An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Junior Certificate School Programme
Ard Scoil Mhuire
Roll Number: 64290V
Date of inspection: 18 April 2008
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 Ard Scoil Mhuire, Corbally, Limerick. 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, teachers and students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector liaised extensively with the programme co-ordinator 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, the programme co-ordinator and members of the teaching team following the evaluation. 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.
Ardscoil Mhuire is an all-girls’ voluntary secondary school under the trusteeship of CEIST. The JCSP is an expression of the commitment in the school’s mission statement to providing a Christian environment where each person is valued and assisted to reach their full potential. The school emphasises the spiritual formation of its students with many activities aimed at developing students in their faith and spiritual lives. The school has offered JCSP for ten years. Over the past few years the school has refined its targeting of students for JCSP so that the present first-year JCSP group is small. A single second-year group and two third-year groups are also taking JCSP. The curriculum for JCSP classes is the same as for other classes. As well as JCSP the school’s curriculum includes the Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, Leaving Certificate Applied, and Transition Year.
1.1 Whole school support
The principal is highly supportive of the JCSP and has a good knowledge of the programme and its implementation. Students’ learning needs, including additional learning needs, are identified and communicated to the staff involved in the programme. Members of school staff are aware of the programme and are supportive of it. There are notice boards for JCSP for staff and for students and overall the JCSP in the school enjoys a high profile.
Reference to JCSP is included in all relevant school documentation including the school prospectus and it is referred to during school open nights. The school has adapted its own information material on JCSP from that supplied by the JCSP Support Service (JCSPSS). Teachers on the programme are supported and encouraged to access all available continuing professional development (CPD). CPD should continue to be a priority, including that delivered by support services other than the JCSPSS.
Teachers new to the JCSP are provided with a briefing by the JCSP co-ordinator and the school plans to supplement this in September 2008 through an induction by the JCSP Support Service. The school should consider, given its long involvement with JCSP and the in-school expertise that has been built up over this time, providing its own induction programme for staff new to JCSP.
The teaching teams for the JCSP classes are rather large and should be reduced so that JCSP students, particularly in first year, meet fewer teachers each week. The benefits of this would be that each student would have fewer different people with whom to relate; teachers would gain a better knowledge of each student; and meetings of the teaching team would be easier to arrange. The work of co-ordination would also be facilitated and the provision of CPD for teachers would be easier.
The school aims to provide JCSP students with a broad range of subjects in accordance with their abilities. The school aims to include teachers with learning-support skills and to have the flexibility within its programme of having an adapted timetable for some students. This is commendable. Classes in English and in Mathematics should be timetabled as far as possible in the morning. It is acknowledged that this may not be possible for all JCSP classes as these subjects are generally timetabled across year groups.
Use is made of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the planning of the school’s JCSP and in the preparation of JCSP-related material. ICT is also used in some subjects for student research, development of keyboard skills, and preparation of presentations. Some students, on reduced timetables, are given additional exposure to ICT. The development of students’ ICT skills is included in subjects throughout the programme.
Overall adequate resources are in place for the programme and, as is appropriate, the co-ordinator decides how JCSP-related funding is used.
1.3 Student selection
The criteria used to select students are in line with the objectives of JCSP. They focus on JCSP as addressing the needs of individual students. While students are selected on entry to first year this is reviewed following a mid-term test in October and sometimes again at the end of first year. The school is commended on its open approach to the current review of the mid-term test. There is appropriate flexibility within the programme through having provision for students not in the dedicated JCSP class to avail of JCSP in certain subjects. The student selection procedures and criteria should be documented in the JCSP plan.
From the interview with JCSP students during the evaluation it was clear that they had a clear understanding of the role of JCSP and its methodologies in helping them to organise their learning and to achieve. The parents of students are well informed on the programme by the school.
When students and their parents are making decisions, including those relating to selection for JCSP, JCSP teachers including the school’s guidance department support them. This is good practice.
1.4 Home, school and community links
The school through its enrolment process and its first-year information evenings ensures that parents are aware of the nature of JCSP and of the aims of JCSP. The school’s home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator is a member of the JCSP support team. As well as keeping parents informed the HSCL co-ordinator is an effective link with primary feeder schools. Parents are invited to regular JCSP celebration events, including the annual ceremony at which students receive their JCSP Profiles. This fosters contact between home and school.
The school’s membership of the local school completion programme (SCP) is beneficial to the development of links between the school and students’ homes and the community.
Overall it is clear that the school makes every effort to inform and to support parents in playing their role in their children’s education.
1.5 Supports for students
The school supports JCSP students through a transfer programme, guidance, additional support for students with special educational needs, language support for some students and through the activities of the SCP.
The transfer programme for incoming first years is highly organised and it commences while students are in sixth class in primary school. Key features of the programme are the provision of high-quality information to parents of prospective students followed by an open night so that parents can follow up on this information. The school has a team-based approach to this process with many members of staff involved under the leadership of the principal. Following their enrolment the transfer programme addresses the needs of individual students and their parents through direct contact with parents. The school management and staff involved are highly commended on the commitment, professionalism and skill that they bring to this.
The involvement of the school’s guidance department with JCSP students commences within the context of the transfer programme. As part of this the guidance counsellor meets JCSP students, and also their parents and takes each JCSP group for a substantial number of classes each year. There is a specific JCSP guidance programme that is aimed at maximising the benefit that students take from the school. Guidance is also delivered in other contexts, such as in social, personal and health education (SPHE) lessons. The school and the guidance department are commended on the quality of their planning for guidance.
There is considerable formal and informal liaison between members of school staff in supporting JCSP students, including discussion at staff meetings, and at the weekly meeting of the school’s care team. It could be said that a network of care and sharing of information on their needs surrounds JCSP students. In this the school is showing very good practice.
Through the school’s involvement in SCP what happens in school is linked to students’ lives outside school. Activities under the auspices of SCP give academic support and support in personal and social development. There is high quality commitment and organisation evident in the linkage between the school and the SCP through the HSCL co-ordinator. As the SCP develops this is and area that the school should keep under continual review.
Overall the school’s support of students within JCSP is of a very high quality.
The JCSP co-ordinator has been in this role for a number of years and in that time has developed a considerable knowledge and understanding of the programme. The co-ordinator is well supported by school management and by the co-operation that exists among the teaching team. The school’s overall programme co-ordinator plays a supportive role in the co-ordination of JCSP and as a teacher within the programme.
The school has adequate resources and facilities to support co-ordination of JCSP. A significant feature is the dedicated JCSP room that is equipped with many JCSP-related resources. The room, which is well decorated with students’ work, is central to the success of JCSP. In it students have easy access to their JCSP folders. The room has a symbolic value as a home for JCSP in the school and is a base room for JCSP students. It is recommended that the time allocation for co-ordination of the programme should be increased so as to make the work of co-ordination more manageable.
It was evident that there is a good level of communication about the programme between the co-ordinator and school management and that the school staff is kept well informed about the programme. Through the work of the co-ordinator all aspects of the programme are well organised, including students’ activities, resources for JCSP, and guest speakers and out-of-school activities. In co-ordinating the programme many meetings are held with individual teachers and groups of teachers.
A JCSP planning meeting and three profiling meetings are held each year. These are attended by most of the teachers on the team. To emphasise further the monitoring of the progress of individual students, the school should give consideration to reviewing the co-ordination structure for JCSP. It is suggested that having separate co-ordinators for JCSP in first, second, and third years would allow for more effective sharing of resources and of good practice among the members of the teaching team. The co-ordination should extend to teaching methodologies, subject planning, and assessment of students as well as monitoring of students’ progress in achieving learning targets. This should lead to a more cohesive team-based approach to the education of the students.
Frequent documented meetings of the school’s JCSP support team are held as part of the co-ordination of JCSP. To continue the programme’s current level of success the support team should be facilitated to meet on a regular, if possible weekly, basis. These meetings should act as a resource for the programme and should carry out functions in relation to the programme, among which should be: reviewing progress of individual students in JCSP; ensuring that teachers are aware of additional learning needs of students; carrying out the linkage between the programme and students’ parents; linking as necessary between the programme and other school support staff; generally monitoring and evaluating the programme, and organising out-of-school and incoming speakers and events. The JCSP co-ordinator should convene meetings of this group.
The JCSP programme is planned each year by a group that includes the principal, school programme co-ordinator, JCSP co-ordinator, HSCL co-ordinator, guidance counsellor and learning-support teacher. The composition of this team accords with good practice.
Many of the components of a documented plan for JCSP have been prepared and are contained in the school’s JCSP folder. The school should commence the process of compiling this documentation into a single JCSP planning document that can be revised and developed. It is suggested that the JCSP programme-planning group would take responsibility for this work. As well as the relevant school policies the plan should contain policies in respect of JCSP. It should also include a description of the aims and targets of the JCSP in the school and of how the school’s JCSP addresses these. The student targeting and selection process for JCSP should form part of the plan.
Having a comprehensive plan for JCSP will facilitate sharing of information among the staff involved. It will also help further development of the programme as the needs of its student group change. The plan should include an outline schedule of the school’s JCSP year that can be amended regularly. The year plan already included in the JCSP folder can act as a basis for this work. The plan should also include a curriculum section as outlined in the following section of this report.
The JCSP plan should be stored on the school’s ICT network so that staff requiring information on the programme can access it readily. This would minimize the need for sharing of such programme information at meetings, thus saving valuable time. It is envisaged that the recommendations in this report regarding the development of the school’s JCSP plan will take place over a number of years.
The school’s approach to meeting the needs of its JCSP students with special educational needs is set out in its special needs education policy. Commendably such support is seen as the responsibility of the entire school staff under the direction of the principal and the learning needs of students are addressed on an individual basis through the provision of individual educational plans. It is recommended that a smaller team be set up that would work with the special educational needs co-ordinator to lead this area on a day-to-day basis. In order to support the provision of education to special needs students in JCSP the special needs education policy should include a more detailed description of the school’s approach and provision.
The school’s whole-school literacy and numeracy policy is commended as it provides a framework for planning for the development of these skills that are central to JCSP. When the policy is being reviewed it is suggested that a greater emphasis be placed in it on assessment of the literacy and numeracy development of individual students.
The curriculum for JCSP is balanced and includes a broad range of subjects. The curriculum is frequently tailored to meet the specific learning needs of individual students. The school is commended on the high expectations that it has for academic achievement by its JCSP students.
The curriculum addresses the key JCSP objectives of literacy, numeracy, and students’ personal and social development. The literacy objective is addressed through students having timetabled access to the school library each week. The success of the literacy aspects of JCSP in encouraging students to read was reflected in students’ responses during their interview as part of the evaluation. The development of students’ numeracy is addressed in JCSP through specific interventions in mathematics lessons. Students’ social and personal development is addressed through the involvement of the students with the SCP and with other JCSP activities, and through social, personal and health education (SPHE) lessons. SPHE in junior cycle should be allocated the equivalent of one class period each week as recommended in Circular 11/03.
A commendable feature of the timetable for each JCSP class that reflects the school’s policy of inclusion is that it is fully integrated into the school’s overall junior-cycle timetable. While this may place constraints on the JCSP curriculum, it also gives students a greater choice in the subjects and levels that they can take.
Documentation of the curriculum for JCSP classes takes place as part of the school’s development planning process. Each of the school’s subject departments has a planning folder that includes subject plans for JCSP classes in that subject area. The plans for classes are outlined as topics to be covered in each year. The school and the subject departments are commended on this work that sees the JCSP curriculum as being a subject-department responsibility. It is recommended that, as part of the school-development-planning process, more detailed short-term plans be developed for each subject that would provide additional support for teachers. As well as including the topics to be taught and the resources required, the plans should indicate desired learning outcomes and should include teaching methodologies and assessment modes. The plans should be produced in a format that allows for easy editing and has space for comments on students’ progress and reflection on lessons taught. The preparation of these more detailed plans would facilitate differentiation of the curriculum where necessary for individual students.
A key element of curriculum planning for JCSP should be the inclusion of elements of literacy development, numeracy development and social and personal development in all subjects. As well as being stored as at present as hard copy, the school should work towards having the plans stored in subject-department folders in the school’s ICT system and linked also to the JCSP planning folder. It is envisaged that this development would take place over a number of years.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
Each lesson observed had been well planned. The required resources for lessons were readily to hand. While lessons had clear learning objectives these were not always communicated to students during the lesson. In order to assist students in taking ownership of the lesson and their learning activities during the lesson teachers should, as a rule, make explicit reference in writing, visually, and orally to learning outcomes that the lesson is setting out to achieve. Students should be reminded of them during the lesson and again at the end of the lesson.
Student profiling is carried out in most of the subjects in the JCSP. The co-ordinator and the teachers involved are highly commended on the thoughtful and comprehensive manner in which they carry out student profiling. From examination of students’ folders and interview with students it is clear that profiling in the JCSP is highly effective in achieving its aims. Students reported that through the profiling system they could form a picture of what they have done. It is clear that students value the achievement of learning targets and statements and that student profiling is a core element of the school’s JCSP.
Teachers carry out cross-curricular planning as part of JCSP. An ongoing example of this at the time of the evaluation involved teachers of three subjects, Art, History, and English working with a class on a project for the JCSP Make-a-Book exhibition. Such cross-curricular planning and that involved in JCSP celebrations such as the Ceolchoirm enhance students’ experience of school.
3.2 Teaching and learning
Teaching materials, including texts and handouts, were appropriate to the class groups in the lessons observed. A greater variety of teaching methodologies could have been used in some of the lessons observed, such as group work, role-play, discussion, use of ICT, and use of a greater variety of question types. The use of group work, as observed in one lesson, facilitated the development of students’ personal and social skills.
Lessons were at an appropriate level for students with clear tasks set. Lessons were well structured with progression from previously learned material.
Some of the classes were notable for the extent to which students were given individual attention. The development of students’ literacy and numeracy was the principal focus of other lessons. It is recommended that the good practice seen in some lessons of keywords being used and of reference being made to numeracy-related material relevant to those subjects should be adopted in every subject area.
Teachers use JCSP postcards to encourage and to reward students. They have high expectations of their students. An example of this was in a class where the teacher made students aware of how well their class was progressing in relation to completing their course of study for the Junior Certificate examination. In this class also students’ in-school work was continually related to the rest of their lives.
A clear code of student behaviour was evident in each lesson. While students were actively engaged in most lessons this was especially evident in one lesson where students were set a task that involved them in teamwork and that integrated students’ lives outside school with several aspects of the subjects that they were studying. In this lesson students were able to work independently and, as was evident from their sense of purpose, they were learning.
Overall students responded well and were engaged in lessons. Evidence of students’ learning was seen in the extent to which they participated. The quality of that learning was clearly evident where students were actively engaged, such as in a lesson where they were brainstorming to come up with solutions to a problem.
Teaching and learning, especially where students were actively engaged and were given individual attention, was of a high quality in the JCSP.
One of the significant features of the JCSP in the school is the depth to which student profiling has been integrated into it. It is used effectively as an assessment tool. Students reported that teachers consulted with students in the assessment of learning statements.
Up to mid term in first year all first years take a similar programme in all subjects. At mid term there is a common examination for all first-year students for assigning students to classes. It is strongly recommended that the school review its procedures in this area. There is also a need for consistency among teachers when reporting to students’ homes on the outcomes of this assessment.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
Record keeping within JCSP includes keeping records of students’ achievement of profiling statements, their assessment results and reports, attendance records, and records of meetings, celebration events, and school literature for JCSP. Teachers of individual subjects keep records of students’ assessment outcomes and these are shared and compiled towards the end of third year for the purpose of awarding student profiles. Having a co-ordinator for each year of the programme would facilitate a greater sharing among teachers of records of students’ progress.
The JCSP team evaluates its programme on an informal basis each year at the final profiling meeting and at the end-of-year staff meeting. The programme is also evaluated on other occasions also. These evaluations have led to changes that have benefited the programme. The school sees the current level of ownership of the programme by students along with good student achievement in the Junior Certificate examination as measures of the success of the programme. The school and the co-ordinator are commended on this regular evaluation. It is recommended that a formal evaluation of the programme in the school should be carried out that would involve a survey of the parents of students, teachers and other JCSP staff, former students of the programme, and other school staff not involved in JCSP. As part of the evaluation there should be an analysis of the destinations of the students who have graduated from the programme.
Following this evaluation of JCSP the programme should be reviewed. The outcomes of the school’s evaluation should be used as a basis for the review. The review should include the aims of the JCSP, its curriculum, student assessment, programme record keeping, ICT in JCSP, teaching and learning methodologies, CPD for JCSP staff, and collaboration among the staff involved in the programme.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
The school’s objectives for its JCSP are to provide a fresh approach to the Junior Certificate programme for potential early school leavers who are struggling to cope with secondary school. Through JCSP the school sees its students as getting an opportunity to build on their own successes. Through their involvement in JCSP students are seen as having the opportunity to achieve in the Junior Certificate examination. The involvement of parents is seen as fundamental to the success of the programme.
One of the principal sources of evidence on whether JCSP in Ardscoil Mhuire is achieving what it sets out to achieve comes from the JCSP students themselves. Students have a sense of ownership of the programme and are committed to achieving in it. It is clear from students that they feel supported and that they feel a sense of achievement. The school library and reading are central parts of their experience. They enjoy having variety in teachers’ approaches to teaching and learning. Their JCSP folder is for them a testament to what they have achieved in JCSP. It is clear that they have all developed ambitions for the future following JCSP. The school is highly commended on what it has helped these students to achieve for themselves.
From discussion with the teachers involved it is clear that JCSP is having a beneficial impact on students’ attainment, participation, and retention. Almost all students go on to senior cycle. The implementation of JCSP in the school is effective due to the work of the co-ordinator and other staff involved and the committed support of the school’s management.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is a whole-school approach to JCSP.
· The school is selective in its targeting of students for JCSP.
· Liaison between the school, its feeder primary schools and the homes of students plays an important role in the school’s JCSP.
· The school has established a JCSP centre to provide a physical focus point for JCSP activities.
· JCSP students have a dedicated guidance programme.
· The school keeps parents well informed about JCSP.
· JCSP is well co-ordinated.
· The school has a broad curriculum with adequate progression opportunities for JCSP students.
· High quality teaching and learning are evident in the JCSP.
· Student profiling is carried out effectively and is a central part of the school’s JCSP.
· The school’s JCSP has high quality outcomes.
· JCSP is having a whole-school impact.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· A JCSP plan should be drawn up to document fully the high quality work being carried out and to provide a basis for evaluation and development of the programme.
· As part of the school-development planning process more detailed short-term plans should be developed for JCSP subjects.
· The school should give consideration to reviewing the co-ordination structure for JCSP to provide a more cohesive team-based approach.
· The school’s JCSP should be formally evaluated and regularly reviewed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes the very positive affirmations contained in the Programme Evaluation of the JCSP in Ardscoil Mhuire
The management and teaching staff in the school are very pleased with the strengths identified, in particular the high quality teaching and learning and the high quality outcomes
The strengths and recommendations reflect the priorities and aspirations of the school
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Published November 2008