (ICT). Management, and in particular the deputy principal, actively supports the use of ICT to enhance teaching and learning across all subject areas. There are interactive white boards in a number of classrooms and some teachers have had training in this area. The school has begun to build on, and share, some of the in-school expertise in ICT available. This collaboration should continue to be encouraged and expanded upon so that the potential of the ICT resources available can be maximised to enhance the quality of teaching and learning.
A health and safety statement is in place and the deputy principal currently has responsibility for this area. Practice school evacuations have been held and meticulously documented. These have been timed and monitored. Amendments have been made to the evacuation procedures in response to the trials. Responsibility for this area could form part of a post of responsibility in the school. The school is proactive in terms of fund raising. Much work was done by the teachers, parents and students in securing funding for the sports hall, the Sportlann, which was recently erected following substantial financial input from the Trustees.
The school has engaged with school development planning and the staff has had input from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). A post-holder has been appointed to support planning and curriculum development. The school plan is currently a work in progress. A number of policies have been developed and a further three are in draft form. Those in draft form are the guidance plan, the policy on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) and the ICT policy. There is scope for additional members of staff to become more actively involved as the current planning team comprises the principal and one post-holder only. The formation of a wider planning team would provide support to the school in advancing the planning process. It would heighten the profile of the planning in the school and recognise and reward the considerable efforts being made currently by a variety of individuals and small groups to develop policies. It is recommended that consideration be given to forming a discrete planning team to identify and promote school development planning.
The deputy principal has initiated the development of a critical incident response plan which is now in its final stages. Commendably, guidelines from the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) have been used in drafting the plan. It is recommended that the critical incident response plan be finalised at the earliest possible time.
Some of the school policies include the following detail: reference to the parties consulted in the development of the policy, the date the policy was approved by the board of management and the date of review. It is recommended that each of the policies should include similar information. A number of other documents were provided separately to the evaluation team and these should also be included in the policy section of the school plan. These include documentation relating to the TY programme and to Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). The plan should then be delineated into a permanent and developmental section, as recommended by SDPI guidelines.
School development planning is facilitated by the provision of time for planning at the end of some of the monthly staff meetings. As outlined in section 1.3 of this report this arrangement results in the erosion of the required twenty-eight hours of instruction time in those weeks. In light of the cumulative effect of this on students’ learning time, the school is advised to explore other ways in which planning can be conducted and which will ensure full compliance with departmental regulations in relation to minimum weekly instruction time. This is an issue to be discussed at whole-school level and one that will require professional co-operation, good will and commitment from all staff.
Planning documentation was made available for the TY programme in the school. A document which is distributed to parents was also presented to the evaluation team. This gave an outline of the content of the subject areas. Some of this material was dated 2002. It is recommended that the existing plans for TY be developed further using section two of Writing the Transition Year Programme, a publication of the Transition Year Support Service (TYSS) which advises on writing plans for individual subjects or modules in the programme. In reviewing the TY plan in the school, it is also recommended that plans for individual subjects within the TY be included in the TY plan. It would be appropriate for these to follow an agreed format and teachers should be mindful that subject planning within TY should avoid an over-reliance on the content and approaches required by Leaving Certificate syllabuses.
Subject department planning has been initiated. Planning documentation was available from all department areas and it varied in quality. Some planning documentation was in draft form. Good practice observed included learning outcomes linked to appropriate methodologies within appropriate time frames. It is recommended that the good practice evidenced in some subject departments’ planning be extended to all department plans in order to promote a more student-centred approach. Sharing plans between departments would also contribute significantly to obtaining consistency in planning between departments. It is commendable that a decision to rotate the subject co-ordinator in each subject department was taken at a staff meeting in 2007. This devolved approach helps in distributing responsibility and assists in promoting management skills at a departmental level.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Post-primary Circulars M44/05 and 0062/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff and that management has ensured that all staff is familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
There are three curricular programmes on offer in the school: the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year (TY) and the Established Leaving Certificate. The school is commended for providing a range of programmes and subjects that maintains the breadth and balance between scientific, aesthetic and academic education.
In first year, all subjects are taught in mixed-ability classes. Concurrent timetabling of Irish and Mathematics takes place in second and third year while concurrent timetabling of English takes place in third year only. All core subjects are concurrently timetabled in senior cycle. This is good practice as it allows the formation of classes corresponding to the respective levels offered in these subjects and it allows students to transfer easily from one level to another. Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) has been added to the curriculum for junior cycle. It is currently available to all class groups in first and second year. To comply with requirements outlined in Circular M11/03 SPHE should be provided to all groups in each year of the Junior Certificate programme.
The school is very flexible in trying to meet the demand for subjects with a low uptake and management is to be commended for striving to provide these subjects on the curriculum for Leaving Certificate. As part of medium-term curriculum planning, the school could now explore the potential of making the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) available as a means of giving students more flexibility and of broadening their career choice options. An analysis of how the existing programmes available to students at senior cycle are meeting the needs of the present cohort of students would be a good initial step in this process.
Incoming first-year students choose their subjects in the spring of the preceding school year. An information evening regarding subject choice is provided for these students and their parents. This meeting is attended by the post-holder with responsibility for organising subject choice and senior management. There is scope to include input from the guidance counsellor at this presentation. The school should also explore the possibility of incorporating a sampling programme, which would allow first-year students opportunities to experience the optional subjects for a number of weeks before making their choices. A TY information evening is provided for third-year students and parents. This is attended by senior management and the TY co-ordinator. Information seminars are also provided for students making subject choices for the Leaving Certificate and these are organised by the guidance counsellor. There is appropriate provision for students to alter their choice of subject or level after they make their decisions. The parents’ representatives and the student council members interviewed during the evaluation indicated that they were generally happy with both the quality of advice offered in choosing subjects and the change-of-option arrangements.
A number of staff members are voluntarily involved in the provision of co-curricular and extracurricular activities which span sport, culture and social awareness. These activities take place after school or during lunchtime and involve a wide range of students from first to sixth year. The staff members involved in the provision of these activities are commended for their commitment to providing these valuable opportunities for the students.
The board is also to be commended for its support in the area of extra-curricular activities. It provides for additional coaches in basketball and hockey as well as funding training courses for coaches. Two of the physical education (PE) teachers have been allocated a time concession on their timetables in order to make up for time spent coaching students. In addition, a third PE teacher is employed privately by the school. As a further example of the commitment of the school to the area of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, one special duties post has been allocated to debating and a further one has been allocated to sport.
School development planning was found to be well established in each of the subject areas included in the whole-school evaluation and it is the subject of much positive comment in the associated subject inspection reports. The reports indicate that there is a very high level of co-operation and collegial support among the teachers in the respective subject areas. Subject department plans were provided in all cases. Planning is variously described as being collaborative, ongoing, and central to the work of the subject teachers.
All subject departments evaluated hold informal planning meetings on an ongoing basis, while in the case of one subject department it is recorded that the team of teachers meets once a week at lunchtime in their own time. This level of collaborative planning is commendable. Minutes have been kept for the majority of subject department planning meetings and it is recommended that this good practice be extended across all subject departments. Good practice was also observed where a copy of minutes of the proceedings of subject planning meetings was provided to management in order to fully acquaint them with current planning issues within the subject department.
It is commendable that agreed schemes of work were the basis for a common programme for each year group. These detailed each level of the subject, accompanied by agreed timeframes which is good practice. The practice of review and self-evaluation leading to action plans is commended as the essence of good planning. Teachers are also encouraged to include in the subject plans the range of teaching methodologies that is used in practice. Planning that includes the further integration of ICT is specifically commended in a number of the subject inspection reports.
There are differing assessments of the quality of subject planning for the TY programme. The relevant plan, in one instance, was praised for adhering well to the underlying principles of a good TY programme. This particular subject plan provides for students to experience the subject on an interactive and enjoyable level while ensuring student exposure to a wide variety of learning experiences.
The overall findings on the quality of planning and preparation in the four subject areas evaluated are very positive and indicate a serious engagement by teachers in each of the subject areas. There is also an evident willingness to retain a focus on planning as a means of bringing about improvement in the school’s core business of teaching and learning.
High quality teaching and learning were evident in the lessons observed. Some teachers were careful to outline the learning objectives at the beginning of each lesson. Best practice in this regard was observed where the learning objectives were written on the board at the start of the lesson and the achievement of these objectives checked at the end. Sharing the learning objectives in this way is very good practice as it helps to focus classroom activity, encourages students to take personal responsibility for their own learning and can provide a sense of accomplishment on the acquisition of skills at the end of the lesson. Checking, at the end of the lesson, that the objectives have been met can also enable the teacher to identify any areas of difficulty that arise and any material that may need to be revisited in the next lesson.
In addition to teacher-led methodologies, teachers used a variety of teaching strategies to engage students in the learning process. These included practical work, project work, and group work. In some of the subjects inspected teachers provide opportunities for students to present the findings of research and project work to their class group. This is very good practice as it facilitates the development of students’ oral skills and contributes to the development of their self-confidence. It was evident that the variety of methodologies and strategies served to encourage student participation and enjoyment. In order to develop the good work that is currently taking place, it is recommended that teachers share their experiences with regard to the use of active, student-centred methodologies. This would help to transfer more of the responsibility for learning to the students and help them to develop their independent learning skills.
Teachers made good use of questioning to assess understanding and to involve students. There was a clear emphasis on developing higher-order thinking skills as students were encouraged to reflect on their knowledge and through skilful questioning were challenged to offer explanations to the new ideas and concepts presented in their lessons. Teachers were careful to relate lesson content to students’ personal experience or to current affairs topics. This is good practice as it can provide a means of stimulating interest and establishing a connection between their studies and the outside world. The continued and extended use of this strategy is encouraged.
The pace of lessons was observed to be lively, yet appropriate, to the ability level of the students. It was evident throughout the inspection visits that the use of ICT in teaching and learning in the various subjects has begun. The significant investment the school has made in ICT over the past few years has clearly contributed to this. It is recommended that further ways in which the very good ICT facilities that are available in the school can be used be explored, with a particular emphasis on incorporating ICT into teaching and learning activity in the class-rooms.
It was evident from the lessons observed that the relationships between students and teachers and between students and students are very good and that atmosphere in classrooms is positive. Consequently, very high standards of student behaviour and of co-operation were observed in all cases. Students participated in lessons with confidence by asking and answering questions and by joining in with class discussions. Students remained on task, willingly engaged in the learning activities and were affirmed by their teachers.
Continuous assessment is an integral component of the assessment practices in the school. This year, students will no longer sit a formal assessment at Christmas and marks will be allocated on the assessments provided by teachers during the term. Formal assessments are held for first, second and fifth-year students in summer while third and sixth-year students sit mock certificate examinations in the spring. Reports are issued twice a year and parents have the opportunity to discuss progress at the parent teacher meeting.
In most subjects observed, innovative models of assessment were applied in TY lessons and these are in keeping with syllabus guidelines. These included peer assessment, self-evaluation by the students and project work. Ongoing monitoring of work during lessons was evident in some subjects. In others, teachers are regularly marking students’ work and consequently, students’ work was well presented and maintained. Best practice was observed when comments indicating strategies for improvement were provided. This approach should be adopted in all subjects and be included as a component of assessment policies in subject plans.
In all subjects observed, overall achievement in the certificate examinations is very good. It is most commendable that the number of students taking higher level tends to be very high. Analyses of students’ achievement in the certificate examinations should be conducted on an annual basis and be included in all subject department plans as a tool for department self-evaluation.
The learning support programme is co-ordinated by a teacher who holds a qualification in the area. Responsibilities include administration of entrance assessments, compilation of student details including correspondence with the home and details of psychological assessments. A learning support policy has been developed. Commendably, the methods by which students requiring learning support are identified are clearly outlined. The roles of a number of staff members with responsibility for learning support have been included and this is good practice. It is recommended that the role of the class teachers be added to the policy.
There is an educational and pastoral care team for each year group in the school. Each care team’s responsibilities span both learning support and pastoral care for students and each includes the principal, deputy principal, special-needs co-ordinator, the year head and the guidance counsellor. Tutors are also part of each care team and meet with the year head each week. Formal discussion of the needs of individual students takes place during the weekly year head meetings. In the interests of maximising the effectiveness of available resources, the school should consider forming one core learning support team for the school which would have a remit that is confined to special educational needs and which would meet formally on a regular basis. To provide for the pastoral care needs of students, it is suggested that two separate care teams be established, one for junior cycle and one for senior cycle.
Currently a team of sixteen teachers provide learning support in the school. The majority of these teachers are involved in learning support each year and a small number do so from year to year depending on timetabling. Management strives to team any teacher with a qualification in a specific subject area with students in need of support in that particular subject area. In order to facilitate co-ordination of the team, it is recommended that management strives to reduce the numbers of teachers involved in learning support. This would also ensure the sharing of resources and expertise and help to maintain good channels of communication. This could be considered during the review of the structure of the school day.
Information on students with special educational needs is available as appropriate and particular difficulties are brought to the attention of staff at staff meetings or when specific requests are made. Where necessary, subject teachers can discuss learning strategies for individual students with the learning support co-ordinator. Confidential information on individual students is kept in locked filing cabinets in the classroom dedicated to learning support.
The learning support classroom has some displays of student work, resources and support materials. The room contains three computers, specialised laptops for students with specific learning needs and a number of ICT programmes are available to the learning-support teachers. There is scope to enhance this room to provide a more stimulating learning environment. Input from a core educational support team would be very helpful in progressing this further.
An audit of staff training needs in relation to special educational needs was carried out in May 2007 and has been used to inform CPD in this area over the past two years. In order to further facilitate the continuing professional development of mainstream staff in areas relevant to special educational needs, information is available from the Special Educational Support Service (www.sess.ie) and in the Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities issued by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.
The allocation of resources provided by the Department in respect of special educational needs is appropriately used. A variety of approaches including withdrawal, in-class assistance and the use of specially chosen resource materials are deployed to provide appropriate support for students with special educational needs. It is commendable that team teaching has been initiated in the school since the start of this school year. There is scope for the educational and pastoral care teams to develop a referral form which would allow mainstream teachers to refer students to a team for consideration. This would also allow them to detail the difficulties they have observed and encourage them to suggest an action. Information from primary schools on students’ educational progress and personal needs is gathered and used to plan special education needs and other supports. Individual Educational Programmes (IEPs) have been developed for each student selected for support. It is recommended that the learning support department includes student and parent input in drawing up these plans. Ideally, parents should have input on an ongoing basis into the design and review of the plans.
Students in examination classes are supported through the organisation of reasonable accommodation for the certificate examinations. Students who have been identified as exceptionally able are encouraged to participate in initiatives such as Mathematics Prism organised by the Centre for the Talented Youth of Ireland (CTYI). In this regard, it is suggested that the document Gifted and Talented Pupils: Guidelines for Teachers published by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA, 2007) be consulted.
Student achievement is well celebrated in the school. A number of awards presented at the end of the school year allow for the accomplishments of individual students to be recognised. These include the Joyce McAleese memorial award, awarded annually to the 6th year Sports Personality of the Year and the Maths Award for excellence in Mathematics. In addition, the Anne Davitt Memorial Award is presented for excellence in Irish while the Nuala Melinn Award is presented to the Young Person of the Year.
Students in the school currently benefit from the support of two special-needs assistants. It is praiseworthy that a presentation was provided for all staff by personnel from Drumcondra Education Centre regarding how to incorporate the work of the special-needs assistants into their lessons. This after-school presentation was attended by a number of staff. The school has a small number of newcomer students. The school provides appropriate levels of support for these students in a number of subject areas.
The school currently has an allocation of 1.27 WTE for Guidance. The school employs one guidance counsellor. Management reported that the additional 0.27 WTE is incorporated into the role of the year head. It is recommended that the guidance activities carried out by the year heads be documented in the guidance plan and detailed in the role of the year head which is outlined in the handbook for teachers.
A guidance plan has been developed and it is currently in draft form. The initial draft was devised by senior management in conjunction with the guidance counsellor. It is recommended that the plan be finalised as soon as possible. It should include the programme of all guidance interventions and activities provided for each year group in the school. At the end of this academic year, this finalised plan should be presented to management, staff, the Parent-School Association and the student council for consultation. When this process is completed and all changes have been incorporated, it should be presented to the school’s board of management as a planning document for ratification. The plan should then be evaluated regularly and updated as necessary.
All sixth year students and all TY students have timetabled classes for Guidance. Individual meetings can also be arranged with the guidance counsellor. It is expected that the review of the structure of the school day will facilitate the timetabling of guidance for fifth year students. It is recommended that some specific guidance inputs be planned for second and third-year students. The SPHE programme could offer scope for this. Such provision would further support junior cycle students in making better-informed subject and programme choices for senior cycle.
The guidance counsellor provides junior cycle students with information about subject and programme options on a one-to-one basis. Since this approach does not represent the best possible use of the time available for junior cycle guidance and also, since it cannot ensure the delivery of appropriate guidance to all students, it needs to be reviewed. Parents are welcome to meet directly with the guidance counsellor by appointment. As outlined in section 3.2 of this report, it is recommended that the guidance counsellor should provide an input at information evenings for students and their parents on subject and programme. The school has developed close links with third level and further education colleges. The minority of students who wish to go straight from school into employment are also given particular encouragement and assistance. The school tracks the initial destinations of students each year. This is good practice.
Students are referred to the guidance counsellor for counselling by members of one of the in-school teams, by class teachers or they may self-refer. Particular care is taken to assist students who may be experiencing difficulties, and these are offered individual support. When a student makes an appointment, the guidance counsellor goes to the classroom to collect the student. It is suggested that this arrangement be reviewed so as to ensure appropriate levels of confidentiality for students.
The school places a high priority on ensuring that effective care systems are in operation for students. The educational and pastoral care team that is in place for each year group plays a central role in the delivery of care to students. Each team meets for one period per week to monitor ongoing issues with a view to ensuring that all relevant staff members are aware of students who are experiencing difficulties, and to initiate appropriate responses. To complement the establishment of a single learning support team as suggested earlier, the formation of one care team for junior cycle and another for senior cycle care team should be considered; each team could consist of a representative from senior management, the learning-support co-ordinator, the guidance counsellor and the relevant year heads. Currently, students at risk are identified by the form tutor, year head or subject teacher and referred to the weekly meeting of the educational and pastoral care team. Appropriate procedures are decided upon at this meeting. It is recommended that the good practices and structures which have been developed in the area of student care in the school form the basis of a formal policy.
An on report and commendation system is in place to support and monitor student behaviour. Year heads adopt a caring approach to the implementation of the school’s code of behaviour and are careful to take into account, where appropriate, the personal circumstances of each individual student. There is a ten-minute assembly on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at ten minutes to nine. This is attended by two year groups, their year heads, the principal and deputy principal. Year heads make announcements and distribute commendation slips at this assembly. It is praiseworthy that students are also given the opportunity to make announcements regarding upcoming events.
The form tutor system is a feature of the care structure of the school. Tutors meet with their groups each week. A number of tutors teach SPHE to their group. The role of the tutor is outlined in the handbook for teachers. Care structures in place for staff include a dignity in the workplace charter and a social committee. During the evaluation, students presented as happy, affirmed and adequately challenged. The inspectors noted that students were polite and the behaviour of students on the corridors was exemplary.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:
Published June 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board of management welcomes the very positive findings of the WSE: commitment of the board, strong leadership of the senior management team, commitment of the staff, the caring atmosphere, high quality teaching and learning, well established school development planning and very high standards of student commitment and behaviour.
The Board wishes to make the following points:
The board notes the recommendation regarding the formation of one care team for junior and another for senior cycle (page 11). However, the board, senior management and the existing care teams are satisfied that the current system is effective. References throughout the report that the students’ needs are very well catered for supports this view.
The board is satisfied that the current system of the guidance counsellor collecting students from classrooms is not an issue for students.
The board is pleased that the collaborative nature of school development planning in the school is acknowledged and would like to state that the current time allowance from the Department of Education and Science for planning is unsatisfactory. It hopes that the WSE team will use its influence to improve this situation for all schools. An adequate time allowance would remove the need to erode teaching time in order to facilitate planning.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The board acknowledges the recommendations in the report and commits itself to their implementation within the limits of its resources, especially in the circumstances of the recent cutbacks implemented by the Department of Education and Science.