An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Junior Certificate School Programme Evaluation
Presentation Secondary School
Sexton Street, Limerick
Roll Number: 64250J
Date of inspection: 24, 25 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Evaluation of jcsp
The Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) is an intervention within the junior cycle that is aimed at students considered to be at risk of early school leaving. JCSP targets the risk factors associated with early school leaving. JCSP supports students’ social and personal development, it supports them in achieving academically and the programme encourages them to form a bond with their school. Regular assessment and feedback to students on their progress is a key feature of a school’s JCSP.
This report has been written following an evaluation of the JCSP in Presentation Secondary School. It presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the programme in the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held meetings with the school principal, a core group of teachers and with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector liaised extensively with the programme coordinator and visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning. The inspector provided oral feedback to teachers on lessons observed. The inspector also examined students’ work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme, as well as teachers’ written preparation. The outcomes of the evaluation were discussed with the school principal and the programme coordinators following the evaluation.
Presentation Secondary School, Limerick, founded in 1837, has since 1999 expanded into the area of post Leaving Certificate courses (PLC). It has a non-selective admissions policy and, in the tradition of Nano Nagle, founder of the Presentation Order, its primary aim is the pursuit of academic excellence through developing the full potential of each individual. The provision of the Junior Certificate School Programme is an outcome of the school’s focus on the needs of each student. The school has provided JCSP for eight years. It draws its students primarily from Limerick city and is involved in two school completion programmes (SCPs).
1.1 Whole school support
There is a substantial level of whole-school support for JCSP in Presentation Secondary School. The recently appointed principal has a good understanding of the programme, is committed to it, and is giving leadership in driving it forward. The programme also enjoys a good level of support from the school staff that services both the school’s substantial PLC provision and its second-level programmes that includes the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), Established Leaving Certificate (ELC), and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). In September 2006 JCSP was extended to include first year students, having been available in second and third year only up to then.
Students are selected for JCSP following entry to the school although there is a short general presentation on JCSP for the parents of incoming students at an open night before enrolment. There is liaison with the feeder primary schools following entry of students to the school. An induction meeting of the JCSP teaching team takes place at the start of the school year. This is followed by meetings of individual teachers with the JCSP co-ordinator at which they are further briefed on what teaching in JCSP entails. The school is commended on the level of support given to the programme.
Information on JCSP students is shared informally on a continual basis in meetings of individual JCSP teachers with the JCSP coordinator and through less frequent formal meetings of the JCSP team. The school also has a dedicated JCSP notice board. Sharing of information is key to the delivery of an integrated programme that addresses the educational and personal and social developmental needs of individual students. For this reason there should be a focus on putting in place a structure to share information, including information on students, more widely within the programme, while respecting the confidentiality of such information. This could be done through use of ICT, for example with a shared programme folder, and by more frequent meetings of the staff involved.
The school has very strong information and communications technologies (ICT) resources, including a “Laptop Laboratory” that was acquired as part of the Laptops Initiative. This was a national initiative, now completed, aimed at supporting students with dyslexia or other reading and writing difficulties. The school also has four computer suites and JCSP students have good access to ICT.. The school’s typing room is used to provide Typing for all JCSP classes. As well as a sports hall the school also has a fitness suite and all students take PE.
As a result of its membership of the DEIS programme of the Department of Education and Science the school has a home-school-community liaison (HSCL) coordinator and the services of personnel from the two SCPs. The school also has a library and a special parents’ room. The school has additional staffing arising from the needs of students in the school and has two guidance counsellors.
The selection of staff for JCSP classes is based on the skills that teachers will bring to these classes and the willingness of teachers to take them. The aim is to have as many teachers as possible on the team with learning-support experience. The teaching team for each JCSP class is rather large. The school is advised to reduce them somewhat so that students have fewer teachers to relate to each week and also to facilitate the effective sharing of information. The school is also advised to have classes in English and Mathematics in the morning as far as is possible.
JCSP teachers have participated in nationally organised in-service provided by the JCSP Support Service (JCSPSS) although the potential participation of teachers is reported to be reduced somewhat by the necessity to travel to Dublin for much of this. The JCSP co-ordinator has also attended co-ordinators’ meetings on a regular basis. A recent visit of a member of the JCSPSS to the school is reported to have had a beneficial effect in opening up to the staff the potential range of teaching and classroom management strategies available for them.
The school receives a range of resources from the SCPs, including learning-support provision.
1.3 Student selection
Students are selected for inclusion in the JCSP class on the basis of the results of assessments that take place prior to their entry into the school. They are further assessed after they enter the school. The school has a form that is completed by feeder primary schools. It is recommended that this form should be reviewed. Students can be moved into and out of JCSP classes as they pass through junior cycle. Up to this year the practice has been to automatically include newcomer students in JCSP, a practice that may not have been in the best long-term educational interest of these students. This practice has changed since September 2006 and newcomer students are no longer always included in JCSP. The continually reviews by the school of the inclusion of each student in JCSP should continue and should be implemented from the earliest stages of students’ inclusion in JCSP. The review should bear in mind the JCSP philosophy of focusing on the needs of each student as an individual. [h1] It is recommended that the school should document its selection criteria for students in JCSP and how these are applied to each student selected for JCSP.
1.5 Supports for students
The school and the staff involved, including the JCSP co-ordinator, are commended on the commitment that they show to supporting the school’s JCSP students. It is clear that this support is having a significant effect on students’ achievement and has resulted in high levels of retention of JCSP students. The supports available to JCSP students include learning support and resource teaching. Learning support is available only in first year. It is recommended that the school extend its learning-support provision to second and third years. The learning support being provided by the SCPs is not currently well coordinated. This has led to students in at least one English class being withdrawn for support in English. Learning support should be linked with students’ base classes in the subjects in which it is being provided.
Guidance is available to students in first and in third year. In first year it revolves around a module that illustrates for students the economic benefits for them of staying on in school. In third year the guidance programme concentrates on preparing students for the decisions that they are making about that time. The JCSP co-ordinator also provides a guidance class each week to third year JCSP students. While the guidance programme as currently delivered is undoubtedly very worthwhile it is considered that JCSP students may need a greater personal support element in their guidance programme to supplement the personal and social development education being carried out in other JCSP lessons and in SPHE lessons. This guidance should include addressing the needs of individual students in the areas of attitudes, developing self-management and learning skills, and overall social and personal development. The school should consider timetabling Guidance in first and in second year.
1.6 Home, school and community links
The importance that the school attributes to the role of parents is reflected in the provision of a parents’ room. The school’s HSCL coordinator, in co-operation with the HSCL coordinators in neighbouring schools, each year organises a programme of courses aimed at helping parents to develop their skills. The programme is also aimed at strengthening the links between school and home. The school is highly commended on the openness and welcome that is shows for the parents of its students[h2] .
The school has a documented transfer policy that is supported by the SCPs. The school and all involved are commended on the work that has gone into preparing this document. It is suggested that this good work could be built on further through surveying parents’ experiences of the transfer process and how it could be improved. The school’s HSCL coordinator should take a lead role in this in co-operation with the SCPs.
Parents of students selected for JCSP learn of JCSP through the activities being engaged in by their children in the school. They are occasionally brought in to see the achievements of their children and they receive school reports and attend parent-teacher meetings. They also benefit from the work of the school’s HSCL coordinator. It is recommended that the school should meet parents of JCSP students as early as possible in first year so as to brief them fully on the programme and the benefits of the programme for their children. They should also emphasise the role of parents in their children’s education. Where students are being transferred into or out of JCSP classes this should be done in consultation with parents. The school’s HSCL coordinator has a key role in this area.
The two SCPs that include the school appear to operate independently as far as the school is concerned with each programme targeting a different set of students within the school. While this is understandable given the number of second-level school and feeder primaries involved in each SCP, it is felt that the school itself should take a more active role in co-ordinating and managing the work of each programme within the school. To this end it is recommended that the responsibility of co-ordinating the work of the SCPs in the school should be included in the duties of the school’s programme coordinator.
Students’ attendance is recorded and monitored and absences are followed up. However, in the case of some students, attendance is poor and irregular. The school is encouraged to continue with its focus on this area.
Almost all of the coordination of JCSP is carried out by one person who is also co-ordinator of the Leaving Certificate Applied. The role of coordination is carried out in an effective manner as shown by the high quality of the implementation of the JCSP. The coordinator has a very good understanding of the programme and has shown considerable commitment to its implementation. While there is logic in having a single person responsible for LCA and JCSP, it is felt that this places too great a burden on that person. It also militates against the sharing of responsibility for the programmes more widely. For this reason it is recommended that the school should assign a co-ordinator for each year of JCSP and that the school’s programme coordinator should be assigned the role of liaison with the JCSPSS in relation to the programme and student profiling. This role could also involve notifying JCSP teachers and coordinators of professional development opportunities, and briefing them on new JCSP initiatives. The JCSP coordinator for each class should teach that JCSP class, encourage good teaching practice through meetings of the teaching team, and should liaise with class tutors regarding students’ progress.
The present informal arrangements with regard to meetings of school staff involved in JCSP need to be formalised to ensure a greater sharing of responsibility for the programme and continuity in the management of the programme into the future. While the support group for JCSP in the school includes the learning-support teachers, the guidance counsellors, the SCP coordinator, resource teachers, and HSCL coordinator, it does not meet as a team. The JCSP coordinator meets each of the group on an individual basis and transmits and receives information as necessary. The process is similar with regard to the members of the teaching team for each JCSP class group. It is recommended that a support team for JCSP that would include the co-ordinator of the programme in each year, the HSCL co-ordinator, and the guidance counsellors should be formed and should meet on a regular, perhaps weekly, basis. Meetings of this group should be convened and documented by the school’s programme coordinator.
Meetings of the teaching team for each JCSP class should take place on a termly basis, convened by the JCSP co-ordinator for that group to share information and knowledge about the students, teaching strategies, and methodologies.
The school has a range of policies that are directly relevant to JCSP including its policies for literacy and numeracy, special educational needs, and SPHE. They form a backdrop and support for JCSP in the school.. It is recommended that the JCSP team, in association with the school’s school development planning group review existing documentation for JCSP as part of the development of a formal JCSP plan or policy document for the school. The document should be prepared in an open and consultative manner with the views and inputs of all staff involved with JCSP and also senior school management being obtained. Among the areas to be included in the JCSP plan should be its aims and objectives, selection of students for JCSP, curriculum for JCSP students, setting and monitoring the achievement of learning targets for individual students, and review and evaluation of the programme. This document will provide a basis for review and development of the programme.
The subject department planning that takes place in the school is a support for planning for teaching in JCSP classes. Subject department planning folders were inspected for a number of subject areas including SPHE, Mathematics, Science, Irish and Irish Cultural Studies, English and Home Economics. The level of planning observed was commendable.
JCSP students are organised in separate classes in first, second and third year. With the exception of Mathematics, Irish, and English in second and third year all subjects are taken as a class group. Students who have exemptions from the study of Irish are timetabled for resource teaching or for English as an additional language during Irish lessons. The timetabling of Irish, English and Mathematics lessons for JCSP classes simultaneously with the other second and third year classes allows students to take levels other than Foundation Level in these subjects.
The basis for the determination of the curriculum for JCSP is not clear. From documentation supplied it would appear that other than Mathematics, Irish, and English the main criterion for inclusion of a subject on the curriculum is the perception of the school as to the likes and abilities of JCSP students. The resulting curriculum includes more than twice the minimum requirement for Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and for Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE) as well as two Computer Studies lessons each week in first year and in second year. No language other than Irish and English is included in the curriculum, some Music is included but not for examination, and the Science element of the curriculum is minimal. The inclusion of Computer Studies and of Typewriting in the JCSP programme provides students with very useful skills that are of use both in school and when they leave school.
It is recommended that the curriculum for JCSP classes be reviewed as part of the development of a JCSP plan so as to have clarity for teachers, students, and parents on the rationale underlying it and how the curriculum for individual students is decided. The inclusion of Science in a more meaningful way and of another language should be considered. It may be that in time, to accommodate the varying needs and abilities of JCSP students, the school may have a greater degree of linkage between the curriculum for JCSP students and that for other students in the school. This would assist in catering better for the range of needs of JCSP students. It would also render make easier the transfer of students into and from JCSP.
The school has a JCSP literacy and numeracy policy and it places a very strong emphasis on the development of reading skills. The school is commended on this and on the commitment in the policy to annual review. The school and the staff responsible are highly commended on the reading programme that they provide to JCSP students. Parents of students are reported to be highly complimentary in their comments on it. In addition students, when interviewed expressed their delight in reading books and in writing short reports on books that they had written. From this and from books written by JCSP classes that were examined, it is evident that the school is succeeding admirably in developing students’ reading and writing skills.
As part of the development of students’ personal and social skills guest speakers come to the school. This supplements the personal and social development in JCSP that is delivered through SPHE and other lessons. The level of planning evident in the SPHE folder viewed is highly commended. As the process of documenting the school’s JCSP is developed further the focus of the JCSP in the areas of literacy and numeracy and personal and social development should be documented in a more detailed manner.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
Planning for teaching and learning was of a high standard in each of the lessons observed. Several of the lessons observed involved team teaching and in these lessons it was evident that there had been very good liaison between teachers in planning the lessons. Joint planning had taken place that addressed the varying needs of the students. Resources required had been planned for also. Where ICT was incorporated it was done in an effective manner. JCSP profiling statements were being used in the subjects in which classes were observed.
Planning for teaching and learning within JCSP takes place within the framework of meetings of the JCSP teaching team. The first of these meetings is a planning meeting at which teachers select cross-curricular profiling statements for students that are implemented over several subject areas. There is a lead teacher for each of these statements who liases between the teachers involved. At the other meetings students’ progress in relation to these and other subject-based statements is reviewed.
Student profiling is reported by the school to result in a heavy administrative workload. The school is showing good practice through involving students directly in filling in the learning targets as they are being achieved. The coordinator team should address means of making the process more efficient and less of an administrative burden.
3.2 Teaching and learning
Lessons in Typwriting, English, and History were observed. In three of the lessons two teachers were involved in taking the lesson. As well as allowing more scope for giving individual attention to students, student attention in these lessons was more easily secured. The school is highly commended on the extent to which its teaching resources are being used in team teaching. It is suggested that the school and teachers might explore further the possibilities that exist in regard to team-teaching methodologies through contact with the Special Education Support Service (SESS) and the Second Level Support Service (SLSS). Overall there was a commendable level of commitment on the part of teachers to meeting the needs of the students in the JCSP classes and to encouraging them to learn.
There was a focus on student attendance and punctuality in the lessons observed and JCSP postcards were in use as a motivational tool and as a reward for student achievement. Students reported that their parents were proud of them when they received a JCSP postcard from school.
Detailed and meticulous planning had been put into each lesson observed as was clear from the structure of the lessons. While in most lessons the pace was appropriate for the group and the time available, in one lesson the lesson material was completed early with resulting impact on student attention and learning. This could have been avoided through demanding more active involvement on the part of students, relating the material of the lesson more to their lives, and asking their opinions.
Resources for most lessons observed were appropriate and sufficient except that in two of the lessons student attention and consequent learning might have been better had more exemplar material been used, such as the use of maps where countries were the topic of a lesson. A good range of methodologies was in use in the lessons observed. Very good practice was seen when these methodologies included active student participation in the lesson and where students were able to work at their own pace. Overall there was a high level of student participation and responses. In a small number of other lessons the verbal contributions of the teachers to the lessons were excessive and hindered student participation and active engagement in the lesson. It is recommended that in all lessons there should be a balance between the contributions of the students and those of the teachers with short clear inputs from teachers. Student contributions and student learning was facilitated in those lessons where there was a mix of question types with some questions being open and directed at individual students.
Good classroom management was observed where students attended to and were involved in the lesson. Affirmation of individual students was observed in almost all lessons and was a reflection of the high quality relationships evident in each lesson. The classroom environment in each of the lessons observed was warm and welcoming. Strategies for the development of student literacy were observed, such as the use of key word charts in some lessons and encouraging students to write creatively. It is important that key words relevant to new material being introduced should be used where appropriate in all lessons. Homework was addressed in almost all of the lessons observed.
In most of the lessons observed it was evident that most students were learning. The basis for this judgement is the contributions that were being made by the students during the lessons and the level of their interest and attention. Student learning was most evident where students were actively engaged in the lesson and where their contributions were sought and used in the development of the lesson.
As well as class assessments and formal school assessments student learning is assessed through completion by them of learning targets as part of the achievement of profiling statements. Homework and project work carried out in a range of subjects also serve as assessment tools. JCSP teachers and students keep folders in which the achievements of students and classes are recorded. Student work is regularly monitored and they receive constructive feedback.
Students reported that they have folders for each subject and that the contents vary depending on the subject. They stated that their learning targets are decided in consultation with them. This is to be commended. They reported that their teachers ask them regularly whether they are finding anything too difficult.
Student achievement is encouraged through JCSP postcards, awarding of certificates, and events to which parents are invited. The school and JCSP teachers are encouraged to continue with their focus within JCSP on raising student achievement. To this end, and in line with the JCSP focus on individual students, the school is encouraged to begin to develop individual learning targets for its students. Teachers are encouraged also to develop the practice of assessing of students’ work through comment-only marking in the light of research that shows its effectiveness in bringing about improvement in academic achievement. As a framework and a stimulus for the further development of assessment and achievement within JCSP the school is encouraged to include in its JCSP plan performance targets for the programme for each year.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
There is a high standard of record keeping in the coordination of JCSP. Records are kept of students’ attendance and attainment and other JCSP programme data. While the school has a high quality JCSP there is a need for it to be more formally documented to underpin the ability of the programme to continually develop to meet the changing needs of its students. The school regularly evaluates its JCSP and is commended on the identification through this of a number of issues to be addressed in JCSP. The evaluation has however been carried out in an informal manner with little documentation of its processes and outcomes. The school is encouraged strongly to commence the practice of regular formal evaluation of the programme. The views of students, parents, JCSP staff and other school staff should be sought. Such formal evaluation should be carried out every few years with a more limited evaluation each year also.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
The objectives of the school’s JCSP centre on raising students’ expectations of themselves, encouraging them to achieve academically, developing them personally and socially, and developing a strong bond with the school and education. It is clear from interviewing them that JCSP students in the school have expectations of continuing on in education after Junior Certificate and see JCSP as providing them with a better chance to achieve academically. Students were enthusiastic and engaged.
JCSP students like school and find it interesting with lots of different activities. They know that they will be missed if they do not come to school and anyway they might miss something. Overall they consider themselves to be lucky to be in JCSP and they see the value of education. They like reading and books most along with working with each other and talking about the books they read. While the attendance levels of some students are problematic, it is clear that the attitude of JCSP students generally to education is positive and that they have plans for their future education.
From a review of the school prospectus it is evident that the values inherent in JCSP are reflected elsewhere in the school. The school keeps records on student retention and on their attainment in the State examinations. JCSP is having a beneficial impact on student attainment, participation and retention. Almost all students go on to senior cycle. The school has an effective implementation of JCSP with strong and committed support from school management. The programme is well coordinated and the needs and best interests of students are at its core. The school and the community in general is benefiting from the programme.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made: